November 13th, 2010
Tomorrow, bright and early, I’ll be joining a panel of several esteemed colleagues to talk about “new media ecologies of world music” at the annual meeting of the Society for Ethnomusicology, which is taking place at the Wilshire Grand hotel in downtown Los Angeles. If you’re in the area and up for getting up so early on a Sunday, please join us — or as co-panelist Josh Kun just tweeted:
Who’s ready for cumbias and corridos at 8:30 tomorrow AM? World music 2.0 for the early risers and non-church goers
Here is the panel abstract, followed by the slate of papers and their titles. For those who read my recent piece in The National, much of what I’ll be saying will sound familiar.
The category of “world music” has been identified with ethnomusicology since the late 1950s but was powerfully reworked in the 1980s into the industrially-produced genres of “world music” and “world beat.” In recent years, independent redistributions and online circulations have revitalized “world music” with raw materials derived from a global array of previously underdocumented regional popular styles. But these emerging media ecologies of world music (sometimes described as “World Music 2.0”) disengage from the top-down marketed collaborations and smoothly hybridized visions of the 1980s and 1990s. Instead, new productions reorient the ideologies and ethics of world music toward the discourses of “open source culture,” free informational exchange, and participatory democratic access enabled by digital media and online distribution. Accordingly, the notion of what “world music” sounds like — and the picture of the world it entails — increasingly maps onto new global imaginaries of the popular, sometimes decentering the term’s consumer lynchpin: the autonomous Western listener. However, despite the possibilities of more horizontal (if not peer-to-peer) revisions, critical problems of participation and power remain in familiar as well as new forms. While new media ecologies offer increased opportunities for inclusion and exchange, they simultaneously create novel patterns of exclusion, difference-making, and vulnerability at crucial nodes of shared access. This panel will question how globally popular platforms like YouTube enable or undermine the collective stewardship of world music, how digital modes correspond with more established commercial routes of musical circulation, and their challenges to ethnomusicology’s existing discourses of musical culture.
12G Brentwood Room
New Media Ecologies of World Music
Chair: Timothy Taylor, University of California, Los Angeles
8:30 Dude, Where’s My Video? – Kevin Driscoll, University of Southern California
9:00 The Corrido and the Network: Cross-Border Ecologies of Mexican Music – Josh Kun, University of Southern California
9:30 Uneasy Peers and Unstable Platforms: The Making and Breaking of World Music 2.0 – Wayne Marshall, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
10:00 “New Old Media” of World Music – David Novak, University of California, Santa Barbara
November 10th, 2010
I’m happy to announce that I recently joined the team of associate editors at JPMS, or the Journal for Popular Music Studies, which is the quarterly publishing venue of IASPM-US, or the United States branch of the International Association for the Study of Popular Music.
Now that I’ve got that mouthful out, let me tell you why this is important to me and worth your interest — that is, if you fancy yourself a scholar or student of popular music.
Depending on one’s language, methods, and audience, there are lots of venues for writing about popular music today, from the classic sites of music journalism (magazines, newspapers), to the world of blogs and tweets and tumbls, and including an increasing number of academic journals. All of those are fine venues, in their own way, and depending on their paywalls (or lack thereof), they all can serve to amplify ideas, share research, and work to reshape the ways we think and talk and write about music.
I’m glad to note that JPMS stands alongside many similar efforts, including Popular Music, Popular Music and Society, and nowadays a host of online and grad student-edited journals. All of these serve as supportive — and increasingly bold and accessible — platforms to stage rigorous peer-reviewed discussions and debates about the significance, meanings, and effects of popular music, very broadly construed.
The “broadly construed” part is crucial, and I know my co-editors are in agreement about the diversity of approaches and topics we’d like to invite. It’s also important to me that the journal be broadly accessible — a public platform of sorts, to be read by people outside of popular music studies per se. Of course, being an academic journal, still embedded in a particular publishing regime, there will be inevitable constraints on our best wishes. But while we realize that an academic journal faces certain problems of access and professional requirements (i.e., getting people tenure in disciplines), we hope to cultivate JPMS as a space from which a broadened and more critical understanding of music writing might be generated.
