"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno
Songlines MARCH/APRIL 2007 - by Mark Ellingham
MY WORLD: BRIAN ENO
Mark Ellingham introduces Brian Eno's World Selection with Swollen Sleevenotes
For many rock fans, Brian Eno's collaboration with David Byrne, My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts (1981), was the first record to bring global sounds into their orbit. It was probably their first experience of sampling, too, as Eno and Byrne twirled the short-wave knobs to pick up snatches of Quranic recital (alas, excised, from the recent CD re-release), American Christian evangelists, and the Egyptian and Lebanese singers, Samira Tewfik and Dunya Yasin. Eno himself had been spending time in Ghana and the record, for him, carried an African direction - and inspired the title.
In retrospect, Ghosts was a seminal album that opened a host of musicians and producers to new ways of music making. But that is an almost everyday activity for Eno. He seems to operate consistently a decade ahead of the pack, introducing and coining the phrase 'ambient music' with Music For Airports (1978), and taking music into a meaningful relationship with visual art. He is perhaps most engaged, as a solo artist, with installations, and last year unleashed 77 Million Paintings, a software package which allows you to create your own constantly evolving painting, using your computer or TV screen. All that, and a CV that includes founding Roxy Music and forging the careers of Talking Heads and U2, producing Bowie's classic Berlin trilogy (Low, "Heroes", Lodger). Not to mention producing the forthcoming Coldplay album.
Eno is also an unusual musician in that he writes. His diary-book, A Year (With Swollen Appendices) (1996), remains one of the most diverting reflections on music, and a musician's life. Typically, when asked to do a My World for Songlines, he bypassed our usual interview and simply sent in his selection of current favourite tracks, with extended notes. Perfectly formed, as ever, here they are:
Vem NhaNha by Mr Catra, from the album Rio Baile Funk: More Favela Booty Beats.
"Catra is apparently known as the James Brown of the Booty Beats. It's from brazil, of course, and features the dirtiest and most musical laughter I've ever heard on a record."
Bab - Kisan by Abdullah Chhadeh & Nara, from the album Seven Gates.
"I met Abdullah Chhadeh at a benefit for Lebanon after the Israeli bombings a couple of months ago. He was playing a qanun, a huge zither which is as complex an instrument to play as a pedal steel guitar, involving quarter-tone tuning levers and long thumbnails. Watching him play is dazzling."
Tezeta arranged by Mulatu Astatqé, from the album Éthiopiques 4.
"'Tezeta' means 'nostalgia'. This was a period in Ethiopian music where Western jazz was transmuted into something just as sophisticated and smokey, but East African. The arranger was a gifted genius called Mulatu Astatqé who developed a way of playing piano that seemed to imply quarter tones. I first heard this on the radio in a taxi on the way to Dublin Airport and rang the DJ to find out what it was. It was a long ride. I said to the driver 'Why did they build the airport so far out of town?' and he replied, 'Well, that's where the planes were coming in...' That was a joke."
Sevgi Mengisi by Belkis Akkale with Arif Sağ, from the album Seher Yildizi.
"This is one of those songs which makes you think we should stick to things we're good at like invading small countries, and leave the music to the people who really do it well. Actually we're not very good at invading small countries either, but my friend Pete reminds me that we still make better scones that anyone else. So, while we're providing the world with scones, let Belkis Akkale, the world's most erotic voice, and the great Arif Sağ entertain us as they glide effortlessly through a song in something like 13¼/8 and a scale which doesn't even appear in our music."
Asiko by Tony Allen, from the album Black Voices.
"Here's the drummer Tony Allen in a modern setting, from his album, Black Voices, recorded in Paris in 1999. The backing vocals are by the improbably named Cathy Renoir and Mudbone Cooper. I once asked Tony how he evolved his style. He said that he didn't want any of his limbs to get bored while he was playing."
Ah Mon Amour by Rachid Taha, from the album Diwan 2.
"This is from Diwan 2 - Rachid's versions of hits from the Arab world. As with Fela Kuti's music, I like the toughness and power and controlled madness of this. Rachid and his band (along with producer Steve Hillage) are doing something new in Arabic music by hybridising it with Western rock instruments and recording techniques. The result is fierce, which is best listened to at ear-splitting volume and standing up. I have a thirty-year-old set of Tannoy speakers which have stood up to years of high-decibel Tony Allen, but this piece is threatening their future."