Journal- Wednesday, April 14th

9 04 2010

Wednesday, April 14th

I don’t always have time to eat breakfast before I leave for school, since I live off campus, so I often eat after my stats lecture. There’s a café near the Hewlitt building called Bites and they make pretty tasty breakfast burritos so I headed over after class this morning to get some food. My mom had sent me a text message earlier in the morning about an Angelique Kidjo concert she attended the previous night with her boyfriend and, sure enough, Angelique Kidjo was playing over the speakers in Bites when I walked in. I like synchronicities like that so I texted my mom to tell her. By the time I got to the register to order, Vusi Mahlasela was on and I commented to the cashier, a white lady, that I liked the music they were playing. She responded, “Yeah, I love African music.” I didn’t say anything in response- it’s not the worst thing someone could say, after all.

She continued to tell me that it was a Putumayo Acoustic Africa compilation- some of which I myself own- and I got to thinking about multiculturalism and panculturalism and how problematic it can be to present cultural aesthetic forms as representational of continents, countries, people, heritage etc. I think this is especially true in the late capital world where nearly everything is commodified and presented in the form of consumables. One purchases something like a Putumayo compilation and one is immediately granted (presumed) access to the culture from which it came. One of the problems is in marketed representation. Vusi Mahlasela is a celebrated artist in South Africa, sings mostly in his native language of Sotho, and was inspired primarily by resistance to the Apartheid system of South Africa, but ALL of that is potentially lost when he becomes an African musician. The West’s fetish-like fascination with the African subject is made clear here in the voyeurism of postmodernism. We like to observe “others” from a comfortable distance, especially in the comfortable artistic distance, because art, after all is just entertainment and therefore exempt from political location. Again, often these arguments are dismissed on the expectation that art either transcends race and imperialism or that artistic exchange is somehow productive to understanding. Of course “understanding” is totally subverted when the exchange is facilitated by capitalism, which has an agenda of its own having nothing to do with exchange or understanding. So one must develop a critical understanding of these so-called neutral exchanges of culture and commodity, because often our enjoyment and appreciation of the art form is accompanied by a latent imperial impulse that is left out of the equation.


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