Deciphering Culture

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Moroccan rapper Don Bigg “crosses over”

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When I interviewed Don Bigg in Casablanca in 2008, he told me that his goal was for his albums to be in the rap bins at Virgin and FNAC, not the World Music bin. Steeped in the hip-hop tradition, there was no place other than the rap category where his music belonged — still, as a non-Western artist (rapping in Moroccan Arabic), there was always a chance he’d end up in the World Music bin. His new album Byad ou K7al (Black & White), released 24 Dec. 2009, reached #10 on the Amazon (France) list of best-selling album downloads. A chart without genre breakdowns (no bins, virtual or otherwise) creates another kind of reality. If you search “musique du monde” on Amazon (France) Bigg is nowhere to be found but search in the “hip-hop/rap” category and, voila, there are the tracks from his new album.

Here’s “Itoub” from Bigg’s new album:

TRANSLATION OF ITOUB courtesy of Don Bigg (much respect to the big man)

GOD BLESS (ITOUB)

Yeah
That’s what’s up
I see you man
Thank you thank you thank you
God bless God bless God bless God bless
That’s what’s up that’s what’s up
God bless God bless God bless God bless

HOOK 1
Those who held me down since day one man
Today I wanna sing about them man
I wanna stand up, salute them and say
God bless God bless God bless God bless
Thank you thank you thank you man
God bless God bless God bless God bless
Thank you thank you thank you man

VERSE 1
To all those who held me down since the beginning, God bless, god bless and thank you
I ain’t never gon’ forget where I came from and thorns are
Erect at home and come see that
Bigg ain’t never gon’ recover from the rap music sickness
I ain’t never gon’ forget y’all no matter what happens
In front of my parents, moms and pops happy
See me in the papers remember all
The rehearsing and chilling in the hallway
Aah yeah, that’s what’s up man
I won’t forget Masta Flow back in the days of “lblan bayn”
Yo Bigg, rap in Arabic
What you crazy, you trynna make a fool of me?
If I hadn’t followed Masta Flow’s advice in that room
You would’ve never bought the cd I wanted
You would’ve never heard Bigg on the beat
And I would’ve never stood in front of you and sang

HOOK 2
Those who held me down since day one man
Today I wanna sing about them man
I wanna stand up, salute them and say
God bless God bless God bless God bless
Thank you thank you thank you man
God bless God bless God bless God bless
Thank you thank you thank you man

VERSE 2
Yo Imam Malik, you where I put my head up at
That’s where I learned to rap when I used to cut class
They used to call me a hard-headed shorty
I used to pass the year, fighting with my teeth
Whether they wanted or not, I used to pass
Even though the whole year I be in the school yard kissing
Since a kid my intention was making madd loot
Don’t believe me? Ask 7ershawy
College saw me on the road to Jdida
It was the school bus, I ain’t had a whip
Mobb Deep in class, not the lollipop
God bless the copy center
When we graduated, they were to thank for our grades
It’s raining, and the nigga in the jaguar just slammed the door
God bless, now the niggaz with the sticks is here
They left those who started shit and fucked up those they wanted

HOOK 3
Those who held me down since day one man
Today I wanna sing about them man
I wanna stand up, salute them and say
God bless God bless God bless God bless
Thank you thank you thank you man
God bless God bless God bless God bless
Thank you thank you thank you man

VERSE 3
God bless, God bless the fans
Ladies and niggaz
I see y’all, keep pushing up the country with us
All those who bought my cd and didn’t regret it
God bless those who dissed me, the nerve of them! They got no shame
God bless all y’all brothers
Thank you thank you thank you man
Black and White, Black and White, and Moroccans Till Death
God bless the streets that showed me
The bad from the good and got me addicted to rap music
God bless the media that forgot me, that put me on, and that dirtied at my name
God bless the rappers that diss me
Get your ticket, tell them let me in the line
God bless belqas Hisham
Put two fingers up in the sky, staright

HOOK 4
Those who held me down since day one man
Today I wanna sing about them man
I wanna stand up, salute them and say
God bless God bless God bless God bless
Thank you thank you thank you man
God bless God bless God bless God bless
Thank you thank you thank you man

Those who held me down since day one man
Today I wanna sing about them man
I wanna stand up, salute them and say
God bless God bless God bless God bless
Thank you thank you thank you man
God bless God bless God bless God bless
Thank you thank you thank you man

