songs from the city, songs from the streets

This’ll be disjointed. Times have been intense.

In the span of a few days I’ve been on the receiving end of some really ecstatically wonderful news from my bestest homeslice (love ou for life, gu!), followed by an awful, shocking update on an old friend from highschool. Then, more bad news on Dilla. Peace to everyone who’s hurting right now. This is a hard time of year, in more ways than one.

I spent the weekend feeling ill and run down, two sweaters deep with a scarf wrapped and tied just under my chin. It’s that whooping cough, man! It’s that flu going around! No lie! Still though, sometimes being sick is a good excuse to step away from day-to-day stresses and responsibilities and get into some other work. Up on my agenda right now, and related to a current project, is an as-yet-untitled musical endeavour that I’m going to need a fair bit of help with. The goal: find as many (great, dope, fantasmagoo) songs about Toronto and mix them together. This is where the “help” comes into play:

!! PLEASE HELP ME BRAINSTORM SONGS ABOUT TORONTO !!

I’m trying to think of as many songs about Toronto as I possibly can. Any genre, any time period, any subject — anything that speaks to life in the city. Parkdale, Lawrence Heights, Jamestown, Kensington, Rexdale to Lakeshore to the Scar Town Bluffs and back again. Beaches, Black Creek, Danforth, Moss Park, High Park, I’m looking in y’alls directions! Songs that shout out neighbourhoods directly or in passing, songs about spotting a cute girl at Sneaky’s, about passing out on the Spadina streetcar, about BS megacity politics, aaaaaaanything. SONGS ABOUT TORONTO.

I mostly know the rap tunes, which is why I’m reaching to other minds and ears for help. I sent out a likkle preliminary email a week or two ago, and this is what a handful of my contacts and I have come up with so far:

  • T.Ode — Abdominal & Notes To Self
  • Kipling To Kennedy — Bishop
  • Spadina Bus — Shuffle Demons
  • Compton to Scarbro — The Carps
  • Toronto — Mathematic
  • Where I’m From — Black-I
  • Blame Canada — Collizhun & Mindbender

…Plus, pretty much half of Theology 3’s Screwface EP would apply here. This list is far from complete, as you can see, which is why I need help. Torontonians, please take a moment to jog your musical memories — I know there’s more out there! Dang, I think even Sparrow had a song about this city. Rock, ska, pop, anything, everything. Step right up! Please give generously.

– – –

On a completely different tip, allow me to get righteous (and nit-picky) for a moment and spark up a topic that’s been on my mind for a while now. Tara, I wish you’d set up comments on your site, because I would have loved to get into this conversation right about here. I’ll be blunt about it and say — there’s something about the term “Global Hip Hop” that grinds on me. Grinds on me much in the same way “World Music” does, though on a somewhat smaller scale.

In both cases it feels as though there’s a grand division of sorts, where the Western world is placed in the centre of everything as an authentic norm, and the rest of the planet is lumped together as one uniform Other in juxtaposition. In the context of broader conversations on diversity, globalization, and multiculturalism in the West, this separation becomes more like a relationship of oppositions. The most vocal critics of multiculturalism cite how, too often, so many diverse and dynamic identities and expressions are reduced to either a single mass, or a series of static “tiles” (flowing from the metaphor of a cultural mosaic) held in place by a neutral mainstream. In either case, the normalized core culture (typically white, traditionally Western) is always the centrepiece and the measure by which all others are contextualized and discussed.

I mean, just thinking of the term “World Music” makes me feel icky. It’s a label that has long been sullied by unsavory images of white dreads, socks worn with sandals, spiritual vacations to India/Africa/insert-Third-World-reference-here, bad interpretive dancing, clothes that stink of patchouli and/or incense, and people who have no qualms about using the word “exotic” to describe their fellow human beings (when really that term should be reserved for flowers and fruit). All jokes aside, as an all-encompassing, beach-umbrella of a genre and marketing label, World Music really is quite insulting.

Global Hip Hop, if you want to defend it by saying that it encompasses hip hop movements from all over the planet, becomes redundant as a term. Wouldn’t it just be hip hop, in that case? Does anyone use the term “World Rock”? “Global Funk”? I realize that if you say “hip hop,” a whole lot of people in this part of the world are really only going to think of North American music and culture, automatically discounting movements from other countries and communities. But then again, if the strategy to open up minds and bend definitions requires the naming of a separate category — where an enormous number of voices, tongues, sounds, and traditions are all captured and sold under the same banner — how much good is that really accomplishing? Isn’t there some other way to go about this?

I’m just exploring some ideas, trying to put my finger on why it bothers me so. Am I being over-sensitive? Maybe. Anybody else got their .02 to throw in the mix? Don’t let me be the only one talking here, cause that’s just embarrassing.

