ALAN STIVELL: 1 DOUAR (1998)
1) A United Earth I; 2) La Mémoire De L'Humain; 3) Hope; 4) Ensemble (Understand); 5) Crimes; 6) A United Earth II; 7) Scots Are Right; 8) Ever; 9) Kenavo Glenmor; 10) Una's Love; 11) Aet On (Into The Universe's Breath); 12) A United Earth III.
Back to musical pan-globalism, with surprisingly classy results. The target audience of Eunn Douar («One Earth», but, as the exact title suggests, still seen through the unmistakeable eyes of a Breton) comprises admirers of «world music» understood as a synthesis of one or two areal traditions with Western pop music elements and production values (as opposed to, say, «ethnic music» where you actually listen to a real tribe of hunter-gatherers banging the drums for fifty minutes as the neighbours go quietly mad). To that end, we have lots and lots of guest stars, including Senegalese star Youssou N'Dour, Algerian star Khaled, and a bunch of Stivell's pals from the Celtic musical business world.
My own knowledge of «world music» is fairly limited, possibly because I have always regarded it more as a «social tool» than a set of self-contained art forms. As far as I'm concerned, Youssou N'Dour exists primarily to inform people of the fact that there is such a country as Senegal, with its own history, culture, and art. That's a good, healthy, educational mission. Real specialists in African art and culture may, however, dismiss the man as a «Western sellout», and they will have their point, too (even if they do acknowledge his role in changing Western perceptions about the rest of the world). In any case, there has been relatively little «world music» that I have heard which would make me want to spend time and resources on a full immersion, from the Americas to Africa to the Middle East to the Pacific and back again.
That said, 1 Douar, with all of its Celto-African fusion bits, is still primarily a Stivell album. Alan and Youssou N'Dour may duet in their respective tongues on 'A United Earth' all they want, but it is still the quirky Celtic harp rhythms and the merry sound of ye olde recorder that drive the tune forward, and it is only on the reprise version that both are complemented by explicitly African-style drumming. 'Crimes', with Khaled singing a Bedouin raï against Stivell's Celtic folk motive, is more democratic in that respect — but, perhaps not surprisingly, much less memorable.
The album's true surprise is 'Ever', a duet with John Cale of all people, set to hard-rocking distorted guitar chords and an almost trip-hoppy rhythm track. However, it is also a disappointment, since a little bit of crunch is just about everything that separates it from the rest of the tracks, and it is not clear why John Cale should be associated with crunch when he is usually associated with lots of other things; a misused presence indeed.
In general, 1 Douar is perfectly listenable, without any tasteless slip-ups, and its main theme may well be included in any Stivell retrospective, but it is definitely not the «comeback» that I have seen a few people call it. Where Celtic Symphony was a grand, epic, spirit-arousing triumph, this next attempt at fusion is languid easy-listening stuff, to be played at quiet, inobtrusive volume levels in your local stylish ethnic restaurant. (Probably goes down real well with a good helping of baba ghanoush, over a good glass of chouchen, to celebrate a truly united earth).
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