Last week I gave a guest lecture in a “Global Pop” class at MIT. The professor, Patricia Tang, asked me to come in and do my thing where I show how various genres cohere depending on tempo and rhythmic pattern. It’s a shtick I’ve had going for years, using Ableton (or, previously, FruityLoops) to make hip-hop morph into dancehall into reggaeton into soca into techno and so on. At any rate, the presentation went fine and the students seemed to enjoy it.
As we were leaving, however, one of Patty’s colleagues came into the room. Patty introduced us and mentioned that we had just been “making beats” in her class. At which point, the professor pretty much turned up her nose (perhaps partly in jest) and said something which to the best of my memory went like, “Beats? Is that what I would call — in my language — rhythmic ostinati?”
At first, far too familiar with such a situation, I half-smiled at the joke and said “yes.” But then, thinking better, I said “sÃ¬,” since she seemed to be implying that her language was Italian or something.
She looked perplexed. We left the room.
For the last week or so the episode has been nagging me. I now wish that I had originally only replied in Italian (if only I were fluent in Italian). Or asked her what the hell a non-rhythmic ostinato might sound like.
Ah, Eurocentrists. They would be more amusing if they had less power.
Tonight in San Fran, DJ /rupture — never one to let his critical eyelids slack — will be digging thru his kumbia krates alongside the Zizek gang.
Yesterday, Carolina @ Sound Taste framed her excitement around the neo-cumbia thing (coming soon to NYC) by noting that her “critical distance has gone out the window.”
And two days ago, I must have seemed similarly (uncritically) enthusiastic in my response to a fellow ethnomusicologist’s query about joining a panel on cumbia for the annual meeting this fall. I wrote:
Ah. I’m afraid I’m seeing this a little too late — I’m already committed to another panel on a different topic — but this is a subject of increasing interest to me. Not sure how many LAMSEM folk are aware, but there has been a remarkable resurgence of interest in cumbia (/tecnocumbia /nueva cumbia /cumbia crunk /etc.) across the Americas and Europe (via the blogosphere) in the last several months. A lot of this interest is due to a burgeoning scene in Buenos Aires, associated with a club night called Zizek; several of the producers involved in the movement are currently touring the US: http://www.myspace.com/zizektour
Would have loved to write something about this, but alas, not this time around. Just wanted to share, though.
Shortly thereafter, another colleague on the LAMSEM list (for the uninitiated, that’s the Latin American[ists’] section of the Society for Ethnomusicology), emailed me offlist to provide a reality check (and curb my enthusiasm?) —
This is certainly interesting, but I don’t think it’s really accurate to say
that this marks a “resurgence” of interest in cumbia music. Cumbia never went
anywhere: it’s still massively popular among working-class types from Texas to
Buenos Aires, as it has been for decades, though what are popular are
distinctly blue-collar versions of cumbia that I think are unlikely to be
attractive or interesting to the people in this particular scene. This, to me,
looks more like a resurgence, or maybe “surgence,” of interest on the part of
clubbing uberhipsters (“Zizek”? really?) bent on transforming cumbia in ways
that separate it completely from the mainstream cumbia scene (what we would
call “appropriation” if it were Deep Forest doing it), and which is likely to
remain completely apart from the massive levels of everyday cumbia consumption
going on in peoples’ back yards and parties. Don’t you think?
Here’s what I wrote in response:
Actually, I’ve been thinking “surgence” would have been a better word
since I sent the email. I certainly didn’t mean to imply that cumbia’s
popularity across Latin America has ever really waned. Heck, even
“hipsters” of various stripes (as well as those who disdain stripes)
have had an ongoing romance w/ the genre — e.g., Delfin (a phenom
produced by Chilean h-sters), or in a different way perhaps, Manu
Chao, who was way ahead of the “appropriative” curve.
Still, point taken — I enthused a lil too loosely.
But though I think you’re right to finger the upper/middle class
character of the B.A. scene clustered around Zizek (a jokey name
reflectively referencing the theorist’s Argentinian bride), I think
you rush to judgment and overlook some (additionally) interesting and
significant things about it. For one, although no doubt transforming
the music (and in some innovative ways, I’d note), the source of
inspiration for these guys is precisely the blue-collar stuff, the
cumbia villera of B.A.’s slums. Moreover, the surging interest in
cumbia across the cosmo-urban musiconnoisseurosphere extends beyond
Argentinian remixes to Texan cumbia crunk. And in recent months, this
interest has extended to Colombian champeta in its most, if you will,
plebian form. And it’s worth noting in this context that that
excellent compilation we discussed, The Roots of Chicha, was issued by a
Brooklyn-based record label. Sure, there’s always something that
smacks of “slumming” with this kind of class-crossing interest in
music (and often a bit of racialized exoticism to boot), but in that
way it’s no different than the mainstream embrace of jazz, blues,
hip-hop, salsa, bachata, merengue, soca, reggae, you name it.
And I think that your comparison to Deep Forest is off-base and leads
us to an unfair and facile dismissal rather than a closer engagement
with what is going on in B.A. and the blogosphere. For the most part,
the Zizek artists are not sampling distant sounds for their cosmo
cocktail parties. Rather, they’re synthesizing their own versions of
the music that pervades their local soundscapes (backyard sounds can
carry). In a sense, one could argue that they’re grappling with class
and cultural divisions in B.A. as much as they may be benefiting from
them. It is a fair question to ask whether these scenes (will)
intersect at all. Far as I know, there’s not much crossover between
the neo-cumbia scene and the cumbia villera scene. It would be great,
as has happened with the international and middle-class interest in
funk carioca, to see this (re)surgence of interest in cumbia translate
to new opportunities for the “everyday” “people” with whom you seem,
With your permission, I’d like to post this exchange to my blog. Some
of the Zizek dudes read it occasionally, and I’d be curious to hear
their reactions. Let me know. If you’re not comfortable having your
name on this, I’ll probably just do so anonymously. I’m happy to print
any response you might have too.
