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started off as a music blog hence the name. but, it is now my any and everything blog.
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Sunday, April 17, 2011

Can't Believe I wrote this two years ago...

So I am currently fighting this “battle” with cultural appropriation (see ***quote below for explanation) and because of it, I am finding it hard to warm to Vampire Weekend. It is hard to ignore the African influences on the album -particularly on “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” .

I decided to research how they got their African influences, I came across and an article in The Telegraph and one of the band members mentions listening to Brenda Fassie, they also say their African influences come naturally to them. But, it all sounds like a party line supplied to them by their record company. For starters, I think it is funny that they have decided to build career on their “African Influences” yet, none of them have been to an African country. I doubt money is an issue for a bunch of (upper)-middle class boys, which raises the question – if the continent inspires them so much why have they never been there?!

Also, they are getting famous by taking on a culture that would never be accepted in its own right by western society. African people . . . black people are rarely “allowed” to present Africa by themselves and the way they see it.

Most of Vampire Weekend’s fans have never listened to Congolese music, Brenda Fassie, KSA or Yvonne Chaka-Chaka and if those women (or anyone like them) release albums now, they wouldn’t make the charts. Yet, Vampire Weekend have successfully taken their sound, their style, their rhythm, packaged it and sold it back to a willing public who want to appear cool and think they are cool because they have discovered a new “different” band.

Their record company seems to have decided to market them as an alternative to African music. I guess it is a fitting strategy for their audience, the gap year taking types who want to travel to third world countries just so they can clog up facebook with their pictures of them and malnourished children. But, they never truly engage with the culture. They listen to Vampire Weekend so they can appear enlightened and pretend to have an appreciation of African music. They wax lyrical about how different Vampire Weekend is. Anyone with a decent knowledge of music would know that Paul Simon and Talking Heads did it first so it isn't that different.

On the 11th and 12th of august 2007, two parks in New York had a music festival dedicated to African music. Prospect Park had Congolese music and Sierra Leone's Refugee All-Stars, Central park had Angelique kidjo. On the same day, at the Lower East Side, Vampire Weekend was giving a free performance as part of the East River Music Project. Their timing could not be more appalling(or genius) if they had tried harder.

I can’t remember the last time and African band made it to the mainstream, it was probably in the 1980s when Paul Simon released Graceland and everyone discovered LadySmith Black Mambazo.

Very few admit to this, but the reason why Vampire Weekend is so “special” is because they are white. I’ve read reviewers talk about how “edgy”, “different” and “post-punk” they are, but the fact is they are middle class white boys producing music that is stereotypically African. And their middle class whiteness is what makes them different. We’ve had artists like Shingai Shoniwa, Asa and Angelique kidjo try to do that same thing with varying degrees of success. If Vampire Weekend was made up of middleclass black people, no one would have bat an eyelid. Although some might be surprised to discover that middleclass black people exist.

****Quote: "There is a long history of white musicians being inspired by black music and finding fame with an “exotic” but safer sound, while their black muses languished in obscurity. Without diminishing the impact of artists like Elvis and The Rolling Stones on the popular music scene, surely it is clear that they benefited from a culture that would never allow a bluesman like Robert Johnson to gain mainstream prominence. The fresh sounds that electrified rock audiences weren’t really so fresh, just appropriated from an artist and culture made invisible by racism."