You may have noticed, but the music Afropop covers, as awesome as it is (and we do think it’s pretty awesome), isn’t exactly what one might call mainstream, at least in the American context in which we mostly live and work. That said, every once in a while, our area of expertise runs head on into the wider world of the internet. Collected here are the top 5 times this happened this year. Because goddamn it, sometimes we like to be pop culture too.
1: Arcade Fire (still aren’t Haitian)
Come on… this record might be influenced by Haitian music and the band’s time volunteering in Haiti and Régine’s connection to the country, but that doesn’t make it a Haitian album, so can everybody PLEASE stop talking about it like it is? Right now, this is would be an accurate description of the public perception of Arcade Fire’s discography:
-Funeral: The album about funerals
-Neon Bible: The album that came after the first one
-The Suburbs: The album about the Suburbs
-Reflektor: The Haitian record
And that’s bunk.
2: Jay and Bey Go Down Old Cuba-way!
Honestly, we were stoked when this story broke: Jay-Z and Bey, the romantics they are, celebrated their 5th anniversary by taking in a little r’n’r… in Cuba. Those silly 1 percenters, there are some rules that even the modern aristocracy can’t break! Congress was pissed, Obama publicly distanced himself and the rest of the White House from the stars, and the Afropop staff writers sharpened their quills in delight. See, you might have noticed our affinity for the music and people of Cuba- Ned Sublette has produced about as many episodes of Afropop as any other person in the history of the world, living or deceased, and if Cuba were a human, those two would have been married way back when. So we got pretty pumped when we heard that Jay-Z released a track in response to hoopla. But “Open Letter” fell victim to the same pitfalls that have plagued his recent work: WE GET IT JAY, YOU’RE A BUSINESS[,] MAN! TALK ABOUT SOMETHING ELSE FOR A MINUTE, DUDE! The guy walks into a perfect opportunity to say something real about class, hypocrisy, multiculturalism, and cock-eyed, broken political interference, and the deepest thing he can come up with is, “Yeah, but I own the Nets, so get off my back.” Weak, dude. We were decidedly NOT PUMPED for the moment to play out like that. Fortunately, the moment didn’t play out exactly, but instead on. A whole bunch of folks jumped on that beat to add their own flavor: Pitbull, Wyclef, and Danay Suarez? She didn’t play Celebrate Brooklyn last summer, so her name might be a headscratcher, but she’s way more insight than Jay-Z ever is AND she sings pretty damn well. Suarez stepped up the plate hard, and managed to pull off a rendition that straddles more angles of the issues than there were verses on her track. Thanks, Danay! Step off, Jay.
3: Justin Timberlake samples “African Music” for the 20/20 experience
Look- the staff writers at Afropop love Justin Timberlake as much as the next bunch of millennials who grew up with ‘N Sync posters hanging over their beds, outgrew old JT only to watch him catapult himself back to a mind-boggling level of overall coolness, and who now think it’s perfectly acceptable to spend a breathless night watching him OWN the VMA’s. And yes- props to Timbaland for sampling some sweet field recordings from Burkina Faso. Not props to a shocking number of usually on-top-of-it publications for hearing a foreign instrument, and giving it exactly ZERO research. Dear World- “Pan-African Chant” is NOT a thing. Thank you.
4: Shokazoba (not playing) at Hampshire College
If you didn’t hear about this, consider yourself lucky. We effectively ignored this story, because it made us so sad. Here’s the highly reduced version of what we understand went down (sparing you pages of FB/blog post comments of the most disgusting variety, and a whole lot of anger from everyone involved):
A student organization from Hampshire College, in Amherst, MA, reached out to Shokazoba, a local afrobeat band, to play the school’s annual Halloween party. Someone on Facebook snarkily commented on the whiteness of many members of the band. The band responded in such a way that provoked the utmost ire of the radical students, who felt unsafe because of the band’s statements, and made sure that the college canceled the Shokazoba’s performance (though they did get paid.) Next, the band proved that they really didn’t get it at all: they complained about the ‘racist,’ ‘prejudiced’ treatment, how they were being ‘silenced’ by the students. The click-bait media and the conservative press, always eager for a story about white people being unfairly treated, had a field day. As a result, many people in middle- America heard/read the word ‘afrobeat’ for the first time in association with a dispute about white people appropriating black music. We didn’t even officially comment. But you can read a Nigerian perspective by Atane Ofiaja for This Is Africa here.
5: Vampire Weekend Ends Their Musical Colonialism
Vampire Weekend: the biggest US group to name African music as a key influence in their sound. Oh the glory that was 2008! But you read the title of this article- it’s 2013 now, and sadly everything has changed. Those Vampires have put out two records since, each less African than the last! Thanks, Vampire Weekend. Now it’s a lot harder for us to write click-baiting articles about your tasteful use of Congolese guitar. You may have forgotten, but WE NEVER WILL!!!