Glyn Phillips – WorldBeatUK Q&A

Brum Radio’s world music maestro Glyn Phillips chats about his audio globetrotting.

Tell us about WorldBeatUK.

WorldBeatUK is a two-hour monthly world music radio show that airs on Brum Radio on the first Monday of every month at 8pm.  On it I feature new, recent and forthcoming album, EP and single releases from around the planet – and try and present them in an informative but friendly manner where you can find out a bit about the artists, the music, the genre, the instruments and the cultural background as well.  Personally I feel that knowing these bits of background information helps to enrich the experience of the music itself, especially as the languages might not be ones you understand or the styles and sounds as well.

How did you get involved with Brum Radio?

I have been producing and presenting WorldBeatUK on various radio stations for over eight years now – and I came to know Pete Steel (Brum Radio’s Head of Music and regular presenter) during my time at Rhubarb Radio (where Pete also had a show).  When he and Rich Farmer (Brum Radio’s Station Manager and Tuesday Show presenter) decided to start up a brand new radio station they approached me to see if I would be interested in bringing WorldBeatUK to Brum Radio.  Of course, I said yes!

What was your approach when first putting the show together?

‘World Music’ as a term is almost indefinable, however it’s a useful catch-all tag that allows me, for instance, to jump from say Ghanaian hip-hop, to Argentine electro-folklore to Jamaican reggae to American bluegrass to British afrobeat jazz fusion to Chinese folk to Iranian classical music, Portuguese fado or Malian court music in a heartbeat within just one show.  It means I’m not tied to one genre or style at all – I’m at liberty to choose what I like.  And if it interests me, it goes on the show.  I don’t believe in presenting music that I don’t feel either passionate about or at the very least intrigues me to know more.

What do you look for in the music you play?

It has to make me feel something!  Now, that ‘something’ is elusive and indefinable, but the very music itself must make me react in a positive manner, experience a sensation – whether it’s joy or sadness, pensiveness, wistfulness, surprise, calm, comfort, ecstasy, etc, etc.  The music itself must work on me at an emotional level otherwise it has failed (I feel all art should be like that).

I listen to prodigious quantities of music in doing the research for this show – of all kinds of genres and from all around the world, I definitely have the widest remit of any show in Birmingham, let alone Brum Radio – and if the music I’m listening to leaves me either bored or indifferent then it’s not going on WorldBeatUK!

I don’t expect my listeners to actually like everything that they hear on the shows, but I can pretty much guarantee that they’re always going to find something that has an effect on them, they will come away having experienced something positive and learned something new (either about the music, the culture, the genres or even themselves!).

Where do you go to find your music choices? Are you approached or do you go looking?

These days I’m largely approached.  I receive on average an album a day for pretty much every day of the year – as well as EPs and singles on top. It’s a lot of music to go through!  Over the years I have built very good relationships with labels and agents as well as managers and very importantly I feel, with the artists themselves.   Artists are only humans too and enjoy knowing that you are playing and enjoying their music – especially if you have specifically chosen to, rather than via a station’s playlist or mandate.  They enjoy the feedback and to know their work is appreciated by people who actually listen to it.  I make a point of keeping them in the loop about their music.

Occasionally I will go specifically looking for content – especially if I’m putting together a WorldBeatUK Special (eg genre specific such as ‘Americana’, thematic such as ‘Christmas’ or ‘War & Peace’, or region-specific such as ‘Hidden Pockets 1: From the Atlantic to the Adriatic, Troubador Songs & Romance Tongues”), but in general I have too much choice, not too little!

What country has produced the most musical surprises for you?

This is impossible to answer in the singular!  The more I hear, the more I realise just how much amazing music is out there that almost nobody outside of that country, region or community has ever heard of.  Most people go through their entire lives only ever experiencing a tiny fraction of the world’s many genres – so small that their minds would be blown if they realised what is out there.

However, I currently have a soft spot for the different musics of Cabo Verde (the island archipelago off the coast of North-West Africa – with a tripartite musical heritage from Portugal, Brazil and West Africa).  In fact there are many small countries (often islands) that punch way above their weight – you only have to think about the influence of Jamaica or Cuba worldwide.  To be honest, I find musical surprises everywhere – even in places you think you know like the back of your hand (e.g, Spain, Italy or the United States)!

Which country’s music would you like to get to know more?

Again, hard to pin down just one – impossible even.  For instance there are musical powerhouses in Africa such as Senegal, Mali, Ghana and Ethiopia with incredibly vibrant musical scenes and output, but I’m only just discovering what’s been hidden away in, for instance Somalia or Sudan.  India as everybody knows is vast and culturally rich, yet its diversity is at a different order of magnitude to what most people could comprehend.  India’s musics are astoundingly different!  China is a big blank for me – definitely a case of “here be dragons!” on the musical map.

But then again what about, I don’t know, Finland, Turkey, Tunisia, Korea, Australia (yes, Australia, why not?), Lebanon, Mozambique, Tuva, Georgia, Canada (a very vibrant music scene involving recent immigrants – as well as it’s own English and French language communities) to name but a few?  Everywhere has much more to offer than you think – even our own UK constantly throws up surprises too!

And finally… recommend an artist and a track to someone exploring world music for the first time.

Ok, you’re probably expecting this answer, but with the whole world to choose from you can’t expect me to recommend just one!  I could name a hundred, many hundreds, and still not begin to scratch the surface.  At the end of every year I do a show with my top new albums of that year.  For 2018 I played tracks representing the 20 Best Albums released that year – however I also felt the need to include verbal references to another 67 albums that were pretty much equally as good!!  I love music, what can I say?

However, if one is all I get then I think maybe the quality of someone like Bassekou Kouyate and his band Ngoni Ba from Mali should shine through enough.  Try the track Deli from his recent album Miri.  But it’s an unfair question really!  There are many thousands of tracks every bit as good as this one.  You need to listen to as much as possible and not instantly dismiss what sounds different.  We are living in golden times in terms of accessing the musics of the world – go out and give your ears a treat!

Tell you what, just free up your mind, leave your preconception at the door and kick back and listen to any of my WorldBeatUK shows.  Even if you don’t understand the languages sung or the styles of music, if the music ‘speaks’ to you at some level, then I have achieved my purpose!

Thanks Glyn – you can hear WorldBeatUK on the first Monday of every month (8-10pm) and it’s sister programme, The Overflow Show is on the last Monday of the month at the same time.

Listen to both shows on Mixcloud here.