BBC Radio 3 Awards, Usher Hall, Edinburgh

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

With the Belgian band Think of One, a bunch of outré young types sporting sharp vintage suits and bags of attitude, playing outside to welcome the crowds arriving at Edinburgh's grande dame of music venues, it was clear from the start that this wasn't a night for your traditional Radio 3 listener. A stage bedecked with futuristic rhomboid hangings, illuminated by psychedelic projected visuals, and flanked by huge TV screens underlined the point, while the appearance of the co-host Benjamin Zephaniah in a kilt celebrated the World Music Awards' maiden excursion, in their third year, outside of London.

Now comprising 10 pan-global categories, the event's intent is honourable: to fête the latterly expanded popularity of some non-Anglo-American musics and to capitalise on it to gain greater exposure for lesser-known traditions. The awards also seem to be catching a new generational wave of artists across territories from Africa to central Asia, and in the process helping to yank Radio 3's image into the 21st century.

The one revered veteran who featured among 2004's winners, the septuagenarian Buena Vista Social Club vocalist Ibrahim Ferrer, was sadly detained in Cuba by bronchitis. An enjoyable short film about him cemented the evening's torch-passing dynamic, however, before a parade of resplendent young talent took to the stage.

Take Senegal's Daara J, for instance, winners in the Africa category. This exuberant trio have reclaimed hip hop as originating in Africa, and brought it home to mingle triumphantly with traditional chants and resonant a cappella harmonies, while retaining all of the genre's pugnacious vitality, alongside some serious DJ action.

Sets of decks featured prominently throughout the night, with the inaugural holder of the newly introduced club-global category, Brazil's DJ Dolores, regaling a capacity crowd for a half-time half-hour with a banging blend of breakbeats, samba grooves, street-sourced samples and sizzling brass licks. The Europe winners Ojos de Brujo, a punk-carnivalesque collective from Spain, also included one member spinning the wheels among their rambunctious 10-piece line-up.

Softer or folkier approaches were not neglected. The critics' award-winner Rokia Traore from Mali opened with a mesmerisingly sensual, soulfully forlorn ballad, the fierce beauty of her voice at times recalling Sinéad O'Connor, while Uzbekistan's Sevara Nazarkhan, who took the Asia/Pacific crown, wove a starkly hypnotic spell with her minimally accompanied, undulating vocals.

The night's loudest and most sustained applause, though, went to the Iraqi heart-throb Kadim Al Sahir, who combines seductive pop stylings with ancient Sufi writings and original poetry - and whose symbolic significance here was both timely and moving.