When I was taking high school French, every once in a while our teacher would yank out a "hip" cassette of French pop music and play it for us. Imagine Tiffany, only Gallic. It was awful stuff, combining vapid American pop with a cheesy French songstress. Surely foreign rock could be better than merely copying the lamest Yankee trends with an accent?
It's many years later, but with their latest compilation The Rough Guide to Planet Rock, the folks behind the Rough Guide book and CD series show us that in today's melting pot, it's possible to fuse a little bit of every kind of sound and create something that rocks yet is filled with a sense of distinct place.
Planet Rock is an excellent globe-spanning collection of rock fused with ethnic sounds in fresh, fascinating ways. Not every tune is a winner, but there's plenty of innovative gold on here. Compiler Johannes Heretsch has gone out of his way to create a mix of global rock that never feels merely like American tunes done in a different language.
The set includes tunes from Cambodia, Niger, Israel, Palestine, the Congo, India and more. Heretsch, who hosts the radio show Planet Sounds, has picked an excellent set list that showcases the diverse children the spirits of rock 'n' roll have spawned. The CD booklet includes an expansive overview by Heretsch that tells us a little about each of the 16 contributors.
Highlights include Les Boukakes' madcap "Sidi H'Bibi," which bounces from the dusty past to the world of tomorrow in a mere four minutes, starting off a lone chant backed by a few beats before a dangerous-sounding surf guitar lick sails in and it erupts into a full-out celebratory jam. The band members are from Algeria, France, and Tunisia, and like several of the acts here, use their music to spread a message of multicultural pride.