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The Emperor's Old Clothes

PostPosted: Fri Jan 20, 2006 9:10 am
by howard male
The Emperor's Old Clothes

How do you like your African musicians? Accessorised to the hilt with feathers, cowry shells and colourful flowing fabrics. Or 'cool' and Westernised? This is a question which seems to have foxed Simon Broughton in his editorial ramble in the latest issue of Songlines. He completely contradicts himself in the space of a couple of sentences. On the one hand he distrusts the overdressed ethnicity of Salif Keita's long limbed dancer at his last London show suspecting him of being a fake version of African culture contrived for the Western market, but on the other, he berates Keita for 'not making an effort' at the same show when he wore just a plain old denim jacket and jeans.

I think many of us probably struggle with these same conflicting views: we guiltily want our post-colonial dream of a romanticised Dark Continent to continue (though without all the killing of course) and yet we don't want to feel we are being condescended to - treated like naive tourists.

On the one hand world music is just another aspect or pop music, and therefore show biz, and therefore a show is expected, and therefore dressing up is expected. But I feel that if the leader of the band wants to dress in denim (Keita) or all in black (Mapfumo the last time I saw him) then all the power to their elbow. Just as we'd expect Elton to make a sparkling effort, and Springsteen to just come out in rolled up sleeves and jeans, it is not our decision or our right to get all sulky if our world music heroes don't subscribe to our idea of what is appropriate or exotic. If we do, then we are just inadvertently behaving like the white colonialist expecting our strange foreign show.

And I rather enjoyed Keita's denim look, topped off with a white skull cap. As I said in my review at the time - it gave him the appearance of some stocky communist rebel leader as he stood there fists clenched. Likewise, a dressed-down Mapfumo was an agreeable sight. By comparison, to see an African act draped in fake leopard skins delivering between-song patter about, "the rawing lion and the laughing hyena" can be quite embarrassing, just as we would now be embarrassed to watch an old episode of the Black and White Minstrel Show.

Let's switch the rolls for a moment - how would it be if our bands felt obliged to don some kind of national dress which humoured the nations they were visiting with an image of the UK as they perceived it? Goldie Looking Chain as morris dancers, Franz Ferdinand as bowler hatted gents, or Will Young as Sherlock Holmes - actually all three of those are working for me - maybe I should contact their stylists? Anyway, such makeovers might do wonders for their sales in the States, so shouldn't they go for it? After all we are already their whipping boys in Hollywood with every English movie character being portrayed as shifty, duplicitous, faintly ridiculous or just plain old evil genius.

But to take the argument to its logical conclusion, I believe that the dressed-down African band might have a better chance here - converting the masses - if they surprised us by turning up in sharp suits or designer wear. Some of the younger rap acts are already almost in indistinguishable from the UK or American counterparts (though the ones I've seen, such as JJC & 419 Squad, somehow look a little cuddlier and less threatening), but is that what we want?

I touched on this subject in the early days of the forum, but now that we have a lot more people contributing, I'd like to know what your thoughts are.

PostPosted: Fri Jan 20, 2006 1:03 pm
by ritchie
So, when Ray Charles was playing great great music, do you think he knew what his jackets were actually like? Did anyone tell him?

I mean some of them, Trinny and Susannah eat your heart out.

How could the Kinks play 'R&B' wearing those daft jackets way back in the 60's.

Does any one want to buy a 'Beatles' Jacket? Hardly been used. (well it looks daft when you have nt got much hair)

Styles of the World

PostPosted: Sat Jan 21, 2006 3:28 am
by joel
howard male wrote:we guiltily want our post-colonial dream of a romanticised Dark Continent to continue (though without all the killing of course) and yet we don't want to feel we are being condescended to - treated like naive tourists.

I don't really know what a "romanticised Dark Continent" would look like, but surely most people would be very happy to see Africa pull through from all its troubles and make good in the 21st century.
Better economies, healthier and more stable lives will have a positive impact for African music making.

