Thursday, April 25, 2013

Who’s Going to Bang my Drum? The Rolling Stone Monopoly

It is a Tuesday night in The Mother city. The Sedov’s great masts rise up out of the harbour. I am about to board the world’s largest sailing ship still in operation on the sea’s. It was seized when Germany was defeated by Russia, and it is now home to 300 hundred pubescent Russian naval cadets, their commanders and one Russian Rock n Roll band from Vladivostok - Mumiy Troll: “It is like an Egyptian mummy, or your Mummy. The troll comes from Scandinavian Trolls, they’re not all bad – they’re known to do good things” says Ilya Lagutenko – lead singer, guitarist and synth player. Rolling Stone is interviewing Lagutenko. The ship is crowded with Russians – special guests of the embassy, Rolling Stone operatives, press and music industry folk. Musicians and writers.

 Mumiy Troll had a dream to travel the world in a submarine. So they approached the navy, the navy said “No, but you can have a boat.” Now they tour from port to port – recording on the ship as they go along. A cadet shows me a picture of a barracuda one of their superiors had caught. It is massive, head scowling, blood running from its slit throat. Their English is not very good and I can only speak smatterings of polish. The conversation is brief.

The interview is over, Mumiy Troll take to the stage. Lagutenko dons a child-like tiger suit jacket with a hood, it is fetching on him. The drum beat kicks in, at first I cannot believe it is the drummer who is playing it, it is so soft and delicate, the sound levels so crisp, the kick so punchy. It sounded like a recording played through Sennheisers. Ilya Lagutenko’s voice is immediately appealing, he sings in English, changing their sometimes Russian repertoire to connect with the audience. Ilya had described his Russian lyrics to be based in the forms of Russian abstract poetry, where as his English songs have a formula, the rigid a,b structures. I was slightly disappointed to not hear Russian, although their English songs were beautifully poetic and sometimes existential in thought, and held some reminiscence of abstract and adhoc construction in phrasing. His voice and persona strikes me in the same way as Venus in Furs, the Ziggy’s and the Bowies. His body is rarely still, his eyes crossing and darting, hands shaking, trunk weaving into solid poses.

 The set the band produced was of the Britt Pop Indy Rock variety, Killers, Franz Ferdinand – stomping bass a kick lines, electric howling guitars. But there was something else about them that you couldn’t quite pin down in their sound, somewhere in the open atmosphere they produce are feelings of long sea voyages and lands across the ocean, of the Soviet Union and cold, cold Russia. I would have like to see them on a bigger stage, in a venue where people are dancing.

The bar hadn’t opened until the band started playing, so people watched in stone like solidity. Mostly unable to see anything but the persons head in front of them. The canap├ęs are being served the bar is open, people rush towards the free stuff in a frenzy. Others stay to watch the end of the set. Some fancy polish vodka is being mixed at the bar, into icy pine-apple cocktails, by two frantic bar men.

 Long Time Citizen sets up to play. I really like this band, they are fun, you can dance to them, they have a good repertoire of covers - The Clash, The Pogues, and some pretty catchy songs of their own. They’re tighter than they were when I first saw them, and have added a rad guitarist who jumps around a lot. They’re lead singer Greg Donnelly has a fantastic stage presence. They sound a bit like the Violent Femmes gone way down South to Georgia.

 They are booked to play two more shows with Mumiy Troll while they are here. And here is where my dilemma lies. Mumiy Troll have been voted Russia’s “Best Band of the Millennium” by Russian music lovers, they have played shows all over the world. Have accumulated over 17, 000 fans on Facebook, are recording their 11th album, and have had over 10 million downloads. They are in South Africa being welcomed by Rolling Stone – one of the biggest music magazines in the country.

 And yet they are booked for two small shows, one at On a Roll - Thursday, 25th April, the other at Ragazzi – Friday 26th April - with a band that does not represent their audience in the country, or one that would pull an audience to a venue. Long Time Citizen are a great band, but they have not been established long enough to have a following. They only have 192 likes on Facebook. Also they do not represent South African, their songs lack lyrical content “Whose going to bang my drum? Whose going to bang my drum?”

They are sung in an American fashion – which only serves to highlight the monopoly that American music holds on the South Africa industry and its subsequent influence on South African taste. Long Time are definitely a strange choice to couple with Mumiy Troll.

I cannot help but question whether Anton Marshall bassist of Long Time Citizen and event director for Rolling Stone South Africa is using his monopoly to promote his own band, and whether Rolling Stone events should be used as a platform to promote South African music?

Surely an outfit like Rolling Stone would be trying to put on the best shows for a touring band, to promote and expose them to them to the best South African market for their style and create a positive impression of touring South Africa? Playing alongside artists like Desmond and the Tutus, or The Brother Moves On. At larger, more established venues like Mercury and Assembly – or Utopia festival falling on the weekend of their arrival? Or should international touring artists start at the bottom like everybody else in South Africa, in hotdogs joints, and smoky pubs, the credit they have gained overseas meaning nothing on shores abroad?

Monday, April 1, 2013

Finding the Black in the Blackness

This poem is inspired by the lyrics of The Brother Moves On, and a 2007 statistic that read that South Africa only contributes 0.778% to global record sales. Where are our voices? Why do we still listen to kuk international commercial music when South African music, the music which speaks to our country is not heard?

The poem is a question of identity in a country set on the brink of violent revolution and economic collapse. I hope for a brighter alternative.

Finding the black in the blackness
deconstructing what it means to be black
I am African, but I am white but I am black
I live in a multiracial suburb, I am coloured
you are coloured, I am coloured, he is coloured
I am black, you are black, we are black
WE are not white
White means oppressor
I am not white, you are not white
WE are Africa
WE are not white
Our government is white
but the ANC is not our government
but they are white, and corrupt
our government is civilized
our government is our economy
our economy is not African
our state is not African
there is nothing African about a state
WE are not independent
WE are not yet free
free from the white
I am Indian, I am coloured, I am black
I am a coloured
not the absence of it
not white
I am Africa
Africa has a rhythm
I am Africa
Africa has a rhythm
A solid pulsating rhythm
slow and steady
and it builds and it grows
as it becomes educated
the knowledge is leaking
I am leaking it
I am Africa
and Africa has beat
a beat that will be heard
I am Africa
and Africa has a beat
a beat that will be heard
because I am Africa
my voice
Africa's voice
is strong