Thanks for the thoughts!
So today, since I haven’t received a response yet & want to get this off my chest/inbox and into any readers’ heads who want to turn it over, I’ve gone ahead and posted the convo as is. If I hear back from my dear colleague and he assents, I’ll print any responses below. But at this point, I’m more interested in hearing responses from the readers of this occasionally enthusiastic blog.
One more thing, though: if we’re gonna call a spade a spade, a much better fit for the Deep Forest indictment would be a certain globe-trotting DJ making a cumbia podcast and editing out the local shoutouts from villera artists.
Or perhaps (and maybe a bit more ambiguous) Salim’s “minimal” techno smash, “Heater,” which has — nonetheless — done a great deal to bring the sounds of cumbia to wider audiences and has (however inadvertently) shined some light on Alberto Pacheco’s “Cumbia Cienaguera.” Moreover, at least Salim, despite apparently going for a laugh-factor, seems to acknowledge where the riff came from (though he could have done better than allowing it to be described as a “legendary folk composition” — even if, sure, it may be — and citing the actual recording he sampled).
Plus, I must admit I have trouble hating on such a fun-filled track and video —
& I’m not really the type to throw rocks, knamean. Indeed, @ Beat Research over the last couple months, I’ve gotten no little mileage out of playing my own mashup of Salim’s track and the Pacheco original, letting the latter dictate the form for a lil poetic justice. Props to both of em for inspired renderings of well-worn source code. In the spirit of “Big Gyptian,” “The Lion Seeps,” “Code of the Beats,” et al., es un homenaje —
Pues, algunas preguntas: Have I (too) tossed critical distance out the window? What does “critical distance” do for us (or them) in such a case? Why might it be important to have a more cynical take on such things? Why might it be important to resist a cynical interpretation? Can an embrace of (neo-)cumbia support a progressive, responsible stance on musical circulation and cultural representation? Or is such engagement an impediment (in some remote way) to social justice, yet another appropriation with no social value (except to cynical ethnomusicologists)? Do such questions matter only to academics spinning their wheels webs of culture?
I ask some of these only partially rhetorically, and only partially as an academic. I ask them also as a listener, a DJ, a musician.
For any readers whose curiosity was piqued by the conga videos in last night’s del.icio.us dump, allow me to provide a little more context via Lani Milstein, a NY-based ethnomusicubanist, who brought them to my attention —
Just a shout out to say thanks for being such an eloquent writer on reggaetÃƒÂ³n. I’m working on my thesis in ethnomusicology on conga santiaguera from Santiago de Cuba — I talk a lot about the tango-congo cell, which I can now thanks to you relate clearly to the rest of el caribe (tango-congo aka dem bow).
I don’t know if you know about conga santiaguera aka conga oriental but here’s the gist of it mixed with a popular music group called Sur Caribe:
actually in this video they don’t play the tango-congo straight up like they usually do, usually the tango-congo/dembow is played all together on the brake drums, but it’s reinforced by the 4/4 bass drum underlay, maintained by the biggest round drum, and the tresillo played by the smallest round drum.
And these dudes, Este Habana — they prove what I’m talking about in my thesis and what you mention: that it’s all Caribbean (actually Congolese, no?) in the end — here they mix conga with merengue, and then stick reggaetÃƒÂ³n on top for one giant tango-congo/dembow festival:
anyways, must admit i’m not the biggest fan of reggaeton but you never know … I’ve certainly got a better understanding of it now. thx!!
and then in a follow-up email —
The great thing about the video I sent you of Sur Caribe is that that song brought an eastern Cuban music to the forground of Cuban dance music. Havana kind of dominates that world with its timba sabrosa (that I looove), but this song won song of the year in 2006 and it was a big thing for Santiaguerans — as you can tell from the lyrics in AÃƒÂ±oranza por la conga, conga’s a big source of pride for easterners (esp. Santiaguerans), it’s kind of their claim to fame (well except for son too, but that kind of gets lost in the paperwork). Habaneros refer to easterners/Santiaguerans as “palestinos” “guajiros” and generally consider them underdeveloped hicks — there’s a big rivalry between the 2 sides of the island. So the fact that this song pegÃƒÂ³ pero muchisimo was kind of like “Ha! we rock too you know..” and then a few Havana groups decided “hey this stuff’s kinda cool” and used it — like Este habana and good ol’ Clan 537-
this song was also super pegado this summer, it’s the same corneta china player as in the Sur Caribe video, from the traditional conga group los Hoyos (who I worked with this summer).
Not long ago, w/r/t global gobbledecrunk, I referred to an interview I gave recently to a Brazilian journalist. The journo in question is Camilo Rocha, who doubles as a DJ (& has a fab disco mix over @ Spannered). The piece was just published in Folha de Sao Paolo, apparently Brazil’s biggest newspaper.
I don’t really read Portuguese all that well (& my Portunhol only goes so far), so I asked Google to help me. I’ve pasted their quirky translation below (I like that Maga Bo becomes “Magician Bo”), but I encourage any of you lusophones to read the original. Following DJ /rupture (who notes, as do I, that all this activity is pretty “peripheral” in its own way), I’m also going to append my full interview text, since the article ended up far shorter than I expected and seemed to stray from some of the more sensitive / critical issues (blame the editors?) and since I did take the time to compose some lengthy answers (though, now that I see /rupture’s text, I think I prefer his more laconic approach).
