WHAT CONSTITUTES a celebrity or star?
On more than one occasion, when traveling overseas, this point has been brought home to me due to witnessing sightings of regional public figures that create near pandemonium, while, to me, that same individual seems utterly anonymous, and in no way intrinsically remarkable. Some of the biggest selling artists of all time are completely unheard of outside of their own homelands. Their enormous sales figures are made even more startling by the fact that many of these same countries are prone to huge bootlegging undergrounds, and official sales figures account for only a fraction of the actual records in circulation.
Johnny Hallyday has reigned in France as an Elvis-like figure (something that most countries have their own equivalent of, by the way) since 1960, and he has sold more than 100 million records. On his last tour in 2009, he sold out five nights at Paris’ main soccer stadium with a capacity of 80,000+ people. Similarly, the crooner Charles Aznavour has sold upwards of 100 mi l l ion a lbums in France.
A.R. Rahman (India), Nana Maskouri (Greece), and Alla Pugacheva (Russia), have all sold more than 100 million records, dwarfing the career sales of relatively minor stars such as Bob Dylan, the Beach Boys, and Metallica. In Japan, Yumi Matsutoya and Ayumi Hamasaki both have sales of more than 50-million albums each, while, in Pakistan, the late vocal great Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan produced no less than 125 separate albums in his career.
Italian alternative superstar, Jovanotti.
The impact an artist can have on a specific culture is profound. In Italy, one out of ten citizens owns at least one album by alternative superstar, Jovanotti (a Mediterranean, Bonolike figure), whose career has spanned four decades. Meanwhile, in Ethiopia, singer Tilahun Gessesse’s 2009 funeral parade was attended by more than one million people.
What does all this spell? Certainly, that cultural importance is relative, and much less centralized than the corporate giants would like us to believe. Also, that art is nothing if not subjective, with beauty truly being in the ear of the beholder.
A selection of sounds from around the globe ...
When the Rolling Stones’ Brian Jones traveled to Morocco in 1968 and recorded The Pipes of Pan at Joujouka, less than a year before his death, he was not only among the first rock musicians to take an interest in world music, he also managed to capture songs that still sound somewhat sinister and cacophonous today.
Nasrat Fateh Ali Khan’s Shahen-Shah record on Peter Gabriel’s Real World label includes only six songs, but each of them exhibit a prowess that could leave just about any singer shy of Pavarotti, speechless.
For sheer epicness, Nigerian singer Youssou N’Dour’s entrance at his 2010 Le Grand Bal à Bercy concert in Paris (viewable on You- Tube) should put even KISS or Lady Gaga to shame, and he simultaneously sings like a demon/angel.
If anything could inspire aliens to contact earth, it might be the joyful post-apocalyptic sound of Konono No1’s debut album, Congotronics.