Monday, August 17, 2009

The Dave Matthews of This Africa Shit (Charlize Theron Song)

Anthony is a lot of things. Funny, Italian, studious, hard-working, genuine, my former RA and current closest (heterosexual) male friend, and as of going to Mozambique, skinny as shit. Anthony is also, unbeknownst to him until he gets my reply to his latest email, guest-blogging today as he dropped some gems/sacred treasures this morning on Akon, cultural imperialism/exportation through corporate hip-hop and its effect on third world peoples without access to the Passion of the Weiss, and more.

Right now I am listening to the only constant thing in my life, Akon, as the people who live next to me have the Mozambican habit of playing music again and again and again. Next to James Blunt and Orlando Bloom, I think Akon is someone I would like to wipe off this planet. Nothing would make me happier to see his face melted and the rest of his body just crumple to the ground. While that sounds pretty intense, I literally hear the same 5 tracks THE ENTIRE DAY from Akon. Mozambique has an interesting culture in which yes, they listen to singles, but they often have this mix cd's with songs that were never released or just album fodder and they listen to those songs INTENSELY. It's pretty amazing. It's like a country of B-Sides, something in which the irony hasn't escaped me. The more I am here the more I realize how purely African Akon is. Now I'm not lumping all African cultures together in any way shape or form as Senegal and Mozambique vary on many different levels. But in regards to third world (or "Developing Countries", which by the way isn't often true if you haven't noticed) is that the attitudes by men, in this case misogynistic and controlling, exist. This of course is one of the reasons why these countries fail in the first place as men typically have a sense of entitlement that makes it very hard for them to admit mistakes or acknowledge change is needed. Akon is a complete symbol of this as his music can be broken down into two categories:
1. Him talking to a girl, lyrics sounding like him trying to sweet talk
or hit on her
2. Him talking about guns and how tough he is

More than in America, where we are just inundated with bad boast-rap and R&B, the options are more limited here, which means the Akon's and Fifty Cents of the world are more closely scrutinized and observed as people scramble to translate the lyrics and then apply them to their own lives. You have no idea how badly the teenagers, especially the teenage males here, want to be a hip-hop star. Their style of dress makes them look like a white guy trying to impersonate Jamie Kennedy doing an impersonation of a back up crew member in a rap video and the way they treat women is akin to that of how people treat a new toy at Christmas, they want it want it want it, they get it, they play with it, they see a new toy, etc. While that attitude prevails across the world, as I said earlier it's magnified here because America means success, success means you must copy those actions of the successful, which means acting like and doing the things they do in their videos. it doesn't help that the people here have such little access to the outside world that they really believe, once again more intensely than Americans, that everything a rapper says is real. And why shouldn't they? Who will tell them no (other than me and other foreigners)? To them Yes, Fifty Cent really will shoot you if you cross him, Akon really has been involved in more gangland activities than the A&E Biography channel, and Ja-Rule is, well, still popular. The mixture of cultural values injected with modern materialism along with the lack of expediency of trying to climb out of poverty makes it hard enough here, but rappers really don't realize how much they are hurting the developing world. A big statement yes, but very real. Jay-Z and Fifty can set up 1,000 organizations and scholarships for black kids in the inner city, but it will never hold up if they continue what they do.

Ed. Note-The notion of personal responsibility in what sales-minded rap cliche-pushing artists put out seems like a tired point, but it might only be tired in terms of an American context. Anyone who has taken any from of Intro to Globalization or the like can tell you that with a separate cultural history and set of norms comes a unique tendency to be more negatively influenced by things that get checked in the US by the remnants of 60's liberalism. There's no feminist or gay establishment to buffer the bolstering or pre-existing male attitudes in the third world from images and lyrics that, sure a kid like me from bed-Stuy was always able to differentiate from, but someone in a besieged and pillaged continent still in efforts to rebuild following hundreds of years of being carved up, its social order razed and machinated to better represent European ideals, and a lingering destitution and dearth of education in some areas that would make it difficult to convince a kid that Jay-Z isn't secretly pushing kilos. There's an idea, and I saw this a little in Colombia, in the youth that you can just up and become Scarface and then retire lavishly or that emulation held no consequences. It's a dangerous sort of stubbornness and refusal to budge from norms that aren't necessarily conservative but are usually in opposition to stereotypical liberal, baby-eating/"fag enabling" leftism. Jay-Z can go fetch water, yeah, but as Dallas Penn posted last week, it doesn't quite make up for what he does, represents, and has purportedly done in the past and benefitted/benefits from to this day


Jordan said...

You know Akon was fucking huge when I went to Kenya 2 years ago, but since I went there in the early months of 2007 somewhere between the release of "I wanna love/fuck you" and "Don't Matter" as singles and I thought he had just become the biggest star in the world at that moment, it's interesting that he's still that big in parts of Africa.

Anyway the teenagers where I was at weren't very hip-hop influenced as far as I could tell, but most of them were still misogynist, controlling and sexist. So it's possible Akon's popular because he reflects ideas that the kids already have more than he is popular and therefore influences their ideas. Of course it's likely some combination of the two, and who knows what the balance is...

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