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.
Is this African music? I dunno.
Is it world music? Gavinsays, fuckityesitis.
Is it global ghettotech? Shut yo mouth.
What it makes me think about in the context of all these questions is: to what extent do individuals like Lamin or collectives like Dutty Artz actively direct discussions about music today and boldly navigate the brave new worlds of post-scarcity music industry, and to what extent are their efforts inevitably shaped by, or folded into, those same discourses and forces?
This brings us back to the crux of the question about world music, or global ghettotech, or transnational bass, or wot-ever-u-call-it. What is the nature of the mediation of the encounter with difference that these terms tend to entail? Are we talking about translation, filtration, curation, collaboration, production, or some odd admixture of them all?
When I first started thinking aloud about open-eared music-blogging as a kind of translation for a new world/whirled music, I pointed to what seemed like some interesting, promising efforts in that arena: among them, the work of blogs like Masalacism, Ghetto Bassquake, Mad Decent, MuddUp!, et al.
These blogs seemed to be doing some interesting cultural work: playing off an emergent, inclusive interest in global hip-hop, dancehall, and international party/club culture, they sought out music with familiar-but-foreign signposts and in the process cultivated — for themselves and their readers/audiences — an open-eared orientation to a wide world of music that hadn’t really been on the metropolitan radar. These blogs differed widely in terms of the context or tone or clarity of what they were doing, but aside from some small but significant ideological differences, they seemed to be doing fairly similar things.
I’m talking about championing genres like reggaeton, funk carioca, kuduro, cumbia, etc. And, for the record, I wasn’t the only one proposing that we might understand these activities as akin to — even as they diverged from and seemed to critique — what previously fell under the awkward umbrella of “world music.” XLR8R, for instance, ran a piece called “The New World Music” in August 2007, beginning, understandably so, with the acknowledgment that “World music” is a horrible idea and hailing such figures as Diplo and Maga Bo, who seemed to function both as curators of a certain sort, seeking out and sharing the latest greatest sounds on the planet, and as producers in their own right, making new music out of their digs and collabos.
Perhaps more than anyone, Diplo has been celebrated — as well as hit with the culture vulture tag, skewered as a newfangled Paul Simon, a privileged “First World” middleman/tourist/colonialist exploiting raw materials from the so-called periphery. But that sort of critique lacks nuance to say the least. While we no doubt need to be vigilant about asymmetrical power relations and questionable representational regimes, we also need translators and filters, especially good ones (and I actually think Diplo, generally, is a good one) — the sorts of thoughtful xenophiles that Ethan Zuckerman calls bridge figures (even if, um, Ethan’s prime example is Paul Simon).
For the most part, these artists and blogs/collectives have grown over the years: increasing their number of collaborators and contributors (and encouraging kindred blogs to pop up — word to Generation Bass and Dave Quam), consistently broadening musical horizons (and, often, sustaining interest in former flavors-of-the-month), and expanding their range of operations to go well beyond “writing” a blog. Having effectively created markets and nurtured scenes around a particularly weighted (get low), open-eared approach to electronic dance music — heavily Afro/diasporic in style & militantly, but rarely smoothly, hybridized — many of the long-running blogs in this vein have launched their own record labels over the last year or so, largely specializing in digital releases.
Moving beyond simply posting mp3s found on 4shared, or YouTube embeds, or rips from “pirate” CDrs — all of these valuable activities, of course, which continue apace — and into actually “releasing” (& sometimes selling) music from the people and places they find themselves drawn to, or from a network of producers inspired to make something new out of these distinctive but overlapping styles from around the world, is an interesting development, to say the least, for whatever we want to call this scene.
Some of the releases by these global bass blogs come from expected (as well as unexpected) bassy hotspots of the Global South, some are fashioned in the multiculti metropoles, and a lot of it blurs these lines so much it frustrates categorization. While the output has varied quite a bit across these labels’ efforts, in general the releases seem, significantly, to emphasizes whirledliness over worldliness — the latter is in there too, but generally as ordinary if not intimate cosmopolitan experience, not fanciful, distanced exoticism.
Take the following cross-section: from Dutty Artz, CIAfrica‘s decidedly rough textures or Lamin‘s disarming synths; from Mad Decent, the 3Ball MTY kids, who source their materials via random YouTube walks and (already!) remix commissions; or Botswana’s Ruff Riddims crew releasing reggaeton-inflected kwasa-house (which can’t get play on the radio in Botswana, ironically, because it’s not hip-hop or reggae enough) through Berlin’s Faluma; or Masalacism putting out Haitian-Canadian kreole-rap over dubstep-dripped beats; or Dave Quam initiating Free Bass with some footwork-inspired, hermetic jukery c/o a Washington-based teenager; or Ghetto Bassquake making all kinds of Hackney high life (including stellar remixes by Chief Boima and Uproot Andy, no strangers to the scene).
