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: Hip-hop in Mali, Nepal, Springsteen and Uzbek Elite Pop

Mali: coup, secession, food crisis and hip-hop

Mali is in the midst of great political turmoil.  In March a military junta ousted the President, suspended the 1992 constitution and took control of the country, which had been due for Presidential elections in April.  The government’s mishandling of the Tuareg rebellion in the country’s north was cited as the motivating factor for the coup (I wrote about that rebellion in an earlier post).

Following the coup Tuareg rebels, namely the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), declared an independent Azawad covering a broad swathe of the country’s north, including Timbuktu.  To further compound matters Islamist group Ansar Dine has made a counter-claim to stewardship of Azawad, and central Mali is part of the Sahel, a region facing a severe food shortage.

So seemingly out of nowhere (although not to all), Mali has been transformed from a bastion of west African democratic consolidation into “the Afghanistan of West Africa”.  Well, at the very least it faces directionless military rule and possible bifurcation.  Some young Malians have expressed their frustration with their country’s politics, both pre- and post-coup, through hip-hop as detailed in this article on Bridges From Bamako.  The article makes the interesting observation that hip-hop crews in Mali are fulfilling the role traditionally ascribed to civil society, the latter having been co-opted by the political elite.  This is surely the case in a number of other countries too.

What is happening in Mali is compelling, particularly when you’re sitting in a country which is also 20-odd years into democratic rule and subject to endemic corruption, and is about to hold a parliamentary election.  Mali’s Presidential election, which was to have taken place in April, was initially postponed  to May.  It has now been put off until 2017, along with parliamentary elections which were originally scheduled for this July.

What’s a country like Nepal doing with politicians like these?

Just under a month ago Nepal’s protracted constitution writing process collapsed.  I wrote a fairly detailed article about it on South Asia Masala so I won’t harp on about it here.  All I will say is that things are not looking any rosier now than they did a month ago.  This week the hardline faction of the ruling Maoists finally made good on its threat to split from the party.  The newly formed Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) (it has dropped the ‘Unified’ from the original Maoist party’s name) rejects parliamentarianism and will not rule out a people’s revolt or a return to all out war.  Meanwhile, as Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai toddled off to the UN’s environmental gab-fest in Brazil, his government was censured by the Electoral Commission for making changes to key police personnel despite its caretaker status, and accused of curbing press freedom for demoting a state TV executive for televising opposition protests.

Amrit Gurung, lead singer of Nepathaya, a band I blogged about when I was still living in Nepal, has added his voice to the debate in a couple of articles in the Nepali Times.  In the first, published a few days before the Constituent Assembly expired, he added his view to the debate over whether or not Nepal’s states should be defined on the basis of ethnicity.  Gurung made the case in favour of ethnic inclusiveness, stating he is Nepali before he is Gurung or any other identity.  He reiterated that position in his latest article published this week.

Who Da Boss?

In a recent article The Guardian argues that Bruce Springsteen is the last protest singer (at least in stadiums), taking a swing at Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger, Coldplay, U2 and Glastonbury in the process.  The author also sort of has a go at Neil Young and Bob Dylan.  I think.  And Jarvis Cocker and Sting, he says, have chosen the wrong issues to protest.  Personally I don’t think all musicians need to foist their politics on their fans.  In fact most time I think it’s preferable they don’t.

The article’s survey of stadium rockers is far from exhaustive: why mention Aerosmith and Bon Jovi, but not Pearl Jam for example?  Another politically engaged musician is Ry Cooder, who is preparing to release a uber-political album in the lead-up to America’s November Presidential elections.  The video below contains some of one song from the album, the excellent ‘Mutt Romney Blues’, about Mitt Romney strapping his dog to the roof of his car on a 12 hour drive.


Central Asia has a new pop princess: GooGoosha, aka Gulnara Karimova, daughter of Uzbek dictator Islam Karimova.  Unsurprisingly, the music is terrible.

Uzbekistan, Mexico and the Sudans via The Damned

Soundtrack for this post: ‘Democracy’, ‘I Just Can’t be Happy Today, ‘Neat Neat Neat‘ and ‘Smash It Up (Parts 1 & 2)‘ by The Damned.

Inspired by Indonesia, I’m sticking with punk for this week’s wrap up of the good, the bad and the ugly in world politics.

