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).


Elections in Niugini

Papua New Guinea (PNG) is in the middle of a general election.  PNG’s unique geography, and attendant ultra-diversity of languages and cultures, makes holding elections a gargantuan effort.  The unwieldy nature of PNG’s polls is reflected by the governor general’s recent extension of the voting period (which was already two weeks) in a number of provinces.  Of the over 10,000 polling booths in the country, roughly 1700 have little or no road access.  Security problems also contribute to the protraction of PNG’s polls.  Security forces from PNG, Australia and New Zealand have been deployed in an attempt to minimise election-related violence and can only be in so many places at once.

This year’s polls are complicated by the strange political circumstances that preceded them.  Incumbent Prime Minister Peter O’Neill was elected by the parliament last August after a number of its members declared that office vacant.  That declaration was a result of previous Prime Minister Michael Somare’s uncertain but bad health condition (his family had earlier made a retirement announcement on his behalf).

But Somare defied expectations by recovering and returning to PNG from his Singapore hospital bed.  He then made clear his preference to take back his position as PNG’s leader.  In December the Supreme Court ruled that his removal was unconstitutional.  In January a retrenched colonel attempted to reinstate him as PM.  The attempt failed and O’Neill retained the support of parliament.

Politics is very personal in PNG where individual personalities matter more than political parties.  Multi-member coalition governments and instability are the norm.  Seats tend to be fought on local issues so it is difficult to predict electoral outcomes or divine national-level policy debates.

Given the importance of personality in PNG’s politics, its not surprising that music is used as a campaign tool.  This photo was taken by a friend (thanks Doris) in Goroka.  It is an O’Neill campaign rally in the town’s central rugby field.  O’Neill shared the stage with musician Joe Kema.

Unlike PNG’s frenetic politics, its popular music is languid to the extreme.  I’d normally run a mile from anything termed ‘easy listening’ but in PNG it just works.  There’s a lot of reggae and daggy love songs with equally daggy midi backing  tracks.

Despite the fact that many have not yet even voted,  O’Neill has announced he will form a government.  While he can be confident he has retained his seat, only the party with the most seats will be invited to form a coalition, so his declaration is at best peremptory, at worst, inflammatory.  

Fortnightlyish review: Iranian pop, Tunisian hip-hop and one very silly Trade Minister

This 4th of July was about much more than America, but I do like some of the songs highlighted by PopMatters in their 4 July list (of course) of American punk protest songs.


News: Atonal Australian Politics, It’s a Dance Off and Jazz in Kyrgystan

The incredibly divisive price/tax on carbon (dioxide) came into effect in Australia on July 1.  Over the last 12 or so months the opposition Liberal party has been running a pretty successful scare campaign against the measure, which once enjoyed bi-partisan and broad public support.  The governing Labor party was in turn hoping to turn that negativity upon itself by highlighting its absurdity when the world didn’t end with the policy’s commencement.  This is all by way of explanation for why the Australian public was subjected to the horrific spectacle of Trade Minister Craig Emerson singing Skyhooks this week.  What Emerson (and presumably Labor-party strategists) failed to consider was the fact that the public would not be impressed  by a an attempt to discredit cynical political stunts with a cynical (and poorly executed) political stunt.

In other news, Malaysia and Indonesia are squaring off over ownership of the Tor-tor folk dance, with two people arrested outside Malaysia’s embassy in Jakarta.  The Jakarta Globe reports that the dispute has been escalated to Foreign Minister-level talks.

The Washington Times has an article on the flourishing jazz scene in Kyrgystan.  All ‘western’ music was banned under Soviet Rule in Kyrgystan, but for reasons left unexplained, jazz was particularly reviled.

Opinion: Simone Felice, Excentrik and Sociopolitical analysis via mp3

The Australian‘s Denis Atkins loves Simone Felice.  I’m not a huge fan of the production – ‘uplifting’ piano and handclapping is rarely a good thing – but otherwise reckon ‘New York Times’ is a great song.  I guess it’s about how it’s better to stay anonymous and out of the cynical big city and its newspapers.

Rebel Frequencies has an excellent piece on Palestinian-American musician Excentrik.  I highly recommend checking out the article and the track below.

Dusted has a review of the compilation Rangarang: Pre-revolutionary Iranian Pop.  Perhaps Googoosha (refer previous post) took some inspiration from Iran’s Googoosh, who is a million times better, by the way.  The reviewer praises the music but is critical of the motives of the label.

I don’t think the Dusted reviewer would like this article from The Atlantic which does the old get-to-know-the-real-country X-through-its-underground-music routine with Tunisia and hip-hop.


We’re about to go on Naadam holidays here in Mongolia, so expect it to be quiet (well, quieter than usual) around here for a bit.

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