Thursday, March 15, 2012

I don't want to tweet in my dreams


BBC economics editor Paul Mason's new book about the Arab Spring Why It's Kicking Off Everywhere: The New Global Revolutions contains a chapter titled 'I Tweet in My Dreams': The Rise of the Networked Individual. However others who do not share Mason's unreserved enthusiasm for social media are striving to ensure that the Arab Spring is not followed by an autumn of Western digital culture in which the emergent democracies become no more than technology enabled markets for global brands. An example of this thinking is Beyond Digital, a project which is working with young people in Morocco using digital technologies to sustain rather than replace indigenous cultures. For an example see their Sufi plug in project which "creates a space where software design, music tools, encoded spirituality, digital art, and indigenous ontologies overlap". Beyond Digital has already scored a notable success using digital technology to bring a Berber band playing "psychedelic folk" to a worldwide audience.

Imanaren, seen above, is led by Hassan Wargui who comes from the Berber village of Issafen in the Anti-Atlas mountains of southern Morocco. Wargui writes all the band's songs which are in the Berber Tachelhit dialect and are concerned with topical issues including the Arab Spring and human rights - informative video here. The band has been working with Beyond Digital since last summer and one result of their collaboration is an album previously only available on CD-R discs in Moroccan souks being given a global release on iTunes, Amazon, and other platforms.

It is a simple but effective formula that inverts the usual hierarchy: instead of adapting Berber music for the global market, digital technology is used to distribute unadapted indigenous music. And it works - David Maine wrote a review saying "Looking for “authentic” world music? You won’t get much more down-to-earth than Imanaren, a group of Berber musicians from the south of Morocco whose debut record was self-released on a limited scale within the country before being re-released on the Dutty Artz label". I picked up on that accolade via The View from Fez blog, bought the album as a bargain priced download on Amazon and so the viral loop builds without a PR agency in sight.

Personally, I don't want to tweet in my dreams, but if authentic world music is your thing I do recommend giving Imanaren a listen. More on the music of the marginalised Berbers here.


* Extended audio samples from the Imanaren album are available on the Dutty Artz record label website. However Google is showing a 'This site may be compromised' message. I visited the site several times before seeing the message without apparent problems, but malware is a current preoccupation and Morocco is an online can of worms, so please be warned. For those who want to take the risk the audio samples are here. Western digital culture is not without its problems; perhaps Imanaren will avoid them by following the example of is compatriots in Jajouka by issuing their next release on vinyl.

Also on Facebook and Twitter. Image credit Beyond Digital. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

7 comments:

Lyle Sanford, RMT said...

That sure looks like a tenor (4 string) banjo in the photo. If it is, how an American Dixieland jazz instrument made it's way into a Berber village and its music might make for an interesting path.

Though the banjo is an American invention, its roots go back to the gourd instruments of Africa, so the path may turn on itself.

mrG said...

It is a simple but effective formula that inverts the usual hierarchy: instead of adapting Berber music for the global market, digital technology is used to distribute unadapted indigenous music.

It does not work; it is the commodification of indigenous culture, because culture and music can not be so readily compartmentalized, shrinkwrapped and packaged for export. At best you get Irish Pub In A Box and at worst you get what Virgin Records did to the once thriving Jamaican dub culture. It is expropriation (are Beyond Digital donating their time and resources?)

This stuff irks me to no end. It is no different than ripping up the farmlands to sell off the bedrock to floor foreign big city bank lobbies. Culture includes people, it is the bringing together of the people within a culture, the societal bonding of the musicians brought together to bring a gift to their cultural identity and a societal bridging of the people who are attracted by the sound and life and happening and get up off their tush and stop watching the television propaganda and go out and meet each other, interacting together as a people, they build new bondings that sustain their culture. Selling mp3s on Amazon does none of that.

What the expropriation of culture does is commodify and cheapen the music, it becomes something you can buy anonymously for a dollar, something you can keep at home where the soundsystem is nicer and the chair is warm and comfy and there's no pesky human beings that want to talk at you, no social responsibilities to be a certain way, talk a certain way, hold certain common ideas and commitments. It is safely cocooned away from culture.

My two-bits, anyway.

Pliable said...

Lyle, as I understand it the American banjo has a West African ancestry in instruments such as the xalam, ngoni, huddu and ekonting. Imanaren are influenced by Nass el Ghiwane who used the banjo and its ancestors, see photo here - http://www.overgrownpath.com/2011/11/never-underestimate-publics.html

More on West African banjos here - http://www.negrophonic.com/2007/nass-el-ghiwane/

Pliable said...

mrG, the point about the Imanaren album is that it was not "compartmentalized, shrinkwrapped and packaged for export".

As the post explains, the album was already recorded and released on CD-R and sold in Moroccan souks. All Beyond Digital did was make it available to a wider audience using Western distribution platforms.

Beyond Digital is an attempt to encourage indigenous music, which otherwise will disappear as markets like Morocco are flooded with Western music which has been compartmentalized, shrinkwrapped and packaged for export.

Your two-bits should be directed at the corporates who, I agree, are exploiting the world music market, not at Imanaren and Beyond Digital.

For more on this see http://www.overgrownpath.com/2010/11/colonial-attitudes-within-western-music.html

Lyle Sanford, RMT said...

Thanks for those links - had completely missed the banjo in your previous post. Great to see it's made a full circle.

(I've been playing a Pete Seeger long neck since the 60's and it pulls people up to say hello and how much they like it more than any other instrument I play.)

mrG said...

Beyond Digital is an attempt to encourage indigenous music, which otherwise will disappear

That is what I am denouncing: they are doing the opposite, they are hastening the disappearance by dividing the musicians and the music from their people with the promises of world revenues, what was once a commons becomes a commodity, and I'm saying it won't work. They should be doing the opposite, keeping the music local and fostering local events to bridge the people within the culture, stirring up the mixing pot to create more fertile growth, not marketing the shadow of one band and then claiming they are thereby "preserving" the culture. They are, they will, mark my words, destroy it, just as this model has destroyed cultures world-wide.

if you get the chance, there is a documentary floating out there about Lee Scratch Perry where he voices some of his concerns over what this expropriation did to the Jamaican scene. Yes, Lee Perry is a bit of a wildman, but maybe he needs to be because of what he's up against. Sun Ra also pointed out how, without an ethnic music, a music that is uniquely and anthropologically theirs, woven into their life, a peoples ceases to exist. To remove that music from its context and say that it represents anything is like chipping the paint off the mona lisa and selling tickets to see the dust of it.

I do so hope to be proven wrong in this, but from what I have seen in my years, I am, at present, not at all hopeful.

Pliable said...

mrG, there are no promises of "world revenues", Beyond Digital is a non-profit project.

Morocco and similar markets will change, that change will be driven by Western influences and it will not be stopped by trying to preserve the ethnic culture in aspic.

Beyond Digital is working to allow contemporary indigenous music to participate in that change rather than being marginalised by it, and that seems to me to be admirable.

But we seem to amicably differ in our views , so let's park it there please.