I can’t imagine a better setting in which to take in a M.A.K.U. Soundsystem show than in the midst of an open-air courtyard at the center of one of Los Angeles’ most picturesque museums while the sun sets. The Skirball, after all, is a building constructed from the first brick upward for the express purpose of showcasing culture from across the land. What other venue would be more appropriate to showcase a band whose sound has roots in half a dozen wildly disparate cultures?
M.A.K.U. Soundsystem’s show is best experienced not from the comfort of your seat, but on your feet; wandering around the venue to hear how the architecture affects the sonics – or, better yet, in the middle of the frantic dancefloor which spontaneously erupts in front of the stage where they play. The Skirball happens to excel on both fronts.
M.A.K.U. Soundsystem belongs to a class of bands which makes music that is unfortunately classified by a term which barely even applies any more: “world music”. The “world music” genre so insidiously, close-mindedly, non-specific that it functionally applies to all music from a place other than wherever the listener happens to live. The term “world music,” after all, can be applied to Indian raga music, Welsh harp dirges, Tuvan throat singing, and literally an entire world full of other sounds; how in God’s name is anyone supposed to take this stuff seriously?
Like many musical formats, the Internet changed the equation pretty precipitously. Our contemporary cultural milieu is available to anyone who possesses the ability to log on, no matter where they happen to be sitting; defining “the world” as the inverse of your current coordinates seems like a gesture of extraordinary privilege. Besides, these days there’s very little cultural capital to be earned from going out and discovering an act from some far-flung corner of the globe and it’s not like anyone doesn’t know how to fire up YouTube.
And that’s before you get to the unavoidable eventuality that much of what would have fallen under the grouping of “world music” two decades ago frequently gets appropriated by genres which refute geographical definition. Consider the persistent presence of William Onyeabor, a candidate for the “world music” tag if ever an artist deserved it, in the DJ sets of bleeding-edge cool guys like Four Tet, literally right next to stuff like Eric Prydz … I mean, could anyone have said the same about the Gipsy Kings?
M.A.K.U. Soundsystem neatly sidesteps this issue by aiming to present a sound which borrows from a broad swath of cultures rather than one which settles for merely exemplifying one. A song like “Agua,” if played straight, could run the risk of being a Jazz Odyssey-level spectacle of indulgence; by infusing it with traits of a host of other musical styles ranging from Afrobeat to West Indian polyrhythms to classic face-melting psychedelic rock, however, they’re able to keep the vibe fresh, engaging, and enervating throughout from their first note they play to the last. Unless you’re one of those people who rejects world music in all its forms like a bad organ transplant, you can buy a ticket to their show with great confidence; odds are great that you’ll find something about their show to like. Even if you don’t get to see it in a venue as splendid as the Skirball.
The Skirball Cultural Centert has a series of FREE concerts this summer every Thursday from July 21 through August 25th. CLICK HERE to check out ther musical offerings this Summer!