WE WOULD ALL BE LIVING IN CAVES

Wayne’s been quiet as of late, which makes his recent piece on nu world music all the more welcome. i voice my preliminary response in the comments, and will flesh things out more fully here no doubt…

a few weeks ago Andy sent me this wonderful, thought-provoking interview with John Storm Roberts, founder of the Original Music label and author of Black Music of Two Worlds and The Latin Tinge.

Interviewed twenty years ago, Roberts’ thoughts remain freshly relevant to the discussion Wayne has sparked. some excerpts:

african dances

YOU’VE TALKED ABOUT THE INFLUENCE OF AMERICAN AND CUBAN MUSIC ON AFRICAN MUSIC. IN YOUR CATALOG, YOU TALK ABOUT ‘BLAND SYNTHESIZED AFRO-POP.’ DO YOU THINK MUSICAL CROSS-POLLENIZATION IS A BAD THING THEN?

Absolutely not. All music is cross-pollenized. With the stuff I was studying, the African pop music which I was writing about very enthusiastically, the term in those days, which was said with a shudder of good taste, was ‘westernized.’ Nobody complains that African music is ‘Arab-ized.’ It just happened earlier. Is it OK because it happened a hundred years ago but it’s not OK because it happened 30 years ago? I mean, there are legitimate though unfounded fears. It’s been said to me ‘It’s not the fact that westernization is good or bad but that the Arabization of African music happened over a longer period.’ The enormous amount available of foreign culture is the problem. It’s like a tidal wave versus the tide coming in.

But the thing is that this is overstated. Firstly, in most countries, there’s far more local music going on than people realize. Also, there’s this kind of well meaning neo-colonialism. People who fear for foreign cultures, certainly big cultures, are really kind of neo-colonialists. The implication is that these are poor, weak and therefore second-rate cultures and because they’re so weak, anything that happens to them will cause them to disappear. In point of fact, there were many Ghanaians that were worried that highlife was being killed by Congolese music. What was happening was that it was fashionable and the guitarists were borrowing licks but they were still also playing highlife. In 1970, I was told that James Brown was killing highlife dead. James Brown was hugely popular. But highlife was still going strong. It was just another influence. Fads and fancies come along all the time. For a while, it seems to be everywhere- the bands are playing the music and the kids are wearing the T-shirts. But it doesn’t last long. The original music just goes on.

Musicians pinch from everywhere. It’s true that the real small cultures have tended to disappear but they always have. The Latin culture that people are proud of is the result of various other cultures not only mixing but also blending into it. My own culture, the Scottish music and Celtic singing styles, are thought to be the remains of English music with strong middle-eastern influences. Most of the music that people think of as traditional Italian or whatever now was a new style that grew up in the nineteenth century that pushed out something else from earlier. We would all be living in caves if things didn’t change. Some things disappear and it’s a balance.

Java music

WHAT DO THINK ABOUT THE POPULARITY OF ‘WORLD MUSIC’ IN THE LAST FIVE OR TEN YEARS?

It’s only become mildly more popular. When you can figure out why towns in this country now have Thai restaurants which 20 years ago would probably have regarded the pizzeria as the most exotic restaurant in town, I’ll tell you why world music is more popular. I think it’s just that the extremely provincial American outlook is beginning to change at all sorts of level. You’ve got to remember that from the point of view of someone who’s come here from elsewhere, this is a very isolated as well as a very large country with a little bit of trickle of Canada at the top (which seems like a 51st state to most Americans anyway) and Mexico at the bottom of it (which is still for most Americans just a place to go for honeymoons). As far as any personal experience is concerned, the fact of the matter is that this is a huge and isolated country. Americans are as isolated as the Tajiks, in fact more isolated because the Tajiks are in the middle of large numbers of cultures even if they’re not cultures we know.

Tanzania

WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THE ROLE OF MUSIC IN AMERICAN CULTURE AS OPPOSED TO IT’S ROLE IN OTHER CULTURES?

