13 July 2018

Just get out there – no map, no compass, out in the wilderness! Make sure to pack the SCHIRN summer soundtrack featuring songs evoking wanderlust and the centuries-old fascination for untouched nature and distant lands.

By Antonia Lagemann

Blank spots on the map and adventurous expeditions to far-off places – the search for wilderness has preoccupied artists from the beginning of the 20th century to this day. In music too, the concept of “wilderness” has served as a projection surface for anything that was different and foreign, for the longing fantasies beyond the boundaries of the supposed civilization.

Indeed, the great composers of classical music, such as Claude Debussy, Ferrucio Busoni and Maurice Ravel, gained inspiration from oriental, North American and Indian sounds. When German musical theorist Georg Cappelen established his theory of “Zukunftsmusik” (“Future Music”) in the early 20th century, a new understanding of music emerged.

Fusion of cultures vs. eurocentric “worldmusic“

The universal meta-music was supposed to bring non-European and European traditions together. The literal claim of connecting “Orient and Occident” is still criticized to this day as Eurocentrically defined “world music”. In the 1950s, the so-called “Exotica” style was developed in the USA as a mixture of Jazz and Easy Listening, frequently underpinned with tropical sounds.

Musicians like Eden Ahbez or Esquivel expressed their longing for the South Seas. Afro-American singer Harry Belafonte triggered a global Calypso boom with his Caribbean rhythms, while singer Miriam Makeba became the first internationally celebrated star from South Africa in the 1960s. Even today, the wanderlust cliché still appears in Lounge Music. Most significantly, between the 1980s and the 2000s the annual “summer hit” was big in Europe, incorporating musical elements of popular holiday destinations, such as in Wham’s “Club Tropicana”.

The Beatles used the sitar, the Rolling Stones incorporated Arabian sounds

From the mid-1960s, the Beatles’ use of the sitar, the Rolling Stones’ incorporation of Arabian sounds, and African elements in the music of John Coltrane made supposedly exotic instruments popular in western music too, ensuring an increased artistic dialogue between the cultures. The genres of Ska and Reggae, which developed in Jamaica under the influence of American musical styles like Soul, R&B and Blues, initially created a stir amid the early skinhead scene in the UK, later became extremely popular in Europe too with acts like The Skatalites or Alton Ellis.


from William Onyeabor

The Ethiopian vibraphonist Mulatu Astatke, for his part, was only internationally recognized as the “father of Ethio-Jazz” when director Jim Jarmusch used one of his songs in the movie “Broken Flowers” in 2005, while Nigerian musician William Onyeabor, who was active from 1977 to 1985, was only discovered as an Electro Pop visionary in 2014. In the 1970s it was primarily Brian Eno who, as a solo artist and a producer for David Bowie and the Talking Heads, enriched Pop music with the rhythms of Africa and the Middle East. In doing so, he paved the way for pop stars like Paul Simon and Peter Gabriel, who worked intensely with African set pieces over the following decades – an approach that brought them great success but also accusations of “cultural colonialism”.

I was born a winner

Alton Ellis, Black man's pride, 1983

This ambivalence in the dialogue of the cultures was addressed by Jamaican rocksteady crooner Alton Ellis as early as the mid-1960s in the song “Blackman’s Word”, which appeared on Treasure Island and in which he oscillates between lamentation and jubilation as he sings the falsetto “I was born a loser” – only to then simply reinterpret the song two years later at the Coxson label as “Black Man’s Pride”, which features the refrain “I was born a winner”. An act as simple as it is radical that Cyprien Gaillard would pick up on in his 2015 video work “Nightlife”.