Thursday, November 12, 2009

A Ramble on Music

Lately, I've been too busy living La Vida Low Budget to really deal with the world around me.

But it's funny how things work; I can't afford my satellite subscription, and so on Sunday afternoon previous my TV went dead. What sucks about satellite is when your service is down you can't even get local channels, the cheap fuckers. So I have no idea of what's going on in the world on a daily basis, or what the weather's gonna be, and I still haven't seen pictures of Sammy Sosa's lightened skin. And I'm not that interested enough to go Google it.

But what I DO have is Link TV, Satellite's public access channel. I get world wide news five months later, but by the same token... what's really going to change in the next few days anyway? I mean really? We have a brown-skinned President and the general novelty has worn off. The poor thing is swimming upstream against the worst economics seen in this country in a long time, two wars he didn't start, and the worst (and most embarrasing) case of racism I've ever seen.

And Bloomberg bought himself an election. And P.S. on Bloomberg... a few years ago when I didn't see the point in voting when you're at the bottom of the foodchain, some very liberal Jewish people convinced me of the numbers game. It worked with Obama. It didn't work with Bloomberg. I'm back to being jaded. I don' t really care what's happening in the world; it's not helping me and my immediate problems anyway.

However.

What does, and always interests me is music. I think that music tells more about a culture or an outlook or a time period than anything else. Music transcends language. If you don't understand the language the songs lyrics or in, or if the music has no lyrics, if you listen you can still feel the mood, the culture behind the song.

Music can create visceral reactions in people, which always interests me. What causes them to have such a reaction? And what's interesting is that the more "primitive" or simplified the music, the stronger the reaction. HipHop is a classic case of music and strong reactions for and against... but when you think about it most hiphop is stripped to the most basic elements; a beat, and some lyrics. And it fascinates me that some people can't even get past the (primitive) beat to pay attention to what's really going on. They automatically hear the beat and assume it's "that kind" of music and they don't want anyting to do with it.

I grew up listening to music; it provides the score for the soundtracks of my earliest memories:
  • Poppy in France bringing home a 45 of Ray Charles singing "Eleanor Rigby". Playing it over and over, loving how Ray had added soul to an already powerful Beatles song.

  • James Brown singing "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag" and me thinking that maybe it was about Poppy who loved to make bags out of old jeans legs... but even at three years old I knew I'd never met James Brown so how could he know about Poppy's bags?

  • Standing at the turntable watching the label of an Archie Shepp record go around and around... the music filling me with fear all of a sudden so I cried. And me not being able to explain why it scared me so.
And many many other memories...

As I got older and went through school and life, even though I didn't follow a musical path my love for music has always stayed and my interest in the cultural differences or the history has grown. I may not like all of what I hear, too loud, too aggressive, too sad, too European--but I will at least take a listen to hear the story the music has to tell.

I'm amazed that most people won't take the time to listen to something other than what they know, or "like". Or don't listen at all. There are so many stories they are missing, a whole understanding of the world that they'll never see. Never "get".

So all I have is LinkTV right now, but the beautiful thing about that is the half-hour blocks of world music that they'll play. Music Videos from all over the world. Some known, like Shakira. Some known only to the culture they're from.

For fun, I try to listen to the story of Africa... are there any African-inspired beats? Harmonies? I owe this latest game with myself in part to the Sun's percussussion group, Speaking In Rhythms. The founder/leader of the group got a few kids together a few years back, and took them to Puerto Rico to learn about the African beats that go there via slavery. A few years later they got to Belize. This year they're trying to get to Peru.

Peru? Who knew Africans had made it to Peru? Around the same time CNC introduced me to Joe Arroyo, a salsero from Columbia. Two songs of his fascinated me; one I've already posted here about slavery in Columbia (Rebelion), but another, Yamulemao, caught my attention. A little digging into the song provided something very interesting:

"Yamulemau" was originally recorded as "Diamoule" by Laba Sosseh, a singer from the West African country Gambia. An interesting example of cultural interaction between Africa and the Americas, Sosseh was first inspired by popular Cuban music and salsa. Arroyo sings "Yamulemau" in the original African language, imitating the phonetics much the same way African artists like Sosseh have done with Spanish.

Here's the video:



And for fun, here is the original African version:



I could spend a good day (and probably will when time permits) playing both version over and over to hear where they cross, where they differ...

I digress a little.

But here's the thing; most music invites dancing. And if you think music evokes visceral reactions, dance does the same thing. Dance is the visualization of a culture and movements can be very particular to a region. But people travel... slavery happened and there are movements particular to Africa that are now world wide.

What started this post, the story behind the story, was that over at Keep it Trill, she posted a video of a baby dancing to "Stanky Leg". She posed the video as a test of your own racist reactions, and pointed out the rather vehement rather racist comments on YouTube. Someone pointed out the absence of racist comments under another video of an extremely blond French girl doing African dance (extremely well, I might add). Rather than repost the discussion or some of the comments I urge you all to go visit, cuz it was a very interesting discussion: Keep It Trill's blog post is here.

(For fun though, I also recommend going over to YouTube and viewing the original Stanky Leg and the hundreds of people who have posted themselves doing the dance--including some pink girls who do a pretty good job.)

One thing I brought up over there in passing, is how ashamed people can be made to feel about their culture or heritage. Frequently, this is the result of one group of people dominating another; the powerful group uses all the things indigenous to the dominated group against them. Breaks it down into a stereotype, so that the dominated group begins to hate those very things about them that are essential to their nature. We often can't see it when we look at ourselves, but if we look at other cultures maybe we're not so blinded by our own feelings to see it.

Case in point; my Native cousins. Babies snatched and sent to "Indian Schools", their hair cut and made to feel ashamed of what they were taken from; forbidden to speak their languages, sing their songs, dance to their music. We know it happened to the Africans too.

But those traditions linger. They got passed down despite the beatings, the mental and verbal abuse. And my Native cousins have been slightly more successful at reclaiming their heritage with pride than my African cousins have been. It's why I love pow wows; the Native beat, the dancing, the honoring of Native spirits and traditions.

I particularly love this video by Native actor/hiphop artist/activist Litefoot. I love that it's a Native beat, with Native singing and dancing but it's got a definite HipHop flavor:



And just for giggles, here's a collaboration between Caucasian and Aborignal Australians... but watch the video for the hints of AfricanAmerican robot-dancing:







And get past the "hiphop" beat to watch this video by New Zealand/Maori group Dam Native: