Psychedelic Ballers: How a Baltic Minnow Took it to the Soviet Empire

The only combination better than music and politics is music and politics and sport.  So: what do the fall of the Soviet Union, Olympic basketball and the Grateful Dead have in common?

At the 1988 Seoul Olympics the United States failed to win gold in the men’s basketball for only the second time in Olympic history.  Appropriately, given the times and even the location, on the peninsula that saw one of The Cold War’s most tangible manifestations, the shock defeat was delivered at the hands of the Soviet Union.

The magnitude of the upset would have been more apparent though had it been known that four of the Soviets’ five starting players were from Lithuania.  From an empire with 285 million inhabitants, covering what is today 15 countries and over a fifth of the planet’s land mass, 80 per cent of those on court were from a country less than half a per cent the physical size of Russia and with a population smaller than that of Seattle, Cape Town or Melbourne.

Thus opens The Other Dream Team, a documentary on Lithuanian basketball I recently enjoyed, thanks to a (Lithuanian) friend’s recommendation.

Lithuania was forcibly incorporated into the Soviet Union in 1940 and was the first former Soviet country to declare independence in 1990.  The half century of Soviet rule in Lithuania was harsh with “mass murder, deportations, collectivisation, forced atheism and unrelenting propaganda”.  Basketball was an unlikely locus for national identity and pride.  For that reason the win over the USA in Seoul was bittersweet, mostly bitter, achieved as it was in Soviet colours.

Separation from the Soviet Union was messy and painful.  As the first state to secede, Lithuania was subject to aggressive retribution from Moscow that saw 14 people killed.  Lithuania eventually triumphed in this David and Goliath battle and the Soviets finally recognised its independence in August 1991.   Just in time for the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona.

Which is where The Grateful Dead come in.

Like other post-Soviet states, in the short term independence came with drastic state restructuring and economic difficulties for Lithuania.  The degree of these difficulties is a matter for debate I’m not qualified to weigh in to, but needless to say sport funding was not a priority.  Jerry Garcia and co. got wind of the Lithuanian team’s troubles, saw the synergies with their own philosophy of freedom (political and otherwise) and decided to help.  They provided the team with some funds and a to-be-infamous tie-dyed uniform.  I won’t ruin the ending of the film except to say that the last game the Lithuanians played at those Olympics was for a medal, against Russia and had a final margin of four points.

Lithuania’s 1992 Olympic basketball team, resplendent in tie-dye

The Grateful Dead are mostly thought of as a psychedelic band – as reflected by the tie-dye that marked their Lithuanian venture – but I personally prefer their folk-rock side.  My unoriginal favourite is ‘Box of Rain’, written and sung by bassist Phil Lesh for his dying Father.

The Grateful Dead ended with the heart-attack death of front man Garcia in 1995.  Today Lithuania is a parliamentary democracy and EU member with one of the fastest growing economies on that continent (despite being hit heavily by the global financial crisis).  Its men’s basketball team has qualified for every Olympics since Barcelona, three times to win a medal.  Their fans still wear tie-dye.

Post-Punk Christmas

2012 has been a decent year for gay rights.  Well at least for the gay rights issue that dominates the mainstream press.  In the US, same-sex marriage was legalised in three states (Maine, Washington & Maryland) and Obama gave in-principle support to the idea.  It was also legalised in Denmark and parts of Brazil.  A clear majority of Australians support same-sex marriage but a bill allowing it was rejected by the parliament in 2012.  A similar bill did however make good progress through New Zealand’s legislature and should be adopted in 2013.

So it seems fitting to post Pansy Division’s ‘Homo Christmas’ which includes classic lines like  “Don’t be miserable like Morissey, let me do you under the Christmas tree”.  Skip it if you’re sensitive about anatomical references.

