Remembering Charlie Gillett: World Music Aficionado

This article was written on Thursday 18th
of March 2010. Italics in the first part were added in 2016(Wednesday, 16th
of March) to emphasis some thoughts.  

Sigh. How do I begin? The first time I heard
of Charlie Gillett’s World of Music was during my NYSC (National Youth Service Corps) 2006-2007. I was in one of the
poorest villages in the East (Agbabor Isu
in Onicha Local Government Area in Ebonyi State.
) When I heard his show; I
could not just leave my radio; the songs were unique in content, especially
instrumentals. Charlie just had a knack for instrumentals and their
arrangements. On this particular Sunday
afternoon, in the last quarter of 2006,
I was so drawn to his show, listening to it for the first time; that
I took my transistor Short Wave radio
along with me to the makeshift
bathroom to have a bath; which was
outside the bungalow NYSC corps members lived. This continued on any Sunday I
hadn’t taken my bath and
anytime he was on the air. So also, my co-corps
member. (Who was also addicted to the

Back in Lagos, never did I miss his show,
anytime I did, I wasn’t glad because I couldn’t go to the cyber cafe to listen to his podcasts. Because of Charlie, I came to
appreciate World Music from Mali, Senegal, Ukraine, Middle East, Southern
America etc ; even a place like Mongolia. Subconsciously, I began writing down
some exquisite artistes (works) to
buy later e.g. Queen Africa, Sam Baker and the
Goran Bregovic (Time of the Gypsies) which he played on Sunday the 14th of March 2010
Goran Bregovic’s score for Emir Kusturica's film Time of the Gypsies .)

His dexterity in music was extra-terrestrial
to a point where he played Nigerian artistes of the mid 70s to 80s; long
forgotten by my mother (the 1950s born in
the heart of Lagos (Lagos Island) type
). How about the 2 consecutive Sundays,
he played 9ice (Photocopy), Asha and
Nneka? Amazing Charlie, detailed Charlie.

Sigh, what baffles me is I was to email him
on the 16th of March 2010 (for
I woke up at around past 4am (normal routine) to listen to BBC World Service
I thought about him) about the Goran Bregovic’s track he played on
Sunday, but my (cyber cafe) ticket
time was 11 minutes. Sigh. Those days,
not too many people had internet services at home.
The cybercafé was where “the internet all and sundry” congregated.

Can anyone fit into his shoes? Not in a
lifetime. Can you replace Fela, Bob Marley, Mariam Makeba, Yousou Ndou? No. He
is in their league. He played what he knew listeners should know about and

Finally, I won’t forget the day he played an
African hip-hop or Eastern hip-hop song and after the track, he said or I
suffice; “this is what hip-hop should be
if from Africa, let it have that African feel
.” I have been influenced by him through music and I am better for
it. Adieu Charlie. The dexterical Charlie, known in many a nook and cranny. His
legacy would forever linger on in my mind and other word music aficionados too.
Rest in peace. Amen.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016,

According to Wikipedia's
profile of Charlie Gillett
was born in Morecambe, Lancashire, England, and was brought up in
Stockton-on-Tees where he attended Grangefield Grammar School. As a teenager he
developed a love of music as well as sport, before going to Peterhouse,
Cambridge, to take a degree in economics. In 1965, after graduating and
marrying, he went to Columbia University in New York to study for a Master's
degree, taking as his thesis — unconventionally for the time — the history of
rock and roll music.

In July 2006, after eleven years of broadcasting his regular
Saturday-night show of world music, Gillett had to end his weekend slot due to
ill health, but until his death he continued to present his half-hour show,
Charlie Gillett's World of Music, on Friday evenings.

I read in a related piece and it went thus “If you were seriously ill and suspected you
didn’t have long to live, finishing off a last piece of work might not be your
first priority. But Charlie Gillett’s annual Sound of the World compilations
had become vitally important to him, not only because they were universally
respected as the best barometers of changing taste and style in world music,
but because they were personal statements, the logical outcomes of a lifetime
spent listening to music.”

When the BBC aired a documentary cum tribute
to Charlie Gillett; Senegal’s famous Wolof musician Youssou N’Dour revealed
that anytime he completed studio recordings for an album, he always sent the
album to Charlie Gillett and if my memory serves me right, he flew with his
2010 album (Dakar-Kingston) to see Charlie Gillett and was eager to hear the
World Music connoisseur’s view on his album.

Charlie Gillett’s World of Music on the BBC World
was very popular as Charlie would read mails from far flung
places. I doubt if there is anyone who listened to his show and would not cultivated
the habit of having an ear for good music and instrumentals. Now, one just
needs less than 30seconds listening to a song and you can determine if it is a
great. good, rushed or bad track.

In 2010, the BBC World Service director Peter
Horrocks said Gillett was an inspiration whose spirit of adventure and passion
for the rich diversity of global music opened the ears of the world. "His
broadcasts brought together music and radio fans from far flung corners of the
globe. His postbag was one of the biggest, most affectionate and diverse in
Bush House, which confirmed his special place in listener's lives. He was a
very special broadcaster and he will be sorely missed."

In The
Telegraph piece published on 14 July 2010
, Mary Ann Kennedy was quoted as
saying he was
“one of the great movers and shapers of world music,” mentioning
Gillett’s passion, his passionate musical study and generosity, how messages
had been pouring in from around the world.

He was renowned for his global perspective of music
Jody, one of the daughters of Charlie Gillett says. The
fact that the father of her 11-year-old daughter is a Nigerian percussionist
is, she says, “not unconnected” to her father’s work.

One of the lessons, I learnt from listening
to Charlie Gillett was that he played what he knew listeners should know about
and discover. In this age of digitalisation, disseminating information on what
people should know and discover still holds true

BBC World Service DJ Charlie Gillett - the man
who helped coin the term "world music” passed on (Wednesday, the 17th
of March 2010) a long illness at the age of 68. His b
ibliography: The Sound of the City: The Rise of Rock and
Roll (1970, several later editions), 
Rock File nos. 1–4 (ed., with Simon Frith)
(1972–76) and 
Making Tracks: Atlantic Records and the Making of a Multi-billion-dollar Industry (1974).

                                 DEAR CHARLIE (AN ODE TO CHARLIE GILLETT)


DOLAPO AINA (21/3/2010-4.12am. CONCLUDED


Everyone knows you on the radio,

For playing music we should know,

From Chicago, Cairo, Oslo to Tokyo.

Your unique discoveries are forever excellent,

Broadening and enlightening our musical intellect,

Now who would press the button, select?

Songs from many a nook and cranny,

Shouldn’t gather any dust from unfamiliarity,

So you believed it should be. Dear Charlie.

Dolapo Aina,

Lagos, Nigeria|


Photo Credit: Google Images

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