Anyway, on with the important stuff:

Personally, I'm all for 70s Nyboma style white suits

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or Barrister style robes complete with croc accessories:

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then there's the classic Papa Wemba SAPE look (which takes me back)

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of course, for masculine ethno-authenticists like myself, the traditional African mix of old shirt, torn shorts, flip-flops (shoes are a optional, of course) and home-made guitar is de rigeur

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(cover of the excellent Zambia Roadside album)

Denim with a skull cap sounds like something you might once have expected to come across in the goutte d'or...

PostPosted: Sat Jan 21, 2006 1:27 pm
by howard male
Well my favourite look out of those has got to be the last one - and being as I like to judge albums by their covers (plus your trusted judgement swinging it of course, Joel) I've just ordered it!

PostPosted: Sat Jan 21, 2006 2:43 pm
by joel
It's an excellent and illuminating album. I'm sure you'll enjoy it (possibly best in small doses, though).
However, take care. This could be a first, fatal step on the slippery slope to ethno-authenticism ;-)

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zambush

PostPosted: Sat Jan 21, 2006 3:18 pm
by taiyo no otosan
Howard:
I hope while you were at the SWP site you went for the two ZAMBUSH CDs, too. From what I've heard; good stuff. Tingly, shimmering guitars & closer to the Golden Afrique stable than 'Roadside' (not to say that that isn't great as well, just, as Joel said, more for yer efnomusikologist).
Crap covers, tho'.

PostPosted: Sat Jan 21, 2006 3:42 pm
by Con Murphy
I hope while you were at the SWP site you went for the two ZAMBUSH CDs, too. From what I've heard; good stuff. Tingly, shimmering guitars & closer to the Golden Afrique stable than 'Roadside' (not to say that that isn't great as well, just, as Joel said, more for yer efnomusikologist).
Crap covers, tho'.


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Symbolic of the band being smart and sophisticated but still in touch with their roots, innit?

PostPosted: Mon Jan 23, 2006 3:33 pm
by howard male
Joel wrote -

...but surely most people would be very happy to see Africa pull through from all its troubles and make good in the 21st century.
Better economies, healthier and more stable lives will have a positive impact for African music making.


Of course they would (or we would), which is why this subject isn't as trivial as it might first appear. Musicians can be the front-line as far as public relations with other nations goes, which is why how they tog themselves out is of vital importance. First impressions are everything, as they say.

PostPosted: Wed Jan 25, 2006 6:20 am
by joel
howard male wrote:Musicians can be the front-line as far as public relations with other nations goes, which is why how they tog themselves out is of vital importance. First impressions are everything, as they say.

Aboslutely. And in order that it shall be so, I nominate you, Howard, as Official Wardrobe Consultant to World Music.
It is, as you say, vitally important to achieve for frontline cultural ambassadors to achieve just the right balance (although I suspect the Chiracs and Blairs of this world would really prefer leopard skins and bones through the noses of the "natives")

PostPosted: Wed Jan 25, 2006 10:22 am
by howard male
I'd rather be wardrobe consultant to Brit pop, actually Joel. Then I could make reality my fantasy to have Goldie Looking Chain dressed as Morris Dancers on their next US tour.

PostPosted: Fri Jan 27, 2006 10:37 am
by howard male
'Zambia Roadside' turned up yesterday - so I turned up 'Zambia Roadside' yesterday, and yes Joel, it is a delight. Great sleeve notes and photos too. I'm not sure if I'll be going down the field recordings path any further though. Too much music, too little time.

PostPosted: Fri Jan 27, 2006 1:16 pm
by joel
howard male wrote:I'm not sure if I'll be going down the field recordings path any further though. Too much music, too little time.
Glad you like it, but it would be a shame not to check out some more, because there is an awful lot of amazing music out there.
Very different, but do you have Simha Arom's recordings of the Aka pygmies on Ocora?

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Available here