Baba Maal played the Oregon Zoo on Wednesday. I’ve seen him there several times before. The interesting thing is that both the
Willamette Week and the Mercury recommended the show. The Mercury even gave it their pick of the day. This is fascinating because for a long time now there has been next to no international music coverage of any kind in the weekly papers. Major international artists will come through town without so much as a mention in the papers. The Portland Mercury has always had a typically ignorant hipster stance that the only good music is performed in English or geared towards hipster sensibilities.* When I used to write for them the only preview I ever wrote that they didn’t print was one I was particularly proud of on Zakir Hussain. (However back then the Mercury had a great writer with a vast knowledge of and appreciation for African music, in the form of freelancer Murray Cizon. They don’t have any writers like that any more.) Of course in writing up Baba Maal the Mercury compared him to Kurt Cobain in some laughable stretch at trying to make him seem relevant to a white hipster Portland audience. I don’t know if this signals some new direction of the local papers to cover more international music or if it was just a bizarre fluke.
I spent the concert entertaining Anjali’s four year old niece. I can’t say that I am well-suited to review the musical performance.
*I should clarify this hipster stance. Old 60’s French stuff a la Gainsbourg: OK, kitschy old SE Asian Rock’n’Roll: OK, The occasional very Rock’n’Roll Bollywood track: OK. What do these all have in common? They’re old, they’re kitschy, they are imitative of earlier American forms, mimicking Rock’n’Roll idioms. Contemporary international music that is not made for Americans and is made on its own terms is irrelevant to this hipster stance. Much contemporary international music shows a Western influence but while it may incorporate Western sonic elements it is not necessarily geared towards Western appreciation. In fact it often sounds “cheezy” to Western ears, whether it is the heavy metal guitars in Chinese pop, the overly bright keyboards in African music, or the (unbelievably lame) rapping in much current Bollywood. Old international music with dated Western sonic elements can be “cool” to such hipsters (like funky Bollywood tracks) but anything contemporary is completely off the radar.
The last time I went to Other Music in New York (the penultimate hipster record store) they had this 60’s influenced kitschy stuff, and old ethnographic folk or classical recordings but nothing contemporary on the international scene. No African or French Hip-hop, no Arabic pop, no Reggaeton, no Bhangra or contemporary Bollywood. Plenty of 60’s/70’s Brazilian, but nothing contemporary. Hipsters think they’re so cool that they can discover something 30 to 40 years old. I guess they’ll be in their 50’s before they start checking out the shit that’s hot crap today.
Much of this can be explained by the marketing of “World Music” in America. It is sold effectively to an older generation of yuppies and the marketing, and the demographic marketed to, makes any international music seem hopelessly lame to the young. Especially the young obsessed with image and coolness. It is the blandly inoffensive and nostalgic that sells, Buena Vista Social Club, etc. A British rapper once commented on how hard it was to get the darkest, hardest, most “street” stuff from America. Well, I think the same thing is true anywhere. It is the shiny, safe, pop stuff from a country that is most available outside that country. The edgier, the more it is buried in the home country. I would love to get the “prohibao” stuff from the Brazilian favelas (not because I’m a big fan of druglords or gun violence, but because that is the original form of much Baile Funk before it is sexed-up for pop
appeal) but good fuckin’ luck on that one. If you can’t afford to travel there is always the endless, arduous scouring of the internet.