It begins with a six minute opening from me, then I introduce my esteemed co-panelists — Boima, Poirier, Ripley, Max, and Jesse — and we finally REALLY get into the convo about 10 minutes in. From there it’s a solid 50 minutes of discussion (but not a minute more! #realtalk), followed by another 15 of tantalizing open-mic action (just joking; stop watching at that point; really).
These are some of my favorite voices in wot-ever-we-wanna-call this thing (though the labeling, as we discuss, remains inextricable and carries consequences), so they may be of interest to you too —
Do note that we’ve added another DJ/producer to the line up: Blk.Adonis has been our guest at Beat Research before, but given that he’s a great admirer of Rashad and has been working to work juke & footwurk jams into his sets at Nu-Life and TRADE, it seemed like a fine bit of synergy to grow the bill a little more, even if it means less time for all of us (save Rashad, of course).
There’s a ton of great stuff happening this week in and around Boston, and I’ll direct you to a fine roundup put together by the Cluster Mag, our partner on Wednesday’s event. For my part, I’m going to have a hard time escaping the gravity of the Good Life, which is hosting dubstep trailblazer Mala on Friday and providing quite the “tropical” platform for Pico Picante — and many special guests — on Thursday night.
Speaking of the Pajaritos, they’re also responsible for organizing a panel discussion that I’ll be moderating on Friday. The panel brings together the stellar guests they’re bringing to town for Thursday, all of whom, as it happens, are utterly eloquent when it comes to the thorny problems and great possibilities of global / tropical / ghetto bass —
Discussing the panel last week with Ernesto Morales and Ricardo Delima, I told them that I was tempted to take their framing questions and add “besides Diplo” to them, as an attempt to get past the way that these panels tend to devolve into the same ol’ “What Should Diplo Do?” (WSDD) conversation — or as one attempt to sum up our similar panel at EMP put it, “whether we, as people who are interested in the history and origins of music, are okay with Diplo.”
Whether or not we’re ok with Diplo — whatever good that does “us” — there’s a great deal more to discuss about the phenomenon of what I’ve occasionally dubbed nu whirled music & global ghettotech than one guy’s outsize success. But then again, profiles like this one or recurring stories/critiques like this, conspire to create, as Ricardo tweeted, “diplo panic de hoy” (Diplo panic of the day). So I’m sure there will be no getting away from, as I like to think of him, the dinosaur in the room.
That said, I will do my job as moderator to steer us into perhaps less frequently chartered waters, and the panel’s focus on events really helps with this task. For one, it compels us to consider the local dynamics — as opposed to such abstractions as the global and appropriation and such — of putting on events that attempt to address a particular audience through the music & discourse of “tropical bass.” Here we get closer to what I’ve examined in the past as a form of neighborhood, and I could hardly think of better people to discuss such questions than Boima (w/r/t the Bay Area and New York), Poirier (re: Montreal), Ripley (Kingston, London, NYC), and Max and Jesse, both of whom are involved in longstanding musical-curatorial projects here in Boston and elsewhere.
I guess what I’m saying is, this should be worth tuning into (live stream!), especially if you spend a few of the next several nights enjoying some good ol’ bodily/social experience of these sounds and the scenes they call into being.
I’ll be in NYC this weekend participating in the annual EMP pop conference, always a lively gathering of people who not only care about music but care about finding the right words to talk about music. I’m pleased to be involved in two promising panels — a roundtable with the likes of Eddie Stats, DJ Rekha, Chief Boima, and Venus X on Friday; and a panel with some Cluster Mag family on Sunday.
The explosion of international sounds in the pop sphereâ€”associated with Pitbull, Black Eyed Peas, Shakira and M.I.A, among others–has been paralleled and driven by a mirror-underground usually simply called global bass, ghetto bass or tropical bass for lack of a better umbrella. Ghetto bass in particular implies the convergence of urban centers around the worldâ€”New York, Johannesburg, Rio, Bombay, Kingston, Luanda and othersâ€”into a single urban space–a ghetto archipelago–connected by youtube, DJ blogs, filesharing and software sequencers.
We propose a roundtable to explore the politics of this convergence, in particular tracing: 1) the connections of specific, localizable urban styles; rap, Bollywood, kwaito, Baltimore club, dancehall, baile funk, bhangra, cumbia villera, etc.â€”where they merge into this new melting pot/marketplace 2) the power dynamics of cultural appropriation, tastemaking and music discovery within this digital space–and how technology has altered (or reproduced) the dynamics of previous iterations (world music, â€śraceâ€ť music, ethnomusicology, etc.) 3) the model of â€śpost-racialityâ€ť as it collides uncomfortably with the realities of music production.
We believe the best way to engage these issues is not through the presentation of papers but in a dialogue between critical voices and the creative producers behind the actual events and recordings under discussion. Drawing on NYCâ€™s status as a global metropolis par excellence (and home to flagship nights like Basement Bhangra, Que Bajo, NY Tropical, Made in Africa, Ghe20 Gothik, etc.) members of the roundtable will include (but not necessarily be limited to): Edwin STATS Houghton, Rekha Malhotra, Wayne Marshall and Venus X Iceberg.
“Music as Social Life in an Age of Platform Politricks”
The advent of socially networked media sharing sites such as YouTube and SoundCloud have facilitated an unprecedented democratization and deprofessionalization of popular music. Thanks to the relative ease and affordability of pro-grade production software and global publishing capacity, today we bear witness to an interminable flurry of new and endlessly reworked musical texts. Local and translocal scenes alike have sprung up around shared musical signifiers, software presets, and hashtags. In the wake of such striking industriousness, the conglomerate formerly known as “the music industry” is increasingly overshadowed but hardly out of the picture. For today’s cultural vitality coexists with a state of precarity as video and audio uploads routinely disappear or become muted, victims of an outmoded copyright regime and clunky audio-detection algorithms. Despite a sea change in how music is made and circulated, emerging from broadcast culture into a more decentralized, peer-to-peer process, twentieth-century business models and interests continue to shape popular music, often in subtle and insidious ways. Public culture is being remade in the age of social media (and music’s outsize role in it), but these popular “platforms” for our individual and collective creativity are far from the public resources we imagine them to be.
