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Global Culture - What's Good?
Alex Steffen, 5 Dec 03

In the last five or ten years, popular culture has truly gone global.

With one sensation following another - from Cuban music to Bollywood films (see extended entry) - culture from non-Euro-American countries has diffused globally. At the same time, the technological tools for producing culture have spread rapidly (making it easier and easier to cut a film, record an album or publish a book), launching cultural industries (however small) in every corner of the planet.

These two forces have led to an explosion in cross-fertilization, to the point where (outside of the schlock Hollywood and the Western music industry crank out) it's getting hard sometimes to pick out the cultural traditions that make up the DNA of any particular work. Works float in a global context, quite at home.

And the sheer number of new films, books, CDs and artworks makes it pretty hard to stay up to date.

So we've got to help each other here. Consider the comments button your chance to share the good stuff.

So, worldchangers, what's great? What are you listening to? Watching? Reading? What global culture strikes you as truly original, or just really odd? Where do you go to keep up with cultural stuff?

Some well-established elements of global culture (please feel free to suggest more!):


Bollywood! The Indian film industry (and the attendent surge in popularity of Indian film-inspired music, like the album "Bombay the Hard Way."



Graphic journalism (like Joe Kubert's "Fax from Sarajevo," Art Spiegelman's Holocaust story, Maus, or Marjane Satrapi's story of living through the Iranian Revolution ''Persepolis'')

The Shanghai art world (though Debbie Hsu assures me the Beijing scene has been cooler all along and that Shanghai's gotten all the press cause that's where foreigners tend to cluster).


Cuban music, especially since Buena Vista Social Club came out.


Japanese hip. Tokyo street style. Anime, manga and the brief vogue they fueled in anime-inspired "high art," like Takashi Murakami's Superflat.


Russian mafia and prison tattoos.


Rai music, especially Rachid Taha.


Hong Kong action films, leading up to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.


The Nortec Collective's maquiladora techno and pop-art.

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Comments

I'm greatly enjoying the new Cartoon Network version of Teen Titans -- http://www.cartoonnetwork.com/titans/index.html . American comic book characters animated in a distinctly anime style, with music by the Japanese power-punk-girly-pop duo PuffyAmiYumi (does the fact that PuffyAmiYumi reminds me of Shonen Knife date me?).


Posted by: Jamais Cascio on 5 Dec 03

Four Cds I listen to a lot (all a few years old now): Rachid Taha's *Medina*, Hedningarna's *Karelia Visa* (Finnish folk-inspired trance-y music), the Amores Perros soundtrack, *Mundial Muzique* (a sampler of new Brazilian lounge-y stuff)


Posted by: Alex Steffen on 5 Dec 03

After reading a week's worth of Sterling's blog, where the Chairman joyously tosses out reccos for movies and CDs, I'm frankly feeling a bit stunned.

Where the hell do I begin?


Posted by: Stefan Jones on 5 Dec 03

Do all those bloggers from Iran and Iraq count?


Posted by: mitch on 5 Dec 03

Sure, Mitch: you got a favorite?


Posted by: Alex Steffen on 5 Dec 03

I like small Venezuelan corn cakes stuffed w/ all sorts of goodness (chicken and avocado is one example). I had these for the first time in Manhattan a couple of weeks ago.


Posted by: paul on 5 Dec 03

Stefan - I know. Bruce is the master of raking up obscure and completely hip globally transgenic cultural organisms.

The singer Cibelle he profiled today is a prime example:

"Cibelle's mentor, Suba, was Serbian. Cibelle sings in Portuguese and English, and currently lives and performs in London. Because Cibelle is a "Young World Diva." I didn't realize that "Young World Divas" existed until about 45 seconds ago, but you may rely upon it that I am intensely and persistently interested."

The movie he reviewed yesterday is another:

"'The Career of Nikos Dyzma' is a black comedy about a drunken undertaker who accidentally
becomes Prime Minister of modern Poland. This film merely looks like a sleazy Euro sex-farce; in point of fact, it's incendiary political satire. It's funny and meant to be, but you believe all of it: the drunken hopelessness, the streets dominated by armed mafia carjackers, the politicians for sale, the illiterate nouveau-riche, even the wild orgies of politicians' wives have a certain grim plausibility."
http://www.venturadistribution.com/new_releases/serve/7082/Career+of+Nikos+Dyzma


Posted by: Alex Steffen on 5 Dec 03

I forgot about cuisine-as-culture entirely.

