For one week each in the summers of 1991, 1992 and 1995, Peter Gabriel threw open the doors of his Real World studios in rural England and invited an enormous bunch of musicians – Sinead O’Connor, Marta Sebestyen, Papa Wemba, Guo Yue are just a few of them – to come and jam. Hundreds of tape hours, 18 years and 11 tracks later, Big Blue Ball – the name comes from an orbiting astronaut’s observation of the earth – is the result.
Gabriel, the musician who fronted the rock band Genesis at the time when they were genuinely interesting, joined forces with WOMAD to create the Real World label in 1989 and since, then, some of the world’s most dynamic musicians have passed through its portals. To think about BBB is also to consider the musical community that the studio’s Recordings Weeks have created. It’s a subject that deserves a book. But for now, BBB is a distillation of this spirit of co-operation. The bar is set high. On ‘Shadow’, Papa Wemba’s high vocals and Juan Cañizares’ flamenco guitar are as light itself, while Natacha Atlas, singing on ‘Habibe’ with Hossam Ramzy’s Egyptian string section, is a 7-minute edit of a 20-minute improv session and it grooves beautifully. So too does ‘Everything Comes from You’, a meditative piece from Sinead O’Connor and Japanese percussionist Johi Hirota. ‘Rivers’, a vehicle for Marta Sebestyen’s glorious voice, is captivating. Built around a drone of percussion, it shimmers downstream like a silver fish. Rockier tracks from Gabriel, Kurt Wallinger and some tumbling bass on ‘Jify’, from Arona N’diaye, Rossy and Jah Wobble, serve to earth proceedings – all of which seems a good move, considering the potential under this studio’s roof.