Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The noble art of the remix

So my friend PB posted a pic of one of my favorite people Jorge Ben on her blog and it got me thinking.

I've been into bossa nova and Brazilian folk music for about two years, ever since I took a class on Latin American politics and literature (I'm serious -- I think I was Brazilian in my past life) I think what I love about it is its habit of always telling a story. These songs are never entire worlds unto themselves -- they're conversations with people, always professing something, always wanting something. One of the geniuses of earlier Brazilian music is Jorge Ben, and one of my favorites of his is Rosa Menina Rosa. Check out the original, it's amazing.

Now, on a more contemporary note, check out a 2009 remix by one of my favorite singers in any language. Her name is Ceu. She turned this beautiful folk song into an electronic Portishead-in-Portuguese haunt of a track that's all her own, with that warm molasses voice of hers.

This gets to the heart of a point I often make (perhaps not very eloquently) about Nigerian music. The point is not whether or not to use a talking drum for authenticity, or to never use a guitar so as not to be a Western music copycat. The real aim of it is to take what's already there, the music/music styles that you see around you, and elevate it. One of my favorite songs by King Sunny Ade is "Mo ti mo" -- What I wouldn't do to see it remixed and remastered, with a kick in the bass. I would kill to hear Oliver de Coq remixed. Or Haruna Ishola. Or Ebenezer Obey. The real tragedy of the direction of much of contemporary African music is not so much that the songs are different than they were yesterday. It's that they chose to build from scratch an entirely new paradigm that's undoubtedly borrowed from influences not wholly theirs. We already have our music, mature. Why choose to be remake in someone else's image?

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