Globalistas Pt. 1
Wayne Marshall

For his article on ‘globalist DJs’ for Brazil’s most influential newspaper, Camilo Rocha interviews ethnomusicologist, blogger and DJ Wayne Marshall

By Camilo Rocha

 
Globalistas: an introduction
'In November of last year, having watched with keen interest the rise of various DJs/producers who, through their travels, research, collaborations, productions, performances and blogging activities have been breaking apart the traditional mould of 'world music' — artists such as Diplo, DJ /rupture and Maga Bo — I proposed a piece on ‘globalist’ DJs to Brazillian broadsheet paper Folha de S. Paulo.

I pitched it to Folha as I felt that the paper’s visibility and influence made it the ideal publication for such article. Folha de S. Paulo is Brazil's most important newspaper today; it gives excellent coverage to art and culture, and politically is more liberal than its counterparts — you could say it’s a little like the Brazilian Guardian.

I conducted lengthy interviews with the abovementioned DJs, plus Wayne Marshall, Ghislain Poirier and DJ Dolores. However, some of the interviewees were, understandably, a little miffed when they found that just a few quotes from their thoughtfully penned answers were used in the final piece. I apologise to the artists for any disappointment, however, many of the questions were asked in order to better my own factual understanding — and when it comes to a leftfield subject like this, space in papers such as Folha is restricted to say the least.

Thankfully Spannered has kindly offered to run the full transcripts from my research, which, I guess, makes up somewhat for the length of the published piece. (Unfortunately the interviews with Ghislain Poirier and DJ Dolores were conducted by phone and are unavailable for publication here.)'

Camilo Rocha, São Paulo, February 2008.
Part 1: Wayne Marshall
 
Responsible for one of the blogosphere’s most insightful musical outposts, Wayne Marshall is, in his own words, ‘an ethnomusicologist by training, an MC/DJ/producer by calling, and a blogger by choice’. Currently based in Cambridge, MA, where he writes and lectures on a wide range of music topics, Wayne has committed his own productions to wax, appearing with close friend/colleague Jake Trussell, aka DJ C, on an EP for Jake’s Mashit label and also on last year’s Sonic Weapons album. Having coined 'global ghettotech' last year in his blog as a term for drawing together new directions in global dance music and current trends for the crosspollination of 'urban sounds', Wayne's interview provides the perfect start point for this series of transcripts. This interview was conducted via email during November 2007.
 
