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The World on a CD

<i>World 2002</i> features 37 artists from 24 countries.
World 2002 features 37 artists from 24 countries.

Every Saturday night, BBC radio host Charlie Gillett brings the music of the world into his London studio. It's not unusual for him to play songs from Mexico, Ethiopia, Colombia, Madagascar or Tuva, a region of Siberia.

As he tells NPR's Scott Simon on Weekend Edition Saturday, Gillett plays "just what catches my attention." Gillett says his goal -- dream, really -- is to discover something wonderful but obscure that will gradually catch on with a wider audience.

Gillett, a 30-year veteran of London's airwaves, has produced a new two-CD collection, World 2002, that captures some of the sounds heard on his show.

The artists include Portuguese singer Mariza, whose album cover caught Gillett's eye and had him wondering what she would sound like. "When I listened, I was entranced," he says.

Then there's Brazilian singer Tom Zé, whom Simon notes sounds nothing like the music made popular by Sergio Mendes or Astrud Gilberto. Gillett says Zé's song "Xiquexique" is much like country music that people would play "at parties and dances, out in the open..."

Gillett says Zé's experimental style is an example of the wide range of music to be found in every country. And that's what he tries to bring to his show. "It's like what old-fashioned radio was like back in the '50s, in a sense, when radio was very responsive... to what listeners liked," Gillett says. "There wasn't anywhere near the organized structure that there is now."

Gillett says he is was especially moved by "Bladi" a song by Souad Massi that's featured on World 2002. The Algerian singer was discovered when she performed at a festival of young musicians in Paris. "This song is so, so touching and so appropriate at this particular moment in history because it's sung by an Algerian singer (singing in French) about 'in a time of war, what about the women, what about their children?'"

When musicians sing in their native language, songs must have a strong melody to succeed with a wide audience, Gillett says. The words "have to be important to the person singing them, otherwise they aren't going to sound impassioned and convincing and we aren't going to believe them. But there has to be a melody there which gets through to us."

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.