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Hybrids and bastards, or: Musical archeology in a GIF cave



by Friso Wiersum

Music, amongst many other things, can take you home. In a world with 43 million people living on the run, multitudes of those in displacement and numerous more in migration, there are many homes. Music never stopped at borders, so it travels along easily. The Internet makes it even simpler for mp3’s to spread globally. No wonder, a new musical genre is labeled global music, with dance finally doing what the ‘label’ world music could never achieve: acceptance amongst the urban youngsters worldwide. European kids dance to African beats, Latin Americans dance to Balkan influenced floorfillers and K-pop made its way unto the USA markets. Music is the bastard of globalization.

Western music has been accompanying the last centuries’ dominance of the Western world. And surely that music has been adapted to, covered for, and translated into local settings, thereby transforming the ‘idea’ of that music in itself. Soul, reggae and hip-hop have been changing youth cultures worldwide, as sounds of the non-Western world, whether or not the musical sources were geographically in that Western world.

The mixtape Hybrids and bastards  (Or: Musical archeology in a GIF-Cave) tape starts in Detroit, where the contemporary capitalist ideas and production lines came into being the early 20th century. Fordism, my friends. Millions from all over the USA came to Detroit, including many Afro Americans from the south, in what is called the Great Migration. Decades later, Detroit became a rich city and the sound of Motown ruled the world. Some Beatles songs were more popular in soul cover versions than their original. That’s how music travels…

A few decades before, other music travelled as well. Caribbean music made its way to England, a colonial power. So we have calypso singers singing “London is the place for me”. How adaptive music is, proves the liking Dutch and German artists took to these exotic sounds. Or how they were adapted in Las Vegas rock style songs.

Meanwhile in Jamaica, a new tax reform made the import of vinyl practically impossibly expensive. What did the musicians do? They just re-used their original versions and started playing with effects on those recordings: dub was born! That was a revolution, without which we’d never had hip-hop, or any modern music, cannibalistic as it is. Years later: In England – race riots being part of life in the seventies and eighties – punk and reggae met, and one band called themselves after this collision: the Clash.

Per favor, allow me a little geographic switch to South America. In the dictatorial regimes music was a means for expression: sometimes dangerous for the performers, sometimes so subtle that even those in power didn’t know what to censor. In Brazil, Caeatano Veloso took the musical genre of tropicalia to new heights. He was a Southern star in the Global North. Zelia Barbosa sings about the death of the laborer – music was a means for political action.

In the slipstream of the popularization of various Latin musical genres across South America, one music style should especially be mentioned: Cumbia. Born from the hybrid society of Colombia, it was cumbia that stole te hearts of local populations.

Then, when the financial crisis hit Argentina in 2001 and the country went bankrupt, living in Buenos Aires became cheap. Artists, musicians and adventurous newcomers came to live there. Some shared an idea: inventing a new way of self organized living. The technology of Internet was a big stimulus. A fertile exchange of ideas, songs and traditions took place. The cumbia was transformed into the nu cumbia, an electronification of traditional sounds. Whether that be produced in the circles of ZZK or in a attic somewhere off, the Internet makes travelling the world so much easier for songs these days. Nu cumbia now is part of that global phenomenon; bass music. Music travels. Music migrates. Music mutates. Music is the ultimate bastard of globalization. And we are all migrants singing along.