From teenage years I was a keen musical adventurer. From Hendrix to Beefheart, from Can to Miles Davis to the Spontaneous Music Ensemble, these were exciting explorations. Looking back now at the early origins of my “World Music” cultural travels, I see ’70s reggae as the first landmark, bringing in Dub, Deejay/toasting and Rastafarian Nyabinghi chants, as well as The Wailers, Burning Spear, Big Youth et al. At the same time, having been an avid follower of the ’60s and ’70s US West Coast scene, I pursued the Grateful Dead, New Riders and others into their country-roots excursions, discovering outlaws like Waylon Jennings on the way. Folk roots were manifesting. Ry Cooder appeared with his Leadbelly songs and Tex-Mex stylings and Taj Mahal played the blues with Caribbean influences. Then there was a Moroccan album which fell my way by the (Ghanaian) percussionist from Traffic, and of course there was Ravi Shankar representing all things Indian and mystical.
Towards the end of the ’80s African music fully entered my musical consciousness. I was aware that it was being featured on radio by John Peel and Andy Kershaw, but it was my younger brother, who had remained closer than I to the cutting edge during that decade, who played me Fela Kuti, and gave me two significant (vinyl) albums - Salif Keita’s “Soro” and Youssou N’Dour’s “Immigres”. I was into a new era. I became a devoted listener to Andy Kershaw’s BBC programmes, taping and editing them. Colombian cumbia struck a chord - another vinyl purchase. Suddenly there was music from everywhere - Madagascar, Pakistan, Brazil, Cuba and more.
It gradually dawned on me that much of this music was not designed for sitting down and stroking one’s bearded chin to, and in the mid ’90s I began The Wicklow Dance Club in, what seems retrospectively, a ridiculously small yoga chalet in North Wicklow. The dance-floor fare was not as exclusively World Music as it later became, but it mixed Angelique Kidjo, Fela Kuti, the Soul Brothers, the Afro-Celts and Bally Sagoo with Talking Heads, Grace Jones and James Brown. It was a small-scale success. There seemed to be a strata of Wicklow society that was no longer interested in going clubbing in Dublin, but who wanted to dance in a congenial community setting and had no other outlet. These were the days long before the Funky Seomra, the Dublin and Wicklow Dance Co-ops, Ruaille Buaille in Clare… and before 5-Rhythms became ubiquitous. The Wicklow Dance Club outgrew the yoga chalet and moved on to various community centres, pubs and some out-of-the-way dens of iniquity, before it took up residence for a decade or so in the Bel Air, Ashford, and from there to its current resting place, the HotSpot in Greystones.
In parallel with the Dance Club development, I was auditioned for a DJ-presenter post in Dublin City FM (or Anna Livia, as it was at the time) and found myself on air for an hour every Saturday for the “World Music Show”, which soon became “Ear to the globe” in its current Monday night slot. Initially these radio shows were excursions and rambles through my CD collection, but gradually as I built connections with record labels, distributors and promoters, the programme became a showcase for new World Music releases and visiting artists, and featured interviews and regular ticket giveaways. Currently the two-hour Monday night show is almost exclusively new releases and features a very wide range of styles and genres from all over the world.
In the mid-Noughties I presented three series of World Music programmes on the national broadcaster, RTE Radio 1, under the heading of “Nigel Wood’s World Order” and “Nigel Wood’s Wide World of Music”.
At the end of 2015 I was invited to become part of a new worldwide collective of DJs, the Transglobal World Music Chart group, now about 50 strong. We produce a World Music chart every month and circulate an ever-increasing flow of new music from a wide range of sources.
In my dance-floor DJ guise I have played at many festivals - the late lamented Dun Laoghaire Festival of World Cultures…. and Body & Soul and the Electric Picnic (as part of the Trenchtown posse), the Ranelagh Arts Festival, and others. I have provided support at live gigs (Bassekou Kouyaté, Yasmin Levy and more) - and played music for a range of events from Trocaire’s staff party to Green Party fundraisers and Arabesque nights. Many parties, weddings, memorials and special events have also featured.
I have also collaborated with artist and yoga-teacher, Paola Catizone, in live drawing-and-music events, and we have presented yoga/movement/dance workshops.
The joy of “World Music” is that there is always something new coming along, whether it be a previously unheard cultural genre, an updating or modernising of the roots of a tradition, or the coming together of representatives of separate traditions to create something new and different. In addition there is a deep cultural context to the music: it can carry stories of the historical movement of people (often, sadly, via slavery); it usually has a function in the rituals and celebrations of societies; it is carrier of the hopes and dreams and losses and sadnesses of peoples and communities. “World Music” at its best emphasises the excitement of humanity’s variations and diversity, but under an umbrella which recognises the value of all cultural contributions.