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Issue: July 2013

By Alexander Clark Campbell

Blues, rock, and jazz born on American soil as the lagniappe of world-vagabonds here have, of course, since gone on to continue their globetrotting and re-inseminate beau coups d'other cultures.

This we all know. However, there is one other American art form Country music and arguably our most poetic (especially when it comes to the artful expression, in simplest terms, of those most basic and universal of all tacit and complex emotions namely, the ones we all feel in relationships) that is also surprisingly cosmopolitan.

Surprising, because Country music can sometimes be our most unfairly appraised, underrated, under-appreciated and even ridiculed native art form.

Everyone knows that the American banjo has traversed the globe why not the music that goes along with it? Country music has fiddled, whined, twanged and influenced unexpected parts of the globe: cultured Europe, black Caribbean and Africa, Thailand and more.

One that is a pretty interesting hotbed of Country music is the Caribbean nation of Grenada, with acts such as Joe-Country. Thailand is another, with its own styling, dubbed 'Luk Thung.' After listening and watching some Luk Thung, it is clear that they create themselves in a 'look' (not just sound) that is similar to what American Country musicians go in for as to such things as props, hairstyles, clothing, and such. Suphanburi in Central Thailand has been dubbed the 'Thai Nashville.'

Bachata from the Dominican started out to be Country-sounding, but it no longer sounds that way. Some Cuban music has country roots as well.

Some of Brazil's Sertanejo shares the worst aspects of American Country music — namely the schmaltziness and overly saccharine qualities. I think I might be in danger of contracting diabetes if I listen too much to groups like Chitãozinho e Xororó or Leandro e Leonardo.

That's as for the worst (but now that's over). The best sertanejo has similarities to other South American styles and to Mexican mariachi. I do feel some better to find that we are not the only country guilty of making Country sound crass and like a truck commercial. Forró is a less commercial-sounding Country that has German and African influences; the modern stuff may not resemble Country (although the father of Forró Luis Gonzaga's 'Asa Baranca' resembles Bob Wills and Louisiana Cajun music from the '20s and '30s), but the recurring themes of love, passion, jealousy, romance are very much in the Country spirit.

Swedish Country music (and Brazilian Sertanejo) proves that what I might post might not be in good taste. Beware, Listener, beware.

I will however add that I was listening to some German and Dutch music the other week — not sure what era — and it struck me how Country it sounded — especially the crispness, that was reminiscent of someone like Bob Wills. It also got me thinking that traditional German music also sounds a little country — the accordion IS featured in Western Swing.

All I ever heard about (probably you, too) were the Celtic (both Scotch and Irish) and English influences in Country music — as if these were the only influences Country music ever had. I am not denying that influence is there, of course — but there were also a lot of Germans who immigrated to this country as well — what happened to their music? My suggested answer to that is, I think I hear their influences in Country as well. Frank Kuczynski, an American of Polish ancestry, brought a Polka accordion to his country music you might know him as Pee Wee King.

As it happened — I was eating at a Mexican restaurant in East Tennessee last week, and the typical Mariachi, Ranchera, and Teajano music was in the background (and, no, it wasn't any different, just because the restaurant was near Knoxville) — and it dawned on me 'This is a bit Country.'

My research for this post not only confirmed heavy German influence in Country music, but also in Mexican and South American music as well (!) — hence the accordion's being a popular instrument in those cultures. Besides which yodeling (a/k/a Jimmie Rodgers, 'Father of Country Music'), as we all know, comes from the Swiss. On a related side note, after purchasing the wonderful boxed-set by Warner Brothers, From Where I Stand: The Black Experience In Country Music (1998), a few years ago (if you can find a copy get it), it is difficult for me not to interpret Ray Charles and (especially) Fats Domino as Country musicians.

Apparently, there will be a documentary out soon on Tomi Fujiyama a female, Japanese Country Musician who performed at the Grand Ol' Opry (and was the first Japanese artist to do so) in 1964 with Bill Anderson.

There are Country Music Festivals all over the world — most notably in South America and in Australia. Australia has its own Country music scene. I was able to locate a link for Country done in the Chamorro language on Guam.

Finally, after being already familiar with Cajun music from Louisiana and its Acadian cousin from the Canadian Northeast, and now listening to Franco-Country from Québec, there must be French influence in Country music as well. I am myself a proud Celt however, I have to conclude, after spending some time looking into the matter, that it is just not accurate to say that there is only British Isle influences in Country music. There are obviously enough if you stop and listen — German, French, Swiss, Dutch, African American, and Spanish influences as well — just to name a few. And I even found some Country influence on African artists (not just Jimmie Rodgers being picked up by Lady Black Mambazo) — such as musicians in the Congo (DRC — formerly Zaire) and African whites in Zimbabwe (when it was known as Rhodesia), who were personalizing their political movement in their version of Country.

Note: Some of these links would be considered Classic Country and were made about the same time as our Classic Country; while others are modern and reflect our modern Country tastes. Some of worldbeat Country sound is a precise reproduction — whether sung in English or the artist's native language while some is something from their own culture crossed with elements from American Country. 'My Watermelon Sweet Farm Girl' gives one a favor (forgive pun) of this.

Alright enough of that.

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