Say the assertion that pop music of the third world is approaching a convergent style is correct. Well, then, shouldn't we be hearing pop music from all over the world in mixes and eventually the hit lists right about now? Well, it doesn't really work that way, and one place this becomes apparent is in the mixtapes, DJ sets and blog posts of the insiders in the global ghettotech world.
If a lot more of the musical resources in the third world - at least in the forward-looking parts of various cities and countries - are being channelled into producing "mainstream-pop-sounding" music, then this certainly doesn't reflect on the output of western DJs, for perfectly understandable indie reasons. But it presents an interesting question: if the music of the world's urban centres is going out as it changes, what's coming in instead? What new sources of music are western DJs turning to as the normal output goes more mainstream?
As I read it, there are three concurrent trends in types of music that, if you want, can be somewhat attributable to the (possibly) increased lack of non-mainstream popular music from the developing world.
1. The traditional
One type of genre that has always been resistant to trends, by definition, is the traditional, conservative one. These used to be consistently shunned by the always teleological fans of bass-oriented city music - you'd never hear any, say, bachata in mixtapes five years ago - but seemingly not so any more. Two genres in particular that focus on acoustic instrumentation and unbroken traditions going back decades have had a major resurgence in the global ghettotech community: cumbia and funana, both of which have been featured in very straightforward old-fashioned forms alongside newer derivatives.
Some types of traditional music has always had a popularity in local communities, including the two above, so right now this seems more like a positive expansion of the definition than anything problematic. But there's always the chance it might lead in the future to the kind of west-imposed "tradition" that World Music used to peddle, so watch out.
2. The cosmopolitan
The educated middle class has always been extremely adapt at extending the shelf-life of dead working-class genres - boom-bap underground hip-hop is but one in a seemingly endless series that springs to mind. Combined with the middle-class propensity for "fusion" and "neo-folk" cosmopolitanism it's almost a surprise that global ghettotech stayed committed to the urban poor as long as it did. Now, it seems, middle-class producers with good access are as much the order of the day. DJ Umb, in particular, has been pushing completely delocalised, cosmopolitan variants of dubstep and other previously geographically constricted musics, often fused with a local flavour.
Again this is probably a good thing as long as it's actually an extension - I heartily dislike the stereotype of the third world as a mass of anonymous poverty. On the other hand, it risks overshadowing the music of actual marginalised groups and individuals, being easier to access and ethically straightforward. We still need to put in that hard work to find music that doesn't have immediate access to the blogging world, or we risk tilting the stereotype the other way.
3. The fake
And obviously, if you can't have music that sounds appropriate from the third world, you can go ahead and make it conform to the right stereotype yourself... This is another explanation for the ascendancy of tikitech and faux-"African" imagery, that the real Africa is no longer African enough and needs to be augmented.
A milder, not necessarily bad version of making music more "local" while being an outsider exists, of course. As if to prove a point, after reading my last post on the subject (!), Canalh went ahead and cumbified the Kreyol hip-hop track I used as an example of mainstreamness, adding a layer of faux-local onto the international! And you know what? I kinda like it! On a conceptual level not least because, as Jace so eloquently put it, it's the white men wearing the red thongs and body paint and the black guys who wear the jeans. And that, surely, can't be all wrong.
!Un Saludo! Mexican Soundsystem Cumbia in LA
1 week ago