Today I’ve got a Q&A with Jared Demick at his site The Jivin’ Ladybug, a “Skewered Journal of the Arts” or in slightly plainer terms, “an online arts journal devoted to word-whittlers, picture-pizzazzers, & sound-slingers, all over this here globe!” Though the latter most obviously describes me, and the middle option may seem more dubious, I like to consider myself all three. (I mean, look at that picture of a ladybug drawn in sidewalk chalk — full of pizzazz!)
At any rate, Jared asked a bunch of questions about the stuff that I do and think about, and because I think it offers a good glimpse at my current thoughts about blogging and DJing and meaningful mixes, world music 2.0 and appropriation, and platform politricks, to name a few, I’m cross-posting the convo here too. Without further ado–
How does your DJing & academic work connect with each other?
I discover a lot of music in my research, and DJing allows me to “activate” these tracks in a new social setting, to sit with them and hear and feel them in new ways, and to share them with other people. As someone who studies DJ culture, and as something of an old-school participant-observer, I think it’s pretty crucial to put my intellectual work into practice in this way. Another way to look at it, though, is that my abiding love for music propels all that I do, and I’ve managed — or attempted — to chart a course where sharing music is central to my life and work.
What got you blogging so extensively?
I started blogging back in 2003 when I moved to Jamaica to do research for my dissertation, which largely consisted of visiting dancehall events and recording studios and turning my own apartment into a collaborative space for making and talking about music. (One result of which, apart from the disseration, was my self-released album, Boston Jerk.) Initially I figured the blog would only be read by academic peers and family and friends, but I was happily surprised when it turned out that a wider readership of people who were interested in taking hip-hop and reggae (and their interplay) seriously had also found their way to my research-in-progress and thinking-aloud. More than anything, the deeply encouraging feedback loop of a community of co-readers (for I think of myself as engaged in a collective process of interpretation) is what turned the blog from a research experiment into the most important and fulfilling part of my work.
Does this â€śworld music 2.0â€ť (or as you cheekily dub it â€śglobal ghettotechâ€ť) phenomenon, this global mix nâ€™ match of genres, leading to greater musical variation or homogenization? In other words, is it a scenario of capitalism doing cultural colonization or is it reflective of increased diasporic movements?
As much as I’m suspicious of how capitalism shapes and circulates culture, I don’t buy the “cultural grey-out” anxiety that haunted so much globalization theory in the 1990s. Examining hip-hop or reggae as a global phenomenon (which is to say, a trans-local thing) gives the lie to any sense that local transformations of these forms are simply imitative. It has been well observed, of course, that capitalism thrives in the production of novelty, so one could argue that the lack of homogenization is, in a sense, just as useful for selling things. At any rate, I think it would be hard to make a case for anything other than greater variety in terms of the music to which we have access today, and whereas “world music” used to be a fairly exotic product, I find some optimism in the newly quotidian qualities of “the world out there” in an age when media travels so instantly and rapidly, especially when coupled with an increasing recognition that our own neighborhoods (at least in fairly cosmopolitan cities) are amazing and rich repositories of world culture. To the extent that exposure to new sounds — rather than simply the products of the media capitals of the US — might engender a more mutual regard for each other, a respect and tolerance for difference, is about as good as it could get. That, and radical wealth redistribution. (But I wouldn’t wait on “world music” to deliver that.)
Are these emerging musical trends sticking around or do they rapidly rise and fade? Who are the primary producers and consumers?
The whole “world music 2.0” scene is still pretty small and definitely marked by a hype-cycle dynamic. This is perhaps reflective of the “Western hipster” base for a lot of this stuff — at least once it’s been remediated by DJs and bloggers. But for every bandwagoneer, there are people whose interest in new sounds serves to drive their curiosity about other places, about other histories and narratives, and even about other people in their own local communities. Of course, we shouldn’t let out of sight that lots of these exciting sounds from around the world are emerging from rich local scenes which could care less about a few downstream DJs and bloggers (although, on the other hand, there are clearly some opportunities to be had, lest only the middlemen make the metropolitan money). But the production of the music that circulates on blogs and Soundcloud as a sort of “WM2.0” is no longer entirely “outsourced,” if you will. Rather, instead of simply “digging” for far-flung sounds and scenes (a la funk carioca, kuduro, cumbia), as the case of moombahton shows, new genres have emerged that partake of the templates and circuits for “global ghettotech” while being almost completely unmoored or grounded in any particular place, hence inviting a broader sort of participation (especially from more privileged corners) and perhaps entailing a different approach toward exoticism.
Why do economically disadvantaged urban areas (the ghetto, favela, barrio, shantytown, and its many other manifestations) play such a prominent role in the circulation of this material?
For all their actual impoverishment (or one might say because of it), ghettos are also immense sites of creativity — and, part and parcel of that, powerful repositories of authenticity. I would alter your question to note that while these places play a prominent role in the production of this material, they are less involved in its circulation. Increasingly, grassroots producers from around the world are using “social media” to share their productions with their peers and wider audiences, but a lot of the wider circulation of these genres is being initiated by web-trawling bloggers and DJs who are enthralled by the stuff they’re hearing. Sometimes the grounds for that fascination and/or empathy are spurious, sometimes sincere.
Do you see any political ramifications to this increased cultural dialogue?
It’s not always clear to me that this phenomenon entails a “dialogue” except in a rather vague (and one-sided) sense. I do think that playing music for local audiences (say, here in the US) which is not what they typically encounter can do a sort of political-cultural work insofar as it reforms ideas about us/them. I tend to reserve my greatest hope for the locally transformative power of these engagements — that is, we can work in Boston or New York to reshape our own sense of our soundscapes and our neighbors, and ourselves.
What makes the contemporary musical practice of appropriating and recontextualizing sounds so prominent and attractive?
The relatively novel ease of cut-and-paste is what accounts for the prominence of these methods. As for their attractiveness, I think that recontextualization, reframing, and remaking culture is simply an elemental way that we make sense of the world and share that sense with others. Of course, the advent of the global internet also means that distant appropriations are easier and more commonplace than ever.
Youâ€™ve talked about how this emerging global musical culture is precariously archived within corporate platforms. How could we create a public, non-privatized space on the internet?