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11 Responses to songs from the city, songs from the streets

  1. dacks says:

    as promised, the essay, pt 1 of 3:

    First of all, World Music is a valid term. It’s most valuable as a marketing term because there is an infrastructure of publications, labels, blogs, radio shows to support it. Many of these resources (Songlines magazine, WOMEX trade festival) are top-notch sources for information about music from around the world, where each culture or cultural mix is analyzed by people who actually know what they’re talking about. Most world music fans are explorers – silly poseurs though some of them may be – and will always try to search out new sounds regardless of origin, and digest them in relation to their personal experiences. Regardless of geographical origin, if they’re trying to break into Europe or North America, artists who don’t fall into “rock” or “club” infrastructures face similar challenges. I’ll quote Marc Hollander, president of Crammed Discs (Konono No. 1, Bebel Gilberto) on the crisi-tunity of world music: “if you don’t sing in English and/or if you use elements of non-European music, you’re thrown in the world music bin, whether you like it or not… but once you’re there, you’re free to do whatever you like, without bothering about the dictatorship of formats… and that’s great… you’re much less limited by rules and by prejudices than in the world of rock or electronic music, which means that you can be much more inventive”. You can also have a dual identity as an artist – Youssou N’dour’s “Egypt” was widely praised by world music fans & the press for its fusion of musical influences from the Islamic world, but also dismissed by his Senegalese fans for ‘not being danceable’ enough.

    I would also use the term World Music (as I did in a post just two days ago) as a term in aposition to the rock and roll hype machine which dominates Canadian music critics and those who use the term ‘indie’ indiscriminately, when they’re really only talking about “indie rock”. It must be said that world music isn’t the only measure of musical diversity – Toronto is pretty good in terms of sexual, economic and gender diversity in its bands – but let’s face it – open most magazines and you’ll only see about 6 countries’ music being covered, and most world music coverage is restricted to the summer festival season. Given the reality that over 40% of Toronto’s population is composed of visible minorities, the rock culture demographic of this city has only slightly changed, whereas the audience for hip hop is extremely diverse compared to 15 years ago. I can only think of one artist with “indie cred” (The Apostle Of Hustle) in the last two years who incorporates ‘world’ rhythms into their music – no wonder ‘world music’ as is still a very valid term in Toronto, even with its multiplicity of separate ethnic or fusion oriented markets.

  2. dacks says:

    pt 3 of 3:

    Turning to Global Hip Hop, I think that black America – which is a lot more homogeneous ethnically that the many streams of Afro-Canada – has always been resistant, like America as a nation, to foreign cultural influences. I’ll be surprised as hell if any non-US Hip Hop (and I include Canada in this) makes it big in the States, just cause of the cultural chauvinism. So Global hip hop may be an unfortunate term, but I think it too is relevant, cause American hip hop just seems to notice music from within. Reggae has been far more accepting of artists from outside Jamaica than Hip Hop has of artists from outside the US.

    And at Exclaim, if it’s Hip Hop, no matter where it comes from, I give it to (hip hop editor) Del Cowie. We may discuss its origins and specific cultural signposts, but its up to him and his writers to determine how good it is.

  3. dacks says:

    pt 3 of 3:
    pt 2 of 3:

    Is World Music centered around the Western world? You are correct in saying it’s “typically white, traditionally Western” but this is changing, and different types of multicultural blends are being championed more and more. World musical/gastronomic/artistic fusion is an ancient process, and it historically has taken place around trade routes, like the Silk Road. Sure, the tentacles of modern-day corporatism extend everywhere in the world and threaten to blingify music far and wide, but I think the Western-centred argument is going to change A LOT in the next ten years as the most active and numerous consumers of music will reside in China and India, who have their own cultural grout to centre the various tiles.

    I used to think that world music tended to be a concept put forward solely by ‘white folks observing others’, but my mind was changed by a world music show produced by the University of the West Indies in Kingston, Jamaica, which had the same format of survey-oriented examinations of global culture as most world music radio shows do in Canada, albeit with a more African-diasporic center that what we might get here. It reminds me of a comment I saw on Zoilus many months ago. It posited the existence of a “symbolic class” where media-literate, techno-savvy people around the world have the technological means of cultural and intellectual exchange in common with each other, regardless of geographical/cultural orientation, which thereby facilitates this cultural exchange. I would imagine that world music radio shows around the world rearrange the tiles according to the grout of their own dominant culture, whether it’s in Sao Paulo or Jakarta or Johannesburg.

    As well, there are out and out ‘world music’ releases in which the grout is definitively not white, or rightly question what “white” is, exactly. The fantastic Amadou and Mariam disc from last year comes to mind. It’s a super-poppy record, totally catchy and not even that funky – at times it reminds of Stock, Aitken and Waterman’s early Kylie confections. It completely changes the Malian blues sound A & M had worked on for their previous 12 discs. If it had been put together by some big name pop producer, the cries of “sellout!” and “cultural imperialist!” would be levelled, but Manu Chao produced it. His entire career is based on savaging those very same culturally imperialist notions. Sure he’s Caucasian, but, Su, if you distinguish between Portuguese and ‘white’ folks, I think Chao’s Spanish/French mixture and subversive politics make him distinctly different from a unquestioning, de-cultured member of the mainstream herd. There is also the Balkan Beat phenomenon. Everyone involved is white, but there are clearly people who are working from a position of economic and technological advantage, and those who are at the mercy of production decisions, business decisions, media judgements etc, but everyone is trying to figure out how their

  4. jace says:

    more often than not the terms ‘global’ and ‘globalization’ are uselessly fuzzy and un(der)defined.