Here’s a revived description of the journal c/o the new Editors-in-Chief, Gus Stadler and Karen Tongson:
Journal of Popular Music Studies features work on popular music in its historical, cultural, aesthetic, and political registers. Its purview encompasses all genres of music that have been dubbed popular. The journal is also concerned with such issues as popular music’s intersections with other arts, its relationships with old and new media, and its status as a field of research and critical writing. We welcome and encourage unconventional approaches (i.e. different from the standard scholarly essay) to these areas of inquiry. Each number of JPMS features book reviews, as well as occasional reviews of performances and recordings, and we regularly publish special issues oriented around a particular topic, co-ordinated by a guest editor or editors.
In a meeting of the editorial team earlier this semester, a more detailed picture emerged of the directions we’d like to take the journal. The following points help, I think, to situate JPMS uniquely in the field. In brief, we are in agreement that we’d like JPMS to
1. Provide a hospitable place for scholarship that departs from strictly “discipline-based” approaches to popular music.
2. Encourage writerly approaches to popular music. We want to locate and feature the passion in the projects we publish, and to that end, also hope to encourage non-academics, independent scholars, journalists, venerable aficionados, to submit to JPMS. Indeed, the disciplinary intervention of pop music studies comes not only from WHAT we write about, but HOW we write about it.
3. Create a forum for scholars/writers working on pop music that can be idiosyncratic and experimental. Whereas other journals about popular music have established certain identities (as more “official” representatives of the field, as cultural studies clearinghouses, as
venerable old organs of the profession), we have the opportunity to make JPMS a place to explore new directions in pop music and scholarship about it.
4. Enjoy an expanded (and redesigned) web presence.
With regard to the last point, I like what Social Text has been doing, for instance, and I think that in general we could grab some pointers from contemporary blog and online magazine layouts. (The current setup is dismal, clinical, and difficult.) The drab physical product could use some retooling too. There’s no reason a journal about pop shouldn’t itself also pop. And there’s no reason JPMS’s archives and current content shouldn’t be easily navigated, accessed, cited, and so forth.
Of course, one reason certain things will be slow to change is that journals like JPMS are rather institutionally entrenched. I confess that working for one of these pay-wall journals is a deeply ambivalent undertaking for me, especially at this stage of my fledgling career. None of us get paid directly for the labor that goes into producing this journal. (Rather, we get paid by universities who expect us to spend some of our time this way.) And yet readers must pay a middleman publisher in order to access the fruits of our labor. Via library subscription packages, the universities that pay our salaries are made to subsidize scholarly production twice over. And don’t get me started on the towering ivory paywall standing between that privileged but pricey university access and the greater public. The OpenAccess movement and ordinary, proactive sharing practices are helping to erode such walls, but there remains a long way to go.
These concerns notwithstanding, I’m still, for the moment, committed to working from the inside to change things for the better, so that’s one reason that I decided to join the team of associate editors this time around. (Frankly, I had been asked in the past and found it rather vexing that I would be working to get other people credentialed when I myself am still struggling to secure stable employment.) So let me finish, finally, with a brief explanation of what I’ll be doing for JPMS, and where YOU might come in. (But first, a quick plug for my fellow associate editors — Anthony Kwame Harrison, David Suisman, Alexandra Vasquez, Eric Weisbard, and Mina Yang — quite a slate of accomplished and promising scholars. It’s an honor to be working alongside them all.)
Essentially, associate editors are responsible for suggesting appropriate peer reviewers for essays that overlap with our areas of expertise, and we’re encouraged to bring to the attention of the Eds-in-Chief any new work, academic essays, or experimental writings that would be appropriate for the journal. I’m also happy to consider experimental non-writings if anyone has ideas along (outside?) those lines.
So if you’ve got something you think would be a good fit with what I’ve described above, get at me, or send to: firstname.lastname@example.org (& see here for author guidelines)
November 9th, 2010
Lamin Fofana, who recently released an excellent EP, has collaborated with Erik Marika-Rich on a video for one of the tracks, “Happy 2010 // Dark Days Are Coming.” It’s a dramatic and harrowing interpretation of Lamin’s suggestive abstractions. Bloops and bleeps offering blank spaces to be filled –
Lamin Fofana, “Happy 2010 // Dark Days Are Coming” from Dutty Artz on Vimeo.
Which makes this as good a time as any to announce that Lamin is coming to Beat Research this coming Monday, Nov 15, for what I believe is his Boston debut! Do come by and hear what he strings together for us. His mixes have not failed to twist and tweak expectations, at least for this listener. Deets –
567 Mass Ave
Also apropos: Lamin’s peoples, Dutty Artz, have finally released their New York Tropical compilation. DA is one of the few posses I’ll give a pass for using so hackneyed and vague a term as tropical — for years a bland music-industrial category (dare I say ghetto?) for certain Caribbean/Afrodiasporic genres — not least of which because their notion of what it evokes seems like such an idiosyncratic, inspired articulation of the city’s sounds and spaces, contours and forms, not to mention the shapes it might yet take on.
gifford c/o urmean
Finally, allow me to put in a plug for the Dutty Zine’s open call for submissions. The theme for this one is “piracy” & the idea is as follows:
…there’s this thing called the Internet but here at Dutty Artz we are mostly focused on bodies. Preferably sweaty ones. What moves them, what brings them together or forces them apart, trying to create spaces where we can melt our boundaries or learn useful ways of navigating each other and The World Around Us, which is part Mr + Mrs Internet but part walls and metal and dirt and apartments and streets and jet fuel and mostly plastic products which is why we’re doing a ZINE. To spread this talk into a physical format, the kind of thing you can leave behind or fold up and take with you, because everything circulates differently offline — call it distributional aesthetics — and nowadays it’s not knowledge so much as vectors of connection, context, and collapse, plus or minus corporate sponsorship and/or access to potable water. Submit at email@example.com
Speaking of, I’ve got another plug for a publication looking for strengthy submissions. Stay tuned…
November 1st, 2010
Last week a daily newspaper from Abu Dhabi, The National, published a piece I wrote about “nu world” music under the title “Sounds of the wide, wired world” (29 Oct 2010). As usual, while I think my editor — here, the mighty Dave Stelfox — did an utterly admirable job of making my prolix prose ring pretty damn clear, it still feels weird for stuff to fall under my byline that didn’t come directly from this horse’s mouth. And there are lots of words and phrases and names and things that I’d rather like to cram back in. So as with other things I’ve written for newspapers and magazines, I’m providing here at W&W a “director’s cut” (which nonetheless preserves many of Dave’s careful cuts and amendments). Thx again, Dave!
Sounds of the wide, wired world
In the autumn of 2009, Dave Nada, a Washington DC-based DJ, was playing a midday party in a basement for his cousin and a couple dozen of his high-school-skipping friends. The DJs preceding Nada warmed up the room with bachata and reggaeton: mid-tempo dance music from the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico that offered deep, familiar grooves to the Latino crowd.
At 32, Nada was the oldest person at the party, and more of a techno/electro guy. In a flash of inspiration, he decided to drop something out of the ordinary on his young audience. Afrojack’s remix of Silvio Ecomo & Chuckie’s “Moombah” – a typical example of Dutch “dirty house” – already had all the elements of a reggaeton club banger: thumping kick drums, piercing synth-lines, cut-and-paste party chants, and a distinctly Caribbean cross-rhythm in the snares. The only problem was that it was too fast. To make the track fit the vibe of the gathering, Nada reduced its speed by 20 beats per minute. This simple adaptation sent the kids into a frenzy.
Unexpectedly, it also birthed a new genre that embodies a much broader phenomenon: a reclamation and redefinition of global street music for the internet age that we might call world music 2.0. Spurred by the success of his experiment, Nada recorded an MP3 edit of his Afrojack remix and constructed several more slowed-down interpretations of house tracks. These were circulated on the internet, representing a sound that its creator, perhaps not entirely seriously, dubbed “moombahton.” Ever hungry for the new, the global dance music blogosphere seized upon this strange, hybrid sound. By March of this year, Nada had been featured on the website of The Fader magazine; by summer he was running a popular weekly club night, Moombahton Mondays, in DC.
