The Coca-Cola Company's Astoundingly Racist Store Display

Fuck me. I went shopping down at the Konsum in the mall, when I came across a promotional event for a new flavour of Fanta, Fanta World Pineapple: Inspired By Jamaica. I've worked as a store demonstrator myself and I know how ridiculous some of these stunts can be, but this is just beyond words. I'll let you spot all the offensive crap yourselves.

The music playing, of course, was generic astroturf-roots reggae.

The Revenge of Svennebanan

Hideous Swedish vegan-concious rapper Promoe released a new single a little while ago that sounded nothing like his previous material. "Svennebanan" (literally: Honky Banana, but figuratively a derogatory equivalent of Joe Sixpack) is a track heaping bile on the cultural practices of the Swedish working class, deriding their trips to Thailand, their musical taste and their use of morning-after pills. The music, in what Promoe believes is satirical move, is a simplified version of the kind of electro-rap that Maskinen puts out, and the video consists of supposedly authentic footage of people from Gothenburg out on a stag night on a Finland boat. (I swear my mother is briefly visible at 2:28.)

What no-one was probably expecting, least of all Promoe himself, is that the video has become extremely popular, the most viewed Swedish video on Youtube in fact. The single is predicted to become a huge summer hit, and the people buying it would be precisely the people mocked. (In effect a domestic, class-based version of tourist-watching.) If you read the Youtube comments, Promoe's fans are scoffing at the stupidity of Svennebanan, buying a song that makes fun of him, by someone who thinks he and his ilk are scum. By their way of seeing it, Svennebanan is a loser who doesn't get the ironic subtlety.

It seems to me the truth is probably the opposite. Svennebanan is working strategically, and knows exactly what he's doing. Because by adopting the song as their own, the Swedish working class is able to neutralise it and mock Promoe back in return. Just as epithets like "queer" have become symbols of pride for other oppressed groups, there are signs that "Svennebanan" could become a rallying anthem, a celebration of precisely the values that Promoe despises. That, of course, would be the real irony.

And of course it's nothing new or localised at all.

Mockingly adopting the values of the upper classes or the ruling elite is a classic way to turn the politics of music into your own. I was reminded of this while looking through Central >merican music the other day, and finding this track by Garifuna musician DJ Kabeto:

The Garifuna are some of the most smothered people on earth by the world music crowd. Super-hyped musicians like Andy Palacio and the Garifuna Women's Project are projected as the typically servile, pre-modern types who make pleasant music for the consumption of Europeans, while still prefferably living in grass huts, for the authenticity, y'see. The "traditional" culture of the garifuna is even protected by the UNESCO as world unique. As such, the pressures from outside must be horrendously strong to conform.

In that context, the subversion of DJ Kabeto is genius. Instead of making an urban video with cars and modernity, he pretends to visually go along with the grass huts theme. But then he pushes to ridiculous extremes, with fake tribal tat aplenty, "african" headdresses and hula skirts mocking the whole idea of a genuine indigenous culture. By displaying the ridiculousness of the world's stereotypes about the Garifuna, Kabeto is able to disseminate his message like no straight track could do.

Perhaps that should be the next step of Svennebanan too. I hope for the day the working class here in Sweden take it upon themselves to start making music for mocking their "superiors"...


I'm Gonna Stop Questioning Twitter and Start Twittering Questions

After watching Wayne find two interesting tracks in a row by putting out tentative feelers on Twitter, I think I might be sold. Facebook updates are all good and fine, but those hashtags and @-prefixes seem designed precisely to help you find information in interesting and directed ways.

Of course, publicising your tweets on your blog probably helps too. Here's my first query:


The Greatness of Misrepresentation?

Bloggers have power. Hell, anyone who is read anywhere has power, especially if read by the bourgeois public. It'd be foolish not to consider the ethical implications of this power, and I hope I've done so quite often in this blog. About my own power, and that of other media.

