World music star wins top honour - then condemns awards in the arts

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The Independent Culture

The eclectic Asian musician Nitin Sawhney was last night honoured for crossing boundaries at the World Music Awards in London – and promptly criticised the prize for imposing barriers of its own.

The awards, created by Radio 3, brought together performers from Europe, Africa, Asia and the Americas in a poll-winners' party last night at the Ocean venue in Hackney, east London. Lending the evening mainstream kudos were the likes of Brian Eno, Damon Albarn and Johnny Depp, who all presented prizes.

The term "world music" was invented by musicians and record industry figures to describe a category which included traditional regional music and non-Western classical sounds.

Mr Sawhney said: "It's always flattering and complimentary to get awards. But at the same time I don't understand the concept of judgementalism in the arts. I always think of the arts as being about personal, emotional expression.

"I tend to think that music is the place that doesn't have barriers or prejudices, but it's amazing how people try to force their barriers or prejudices onto music."

He added, however, that to turn down the prize would have been "patronising and arrogant".

British pop-folk singer Susheela Raman won the best newcomer award and the critics' award was won by the Senegalese performer Baaba Maal for his album Missing You.

An award voted for by Radio 3 listeners went to Afro Celt Sound System, a band whose members come from England, Ireland, Kenya, Guinea, Senegal and France.

Confronting the difficulty of comparing music from across the world, the organisers, including representatives of fRoots magazine and the Rough Guides to World Music, also presented honours based on regions.

Djelimady Tounkara from Mali won the African award; Yat-Kha, from Tuva, Siberia, the Asian/Pacific prize; Taraf de Haidouks from Romania the Europe/Middle East honour; and Orlando "Cachaito" Lopez from Cuba, best known as the bass player with the Buena Vista Social Club, was successful for the Americas.

All the winners, with the exception of Manu Chao from France who was honoured for innovation, performed at the special concert which will be broadcast on Radio 3 tonight and shown on BBC Knowledge on Sunday. The awards were created by the station, which has become an important supporter of world music in the last couple of years.

The diversity of music to choose from meant most awards were voted on by delegates to an industry organisation, the Worldwide Music Expo.

Roger Wright, Radio 3's controller, last night announced he would be extending the station's interest in the genre further with a new project to discover the music on our own doorstep.

The intention is to uncover examples of world music in Britain from Punjabi wedding songs to Jewish lullabies. Radio 3 has already found a Gujarati singer in Cardiff, an Ethiopian band in Hackney and a family of Yemeni musicians in Sheffield, whose music will be recorded for broadcast.

Roger Wright, the controller of Radio 3, said of course "world music" was a strange title. "Jazz is a strange term for all the things that are put under that title these days and classical music is a strange term for everything in classical music.

"In some senses it is a marketing term – it was invented in a back room at a pub in Islington in 1987. The reason for creating it was to find a place to put the CDs in the record shops."

Nonetheless, they wanted to hold the awards to raise the profile of the genre which was "an important, albeit small part of Radio 3's output. It's being topical," he said.