Ciao for now —
Collaboration for the Folha de S. Paulo
Most DJs usually direct their ears for a few posamezne music of the First World, like New York, London, Berlin and Paris. In this decade, however, emerged a new category, that of the DJs “globalistas” which travel much further in their garimpagens music.
Names such as Diplo, DJ Dolores, Magician Bo, DJ / rupture, Ghislain Poirier and Wayne & Wax build sets incredibly varied, which may have American hip hop, techno or electronica German French, but also from Trinidad soca, Moroccan rap, funk carioca, kuduro, Angola, Jamaican dancehall, grime Cohabs of London or the Colombian cumbia.
The exposure of these rhythms “peripheral” already influences artists in various spheres such as band Bloc Party and the DJs / producers Simian Mobile Disco and Samim (which was one of the hits of the year with “Heater”, which joined with cumbia techno). Following is the phenomenon of Anglo-Sinhala MIA, the first popstar out of this trend and which launched this year praised the album “Kala.”
It would be all that a new roupagem for worn term “world music”? When talking with the Folha by phone, the DJ and producer Canadian Ghislain Poirier, which has just launched the album “No Under Ground” by the seal Ninja Tune (of dual English Coldcut), denies: “World music is more exotic, the sounds that played are more urban. They come from a common scenario: people without much money, making music in home studios or a laptop. is something more urgent. ”
Thanks to greater access to the Internet and technology, throughout the world there is an unprecedented proliferation of the sounds of the peripheries of the countries, most of them with strong and created electronic databases on laptops or PCs surrados, often with software pirates, and released via blogs, sites and sets the DJs “globalistas.”
The DJ and MC American Wayne & Wax, which is also etnomusicÃƒÂ³logo, baptized the movement of “global ghettotech.”
“Inventei that phrase to describe an aesthetic emerging between some DJs and bloggers, where they mix genres” global “as hip hop, techno and reggae, among others, with styles’ local ‘,” explained Wayne to Leaf. “But I am against the approach superficial and modista. I like to know the social and cultural contexts that shaped the sounds,” explains.
One of the “globalistas” is the pioneering DJ / rupture in Boston, USA, who first drew attention with a mixtape (set mixado) called “Gold Teeth Thief.” The September gave all that talk that figured among the ten best releases of 2002 of the prestigious British music magazine “The Wire”.
Through your blog and radio program “Mudd Up!” Rupture insane conveys a blend of rhythms from various parties. One of his special interests is the music maghrebi, from North Africa. “I [also] discovering the world of cumbia – there are many fascinating scenes of the past and present,” to the DJ.
The seal of Rupture, Soot, should launch within months of the album debut of another important behalf of the scene “globalista” Magician Bo, an American from Seattle who lives in Rio since 1999. Magician Bo has worked with Brazilian as BNegÃƒÂ£o, MC Catra, Marcelo Yuka, Marcelinho the Moon and Digitaldubs.
In the next year, he must start to give classes on digital production at the headquarters of AfroReggae in Parada de Lucas, in the River Currently, is in Addis Ababa, capital of Ethiopia, recording with local musicians and searching Ethiopian music.
“Churiadau electronic is the field where everybody can understand. The computer, which has been called the first” universal instrument folk ‘, is increasingly accessible. The volume of music that can be embedded in this’ global ghettotech’ is increasing in world. Death of record growth in traditional distribution of music on the Internet are helping this popularization, “says Bo Magician.
Already the DJ Dolores, best known Brazilian representative of this trend, says that “the computers are the drums today, a primal that each can use in your way.” In 2004, Dolores won the prize for best DJ in the category “Global Club” of Radio One, BBC English. Dolores has just returned from several concerts in the US and Mexico in the coming year to launch the album “A Real.”
Diplo is the best known name of this crop of DJs / producers. The American, 29 years was one of the main advisers of funk carioca abroad. Ex-boyfriend of MIA (whose first album he co-produced), Diplo played recently in Tim Festival.
He believes it is important to repay the local cultures. Through the project Heaps Decent, he’s been doing with young aboriginal music of a center of detention of children in Australia. Tapas must leave soon, in partnership with the Australian stamp Modular.
“Since these subcultures, in a way, help me to earn a living, I did something to help their development,” he explains. “In the coming months, I hope to do the same in the Cantagalo slum in Rio, with the help of AfroReggae and [anthropologist] Hermano Vianna.”
Interview w/ Camilo Rocha (11/20/07) ::
How did u get into music? Whats your background?
I’ve been an avid listener since I was a teenager, but I’ve only been a musician since I was 18 or so, when some friends gave me a guitar for my birthday. I played in some bands during college (blues, funk, rock), mostly playing bass, and I was also the lead MC for a live hip-hop group. I’ve been rapping since I was about 13. After college, I started producing music on computers — making beats, mostly sample-based hip-hop — and the laptop has been my primary instrument ever since. My self-taught beat-making pretty much coincided with my study of ethnomusicology (I’ve got a Ph.D. and wrote my dissertation on the historical relationship between reggae and hip-hop; I lived in Kingston, Jamaica for six months in 2003 conducting field research.)
You and DJ Rupture are from the Boston area, do you know each other for a long time?