Mmmm... stuffed Venezuelan corn cakes... is it dinner-time yet?


Posted by: Alex Steffen on 5 Dec 03

I'm totally into Cibelle, that's the kind of music I like to place in heavy rotation and leave there. I also picked up on Karl Zero a few months ago, discovered via the X Files episode Improbable, in which Burt Reynolds was Deus ex Samba. There's a great scene at the end of the episode where two old chefs are walking on into the city singing "Io Mammate Tu" (if I got that right). I think Zero is French, but some of the songs are Italian, and South American. More transglobal pop.


Posted by: Jon Lebkowsky on 5 Dec 03

They may be considered part of "old Europe" to some, but French musicians are pulling off fusions the rest of the world hasn't caught up with yet, and infusing traditions with edgy contemporary energy and style. To get out of the Edith Piaf timewarp, check out contemporary sound like Tetes Raides (http://www.tetes-raides.tm.fr/) and La Tordue (http://www.latordue.com).


Posted by: ted wolf on 5 Dec 03

The food thang . . . yeah. We've made tremendous strides here.

Just the other day, in Safeway, I spotted a small selection of Chung King "chinese" canned food. This among a huge selection of the real thing: Noodles, spices, canned vegetables, sauces.

Back when I was a kid, Chung King chop suey, badly cooked rice, and a handful of those crunchy noodle things was the farthest reaches of ethnic gustatory adventure. Today, dang!


Posted by: Stefan Jones on 5 Dec 03

I'm starting to think there are two kinds
of "world cultural product." There's drive-by
tourism stuff, that gets picked up from local
scenes by global entrepreneurs, like, say
the Tuareg singers at "Festival in the Desert"
getting recorded by some odd combo of
culture ministers and world-music A&R men.

And then there's product like Cibelle,
which is originally made by a multinational
globalized polyglot diaspora for a multinational globalized polyglot diaspora.

Number one is generally better art,
but number two is a lot more interesting.


Posted by: Bruce Sterling on 5 Dec 03

A while back, a Turkish coworker lent me a CD by Turkish female singer-songwriter named Nazan Oncel. I thought it kicked serious ass. I have been trying to get a copy of this disk for 6 years now. It's been my hope that the shrinking world and increasing cultural cross-polination would mean that I can get the rocking disks like this from other countries. I'd love to have some musical Marco Polo importing what Bruce calls "drive-by tourism stuff." There are guys like Ralph Leighton doing that with the Tuvan music, but I'd like to be able to get lots of the local music from around the world. Is anyone doing this now?


Posted by: Dave Slusher on 5 Dec 03

I'm thinking there's a third kind of "world cultural product," somewhere between the first two: derivative of things from elsewhere than the place where it was made, constructed for a specifically local audience, but also effective in a more global way (sometimes with the aid of time). Example that comes to mind: the Ethiopiques series of CDs, compiling records that came out on the tiny Ethiopian label Amha in the early '70s--half their bloodline is from traditional pentatonic music, half is from American hard funk a la James Brown, and in 2003 they sound totally great. Try vol. 3, with hits by Mahmoud Ahmed, Alèmayèhu Eshèté, Hirut Bèqèlè, etc.


Posted by: Douglas Wolk on 5 Dec 03

yuca, or yacon!

http://www.cnn.com/2003/WORLD/americas/11/25/peru.root.reut/

---
...it has gone from virtual obscurity 20 years ago, when Andean families just farmed a few rows for their own use, to being a common sight at Lima markets and now even available, peeled and sliced, in supermarkets.

Hermann himself was instrumental in making yacon marketable. A syrup he had helped develop with farmers from Oxapampa in central Peru won top prize in 2000 in an annual competition for new products to boost the incomes of the rural poor. The $8,000 prize funded the syrup processing plant.

Thomas Bernet, another International Potato Center scientist, said yacon could have a industrial future -- purely as a source of oligofructose to be added to other products. But costs would have to come down substantially to compete with chicory, the main such provider, making it more viable as a specialty health food.

And exporters say that's where Peru, with its numerous original varieties and Andean climate, can score. :D


Posted by: smerkin on 5 Dec 03

"I'd like to be able to get lots of the local music from around the world."

There's an outfit called Putumayo that puts out CD samplers of world music:

http://www.putumayo.com/about.html

I've seen their displays in airport gift shops and some record stores.

I don't know how consistent, authentic, or up-to-date their collections are. They have a half-dozen Brazil-themed disks, but the material seems more traditional than the stuff Bruce is blogging about.

I bought a couple ("Cuba", "World Lounge") and found the selections pleasant and listenable, if a bit . . . unchallenging? None of the tracks grabbed me by the shoulders and shook me, or made me stop working, close my eyes, and concentrate.


Posted by: Stefan Jones on 5 Dec 03

The only tracks that have done that ("grabbed me by the shoulders and shook me, made me stop working, close my eyes, and concentrate") recently have been what I assume were bootlegs, since the came to me as "informal" CDs: recordings of prison chaingangs in the (I'd guess) 1930s and an old recording of Saami traditional singers. Proving, I guess, that you don't need much technology to produce moving art.


Posted by: Alex Steffen on 6 Dec 03

Bruce says:

"check this guy out:

http://www.theglobalist.com/Globobeat/"


Posted by: Alex Steffen on 6 Dec 03

In Bangladesh Chinese restaurants are ubiquitous. Dining in a Chinese restaurant often is a culture among the middle class which can be compared with Englishmen having curry in Indian Restaurants. But the interesting point is, these restaurants serve Chinese cuisines with more spice and other local ingredients so that the food has similrity of taste with Bangladeshi foods. I bet Bangladeshis won't enjoy original chinese recipes or the people from China the altered receipe in Bangladeshi restaurants serving chinese food.


Posted by: Rezwan on 6 Dec 03

Hey Dave Slusher.

"It's been my hope that the shrinking world and increasing cultural cross-polination would mean that I can get the rocking disks like this from other countries."

A wish no sooner formulated than
granted by the genii of ecommerce, dude

All the Turkish divas
you could ever point, click and ship:

http://www.tulumba.com

Search Result(s)
KeyWords: Nazan Oncel
Category: MUSIC
Sorted on popularity
BIr HadIse Var
Artist: Nazan Öncel
CD Price: $9.49
Cassette Price: $4.99
Availability: Estimated shipment in 10 days
Qty:   CD:   Casette:
More info
Demir Leblebi
Artist: Nazan Öncel
CD Price: $9.49
Cassette Price: $4.99
Availability: Estimated shipment in 10 days
Qty:   CD:   Casette:
More info
Sokak Kizi
Artist: Nazan Öncel
CD Price: $9.49
Cassette Price: $4.99
Availability: Estimated shipment in 10 days
Qty:   CD:   Casette:


Posted by: Bruce Sterling on 6 Dec 03

Holy cow, Bruce! You really are magical. SOKAK KIZI, that's the one. She sounds kind of like a Turkish Michelle Malone or Beth Orton. Wowza, and it's only $9.49. Credit card, don't fail me now!


Posted by: Dave Slusher on 6 Dec 03

*Okay, since I'm doing so magically well
this week, let me explain to Douglas Wolk the critical difference between World Cultural
Products class 1, 2, and 3.

As Douglas remarks:

"I'm thinking there's a third kind of 'world cultural product,' somewhere between the first two: derivative of things from elsewhere than the place where it was made, constructed for a specifically local audience, but also effective in a more global way (sometimes with the aid of time). Example that comes to mind: the Ethiopiques series of CDs, compiling records that came out on the tiny Ethiopian label Amha in the early '70s--half their bloodline is from traditional pentatonic music, half is from American hard funk a la James Brown, and in 2003 they sound totally great. Try vol. 3, with hits by Mahmoud Ahmed, Alèmayèhu Eshèté, Hirut Bèqèlè, etc.

*I have no doubt that this is good music.
For raw, mind-blowing exoticism, it's gonna
be hard to ever beat one of my favorite albums, "Music from the Court of King Janus of Nicosia," which consists of single, ultrarare,
handwritten copies of French Middle Eastern
Crusader regime music from an island society was entirely exterminated centuries ago.
http://www.cypnet.com/.ncyprus/culture/music/medieval/

That's type 2 -- exotic because it is
displaced in both time and space, and
beyond any human retrieval.

*The same goes for 1930s chain-gang songs, 1950s Congolese pygmy nose-flute
music . The key here is that YOU, as a
consumer and critic, have no skin in the game. There's not a thing you can DO about the fate of 1930s chain gang songs except to help keep them in print. The musicians
who created those songs are and always
will be entirely unaware of you and your
reaction to their art.

