One aspect of analysing global ghettotech writing I didn't really go into in my article a little while ago was the fairly central idea of authenticity, which still seems to loom large over the way we think about music from outside or own environment. Happily, Rachel came along a little bit later with a piece of critique which uses precisely one form of authenticity concept to counteract another, illustrating both the usefulness and the perils of thinking about some music as more "real" than other.
In a well-constructed blog post against an article on Haitian music, Rachel criticises a group of New York music critics for not grasping the actual nature of Haiti's music history. To the article writers, music is properly Haitian in so far as it's got spiritual and political ("revolutionary") depth, alternatively if its traditional and connected to some sort of imagined history. The superficial and the ahistorical is constructed as exceedingly suspicious. Rachel on her part is happy to accept these qualities because the music that embodies them is "popular", while another strand of music is okay because "Haitians" "use" it. Two notions of authenticity are presented and contrasted (if not in so many words), one based on tradition/depth and another on usage in contemporary local culture.
But at no point is the idea that music can be real at all questioned. There's an underlying idea of "the real Haitian music" that's very hard to shake off – I frequently think like this myself.
Still, there's something about the idea of any music being realer than another in this way that makes me wary. The leap doesn't seem to be that long to an essentialist idea of national character, in either discourse. Compas is the music Haitians listen to can easily turn into real Haitians listen to compas, subtly shifting the power from the dynamic users (or their tradition) to the cultural constant. And at least from my European cultural horizon, people who claim to be "real Swedes" or preserve "real Hungarian values" are extremely scary people indeed.
In contrast, there are the fakes. In the recent US presidential elections, the idea of an "unreal American" gained a lot of leverage among feminists, left-wing minorities and others who felt left out by the patriotic definitions. Here in Sweden the leader of the (tiny) Christian Democratic Party made a speech in which he argued for "reality's people" (verklighetens folk) over the supposed left-wing cultural elite, whereupon a facebook group by the name of "unreality's people" (Overklighetens folk) immediately drew a lot of members. I certainly joined. Somehow, it feels slightly paradoxical that we "fakeys" are basically the same cultured middle-class that fights to have our version of Haitian music (or whatever) declared the most real.
This, I think, hits at one of the biggest problems with a lot of our attitude towards the subalterns (to talk poco for a while). A lot of energy is spent busting (as fake) the discourses about the Other of our compatriots. Instead, we offer up a reality based on what we are told by the othered people, never reflecting on the equally "fake"/discursive nature of their world view. In effect, the Haitians are made to be "realer" than us, their music "truer", merely by virtue of their relative global marginalisation. Again, this is true no matter what authenticity criterion is used.
This is especially important, I think, when it comes to music, because music is (at least to my mind) conclusively fake. If, like the musicological discipline of musical hermeneutics claims, music is a language that can be completely interpreted, the "writings" of music can't possibly be considered anything other than fiction, and its emotions, ideas and thoughts are inevitably make-believe. Musicians have always revelled in made-up worlds and baseless boasts, and periodically in conscious "syntheticity", making any consideration of realness in musical expression extremely questionable. Especially, I think, when quality gets so explicitly connected to the real. If the only good music is real music, then there's probably no good music at all.
Of course, the music world itself has happily gone along and produced its own authenticity discourses anyway. From the rockist "selling out" to 80s metal's "poser" accusations, to hip-hop's "keeping it real". Like any self-inconsistent dichotomies, though, these tend to pop/deconstruct themselves as time goes along. I don't think I'm wrong in saying the "tight pants" electro fad in hip-hop has gone a ways to destroy the dour "reality" stuff, together with the obviously exaggerated claims of southern rappers (eh, officer Ross?). And I love it. I don't mind being lied to, and no your women obviously don't actually behave that way.
In any case there are signs that the constant borrowing across genres is somehow destroying the "authentic genre" in any cultural-homogenous sense, too...