We both attended the same college and had a lot of mutual friends, and I saw him spin at a few events back in the late 90s, but it’s only relatively recently — the last few years — that we’ve been in close conversation, largely thanks to the blogosphere.
You are a music ethnomusicologist. How did you get into that area? Where did you study? Are you doing any academic work at the moment?
I was inspired to become an ethnomusicologist when I discovered the field my senior year in college (I was an English major). I took a class on music and race in the US with Ron Radano and ended up studying with him in graduate school at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. It was a real epiphany to discover that I could keep music central in my life and approach it from an intellectual / scholarly angle. Currently, I’m teaching at Brandeis University in Boston, offering courses on hip-hop, music and globalization, and “digital pop.”
Explain “global ghettotech” to those who don’t know what it is about
“Global ghettotech” is a phrase I came up with to describe what seems like an emerging aesthetic among certain DJs and bloggers. I’ve also called it “nu whirled music” to describe its (antagonistic but derivative) relationship to “world music” as well as the importance of fusion (mixing “global” genres such as hip-hop, techno, reggae, etc., often with “local” styles) in the concept. For me, global ghettotech describes the recent interest in such genres as funk carioca, kuduro, reggaeton, juke, grime, kwaito, etc. — genres identified with the ghettos of the former colonies as well as with the ghettos of today’s post-colonial metropoles. I want to stress that I use the term somewhat critically — I don’t mean simply to celebrate this kind of engagement. One thing I find really problematic about it, for example, is the flavor-of-the-month approach to engaging with “other” musics: e.g., “kuduro is the new baile funk!” When it becomes a surfacy, fashionable pursuit, it gets more problematic, for me, than when it is about finding new sounds in different places and really getting to know them and the social and cultural contexts that shape them — and in the process, learning about one’s own place (and, usually, privilege) in the global order.
How do you see the popularization of “global ghettotech”? Why has there been so much exposure and interest for these types of sounds?
I think a lot of it has to do with the advent of technologies that make it possible for people to produce music all over the world (e.g., FruityLoops) and to circulate music rather widely ( e.g., the internet, blogs, mp3s, p2p). In terms of interest, I think some of it has to do with a certain familiarity (i.e., hearing hip-hop and techno with new accents) and some of it has to do with seeking out the exotic (as with “old” world music).
I can see a lot of people here in Brazil viewing all this as a new kind of exploitation: guys from the first world shopping around ghettos of the globe in search of the new rhythms to feed their DJ sets, getting credit and fame while the original artists are not mentioned or soon forgotten. Is that fair or not to say?
I think that’s definitely a fair statement in some cases, but it’s important to look at the individual and how he or she engages with the people in the places from which those sounds come. Collaborating with people in Rio or Kingston is a lot different from downloading them. In that respect, there are plenty of elite or middle-class Brazilians who could be just as guilty of this sort of exploitation.
Does “global ghettotech” sometimes run the risk of being just a trendier guise for the rich world’s old taste for “exotic” (cultural tourism thrills as opposed to understanding and identification with the scenes it is exploring)?
Yes, definitely. And not just sometimes — a LOT of the time.
How is the acceptance in America for this kind of musical approach?
I’d say it’s still fairly marginal. It’s not as if this kind of music — even as projected by MIA or Diplo or Ghislain or /Rupture — is mainstream by any stretch. You don’t really see it on MTV or hear it on the radio. It’s mainly an internet phenomenon and confined to a few clubs nights / parties in big cities like New York, Montreal, Boston, etc. For the weekly that I do in Boston with DJ Flack, “Beat Research,” we play all kinds of genres, often touching on many that might fall under the “global ghettotech” umbrella, and we’ve got an open-minded audience that likes that sort of thing, but it’s still a pretty small scene.
Do you do a lot of travelling for music research? Tell us a couple of interesting stories about your travels.
When I’m lucky enough to find funding, I love to travel to new places and check out their soundscapes and pay attention to what is local and what is global and how people negotiate the two. I’ve spent a good amount of time in Jamaica, both doing research and collaborating with artists there (and I’ve written a lot about it on my blogs). Recently, I had the good fortune to spend several days in Rio, which I had been wanting to do for many years. I’m afraid I don’t have the time to go into many stories, but I often find that music is a great way to connect with people, especially when we share a love for, say, hip-hop or reggae and thus share a musical language, even if we don’t always share a spoken language.
A lot of ghetto music bypasses copyright as it is commonly made on pirated software and samples freely. Meanwhile, illegal downloading is threatening the music industry as we know it. Do you think we are going in an inevitable direction, where music will become free? Will that be a good thing and why? Should music have a price? Do you manage to make any money selling music?
These are very big questions, and it’s hard to say. It does seem like we’re moving in that direction, but there are many ways to commercialize music — selling recordings is a relatively recent way for musicians (or more commonly, record labels and publishers) to get paid. I think that performance will remain an important way for musicians to earn a living. I’m not sure whether music should have a price. I generally don’t believe in monetizing or propertizing things, music included, but I think I’m in the minority on that one. I’m glad, at any rate, that musicians continue to do what they do without much regard for outmoded copyright structures. Some — perhaps most! — of my favorite music is “illegal” music. Personally, I don’t make very much money selling music, which is perhaps part of the reason why I’m not very invested in music having a price. Most of the money I earn through music is from playing gigs, usually DJing, though I can’t say that I make a lot — hence the academic day job.
Do you sometimes feel there should be more political lyrics in global ghetto music (I’m thinking of Rio funk, reggaeton, kuduro and kwaito which are largely sexual and/or party-oriented)? Or maybe feel that these musics could have more of a commitment to change or denounce their situation (if you think they do promote some kind of social change, please explain why)?