*Type 1, which is contemporary tribal
singers, might be affected by your interest
in them -- they might suddenly find
themselves dragooned into the
market cash economy, for instance.

*Cibelle, however, is somebody who is
your contemporary. Living in London
and clubbing for a living, Cibelle can look at you eyeball to eyeball from a position of
rough cultural equivalence, and *she might
not even think you are cool.*

*There is that risk. Furthermore there
is a possibility that by becoming a Cibelle
early adapter, you might help Cibelle
to become so famous that she doesn't
set fire to herself with a loose cigarette
like her Serbian mentor Suba. She could
be the next big thing. Fourteenth-century
Cypriots will never be the next big thing.

*Therefore, your interest in Cibelle (Type 3) is rather more likely to provoke some world-changing vector than interests in Type 1 or Type 2. The music may well be better, but
from a cultural perspective this is
all the difference between chilly,
distant, remote satellite surveillance and a hands-on ground-war.


Posted by: Bruce Sterling on 6 Dec 03

Global cultural fusion, yum! Just about my favourite aspect of modern life, be it manifest in pop-culture or cuisine. I guess this is what a combinatorial explosion feels like from the inside. Hybrid vigour: it's not just biology, it's a principle to live by!

As for my tips, I'd just like to give a nod to the massive explosion of the urban South Pacific dub and hip-hop scene in NZ. Here are some of my favourites (band web-sites are mostly flash, samples are available from the smoke CD links):

Salmonella Dub - http://www.salmonelladub.com/ . Especially Killervision - http://www.smokecds.com/cd/11848 - and Inside the Dub Plates - http://www.smokecds.com/cd/31867 . Salmonella Dub are the grandmasters of NZ dub. Killervision was probably their break-through album (and my favourite).

TrinityRoots - http://www.trinityroots.com/ . True - http://www.smokecds.com/cd/30160 - shows off their awesome vocal talents and strong Pacific flavour.

Che Fu - http://www.che-fu.com/ . Probably the premier Pacific hip-hop artist. His most recent album Navigator - http://www.smokecds.com/cd/28541 - shows off the soulful sounds of Pacifika hip-hop to excellent effect.

Loop - http://www.loop.co.nz/ - are an independent record label who provide great samplers - http://www.smokecds.com/cd/31135 - of the modern NZ music scene, including tracks from all the above.

BTW, what's up with links in these comments?!


Posted by: coder on 6 Dec 03

(HTML is turned off for the comments, but any properly-formed URL should be auto-converted into a link.)


Posted by: Jamais Cascio on 6 Dec 03

"There's not a thing you can DO about the fate of 1930s chain gang songs except to help keep them in print. The musicians who created those songs are and always will be entirely unaware of you and your reaction to their art."

http://www.npr.org/features/feature.php?wfId=1531947 :D

also nuuk posse!

http://www.milkycat.com/reviews/nuukrvw.html


Posted by: smerkin on 6 Dec 03

Okay, the Greenland hip-hop
is definitely scary.

Needs a female Inuit
"New World Diva" for maximum
permafrost street-cred, though.


Posted by: Bruce Sterling on 7 Dec 03

I think I have a new personal style goal: "permafrost street-cred."

Interested in hearing more examples of "type 3" global fusion culture. Music, certainly, but does anyone have any good examples from literature, film, theater, dance, etc.?


Posted by: Alex Steffen on 7 Dec 03

Two films on the permafrost tip: Kurasawa's Dersu Uzala and Atanarjuat, the Fast Runner. If you want to get a sense of what life is like (or at least was until recently) in the frosty parts of the world, hard to do better than these.


Posted by: Alex Steffen on 7 Dec 03

Hey Bruce, I like this run-down of "Brazilian" music!

----

Brazilectronica recommendations from a DJ
in Prague. That's right, Prague! D'you know a
hipper city than that?
Doug Arellanes in Praha
The Dive where Doug DJ's

Note that my own commentary will be added in
(((triple parentheses))).

From: "Douglas Arellanes"
Date: Thu Dec 04, 2003
To:
Subject: Brazilectronica recommended list

Hi,

(((Yo!)))

Here are a few strongly recommended CDs in the Brazilian
electronica genre for you to check out. The odd thing about
the genre is that it's mostly Europeans or Japanese on the
samplers working as producers.

