On the radio: Sunday Feature – David Attenborough: World Music Collector

A rather lovely Sunday Feature saw Radio 3 depart from its usual commitment to esoterica and instead give its listeners a nice Christmas treat in the form of David Attenborough playing through some old recordings of traditional music from around the world that he’d thought lost.

The recordings were made 50-60 years ago and, in Attenborough’s words, once the tapes were handed to the BBC that was pretty much it. They were never heard of again. It was only when he was clearing out a cellar – presumably more space was required for awards or somesuch – that he realised he was in possession of some copies. And thus we were given a forty-five minute tour of some of the highlights.

It flowed a little like an episode of Planet Earth. One moment we were in amongst some music played before the Tongan royal family, the next village gamelan players were giving their all. So much variety and, as is so often the case, so utterly compelling because Attenborough’s desire to share his enthusiasm.

It was a simple programme but all the more effective for it. The beauty of music recorded almost by accident decades ago, and stripped of any desire to be part of ‘world music’ in the contemporary sense, shone through. I loved it and if there are more tapes that David Attenborough would like to share then I’d be pleased if Radio 3 could give him the opportunity again.


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