Sometimes I might feel that way, but then again, I think that music about sex or pleasure or partying is already political in a certain sense. It depends very much on the social or cultural context, of course. It’s no surprise that the themes that dominate a lot of ghetto music have to do more with everyday concerns, or with transcending the stress of everyday life, or with pissing off the middle-class, the government, the power structure. As for promoting change, sometimes one sees that sort of thing, especially in the Rasta-inspired visions of a lot of reggae, but in general, people living in ghettos worldwide haven’t seen much change, don’t see much hope for change, and probably won’t change the focus of their lyrics until there is some real change in the social conditions in which they live. I guess it’s something of a chicken and egg question, but it’s not for me to tell people what to rap about. Of course, as a DJ it can often be uncomfortable to play songs that are overtly misogynist or which objectify women as sex objects (and little else). Perhaps that’s another significant appeal of “global” / foreign ghettotech: it’s easier to listen to booty music when you don’t understand all the words.
What new stuff (styles/artists/producers) have you discovered recently that has really impressed you?
I’ve been really impressed with a lot of the young juke producers coming out of Chicago: DJ Nate and DJ Clent especially. All the dance crazes on YouTube have also been very exciting. And the rise of interest in cumbia, reggaeton, and other music en espaÃƒÂ±ol seems promising too. Part of me really wants to see the US come to terms with its postcolonial, imperial self, and I feel that music can help to express a kind of cultural politics of conviviality that feels more and more needed in our polyglot cities. In general, I just love hearing people making music without much regard for the rules. I love DIY, p2p music and the internet has been making more and more of that available — and, even better, has been making it possible to connect directly to these producers rather than having to deal with all sorts of middlemen.
You said you just came back from Rio. Were you on holiday? Any interesting musical experiences?
I was there for a small meeting of musicians convened by the Future of Music Coalition to discuss, um, the future of music (e.g., media consolidation, internet opportunities, copyright issues, etc.). It was an honor and a pleasure to be there, among such company. So, not exactly a holiday, but very fun “business” for sure. I’ve been listening to music from Rio for many years — and not just funk, but samba, bossa nova, tropicalia, etc. — and so it was great to finally get a chance to see and hear the city. It felt like a really vibrant place, really “on.” I was amazed by the number of people partying in Lapa until the wee hours. I also had a wonderful time hanging out in the favela of Vidigal for most of an afternoon and evening. It felt like a warm, welcoming place, and it was great to hear some funk in its social context.
What are your plans for 2008?
Keep on teaching and writing and DJing, and hopefully getting back into more producing. I aways let my interests lead me where they may, though, so we’ll see…
In that Empire, the Art of Cartography attained such Perfection that the map of a single Province occupied the entirety of a City, and the map of the Empire, the entirety of a Province. In time, those Unconscionable Maps no longer satisfied, and the Cartographers Guilds struck a Map of the Empire whose size was that of the Empire, and which coincided point for point with it. The following Generations, who were not so fond of the Study of Cartography as their Forebears had been, saw that that vast Map was Useless, and not without some Pitilessness was it, that they delivered it up to the Inclemencies of Sun and Winters. In the Deserts of the West, still today, there are Tattered Ruins of that Map, inhabited by Animals and Beggars; in all the Land there is no other Relic of the Disciplines of Geography.
Jorge Luis Borges, “On Exactitude in Science,” in Collected Fictions (trans. Andrew Hurley; New York: Viking, 1998), 325
I’ve long been ambivalent about interpreting the ethnomusicological enterprise as bound up with making a musical map of the world. In some sense, it seems like a pretty “old school” (read: colonialist) project. Moreover, it would seem more likely to produce lots of lacunae about the way the world works by privileging the integrity of discrete places (sometimes constructed as “cultures” — a word which I never use in the plural) rather than seeing the interpenetration of places and peoples and recognizing not only that people have been moving around for a long time now but that increasingly every place in the world is systemically linked to every other (read: thx to global capitalism).
At any rate, I don’t want to rehearse those debates right now (though I do recommend reading the spirited and germane “call and response” between Veit Erlmann and Mark Slobin in the Journal of Ethnomusicology from a few years back). I bring up the idea of mapping the world of music by way of pointing people to a few people&places doing such things (or resisting them) in interesting ways.
The first is a page c/o NYC’s dj.henri filled with deft/def mixes offering informed and informative profiles of a number of genres from around the world, from Arab pop to zouk, and focusing especially on localized, African versions of such global forms as hip-hop and house (e.g., bongo flava, kwaito, hiplife). This is a suggestive sort of musical mapping. There are no pretensions w/r/t authority. They help with comprehension but do not claim comprehensiveness. They offer a personal perspective on the genres and provide points of departure for listeners wanting to learn and hear more. I wish more ethnomusicologists made mixes like these. (dj.henri came to my attn, incidentally, b/c he’ll be presenting at the IASPM meeting in the spring for which I’ve been serving as program committee chair.)
The second is a relatively recently launched blog called Tunedown, administered by none other than frequent w&w commenter, Birdseed (aka Johan Palme, an omnivorous music-lover — and aspiring musicologist — operating out of Swedish). Birdseed has been offering such features as “genre of the week,” in which he offers his linkythinky take on such forms as takeu, eurocrunk, power pop, r&b, hi-NRG, and others. He’s quite the digital digger, finding plenty of worldly gems on YouTube but also some emerging NewTubes (e.g., EastAfricanTube). He also poses thoughtful, critical questions, as in his regular comments on this here humble blog, and I’m sorry to say that I haven’t yet had the time to return the favor and offer more comments of my own over there. I do hope that some readers here, however, will join Birdseed in his endeavor to make some sense of various musical-cultural practices and their global circulation.
