Peter Gabriel has arguably achieved more than any other musical celebrity in promoting memorable, wildly varied music from around the world. He has done this in two ways: through the WOMAD organisation, which promotes highly ambitious music festivals, and through the record label Real World, run from his own state-of-the-art recording studios.
The first British WOMAD festival was held 30 years ago, and to celebrate the anniversary Real World have produced this 30-track compilation. It can’t have been easy to assemble. The record label is slightly younger than the festival, but it has been going for 23 years now, in which time it has released nearly 200 albums.
The aim is to show the remarkable range of the label’s releases, and the results leap around the world, between different artists and different styles. WOMAD has always featured major artists from across Africa, so it’s no surprise that this set starts with the great Congolese star Papa Wemba, and continues with a track from Dub Colossus, the British-Ethiopian fusion band blending African and jazz influences with reggae.
There’s also rousing fusion work from JuJu, featuring British guitarist Justin Adams and Gambian ritti player Juldeh Camara. From elsewhere in Africa there’s The Drummers of Burundi, who made such an impact at early WOMAD shows, and the cool, soulful Kenyan musician Ayub Ogada. There’s no space for Thomas Mapfumo, Justin Vali or S.E. Rogie – but with so much to choose from, a few surprise omissions were inevitable.
Arguably the finest of all the Real World artists was the Pakistani Sufi devotional singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. His extraordinary Qawwali style is included here, on the slow, then furious, then soaring Tracery. Other good Asian tracks include an exquisite, drifting song from Tibet’s Yungchen Lhamo (Happiness Is?), and quirky Cambodian-Californian rock from Dengue Fever (Tiger Phone Card).
Just to add even more variety, there’s a rousing Colombian folk song from Toto La Momposina (El Pescador), while from England there’s a charming folk instrumental from Spiro (The City and the Stars).
Gabriel himself has the final word, with his dramatic The Rhythm of the Heat. It’s the closer on a set that superbly showcases this label’s remarkable history.