Pioneering goth-punk band The Damned are generally not considered all that political compared to their peers, particularly The Clash.  That’s not because there isn’t politics in there, The Damned just don’t wear their politics on their sleeves quite like Strummer & co did.  As I alluded to in the preceding post, punk’s political message is in its mode anyway.  Content can be complimentary, or not, but either way it’s secondary.  With punk, style is substance.

The Damned do in fact do political content quite often as well.  The most overt example is ‘Democracy?‘ off 2001’s Grave Disorder.  But this is an older, disillusioned punk’s political statement: “revolution changes nothing, and voting changes even less”.

In good news for Uzbekistan’s authoritarian leadership, the United States announced this week that it is waiving military assistance sanctions, in place since 2003.  The waiver is partial and temporary: only non-lethal equipment can be provided, and only until September 2013 (the deadline is extendable).

The ban was in place due to the dire human rights record of President Islam Karimov’s regime.  Karimov has been in power since the country gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.  He is a straight-up dictator who violently quashes any potential sources of opposition and controls every aspect of Uzbek life, as in the Orwellian ‘I Just Can’t be Happy Today‘ (from 1979’s Machine Gun Etiquette):

A lot of you know there’s nowhere to smile
There’s no feeling fine without being fined
It’s a price on your head
No point being sad when justice is red

The waiver however has nothing to do with the human rights situation in Uzbekistan, which if anything slightly worsened in 2011 in reaction to the Arab Spring.  According to Human Rights Watch’s 2012 World Report,  torture in the criminal justice system is “endemic”, opposition figures and journalists are routinely targeted by authorities, the state sanctions child labour and even religious worship is strictly controlled by the state (Karimov is an avowed secularist).

The waiver instead reflects the importance of Uzbekistan geographically for US and NATO supply lines into Afghanistan.  The Uzbek route is the only land alternative to the Pakistani route, closed since NATO helicopter attacks killed 24 Pakistani soldiers on their own soil last November.  The move is likely also motivated by this week’s announcement that the US plans to withdraw troops from combat roles in Afghanistan by mid 2013.

There’s plenty of violence and anarchy in The Damned’s songs.  The first song off their first album ‘Neat Neat Neat‘ is dripping in the stuff.  Kind of like bad ol’ Mexico.  Apart from the violence in the music itself, lead singer Dave Vanian sings of cannons, guns, a lack of crime “if there ain’t no law” and “no cops left to mess you around”.

Mexico’s violence speaks for itself: the border town of Juarez has one of the highest murder rates in the world, violence has now spread throughout the country, including to formerly immune areas, and it seems barely a week goes by without another headline about a grizzly mass murder.

Mexico is also arguably a study in anarchy.  Anarchy can be taken to mean a society without a government or, more broadly, without authority.  There is authority in Mexico, but it doesn’t come from the elected government.  Every human manifestation of the state has felt the wrath of the drug lords who really control Mexico since President Felipe Calderon declared a war on drugs in December 2006.  A particularly striking instance of Mexican anarchy, or the state’s inability to fulfill state-like functions, is the fact that the state is now attempting to protect (by hiding in hotels) those whose very vocation is themselves to protect: the police.

Things are tenser than ever between South Sudan and Sudan.  Of course no one ever expected that carving out a new country after a civil war that cost around 2 million lives would be without its complications.  Straight after South Sudan’s birth last July there were disputes over border demarcation, particularly the contested region of Abyei.  Ethnic clashes in border states of Jonglei, Blue Nile and South Kordofan have been worsening.

Now arguably the most flammable issue of all has reared its ugly head: oil.  The majority of former Sudan’s oil lies within South Sudan.  The new, land-locked country can’t export the oil on its own and existing pipelines go through Sudan.  To use these pipelines South Sudan pays its northern neighbour fees which in some way compensate that country for its lost oil revenues.

The two sides disagree about what is an appropriate amount for those fees.  As a result the north has allegedly been skimming oil to make up for what it considers to be unpaid dues.  The south calls that oil stolen and has retaliated by halting all pumping; a drastic measure by any standard, downright reckless for a country who relies on the black stuff for 98 percent of its income.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon is worried the current stand-off could lead the Sudans back to war.  South Sudan says it won’t recommence pumping until its oil is returned and all other outstanding issues between the two countries are resolved.  ‘Smash It Up (Parts 1 & 2)‘ is the ultimate “fuck you all, let it all go to pieces” statement and so, I think, an appropriate adjunct to South Sudan’s approach to negotiation.  It’s also one of the best rock’n’roll songs ever written.

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