This is a serious problem for posterity, and even for present practice. It reflects both a corporate capture of “public” spaces as well as a new prioritization on the part of music-makers and -sharers toward immersion and participation. Toward remedying that — to the extent that people care to — I think we really need to develop (and invest in) new platforms that allow people to personally host (or better, collectively distribute) the media that we make or care to share. I wish there were a will to do this at a municipal or even federal level — to really do it with public funds, as an investment in infrastructure — but there are too many conflicts, I suspect, to make this possible now. So, this has to start with a collective but individual move toward our own servers, and with insisting that we keep copies of everything we post to the corporate platforms whose only value — beyond the user-interface they provide — is entirely generated by our presence and participation there. An open-source alternative to Facebook / Twitter / Soundcloud / YouTube that allows people to maintain more control over their digital culture would be a killer app to be sure.
In both your essays and your mixes, you chart out the routes of particular sounds such as the dembow riddim or the â€śzunguzung memeâ€ť as they get reappropriated in a variety of different contexts. What kinds of insights about contemporary musical culture does such a method provide?
Since — as I think such mixes make audible — it’s not so easy to generalize about “appropriation” when a tune or drumbreak can clearly take so many forms and support such a diversity of messages, the most consistent insight has more to do with the fundamental flexibility and reconfigurability of musical forms (and cultural forms more generally). Although I think this phenomenon far predates the age of technological reproducibility — and results from the essentially mimetic basis of culture — I do think that, with regard to the contemporary, these mixes show not only that it’s easy and commonplace to appropriate or allude to or otherwise invoke and rework previous performances, but that a great deal of creativity, and localization of the power to affect an audience, is very audibly a part of the process.
Which of your currents projects are you most excited about?
I’ve got an ongoing project about the Boston soundscape that I’ve just extended recently with the publication of “Love That Muddy Ether” / Boston Pirate Party — a brief reflection on the rise of Caribbean low-power / pirate radio here in Boston and an audio collage that tries to encapsulate, and take some poetic liberties with, this city’s segregated soundscape. I’m also embarking, after a couple trips to Rotterdam last fall, on a book project about bubbling, the Dutch-Caribbean hyperactive twin of reggaeton, which seems, like kindred genres such as jungle and bhangra, to speak volumes about the musical mediation of a changing sense of place.
A couple items to share, pardon the self-centeredness, but hey, this is a blog, right?
First, hot off the virtual presses: Radio Berkman has just posted a snappily edited podcast featuring yours truly in conversation with the one and only Ethan Zuckerman about world/whirled music, globalghettotech, jerkbow, tribal, moombahton, and platform politricks, among other things. Go check out the full post here (where you can also stream or DL the audio).
Second, it took the dedicated team that organized TEDxIrie just a week and half to edit & post the talks to YouTube. You can see them all here, including my own talk — which, in somewhat classic w&w form, tried to pack in a little too much and grooved a little too hard in places — but if you watch just one, it has to be Ebony Patterson’s “Fashion Ova Style” (which I’ll embed below).
For those of you who have been following some of dancehall’s style trends in recent years — whether we’re talking skinnyjeans and mantourages or bleaching — you’re no doubt aware that Jamaican masculinity appears to be undergoing some peculiar revisions. Unfortunately, a lot of the coverage of such turns — both on and beyond the island — tend toward a sort of surface sensationalism rather than a deeper grappling with their implications. But Ebony goes in DEEP in her art and her talk, and her discussion of dancehall’s “camp” dimensions and the structural relations between gender (roles and representations) and employment seems to me a thoroughly insightful reading. It helps, no doubt, that she is a genuine dancehall devotee who also works in other worlds (the art world, first and foremost).
Her talk is probably the smartest, most nuanced, and most creative engagement — Ebony is a stunning visual and conceptual artist — with these complex questions that I’ve yet to behold. I just wish you could see her art in full color, as we did on the big screen in Kingston a couple weeks ago. Nevertheless, this is well worth your time:
This Saturday I’ll be at Cornell, speaking on a panel alongside some esteemed colleagues. The subject at hand is, more or less, the animating force behind this blog in recent years: “(post-)regional dance musics and their transformation through the internet” —
The students organizing the event have an ambitious agenda for digging deeper into this stuff. They envision Saturday’s panel as “a way to introduce, contextualize, and start a dialogue that really hasn’t existed in (with a few exceptions) academic circles.” That said, I’ll be curious to see whether the turnout is largely students or whether some scholar-colleagues will join us as well. Although some of the speakers are (aspiring) academics, I’m told that our profiles as bloggers were central to the invitation, “an interesting statement on the role of the internet in the circulation of these regional styles.”
The organizers tell me that they hope this weekend’s event will pave the way for two future shows involving some of Chicago’s best and brightest. (Their wishlist includes DJ Rashad, DJ Deeon, DJ Clent, Jammin’ Gerald, and Traxman). Nick, one of the organizers, adds: “Admittedly, the shows are super Chicago centric, but this is what I’ve played the most and what I’m the most familiar with (I’m from Cincinnati, Ohio). Working on planning some stuff next semester and bringing some other folks up.”
Sounds like a plan to me. I’m happy to be a part of the conversation, and I’m thrilled to chat with some smart participants/observers who’ll bring to the (round)table years of experience in and research on such crucial sites as Chicago, Detroit, Baltimore, Atlanta, and New Orleans. No doubt you all know blogging brethren like Gavin Mueller, a perennially sharp critic of world2.0 and longtime ghettotech interpreter, but I’m also looking forward to meeting Al Shipley, the guy who’s writing the (kickstarted!) book on Bmore club, as well as Matt Miller, scholar of bounce and other dirty southness, and, last but not least, Ghettophiles‘ Neema Nazem, who first came to my attention as an acid-tongued but well-meaning interventionist in London’s burgeoning love affair with juke.
Oh, and did I mention there’s a party Saturday night featuring the mighty Dave Quam on the decks? YES.
I don’t have much more to add for now. Longtime readers should know that my pantheon of everyday heroes in recent years is remarkably populated by some central players in this story: courageous (if often faceless) kids dancing up a storm at school, at home, on the street, & on the screen —
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” MĂĽnch 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 â€śdigital lockersâ€ť 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 weâ€™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 Chicagoâ€™s juke and LAâ€™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 â€śworld music.â€ť 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.
I’m really gonna give this subject a rest soon, but let me attempt a slightly more oblique approach.