A woman in my ethnology class last week really lashed out at the magazine Gringo. Gringo is run by people from a fairly diverse selection of ethnic groups and can be described as basically an immigrant equivalent of a gay pride magazine, brashly and colourfully presenting "suburban culture" with quite a lot of pow and tongue firmly in cheek. My classmate's objection was that they turned a blind eye to reality in the suburbs, which is often hard and poverty-stricken. A more balanced coverage where both the negative and positive side was represented would have been better, she thought, in order to give a fair picture of how things really were.

But I'm wondering how fair this is. Is it desirable when describing culture to be as accurate as possible, or should we default to just showing off the good sides?

I blog a lot about music. Within any particular genre, I usually go ahead and pick out the music that appeals to me the most, that I deem has a good quality. I probably do this less than most posters, because I end up posting stuff like this and because I have no taste, but nevertheless I strive towards posting music that's enjoyable. Is this wrong?

The answer is probably "partly".

If I was a classical music blogger, the question wouldn't even be raised. No-one would go around demanding I give an "accurate" picture of mediocre composers and amateur ensembles, they'd want me to go for the very best all the time. Actually, this comparison is not strictly accurate because there are some interesting music historians (in the field of "style history") who definitely are more interested in average works than greats, but if I was presenting the material outward, selling it as it were, no-one would expect me to bring up the mediocre or the awful.

However, there are a couple of differences here that are worth considering. To begin with, there's the whole imperialist taste-imposition angle. Taste is determined within the context of its production, the whole idea of "the scene" being one in which a group of people act as mutual referees as to which of their music is good. So who are we outsiders to go around selecting music according to our taste? Bloggers have the power of access to the public, so perhaps we should let our taste take a back seat lest we destroy the creativity of the scenes by asking them to conform to our needs? Perhaps. But I guess even going by someone else's idea of quality we're still basically stuck with a reformation of the same problem.

Secondly, ignoring what you feel is mediocre might in fact be oversimplification and the denial of diversity and interesting complexity. My classmate who talked about Gringo came up with an example of a little girl in one suburb who was an excellent violinist, one of the best at her age in the country, but who the magazine refused to cover. There's a danger that thinking about quality along one axis (a "ghetto culture" one, in Gringo's case) causes a creeping essentialism, where one ethnic group (or a whole social category like immigrants) is always associated with one style of cultural expression.

Still, I can't help thinking that we need both. Both stories about the bad and about the good, both pep-pieces and complete analyses. Or perhaps, rather, all possible angles from a diversity of sources. One blogger or one magazine can't possibly cover every story, so why not let them just focus on one thing as long as there is diversity in coverage overall? The general news media's reporting from the suburbs is relentlessly negativistic and bleak, confirming (as the media is wont to do) a negative stereotype. Gringo was partly founded on the idea of providing a positive counter-picture.

In general, the idea that one newspaper or one blog needs to cover all sides and aspects seems a bit old-fashioned in a world where my blog aggregator has something like 309 feeds, all with their own perspective. It does become more of an issue, though, when everyone or almost everyone veers the same way, creating a general monolithic discourse. Maybe someone needs to start a blog of fair-to-middling album tracks and flop singles they don't really like?


Is Hating Rap Racist?

Okay, so obviously saying that you hate all music made by black people is racist. Using a stereotype like "all black people are simple and carefree, and I prefer dark and complex music" is racist. Fine. Hating black culture in general is likewise racist by current definitions, although it does not include any of the traits traditionally associated with "races". But what about hating a genre of music, or a cluster of style traits in music, that are strongly associated with a particular ethnic group? In short: are people who vehemently hate hip-hop and rap actually racists?

Ignoring the obvious issues about the social construction of taste, I think I'd side with most people here and say no. But where's the limit, how far can you go? Can you relentlessly mock the imagery associated with the music? To take an example from another part of the world: can you honestly claim to hate manele fans (as many Romanians do) and then claim that you do not hate gypsies? And what would make that different from hating a distinct non-ethnic cultural group like "all muslims"?