What’s great is how these blogs, having initially demonstrated their openearedness and got tagged (or self tagged) as cued into the world / whirled / global / ghetto / tropical / bass thing, are now participating in it at another level entirely. It’s a moment full of possibilities and risks. And, yes, a time for #realtalk, as Tally put it, tossing the bloggy guantlet just the other day —
But I want to make sure our extended family understands what moves we are making, and why. This isnt abo’ut selling more albums then mad decent, or having hyper raves parties then trouble and bass. We are creating a sustainable business model that allows for our work to reach the world AND provide us with the resources to continue pushing beyond ourselves. Major changes are in order- and I dont want any of you- our extended DA family – to be left behind. One of the most important tenants we follow is transparency. WE ARNT TRYING TO HIDE BEHIND BIZ3RRE MARKETING AND EXPENSIVE GRAPHIC DESIGN. WE JUST DO THIS FOR OUR PEOPLE SO YOU KNOW Y’ALL CAN HAVE IT.
I’m gonna run a follow-up post, of sorts, in a day or two, trying to keep the #realtalk flowing by discussing a few other approaches in this weird “world” world. This is where the rubber meets the iPhone, seen.
But speaking of #realtalk, just yesterday erstwhile reggae scribe extraordinaire Dave Stelfox tweeted this:
A few minutes later, this infelicitous phrasing turned up in my inbox:
Like Dave and many others, I can find pretty irksome this use of “ghetto,” especially as sensational / salacious imagery or vague thematic gloss, in the circulation and marketing of so much of this stuff. That’s what I was trying to get at with “global ghettotech” in the first place. It’s a term that’s been surprisingly embraced in certain quarters. It was, however, as David Dacks noted way back, a sardonic term from jump, at least for me. I never meant it to be taken as at all “literal,” as Steve Goodman (aka Kode 9) suggests in Sonic Warfare. Rather, the term was supposed to finger a suspect ideological tinge to the representational practices around a set of global dance genres — a familiar litany which Goodman also rehearses while offering an ante-ideological affective-level theory of the dreadful, bass-materialist ontologies of international, urban soundsystem practice. (Or was that, “making sense of the new war economy attention and acceleration hype of hybridized mutant youth digital sonic shared p2p capital2.0 today“?)
The same thing that animates Goodman’s conjuring of a “Planet of Drums,” nodding to Mike Davis, is precisely what might be termed a “pan-Ghetto” condition. (But don’t get me started on “pan-Ghetto diaspora” — I have no idea what that means.) And the power inequalities Goodman emphasizes, not least the control over increasingly targeted and militarized urban soundscapes — ironically, according to Goodman, a contest fostering, with wicked feedback, all manner of resonant and recombinant electronic dance musics — are also the animating forces propelling the “global bass” scene, or wot-ever-u-call-it. (Don’t ask me.)
So before we too quickly condemn (all politically-correct-like) the invocation of the ghetto as a certain global locus, we should remember that an address to and across the world’s ghettos is often quite explicit in a lot of this music. I was reminded of this yesterday morning via Twitter as well, this time by Samim (another interesting node in the circulation of these sounds — in his case, as a cumbia smuggler), thanks to the following video produced by Maga Bo, but as his collaborator Teba says in the intro, “for all the ghetto youth dem all over the world” —
I’ll leave you with Bo’s video description at the YouTube page, which puts plenty of blogposts to shame. Note the amount of context and credit he provides. At once, translation and production:
After many visits to South Africa, connecting with the African Dope Records crew – Fletcher, Teba, Sibot, and Max Normal in particular, DJing all over SA from Cape Town to Joburg, producing and recording music, here is the third video clip to accompany my record, “Archipelagoes,” released recently on Soot Records. “Nqayi feat. Teba.” was also chosen to represent the sound of Cape Town on the latest African Dope Records compilation, “Cape of Good Dope 2.”
The video was shot over 2 days in Guguletu, probably Cape Town’s most notorious township and Teba’s home turf – with all borrowed equipment – borrowed camera, boom box, the car on loan, people leting us into their houses to film. Back in the day, Teba was a member of the super successful kwaito group Skeem, which put out several albums before he left to do more socially conscious work. He now leads workshops in lyric writing and gumboot dancing (!), is part of the African Dope Sound System, has his own live band and has collaborated with the likes of Stereotyp and SiBot.
A slow hybrid baile funk/macumba/ragga beat sung in Xhosa and English, the lyrics talk about the difficulties faced by youth in townships today and how society tries to force them to drink and take drugs. Nqayi means baldhead and refers to fake rastas posturing themselves, but then bending over to the pressures of society and shaving their locks. An interesting element of the lyrics to this track are in the chorus where he uses the Xhosa ‘q’ sound, a click made with the tongue and the roof of the mouth, as a percussive element. Check the end of the video for a quick lesson…..