One dimension of the underlying critique in Grant’s comments seeks to draw lines of value and authenticity between what he wants to position as a kind of first-order cultural production (doing/making stuff) and second-order skimming (talking about stuff that got done/made). In this way, like many others, he positions bloggers, journalists, academics, critics, et al., as essentially parasitical. Of course, this is an especially ironic assertion given the degree to which we’re enlisted into the PR machine. But it’s also a misleading distinction since all these activities are inevitably interwoven and circuitous — not to mention that so many of us are engaged in several overlapping domains of cultural production at once (working as DJs, producers, writers, teachers, etc.).
It’s a rather derisive, defensive sneer, rearing its head now and again (occasionally making my ears burn):
I find this snark pretty specious, especially since it posits a false dichotomy, or three. The main one for me is: who says you can’t grapple with race and ethics in musical terms? Why cede such matters to prose? (Moreover, why leave it to institutions of higher learning to ask hard questions?) This seeming disjuncture between musical communication, as such, and communication about music is precisely what has motivated my ongoing efforts in musically-expressed ideas about music.
So, enough (real)talk for a moment, let’s listen to something along these lines:
When Canyon brought this track to my attention last week, I was thrilled. It was as if my blog had developed AI and was secretly secreting tracks. How could it sit on SoundCloud for four months without finding its way to my ears? While I dug the production, I was especially tickled by the lyrics, which seemed to be quoting MIA’s imagistic gloss of Kala for the Guardian — ‘Shapes, colours, Africa, street, power, bitch, nu world, brave’ — which, as noted way back when, proved crucial in pulling me down the “brave” “nu world” rabbit-hole.
Some readers out there might be familiar with the Old Money crew, who Canyon tweetily described as “NY funky/subtle soca via West India & East Euro,” from their appearances in such trusted hot spots of the hype machine as The Fader or my inbox. Since I had their email address handy, I hit reply on their latest bit of e-promo and asked about this months-old song that I’d never heard, including whether they were actually alluding to MIA.
The following is from Scheme’s generous and articulate response — like the track itself, it speaks volumes about where we’re at in this brave nu world:
I think what motivated us to make that song isn’t too dissimilar from what may have motivated you to write your most recent series of posts. Identifying troubling aspects in the nuplanetarywotchumacallit and going from there..
There was basically a stretch of time leading up to that song where I feel like not a week would pass where I wouldn’t see a video of some sort with the elements mentioned in the track – found footage, shapes, colors, (((African kids!)!)!). Some of these videos/songs (and I’m referring to jawns from the west inspired by various global riddims) conveyed a faithful, genuine interest in the music, culture and people involved. Some of them, however, did not. How does one draw that distinction exactly? And, well, does it matter? As I think you well know, that’s where it gets murky. â€¦ And it felt like no one was talking about it. Or too shook to.
Then not long afterward, an artist by the name of Leif – I doubt he knows this, or us for that matter – but he also helped push things over the edge from theory to record. I don’t have the patience to go all the way back through his timeline – but he more or less expressed some discomfort along the same lines. Helped affirm in our heads at the time (by now I think this is spring summer maybe earlier – the thought process, not making the actual song) that it aint just us and we aint crazy.
That was the baseline…my boy Dre took it further, riffing off of the Sandra Bullock People mag cover, (“Wheeerrrrrre di baby dem deh, huh?!?? Me haffi get me one! two! tree! four! five! six! / Adopt a tribe, and try, fix!) – which in my most biased opinion is brilliant – cuz it’s still related. Ha!
Also – this song was partially composed/fully recorded in the comfort of an apartment on the upper east side of Manhattan. Double Ha! For other reasons – that’s another conversation.
Back on track – I sent “AFRICAN KIDS!” to a few select blogs after we made it. No response. My boy felt like I should have sent it to everyone who usually fux with our music. I didn’t really feel like this was for them. Felt like they wouldn’t get “it.” But it turns out, no one “got it”, or liked it. Or maybe just offering it as a stream and not a download hampered it being picked up? Or…something else? Iono. But I thought it was interesting that less critical/confrontational/threatening material of ours got light and this didn’t.
â€¦Oh and was that an M.I.A. quote? If so – unintentional. Sardonic tone wasn’t aimed her way. Actually a really big fan of hers.
Count me a really big fan of Old Money for this one. #confetti
ps — by request, Old Money have enabled the track for download now (as an aif to boot!), so go ahead and grab it & add a little bitters to your nuplanetary cocktail
a once-obscure music that enjoyed a fanatic embrace in the _______ slums of _______ has become a full-fledged global occasion â€“
This could be the mantra of global ghettotech. Could hardly have written it better myself. But I didn’t. Nor was it written, despite what might be its commonplace connotations, about reggae, or funk carioca, or kuduro, or any of the usual suspects. It was written about cumbia made in Peru in the 1970s, and I came across it not on an enthusiastic blog but via a careful press release announcing the second volume in the Roots of Chicha series. The appearance of this phrasing shows how even well-worn attempts to market “world music” can turn with the times and speak the language of resonant novelty. Global g-tech blogging begetting sexy new scenarios, new sites of authenticity. Old wine, new bottles.
The story of “world music 2.0” however — and the built-in critique of that tag — is not all about newness, or some sense of progressive departure from previous, problematic regimes of representation, or visions of egalitarian peer-to-peer exchange and cosmopolitan conviviality in our brave, new, digital and diasporic age. (Booty-shaking sugar plums dancing in our embeds?) It’s also about a great many continuities with “old” “world music” and its commercial & discursive repertories — including especially, 1) how deals get done (or not at all); and 2) how musical wares get described, (re)contextualized, hyped, dressed up, pimped, punked, and truffled. In other words: New wine, old bottles.
This post is meant to serve as a follow-up to my previous thoughts on today’s world musics. The focus again falls on small, independent record labels, but unlike those mentioned in the last post, the labels I discuss below didn’t begin as blogs (and are not to be confused with them). In the interest of going deeper into context and credit and other #realtalk — from business practices to the language employed by labels and PR firms to frame their enterprises — allow me to try to tell three brief stories about a few kinds of cumbia circulating in the world today — particularly in world(s) beyond their home contexts, worlds where cumbia becomes, for some, “world.”