How did you get into music? What's your background?
I've been an avid listener since I was a teenager, but I've only been a musician since I was 18 or so, when some friends gave me a guitar for my birthday. I played in some bands during college (blues, funk, rock), mostly playing bass, and I was also the lead MC for a live hip-hop group. I've been rapping since I was about 13. After college, I started producing music on computers — making beats, mostly sample-based hip-hop — and the laptop has been my primary instrument ever since. My self-taught beat-making pretty much coincided with my study of ethnomusicology (I've got a Ph.D. and wrote my dissertation on the historical relationship between reggae and hip-hop; I lived in Kingston, Jamaica for six months in 2003 conducting field research).
You and DJ /rupture are from the Boston area; have you known each other for a long time?
We both attended the same college and had a lot of mutual friends, and I saw him spin at a few events back in the late 90s, but it's only relatively recently — the last few years — that we've been in close conversation, largely thanks to the blogosphere.
You are a music ethnomusicologist. How did you get into that area? Where did you study? Are you doing any academic work at the moment?
I was inspired to become an ethnomusicologist when I discovered the field my senior year in college (I was an English major). I took a class on music and race in the US with Ron Radano and ended up studying with him in graduate school at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. It was a real epiphany to discover that I could keep music central in my life and approach it from an intellectual/scholarly angle. Currently, I'm teaching at Brandeis University in Boston, offering courses on hip-hop, music and globalisation, and 'digital pop'.
Explain 'global ghettotech' to those who don't know what it is about.
'Global ghettotech' is a phrase I came up with to describe what seems like an emerging aesthetic among certain DJs and bloggers. I've also called it 'nu whirled music' to describe its (antagonistic but derivative) relationship to 'world music' as well as the importance of fusion (mixing 'global' genres such as hip-hop, techno, reggae, etc., often with 'local' styles) in the concept. For me, global ghettotech describes the recent interest in such genres as funk carioca, kuduro, reggaeton, juke, grime, kwaito, etc. — genres identified with the ghettos of the former colonies as well as with the ghettos of today's post-colonial metropoles. I want to stress that I use the term somewhat critically — I don't mean simply to celebrate this kind of engagement. One thing I find really problematic about it, for example, is the flavor-of-the-month approach to engaging with 'other' musics: eg, "kuduro is the new baile funk!" When it becomes a surfacy, fashionable pursuit, it gets more problematic, for me, than when it is about finding new sounds in different places and really getting to know them and the social and cultural contexts that shape them — and in the process, learning about one's own place (and, usually, privilege) in the global order.
How do you see the popularisation of 'global ghettotech'? Why has there been so much exposure and interest for these types of sounds?
I think a lot of it has to do with the advent of technologies that make it possible for people to produce music all over the world (eg, Fruity Loops) and to circulate music rather widely (eg, the internet, blogs, mp3s, p2p). In terms of interest, I think some of it has to do with a certain familiarity (ie, hearing hip-hop and techno with new accents) and some of it has to do with seeking out the exotic (as with 'old' world music).
I can see a lot of people here in Brazil viewing all this as a new kind of exploitation: guys from the first world shopping around ghettos of the globe in search of the new rhythms to feed their DJ sets, getting credit and fame while the original artists are not mentioned or soon forgotten. Is that fair or not to say?
I think that's definitely a fair statement in some cases, but it's important to look at the individual and how he or she engages with the people in the places from which those sounds come. Collaborating with people in Rio or Kingston is a lot different from downloading them. In that respect, there are plenty of elite or middle-class Brazilians who could be just as guilty of this sort of exploitation.
Does 'global ghettotech' sometimes run the risk of being just a trendier guise for the rich world's old taste for the 'exotic' (cultural tourism thrills, as opposed to understanding and identification with the scenes it is exploring)?
Yes, definitely. And not just sometimes - a LOT of the time.
How is the acceptance in America for this kind of musical approach?
I'd say it's still fairly marginal. It's not as if this kind of music — even as projected by M.I.A. or Diplo or Ghislain or /rupture — is mainstream by any stretch. You don't really see it on MTV or hear it on the radio. It's mainly an internet phenomenon and confined to a few clubs nights/parties in big cities like New York, Montreal, Boston, etc. For the weekly that I do in Boston with DJ Flack, 'Beat Research', we play all kinds of genres, often touching on many that might fall under the 'global ghettotech' umbrella, and we've got an open-minded audience that likes that sort of thing, but it's still a pretty small scene, I'd say.
Do you do a lot of travelling for music research? Tell us a couple of interesting stories about your travels.
When I'm lucky enough to find funding, I love to travel to new places and check out their soundscapes and pay attention to what is local and what is global and how people negotiate the two. I've spent a good amount of time in Jamaica, both doing research and collaborating with artists there (and I've written a lot about it on my blogs). Recently, I had the good fortune to spend several days in Rio, which I had been wanting to do for many years. I'm afraid I don't have the time to go into many stories, but I often find that music is a great way to connect with people, especially when we share a love for, say, hip-hop or reggae and thus share a musical language, even if we don't always share a spoken language.
A lot of ghetto music bypasses copyright as it is commonly made on pirated software and samples freely. Meanwhile, illegal downloading is threatening the music industry as we know it. Do you think we are going in an inevitable direction, where music will become free? Will that be a good thing and why? Should music have a price? Do you manage to make any money selling music?
These are very big questions, and it's hard to say. It does seem like we're moving in that direction, but there are many ways to commercialise music — selling recordings is a relatively recent way for musicians (or more commonly, record labels and publishers) to get paid. I think that performance will remain an important way for musicians to earn a living. I'm not sure whether music should have a price. I generally don't believe in monetising or propertising things, music included, but I think I'm in the minority on that one. I'm glad, at any rate, that musicians continue to do what they do without much regard for outmoded copyright structures. Some — perhaps most! — of my favorite music is 'illegal' music. Personally, I don't make very much money selling music, which is perhaps part of the reason why I'm not very invested in music having a price. Most of the money I earn through music is from playing gigs, usually DJing, though I can't say that I make a lot — hence the academic day job.
Do you sometimes feel there should be more political lyrics in global ghetto music (I'm thinking of Rio funk, reggaeton, kuduro and kwaito which are largely sexual and/or party-oriented)? Or maybe feel that these musics could have more of a commitment to change or denounce their situation (if you think they do promote some kind of social change, please explain why)?
Sometimes I might feel that way, but then again, I think that music about sex or pleasure or partying is already political in a certain sense. It depends very much on the social or cultural context, of course. It's no surprise that the themes that dominate a lot of ghetto music have to do more with everyday concerns, or with transcending the stress of everyday life, or with pissing off the middle-class, the government, the power structure. As for promoting change, sometimes one sees that sort of thing, especially in the Rasta-inspired visions of a lot of reggae, but in general, people living in ghettos worldwide haven't seen much change, don't see much hope for change, and probably won't change the focus of their lyrics until there is some real change in the social conditions in which they live. I guess it's something of a chicken and egg question, but it's not for me to tell people what to rap about. Of course, as a DJ it can often be uncomfortable to play songs that are overtly misogynist or which objectify women as sex objects (and little else). Perhaps that's another significant appeal of 'global'/foreign ghettotech: it's easier to listen to booty music when you don't understand all the words.
What new stuff (styles/artists/producers) have you discovered recently that has really impressed you?
I've been really impressed with a lot of the young juke producers coming out of Chicago: DJ Nate and DJ Clent especially. All the dance crazes on YouTube have also been very exciting. And the rise of interest in cumbia, reggaeton, and other music en espanol seems promising too. Part of me really wants to see the US come to terms with its postcolonial, imperial self, and I feel that music can help to express a kind of cultural politics of conviviality that feels more and more needed in our polyglot cities. In general, I just love hearing people making music without much regard for the rules. I love DIY, p2p music and the internet has been making more and more of that available — and, even better, has been making it possible to connect directly to these producers rather than having to deal with all sorts of middlemen.
You said you just came back from Rio. Were you on holiday? Any interesting musical experiences?
I was there for a small meeting of musicians convened by the Future of Music Coalition to discuss, um, the future of music (eg, media consolidation, internet opportunities, copyright issues, etc.). It was an honor and a pleasure to be there, among such company. So, not exactly a holiday, but very fun 'business' for sure. I've been listening to music from Rio for many years — and not just funk, but samba, bossa nova, tropicalia, etc. — and so it was great to finally get a chance to see and hear the city. It felt like a really vibrant place, really 'on'. I was amazed by the number of people partying in Lapa until the wee hours. I also had a wonderful time hanging out in the favela of Vidigal for most of an afternoon and evening. It felt like a warm, welcoming place, and it was great to hear some funk in its social context.
What are your plans for 2008?
Keep on teaching and writing and DJing, and hopefully getting back into more producing. I aways let my interests lead me where they may, though, so we'll see...
 Read Globalistas Pt. 2: DJ /rupture
 Two English translations of Camilo Rocha’s article can be found here.
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