Please post this to your blog, mybook, facespace, twittering twit, your neighbor’s refrigerator, the local cafe bulletin board as well as your good natured local DVD pirate or where ever you want!
Actually, I think I’ll leave the final word, for now, to Dutty Tally, writing from Rio:
24 thoughts on “Nu Planetary Wot-U-Call-It 2.5.5”
‘pan ghetto diaspora’ is perfectly vague to me, gonna get a lot of mileage going nowhere with that one (while forty cops came to remove 3 or 4 ‘illegals’ from the upstairs of the venue where the DJ cleared the floor with a ‘soul night’ that included Bowie’s ‘Gene Genie’. Love chimney stacks as I do, the adonyne use of ghetto and diaspora is not saved by calling it pan. Too abstract yet again, while the jackboots stomp in time).
Good post Wayne, looking forward to the next update.
lots to think about here. great, great post.
nice state-of-the-____ post! Gavin’s piece seems quite relevant here, if only to remind us of the ongoing slipperiness & uselessness of authenticity debates.
I think #realtalk could begin by ppl discussing how much money they’ve spent on music in the past year/month/week.
I keep thinking about immaterial labor’s role in all this, the intersection of writing/blogging/tagging/tweeting/commenting for free in our ‘spare time’ on the internet & what that creates and who, if anyone profits from the emergent body of discourse/dialog/digitals, AND musicians trying to live off or at least be able to find time to continue doing + making in a post-scarcity environment (read: i used to spend tons of money on music, now i only buy cd-rs (with music on them) and old cumbia LPs (with dirt on them).
Once I mentioned something to the extent of ‘ante-ideological’ to Barbara Johnson and she nearly hit me with a book.
PLUG::: Maga Bo, Taliesin, and I are working on a project for summer 2011 that, assuming we can juggle many complicated moving parts & pull fund$ out of the ether, will be Very Exciting.
#context #credit #translation #production
Thanks for pulling out the highlights, Jace. Always illuminating.
I’mma have to go through my receipts and see what I’ve spent on music of late. Truth is, I get a lot of music for free because of my so-called “immaterial” (or are they “affective”?) labors on the blog — and in the club (and I considering how much I get paid to DJ, we may as well call it immaterial). So maybe I’m working for it ;) ?
I actually drop a fair amount on mp3s and CDs (if often used) pretty regularly via Amazon, though maybe it’s not fair that I can justify most of these purchases as reimbursable because they’re research materials.
@John, appreciate the comment. Been a fan of your work for a while now. The exotic haunts this sphere too, as I suspect you’re aware.
The only way I can possibly imagine something like a “pan-ghetto diaspora” is if we were to posit that all citydwellers originally hail from some rural ur-nation. It just makes no sense. It’s global bass bingo.
Great post, Wayne – lots to think about.
Just to clarify the Paul Simon example – I was trying to draw a distinction between bridges and xenophiles in that post. Bridges are folks positioned between cultures, able to navigate the space between. Xenophiles are the folks who cross the bridges. Simon got turned onto mbaquanga through a cassette tape, but never would have been able to follow that xenophilic path without help from Hilton Rosenthal, the producer behind much of Johnny Clegg’s work and the guy who built bridges between the musical community in Soweto. You can make a case that Simon ended up being a bridge, helping everyone from Laurie Anderson to Miami Sound Machine collaborate with Sowetan musicians, but I mostly was trying to shout out to Rosenthal’s role in that post.
In your post, Maga Bo might the the xenophile crossing the bridge that Teba offers, introducing the Brazilian DJ to the Guguletu scene…
Thanks for the distinction/clarification, Ethan. I find your piece (and a great deal of your work more generally) pretty stimulating for thinking through a lot of this. My confusion, however, seems to stem from what is maybe something of a false dichotomy at the heart of your categorization. Maga Bo is certainly a xenophile, but then he’s done a lot of work to position himself “between” various cultural formations (including by learning foreign languages and developing a remarkable cross-cultural musical fluency), but then Teba is clearly a xenophile too, and they both build musico-cultural bridges for people to cross. I guess it seems to me that the distinction really tends to break down when we push too much at it, not least of which because the idea of cultural difference is an extremely slippery one (which is one reason I tend to avoid the plural “cultures,” implying a little too much discreteness/boundedness).