Don Bigg’s MySpace page

Don Bigg Works the Room (from Afropop.org)

Written by Jeffrey Callen

December 28, 2009 at 9:48 am

Posted in Genre, Rap/Hip-Hop

Tagged with , ,

Genre Boundaries: World Music & the Space between Artist Self-Identification and Music Industry Categorization

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A recent conversation with “Northern Roots” singer Tim Eriksen set me to thinking about the strategic nature of genre identification. Eriksen is an exception in that he has created his own genre label to identify his quirky mix of  American “roots” material. For him it’s hopefullly a way-station on the way to defining his work as simply his own — in the way that a Bob Dylan album is always first of all a Bob Dylan album. Still, for most artists, genre identification is a necessary exercise in balancing self-identification (comfort with a label) with industry categorization (so interested listeners can find you). You got to play the game if you want to get heard.

Nowhere is the conundrum of genre more tangled than in the so-called World Music realm where issues of marketing and how to sell to the Western consumer take precedence. Although, aesthetics and some power dynamics have shifted in the almost three decades since World Music emerged as a marketing term. The following observations still seem pertinent.

World Music “fusions” are often little more than marketable forms of aural tourism in which exotic locales are tamed and made approachable for Western consumers. This use of “fusion” reflects the overwhelming preoccupation in Western discourse with “difference” in which interactions with non-Western cultures are presumed to be infrequent and of minor importance. While this orientation has come under intensive critique during the last several decades, it still exerts an intense pressure upon the Western mindset (see for example the writings on this by James Clifford and Arjun Appadurai) — plagiarizing myself from my dissertation French Fries in the Tagine (2006).

World music means music of the poor…. You get music from the poor and try to get the rich to listen to it… It’s like a big European producer coming in and saying “This is a good sound but you know it’s not well-exploited. We are going to do something better with that” (Interview of Reda Allali of Hoba Hoba Spirit, 2002).

Allali, of the Moroccan band Hoba Hoba Spirit, was stating a sentiment I heard repeatedly from African musicians, including Moroccan rapper Don Bigg and Malian bandleader Cheikh Tidiane Seck (for Salif Keita and Oumou Sangare). World Music is not a category meant for them and it doesn’t satisfy them, artistically or financially. It’s a matter of who has the control, musically and financially. But what about the opening up that can occur with crossing cultural and musical boundaries. That is the primary emphasis of Western artists who make the journey across musical boundaries between North & South, Western & Non-Western. I must admit that I disregarded the sincerity of that sentiment in forming my opinion of the World Music phenomenon. A recent interview of French World ‘n’ Bass ensemble Watcha Clan set me to reconsidering my opinions. For me, it’s still in process. Below are extracts from some of the source material I’m considering: the interview with Watcha Clan (available in full at Afropop.org) and a piece I wrote on Moroccan musicians and their positionings regarding the World Music label a few years ago (available here).

Watcha Clan

…but there are all the misses, mostly World Music endeavors that perpetuate the worst of the North–South colonial heritage under the auspices of intercultural understanding. It’s the forefronting of the “Western” artist or musical reference and a certain rhetorical smugness that stands out. But all of this is just preamble to an album I don’t know what to do with. I should hate it. It’s rootless, “multi-cultural” music produced by “musical nomads.” On the surface, it’s all too precious but it’s got something and, sometimes, it’s got a lot. (to read more click: Deciphering Watcha Clan: Interview with Jeffrey Callen).

Hoba Hoba Spirit

The songs of Hoba Hoba Spirit fuse rock ‘n’ roll, reggae, and punk with cha’abi and gnawa. The members of Hoba Hoba Spirit were among the numerous musicians I met last year in Morocco who are creating music that transcends the narrow constraints imposed by the Moroccan music industry and media. Many of these musicians are making music that blends Moroccan traditions with musical styles from around the world. They feel this is simply a reflection of their lives which are both rooted in Moroccan tradition and enmeshed in webs of connection that make rock ‘n’ roll, hip-hop, reggae and salsa as much a part of their world as cha’abi, melhoun and gnawa.  Like numerous other musicians from the global South, they are  not interested in creating raw material for American or European artists or acting as exotic aural scenery for the Western market. (to read more click: Don’t Call it World Music).

Written by Jeffrey Callen

December 22, 2009 at 2:55 pm

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