The first thing I’m going to say about BarbĂ¨s, run by Brooklyn-based Frenchman Olivier Conant, is that the two Roots of Chicha compilations have been a welcome presence in my life. They’re full of fantastic performances from rightly (locally) popular performers who were listening intently to the world around them — to cumbia, psychedelic rock, and huayno, among others — and whirling it up into their own special sound. The first disc lodged itself in my car for many many months back when it came out. And what I’ve heard of the second keeps the chicha torch aloft and blazing.
A hopefully unnecessary disclaimer: none of what follows is meant as an ad hominem attack. I’m interested in the larger structures that someone like Conan or his PR people have to navigate, as well as how they plot their way through. If I seem poke too much at the latter, or even to be calling names, it is intended more as a critique of the language that markets world music, or chicha, or cumbia — a discourse which implicates audiences & customers as well as producers & promoters. (That said, the unofficial subtitle of this post is: “How To Stop Receiving Promos” ;)
That said, let’s begin on the sound’s own terms, if you’ll permit the conceit. Check some of the tracks on the new comp:
Ok, back to words. There are lots of things we could say about these songs. What the PR focuses on, however, is the heroic narrative of label-owner Olivier Conan, who saw (& heard) the value in cumbias amazĂłnicas even when many in Peru could not. “Scorned by the middle-class and the official tastemakers,” we’re told, chicha has become a “full-fledged global occasion” and even recuperated back home, “thanks to the stunning success of a 2007 CD called The Roots of Chicha.” That’s actually the end of the sentence that I used as an epigraph (full text here); here’s the non-redacted version:
a once-obscure music that enjoyed a fanatic embrace in the Peruvian slums of the 1970s has become a full-fledged global occasion â€“ thanks to the stunning success of a 2007 CD called The Roots of Chicha.
Chutzpah? Perhaps, but these sorts of claims are pretty par for the course in the world of music promo, never mind “world music” promo, where one classic trope is of the noble adventurer seeking out the golden nuggets of exotic lands. (Even if outstretched microphones have largely been replaced by crate diggers.) But the press release really hammers home on this narrative, suggesting it’s a psychological hook for all the curious, cosmo gringos who make up the album’s principal public:
News that a gringo was interested in chicha found its way in many of Peruâ€™s mainstream magazines, newspapers and TV â€“ including canal cuatro and the very official El Comercio.
The icky part is, the reason this sort of thing — ie, a curious gringo in the foreign press, or the “fancy-fish-out-of-water” — is remarkable at all is precisely because of the intense power asymmetries between, say, the US and Peru. Of course, also motivating this response is a degree of self/national pride that finds flattering any sort of outside appreciation — and there’s often an insidious, if perhaps also productive, dynamic at play in these exchanges whereby a proletarian music becomes a national symbol thanks to foreign affirmation — but those structural dimensions are not what receive emphasis here.
And such a campaign has effects. I mean jeez, even Mother Jones can’t resist going with a lede like this:
Imagine hiking in the Peruvian Andes and finding a group of chicha musicians: migrants playing a fusion of Cuban son, Andean melodies and psychedelic surfer rock, blended like the Inca corn whiskey the music is named after.
This narrative tack is striking given that BarbĂ¨s is clearly attuned to questions of representation, or at least their uses. Take the assertion, circulating as promo, that vol. 2 is â€śan attempt to rectify some of the biases and inaccuracies of the first volume.â€ť According to the website, the bar/performance space which bears the same name as the label “puts the stress on cultural variety, neighborhood conviviality” (& they really play my violin on that last note). All the while, Conan is well aware that, “Brooklyn may be the only place where middle-class gringos are playing the music with a more or less vintage ’70s approach.”
One reason I started with the sound files above is that I don’t want to dwell too much on the representational stuff when the music can also speak for itself (at least the music that passes through Conan’s filter). And I don’t mean to conflate marketing hyperbole with the valuable service that Conan’s efforts have done for chicha and cumbia, not to mention for many of the artists he’s featured.
Conan’s “attempt to share his enthusiasm” in the Roots of Chicha comps is, in many ways, laudable. Targeting a (relatively) wide audience by selecting popular tracks also ensures a certain degree of quality, the lingering resonance of previous moments of intense attachment, and Conan has indisputably helped to re-ignite the appreciation — economic, affective, and otherwise — of chicha. In this sense, BarbĂ¨s deserves credit for inspiring others to go in search of great chicha and kindred forms of cumbia, including the guy who runs the next label I’d like to talk about.
But can we talk about value without mention of the label’s relationships to the musicians who provide the grist for the mill? How can we appraise this new wave of chicha appreciation without a sense of how BarbĂ¨s is sustaining any chicha scene other than “middle-class gringo” Brooklyn’s? Why can’t the terms of the deal enter into the heroic narrative? Isn’t tracking down the musicians involved in the original recordings at least as romantic, if not more, than tracking down the recordings themselves? Why is there a significant, building “Fair Trade” / transparency movement in food but not in music?
Why, for example, doesn’t the following rycooderesque press release — issued by the same entity promoting Roots of Chicha 2 (and working to promote lots of other music I like — sorry, Ryan, but realtalk beckons) — in which the exchange between all involved is so crucial, talk at all about how this project stands to contribute to the scene from which it poaches?
In April of 2010, Cory Wong and Eric Foss of Secret Stash Records traveled to Lima, Peru with a translator and assembled PeĂ±a, an Afro-Peruvian ensemble featuring a handful of the best musicians within the genre. The group was a revolving door of sorts that included over a dozen players ranging in age from 24 to 65. In seven days they recorded over 50 tracks. With no access to a conventional recording studio they improvised by tracking in classrooms, living rooms, balconies, offices, and even on the stoop of a hostel. The sessions were fast, free spirited, and generally consisted of one or two takes per track. The result is an authentic display of one of the worldâ€™s most unique, unexplored and underrated musical styles.
Below are the full details and download links to an MP3 to post, the album, and more. I look forward to your feedback and hopefully coverage in your media outlet. [W&W note: I look forward to a leaner inbox after this post.]