US State Department denies Bahrain Andrew W.K.’s positive partying power

In breaking news, the United States this week pulled funding for metal-dance hedonist extraordinaire Andrew W.K.’s visit to Bahrain.  I guess someone in the State Department gave him a google and decided he wasn’t the ideal cultural ambassador to a Middle Eastern city-state in the throes of sectarian tensions after all.

 

The Arab Spring has manifested in Bahrain in the form of sporadic Shia protests against the ruling Sunni minority.  The protests have been going on since early 2011 and are serious enough to get the Saudis involved.  The situation is ongoing: most recently the Bahraini government drew international condemnation for outlawing all gatherings (they were probably thinking of protests, not W.K.-style parties).

Mr W.K. has vowed to make the trip to Bahrain to spread the “positive power of partying” under his own steam.  Godspeed, and party on!

Sierra Leone: elections and Frank Ocean

Sierra Leone is today holding Presidential and legislative elections.  There are nine Presidential candidates, including the incumbent Ernest Bai Koroma.  Sierra Leone is struggling to alleviate poverty in the wake of its brutal, diamond-fueled civil war which ended a decade ago.

While policy issues such as health (which Koroma is judged to have done well on) and employment (on which he has failed to make headway) have played a role in the lead up to the election, there are also significant ethnic loyalties at play.  Despite that, there has been little violence during the campaign period, and if the country can pull of a peaceful election that is seen to be fair it will be a significant achievement: this is Sierra Leone’s third election since the end of the war and history shows that new democracies are particularly vulnerable during their first twenty years.

In keeping with the theme of tenuous links this blog is pretty much built on, today’s elections seem good enough reason to post Frank Ocean’s song ‘Sierra Leone’.

 

I’ve just discovered Frank Ocean. He is a very timely reminder of how good R&B can be. He follows the path of Prince and Andre 3000: the songs are smooth, intelligent, often odd and almost always about sex.  ‘Sierra Leone’ is no exception on any of these counts.

While ‘Sierra Leone’ is apolitical, Frank Ocean did make a big political statement this year when he came out as bisexual.  This was considered a big deal because of the macho hip-hop world he inhabits.  Ocean’s music is not really hip-hop but he collaborates with many hip-hop artists, including Jay-Z and Kanye West.  His coming out was then something akin to an elite rugby or Australian rules football player coming out – the latter still has not happened, even among retirees (to my knowledge).

Below is the amazing ‘Pyramids’, a ten-minute epic with three distinct movements (including a closing guitar solo).  Elements of the production grate for me personally (such as the computerisation of his voice in parts) but it really doesn’t matter, it is just so good.

 

 

Political Music in Mongolia: from revolutionary to mundane

Unlike the recent democratic movements of other former communist states, Mongolia’s equivalent of the Rose Revolution (Georgia, 2003), the Orange Revolution (Ukraine, 2004) and the Tulip Revolution (Kyrgyzstan, 2005) had no catchy name.  It did however have a catchy song.

Mongolia’s first rock band, Soyol Erdene

The song, ‘Khonkhnii Duu’, or ‘The Sound/Ring of the Bell’, can still be heard regularly in Ulaanbaatar.  The first time I heard it was one afternoon during the national holiday Naadam. It was being played at a summer beer tent near my place.  I probably wouldn’t have noticed it if not for the young men on a hotel balcony next to my flat.  With tops off and fists full of vodka bottles they screamed along to the chorus at the top of their lungs (between hugging and fighting – it was a big day on the balcony).

Music behind the curtain

Unlike Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia was never officially part of the Soviet Union.  But in many respects it may as well have been.  In 1921 the Red Russians chucked out the White Russians who had in turn chucked out the Chinese.  The Bolsheviks installed a one party Soviet-style government in Ulaanbaatar, a move widely accepted by Mongolians as a much lesser evil than incorporation into the Chinese state.

For the next 70-odd years Mongolia was a single-party state, complete with Soviet purges and a strictly controlled economy and society.  The ruling Mongolian Revolutionary People’s Party (MPRP) controlled many parts of people’s daily lives and disallowed traditionally ‘Mongol’ things like Buddhist monasteries and mentioning Chinggis Khan.

Ulaanbaatar’s Beatles monument

They also controlled music.  Western music was off limits except to the most enterprising.  Listening to such music in the sixties and seventies was as such a subversive act.  The role of rock’n’roll in Mongolia’s eventual opening was recognised in 2008 by the erection of a Beatles statue in central Ulaanbaatar.  (For four years Ulaanbaatar had the unusual distinction of being the only city to have monuments to the two Lennons/Lenins, John and Vladimir.  The latter was removed a few weeks ago.)

In 1971 the MPRP recognised the potency of western music and decided to meet the demand for rock n roll by participating in one of the earlier efforts of manufacturing chart-toppers that now so dominates television airwaves.  The band they came up with was called Soyol Erdene (Cultural Jewel).  It was instructed to play traditional Mongolian songs on electric instruments.  The MPRP fed the band lyrics which tended to concern love, communism and Mongol-Soviet ties.  Surprisingly, they’re actually pretty listenable.


Soyol Erdene

Ironically there is now a definite trend among Mongolian rock banks of incorporating traditional Mongolian instruments and tropes into their songs.  Mongolians are rightly proud of their stunning musical heritage.  Throat singing is well known and completely out of this world, but the urtiin duu or long song is arguably even more spectacular.  It evokes the Mongolian landscape, its epic scale, beauty and potential for tragedy, ridiculously well.  Altan Urag (Golden Lineage) are one of the best known proponents of the fusion of western style rock and traditional Mongolian music, and they’re great.


Altan Urag


A long song. It’s probably about horses.

Ring that bell

But back to Mongolia’s primo political song, ‘Khonkhnii Duu’.  The bell that rings in the song wakes the narrator from a nightmare.  Mongolia awoke from its communist nightmare in March 1990 when three months of street demonstrations led the MPRP to stand down.  Elections were held that summer.

The version of the song below is a fairly cringe-worthy benefit-style number.  As well as outdated dance moves and awkward swaying it includes some nice pictures of the revolution and some of Mongolian music’s brighter lights.  The guy who gets the start of the second verse (the bored looking hipster) for instance is the lead singer of The Lemons.

The most amazing thing about ‘Khnonknii Duu’ is its continuing popularity.  Twenty years after the fact people are still making film clips of this song and reflecting on the monumental political change it represents.  Another hip-hop version of the track has over 180,000 views on YouTube.  Pretty impressive when you remember Mongolia only has around 3 million citizens.

As you would have seen if you clicked through to the hip-hop version of ‘Khonkhni Duu’, Mongolian hip-hop definitely tends toward the macho-gangsta end of the hip-hop spectrum.  Although many of its leading lights are quick to distance themselves from American hip-hop, the connection is clearly there.  Gee, Mongolia’s most popular rapper, regularly hits the foreign press as an example of the country’s xenophobia but last week he opened for American early nineties nostalgia act Onyx and called it “unforgettable and incomparable” (UB Post print edition).

2012 election

Mongolia’s latest elections were in June this year.  Campaigning was intense. Ulaanbaatar was plastered with party posters and TV was dominated by party advertising, replete with some pretty ordinary music.  The Democratic Party (DP – then opposition who won the election) even did a pretty uninspired update of ‘Khonkhnii Duu’.  If you are interested, you can click through to see the MPP’s* pop-video style ad or the DP’s ballads – one for the urban youth, an eight-and-a-half minute epic that tries to cover every base, with opera, rock and traditional music interludes, and one aimed at country voters.

Voter turnout in the June elections continued its downward trajectory to 65 percent. Given though that it started at around 96 percent perhaps that is just part of the normalisation process.  The relatively low turnout, along with the imprisonment of former President N.Enkhbayar, has led some to the belief that Mongolian democracy is in trouble. As I argued in this article on East Asia Forum, I take a more cautiously optimistic view.  The continued enthusiasm  for ‘Khonkhnii Duu’ – even among Mongolia’s hardcore rappers – is further reason for optimism.

*In keeping with the times, the MPRP dropped the ‘Revolutionary’ from their name a couple of years ago.  Shortly afterwards Enkhbayar defected and started his own MPRP.

A flimsy pretext for a post: drones and The Drones

The Drones are a powerful band on many levels.  One of their powers in my case, is that they helped me get over my case of cultural cringe (the belief that Australian cultural products are inherently inferior to those produced overseas, particularly in Europe and the United States).

The Drones in the bush

The Drones aren’t great and cool despite being Australian, but because they’re Australian.  Their Australian-ness is itself a crucial part of their shtick and of their attraction.  Lead singer Gareth Liddiard’s accent is almost comically ocker (I said almost).  And although their sound, at least on the first couple of albums, harks back to many non-Australian forebears like the swamp-rock psychobilly of The Cramps and the noisy punk-metal sounds of bands like Black Flag, there is still something quintessentially Australian about the music, beyond Liddiard’s vocals.  It sounds like isolation, dirt and big, empty space.  A prime example of this Australian sound is ‘The Island’ from their first album Here Come the Lies.  “By day the flies came, by night the mosquitoes” has to be the best nine-word description of Australia ever thought up.


The United States first conducted experiments with auto-piloted planes, aka drones, during World War I.  But it is only since Obama assumed the Presidency in 2008 that they have been used regularly.  Under the Obama administration, drones have become a significant element of the US military machine.  Most famously used in Pakistan, they are also deployed in Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia.  The US is not the only user of drones: the UK and Israel have some too.  Drones’ most controversial function is their ability to launch missiles, although only five per cent of the US fleet actually has that capability.  Most drones are in fact used for surveillance.

The debate over the relative merits of unmanned and manned aircraft is so hot right now.  There are those who claim that drones are morally preferable to manned aircraft because they do not endanger a pilot’s life.  Proponents also argue that drones are more precise than their manned counterparts meaning that, despite perceptions, they result in less civilian casualties.  On the other side of the debate, there are those that say that the complete removal of risk to one side of the human conflict is unfair, that the rules of war are based on the precept of mutual mortal risk, and that drones are hence morally reprehensible.

One particular worrying aspect of drone warfare is that they may make it easier for governments to give the go ahead to acts of violence or even war.  The removal of direct peril to aggressor governments’ citizens may make those governments feel less answerable to those citizens (although they would still be spending huge amounts from the public purse).  In this way debates about whether to enter a conflict could be short-circuited.  Despite the current debates in foreign policy circles, unmanned warfare certainly gets less public attention than conflicts in which American troops are serving and dying on a daily basis.  That gap has been recognised but not yet addressed.  An effort to increase the public visibility of drone warfare, an app that maps drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, was recently rejected by Apple.

Drones app?

The Drones deal with Australian history a lot, but given the entirely flimsy premise of this post is the fact that their name coincides with a controversial weapon of war favoured by the Obama administration, we’ll turn instead to their songs concerning war on terror politics.  Discussing his 2010 solo album Strange Tourist, Liddiard questioned why no musicians were writing about the politics of terrorism: “No one else seems to write about anything like that. Even though there’s all this bullshit, terrorism, things like David Hicks.  The shit’s everywhere, but why does nobody take it up apart from journalism?  It’s fucking bizarre… I just think that its fucken weird that no one else does it. So this is kind of like ‘hello! What are you fucking doing?’”

The opening track to The Drones’ third album Gala Mill is the eight-minute long ‘Jezebel’.  The song drones on and on, hurling horror and despair about a world that “prefer[s] a civil war” to a tyrant.  The long, repetitive verses are interspersed with a simple, strangely sweet chorus, composed of just one line “I….I would love to see you again”.  The lyrical highlight of the song comes though when the narrator shoots “a woman in a headscarf” who asks, “does my bomb look big in this?”