I ask because of the general response in the Eurovision community to this:

Gipsy.cz - Aven Romale (Eurovision 2009 Czech entry)

I think it's probably less enjoyable than the stuff I've written about before from gipsy, having as a youtube commenter deftly noted quite a bit of Queen in it, which is not really my cup of tea. But it's quite funny, the video is gorgeous, and I like the Roma pride message. Literally everyone else in the Eurovision world seems to hate it though. In the Swedish national television preview shows, it got zeros from all five panel members and it was completely laughed out as ridiculous. Likewise, respected website Schlagerprofilerna gave it all zeros. So did Scandinavia's biggest newspaper. It's right at the bottom of the ESC Today charts.

Would it even be possible to heap this much hate on a song that was black pride or gay pride? Can someone who's better versed in the intricacies of structural racism inform me?


It's time the Pirate Party dealt with the hard stuff

Congatulations, Sweden's Pirate Party! In the wake of the verdict in the Pirate Bay trial, the Pirate Party has surged to over 25 000 members, and is now the fourth biggest political party in Sweden by member numbers. There's a very real possibility that it will get into the European Parliament in the upcoming elections.

But then what? How is the Pirate Party planning to deal with life in real politics? I've written before about how the pirate movement in general seems to have an ideology that's stuck in '68. But the three-issue Pirate Party is one step worse in that it doesn't seem to have much of an ideology at all. So listen up Pirates. Unless you want to have huge problems later it's better to get cracking and work out all those kinks that will fuck you up. And I'm saying that for your own sake.

So you've got three issues. But you really need to eventually work them into a political framework, and politics is ultimately about the distribution of power. If you're going to have a real political stance, you need to figure out (as one writer famously put it) "who gets what, when and how."

For example, my own political party, the Feminist Initiative, would pretty much agree on all three central issues with the Pirate Party. Even the leadership says so. But we agree because (in addition to the who, where, when and how) we've got a definite why explaining what makes these issues so important. And this why is all to do with the distribution of power. The strong patents on medicine, for instance, hit extremely hard at groups who are already marginalised, most harshly at poor women in the third world. Since feminism is all about broad and intersectional justice in the distribution of power, we're able to formulate a political stance where the issues are strongly integrated into a bigger picture.

Such an overall picture hones arguments and helps explain what makes something wrong in the first place. For instance, that central file sharing issue can be construed in a feminist theoretical framework as being all about access to knowledge, which as Bourdieu and others has shown amounts to a great deal of power. Marginalised groups have systematically been excluded from knowledge, whether it's literally like with women a hundred years ago, barred from university education, or economically like with rural girls in the third world who are often denied the possibility of going to school. Totalitarian regimes, afraid to lose their own grip on power, have used censorship to keep marginalised groups away from knowledge. And this is exactly why it's such a vital issue - access to knowledge and information for all gives marginalised groups power, not restricted by money or social networks.

But this is not the only possible reading of the issues. It's perfectly possible to have populist, libertarian, anarchist, idunnowhatever perspectives and come to the same conclusion. And unless you're willing to deal, once you're in parliament, with people who've rushed to your party from all sorts of places on the political map, you should start thinking about where you belong now. There's plenty of examples, like Sweden's New Democracy or Holland's List Pim Fortuyn (no comparisons otherwise) where parties have surged into power and then turned out to have nothing to hold them together.

Perhaps you're wondering why you should take the advice of a political party that nearly split into two even before its first attempt at contesting elections. But that would be precisely the point. We've had an extremely tough birth, but now we're strongly united, our organisations have started to form and we're doing decently in the election campaign too. If F! gets elected, the chances of us breaking out in vicious infighting is extremely slim. I wish I could say the same thing about the Pirate Party.


Spotify is systematically hiding every British artist

This annoys me. Since Spotify launched in the UK it seems every single British album has been removed. Everyone from Appleblim to Crazy Cousinz turns up as empty artist pages, meaning they're georestricted from Sweden.

Meanwhile, it's perfectly possible to find, say, tracks like this:

I guess part of it is the power of badly-licenced "world music" compos that slip under the radar, but I'm still peeved.


Music for me, music for you

Anyone reading this blog would be forgiven for thinking I'm an egomaniac and a narcissist.

