UGP feat Ana Paula - Meu Blog (Mediafire)
Bonus: Super-intelligently updated Marrabenta blended with House and Zouk, also from Mozambique.
And a track about the actual phenomenon of remixing stuff. Also a great idea! (Courtesy of mozmusic)
DJ Ardiles - Remix (Mediafire)
Anyway, To make up for my Eurovision slackness in general, I'm going to be live-tweeting the contest instead, starting in around three hours. Follow me at @Birdseeding on twitter.
Suddenly, growing tired of a half-finished track, the arranger brings up a decade-old hit by Florin Salam to play around with while Lele takes a much-needed break. The track has a touch of reggae about its arrangement, and it seems the vocals have caught a tinge of that as well, feeling vaguely sing-jayish in phrasing while remaining manele-melismatic in melody. He samples and loops a section - starting at 1:42 - and dumps the arrangement right out, to try to create a new one for it.
He quickly puts down some General MIDI lines - in the real songs almost always VSTs or electronic instruments, of course - but then he gets stuck on what to do with the more high-pitched of the basslines. Using a cheesy Slap Bass patch, he thinks of doing some sort of funk arrangement, but what he comes out with instead is straightforwardly a clave, dom-dom-dom, dom dom. He doesn't like it much. He plays around with it, and to my astonishment (I'm sitting on the couch behind him) he suddenly plonks down a bassline that sounds extremely much like the Bam Bam riddim, except with the first and second bars in opposite order... After a bit of decoration, he decides the excercise is futile and dumps the whole file.
Time to record the next Lele track.
I relate this mundane bit of studio drudgery because I've been thinking about Boima's discussion on "the channeling of personal influences" here. I can definitely see what he's getting at - there does seem to be a difference between absorbing material slowly through listening to your surroundings (on the one hand) and actively seeking an exotic other to incorporate (on the, well, other). But the way Boima phrases his discussion (which is well worth a read) gives the impression that there's a palette of influences available, a conscious choice of material that the artist can pick and choose from. I think that might be true for the music Boima makes himself, because he spends so much time thinking about how music connects and the specificity of rhythmical components, but where does it leave our studio arranger?
I asked him about what he was thinking while building that bassline. He said (or rather hummed and mimed) that he wanted to do funky slap bass, and that was all. I doubt he'd be able to name a "clave" or "Bam Bam" if pressed. So what do I make of the connections? Am I over-reading his influences based on my own prejudices and "personal influences"? Is it rhythmic coincidence? Does the slightly reggae-ish tilt in the previous track result in a "pull" towards a certain expression in other lines as well? Or are these influences hardwired into his cultural background somehow, and just feel right to do?
In any case, there's inevitably a fair bit of negotiation going on in every direction. A utopistic vision of everyone having their own personal genre is one thing, but the influence-interpretation going on is stuck in a space between me as listener, the arranger, Florin Salam, the track's previous producer... On a more concrete level, the negotiation between the arranger and Dan Bursuc (when he eventually gets up) is very tangibly present, a conflict and co-operation between generations and cultural backgrounds. Dan Bursuc, around fifty, grown up in communist seclusion on Raj Kapoor movies and once a forbidden traditional lautari. The arranger, mid-twenties, classically trained, recorded "everything". (And Lele, eleven, grown up on manele alone!) They struggle over a particular vocal line Lele is to sing. Lele improvises something; the arranger writes it out, modified, in a harmonic minor key with glissandos; Dan Bursuc wants to change it and sings something microtonal back. The arranger struggles to find an interpretation in his own tonal language that will satisfy them both. And then Lele sings it differently anyway...
It's fascinating about music how it's always both individual and social at once. Certainly manele is rife with conscious, palette-based borrowings from every part of the globe, and individual creations, but it's also full of "feels" and modes of understanding, flitered through the background of both creator(s) and listener(s). Where to place the idea of the influence, or influence-network, in such a complicated matrix is not immediately straightforward. And I guess that's true of all music, however far the tightly-knit club culture of a poor neighbourhood is from the leisure-class bedroom-studio appropriator that copies it.
Dan Bursuc (top left) is manele's most prolific and successful producer by a long shot. He dominates the market completely, with upwards of 60-70% of the revenue stream according to some sources, and has been the kingmaker behind almost all of manele's huge stars today, from Florin Salam to Nicolae Guta.
I've interviewed him several times during the past week. He's an open, larger-than-life man with a sharp sense of business and marketing, and is extremely proud of his Roma (and ultimately Indian) heritage. As I left, I asked if there's anything I could do for him, and he asked me to see if I could locate a certain type of musician on very short notice.
Dan Bursuc is looking for an English-language rapper (or deejay, or grime mc - the styles flow into each other in Romania). Skillful is good, famous is absolutely not necessary. In his words: "preferably black"*. The rapper has to be willing to learn to perform a verse in Romani. And he's trying to find one by next week, to guest on the supremely talented future-of-manele whizkid Lele's upcoming album.
Bursuc will pay for transport and accomodation. I've got friends in Romania who will happily help translate and interpret.
Anyone got any ideas who would fit into this role, and would like to stay a few days in beautiful sunny Bucharest? I'm a touch ambivalent at manele being sucked into the whole hip global circus, but on the other hand they're really reaching out and the new stuff I heard in the studio is brilliant, connecting beautifully to both tradition and modernity.
* As I read it, this is not an expression of racist tokenism as it often would be. The Roma in Romania feel an enormous kinship to African-Americans specifically, with whom they share a similar history of slavery, segregation and racial discrimination.
