The release of Lamin’s EP leads me to think about all sorts of things, stubbornly but slipperily inserting itself into ongoing dialogues in my head and in the worlds of music discourse in which I find myself.
Is this African music? I dunno.
Is it world music? Gavinsays, fuckityesitis.
Is it global ghettotech? Shut yo mouth.
What it makes me think about in the context of all these questions is: to what extent do individuals like Lamin or collectives like Dutty Artz actively direct discussions about music today and boldly navigate the brave new worlds of post-scarcity music industry, and to what extent are their efforts inevitably shaped by, or folded into, those same discourses and forces?
This brings us back to the crux of the question about world music, or global ghettotech, or transnational bass, or wot-ever-u-call-it. What is the nature of the mediation of the encounter with difference that these terms tend to entail? Are we talking about translation, filtration, curation, collaboration, production, or some odd admixture of them all?
When I first started thinking aloud about open-eared music-blogging as a kind of translation for a new world/whirled music, I pointed to what seemed like some interesting, promising efforts in that arena: among them, the work of blogs like Masalacism, Ghetto Bassquake, Mad Decent, MuddUp!, et al.
These blogs seemed to be doing some interesting cultural work: playing off an emergent, inclusive interest in global hip-hop, dancehall, and international party/club culture, they sought out music with familiar-but-foreign signposts and in the process cultivated — for themselves and their readers/audiences — an open-eared orientation to a wide world of music that hadn’t really been on the metropolitan radar. These blogs differed widely in terms of the context or tone or clarity of what they were doing, but aside from some small but significant ideological differences, they seemed to be doing fairly similar things.
I’m talking about championing genres like reggaeton, funk carioca, kuduro, cumbia, etc. And, for the record, I wasn’t the only one proposing that we might understand these activities as akin to — even as they diverged from and seemed to critique — what previously fell under the awkward umbrella of “world music.” XLR8R, for instance, ran a piece called “The New World Music” in August 2007, beginning, understandably so, with the acknowledgment that “World music” is a horrible idea and hailing such figures as Diplo and Maga Bo, who seemed to function both as curators of a certain sort, seeking out and sharing the latest greatest sounds on the planet, and as producers in their own right, making new music out of their digs and collabos.
Perhaps more than anyone, Diplo has been celebrated — as well as hit with the culture vulture tag, skewered as a newfangled Paul Simon, a privileged “First World” middleman/tourist/colonialist exploiting raw materials from the so-called periphery. But that sort of critique lacks nuance to say the least. While we no doubt need to be vigilant about asymmetrical power relations and questionable representational regimes, we also need translators and filters, especially good ones (and I actually think Diplo, generally, is a good one) — the sorts of thoughtful xenophiles that Ethan Zuckerman calls bridge figures (even if, um, Ethan’s prime example is Paul Simon).
For the most part, these artists and blogs/collectives have grown over the years: increasing their number of collaborators and contributors (and encouraging kindred blogs to pop up — word to Generation Bass and Dave Quam), consistently broadening musical horizons (and, often, sustaining interest in former flavors-of-the-month), and expanding their range of operations to go well beyond “writing” a blog. Having effectively created markets and nurtured scenes around a particularly weighted (get low), open-eared approach to electronic dance music — heavily Afro/diasporic in style & militantly, but rarely smoothly, hybridized — many of the long-running blogs in this vein have launched their own record labels over the last year or so, largely specializing in digital releases.
Moving beyond simply posting mp3s found on 4shared, or YouTube embeds, or rips from “pirate” CDrs — all of these valuable activities, of course, which continue apace — and into actually “releasing” (& sometimes selling) music from the people and places they find themselves drawn to, or from a network of producers inspired to make something new out of these distinctive but overlapping styles from around the world, is an interesting development, to say the least, for whatever we want to call this scene.
Some of the releases by these global bass blogs come from expected (as well as unexpected) bassy hotspots of the Global South, some are fashioned in the multiculti metropoles, and a lot of it blurs these lines so much it frustrates categorization. While the output has varied quite a bit across these labels’ efforts, in general the releases seem, significantly, to emphasizes whirledliness over worldliness — the latter is in there too, but generally as ordinary if not intimate cosmopolitan experience, not fanciful, distanced exoticism.
Take the following cross-section: from Dutty Artz, CIAfrica’s decidedly rough textures or Lamin’s disarming synths; from Mad Decent, the 3Ball MTY kids, who source their materials via random YouTube walks and (already!) remix commissions; or Botswana’s Ruff Riddims crew releasing reggaeton-inflected kwasa-house (which can’t get play on the radio in Botswana, ironically, because it’s not hip-hop or reggae enough) through Berlin’s Faluma; or Masalacism putting out Haitian-Canadian kreole-rap over dubstep-dripped beats; or Dave Quam initiating Free Bass with some footwork-inspired, hermetic jukery c/o a Washington-based teenager; or Ghetto Bassquake making all kinds of Hackney high life (including stellar remixes by Chief Boima and Uproot Andy, no strangers to the scene).
