Global Ghetto Tech, Tropical Bass, and World Music 2.0
By Uh-Young Kim (translated by Daniel Hendrickson)

Every year on the weekend in May, colorful floats, rhythm groups, and sound systems ride through the streets of Kreuzberg. The Karneval der Kulturen in Berlin is the most important world music event in Germany. Since the turn of the millennium, musical influences from the Caribbean, Africa, the Balkans, or Latin America have also increasingly found their way into the clubs. But the clichés about world music have hung on tight here, for instance the barefoot dancing globetrotter with dropout tendencies giving himself completely over to traditional sounds from Third World countries full of realness and nature.

The new world music is everything but that. It is dirty, urban, boundary breaking, globally networked, digitally produced, and bastardized with no regard for any imperatives to purity, authenticity, and the distinction between pop centers and the peripheries. Thanks to the internet, the globalization of regional rhythms has led to an explosion in the variety of dance music. Music is no longer only produced in big centers in the north, but proliferates in Johannesburg, Buenos Aires, or Budapest. In the northern Mexican city Monterrey alone, three new subgenres have appeared in recent years around the producer Toy Selectah: Cumbia Rebajada, Huichol Musical, and Tribal Guarachero, which short-circuit the traditional music of Latin American with synthesizer melodies and electronic beats.

Largely unnoticed by pop magazines and daily newspapers, global dance music spits out one fresh style hybrid after another: Tecnobrega from northern Brazil, Kwaito by South African music stars like DJ Mujava and Professor, or lately Moombahton. The makers come from the inner cities and dancehalls at the equator–with a permanent connecting line to people who’ll proliferate them in the big cities of Europe and North America. Music sharing sites have become the free marketplace of digital folklore. What signifies the end of the fat years for musicians in the west marks the chance for previously marginalized artists to get noticed at all.

There’s no name for this loose scene. The term Global Ghetto Tech sounds like something from a cyberpunk novel. Tropical Bass reveals the painless relationship that many young producers have to a kind of exoticism that was once frowned upon by classical world music, at the same time pointing to its genesis in transatlantic bass music. Worldmusic 2.0 in turn primarily marks the digital sound as the result of technical development due to the internet. The participatory movement exceeds the idea of the analogue world music from the eighties–while still hooking up with its beginnings and edges. For it is not only since the turn of the millennium that the migration of sounds been bringing something new to the world, the hipsters of pop culture have been pulling sounds from the southern hemisphere for years.

Jazz giants like Yusuf Lateef, John Coltrane, and later Pharoah Sanders can be seen as the pioneers of world music. Starting in the fifties, they took up influences from North Africa, India, and Brazil to rejuvenate jazz–just as DJs and producers today bring new life into dance music by looking beyond the Anglo-American world. In the eighties, David Byrne and Brian Eno (and even before them, Holger Czukay) interweaved ancient rituals with highly modern technologies: post-punk and funk grooves clashed with Afrobeat and Arabic singers. By introducing found objects and field recordings, Byrne and Eno anticipated the impending revolution brought on by the sampler.

The Coldcut remix of “Paid in Full” by Eric B. & Rakim from 1987 set the program for the transcultural clash represented by sample culture with its combination of rap, break breats, and the Oriental singing of Ofra Haza. In the Brixton district in London, the British center of Caribbean immigration, electronic beats fused in this way with riddims from the Jamaican sound system culture in the sampler. The children of Caribbean and African immigrants found an ideal homeland in the sound continuum of hardcore, jungle, drum and bass, garage, grime, and dubstep that resulted from this. The second generation in the Indian-Pakistani community also developed their own form of expression for this hybrid life in the United Kingdom with reggae influenced banghra. Germany has remained outside this postcolonial dynamic. The only comparable phenomenon can be observed in the emergence of Balkan beats. Its most prominent representative so far has been Shantel, who grew up with East European roots and comes from the electronic club scene.