I can think of at least one very successful example where the fairness of the deal (& correcting for unfairness in first dealings) became a crucial and appealing part of the release’s narrative. I’m thinking here of Greg Scruggs’s labors to put together PancadĂŁo do Morro, a project & product that Greg referred to as “Fair Trade Funk.” In his own words —
Every artist has a contract in Portuguese, was paid a sum upfront, and will receive royalties. I can vouch for this personally, as Iâ€™m the one who has been orchestrating it all for my friends over at Flamin Hotz Records. Moreover, the CD itself is a gorgeous six panel deal, c/o BustBright, with cover art by funk legend Tony Minister, spot gloss lettering, and two booklets â€” featuring lyrics in Portuguese and English, artist bios, and photos. There is no anonymity here.
So put some names and beats with faces, add some well-mastered tamborzĂŁo to your collection, and support the hardworking MCs and DJs down in Rio: proceeds are going their way. Trust me, Iâ€™ll be sending the remittances myself.
Read the rest of that post for further details of how Greg worked to right some things and to write those things into the story of the release itself.
But back to BarbĂ¨s. In the spirit of this post, let’s be fair in our appraisal. Aside from perhaps making the deals with musicians part of Conan’s heroic narrative, what else would we have the label do? BarbĂ¨s is still a relatively modest operation, asking for donations to kickstart interesting projects, and so forth. All things considered, they’ve brought some wonderful music to my ears and no doubt have generated a significant degree of interest in, appreciation of, and opportunity for chicha and Peruvian cumbia. For that we can say, bravo.
[Update: Please see this follow-up post for a detailed response from Olivier Conan, which helps to bring more balance to the appraisal above.]
2. Mass Tropicas
Michael Pigott is a guy who lives in Western Mass, which he had the gall to call “the better half of Massachusetts” in an introductory email to me. He runs a label called Mass Tropicas devoted to small batch releases, so far mostly of weird and wonderful Peruvian cumbia. He deals directly with the artists themselves to license the tracks he releases, and he doesn’t do digital. At all. Instead, Mike stubbornly insists on durable, physical media — vinyl and cassettes — believing that the objects themselves have a way of preserving and instilling value.
While Roots of Chicha served as some inspiration for reissuing and recording some cumbia himself, Mike had been getting into the genre, especially of the Peruvian variety, over the course of several years thanks to a couple key figures: 1) his wife, who is herself from Peru, and 2) Bruno “Tunchi” Guerra, a photographer and mainstay in Lima’s punk scene. On visits, Mike would listen to the local cumbia station in his wife’s neighborhood, note the songs he liked, and then try to find them on vinyl. (Apparently, he boasts quite the collection of 45s.)
In contrast to BarbĂ¨s reach for a broad audience, which entails reissuing formerly popular tracks (at least in Peru), Mike seeks to bring lesser known recordings to chicha’s expanding listening public (at least those addressed by hi-fi vinyl reissues). He sees the Roots of Chicha as an important “stepping stone” for people to “dig deeper” into his more obscure finds and favorites.
Mike described his operation as “DIY” and it’s clear that its infused by a certain punk ethos. (How DIY? you might ask: “All the records you touch, I touch,” Mike told me.) Small-batch cumbia appealed to Mike because pressing one’s own records is “sorta like punk rock.” His fourth and latest release, Ranil’s Jungle Party, a 12″ LP collecting some fine cuts from a local cumbia legend now running for mayor (and subject of a would-be documentary by BarbĂ¨s), could hardly better embody the approach: Ranil’s records were originally produced and released by himself on his own label, so Mike dealt directly with the man himself. (Of course, this elides unresolved questions about who, if anyone, should have exclusive rights to a collectively produced recording, but since “backup” musicians have gotten the short-end in just about every other music biz scenario, we can’t begin to hold a label like Mass Tropicas to a different standard.)
One complicating factor in re-releasing Ranil’s music, however, was the fact that Ranil himself didn’t own any of his own records; and he had taped over the masters years ago to store recordings of his radio program! Here we see how the durability of vinyl and the diligence of the digger can prove paramount. Ranil no longer possessed any of his own records, but Lima-based collector and chicha connoisseur Victor Zela, with whom Mike has been sharing his enthusiasm for years, has every single one. Victor compiled Ranil’s Jungle Party, and Mike gives him full credit as a creative partner. (The artwork, a clear homage to the style of the day, was done by Tunchi, another Lima-based collaborator.)
About that artwork, though (& plz permit another quick foray into the jungles of marketing lingo) —
So despite all the clearly thoughtful practices motivating Mass Tropicas, we still encounter almost inevitable notes of exotic fashioneering in the language on the record themselves, their promotion, and their inevitable reformulation in press coverage. Regarding the latter, one might read that Mike “researches the deepest streets of Peruâ€™s forgotten music,” an interesting formulation in its familiar contour but shifting locus of the real, from the jungle to the streets, again reflecting perhaps a general recalibration (or widening of the rhetorical repertory) in “world music” discourse. (Then again, despite the prevalence of the rural/pastoral/traditional, urban sounds and imgs have enjoyed a persistent, if fraught, presence in world music bins. Indestructible Example A?)
If this sort of spiel about “fascinating journeys” can ring a little hokey to some of us, redolent as it is of Putumayo pap, I don’t think that’s because Mike is out of touch. Rather, he’s following a playbook that has produced its share of touchdowns.
But let’s talk about different notions of touch for a moment. Touch is clearly important to Mike, who touches every record he sends off. In particular, two kinds of touch: being in direct touch with actual people & directly touching actual physical objects. As with Greg’s ideas about “fair trade funk,” doing it right for Mike involves both the fairness of the deal and the quality of the product. A lot of cumbia artists on some fairly popular (bootleg) compilations have no idea. “These guys are still alive,” Mike told me. “It’d be nice if they knew they were appreciated.”
As for touching actual objects, not to mention being in touch, here’s a nice chunky plastic thing I got in the mail from Mike:
Mike doesn’t really sell cassettes, yet. He tells me he’s had trouble convincing distributors to carry them, despite a minor current/recentvogue for them (indeed, a couple local producers slipped me their latest mixtape, on tape, just last week). I was happy to get the cassette since I’m lucky enough to have a car that plays them; this was true for Mike too, back when he got the idea of pressing up some of his own.