What’s great is how these blogs, having initially demonstrated their openearedness and got tagged (or self tagged) as cued into the world / whirled / global / ghetto / tropical / bass thing, are now participating in it at another level entirely. It’s a moment full of possibilities and risks. And, yes, a time for #realtalk, as Tally put it, tossing the bloggy guantlet just the other day —
But I want to make sure our extended family understands what moves we are making, and why. This isnt abo’ut selling more albums then mad decent, or having hyper raves parties then trouble and bass. We are creating a sustainable business model that allows for our work to reach the world AND provide us with the resources to continue pushing beyond ourselves. Major changes are in order- and I dont want any of you- our extended DA family – to be left behind. One of the most important tenants we follow is transparency. WE ARNT TRYING TO HIDE BEHIND BIZ3RRE MARKETING AND EXPENSIVE GRAPHIC DESIGN. WE JUST DO THIS FOR OUR PEOPLE SO YOU KNOW Y’ALL CAN HAVE IT.
I’m gonna run a follow-up post, of sorts, in a day or two, trying to keep the #realtalk flowing by discussing a few other approaches in this weird “world” world. This is where the rubber meets the iPhone, seen.
A few minutes later, this infelicitous phrasing turned up in my inbox:
Like Dave and many others, I can find pretty irksome this use of “ghetto,” especially as sensational / salacious imagery or vague thematic gloss, in the circulation and marketing of so much of this stuff. That’s what I was trying to get at with “global ghettotech” in the first place. It’s a term that’s been surprisingly embraced in certain quarters. It was, however, as David Dacks noted way back, a sardonic term from jump, at least for me. I never meant it to be taken as at all “literal,” as Steve Goodman (aka Kode 9) suggests in Sonic Warfare. Rather, the term was supposed to finger a suspect ideological tinge to the representational practices around a set of global dance genres — a familiar litany which Goodman also rehearses while offering an ante-ideological affective-level theory of the dreadful, bass-materialist ontologies of international, urban soundsystem practice. (Or was that, “making sense of the new war economy attention and acceleration hype of hybridized mutant youth digital sonic shared p2p capital2.0 today“?)
The same thing that animates Goodman’s conjuring of a “Planet of Drums,” nodding to Mike Davis, is precisely what might be termed a “pan-Ghetto” condition. (But don’t get me started on “pan-Ghetto diaspora” — I have no idea what that means.) And the power inequalities Goodman emphasizes, not least the control over increasingly targeted and militarized urban soundscapes — ironically, according to Goodman, a contest fostering, with wicked feedback, all manner of resonant and recombinant electronic dance musics — are also the animating forces propelling the “global bass” scene, or wot-ever-u-call-it. (Don’t ask me.)
So before we too quickly condemn (all politically-correct-like) the invocation of the ghetto as a certain global locus, we should remember that an address to and across the world’s ghettos is often quite explicit in a lot of this music. I was reminded of this yesterday morning via Twitter as well, this time by Samim (another interesting node in the circulation of these sounds — in his case, as a cumbia smuggler), thanks to the following video produced by Maga Bo, but as his collaborator Teba says in the intro, “for all the ghetto youth dem all over the world” –
I’ll leave you with Bo’s video description at the YouTube page, which puts plenty of blogposts to shame. Note the amount of context and credit he provides. At once, translation and production:
After many visits to South Africa, connecting with the African Dope Records crew – Fletcher, Teba, Sibot, and Max Normal in particular, DJing all over SA from Cape Town to Joburg, producing and recording music, here is the third video clip to accompany my record, “Archipelagoes,” released recently on Soot Records. “Nqayi feat. Teba.” was also chosen to represent the sound of Cape Town on the latest African Dope Records compilation, “Cape of Good Dope 2.”
The video was shot over 2 days in Guguletu, probably Cape Town’s most notorious township and Teba’s home turf – with all borrowed equipment – borrowed camera, boom box, the car on loan, people leting us into their houses to film. Back in the day, Teba was a member of the super successful kwaito group Skeem, which put out several albums before he left to do more socially conscious work. He now leads workshops in lyric writing and gumboot dancing (!), is part of the African Dope Sound System, has his own live band and has collaborated with the likes of Stereotyp and SiBot.
A slow hybrid baile funk/macumba/ragga beat sung in Xhosa and English, the lyrics talk about the difficulties faced by youth in townships today and how society tries to force them to drink and take drugs. Nqayi means baldhead and refers to fake rastas posturing themselves, but then bending over to the pressures of society and shaving their locks. An interesting element of the lyrics to this track are in the chorus where he uses the Xhosa ‘q’ sound, a click made with the tongue and the roof of the mouth, as a percussive element. Check the end of the video for a quick lesson…..
Please post this to your blog, mybook, facespace, twittering twit, your neighbor’s refrigerator, the local cafe bulletin board as well as your good natured local DVD pirate or where ever you want!
Actually, I think I’ll leave the final word, for now, to Dutty Tally, writing from Rio: