Friday, October 12, 2007

Bad Dancers: Abroad Shall We Turn?

This article runs in the October 15 issue of The New School Free Press.

White Americans can rock, but unlike illustrious Bollywood stars, white people suck at dancing. Overindulgent intake of stale electro and disco derivatives, even derivatives of derivates (Bloc Party), can do that to a person. Don't fret. All hope is not lost for those with spirit. Let's take a look overseas to make those dancing legs twitter.

Ethiopia: "Ethiopiques, Vol. 3" (Buda Musiqe, 1975)

Seductive auxiliary police brass bands, swinging saxophone quartets, dramatic crooners like Mahmoud Ahmed and Hirut Bèqèlè, playing to the revolutionary backdrop of the 1970s, as Emperor Haile Selassie's empire fell—that's soul. See also Ethiopiques volumes 1 through 22.

"Nightmares From Rotterdam" (Moonshine Music, 1999)

Netherlanders are beguiling, known for their relaxed demeanors and close proximity to snow, and renowned for their gabber. Gabber consists of a heavily distorted kick on a drum machine, an extremely abrasive synth line, and some claps or cymbal crashes to punctuate the headache. Neophyte, DJ Paul, The Headbanger and the other brutal masters induce in their audience a frenetic, air-punching mania. Hits like DJ Rob and MC Joe's "Beat is Flown 1999" reveal a love for corny techno, too.

Algeria: "Algerian Raï" (ARC Music, 2005)

Raï—a musical genre from North Africa that means "opinion", "advise" or "point of view" in Arabic—is more punk than The Clash. It burst into world popularity in the 1990s as a violent Islamic terrorist movement tore Algeria apart. The offensive "category" called "world music" may actually apply with raï, which brings together Arabic folksong, hip-hop, ska, house and trance in Arabic, French, even Spanish. "Algerian Raï" is full of dramatic old-school electronic pop hits and synth-led balladry, with rich, microtonal vocals by artist the likes of Cheb Hasni. Also see Khaled, the King of Raï.

India: "The Bombay Connection, Vol. 1: Funk From Bollywood Action Thrillers 1977-1984" (Bombay Connection, 2007)

Hit songs and instrumentals from India's obscure spy flicks, like "Bond 303" and "Kashish," tear through tabla breaks, sexy funk lines, screaming horn licks, high-pitched women vocals and wild violin solos. "The Bombay Connection," compiling works by the prolific two-person composing teams Kalyanji-Anandji, Sonik-Omi, Lxmikant-Pyarelal and more, brings to mind a Hindi-speaking James Bond on an acid trip. This kind of music sends a powerful message: it's time to shirk the West's confusing dating rules, gather up a couple dozen friends and engage that mysterious love-prospect in an epic dance routine.

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