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?
2017 with feeling
1 week ago