The El Hombre Orquesta cassette is from a limited run of 100, printed up mainly as an effort to promote El Hombre, aka Carlos Antonio, a sui generis one-man-band (and paraplegic) who Mike encountered while walking around in Lima. (Here’s an unrelated local news profile of him.) Singing songs while playing bongos, timbales, cymbals, wood blocks, and a halved soda bottle that sounds like a mean slide trumpet, El Hombre Orquesta has a sound all his own.
Struck by the sound, Mike asked him on the spot whether he could record him. Antonio told him, “It’s gonna cost ya,” and asked for $30. “I’ll give you extra,” said Mike, who then paid for $3 for a local practice space, recorded for 80 minutes, and gave Antonio $50, telling him he’d seek out a label back in the US to release his music. A relatively successful indie label specializing in what we might call “found sounds” of the wide world expressed strong interest, but eventually dropped the project. Having told Antonio that “next time I come down I’ll have an EP for ya,” Mike returned recently, gave him a bunch of cassettes and $200. El Hombre cried; he was touched.
3. ZZK Records
ZZK Records (pronounced zee-zek, Argentine-style, not Ĺ˝iĹľek), a label that started as a party, boasts a deep roster of hyper-creative pibes (yep, they’re all dudes), who make all kinds of exciting electronic dance music (especially the digital or “nu” cumbia for which they’re primarily known), run successful Kickstarter campaigns, and, having put their stamp on the nu world scene, are slowly but successfully wiggling their way into the potentially lucrative ol world music circuit (that’s 1.0, if you’re counting).
Recently, ZZK acts appeared at the 2010 Chicago World Music Festival, and they’re aiming to make it to Womex later this month. As the premier world music showcase in the world, Womex can be a huge platform, opening the golden doors to some of that ol world music industry money, where, especially in the live performance/festival circuit, there’s still a substantial amount to be made (unlike in the relatively tiny “global bass” scene, unless you’re fortunate enough to join the truffled classes).
For all its promise, Womex also presents significant risks for a fledgling label like ZZK, which still supports itself through all kinds of side/day-gigs (including a design firm, making somewhat more saleable use of their in-house talents). Simply getting to Copenhagen is taxing enough for an operation of this size to merit a kickstarter campaign for assistance. Everyday they’re hustling. But also touring a lot and making some great music and having fun.
By my watch, the ZZK crew got where they are today, notably, not merely though the various grinds above, but, in a nod to industry 2.0, by giving a lot of music away — especially in the form of mixtapes and bootlegs/mashups pushed onto the net (and in many cases, directly to bloggers in the nascent nu-world world). In this way, they share the plight of a lot of other small, independent labels (or artists) trying to build an audience and create some demand for (some commodification of) what they do in a saturated, “post-scarcity” music industry. ZZK effectively inserted their productions, style, and brand into translocal media flows by being savvy with what they make and share: mixtapes that blend their own tracks and other local flaves with global currents, mashups that lend a familiar tinge (in the form of say, a rap acapella) to their own electro-cumbia productions, videos that might find an eager embed on electronic / world / cosmopolatino blogs.
Although ZZK would prefer not to find its acts consigned to the marketological ghettos of “world” and “Latin,” such tags also offer certain footholds, crossover niches. When El G (aka Grant Dull, ZZK cofounder) and Lisandro of the Frikstailers came to Cambridge to play Beat Research this month, I had the opportunity to witness how the label attempts to work within the unwieldy boxes that litter the music industrial landscape. While Grant was being interviewed by a local guy who does an “alt Latin” radio show, I couldn’t help but appreciate how he tried to thread the needle, talking about the sound of the label, or specific acts, in a manner commensurate with their actual style and outlook and yet also in ways that make sense, that translate, that communicate to certain audiences. Hence, the Frikstailers were described at once as audibly “from south America” but, in the same breath, “very modern, contemporary.”
So despite the label’s nu-ness, it’s no surprise that the ZZKers selected to go to Womex are Tremor, the only “band” in the ZZK crew, and hence an act that already affirms certain entrenched ideas about “real” (world) musicianship. It probably also helps with the WM1.0 folks that they guys in Trebor play folkloristic drums (bombo leguero) and perform, according to ZZK’s own website copy, no less than an “interpretation of local musicology.” Indeed, once you read that amidst the mix of synths and drum samples one also hears “timeless Andean flute,” I think it’s clear that we’re treading familiar (“foreign”) territory.
I myself would probably leave the showcase featuring folkloric drums in order to see, say, a couple of guys banging on synths and laptops and DDR-pads, but I think it’s a while yet before the old world music guard is ready for the likes of the Frikstailers. Their loss, especially since the Friks’ productions may actually better embody the world-is-flat mythos animating a lot of WM1.0 fantasies. (Easy-listening reggae from any corner of the globe!) Like many of their nu-whirled peers, the Frikstailers find themselves immersed, at least part time, in a global culture flattened by the likes of YouTube and Twitter and mp3, where the real “world” music is the stuff we all hear no matter where we go: Justin (Bieber or Timberlake), 50, Britney.
The Frikstailers’ music features all sorts of referents, from the general to the specific — dancehall drums, cumbia percussion, that hip-house guy who says “oww” — but it’s pretty damn omnivorous in terms of what gets glitched and glitzed into a clubby, poppy frenzy. They don’t seem to proceed creatively with any self/audience-imposed requirements for local or Latin sabor. Their new EP reminds me as much of vintage Aphex Twin or the Black Dog as anything else. This stands in some contrast to, say, the nearly note-for-note renditions of Conan’s Brooklyn-based band.
first page of returns for “world music” on google images —
first page of returns for “global ghettotech” on google images —
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.
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?
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 aboâ€™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 â€“ 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 Yâ€™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.
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:
Apropos of noticing, this marks the 700th post since I moved this blog to my own server, way back in October 2006 — almost exactly 4 years ago, and well before Google/Blogspot starting alienating users en-masse. That’s a lotta posts, and I want to thank all of you who read here on occasion for the support, criticism, love, and feedback in general. (Speaking of, I also recently passed the 4000 comment mark — spam free! — which is maybe even more impressive than 700 posts.) As loyal readers know, I wax and wane like the name, and I’m grateful to those who can deal with the ebb and flow. Recently, it’s been more ebb than flow, but as you know, I’ve got my reasons. (Two of them, mainly.)
