Kurmanjiang Zaccharia - "Babulao" (Ethnic Minority Music of Northwest Xinjiang, China)
The owner of a Jakarta record stall recently asked me, “I have a friend in America, Alan Bishop! Do you know him?” Suddenly, Sublime Frequencies became records of someone else’s vacation.
Of course, it has been clear from the start that the “Folk and Pop Sounds” and “Radio” series present curated naïveté. The joy they can produce derives from distance; it breaks when one has heard an included song before, or when one finds the original cassette from which a track was pulled. I love to be delighted, but I am tired by distance and this trick whereby curators addle the map. When I subscribe to this false global togetherness, I forget about my own local — home.
Are the naïve vacation artifacts different from the learned sabbatical artifacts of the Ethnic Minority Music series? To the listener, only in degree. Both explore someone else’s normal; the distance between the curator and the music is different, the depth is different. But the effect is the same. If I imagine that Xinxiang villagers lose a little bit of localness when they listen to Bob Seeger, then doesn’t the same happen to me, a Michigan villager, when I listen to Xinxiang folk?
So Ethnic Minority Music of Northwest Xinxiang, China sounds arid. I’m cut off at the knees in my communion with it. I don’t care about the regal costumes or Mongolian physiognomy of the musicians. I don’t care about the particular local types of lutes and zithers and skin drums. I don’t care about the central Asian or Islamic influence. Love and loss are universal themes that are nothing when not personalized. This forever novelty binge…hurts the teeth like the sweetness of too much candy.