It’s a tricky question. Music is an integral part of African culture and is used in ways that it isn’t used in the States. It’s more interesting that it’s more activity-related. There is bed-wetting music as well as putting-baby-to-sleep music in some countries. It’s possible that as Western societies have become less communal, the thing has changed. There are a lot of aspects of music that people don’t know the background of. Call and response singing was far more common in Europe than is now because things were done differently. When people were farming by hand, they sang call and response songs. But there are certain differences. The mass in Roman Catholicism remains a valid mass even if there is no music. You cannot have a valid Santeria ceremony without the appropriate rhythms because the gods will not come without the right rhythms.

the whole interview is quite fresh, and Andy informs me that the LPs Roberts put out are amazing… In an unintended nob to Andy (whose band works closely with a number of Ethiopian musicians), Waxidermy hosts an Alemayehu Eshete tune from Authentic’s early catalog (Roberts later changed the name to Original).

SUPER MAMA DJOMBO

cd covertoday’s song is from Golden Afrique vol. 1, although it’s available (cheaper) at Calabash. not sure if this is an Ibrahim Sylla production, but the band from Guinea-Bissau slots nicely into the extremely beautiful category.

You can’t really go wrong with ‘5 interlocking electric guitars and several-part vocal harmonies’ from West Africa:

Super Mama Djombo – Dissan Na M’bera

the informative Calabash write-up traces Mama Djombo’s arc through revolution and repression to conclude “what are left are magnetic tapes”.

a life & time unspools down to whatever medium can remember it: wet brains, hard drives, paper books, magnetic tapes, circular pieces of plastic inscribed with tiny mountains of sound that came from bodies and moved bodies somewhere, once.

FREE MAIZE

Wiley! (at length)

Skream! (1hr with Gilles Peterson)


Binyavanga Wainaina!
(on, among other things, Negroponte’s 100-dollar laptops “for the whole brown world”, Binyavanga first muddied up here.)

When free American maize turned up in Kenyan schools in 1984, thanks to Bob Geldof and USA for Africa, it arrived in gunny bags and presented itself at school dining tables: steaming yellow, not white like the maize-flour we knew as a staple. We had heard that this food was coming. We had heard that people were starving to death – only a few miles away from us, in fact, over the border. But even that was “out there.” We were all hearing on the radio this song by big celebrities about the starving people in Africa. We were singing these songs, as well – thrilled that we, too, could feel mushy about people in Africa. We saw the sacks unloaded. But they were silent. So we started to speculate. I must confess that I hated school food, anyway, and that yellow maize porridge tasted not that much worse than everything else we were forced to eat. But our speculation was powerful. It is American animal feed. And it started tasting a bit too earthy. It has been treated with contraceptive chemicals. And it started to taste metallic. It was sent to us because it has gone bad already. And it started to smell funny.

Soon, in the Njoro High School dining hall, vast amounts of yellow porridge went directly into the bins. Our teachers, normally violent fascists in matters of discipline, looked the other way. We had food fights with the porridge every evening, and the floor would be littered with the clumpy remnants of America’s love.

– from Glory, Binyavanga Wainaina. Bidoun.

BACK TO AFRICA (VIA FRENCH CANADA)

What’s coming? Well i’ve got translations and PDFs (Remember bloggers: PDFs are the new MP3s) and music from beyond the edge of Europe so sweet it brings a tear to the eye, but before all that, a little ‘my comrades have bass big-uppage’:

I always said that Ghis was a ninja. The 2nd volume of his African hiphop mix aired on Mary Anne Hobbes BBC show last week. Downloadable. On the same show, Mary debuted Maga Bo‘s Nahkil featuring new school Moroccan rap heroes Bigg & K-Libre, a tune from his upcoming 12” on Soot. It’s a banger…

I branded or stamped each record jacket of this 12” with the Arabic word for ‘soot’, a time-intensive, dangerous process that I can’t recommend to anyone, unless you are crazy, which I must have been, to have spent hours working hot metal over a stove during a Mediterranean heat wave, windows shut tight so no breeze could disturb the oven’s flame. But there is something, something to be said for labor-intensive projects that leave you with minor burns and less money than when you started. Right? at least it’s a good record.