So, I thought I’d celebrate, and wax a little, with classic bit of “linkthink” for ya, mostly w&w + extended fam related —
First, I want to point you all to the latest helping of bass baditude c/o of my pardner in Beat Research, DJ Flack. Last month Flack boiled down a really tasty mix, full of weighted bangers, including a number of his own, for Mad EP‘s radio show. It’s a great distillation of the sort of set he’s been rocking on Mondays at the Enormous Room, so if you like what you hear, come catch him live. I love how the mix brings Flack’s own bouncy, tuneful productions into conversation with the music that inspires him (from dub to garage, & lots in between). You can see the tracklist and grab the mix here, or head over to Soundcloud if you prefer that — StepDropAndRoll by dj_flack
Speaking of my man MadEP/MattyP, I was just enjoying one of his own latest productions last week, thanks to !Kaboogie records, which is releasing an EP on Sept 20 including heat from MadEP, Ed Devane, the Banker, and Sarsparilla. As I listened to MadEP’s track, which features at least 3 or 4 distinct species of bass, through headphones last week, I was struck by how the lows were resonating not only my eardrums but my cranium, face, and down into my neck. As I noted on Google Buzz (yeah, I still use that), “i thought my brain was gonna leak out my nose for a minute.” Which Matty took as a high compliment, which it was. Another charming part of the track is that it includes some vocal cameos from one of Matty’s dear kids, who, I’m told by proud pops, also helped design the bass-patch on the track! Now that’s proper parenting. (And if you want a true testament to his superdaddiness, read this tweet from last night!)
I’d also like to point people to the episode of WNYC’s Soundcheck that I appeared on a couple weeks ago. Our “world music 2.0” convo will have familiar contours for many longtime readers, but I thought it was a nice summation of some of the major differences between what formerly (and still) gets marketed as “world music” and what a lot of us have been hearing as the music of a new “world,” a world of increasingly interconnected technologies and societies and marked by shared urban signifiers, random walks on YouTube, and banging club beats. I didn’t get to say everything I would have liked to, nor did I say everything the way that I would given a second chance, but that’s live radio for ya! (In particular, though, I want to note that I misspoke when I said that DJ Tito was sampling a reggaeton vocalist — actually it was mambo/merengue — and when I placed kuduro in “Brazil” rather than Angola/Luanda — total brain failures on those two.) You can access it here, or just stream it below. And don’t miss host John Schaefer’s sympathetic take on laptopping teens of the whirled vs. “rich producers manufacturing world music supergroups.”
In other news, I gotta thank Christina Xu once again for spotting yet the latest allusion to the good ole “zunguzung meme.” If you haven’t heard it yet, Vybz Kartelâ€™s new track, â€śWhine (Wine),â€ť produced by Max Glazer of Federation Sound, employs our familiar zig-zagging friend as a recurring, structural element (rather than a one-off reference)!
And I want to send a shout to Dan Hancox, who published an interesting, apparently provocative piece in the Guardian on “treble culture,” aka, “sodcasting” in London. It reads largely as a defense and celebration of the practice, and as such it invited a fairly strong bit of opposition in the comments. Since I’m still polishing up my own essay on the phenomenon, I’m grateful for the plenty more grist for the mill this provides. Also, to Dan for quoting me in the piece! e.g., —
On London buses, I’ve seen middle-aged gay couples playing South American pop on a wet Saturday afternoon, moody raver mums sodcasting acid house from their glory years; it’s not just the preserve of teenagers with attitude problems.
Nor, contrary to popular belief, is it an especially recent phenomenon, says the American anthropologist and musicologist Wayne Marshall, who is currently researching what he calls “treble culture”. “Sodcasting could fit into a time-honoured tradition of playing music in public as surely as reggae sound systems or the drums of Congo Square, never mind their antecedents,” he says. “Transistor radios and ghetto blasters are both good examples of a longstanding history of people making music mobile. The case of the transistor radio shows that people have long been willing to sacrifice fidelity to portability; while the ghetto blaster reminds us that defiantly and ostentatiously broadcasting one’s music in public is part of a history of sonically contesting spaces and drawing the lines of community, especially through what gets coded as ‘noise’.”
Finally, I want to point people to the Library of Vinyl blog, where Pacey Foster shares exciting news about becoming the trusted keeper of a trove of early Boston hip-hop demo tapes, as well as to b-ball blog supreme Freedarko, where I’ve got a guest post discussing this incredible cassette:
FD’s Bethlehem Shoals asked me if I might write up an “imaginary archaeology” of the thing, and since I can’t actually find anything on the interwebs about either the mysterious TROLL ASSOCIATES or the beat-boxing, tape-head-rocking Double D Crew, who have forcibly occupied the cassette since the mid-80s, that’s about the best I’ll be able to do at any rate. So here goes an attempt to channel my inner Dave Tompkins—
On one very merry late 70s Christmas morning, a young Markie D, yet to rise to local stardom as one of Boston’s several answers to Doug E. Fresh, found in his stocking a cassette boasting amazing contents: basketball “SUPER THINK” according to Julius Erving. Released by the suspicious but nonetheless seemingly credible TROLL ASSOCIATES, Dr. J’s informational and inspirational spoken-word performance had a reportedly noticeable effect on Markie’s ability to penetrate the perimeter. But when those dividends dried up around the same time hip-hop came to town, the tape was — somewhat ceremoniously — taped over, scotch guarding the knocked-out knockout tabs that tell cassette-players to keep their heads to themselves. (As noted clearly on the cassette, duplication was prohibited, but the word was mum on overdubbing.) For several years the tape played host to the latest greatest raps one could catch on the airwaves, or copy via visiting cousins from New York.
Eventually, it served as the eye-popping receptacle of 9 minutes of beatbox fury, bragadocious cautionary tales, and reverb freakouts, carefully packed and mailed to DJ Magnus, whose “Lecco’s Lemmas” radio show on WMBR (and later WZBC) was fast becoming the primary platform for the Bean’s aspiring rap talents, including a young, recently-relocated-to-Brooklyn M.C. Keithy E (aka, the late, great Guru of Gang Starr). The broadcast of these 9 minutes may have warped more minds than the TROLL ASSOCIATES’ original and perhaps even taught more listeners the proper method for driving the lane despite that the wisdom of Dr. J had by this point been encrypted into a series of throat clicks, pursed-lip bass bombs, and allusions to famous German automatons counting in Spanish.