Bill Laswell - The Musician Becomes The Music
It is a historical fact that by the time so-called "world music" and "worldbeat" came into vogue, Laswell had already been developing various fusions and formulae for the celebration of all earthly and ancient music. With his genius and ear and with irrepressible spirit he brought this music out of the sometimes dusty and misty cultures – so misunderstood in the West – and infused in it urgency that just had to be heard in the modern context.
The field recordings he produced in Morocco and Gambia (including The Master Musicians of Jajouka featuring Bachir Attar - Apocalypse Across The Sky, Mandinka & Fulani Music Of The Gambia - Ancient Heart, and Gnawa Music Of Marrakech - Night Spirit Masters and also Trance of the Seven Colors with Pharoah Sanders and Mahmoud Ghania, mentioned a little later) were unprecedented. They involve the live, digital multitrack recording of musicians outdoors as they have played for centuries, with a twist: the multitrack tapes, which capture the individual microphones on each member of the large ensembles, are then taken into premium recording studios, and mixed as any state-of-the-art album is, resulting in spatial ambience, depth, and separation that is a far cry from the "field recordings" made on two-track recorders.
The Laswell undertaking [in Jajouka] was a project within the realms of World Music, but it was no exercise in tokenism. Speaking about the heady experiences that he was able to capture on tape the day after the recordings took place, Laswell said: "There are moments when you can actually hear the sounds and the instruments changing into music. It's right there on the tape...it's a different energy. Also, I found if you focus on the bass drum, and keep listening to what he's doing, you almost black out. He's the one holding it together, with time moving all around. He's the central point."
In his classic rant on cross-cultural synergy, the modern thinker, Hakim Bey has set a blistering tone for all artistic endeavors. “The last vestiges of colonial-imperialist mentality cause us to mistake other peoples' culture for the raw material of our eclectic postmodern "mix." But in fact we're guilty of cultural appropriation --- or in less fancy terms, stealing from friends... We're interested now in de-centering the discourse and constructing a cross-cultural synergy. No more pyramids with Euro-males on top and "anonymous" voices from some distant Turkish radio on the bottom. Collaboration - not appropriation. Translation not interpretation. Life - not "lifestyle." Plagiarism as a cultural tactic should be directed at putrid capitalists, not potential comrades. "World" culture is either true co-creation, or it is nothing. Or worse than nothing: a sin against the Holy Spirit. There is no exotic other. Planet Earth - love it or leave it.” Bill Laswell’s musical excursions have always exemplified this artistic truth and tribute to the musical world that surrounds us.
In everything he did Laswell paid more than fleeting homage to the music of cultures unknown, and certainly not with commercialism and hype that prevails today. Where other labels, producers, and organizations simply bring in "guest" artists, or relegate traditional music to a kid glove "ethnographic" or "ethnomusicological" context, Bill Laswell’s work on his Axiom label cultivated relationships and working understandings with master artists from throughout the world. His productions have always been vibrant with the energy of interactivity between players, consistently eschewing a patronizing display of legendary musicians or cultural representations.