(((I'm inclined to consider that a Brazilectronica "feature"
rather than a "bug.")))

Various Artists - "Sambaloco: Brazilian Drum'n'Bass Classics"

Notable for the remix work of DJ Patife,
who also has a new remix on Koop's
"Waltz for Koop - Alternative Takes" remix.

Zero db - "Reconstruction"

Zero db are London-based DJs (((that figures)))
whose remix work is in high demand these days.
Their remix of Grupo Batuque's "E Ruim" is astounding,
a crazy Carnival parade of Batucada beats and the
deepest, heaviest bass I've ever heard.

They also remixed Suba's "Samba do Gringo Paulista,"
which appears both on Suba's "Tributo" as well as on this
record. Plus they also do a Sun Ra remix
on this record that's pretty wacked-out.

(((One might have known the late Sun Ra would
dawn again someplace.)))

Various Artists - "Bossa Tres Jazz" A pretty world-hopping
project, which brought together Japanese producers,
European nu-jazzers and Brazilian divas like Salome de Bahia.
The cover of Stevie Wonder's "Another Star" is sublime.

(((I don't yet know much about Brazilian pop music, but even
a neophyte like myself soon gets it about their odd
Stevie Wonder fixation.)))

There are two series of compilations that are also excellent.

The Break 'n' Bossa series tends to highlight the work of
Nicola Conte, who plays a Rimini brand of Brazilian electronica.
It's more chilled out, but groovy nonetheless. They're at
number six in that series now. Conte's early stuff brings a
kind of "I Dream of Jeannie" sensibility to the genre, but
nowadays he's a lot smoother.

(((It takes a tough genre to survive an "I Dream of Jeannie"
sensibility.)))

The Brazilectro series tends toward more house-y
Brazilian-esque music. More chilled-out stuff, but good
nonetheless.

In terms of Divas, the list is pretty short. Salome de Bahia
would be one. Zuco 103's Lilian Viera would be another.
But another diva on the level of Bebel Gilberto will be hard to find.
(((Yeah? How 'bout Bebel's mom and stepmom? Divas
may be hard to find, but hey, they breed.)))

If you're interested, I can set up a subsite for you to
download some of this; you gotta promise the RIAA
that you'll buy it later, though... ;-)

doug arellanes

(((Hey, that's the Recording Industry Association of AMERICA,
right? What on this Earth do they have to do with Czech
subsites for Brazilian music, especially when it's not
particularly Czech and remarkable un-Brazilian to boot?)))

(((If it makes the RIAA any happier, perhaps I can dispense
with the commercial music-product entirely,
and silently subsist on some remixed, chilled-out, house-y,
deep, heavy, Batacuda, world-hopping nu-grooviness.)))


Posted by: Alex Steffen on 8 Dec 03

Saw the Career of Nikos Dyzma the other day - Sterling was right: odd, funny, extremely post-communist world-is-fucked Eastern European cinema. Check it out.


Posted by: Alex Steffen on 9 Dec 03

Also, on Jamais' "*ollywood" tip, http://www.worldchanging.com/archives/000079.html, check out "Third World Cop."

It's a Jamaican home-grown action flick, obvious shot on dig vid. Pretty stupid movie, honestly, but better than a lot of equally stupid Hollywood action films.

More to the point, it really feels like a film that could only have been made by Jamaicans in Jamaica, and one that couldn't care less what I think (the version I saw even had subtitles for the English dialogue). I expect that we'll see an awful lot more where this came from, a freakin' flood. actually.

Hand-rolled digital flix from the emerging world. Check it.


Posted by: Alex Steffen on 9 Dec 03


Some more NZ music worth checking out:

Jakob - Cale:Drew
Jet Jaguar - Think About It Later
Rhombus - Bass Player
Fat Freddy's Drop - Live at the Matterhorn
Cloudboy - Down At The End of The Garden

Most of this doesn't easily lend itself to description.


Posted by: billy on 12 Dec 03

Blogs: Alaa (from Iraq) impresses me. And the well-known IranianGirl is probably still the best English-language blog from within Iran.

http://messopotamian.blogspot.com
http://iraniangirl.blogspot.com


Posted by: mitch on 19 Dec 03

global culture destructs the lifestyle of many youths in my country.it degrades our culture and in many ways causes disrepect.


Posted by: Ian on 5 Jan 04



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