Oh yeah, the Maga Bo 12” that’ll be released after this one (in plain black ‘jace-is-now-too-sane-to-brand’ sleeves) has vox by Senegal’s Pee Froiss and a potent remix by… mr. Ghislain Poirier. Full circle, sort-of.
/end Ghis fan blog

METALLIC VIBRATIONS & GOOD APOCALYPSE MEDIA THEORY

Didac writes gently and poetically on distortion in Timbuktu, en español. i’ll find time to translate this.

tombuctu3.jpg

From Iowa (an equally exotic location), Anne distorts gentlemanly poetics and launches a thought-raft into the future, the grubby future //

A few days ago, Turkish friends in Berlin shared 6 gigabytes (!) of carefully selected Turkish & Balkan music with me. The hard drive folder was labeled For Repture by a guy whose name I couldn’t spell, either. Cross the Bosphorus, letters slip.

might as well dive in… with badass saz player Arif Sağ. Here’s some breathtaking youtubery. The stately saz incandescently played on a prosaically irreal stage-set as the TV screen clocks Istanbul’s unchanging temp.:

the saz already resonates with telltale metallic soul. Plug it in, amplify — fx pedals optional — and you’ve got electro saz.

Arif Sağ – Bahi Sabah from the Lambaya Puf De CD

NOTE the little blue arrow-thingy!! You can now use this Flash-player to preview MP3s before downloading.

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good apocalypse media theory (the sheep look up):

The idea that the poem of the future is a poem written by a programmer with her machine is an extension of the fantasy of the eternal life of the ephemeral stuff of first world living: fossil fuels, reliable power grids, stable climatic conditions, liberal democracies.

The poems of the future are more likely to be carved into junk-plastic rafts by refugees fleeing viral epidemics on wasted seas.

For my poem of the future I plan to lay out a pattern of trashed computer monitors, creating a pixellated vision of a poem from broken/not broken screens, and as the wealthy flee plagues and terrorist attacks in their private airplanes they can see this poem of the future from the sky they own.

Programmers and their machines do not create the poems of the future, they create the poems of the present. This might also be said of the lesser poetic technologists, those who google sculpt or employ social software for generative results, those who work in flash or code or photoshop or garageband.

-Boyer, Odalisqued
smashed-pc-monitor.jpg

MO’ AFRIQUE

Ghislain Poirier’s Mix Afrique generated quite a bit of traffic here so I’d like to direct y’all to Matt Yanchyshyn’s equally generous assortment of African hiphop. Won’t be up for long!

Matt’s tastes tend toward the smoother end of the spectrum, laidback lush productions a nice complement to Ghis’s Afrocrunk selection. One hand can’t clap, one turntable can’t mix…

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W&W introduces me to juke (via these embedded flash players that crash my win2k firefox)

what have you done?

(some of DJ Clent’s productions have that strange synth-fluttery grime feel, yes, bring it.)

MATSULI GEM DELIVERY SERVICE

Matsuli music, a blog of “music african and otherwise” has been unearthing gems lately…

vintage afroyoutubery & album rips. from late 70s Jah Shaka dance footage to a Syliphone compilation of Guinean bands from the 60s & 70s — a period i love — replete with hefty label discography.

(in the past, i’ve upped Syliphone tracks here, here, and here).

the Vieux Farka Toure solos are worth watching. He’ll be touring east coast USA in february.

Uncanny, amazing, casual. The talent has passed so completely from father to son it seems as if he’s channeling… also, Vieux makes it appear unbearably easy. Tuning-up becomes the intro to a massive solo, he smiles, looks, twists about (why is the lens round?). Sparks!

MIX AFRIQUE

ghis.jpeg

just a week into ’07 and our Montreal point-man Ghislain Poirier kicks it with a powerful 30min. mix of hiphop from Africa.

Ghislain Poirier – Mix Afrique

ingredients

1. 37mph – All In The Name Of Fun ( South Africa )
2. Tuks – Clap ( South Africa )
3. Xplastaz – Msimu Kwa Msimu (Tanzania)
4. Peter Miles – Owango RMX ( Uganda )
5. Awadi – Stoppez les criminels feat. Tiken Jah Fakoli ( Senegal )
6. 994 Crew – Bad Boy ( Mauritania )
7. Unathi – Sgubhu Sam’ ( South Africa )
8. Abass – Zibi zibi zaba ( Senegal )