i wonder if there’s a useful way to express what i see as significant in the xenophile/bridge distinction by talking about a few different kinds of difference. neither of these distinctions has a rigid line, of course, but they seem like they could be useful to separate:
1) folks who’re active ongoing participants in a particular social/cultural space
folks who draw material from it while remaining outside it
2) folks who position themselves or are positioned as gatekeepers between particular social/cultural spaces
folks who are in the gatekeeper position between a space and broad circulation in the centers of economic power in the cultural sphere
both ways, rosenthal is more or less in the first category, simon more or less in the second. seeing how the participant/visitor distinction and the space-to-space/global-capitalism gatekeeping one line up here seems helpful to understanding why folks are still more ready to get pissed at simon about his relationship to south african musics. if he’d either stuck around longer to become and remain an actual participant in any of the musical scenes where he found collaborators, or been a gatekeeper only to, say, the U.S. folk music scene, he’d be less critiqued. and, likely, have acted in less problematic and critiquable ways….
but all combinations of the two distinctions are pretty common. and they’ve all involve different potential ways of doing badly by people, especially when you look at how they intersect with different dynamics of power and privilege.
Great article !
I share it on our blog. http://www.globalbass1.wordpress.com
I’m sorry cause I havent’ got a proper english level in order to argue with you all, but, it gives a lot to think.
For our case, a radio show, as amateur dj’s and small bloggers, was, a lack, in our scene (France, suburbs) of a true crossed-over styles scene.
I mean, younger, especially in France, audiences, music styles, and communites were quiet closed from each other influences. Its like saying, today, “look, maybe we can cross-over differences, and all of you can have good times listening to others styles”.
That’s why we do our stuff basically today.
So, thanks again for posting such thought.
Peace from France.
great post wayne!
always very well structured and putting everything in context
kind of not related directly, but bring echo to it
nicve one wayne, i’ll drop it on generation bass.
Fair enough, Wayne – I’m still trying to work through the xenophile and bridge figures idea, and I agree that the categories are blurry and sometimes overlapping, and that they may not be especially helpful in positioning Maga Bo and Teba. In my work, bridge figures are folks positioned to help outside audiences understand their home cultures and xenophiles are the folks interested in exploring those cultures. Once we start moving into this exciting and confusing cross-national, post-worldmusic “global ghettotech” space, perhaps everyone’s an explorer and no one’s a native yet. Or maybe you’re documenting the first generation of natives of this new space. Anyway, thanks for the challenge to the categories, helpful as I’m trying to develop and understand them further. (Oh, and for offering some examples less lame than Paul Simon… :-)
I will excerpt directly from my notebook
“4. Wayne and Wax’s affective labor discussions…Ah. Sigh. Alas. Capitalism comes for us all- just has different speeds in the chase!!
4a- Dont yall see ‘our’ high? Priests we are! We non spenders of money. 0 dollars for years (actually not true. CD-Rs in Indonesia. Sometimes they are VCDs. Unknoingly bought because I am a foreigner there. Read and speak Indonesian better than anyone else you’ve spoken to this month that is not from jawa, bali, sulawesi, kal, ntt, ntb, maluku, papua, sumatra but still unknowingly buy cds that are actually vids. the power of the outside. ‘mistakes’).
So we are amplifiers of your sound. registering only as #s on yr podcast dloads and webhits. Replayed by US/WII w/o hit counts. off the grid. through more secretive networks. speaking to friends at parties, weddings (relish the thought). decoding transvaluating. JUST AS you do for us. We the high priests of W/W dutty BASS blah blah. we say some of your words and some of our words when we play these songs to people who still listen to the talking heads and only the talking heads. Put on youtubes and dance with white people who’ve never danced.
So thus MATT S after this prelude of mine about receptivity and art and love and orchids and fertilizing objects. What do you say when I say your aesthetic has been territorialized in new ways? It could sell jeans when once it could not. Remember this is a statement of love”
Appreciate your comments as always, Zarathustra — esp the line
My next post tries to pick up on some of these threads — ie, amplifying, transvaluating, recepting, etc — with regard to the concept of “appreciation” (which has a $$ connotation but also one having to do more with meaning and that sort of value). As for “affective labor,” my inner jury is still out on that, despite that I drop the term here and there. The only ones making money off that shit is ISPs.
And let me thank everyone for keeping the conversation going. I appreciate Rozele’s attempts to push further on Ethan’s model, and I’m grateful to Ethan for helping me to work through what he’s still working through. As much as I’m hesitant to posit stable degrees of differential rootedness in local cultures (and hence, who’s a bridge and who’s a xeno), obviously I’m curious about how the idea might help to sort out certain relationships in this “scene,” if we can call it that.
on the bridge and xeno tip: “everyone’s an explorer and no one’s a native” strikes the nail on the head.
consider the fact that a good portion of those labeled bridges might actually be xeno-types when considering a more detailed look at the class structure within said culture…that’s what street-cred is all about in North American hip-hop, right? proving you’re from within and not without.
i didn’t mean “without” in my last comment but it did get me thinking about genre and one’s place within a culture…
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