Ostensibly aimed at improving the infrastructure and efficiency of third world economies, international moneylenders directed poor countries toward debt in the '70s. The optimism and theoretical benefit of these money transfers ended up far outweighed by their costs in terms of misdirection, disorganization, and corruption (witness the price personally extracted by Suharto in Indonesia).
At this point, African countries spend a frightening 38% of their budget on debt service. That, of course, comes at the cost of social services and the scale of government involvement that's absolutely required for further development. Africa is not a rich continent.
Drop The Debt addresses this reality through a series of 16 inspired songs specifically collected for this purpose. Most of the artists hail from Africa and South America, though France and Japan also join the list. The music tends toward popular adaptations of traditional styles.
Tiken Jah Fakoly of the Ivory Coast meets up with Brazil's Tribo de Jah "Baba" for a bizarrely transcultural fusion of African rhythm, Jamaican reggae, and slippery Brazilian vocals. The message is direct: "Our parents live in poverty/Our parents die in poverty." You wouldn't necessarily expect the combination to work but it does, brilliantly.
Other highlights (mostly on the front end) include the jumpy raps of the Brazillian/French fusion "Il Faut Payer" ("It's difficult to say who owes whom what today"); the textured rhythms and high-flying horns of Columbia's Totó la Momposin ("Today, the people are forgotten"); the ancient/future collision of Cameroon's Sally Nyolo and Japan's Shingo2 ("As long as I live to give/They'll write my name on the list to receive"); and a insanely groovy minimalist jam from Brazil's Lenine ("Dolorous dollars").
Low points (mostly toward the tail end) include a overproduced, cliché ballad from Africa South ("The third world cries every day") and a dull rock collage from France's Massilia Sound System ("Those who put us into debt have been gambling"). They are far outnumbered by the rest, have no fear.
The message of Drop The Debt is compellingsome times more than others, admittedlybut it's more than matched by the inspiration of the artists involved. The emotional, musical, and linguistic variation here has few parallels. It's an inspiring statement about the state of the art in third world music, which has many lessons to teach the staid first world variety.