'Wusak' for the unwary


Nomad (Adam Plack) with Robert Mirabal and Mor Thiam
Australian Music International
Reviewed by Norm Dixon

The term "world music" came into being in 1987, when a number of small labels specialising in African, Latin American and other international musics met in London to address the problem of large record chains not stocking their releases. Then followed a concerted campaign to acquaint shops, critics and consumers with this "new" category of music.

Whatever one's opinion of the usefulness of the term, the popularity, appreciation and knowledge of the myriad of styles of musics it encompasses have soared since then.

The recording industry and associated sharp operators have begun to wake up to the fact that there is a lot money to be made in exploiting this genre. Already pressure is mounting from the recording multinationals to either dilute to the lowest common denominator the best of the world's pop artists, forcing them into uneasy collaboration with washed up old rockers looking for a new lease of life, or produce pale imitations of the real thing that can be passed off to the unwary for a quick buck. Nomad falls solidly into the latter category.

Adam Plack — reinventing himself as "Nomad" — and his record company AMI have concocted a clumsy musical amalgam seeking to crudely exploit the popularity of world music and its dance and ambient derivatives, widespread environmental awareness, support for the rights of indigenous peoples and woolly middle-class new age mysticism.

The whole project reeks of insincerity and cynicism. The commendable "eco-pak" CD case made from recycled materials, the deliberately non-specific green/new age sentiments of the songs and the rhetorical liner notes that use all the right environmentally friendly and pro-indigenous people code words (but say absolutely nothing) all show this album to be about image rather than substance.

Some of the statements in the liner notes and promo material are simply ludicrous. One can only assume that they are meant for blissfully ignorant record buyers in Europe and the USA where, incidentally, it is selling very well. Take this for example: "Nomad learned to study the Didgeridoo in the bush lands surrounding his home in Melbourne. A classically trained musician, he wandered into the Australian bush to find the music of nature." Or, how about: "This release is dedicated to the support and rebuilding of the Aboriginal culture so that it can be free and respected in the 'modern world'. Gratitude is due to early explorers[!], missionaries[!!!] and others who loved the Aboriginal people and saw a richness in their law and tradition. Without these people, a wealth of cultural heritage would have been lost forever[!]."

As those "loving" explorers and missionaries did with the Aboriginal people's land, the patronising and self-righteous Plack "supports and rebuilds" Aboriginal culture by pinching it, and pockets the proceeds. The only actual participation by an Aboriginal person is an uncredited sample of a traditional chant (I wonder if royalties were paid to the performer?).

The music itself, while not unpleasant, is simply "wusak" — musak inspired by the world music craze. Plack's didg doodles over some ordinary electronic keyboards and club dance beats akin to a weaker version of the problematical Deep Forest album of a couple of years ago. Senegalese drummer Mor Thiam and native American Robert Mirabal are included to give credibility to Plack's claim that his music is "tribal", whatever that means.

Give this one a big miss. It is a shame that some of the money and hype that have been ploughed into this charade have not been made available to some of the more deserving of didgeridoo players in this country.

If you want to hear a real Aboriginal/dance fusion, stick to Yothu Yindi. If you want to hear some genuine contemporary didgeridoo, check out the albums of Mark Atkins, Alan Dargen, Alastair Black (all available through Larrikin Entertainment). Another interesting didg group worth checking out is the innovative jazz combo, the Clayton-Lewis Quartet.