The Sincerest Form of Flattery

It doesn't matter where in the world, as long as the country or community is small enough. It doesn't matter who is the target, or who is the artist. It's always going to come with a scent of success.

I'm talking about artists who come in to a culture from abroad and try their absolute best to fit into it. Nothing, it seems, makes people happier than someone foreign paying attention to our scene, to our country, to our culture, and loving it to the extent of wanting to join in. Great recent example is MC Gringo in Brazil - he's really immersed himself in his host culture, studied it's forms, tried his hardest, and they love him for it. He may not get it, not completely, but his very effort is pride-inducing.

This pattern of the hard-working foreigner is surprisingly common. And it doesn't seem to matter who is receiving who.

Here in Sweden it's a few years since we had any serious contenders, mind. But we still talk about them to this day. In the early fifties pioneering black vocal group The Delta Rhythm Boys, famous for bridging the transition from smooth jazz and rough rhythm & blues, did a tour of Sweden and were persuaded to record a couple of Swedish popular songs. They struggled through them phonetically (they never learnt Swedish), but the recordings were an instant success and the Deltas returned again and again to record and tour here. The songs were always very popped-up, but people really leapt at these old favourites redone by a proper, American jazz group! Here's a typical number, here with an unusual translation included:

The Delta Rhythm Boys - 01 - Domaredansen.mp3 - The Delta Rhythm Boys

In the sixties another group (that you might have heard of) had a huge success with a re-recording of a traditional tune, again learned phonetically: The Osmond Brothers. Had they not gone on to a hugely successful career in their native US (as The Osmonds) they might have become the rock era answer to the Delta Rhythm Boys.

Since then Sweden hasn't really had a huge success in this vein but we have exported one, to Thailand of all places. Jonas Anderson came to the country as a child and fell in love with Lukthung, traditional thai country music. Eventually, he started performing in the idiom and has become an enormous star in Thailand, performing lukthung in the original language as well as he knows how. Some say he doesn't have the right feeling, it is a kind of pop-lukthung, but people still love his trying.

My other country, Hungary, has another recent addition to this crowd: Nigerian Oludayo Olapite, who performs housed-up traditional Hungarian "folklore" pop songs under the name Fekete Pákó ("Black Paulie"). Again, a huge success, and a major star in the Hungarian tabloids.

Unfortunately he presents himself as a bit of a buffoon figure, a self-propelled racial stereotype that leaves a bit of a sour taste in my mouth. He's obviously very media-savvy and intelligent, but pretends not to be in order to get publicity, and his relationship with the tabloids is extremely self-destructive. For instance, this video where he seems to be praising Hitler and making prejudiced remarks about the roma got him enormous attention - only it was all staged and scripted beforehand. No wonder his relationship with the African diaspora in Hungary is very complex indeed.

This problematic last issue aside (and the related issues of representation and image in other similar examples), I still find this kind of cultural dedication (whether done for money or out of love) an interesting and encouraging practice. I'd love to hear of more similar examples!


Anton Hultberg Hansen said...

So what do you think of Alborosie?...the jamaica-based self proclaimed badman from Sicily. Or Collie Buddz? I feel some of these artists are trying so hard to fit in to the reggae stereotypes, that they accidentaly make a mockery of the culture.

Birdseed said...

That's a possibility too, I guess - a foreigner accepted because he brings in cash/foreign markets/goodwill/publicity. But are they really liked by the population at large?

Another entry and a preview of tomorrow's blog post: The South Indian teacher whose name I've yet to find who's hitting it big in Bhutan at the moment.