Saturday, August 02, 2008

I quite understand Blissblog’s deep seated aversion to the bongo and general hatred of “organic” percussion in the hands of Womad and Big Chill loving types trying to cop a bit of sophisticated outernational one-world vibeism, as though a love for painstakingly Artisanal “ real” instruments somehow tallied with authentic humanism. Yuk, awful!

Besides which, in my ongoing simple disbelief at the ludicrous self-deception evident in other people’s tastes, I refuse to believe that the rhythmically unsophisticated white booshwah British ear can really hear the groove in most Salsa, Afrobeat etc let alone dance to it. In fact they can’t, I’ve seen them. The vital disconnect between the brain and hips, the current effectively bypassing them and going straight to the weirdly pivoting leaden feet, violently compromises any attempt to appear crotch-led and sexful. We are a nation, at best, of hoppers, and stampers, terminally foot-focused, though in moments of high excitement we may flail and windmill, channelling the rhythm section’s kinetic force through our arms, like a mighty two branched Oak in a violent storm, trunks rooted firmly to the ground, limbs thrashing violently and a-rhythmically.

I’m always a bit suspicious of cross-cultural epiphanies, too. Lots of the music I grew to love when I was a teenager I got into through making a concerted effort to listen to it. It took me years to actually enjoy stuff like The Birthday Party and early Sonic Youth and it was forced self-exposure that eventually got it into my brain and provided a kind of foundation stone for later stuff.

Same goes for Tango*, for years it just made no sense to me and it’s only after prolonged and repeated exposure that it finally took root, that it developed any affective value, that I could “recognize” it , that it solidified into a coherent object with an apparent structure rather than just a load of disparate bits of alien disjecta, (Nabokov’s “ random series of more or less irritating noises.”) and then dissolved in me, passed on to become something moving, something that attached itself to my skin and nerves, that brought on yearning and delight, and all the physical responses, tingles, lugubriosity, gooseflesh etc that are the corollary of something now being of you. Music works through a mysterious slow symbiosis, it’s a benign tyrant in some ways, a piecemeal, dripfed form of colonization and internal recalibration. The analogies with language learning are apposite, I think, it is a language of a kind, acquired through exposure, assimilated as a language is assimilated and it’s the assimilation that’s vital in it becoming of you rather than simply something learned, an object or a set of tools to be manipulated. The great moment in language learning comes when you realise you’re not translating anymore and that you’re saying things which simply don’t have an equivalent semantically or structurally in your mother tongue. You’ve been overtaken by something, now it has you, you’re in a new territory, but getting there takes years of engagement.
With Salsa** we’re talking about a really rhythmically dense and complicated music, with little in the way of Trad rock/pop dynamics and few textural considerations. I’ve been trying to listen to it for years and my experience is always the same, it’s just a load of frantic baseless clatter topped off with horrible vocals. It eludes me still. About the only thing I can enjoy at this stage is stuff like this, which as you’ll notice is basically built around Mack the Knife anyway, and that’s partially down to the great lyrics and Blades’ charisma. So quite how your average Pop-reared Brit suddenly clicks and goes, “This is the stuff!” on a purely musical level without it bleeding into all other kinds of disavowed fantasy projections and needs is a bit of a mystery to me. Some people assimilate quicker than others, sure, but that instantaneous sideways shift, rather than a lateral, branching, forward surge up to the next level (which is legitimate enough definition of an epiphany, anyway) always seems to address deeper underlying needs (in the same way sudden religious conversion does).

All that said, however, this is my favourite record of the moment. Go figure!

*Interestingly one of the complaints that Argentineans have about Brit tango dancers is that while they might demonstrate a high degree of technical competence they tend to ignore the simple pleasure of concentrating on the rhythm and moving to/being moved by it and instead simply use it for flashy demonstrations of “expertise.” They’re too busy turning it into a competitive display to really get any deeper-level feel for it, effectively too mediated by self-presentation to surrender to being pulled along in it’s undertow.

** A guy I knew who used to teach Salsa classes wondered why the English never started dancing until the last hour or so of the class and initially assumed it was some arcane social ritual he couldn't grasp as a Venezuelan. After a while he realised, aha! it’s because they’re not drunk enough until ten thirty. What a bunch of emotion-shy, anxious, hyper self-conscious geeks trying to kid themselves that they’re wild, free and passionate via the consumption of a music that they don’t really relate to except on the level of the ego! Know Thyself!!!!!

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