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#187 Local music

December 3, 2012

submitted by John G

Throwaway pop or cultural immersion?

EAWs, especially those on their formative first posting, simply love local music.  Like a good joke, local music works on many levels.  Firstly, and perhaps least importantly, local tunes can be downright good, from the catchy throwaway pop song, to the more serious jazz aficionados and political protest singers.  Exposure to local music can broaden the ears of the innocent EAW and have a profound effect on the contents of the EAW’s iPod for decades to come.

However knowledge of local music has other benefits: establishing credibility with the young hip locals, getting the dance floor moving at the healthily mixed local/ expat house party, providing a memorable soundtrack to those epic road trips across the continent to some obscure tourist destination…. Local music is simply awesome.

And it is so easy to collect, in the age of digital media and virus invested flash disks, the EAW can get gigabytes of local tunes at zero cost from those aforementioned hip young locals. Organising all that music on the EAW’s ever more grubby laptop is not so easy, however.  As in the office, so in life, the 178 mp3s are in a folder called ‘house’ all with names like ‘track_4.wma’, and you can forget about ID3 tags!  The more anal EAW will spend a Sunday afternoon ‘pruning’ this collection, queuing up those 178 songs, skipping through and deleting the crap ones without a second thought, all whilst hoping that one catchy tune she heard in-car is in the mix somewhere.

This lacklustre approach to digital music libraries means that our oh-so-cool EAW doesn’t know the names of any of the artists, or their songs.  This may well be a good thing, given she is listening to the local equivalent of Katy Perry or Jedwood.

However, when trying to one-up other EAWs with her deep understanding of the local music scene this lack of filenames can lead to embarrassment – after six months of enjoying Premier Gaou by Magic System, our hapless EAW, singing the praises of this excellent song, is smugly corrected by a more experienced colleague – “that’s not Kenyan, they are from Cote D’Iviore! – it got to number 4 in the French charts I think – and anyway that song is ancient, I was dancing to it in Freetown back in 2003”.  Busted.

And EAWs do not embrace all local music.  Or indeed even most of it.  A quick audit of an EAW’s iTunes will show a lot of ‘Putumayo Presents’ type westerner friendly music…. Youssou N’Dour, FreshlyGround, Oliver Mtukudzi, Buena Vista Social Club… the real local music, such as famo in Lesotho (a combination of accordion, metal drum and a man shouting in Sesotho about how he lost his gun) rarely gets a look in.  EAWs’ local music collections also tend to be very time specific – a big clump of Peruvian pop songs from 2004/05 for example, or a load of Kpop from 2008 – little, if any effort is made to keep up-to-date with the rollercoaster of Lima’s music scene – to the EAW the music is about the memories, the expat bar, the house party, the road trip – music is similar to smell in rekindling those glory days in the field.

Not all local music gets a look in.

On return to the real world our young EAW will find it hard to delete those halcyon mp3s from the smartphone. Pressing the erase button now takes on some deep psychological significance – not being able to press delete reminds the EAW how he or she just can’t move on, just can’t face the reality that of no longer being in Maseru or Luanda but rather in Colchester on a wet Wednesday in November.  True acceptance that they have now left only occurs when all those low-quality mp3s are copied over to the ‘Angola Music’ folder on their back-up hard drive (that is chock-full of other EAWs’ movies and music that they ‘swapped’ when oversees).  EAWs just love local music.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. December 4, 2012 5:09 pm

    I can’t move on, so I just listen to some cheesy Chinese pop every once in a while! :]

  2. December 10, 2012 6:31 am

    Great to see famo get a mention! Can’t get enough of the stuff. But my time in Lesotho was obscured by a dark shadow of guilt about my own whiteness. It was a scar of shame which made me feel deeply uncomfortable even attempting to perfect the art of ‘ass dancing’ with my Basotho brothers and sisters.

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  1. From Poverty to Power by Duncan Green » Blog Archive » Interns; World Aids Day and family planning; local music; environmental melancholia; Faces of Latin America; research into evidence via pictures: links I liked

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