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- Posted on May 22nd 2007 11:00AM by Steve Hochman
In particular, albums he produced or oversaw for Malian guitarist Ali Farka Toure kicked off an ongoing series of magical releases from that West African nation. And his masterminding of a conclave of the near-forgotten elder statesmen (and women) of Havana music, along with musician Ry Cooder, under the Buena Vista Social Club banner no less than changed the world of so-called world music. Gold's two decades with World Circuit have been commemorated with a two-CD anthology, "World Circuit Presents . . . ," just released in the U.S. And the occasion is a good opportunity for him to look back on how much things have changed in that time. "There's a huge amount more knowledge from the public about what this music is, what various forms of African and Cuban music are," he says with the genial enthusiasm you'd expect from someone new to success rather than an old hand at it. "And a huge amount of music is available now. Twenty years ago, it was very hard to find the records."
In truth, World Circuit hasn't added many titles to its catalog -- a total of 44 are currently available. But what titles they are: The 1994 Malian blues 'Talking Timbuktu' collaboration of Toure and Cooder, the glorious sounds of Sangare, the Andalusian fire of Radio Tarifa (the real Gypsy Kings) and, of course, the invaluable discoveries of a now-dying generation of Cuban greats, including Omara Portuondo, Ruben Gonzales and Ibrahim Ferrer. It's a legacy well represented on the CD set, with tracks (some previously unreleased) also from such key artists as Sudanese star Abdel Gadir Salim and Mauritanian singer Dimi Mint Abba (two of the first World Circuit artists) and such historical "finds" as archival recordings from Cuban doo-wop ensemble Los Zafiros -- the subject of a documentary that was just issued on DVD -- and the Gold-spurred reunion of Senegal's legendary Orchestra Baobab.
The legacy, though, goes far beyond the recordings released by World Circuit. Before Gold and the label became established presences, the most visible things filed under world music by and large tended to be more about places than people. As great as some of these releases were, whether from the seminal Nonesuch Explorer series or Folkways or France's Ocora label, most were collections or style-driven, with only a handful of notable exceptions transcending it, such as reggae king Bob Marley and Nigerian juju master King Sunny Ade, both brought forth by Island Records founder Chris Blackwell.
It's that approach to which Gold points when asked to identify the stamp he's put on his field. "We always try to look a the musicians in their own right, as stars and valid artists, rather than try to present a genre -- here is Malian music or Cuban music," he says. "We work with artists and record as best we can according to their art. Maybe that's one of the things we've done differently, so individual great artists have become known rather than just being presented as an example of a genre or being subsumed into a genre. They have been stars. A huge amount of luck is involved, but we've recognized the importance of the artists and gotten that across to people." He readily admits to being starstruck himself when he first worked with Toure, an experience he likens to what it would have been like being able to work with such long-time heroes as Charlie Parker or Muddy Waters.
He also credits Toure, who died last year from bone cancer at age 65, for directing his attention to Cuba, for decades a popular source of music for large parts of Africa. Gold still carries that passion for discovery. But, in part thanks to the global explosion he helped ignite, what's left to discover? Plenty, he says. At least for him. "I'm starting to hear music from India which I'm fascinated with, but I'm yet to identify who or what styles," he says, acknowledging that some of this may be old news to others. "I'm very ignorant of it. Just starting to hear bits I find fascinating. Turning the radio on to stations playing things."
First, though, he has plenty else to keep him busy: He just finished sessions in Spain with Malian kora player Toumani Diabate for an album of solo performances, a contrast to last year's acclaimed release by Diabate's elaborate, pan-African Symmetric Orchestra, due in September. Also in the plans are a new Orchestra Baobab album and releases culled from '90s concerts at Carnegie Hall with the original Buena Vista lineup. And his advice to those whose curiosity may have been piqued by some of the things he's released over the years is simple: Keep your ears open. "Not difficult to hunt down music if you try," he says. Like going to Iceland to hear music from Mali.