As many readers here no doubt know, DJ /rupture prefers “maplessness” (which always reminds me of Vermont), so it’s a little odd to include him here, but I do so precisely for his provocative resistance to the kind of mapping that tends to reinforce the ol’ imperial gaze (and its neo-liberal lenses). Some people mistake /rupture’s worldly stance for a brainy strain of eclecticism, when it’s really a lot more pointy than that. His recently published reflection on 2007 for Frieze offers an idiosyncratic, but persuasive, way of hearing what /rupture calls the real “world music” (i.e., globally-distributed hip-hop) while also touching on, and in a deeper manner than a lot of downloading dilettantes, such putative “world music” as Berber pop and cumbia. He assails the exotic-as-anonymous approach that I’ve also critiqued here, and he underscores the equally “global” distribution of Arab pop by imploring folks who want to know more to “find an Arabic music shop and start asking questions.” Who needs a map for that?
Next week (Thursday, Oct 11, from 12:00pm – 1:45pm to be exact) I’ll be presenting at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association, being held this year in Philadelphia (at the Marriott, natch, which is offering a lovely “conference rate” of $200/night).
I’m not so excited about the hotel deal, but I’m excited about the conference. I’ve never attended ASA before, and I’m looking forward to seeing what sorts of people and conversations it brings out. I’m also enthused to be on a panel with several of my favorite fellow ethnomusicologists, all of us making a case for music’s centrality in the production and circulation of American racial ideologies and all of us grappling with what has in recent years been known as “whiteness” studies, a field — at least musically speaking — that has been strongly shaped by the work of Love and Theft author Eric Lott, who we’re thrilled to have as a respondent.
Here’s our panel abstract —
Whiteness in American Music
Our panel offers new directions for inquiry into whiteness in American music. Recently, a growing body of scholarship on music of the United States has addressed the ways in which music both reflects and creates notions of what it means to be white. Many of these studies reveal that whiteness encompasses both desire for and discomfort with stereotyped conceptions of non-white identity, a dynamic that Eric Lott terms “love and theft” in his foundational study of blackface minstrelsy. The papers in this panel seek to advance whiteness studies by examining the complex intersections among racial formations, musicÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s performance and reception, and other significant issues, from gender to modernity to regionalism and nationalism to transnational exchange. The panel comprises four papers, followed by a comment by Professor Lott. Patrick Burke examines white masculinity and interracial mimicry among teenage New Orleans jazz revivalists in the 1940s. Theo Cateforis explains the uneasy manner of 1970s new wave performers as part of a broader modern obsession with “white American nervousness.” Wayne Marshall discusses the simultaneous “whitening,” or blanqueamiento, of contemporary reggaeton alongside the genre’s ability to animate intense debates about race, nation, and class in the emerging Latin American digital public sphere. Kiri Miller traces the racial ideologies associated with Sacred Harp singing from the 1930s to the present, demonstrating a long tradition of tensions over cultural and racial diversity in a genre often regarded as “white spirituals.” As scholars of music, we want to argue for musicÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s centrality in AmericaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s racial history. By spanning seventy years and four disparate musical genres, we do not intend to propose a unified theoretical model; rather, in revealing some of the diverse articulations of whiteness in American music, we hope to show that this complex subject continues to be fertile ground for discussion and debate and offers many points of entry for scholars of American culture.
As you can see, my own paper is attempting the somewhat tricky feat of examining racial ideologies across national, cultural, and linguistic borders, and permeable as these borders may be, there are distinct racial formations and racial projects across the Americas and I want to be careful not to elide important historical and geographical differences. In part, my paper emerges from my own interest over the last few years in the way that reggaeton combines various racial ideologies and then carries this complex with it, around the world (and especially the hemisphere), where people bring their own ideas about race and nation to bear on it.
iReggaeton?: Transhemispheric Racial Formations, New Media, and Blanqueamiento
Widely heralded as an expression of the USÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s increasingly Spanish-speaking character, reggaeton has animated intense discussions around race, ethnicity, and nation across the Americas. Enjoying a perhaps unparalleled presence in the (Anglo-American) mainstream for a Spanish-language popular genre — mambo crazes and “Latin booms” of the past notwithstanding — reggaeton has assumed and embraced a pan-Latino character even as it continues to be marked, for particular audiences and practitioners, as Puerto Rican or even, as it was sometimes called in the 1990s, as “musica negra.” In this way, the multinational flag-waving and roll-calling of the genreÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s most popular songs and videos dovetail with the calculated positioning of similar ventures in commercial media, such as UnivisionÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s “La Kalle” radio franchises, to target an urban, Spanish-speaking audience that transcends particular national, ethnic, or racial affiliations. As reggaeton’s audible links to hip-hop and reggae recede in favor of gestures to bachata and techno (two genres that, despite their basis in black communities, have themselves been “whitened” in public discourse), reggaetonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s rise to cultural prominence and commercial viability poses a series of vexing questions for understanding the intersecting, overlapping, and sometimes incompatible racial ideologies of the US, the (Anglo and Latin) Caribbean, and Central and South America.