Back in the Netherlands, meanwhile, an aspiring producer stumbled upon Nada’s work during a routine trawl of the web. Like the kids at the party, he was floored. A 20-year-old Dominican, born and raised in Rotterdam, Rayiv “Munchi” Münch was a long-time fan of bachata and merengue, especially a recent streetwise version of the latter, known as mambo; Dutch bubbling – a mid-1990s collision of hyperspeed gabba techno and Jamaican dancehall; and hip-hop of all kinds. In moombahton, however, he heard a new future for reggaeton, a genre he loved but believed had become creatively stagnant.
He worked all night long, emerging the next morning with a digital “promo” package of five new songs. Rather than editing pre-existent tracks, Munchi built his productions from the ground up. Using samples from his ecumenical music collection, he injected influences from Brazilian funk carioca, Angolan kuduro, Latin American cumbia and more. In April, he wrote to a number of bloggers, myself included, to share his music. Over the next few months he maintained a prolific work rate, producing 50 tracks in all and releasing concept-driven online promo packs every four weeks. These circulated rapidly via blogs, tweets, and the SoundCloud account where he streams them and provides links for free downloads, either there or at free (but ad-riddled), temporary “digital lockers” such as MediaFire.
The feedback loop doesn’t stop there. In just the last month DJ Orion, a producer from Austin, Texas, uploaded 30 tracks to his BandCamp site (where customers are asked to pay as much or as little as they like to download the music), in a style he is calling “boombahchero.” Many of the songs are second-generation interpretations of Nada’s and Munchi’s remixes. However, Orion has gone a step further, infusing his edits with the strains of Mexican tribal guarachero, an emergent form of electronic dance music mixing cumbia, techno, and a distinctive triple-time swing – often produced by teenagers, the genre has been making the rounds recently as the latest local fusion of global elements to resound more widely than, say, the clubs and communities in Monterrey and Mexico City where it sounds right at home.
These interconnected stories form but one knotty vignette in the wider narrative of world music 2.0. Largely brought together online, this tangle of diverse street-level sounds is bound by common tools and shared reference points. Its accelerated interactive pace is driven by the proliferation of accessible music and video-production software, and the connective possibilities of the social web or, in marketing parlance, web 2.0 – the key feature of which is the explosion of networked platforms that enable anyone with access to publish their music and dance moves to a limitless audience. Needless to say, this is precisely what thousands of young people are doing.
The commonplace use of cracked or demo software in many of world music 2.0’s more rough-hewn productions produces a patina of piracy, an unintentional but marked aesthetic effect that privileges participation, immersion and immediacy. On YouTube, Colombian teens dodge “Free Trial Version” watermarks as they do a modified Melbourne shuffle at the local mall. Robotic voices interrupt homespun raps from Los Angeles to remind us that we’re listening to music made with unlicensed programs. Pop-up ads piggyback on the networked DailyMotion of young people across the Francophone world trying on and showing off the latest steps from the tecktonik and logobi scenes. Chains of compression lend a sizzle to MP3s of reggaeton and Baltimore club music, filled with uncleared samples and made everywhere from the Dominican Republic to Romania.
Because most of this activity happens on corporate “platforms,” the unruly openness of online enterprise is constantly vulnerable to the caprice of bottom-line logic and rearguard legal attacks from twentieth-century copyright giants. Videos disappear regularly, sniffed out by audio-detection algorithms. Entire sites vanish overnight. In the last year alone, imeem and Jamglue, two popular audio-streaming sites which played host to such burgeoning scenes as Chicago’s juke and LA’s jerk, suddenly shuttered, falling prey to licensing nightmares and hostile takeovers. Down the ether hole with them went thousands of conversations, personal playlists, home-produced gems, and peer-to-peer connections.
But who cares about quality control or posterity? Clearly not the kids who keep uploading. They’re hacking their way through contemporary media ecologies, motivated more by making and doing than by legal strictures or commercial profit. The result is a vivid picture of a truly global youth culture. Kids doing what kids always have done: dancing, performing, goofing around. The difference is that they now broadcast it to the world – if often as an afterthought, the result of default settings that encourage openness.
Public culture is being remade by all this so-called “user-generated content,” including the ever curious category of “world music.” In some contrast to its creation by a consortium of British music-industry players in the 1980s to market recordings that represented musical traditions of the non-western world, a multinational network of grassroots producers, DJs, and bloggers are now renegotiating and redefining this freighted yet inclusive term.
Their work embraces a fluid but thoroughly urbanized idea of worldliness. The stylistic signposts of world music 2.0 are utterly contemporary, grounded not in traditional instrumentation but the ubiquitous structures of hip-hop, reggae and house. The music’s themes are more often than not as unvarnished as its sound: sex, social domination and the travails of life in the big city – be it London, Johannesburg or Rio. Nonetheless, and more than likely as a direct result of this fact, it resonates widely.
A wealth of websites have sprung up, bringing these far flung sounds together. On Ghetto Bassquake (London), Generation Bass (Tilberg, Holland), Dutty Artz (New York) and many others, New Orleans bounce, Colombian champeta, Jamaican dancehall, desi bhangra and South African house all find common ground. Many of these sites have also become record labels, releasing music from and inspired by urban dance scenes from around the world – and around the corner.
A prime example is Dave Quam’s It’s After the End of the World, an open-eared blog from Chicago focused on the city’s juke scene but often extending its remit to Dutch bubbling and Memphis rap. Quam launched a digital label called Free Bass last month by giving away a three-song EP by Cedaa. A teenager from the small city of Bellingham, Washington, Cedaa’s music takes flight from juke’s stuttering drum machinery and adds a certain, synthesised Pacific Northwest pastoral. It’s glorious stuff that could only have happened now.
As the vibrancy and resiliency of youth culture from the inner-cities of the world inspires urbane curators and globe-trotting DJs, it animates another new strain of world music: Trinidadian soca filtered through Montreal’s Ghislain Poirier, funk carioca via MIA and Diplo, the cumbia of Buenos Aires’ slums recontextualised by the uptown crew ZZK. In a sense, this slicker, commercially released music by savvy interpreters of the Global North recalls the earlier, successful mediations of Paul Simon and David Byrne – albeit rather more modestly, at least in terms of sales.
Informed by the diasporic settings that so many cities have become, the “bottom-up” revision of world music is a valuable development, offering new ways of engaging with the world, often undergirded by intimate, everyday experiences of cosmopolitan conviviality. However, certain queasy connections with its earlier incarnation also persist. Despite the necessary translation and filtering provided by metropolitan mediators, the xenophily animating their work can cloak familiar fetishes of otherness in slum chic.
Another name for world music 2.0, in this regard, might be “global ghettotech” – a term I floated on my blog a few years ago, hoping its implicit critique would be clear. Surprisingly, it has since been unironically embraced by a number of artists and entrepreneurs across Europe and the Americas. The ghetto remains a major signpost in this new world, but its romanticization or exploitation as a signifier of edginess, especially by those not of it, will always create tensions. Teamed with a recent embarrassment of tropical tropes and neo-tiki motifs, it’s almost enough to return us full circle to hearing the world as kitschy exotica rather than the noise next door.
Fortunately, critiques are not the sole preserve of critics. They can come in musical form, too. In June a New York/Vancouver collective called Old Money, with Jamaican, Guyanese and Polish membership, posted a track to SoundCloud called African Kids! A sardonic send-up of the use of generic African imagery, it fits seemingly random lyrical fragments – “shapes, colours, African kids!” – to a bass-wobbling beat that nods to several recent UK dance genres all at once. The only tag added to the track reads “TribalTribalAfricanKidzzz,” a lyric in the song. It was amusing, but also discomfiting. Old Money sent it around to the usual network of websites and blogs, some of whom had helped hype their previous recordings. No one wanted to touch it. Perhaps it hit a bit too close to home. Or maybe it’s not such a brave new world after all.