When I hear the term “world music,” I reach for my revolver. That category ranks right up there with such fallacious and vaguely ethnocentric utterances as “reverse racism” and “primitive culture,” and the queasy phrase contains all the smug bourgeois self-abnegation of a middle-age white dude in a beret reading The Tibetan Book of the Dead over a non-fat vanilla latte at Café Sniff. Isn’t all music world music? Or is it actually the case that such an empty-set category is just a ruse of liberal self-congratulation hiding a desire to appropriate the sort of transcendence our nihilistic consumer culture promises but never delivers? World music my ass — can we just call it fucking music, please.
The Portland-based band Brothers of the Baladi originally formed in Yuma, Ariz., as a mid-‘70s backup band for local belly dancer Zamara. Fronted by singer and multi-instrumentalist Michael Beach (the only founding member still in the outfit), the Brothers boast some deep and abiding roots in Eugene’s cultural legacy; they co-founded (and built) the original Gypsy Stage at the Oregon Country Fair, where they’ve shared the stage with various belly dancers over the years. It goes without saying that, from the get-go, the band has revealed a strong Eastern music influence, and their East-meets-West sound is an odd mixture of Don Henley sunshine, Steely Dan groove and the warbly vocals, syncopated percussion and arcing strings of George Harrison’s Maharishi experimentation.
Even if, like me, this isn’t your cup of tea, the talent and orchestral savvy of this band is undeniable and, what’s more, there is a large and limber demographic in Eugene that just eats this stuff up. The Brothers of the Baladi have one shy of a dozen albums under their belts (including the Grammy nominated 2008 CD Just Do What’s Right), their music was featured on that loopy TV show Lost, they sing in seven languages and play such instruments as the def, riq and midjwiz.
Brothers of the Baladi and District 19 Flamenco, featuring belly dancers Sabine, Tribalation, Deena & Dunyah, play 8 pm Saturday, Jan. 7, at Cozmic; $8.