Tired of listening to what he viewed as the standard world music format show, host Jesse Kaminsky began the Intercontinental in 2006 as “a way to explore some of the more obscure sounds from around the world.” With a focus on cultural movements that have been operating independently of the US, such as Yugoslavian mariachi and Japanese-Cuban music, Kaminsky has played music from 119 countries. (For comparison, note that the U.N. recognizes 192 in total.)
Tune into the Interncontinental on WMBR (88.1FM or wmbr.org) every Wednesday from 6-8pm EST.
Give us a brief rundown on the history of the show.
I started the Intercontinental in 2006 as a way to explore some of the more obscure sounds from around the world. I felt like the ‘world village’ idea of a global culture was the dominant model for foreign music on the radio, and that really left me cold. That mentality seems to be based on the idea of the west as cultural compass and bankroll and felt a lot like the mondo type exhibition without context. I was really interested in tapping into the type of cultural movements that have been happening for centuries independently of the US. The Yugoslavian fascination with mariachi music or Japanese-Cuban music, for instance, produced some really fascinating records, made only for the domestic markets in those countries.
How did you get interested in ‘international’ music in the first place?
Growing up in Arkansas before the internet was a really off the ground, it was difficult to find anything other than local bands and the current Top 40. I was really hungry for something else, though, so I just tried to use every resource to cast a wide net and listened to anything that might possibly be interesting. I would ask every foreign exchange student what they were listening to. I had a lot of weird tape dubs of Yugoslavian ska punk bands in high school. I went to local punk shows in high school but was also trying to find where to order Conlon Nancorrow CDs or whatever music was the farthest from what I already knew, it was all in pretty much the same category for me. I didn’t really focus exclusively on international music until the idea for the show came along, it’s really taken over my life since then.
The music you play comes from almost every country imaginable. How do you source it all?
It can be really difficult to crack into a stream of culture that wasn’t meant for you, especially if it doesn’t exist anymore or is all in a script that I can’t read. The internet is great, though, and I’ve found that people can be very helpful with information if they can see that you’re serious about it. I can’t read Farsi so I scanned all my Iranian singles and put them on my website and suddenly people are emailing me from all over the world with translations and history, they’re amazed that someone like me has interest in pre-revolutionary Iranian pop music. There are dealers for anything, though. I do a lot of trial and error purchasing, buying things based on the picture or something. If you buy enough Turkish disco singles you eventually start to figure out what’s good or what to avoid. Once you have a handle on part of it you can do associative things like: if Yugoslavia had such a great newwave/synthpop thing in the ’80s then what about Hungary, or Poland. If you look it up, it’s there!
What’s the weirdest piece of music you’ve ever found and played on your show?
There is some music from the Dagestan region of Russia that’s really singular. It’s a kind of techno with traditional rhythms and melodies. Drum machines and accordions with reverbed out mcs, totally unlike anything I’ve heard anywhere else. There’s also a really strange Dagestani version of Jimmy Ajaa (the Bappi Lahiri Hindi disco song that M.I.A. covered) that was reworked to be a praise song for Allah that’s a strong contender for weirdest song.