August 6th, 2010

You Can Take a Computer Out of Africa…

my friend alex, sporting a shirt made special for him in Paris’s 11th & inspired by this guy (see e.g.)

In yesterday’s re-post of a review, you might have caught the following barb-backed big-up:

Ayobaness! continues a line of releases from Outhere portraying African popular music that is, you know, actually popular (not just what might best fit outsiders’ expectations of African difference).

That teensy critique joins an ongoing attempt at course correction for the representation of African music (and by extension, Africa), especially when the enterprise is led by European and American middlemen.

It’s an important discursive battle — whether waged by bloggers or ethnomusicologists, &c. — but efforts like Outhere’s are, I suspect, ultimately more influential in terms of shaping people’s ideas about African difference, and sameness. I could talk at you for days about how not to think about Africa, but you’d just have to take my word for it. Better to hear and see for yourself.

Which is why I’d like to herald another important, awesome, intervening effort in this vein: the upcoming release (Aug 24) via Dutty Artz, curated by DJ Rupture, of a 17-track album by Ivorian crew CIAfrica

Here’s a brief, semi-snarky run-down from the Dutty Crew:

Ivory Coast vocalists spit soul over futuristic beats that draw on dubstep and electro. This is forward-looking rap/dancehall/r&b for those who get bored listening to all that black-and-happy African music.

And further, from the one-sheet [pdf]:

It’s true: when lots of folks think about African music, they think: “it’s dancey, it’s happy, nice melodies, very uplifting” or maybe they think about kuduro remixes or “hybridity”. But CIAfrica are abrasive, synthetic, angular, non-dancey lyric-driven music. Urban. Stubborn. Proudly themselves. Religious, sometimes.

It’s provocative, yes, but such a tone remains very necessary. Indeed, let me close with one more projectile utterance via Dutty Artz, which offers a fine riposte to that stupid Brian Eno quote about computers not having enough Africa in them:

we’re not living in the future, they are.


  • 1. Birdseed  |  August 6th, 2010 at 12:37 pm

    And yet – as they’re always wont to be as long as we rely on curated “releases” by westen record labels – these two records are also part of the same prejudice-creating, subaltern-silencing processes that all these one-way-directed periphery-to-center hipster repackagings are wont to be. More nuanced, certainly, but until thie supply chain is opened up it’s always going to be problematic.

    Ayobaness is great, some real good stuff on there, but it absolutely does not break prejudices of what African music sounds like, it’s just a different set of prejudices. South Africa is the world’s largest house market, very much of it in the rhthmically complex, harmonically engaging deep house scene, and it’s fantastically telling that the compilers chose to focus almost entirely on the relatively retrogade and tiny and kwaitoish Pretoria and Durban scenes. Because we know South Africans are not meant to out-Blaze Blaze, right? They’re meant to create these peculiar, ethnic sounds that just happen to gel nicely with whatever animal-postered club night is currently running. It’s not actually trying to present what popular, just what’s relatively popular and works just as well for *us*.

    I’m not actually familiar with the other, tikitech-cover record, but I’m always wary of anything presented as particularly “abrasive”, “lyrics-driven”. If the natives are not happy-go-lucky they’re meant to be harsh, conscious and spiritual and wise, there’s no in-between. In many ways this kind of underground-fetishising is just as bad, because to an equally large extent it denies agency, replacing it with these ridiculous quasi-bourgeois notions of “resistance through being as undancable as possible”, and pushing them over an entire national music scene. I’ve seen enough of what those fuckers did to hip-hop as it translated over to Europe to run scared as soon as someone mentions the bloody Wu-Tang Clan. Especially with that cover, and with a record label in whose myspace site (!) is in English, and clearly direcred at foreigners. (I’ll happily listen and be proved wrong, though.)

    From my perspective, the happy-blacks-dancing music is very often preferrable.