    ‘world music’ on the other hand, is a great & very useful phrase: it lets you spot the chumps immediately!

    certain record shops or magazines will alter it (‘international’, ‘global’) but the lazy, vaguely offensive vagueness remains.

    ‘world music’ means peter gabriel, tablas, lots of reverb, and musicians who are unknown in their home countries getting ripped off & cleaned up by european/us managers to perform for european/us festivals. and more tablas. sitars too.

    going deeper, ‘nation’ is a fairly impoverished concept to describe/divide music. esp. in places like africa where the national maplines where mostly of european colonial origin & mask the rich diversity & division within each country.

  5. Susana says:

    David & Jace – this is a placeholder! Proper and thoughtful response coming atcha within the next day or two! Right after I get through this deadline! Promise!

  6. Jay Smooth says:

    Interesting.. wait, I’m gonna comment on this in my blog instead because I’m low on content there. :)

  7. dacks says:

    I think my comments about hip hop were too dismissive and not hopeful enough that things can change.

  8. Susana says:

    I haven’t made up my mind about any of this, not even close. I’ve been thinking on it for weeks… I’m grateful for your input, grateful for Del and Jay linking to this discussion on their blogs, and for everyone who’s weighed in with their two cents.

    I get the feeling we’ll be coming back to this discussion again soon. I’ve barely managed to articulate how I feel about it.

  9. Laina says:

    Good post. Tara’s my girl an all, but from reading your post, it got me thinking…..I am really not an expert on Hip-Hop and personally have issues of the ‘globalization’ of it, maybe because I’m old and still love the messsage that rap music conveyed to the urban audiences in the early ’80’s – 90’s. My struggle is that what rap music did for me – which was a medium to build self-empowerment and pride has been watered down. I am, though, interested in what is happening in South America, because there is heart in the music,(some artists) are using Hip-Hop as a way to let the world know the injustices and poverty issues in the ghettoes of brazil. Does this make any sense? Anyway, great post.

  10. Susana says:

    It’s not even strictly a hip hop issue so much as it is a Western-supremacy issue and a cultural imperialism issue – this is just one example of a much broader, much older pattern.

    Recognizing and respecting hip hop culture’s roots is important, and I don’t think anyone anywhere is in any position to challenge that, but to set up this weird dividing line and oppositional relationship between (North) America and the rest of the world… it stinks a little of ignorance and racism. Even without throwing around the big bad “r” word, lumping such a huge chunk of the planet together under any sort of catch-all banner straight up sucks and does no one any favours. I feel insulted and generally kind of embarrassed every time North America shows off its disconnection and self-importance in this way (and there are so many ways we do this on a regular basis…)

    Yeah yeah, “global” is just a term, but this term serves to normalize the music and culture here and separate the music and culture from elsewhere as being less authentic or sophisticated or worthy of criticism or appreciation. Language is pretty powerful in shaping perceptions and defining power relationships. To Dave Dacks’ point about the strictness of labels – the World Music title may leave artists with a lot more wiggle room to experiment and be themselves (which is an excellent point), but considering how hip hop is such a conservative genre (right now, right here), I can only see it as being mutually beneficial to make “global” really mean global, or to simply embrace all of it as hip hop, period. If “out there” is global, then right here is… what? Some sort of floating vacuum? An untouchable neutral space? All these divisions – East vs West, North vs South, Anglophone Amurrica vs Errrbody Else – are pointless and weak. I’m betraying my socialist hippie tendencies here, but can you imagine what might happen if artists and music lovers here started to feel as though they were part of the same community as artists and music lovers in Portugal, Fiji, Tanzania, Peru, Korea…?!? All this richness and diversity of sound, diversity of history… It would shake up some of the stagnation in this corner of the rap pond, and ideally would ease some of the pressure of having to cater to a particular formula or style. It might even help to remind some of us that have been feeling disenchanted or disappointed in the popular hip hop of recent years just how it used to make us feel, and why we all got so excited about it in the first place. If any genre of music is capable of bridging those kinds of gaps, it’s hip hop. I’d say hip hop even has a responsibility to do so, given its roots.

    I think of all the female emcees I know and recall how much they hate being called female emcees. (“So what’s it like being a female emcee?” “Well, I have these breasts right here, and once a month I bleed for a couple of days…”). They don’t like to be separated, because although males do do

  11. Susana says:

    (cont)

    I think of all the female emcees I know and recall how much they hate being called female emcees. (“So what’s it like being a female emcee?” “Well, I have these breasts right here, and once a month I bleed for a couple of days…”). They don’t like to be separated, because although males do dominate the mic, they are by no means the only gender with a legitimate claim to rap. It’s the same sort of deal, I guess. We should be beyond all this shit by now.

    I don’t even know where I’d fit Canada here. We’ve got our own weird identity politics to deal with. I’m not even going to start on how multiculturalism relates to all of this…

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