sad hits

Various Artists: International Sad Hits. Volume One: Altaic Language Group.
Damon and Naomi, themselves no slouches when it comes to singing a sad song, are the curators of this brilliantly themed collection. At one and the same time a parody of the seriousness of ethnomusicological labelling of music from the non-western world in the West, and a homage to the kitsch marketing tactics used to package the CDs of local popular musics available in markets and on the street in many non-western countries, “International Sad Hits” compiles the sad songs of Fikret Kizilok (Turkey), Kim Doo Soo (Korea), Tomokawa Kazuki and Mikami Kan (Japan). Purportedly linked by a common linguistic family, the curators observe that “what truly links them is a love of melancholy”. Spanning 1971 to 2003, there are four songs from each singer, all of them brooding guitar led pieces in the mold, according to the curators, of Dylan, Tim Buckley or Nick Drake. All four are singer-songwriters with considerable followings in their own countries, but little known by the rest of the world. While I admire the revealing of a genre of music that doesn’t fit into conventional categories of traditional or popular ethnic music, I find myself slightly disappointed by the results. Undoubtedly powerful and serious, there’s a particular male kind of swagger and self-pity at work in many of the selections here that feels quite familiar (maybe from looking at ads for whisky in different parts of the world), and I’m only intermittently moved, let alone heart-broken, by the sad singing here. With the notable exception of Kim Doo Soo, the femininity of Drake or Buckley, the multiple layers of irony and vision of Dylan feel a long way away. The songs are sad, but this is not the saddest music in the world. Still, I await the selections from other Language Groups with great hope.

Originally published in Signal to Noise, 2006.

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