I seem to reference myself more than anyone else when it comes to entirely non-personal issues. On one level it's probably the case that my entire blogging project is a journey of self-discovery, it's just that being an extrovert to some extent I discover myself by posting about Bhutan. As Boima points out in the comment section of that article, even when I completely avoid the personal pronoun it seems to be about my own views, somewhere beneath it all.

On another level, though, writing about myself is only fair. I use esoteric theories all the time, suggesting what people are really like and what they really think - yet I myself would be exempt? Thinking you're somehow able to stay above the concerns of the common man is one of the great failings of academia, as far as I'm concerned. So this perspective is necessary for me not to feel like a fraud, but if it's not enjoyable, just flick past it.

A very clear example of the overbearing kind of theory I mean is my last post, where I made the claim that people generally present a different kind of music ("emblematic") than they listen to ("cathartic"). Well, I don't make music, but I do write about it on a blog, so do I listen to something entirely other than the stuff I write about on the blog?

Only once in my (adult) life have I made a mixtape containing music that was just for me, and that was a fair few years ago. It's all just music to dance around the living room to - here's the track list:

1 Sylvester – You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)
2 Gruppo Sportivo – Rock ‘N’ Roll
3 Papa Michigan & General Smiley – Diseases
4 James Brown – Give It Up Or Turn It A Loose (live)
5 Zapp & Roger – More Bounce To The Ounce
6 Cold Blood – Kissing My Love
7 Pee Froiss – Ca Va Péter!!!
8 Garnet Mimms – My Baby
9 Blazer – Stages
10 Rikarena – Cuando el Amor se Daña
11 William Shatner – Common People
12 Fake – Brick
13 Barry White – Any Fool Could See (You Were Meant for Me)
14 Rob Hubbard – Music from “Commando”
15 Motorhead – No Class
16 Funkadelic – Super Stupid
17 Osmonds – Crazy Horses
18 King Curtis – Memphis Soul Stew

I can't honestly tell whether the music on this CD is any different from the stuff I usually write about on here. Perhaps you guys can clue me in?


Music for us, music for them

Museke just alerted me to a set of astoundingly awful videos with (occasionally) major Tanzanian artists, produced by one of those aid-profiteering con-NGOs that seem to pop up everywhere in Africa. Media for Development International is a Colorado-based producer of propaganda, typically created with little or no interest in actually letting people tell their own story. Instead, we get to see what westerns would like Africa to be like. And as usual, access-weak local artists are pulled into the charade. Here's Lady Jaydee, a major star of bongo flava:

The video is trite, conservative, moralistic and presents the girl character as weak and exploited. Modernity is frowned upon. It's also badly acted, the characters are cookie-cutter stereotype clichés, and the whole thing is produced as if adult Africans were children that need everything spelled out literally for them. It's especially ridiculous 'cause Jaydee is one of the best and most complex artists on the scene in her own right. Compare the video above to this one, which is locally produced:

In this song and video, Jaydee is strong and calm, facing down her critics and being a hundred times more feminist. It's also much better acted and has a powerful message of not caring what people think about you, and just being yourself.

I wouldn't be consistent, though, if I didn't put some of the blame squarely on Lady Jaydee herself. She chose to participate (within the constraints offered to her), she, effectively, sold out. If we're going to afford agency to local artists then she can't readily just have been exploited, even though that's a clear element here.

And I'm assuming the song is her choice. Compared to her other material, it's consistently more pastoral, more seventies-inspired, less electronic, less sassy. When she got the chance to represent herself to these film-makers she chose a wholly different image of herself than she would normally. And she's far from the only one: the music people present within their own group is almost always different from what they present to others. I've recently learned that the ethnological terms for this is "emblematic" music (which is shown outwards) and "cathartic" music (which is used among equals), and even though I've not read the research it's definitely stuck a chord (silly terms notwithstanding).

In my own future research field for example, that on manele, it's explicitly clear that the music romanian gypsies present outwards as "gypsy music" to tourists, researchers and society at large is not the music they listen to themselves. It tends to be more folksy, more sophisticated, more old-fashioned. Stepping it up one level, manele is inevitably the most popular "cathartic" music in Romania, but the country as a whole shuns it when presenting its image outwards. This kind of a pattern seems very common in the world, and it's so seemingly normal for people to exaggerate certain features of their own culture at the expense of others. But the question remains, I think, as to why.