  • 2. wayneandwax  |  August 6th, 2010 at 2:10 pm

    I can always count on you, Birdseed, to come in with a good strong bit of contrarian argument. And I think you make some good points, esp with regard to what tends to get neglected by these acts of curation, if we will. For that reason, I enjoyed the recent post (which you shared on Reader/Buzz) at Generation Bass about recent Nigerian pop/dance music, even though it too shares a framework that allows a dismissal of / disdain for the no doubt very popular stuff that, to the blogger, appears to be “America-aping” (& what a poor, poor word choice — talk about how not to write about Africa).

    It’s true that CIAfrica may not be as popular in their home locale than “happier” fare like coupe decale, and perhaps “underground” describes them well in terms of market position (and, to some extent, aesthetic). But have you listened to any of their stuff? (Admittedly, I didn’t provide any examples, but click through to Dutty Artz or Giggle around a bit.) To draw so heavily as CIAfrica do on hip-hop, dancehall, r&b, and digital global club beatz of all sorts, is to make it difficult to call what they do “undanceable.” Maybe “non-dancey,” as the one-sheet says, but that suggests something slightly different, I think.

    This is all to say, as I try in the first part of the post, that the discursive side of all of this is only one dimension, and one that probably shouldn’t be thought of as the privileged sphere. Much as we like to brandish our liquid swords, especially in the company of other men, let’s not let the words have the final say.

    Beyond the sound, we need to focus — if we’re gonna be so concerned with ethics, or something — on the form of the collaboration. Can we really blame Germans and Americans for wanting to do their part in presenting this music to a new audience? Doesn’t that necessarily entail some degree of translation and selection? Are we asking small record labels to act as, I dunno, public libraries? (Sounds nice, though I can’t bring myself to make that demand of someone else’s enterprise.)

    I understand that this necessity of selection (and the distinction such an act imparts) thus brings us to focus on the contents and their representation and to compare them to whatever we think is The Actual Reality On the Ground. That’s why a lot of us are pretty bored/freaked-out by the Putumayo-style presentation of “world music” (whether African or what-have-you). And that’s why there’s a contemporary counter-movement embracing sounds that contest those values (production and otherwise). But while some of these recent efforts, even when otherwise admirably done, can still be reasonably accused of exoticism in packaging, others meet it head on. The ironic valences of a glitched-out elephant are much different than screenshots from the Lion King.

    For all the problems that lead to today’s situation of ongoing asymmetry, one precluding a more direct link between Abidjan, Berlin, and New York (though there are plenty already, simply counting diasporic populations), these releases stand as audible chinks in the armor of inequality.

    But to come back to the importance of focusing on particulars rather than dismissing all that smells of digital-elephant-dung out of hand, let’s look closer at this one. You want a more direct connection? Some friends/associates of CIAfrica met DJ Rupture at one of his shows in Paris a couple years back, in person, in realtime. After listening to their stuff, Rupture struck up a conversation, promoted them on his blog, and later they decided to collaborate on this release. I share your yearning for many more open channels of access and conversation and exchange, but I’m not sure what more to ask of Rupture & co in this particular case.

    Should Dutty Artz put out a sugary zouk comp? I bet it’d be good. You could do the artwork ;P

