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Xenomania, Abridged (and Linked Up)

It’s a cliché: The internet has utterly transformed the way Westerners hear music from elsewhere, throwing the notion of “world music” into (even more) confusion and doubt. Xenomania

In his recent thoughtful essay for MTV Iggy, music writer Simon Reynolds finds a new angle on this worn story—and name-checks some interesting artists—by tracing the recent history of trans-cultural appropriation and reverberation. He points to some dynamics sparking new sound phenomena (or at least new in the West; follow the links to hear more):

  • There’s a slew of genres considered shady and nasty in their home communities that have turned into hot club music in the West, thanks to European and North American DJs and producers, some of whom hail from immigrant communities.

    Reynolds gives the examples of Brazilian carioca funk (Zuzuka Poderosa; baile DJ mix), Angolan kuduro (the wildly popular Costuleta; DJ mix), and pan- African dance crazes like coupé decalé (Congo-born, France-based singer Jessy Matador, say)—all of which Euro and American DJs have taken a shine to, as the proliferation of mixes shows. He also points to the back-and-forth between émigrés and club kids, citing the fascinating Dutch subgenre of Bubblin’ and artists like Anti-G;
  • The Western craving for vintage global re-imaginings of American and British pop forms, from Japanese rock (The Mops, say) and Indonesian rock to psychedelic Turkish folk bands and, of course, Brazil’s Os Mutantes;

  • The intense hipster pursuit of undiscovered (especially African) recordings, of global rarities and exotic digital ephemera with all their glitches and scratches (like Sublime Frequencies’ releases of cell phone music from the Sahara—check out this track from Niger);

  • The long, long history of the fascination of key jazz, pop, and rock figures with turning global traditions into sounds for the shaping (starting with Miles and ending most recently with young, hip bands like Gang Gang Dance).

For Reynolds, these trends and bands prove a central point: that just as temporal lines are blurred and increasingly ignored online in the (re-)creation of new music (retromania) “geographical boundaries are becoming meaningless,” in a Western drive to consume the culturally exotic (xenomania). And he connects this swelling, boundless appetite for the world’s music with the sad state of Western pop and rock. Groaning under the weight of their own extensive historyies—and perhaps struggling in a post-label world—the pop/rock/classical scenes need an infusion of fresh energy, as their own potential feels so used up.

In other words, global sounds—even the goofy, raunchy ones—are breathing new life into Western music.