Drones were first used in Pakistan in 2004.  The South Asia Terrorism Portal database has recorded 251 such attacks, with at least 2,371 killed.  The New America Foundation counts 330 strikes and 3,171 deaths.  The drone attacks in Pakistan target members of the Haqqani network, Al Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban.  They have been highly successful.  Since June this year drones have killed Al Qaeda’s 2nd in command and the Haqqani network’s 3rd in command.

Drones are, unsurprisingly, deeply unpopular in Pakistan.  A survey conducted in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) in 2010 found 90 per cent of respondents were against US army activity in their region and over 75 per cent opposed US drone strikes.  As The Atlantic points out, drones are helping the US lose the “war of perception” in Pakistan.

An airstrike doesn’t need to be unmanned to be controversial though.  By far the most controversial attack in recent times was the November 2011 NATO air strike that killed 28 Pakistani soldiers on the Afghan-Pakistan border.  In response to the attack Pakistan closed its Afghanistan supply route to ISAF forces, stating it would not reopen it until receiving an apology.  And a guarantee that the use of drones on its territory would be stopped.  US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton finally gave the apology in June this year and the supply route was promptly opened.   US drone strikes on Pakistani soil have however continued unabated since.

The final song on Liddiard’s debut album is ‘The Radicalisation of D’.  D is for David. David Hicks, convicted Australian terrorist who spent six years in Guantanamo after being picked up by US forces in Afghanistan.  Actually Hicks’ story is just a springboard for the story of D.  The song is not really political at all, instead it’s a compelling portrait of a young, lost, impressionable, empty, lonely boy, and an attempt to explain why ordinary people are pulled into strange pursuits in the search for belonging and meaning.  It is eminently relateable and that, in the end, is its message.

Drones have been so successful in Pakistan that it is running out of high-level targets.  Yemen on the other hand is “target-rich”, with the White House declaring earlier this year that the country’s Al Qaeda affiliate, Al Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula (AQAP) is the biggest terrorist threat to the US.  The Brookings Institute warns not only that the US has no clear strategy for its undeclared drone war in Yemen but that it risks entanglement in brooding civil unrest in that country.  Yemen’s insurgents are closely allied with Yemen’s terrorists – by attacking them the US implicitly supports the current Yemeni regime.  It may be that supporting the Yemeni regime is something the US is comfortable with, but that is a conversation that has not yet taken place.

Some suggest US drone activity also encourages sympathy towards Al Qaeda among Yemen’s population: although drones may have reduced AQAP’s leadership ranks, it has not had the same effect on the rank and file.  AQAP membership in Yemen is said to have more than doubled since drones started to be used in 2009.

As a postscript, there are Australian dimensions to this story: the ABC recently ran a sensational report on the use of a South Australian airbase by US drones, a fact only made public after being spotted by amateur aviation enthusiasts.  It has also been revealed that the Australian Defence Force deploys unarmed Israeli-owned drones in Afghanistan and that it may have intentions of buying its own.

Fortnightly(ish) Review: Campaigning Gangnam Style

Only two things to talk about this fortnight: K-pop and the US Presidential campaign.

Dancing Like a Horse Can Make You Rich and Famous

K-Pop is huge in Asia.  Now one of its practitioners, Psy, has made it in the US too (in case you’ve been living under a rock).  Read about the phenomenon, and the subversive (by Korean standards) message about Korean society it represents, in this article on The Atlantic.