Significantly, reggaetonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s basis in digital tools of production and circulation has facilitated the genreÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s rapid popularization. The music now enjoys a certain ubiquity in the urban spaces of the Americas, both as audible, palpable presence — resounding across city soundscapes — and as virtual presence, propelling peer-to-peer interactions in the “new media” spaces of the internet (from MySpace to YouTube, MiGente to imeem). In the sharing of, commenting on, and creative engagement with various recordings and videos (from remixes to self-recorded karaoke/dance performances), reggaetonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s suggestive embodiment of various racialized/de-racialized, gendered, and nationalized subject positions offers a charged cultural resource for the performance and parody of various social identities. International and intranational debates on message-boards and comment-threads frequently demonstrate that — contrary to the mainstream mediaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s celebration of reggaeton as the sound of pan-Latinidad — the genreÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s contested racial and national character supports fracture and disarticulation as well as articulations of cultural and political solidarity. The digital realm — with its enduring, racialized, class-based “divides” — adds another layer of complexity to the story. Despite a growing level of access across socio-economic divisions, the class-structured contours of emerging, “new media” public spheres produce a somewhat skewed conversation. Performances of race, gender, and nation (often gendering nation and racializing gender) tend to reaffirm racist stereotypes and shore up the privilege and power of whiteness even as the very engagement with reggaeton suggests a desire to embrace music still (if ambivalently and decreasingly) cast as urban, black, Caribbean, “tropical,” and the like. Following an account of the more general phenomenon of reggaetonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s fading blackness — its blanqueamiento, if you will — this paper examines recent activity in the Latin American YouTubosphere as staging public performances and transhemispheric negotiations of race, nation, and gender.
If any readers of this humble blog will be attending ASA or are based in Philly and would like to say what’s up, holla back (and let me know if anything’s popping at night, knamean).
make way: american express meets el angel de la independencia uptown
Allow me a little (belated) unpacking, now back from Mexico City, where I swear I will return, clunky espaÃ±ol and all, que pronto es posible. !Que ciudad!
My principal reason for going was, as mentioned, to attend the biannual international meeting of the International Association for the Study of Popular Music (popularly, awkwardly referred to either as “yaspum” or “i-aspm”). The event was hosted by Universidad Iberoamericana in Santa Fe, a ritzy area on the outskirts of the city, which was — for me — not an ideal location given its remoteness (at least an hour’s commute from city center). That said, the students, staff, and faculty at UIA were gracious hosts, plying us with midday tacos & horchata, plush bus rides, and several field trips, including a private showing of the largest ever assembled exhibition of the paintings of Frida Kahlo, brought together for the first time in the gorgeous Palacio de Bellas Artes, a magnificent building with an art nouveau exterior and art deco interior which also houses a striking set of larger-than-life Diego Rivera murals (including this one, which is downright stunning upclose). Maybe it was the altitude — MX City’s on a high plateau, making for some extraordinarily pleasant, temperate weather — but it was a breathtaking trip.
Also agitproppy, I spotted the following sign hanging over the reception desk in the Office of Media Studies at UIA, an appropriate response to the striking number of “American” franchises littering the landscape —
Other highlights from my trip included an all-too-quick walk through the truly amazing Museo Nacional de AntropologÃƒÂa, as well as — fortunately, given that the majority of my time was spent at the conf — several interesting, well-presented papers, esp:
Rob Bowman‘s discussion of the timbral aspects of Marvin Gaye’s singing, specifically the role of rasp — an elusive, allusive and subtle but powerful quality that Rob zeroed in on via the magic of the unheard acapella. While consulting on a Motown DVD reissue project, Rob convinced Universal to provide the lovely feature of allowing people to listen to the separated acapellas and instrumentals of some really classic performances. Not only does this enable casual fans and aficionados to hear the well-worn in a wonderfully new way, it presents a treasure trove of instrumentals and acapellas for dstep-blenders and mashup-makers. The discs appeal much more widely, natch: according to Rob, these sets, esp the Temptations’ volume, have outsold competitive offerings from U2 and Nirvana.
Shuchi Kothari and Nabeel Zuberi offered an engaging, media rich interpretation of the “musical bondage” between Bollywood diva Asha Bhosle and her husband, composer RD Burman. Aside from giving an entertaining overview of the duo’s relationship, collaborations, and intertwined artistic growth, Kothari and Zuberi provided a far more measured take on hip-hop’s borrowings from B’wood than I usually see, representing it as the other side of the coin to Burman’s similarly irreverent, wholesale lifting from Mancini, Morricone, Cugat, and others. When, from the audience, Tony Mitchell wondered whether hip-hop’s borrowings didn’t demonstrate a distinctive sort of “ignorance” in their samples from filmi recordings, Kothari was quick to label Burman’s own practices as quite “cavalier” in their own right. She recounted an anecdote about Burman’s reaction to opera: he liked the fat women belting and the bombast of it all, she paraphrased (as I do her), & he could care less about what it was supposed to mean, there in Europe.
All the way from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Joshua Schmidt’s “Fused by Paradox: Interpreting Israeli Psychedelic Electronic Dance Music Culture” was a virtuoso video-assisted presentation that sympathetically portrayed as it critiqued the trance/rave scene in Israel. Elaborating on the scene’s relationship to wider shifts in Israeli society, Schmidt found parallels along axes of individualism, materialism, & hedonism. (As happens to me on occasion — given media practices here — I was reminded that a great deal of self-critique happens in Israel, and that to conflate the actions of Olmert&co with all Israelis is akin to conflating Cheney&co with all Americans: they’re inextricable, yes, but that’s not the whole story.) At any rate, it was a great video, quite informative and provocative. Apparently it will be online soon.