  • 3. Lomami  |  August 7th, 2010 at 12:25 pm

    Hi there! Namaste to you Wayne, I saw you the other day on my french-german cultural channel Arte in the documentaries serie on latin music, good to hear you speaking! I read you for years. I’m the go-between of CIAfrica/ DJ/Rupture connexion, it was as you said, giving a cd of my relatives in Cote d’Ivoire to our world traveller friend, one of those connexions that can happen nowdays in this crazy world. CIAfrica is a pure product of Abidjan underground scene, not made to please withey boys from America or Sweden, just the expression of guys in a Western African Megalopolis that grew up with Wu Tang and drum’n’bass… For the abrasive aspect, just throw a sight to the material available, it’s more descripitve than marketing…
    Birdseed comment is a very interesting reaction to my point of view. I could have have the same one indeed, it’s good not to trust what is presented as African, but don’t you know some of DJ Rupture approach of music? I thougt we were evolving here on a sphere of aware people, plus open minded people, especially when it’s about music. Your sentence “If the natives are not happy-go-lucky they’re meant to be harsh, conscious and spiritual and wise, there’s no in-between” is pure racism, not xenophobic, but what racism is truly: putting people in boxes by standards you think established, prejudices in other words. There is no such things as “underground-fetishism”, but music backrounds and tastes, structures of production (that are sometimes cheap in Africa), struggling issues (no sons of diplomates/robbers of their own country that can have a fancy studio involved here). Excuse them to have translate their myspace in english (should they excuse to know how to write and read?) but African fellows are at ease with speaking different languages in general. And yes, the foreign markets as Europe and US are interesting for Africans because there is a tradition to say there’s cash to make in the Northern countries when we are poor (probably one of those indigenous ridiculously naive believes). The one thing you may have missed in your analysis is the convergence of a worldwide bass scene, with common hip hop background and taste for new experiences…this is now.
    Anyway, you have the right not like it! but going on long analysis about a disc description ending in theories on the distribution of African “underground” music in Western world, made for the bourgeois who like rough shit that he thinks is “ghetto”, excuse me, but it’s bullshit. You’ve seen nothing my friend, you’ve not hear CIAfrica, PLUS some tunes are really made to dance (listening is better than reading Rupture’s commercial communication on a record he is trying to SELL for artists to EAT).
    Still you lucky B my friend, as you come from a great country that is having a festival with Wu Tang and CIAfrica this summer, I’m almost jalous. And thanks to Swedish folks in general for the Visas they gave to the artists, because it’s very hard for people in Africa to get those precious sesames to show their work today.

  • 4. yllat  |  August 8th, 2010 at 9:36 pm

    birsdseed. ive been waiting biding time to give you mine about your trollish uninformed shit throwing- and i figured my had finally come when u came in so hot and heavy rooting against prejudice and using my release as your target… you built me such a straw man too! “sub-altern silencing” ?! its a musical release – with the magic of digital and physical replication i would argue the very opposite of silencing is occurring. L really does a succinct job above.. so i feel like im still waiting my turn.

    CIAfrica has released their own stuff via tunecore- so im not really sure supply chain is the word/or world your looking to see revamped. and as for one-way directed- i guess this is our fault. caus you can only assume the worst with something like this…. maybe DA should focus on more transparency – we probably wouldnt look as cool- but im pretty sure it would shut you the fuck up if you knew how to-the-point-of-frustrating level of equality that these projects operate at.

    but supply chain isnt really the issue. this whole project cost around 800 dollars. we remastered it ourselves. the tikitek artwork was donated. no advances were paid. we printed 500 copies of the CD. this is not a serious investment or alienation- but it is true that an email sent from rupture to an editor at Pfork gets a response- and one send from Greendog might not. thats what we offer. it has been almost a year of working on this project. but our excess cultural capital is what were working for. but dude you always seem to be looking for one more insufferable instance of silencing

    what is the model you would like to see taken for this sort of music?

    when it really comes down to it- all i can read is your own paradoxically racist views about the inability of the natives to speak for themselves. when your talking about somebodies art and all you care about is its marketing- what r u getting on about. we can all agree that the world of selling music and ad space and all this shit is awful.

    who are “those fuckers” that you are constantly lashing out about? you mean the artists, the industry people, the audience…..

    and what is your paranthetical shock about CIAfrica having a myspace.


  • 5. Birdseed  |  August 9th, 2010 at 12:17 pm

    Hi guys,

    Good on you with your different systems of distribution! Nothing is going to break down the inequalities and inherent prejudices in the global distribution of music than a more equal footing in the way stuff is released and distributed. The conversation has opened up a lot recently – the very fact that there are people posting to this blog who are part of something that goes beyond the western conversation about non-western music is fantastic! And thus you’re helping disturb and qualify that conversation in turn. And fuck it, your self-promotion through Myspace is great, I’ve thought about that for a couple of days and I’ve totally changed my mind. I’m still stuck defending the music of the unconnected poor in a social network/conversation that doesn’t include it, but the mingling and destruction of one-way distribution as is happening with middle-classy music all over the world is still fantastic.

    I honestly had no intention of coming off as racist. Like yllat says, marketing is a thing entirely apart from the creators of the music themselves – I’ve heard your music now (of course I looked it up!) and I think it’s fantastic, absolutely complex, human, non-stereotypical. But marketing influences people, it forms people’s understanding of music; the selection of influential connoisseurs, the way they present the music in turn… It creates and feeds stereotypes, like the ones I ironically tried to list. There are still modes and ways of talking about the music of Africans and African-Americans that are quite apart from them just being music, and gets in the way of allowing that music to speak for itself. Africans certainly can speak, but if everything they say is filtered through a very limited set, maybe just a couple, of different understandings then it is the west that can’t listen.

    Perhaps I can explain the hip-hop thing to give a clearer view of what I mean. Hip-hop is an extremely varied and multi-valued genre of music; different regional scenes, different artists and different labels have released music under the label of “hip-hop” that spans a vast array of ideas, ideals, thoughts, things to say. However, what reached Sweden in the 90s and early 2000s was an extremely narrow idea of a genre, curated by connoisseurs (those are the fuckers!) whose idea of what hip-hop was was extremely single-minded. Practically all of it was “connected to the past” – sample-based, earthy, funky boom-bap. Practically all of it was “conscious”. None of it developed much after 1988 or so. Ask anyone my age and class background in Sweden what their favourite hip-hop artists are, and you get a selection that’s ridiculously impoverished and one-sided: Gang Starr, De La Soul, J. Dilla. A slightly wider selection would probably include Nas and Wu-Tang Clan as well. None of it would be offensive, or “simple”, or dance music, or west coast or southern. None of it would be by women, gays, rural poor, less “conscious” urban poor. The absolute poverty of this understanding of such a rich genre is entirely the fault of the marketing and the connoiseurs, and it ties in perfectly with standard stereotypes of blacks being particularly “wise, underground, not-of-the-mainstream, conscious” etc.

    Which denies them the ability to speak for themselves – as per above! And that, I think, is why the system of exchange where the tastes of a few is law really needs to go. You guys are definitely taking a step in that direction.

  • 6. yllat  |  August 9th, 2010 at 1:25 pm

  • 7. Gregzinho  |  August 14th, 2010 at 12:28 am

    Where to buy? Je veux l’acheter! Don’t see a link on Dutty Artz or Mudd Up. want to empty my digital pockets for CIA!

  • 8. wayneandwax  |  August 24th, 2010 at 12:16 pm

    The release is today, Greg. Details here:

  • 9. » N&hellip  |  September 30th, 2010 at 10:46 pm

    […] the following cross-section: from Dutty Artz, CIAfrica’s decidedly rough textures or Lamin’s disarming synths; from Mad Decent, the 3Ball MTY […]

  • 10. Generation Bass » W&hellip  |  October 7th, 2010 at 8:02 am

    […] the following cross-section: from Dutty Artz, CIAfrica’s decidedly rough textures or Lamin’s disarming synths; from Mad Decent, the 3Ball MTY kids, […]

  • 11. » N&hellip  |  October 27th, 2010 at 7:41 pm

    […] course, we’ve been echoing that idea here as […]

  • 12. Thogi  |  February 13th, 2011 at 5:26 pm

    This was beautiful! Though I’m not too much of a music guru, I’m more into other arts like portraits, modeling…I model myself, feel free to check out my blog …but the sentiment is the same across the arts and the board. You are spot on, Africa is the future! :-D


I'm a techno-musicologist, internet annotator, imagined community organizer.

I left my <3 in the digital global, but I reside in Cambridge, MA, where I'm from.

I represent like that.

wayne at wayneandwax dot com

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