On the Campaign Trail

Expect there to be a slew of musicians ticked off by the use of the fruits of their labour in US presidential campaigns in the months between now and election day.  The usual format is liberal-leaning musician embarrassed/angry to have their song associated with the GOP.  Now we have the Mum of a musician expressing her outrage.  Thin Lizzy’s Phil Lynott died back in the mid-eighties but his Mum is looking out for him and has condemned the Romney campaign’s use of ‘The Boys Are Back in Town’, saying her son would not be impressed by Romney’s policies on gay marriage and tax.

PopMatters has noticed The Republicans’ problems finding sympathetic musicians and suggested five possible Romney campaign songs from the likes of The Beach Boys and Aerosmith.

Last fortnight we heard how hip-hop has abandoned Obama.  Not so newly-rasta rapper Snoop Lion who gave Obama his endorsement this week, reasoning “Bush fucked up for eight years, so, I mean, you gotta at least give [Obama] eight years.”

And in case you haven’t seen it: Mitt Romney Gangnam Style:

Fortnightly(ish) review: Albright, Obama, Hankx3

Madeline Albright is to receive a Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz award for her “jazz diplomacy” next month.  Read about that diplomacy, and Bill Clinton’s saxophone skills, in this article from the Washington Post.

Hank Williams Jr recently called President Obama anti-American.  Jr told an 8,500 strong crowd at a concert in Iowa that “we’ve got a Muslim president who hates farming, hates the military, hates the US and we hate him”.  This review of his latest album calls it a “well-produced parody of Southern culture and Tea Party politics”.  Hank Williams Jr is my least favourite Hank, even just from a musical perspective.  We all know his Dad, so here’s something from his son, Hank Williams III, an interesting character I recommend checking out.

Who knew Insane Clown Posse were still a thing?  Their fans identify as Juggalos.  Genius.  Problem is, the FBI classified Juggalos collectively as a “loosely organized hybrid gang” and “criminal organization formed on the street” in its 2011 Gang Threat Assessment.  The Posse has decided to hit back and is suing the FBI for defaming its fans.  Those insane clowns.

Back to Obama, apparently hip-hop has given up on the once hip-hop President.  Perhaps to compensate, Obama’s campaign office has put out a video showing his support from DJs.

And so from America to the rest of the world.  Well at least South and Central Asia…Goths in Uzbekistan are having a hard time. Read about their travails, including government clamp downs on the “alien” musical genres of rock, rap and metal in this BBC article.  A recent edition of ABC Radio National’s Correspondents Report visited Afghanistan’s rock school.  And, finally, read about Sufi music and sectarian politics in neighbouring Pakistan in the cleverly but misleadingly titled ‘Peace, Love & Pakistan‘ on the Global Mail.

Fortnightly(ish) Review: Punk Using Its Power for Good and Evil

News

Iranian nuclear facilities were recently attacked by malware.  The malicious software, of unknown origin, pumped AC/DC’s ‘Thunderstruck’ through the infected computers’ speakers.

It’s probably fair to say that the annual United Nations General Assembly is generally considered to be a bit of a yawn-fest.  This year though a concert called ‘Global Festival‘ is being held concurrently with the UNGA.  Neil Young and Crazy Horse, the Foo Fighters, Band of Horses and the Black Keys are playing, with the aim of raising funds for various causes including polio eradication, which is facing a $500 million shortfall.  The concert doesn’t raise funds through ticket prices: there are none.  Instead, patrons must earn their ticket by completing actions recommended by various global organisations, such as signing petitions and writing letters.

Australian Treasurer Wayne Swan decided to let the world know that he takes his cues from Springsteen this week.  His speech was widely panned for being dorky and embarrassing, but nonetheless praised for being tactically clever.  It both effectively conveyed a message (Swan and the Labor Party are pro-worker and, like Catwoman and Bane in the latest Batman flick, anti-billionaire) and managed to garner significant coverage despite the stiff, Olympic, competition.