Last year, I noticed an increasing frequency of a particular type of visual aesthetic associated with releases of western-made, supposedly "tropical"/"ghetto" dance music, aka. global ghettotech. Instead of attaching themselves, as they'd previously done frequently, to the visual language associated with dance music genres from the developing world, they instead adopt an approach that borrows heavily from colonialist depictions of colonised places. Africa is represented as a safari, South America as a jungle, both particularly wild an untamed and dominated by animals rather than people. This parallels the tiki revival's obsession with faux-polynesian artifacts and depopulated beaches, hence the name, coined in a Google Reader comment by Wayne.
The music, as the visual imagery, is bereft of actual people from the developing world. It's the ultimate - possibly unconscious - colonialist fantasy of virgin land, free to be filled with whatever exotic content we desire.
Here are today's examples:
This Portugese dude recently added me on Facebook and has been sending me a (banana) boatload of classically formulated tikitech since. All of these are taken off his soundcloud page:
In classic tiki music fashion, there are also frequent use of "actual" ie. Hollywood jungle sounds in the tracks themselves. Also note the tiger in "Africa".
Berlin-based tikitech artist. Via gen bass.
One more borderline example. final one for today. It doesn't present itself as particularly tropical put it doesappear on gen bass, and there are both sampled and synthesised "jungle" sounds throughout the tracks.
No, not those loudness wars.
During the communist era the Roma were an almost completely silenced group in Romania. Not fitting into the idea of national unity, they were silenced, their culture considered crudely derivative of the Ottoman one and unsuitable in the new Romania. They were forbidden from playing their music, excluded from official records, barred from holding many jobs, and generally treated as second-hand citizens. After 1989 there should have been a change to all that but as we all know "free" capitalism and a racist social order doesn't work that way, and they were still consistently pushed to the lowest rungs of the social ladder, discriminated against at all levels, including officially.
But free speech did bring one big change: the Roma could now be heard.
Manele was the catalyst. Out of cars blared the music loudly. Off balconies. Huge speaker systems were set up. Suddenly the previously forbidden tones were everywhere, an immanent political statement reading: here we are.
For an elite that was continually used to nationalism it was extremely offensive. Not to mention the extreme racist right, and to music snobs and emos. Together participants from these groups formed an unholy alliance of "anti-manelisti" on the web, quite well organised, which ran events and planned activities to silence the Roma again. Their most famous action - which should earn them both grudging admiration and scorn from an IT-concious crowd - was a malware virus specifically designed to delete manele MP3s, but in this context, another of their more creative ideas is perhaps more interesting: they planned a counter-attack in loudness. Not long ago, the call went out to put up speakers that blared Mozart (!). Can you imagine a more fantastic image of a culture war, crude gypsy music and eurocentric elite music battling over the soundscape of the city?
Of course, the whole silly dichotomy is queered up by the roma, who are always the most cunning ones after centuries of marginalisation. Because the thing is, Mozart is also manele. Anything can be manele. And here is the video to prove it, if you ignore the gaming noises in the first 30 seconds: a great manele cover of Mozart's 40th Symphony.
Everyone and their dog wants music industry reform these days. Looser copyright, alternative business models, customer interaction, donation systems. well manele has all these things, and has for a long time. The future may be on the internet, but it's also among the discriminated roma in Romania...
The sales of CDs are an incredibly small source of revenue here. Official 150-track MP3 CDs, selling for around 15 lei (€3), barely recoup manufacture and distribution costs, and have thus totally undercut the market for any piracy. There appears to be no copyright enforcement at all - people happily copy each others songs, in cover versions or even note-by-note, and of course manele is built to an incredibly large extent on "plagiarised"/transcultured musical elements from surrounding countries and across the world. Copying and being copied happens all the time.
And yet the performers and production companies are doing extremely well. How? By live appearances catered to functional needs, by customised music à la dubplates, by direct donation from listeners. All appearing in this video, sorry about the sound:
Here we see Florin Salam ("Florin Sausage", I love these artist names!), performing at a wedding. Wedding receptions (and christenings) flaunt their wealth by booking the biggest stars, of which Florin definitely is one, and of course buzz gets generated from wedding to wedding and the value of the performer is incredibly high, upwards of €10 000 a night for a man of Salam's calibre.
This revenue stream is the complimented by the curious practice - as seen in the video - of throwing lei bills at the performer and his band. In exchange, the singer incorporates the name of the donor into his performance, freestyle. Thus the singer gets money and the donor gets to support and interact with the star, plus get prestige in the eyes of the fellow party guests.
Does any of this sound crass to you? Well, think about it - how is it any different from various proposals of how to generate a living for musicians in the digital age?
As you may know, I'm doing my master's thesis on Romanian manele music, one of my favourite genres of contemporary Balkan music, and I'm super-excited to finally be down doing field research in the awesome metropolis of Bucharest, the megalomaniac new Rome imagined and executed by this guy. So far it's been going great - in fact one of my contacts just texted me saying I might be getting an interview with the biggest producer in the business, which would be awesome. Other than that I've talked a bit to fans and to fellow ethno-/musicologists, including the awesome Marin Marian-Balasa, whose own research and outlook perfectly complements a lot of the stuff I was hoping to get out of the trip.
I've got masses of great stuff already spinning around my head, and I'll start dropping the cooler angles and anecdotes on this blog as I go along. Meanwhile, to demonstrate that manele really does take inspiration from EVERYWHERE - it' standout feature to me and the focus of my research - here's a manele track that copies... Fitness craze Zumba!?