When I finally managed to buy a copy of this book, I did not realise that it was essentially a commercial publication of the late Charlie Gillett’s masters thesis, written while he was at Columbia University for his post-graduate studies (he had previously earned a degree in economics at Cambridge); as far as that goes, I was totally unaware that he had any academic credentials at all. I was not surprised, though, when I discovered the story behind this work- during his long career as a music jo When I finally managed to buy a copy of this book, I did not realise that it was essentially a commercial publication of the late Charlie Gillett’s masters thesis, written while he was at Columbia University for his post-graduate studies (he had previously earned a degree in economics at Cambridge); as far as that goes, I was totally unaware that he had any academic credentials at all. I was not surprised, though, when I discovered the story behind this work- during his long career as a music journalist, author and radio presenter he was widely respected for his encyclopedic knowledge of 20th century popular music.
In addition to his professional accomplishments, Mr. Gillett was credited by many with playing a major role in the popularisation of what would eventually become known as “World Music”. I am one of those who have always taken issue with both the basic conception of “world music” as a genre, due primarily to its imperialist, colonialist and indeed racist overtones, and also to the criteria (or more to the point, the lack thereof) used in the identification of music as belonging within that genre classification. Leaving that aside, however, much of the music so-described since the 1970s would not have been anywhere near as easily available to listeners throughout the English-speaking world without the efforts undertaken by Mr. Gillett and others to promote the work of so many talented musicians from myriad diverse backgrounds. In those days before the existence of the internet, it was immeasurably more difficult to find music that did not conform to the extremely limited categories normally played on commercial radio, particularly here in the U.S.; this was even more true if the lyrics were sung in any language other than English.
Although I had heard and read his name before, I only first became aware of Charlie Gillett’s work through the weekly music radio show he hosted on the BBC World Service from 1999 until his death in 2010. From the very first time I happened to hear that show, I found it so interesting and enjoyed it so much that I made the effort to tune in as often as possible. That was not as easy as it might seem, due to the fact that here in Detroit that particular program was scheduled at 3:00 a.m. I don’t remember what the show was actually called- “Around The World In Records with Charlie Gillett”, or something like that, but essentially Mr. Gillett would pick ten of the most interesting records he had heard recently from anywhere in the world outside the U.S. & U.K. (Canada & Australia were also excluded as I recall), and give each selection a short review after he had played it. Charlie Gillett was renowned for possessing “golden ears” and having impeccable taste, a reputation I believe to have been well-deserved. I didn’t like everything he played by any means; more often than not there would be only one or two tracks I liked, and sometimes there were none. However, nearly everything he played was interesting and worth a listen, and on occasion, he would come up with something truly extraordinary. Among the many artists to whose music I was first exposed by Charlie Gillett’s radio show are Amadou & Mariam, Tinariwen and Los Amigos Invisibles. All three of those went on to much greater success after first being exposed to an international audience by Charlie Gillett; in addition to that, I still enjoy the music of all three roughly a decade later… …more