Opinion

Russian female punk group Pussy Riot have been making many a headline over the past couple of weeks because the trial of three of its members has started.  They even have Anthony Kiedis getting political.  If you’re wondering, they have officially been charged with ‘hooliganism’.  Foreign Policy gets a bit overexcited and claims Pussy Riot (who seem to be singularly lacking in musical talent, even for a punk band, just by the way) has “perhaps given punk rock a future as a global force for justice and freedom”.  They reckon that – until Pussy Riot – the “high-water mark of punk’s geopolitical relevance” was Crass’s 1982 song critical of the Falklands War, ‘How Does it Feel to be the Mother of 1000 Dead?’ and subsequent production of a hoax tape, widely believed at the time to be a conversation between Thatcher and Reagan.

The shooting of six American Sikhs in Wisconsin earlier this month is a reminder that punk can also be a vehicle for those with less progressive views.  The shooter was a “frustrated neo-nazi” and leader of a racist punk band.  The same is of course true of any genre.  I always associate hip-hop with progressive, leftist politics because that was its major theme when Australian hip-hop got good in Sydney and Melbourne in the early 2000s.  Here in Mongolia though, the country’s most prominent rapper is proudly xenophobic, frequently rhyming against China and the Chinese.

 

Inside Story has a brief article on politically and religiously motivated repression of music.  The author draws a distinction between musicians victimised for the content of their music (Pinochet’s exeuction of musician Victor Jara) and for the form of their music.  Apparently the Nazis could not abide twelve-tone music – the form devised by Austrian Arnold Schoenberg.

Fortnightly review: grungy ambassadors, immigrant songs and various metals

A Chinese band in Mongolia

Last week was Mongolia’s biggest festival – sporting and cultural – Naadam.  In the middle of the festivities a big concert was held in Ulaanbaatar’s central Sukhbaatar square.  Unfortunately I only saw half a song from the infamous Gee before his set finished and a dull boy band took the stage.  I missed Chinese rock band Banana Monkey altogether.  The Wall Street Journal have dubbed them China’s grungy ambassadors to Mongolia (luckily we did catch them at another gig the night after – they were a lot of fun).

Immigrant songs

It was recently the 100th anniversary of Woodie Guthrie’s birth.  Denise Sullivan writes how Woodie was “the first contemporary singer to take on the dignity of the immigrant as the subject of a song”.  She draws parallels between that song, ‘Deportee’, and The Clash’s ‘Straight to Hell’.  The latter was famously sampled by M.I.A. in her breakthrough hit ‘Paper Planes’, another song concerned with immigrant experience.

Sludge metal in Georgia (USA) and Death Metal in Iraq

I’d never heard of sludge metal before reading this great article about Savannah band Baroness.  The author reckons sludge, “where the workaday southerner’s music—the blues, country, jazz, and southern rock—melts together in metal’s crucible”, is a response to the conservatism of the southern bible belt.

In other metal news, The Atlantic has an article on death metal in Iraq, where that genre’s traditionally anti-Christian messaging is being adapted to rail against Islam.

Pashto Popstar Murdered

A 24 year old female pop star was shot dead, along with her father, in Peshawar, the capital of Pakistan’s restive Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (previously North West Frontier) province on June 18.  Ghazala Javed was a member of the Pashtun ethnic group that straddles the Afghani-Pakistani border.  She was popular with Pashtuns in those two countries and the diaspora in the Middle East.  Read about Ghazala and the risks that musicians in Pakistan take in this article from the Pulitzer Centre.

A catchy tune from North Korea

The Atlantic has a translation of North Korea’s newest propaganda song, for its new leader, Kim Jong Un.  The male choir sings lines such as “by exploding the mental strength of the united heart of our million citizens, Joseon resounds the marching drums of the powerful, prosperous nation”.

Peter Garrett

I’ve previously written about Australian musician politician Peter Garrett.  This detailed and interesting profile of the man by BBC correspondent Nick Bryant manages to simultaneously talk up Garrett and dismiss his political efficacy (the publication requires subscription but you can do a 30 day free trial).

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