Radio 3 Awards, Ronnie Scott's, London

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The Independent Culture

A hush descended on Ronnie Scott's as the clock reached 2.58pm. Then - ah1s from a world away - we heard the last notes of Discovering Music, and the unseen presenter in Portland Place segueing into World Routes, bringing us into the broadcast loop of the day. We were there to assist in the unveiling of this year's winners in the Radio 3 Awards: hardly a cliffhanger, in that it was guaranteed that all the 32 nominees would be described as wonderful - with the winners merely being particularly wonderful - and that many of the contenders were hard to tell apart. And if the presenters' tone was cosily triumphal, this three-year-old event is indeed a triumph of sorts: the fact that 10,000 listeners sent in votes for the "audience" category is proof that it has put down roots.

First up was the Africa prize, which went to that sparky Senegalese hip-hop group Daara J. And why not? Hip-hop is big in Senegal now, where it's being adapted - as Latin jazz was 40 years ago - to suit the Senegalese sensibility. Then, to whoops of delight, came the Asia-Pacific prize - awarded to young Sevara Nazarkhan, who has subjected her native Uzbek music to a dunking in electronic disco. But there were even greater whoops when Ibrahim Ferrer got the Americas prize: 75, and still going strong, this superb singer has never needed electronic aids, and is rightly treasured because, when he goes, there won't be anyone capable of carrying on where he left off.

Spain's Ojos de Brujo trium-phed in the Europe category with music that is feisty, but totally dependent on manufactured effects. It was nice to see the Middle East/North Africa prize go to an Iraqi, even if Kazem Al Sahir's Arabic funk is the product of 14 years' cross-cultural collaboration in exile.

And it was predictable that Think Of One should win the Boundary Crossing award, and that Rokia Traore should get the critics' award. But it came like a blast of fresh air when the Warsaw Village Band - winners in the Newcomer category - gave us a taste of their "hardcore folk". To the dry and invigorating sound of wood on wood, or wood on hide, they added "whitened" voices - that peasant timbre devoid of seductive colouring.

But in aggregate, this was highly commercial stuff. Was it really a case of "less well-known artists getting recognition", as we were promised? The world's multitudinous musics still await discovery by the affluent West. Only when that happens, shall we see just how much beauty and virtuosity we have chosen to ignore. Time to institute a Field Recording category.

The nominees for the Awards for World Music 2004 are available as a two-CD compilation on the Union Square label (MANTDCD223)

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