The idea/category of world music completely sucks. It essentially means music from everywhere else but the West—as if within the West, music is constant; and outside of its borders, it is in flux. To properly understand the sounds coming out of major centers like Johannesburg (kwaito), Bombay (desi electronica), Rio de Janeiro (baile funk), Kingston (ragga), it's better to use the term global music—a new kind of pop that has no center, that borrows from everywhere, that is constantly changing, circulating, and rearranging the terms of its possibilities. Global music is an orgy of interpenetration.

To begin a history of what is properly called global music, a good a place as any is London, in the late '70s, the very moment when Johnny Rotten dissolved the Sex Pistols and reformed as Public Image Limited. By way of their manager and inventor, the Sex Pistols led to Malcolm McLaren's Duck Rock, the model for global music experiments in the '80s—Paul Simon's Graceland, Talking Heads' Naked, and so on. PiL, on the other hand, introduced to the then-dying punk scene the fresh blood of a very young bassist (18 at the time), whose real name is John Wardle and street name is Jah Wobble (Sid Vicious is said to have given Wobble his first bass guitar and new moniker—wobble being either a play on John's surname or a reference to the way he plays the bass, which is kind of wobbly). Wobble's stay with PiL was brief, and he went on to become one of the leading experimenters of a music that has its roots in the late '60s (particularly with John Coltrane, George Harrison, and Brian Jones) but began taking shape in the '80s. It's a music that again and again attempts to express a world that's increasingly defined by affordable jet travel, computerized communication systems, satellite-transmitted entertainment, and borderless flows of corporate capital and production.

The base/bass of Wobble's international aspirations is dub, a dreamy derivation of roots reggae. Even to this day, not enough thought has been given to the oddly close relationship between punk and dub. The Clash, the Slits, and, of course, Bad Brains had no problems slowing down to the spiritually tranquil riddims of reggae and then, the next moment, speeding up to the raging anarchy of punk. The same was true with Wobble who, like the leader of PiL, the noisy and aggressive Johnny Rotten, was a big fan of King Tubby (the founder of dub). For much of the '80s, Wobble collaborated with a variety of musicians from around the world, building, as it were, an international musical concept that would be fully realized in the following decade.

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If, for global music, the '80s was the period of searching, the '90s was the moment of arrival. The years following the fall of the Berlin Wall, Wobble consolidated the new order of sound in two significant ways: by collaborating with the bassist Bill Laswell (Wobble's American double) and veteran producer Brian Eno on a number of ambient (or illbient) dub projects; and with his band Invaders of the Heart, which produced post-national pop like "Visions of You," a 1992 hit that combined the hurt Irish vocals of Sinéad O'Connor with a reggae bass line, East Asian percussion, a hiphop beat, and a rock/R&B rhythm guitar. Unlike the often-gimmicky global pop of the previous decade, all of the elements in "Visions of You" are fused to the point of perfection. It is the best of all worlds.

The ambient dub collaborations are not so easy on the ear. They can be demanding, with bass lines that rise and fall like a troubled sea, and sonic effects that mess with the listener's sense of time and place. The music is at once as old as the sun and super-futuristic like the endless sprawl of a city under skies that are bright with stars and three full moons. As to who is making (transmitting) this dub, it could be earthbound humans, or life forms on a fantastically distant planet, or even the dead who are trying to communicate with us from another plane of existence. "Orion," "Subcode," "Virus B," "Garden Recalled," "The Five Tone Dragon"— Wobble's dub is the spirit of the 21st century.

charles@thestranger.com

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