“I know there are a lot of Bob Dylan covers out there,” admits Alain Weber with a chuckle. “Probably new ones every week.” Nonetheless, in the recently released tribute album he’s compiled, From Another World, Weber captures Dylan’s universality in a uniquely global fashion. The compilation features artists from around the world, and each track is interpreted in the performer’s own cultural context.
Weber is a longtime master of his craft, traveling extensively to recruit traditional musicians for festivals all over the world. “I think that traditional artists are real folk poets,” says Weber. “They carry on the tradition from long generations, speaking about daily life, holistic stories, and religious facts.” Over the last decade, Weber has created a way to coalesce his professional work with his personal reverence for a musical legend. “For me, Bob Dylan is the only Western artist who is able to make this connection with old traditions, even if he is a rock artist.”
The colorful collection includes performances by Kocani Orkestar of Macedonia, Kek Lang of Hungary, Sayfi Mohamed Tahar of Algeria, and numerous others. From Cuba to Taiwan, each contributor was carefully selected based on the underlying themes of Dylan’s songs.
“The idea was to make a connection between the specific song and the artist who had been chosen,” says Weber. Whether it’s the allusions to Indian mythology in “Jokerman” or the relationship of Sufi poetry to “Every Grain of Sand,” each artist was able to find resonance with Dylan’s work. “Even the remote artist who doesn’t necessarily know Bob Dylan could be touched by the lyrics of the song,” says Weber.
Some of the songs are adapted to the point that they’re almost unrecognizable. “When I started to work on the album,” says Weber, “I was getting upset with some of the Aboriginal artists, thinking, ‘Why don’t you play the exact original melody?’ But then I understood I was working in the wrong direction,” Weber explains. “The real richness of the CD was that they made [the songs] in their individual way.”
Dylan himself is known to appreciate multicultural takes on his songs; his 2003 film Masked and Anonymous featured Dylan’s songs performed in multiple languages. Dylan personally selected a version of “Tangled Up In Blue” performed by the Egyptian Musicians of the Nile, a group formed by Weber in the 1990s, to be featured in the film; that track didn’t make it onto the Masked and Anonymous soundtrack album, but it’s included on From Another World.
“A good poet must have universal dimension because poetry itself is universal,” Weber reflects. Whether written or sung, he continues, poetry is “not only a cultural thing—it’s something that belongs to humankind. It can touch anyone across the world when it’s made with feeling and a sense of observation.”
Selena Carlson is currently tackling a double major in journalism and music business at Augsburg College.