Finally, Benjamin J. Harbert’s “Fade to Black: The Catalysis of Politics and Aesthetics in Egyptian Heavy Metal” was, as the title might imply, totally honest-to-Satan awesome. Not only did Harbert put the various manifestations of metal in Egypt into rich, sensitive, complex context, he also pursued the distorted mirror-images and disquivalent meanings of the monster figure in US/UK and Egyptian metal, an abominable but attractive merging of self&other, classical&grotesque so iconic to metal imagery, and which surprisingly opens out into orientalist fantasies on one side and unironic appropriations thereof on the other. He drew a fine and detailed portrait, and offered up some awesome audio to boot. (Keep your ears out for a compilation of Egyptian metal from Harbert.)
Ben’s paper also holds the virtue of having introduced me — and everyone else in the room, I think — to the Alexandria-based band, Odious, who utterly and completely rock, as they say, with their combo of Egyptian traditional music and (cookie-)monster metal, and which this site (based in the “Central American Vastlands”) describes as “Exotic Black Metal Attack from Africa!!!”
or the epic stylistic synthcollage of “Split Punishment” (but don’t mosh too hard, habibi)
I’m sorry to report that I didn’t get a chance to check out Kongatron y su Kongatronix @ La Bipolar (but thx for the tip, Srs. Frikstailers, and the invite, Hugo), nor did I get to go “digging” (subway CD-vendor stylee) for mucha banda para rebajar, as I had hoped to.
I really only hardly scratched the surface of Mexico City, so I have an intense urge to return soon.
Fortunately, one can find bits and bytes of Mexico, always and increasingly, all over the US. (Though Massachusetts is way behind Illinois, I gotta say: Chicago — I’ve been telling people — felt to me como una ciudad mexicana.) So the banda rebajada, is on the way, some way or other, yo te prometo.
All I can say for now is hasta pronto, you big, beautiful, sucio city!
Two other entities in the (other)worldly spirit I was speakin of — and I mean that in a good way — would seem to merit some shine on em, ‘specially since one’s got a new mix up & out ::
London’s Heatwave crew bring the picante to the blogaparty, lacing together Spanish rap y reggae from across the Americas (and across the pond) &jumping off with an Ini Kamoze dubplate en espaÃƒÂ±ol (!)
It might be worth noting, amidst all this talk of translation (metaphorical and literal), that a great many Spanish reggae songs are quite literally traducciones.
(& Did u know that the Heatwave dudes’ last Blogariddims mix, “An England Story,” is due to be released on CD via SoulJazz?! [that means DL it while you can, sleepers.] && further, that they’ve released a 2CD reggaeton comp in the UK)
The other entity in question is word the cat. With posts all over the map, the cat has been doing some fine work in calling attention to local and global currents and intersections. In “local” matters, for instance, take his recent mammoth textsplurt (a major blog genre for us here at w&w) on UK hip-hop, wherein, it should be noted, JA and the US vie with cockney accents over how one hears home&away, self&uvver.
Chris the cat is responsible for calling my attention (in a comment here) to Uyghur pop, one of the more delightful discoveries I’ve had in recent months on the ‘osphere. Listening to those synthesized, autotuned, near-east/far-east beats and vox (and seeing them on video), I have to admit that my very imagination of “China” changed almost immediately, accommodating itself to less of a Beijing hegemony and instead to an image that included quirky Islamic pop booming in “autonomous” Western provinces. Music is rather powerful in that way — as representation — which is one reason among many to approach our own cultural translations with some serious sensitivity (unless we’re out to thumb our noses at someone or other, a reasonable tactic at times, no doubt).
When I learned, upon further clicking, that the music was to be (re)released by none other than Sublime Frequencies, I was not terribly surprised (though the amount of info around the sounds already promised more than the label’s typical flippancy, I’m not sure whether “purer, more carefully curated form” would simply mean removing some of the sonic&textual context).
Which brings me to another point that’s been rattling around in my head: it’s not that I don’t want labels like Sublime Frequencies to do what they do. On the contrary, I really enjoy a great many of SF’s releases. Part of my pleasure no doubt stems from the way they extend/challenge my familiarity with various places and their soundscapes: years of studying hardly anything but gamelan w/r/t Indonesia serves as fine prep for the dial-flipping pop-detritus on Radio Java. (Of course, other listeners without such background are simply wished to the library. As if.)
My problem then, in some sense, has less to do with the existence and practices of said labels (and other middlemen) and more to do with the fact that they remain clustered in the US and Europe, and hence the perspectives they share tend to skew toward the same ol, same ol. In a perfect world, a world without glaring inequalities of access to the tools of production, distribution, representation, etc., every corner could offer up its own idea of the sublime frequencies of every other corner. Perspectives could meet and diverge, centers could be decentered, things could fall apart and come together in unimagined ways.
How I would love to hear a Javanese take (or three, or four, or more) on, say, the Seattle soundscape.
On Tuesday (5/1) and Thursday (5/3), from 11am-12pm, I’ll be delivering what have become my annual lectures on Caribbean music to Orlando Patterson‘s “Caribbean Societies” class at Harvard College. Tuesday’s lecture will focus on Afro-Latin traditions, while Thursday’s will turn to the history of Jamaican music, though there will be, of course, some intersections between the two. The lectures will take place in Sever Hall 103.
Coming four years after my initial lectures, during which time I’ve been able to engage a lot closer with all of these musical traditions and their social and cultural histories, this latest series of talks is bound to be better and tighter than ever. If you’d like to hear some excerpts from my talks back in 2003, though, here’s the “Jamaican” lecture in 6 short parts —