One possible angle is that the one group that rarely wants to appear as anything its not is the elite. The elite listen to "art music" and present "art music" to the world. This, to me, would suggest that "emblematic" music is the effect of hegemony, that the values of the ruling elite become the norm to follow. Isn't it the case that the "emblematic" music almost always aspires to be closer to "art music"/"folk music", the accepted genres of the cultural elite, and distances itself from the virtues of working-class music? Still, that doesn't explain why another music is chosen in close company and within the media outlets in-group. (I think I better read up on that research.)

Whatever the explanation, it seems I'm personally almost exclusively interested in "cathartic" music of other people. Do you think this is merely a strive towards some kind of authenticity, or could there be another explanation?


Pop-Political Tracks #1

Under this heading I thought I'd occasionally take up deeply political tracks that are at the same time decidedly commercial and mainstream within their contexts. I've been inspired, in part, by Vybz Kartel whose letter to The Star defending his seemingly puerile music shows a deep appreciation of a whole set of political issues and problems. Politics goes way beyond the folksy protest song and permeates all sorts of musical discursive practice, from subtle suggestion to mere existence. Very post-structuralist.

Alice Faye - Slumming on Park Avenue (1937)


I'm being nudged into ethnomusicology

I started studying musicology with an explicit aim.

Traditionally there's been a great divide between the academic discourse around "art music", which most often consists of aesthetic or theoretical/analytical or hermeneutic studies, and the academic discourse around popular music, which often is about something else entirely. It's sociology, or ethnology, or cultural studies, or anthropology, or at best style history. I wanted to be different, emulate someone like Mark Butler, and write about how popular music works and what makes it great rather than who uses it and why.

But academia is an insidious beast. It's a system, that for better or worse pushes you in the direction it wants. It seems I'm on the way towards ethnomusicology whether I want to or not.

I came to my head of department, last fall, with a broad set of ideas for Master's theses. I wrote him a letter suggesting I could work on statistical analysis of popular music, knowing his own background in statistics might lure him towards it. I suggested I could work on the music theory of Asian music in some way. I mentioned my old question about Manele's relation to Indian music. Then when I actually got to meet him I only got so far as "well, it started out when I became interested in this Romanian music genre..." before he said to me that it sounded like an excellent idea for the essay. I was really happy. I still am. I can write my essay on manele, how cool, just one of my many interests but nevertheless one I love!

And he got me a real high-profile supervisor! Dan Lundberg apparently only takes on an essay student now and again, and I was assured he'd be perfect because of his great love and knowledge of the Balkans. I met him the other day, and he was. He knew stuff about manele I didn't and pointed me in lots of interesting directions. And again I offered broad suggestions. How does the Asian music integrate? How does the modernity and ethnicity of manele contrast, musically? Could traces of the postcolony be found somewhere in the material? How does manele work with the self-image of the Roma? Well, I only got as far as "well, there's this genre in Romania that is widely despised in society..." before he suggested a study in the spirit of Bourdieu. Excellent, I said, maybe I can put some Paul Gilroy in there, intent on the Asia connection, and he said that sounded great and to look for more theoretical perspectives.

Do you see what the pattern is? In each step I've had complete freedom and come away with a choice I've really wanted to do. But in each instance the authority figure has encouraged my least aesthetic/theoretical option and nudged me towards ethnomusicology. So at the end point here I am, reading Mark Slobin and tentatively looking at writing about diasporas without homelands. And I'm left shaking my head and wondering: how did I get here?


Feminist Initiative 4th Birthday Party Tomorrow

In case I've not made it explicitly clear yet, I'm DJing a set (or a couple of sets) at the 4th Birthday Party of Sweden's greatest political party, the Feminist Initiative, Saturday night.

Entrance is only 30 kr and if you become a member at the same time you can have it refunded. The location is Restaurang Momma on Södermalm, 20-01.