If what came out of transcultural music in the nineties as a whole was still strongly marked by ideas of community, today it is no longer a matter of ethnic authenticity. Multiethnicity has long become a normal and basic component of society. So Shackleton, who is something of an exception in dubstep, uses unselfconscious traces of Arabesque folk music in his apocalyptic subbass tracks. His models include the Turkish saz player Erkan Ogur and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan from Pakistan. This traditional music was known in a time when the devotees of world music saw it as their mission to bring original sounds from far-away lands into western concert halls, to preserve them, and to integrate their artists. Music served as a world language through which foreign regions could be discovered.

Since the internet became an embassy, the idea formulated back then of a “planetary consciousness” sparked by the medium of world music has been outstripped–and at the same time has grown exponentially. Essential qualities of analogue culture–brevity, separations, delays–have given way to immediate and permanent accessibility in the net. The interest in the origins has been dissolved in a celebration of a great juxtaposition. Liberated from nationally coded obligations, sound can now unfold as pure materiality, without calling up stereotypes of distance and the foreign. But they have also become more fleeting. The entire music archive of the planet is now available at the click of a mouse, its contents are continually threatened with marginalization. Musicians in the digital world become archaeologists looking for what got lost. In the case of the New York producer Uproot Andy, his name is his program: he makes folkloric styles like Bachata and Cumbia flourish again, combining them with beats suitable for club culture.

With its congotronics series, the label Crammed Discs has also tracked down something that had been hidden. Groups like Konono No. I and Staff Benda Billili from Kinshasa play hypnotic grooves on self-made instruments like the amplified thumb piano Likembé. Even the mainstream has discovered the tropical underground. Beyoncé, for instance, has carried on the liaison between Global Ghetto Tech and US pop since the success of the Tamil-British singer M.I.A. by sampling the unofficial theme song of the movement: “Pon De Floor,” a beat attack with influences from dancehall reggae, Baltimore club, and Kuduro. The track was produced by Major Lazer, the project by Wesley Pentz, who, under the name Diplo, is one of the most well-known representatives of Global Dance Music.

In spring 2011, the first Moombahton compilation was released on Diplo’s label Mad Decent. This most recent development in Worldmusic 2.0 is a post-geographic and post-historic super hybrid, as only the iPod era could produce. Moombahton frees up Cumbia Digital, a readily adaptable genre from the south. A mix of reggaeton and Dutch house: midtempo grooves with heavy kicks, radiating electrostabs, euphoria inducing sound ramps–it can be extended in every direction, be is soul, dubstep, or metal. Quite by chance, Moombahton emerged in Washington DC. DJ Dave Nada brought down the tempo of house tracks when he had to play for reggaeton fans. But the sound really took off on the data highways between the US East Coast and the Netherlands. Nada exchanged remixes with Sabo from New York and the Rotterdam based Munchi, a 22-year-old producer of Dominican origin. In the meantime, Boyfriend from Vilnius, Paris’s Brodinski or Heartbreak from Charlotte, North Carolina were flooding the net with edits of rap, reggae, and techno. Unlike most genres, then, Moombahton reached a global dimension even before the sound had made it big in any particular location.

Another phenomenon that is equally impossible to attribute to any region is the idiosyncratic mix of cyberfunk, dancehall, and Kwaito by Spoek Mathambo from Johannesburg. The duo Schlachthof Bronx from Munich in turn flirts with Bavarian festivity to remix Columbian Cumbia classics and bastardize Caribbean Soca numbers. And the fact that the Baile-Funk-Album, which is currently pointing to a new direction, also comes from Germany is something that would have been inconceivable only a couple of years ago. On “Rambazamba,” Daniel Haaksman from Berlin not only brings the party sounds from the favelas of Rio de Janeiro to Europe, he also combines the Balkans with the Orient and the Caribbean. In doing so, Haaksman has achieved something for the Global Dance Music like what Daft Punk once did for house with their debut album: a valid benchmark of the best dance music of the time–and this time really “Around the World.”

Spoek Mathambo, Radical Riddims 2011