Sunny City, Sunny Music – Thoughts on World Music, Kitsch and the Suspension of Time

Posted on 04 March 2010 by Jelka

Sun City 300x204 Sunny City, Sunny Music    Thoughts on World Music, Kitsch and the Suspension of Time

Sun City is a hotel complex in South Africa that was built in the late 1970s. It’s located in the former homeland Bophuthatswana, surrounded by rainforest – its concrete buildings and entertainment parks resembled a perfect world for those that didn’t want to think about the Apartheid System.

It’s interesting to see how concepts like ‚Sun City’ manage to incorporate kitschy elements of their surrounding without running the risk of an actual encounter. The hotel complex tries to visualise a cliché ‘Africaness’ – the full program with wildlife murals, servants dressed in costumes that are supposed to look like traditional ones and so on. Even today one of it’s ‘Outdoor Facilities’ is called the ‘The Village People Cultural Experience Arts & Crafts Centre’, where you can gaze at ‚different cultures and tribes of Southern Africa, highlighting the day-to-day living in a rural area through song, dance, identifying varieties of traditional dress and sampling the traditional food. Traditional Arts and Crafts made on site and sold in the Curio Shop’ – well, yes…
Paired with the total exclusion of then contemporary South Africa – which meant Apartheid and all it’s socio-political implications, poorness, criminality, segregation – this features created something like a bubble out of time. It’s hard to guess which decade you actually see in the archival material, time stood still in this Pseudo-Africa, frozen in a stylised gesture.

pasion de buena vista 274x300 Sunny City, Sunny Music    Thoughts on World Music, Kitsch and the Suspension of Time
Visual for the show ‘Pasion de Buena Vista’, which is supposed to convince you with pure cuban joy of life

Today Sun City seems to be an architectural emblem for a certain economic way of dealing with culture. The ‘western’ reception and marketing of what is known under the term of ‘World Music’ is doing exactly the same – freezing time by using stereotypical features of the culture it deals with. For example certain instruments and melodies that shall suggest traditional or even religious (tribe) music, the cover-art that is often kitschy as can be and the clothing the musicians wear. This creates a myth in the sense of Roland Barthes, a declaration stripped of its political implications and hiding its own history. It appears to be naturalized and in this regard innocent – like a set of facts ready for consuming.
This has nothing to do with the initial intention of the music – perfect example would be ‘Buena Vista Social Club’. Here kitsch is created through the denying of time. These musicians do exactly the same they did like 50 years ago – playing Son, probably Cuba’s most influential musical style in the first half of the 20th century. It’s the reception and marketing that masks what is going on in contemporary Cuba – in musical culture and in socio-political terms. Like this a sugar-coated nostalgic image of a country is created, ready to satisfy a longing for mythical paradises, innocent and free of the burden of politics. Subsuming totally different music from totally different places under the one term ‘World Music’, like it is done in a certain ‘western’ discourse and in Record Stores as well, is the last straw to break the camels back or in this case to create a diffuse ‘Other’ which is just characterised by being ‘different’, kind of ‘exotic’ and often ‘innocently backward’.

I think one of the biggest challenges for ‘World Music 2.0′, for contemporary musical approaches that deal with hybridized or creolised sounds (especially from a ‘western’ perspective, the position I for myself speak from), name it Tropical Bass, Global Bass, Ghetto Bass or whatever, is to not fall into the traps of Kitsch. It is essential to use various aesthetic markers that indicate this music’s positioning in a ‘Third Space’ of cultural enunciation that functions as an intervention in the structure of meaning and reference. It challenges notions of a homogenous cultural and historical identity that is rooted in a somehow authentic and originary past and kept alive through national traditions (for this compare Homi K. Bhabha ‘The Commitment to Theory’). In this way aesthetics can develop a political power in their potential to reveal the mythmaking, time-suspending tendency of said Kitsch.

I feel like it’s important to use markers of time, of contemporariness – to work with what’s actually going on in the global Club Scene and Urban Music and not with stereotyped drum patterns or the like that are supposed to mark ‘authenticity’. In the end what is often understood as authenticity reveals itself as exoticism, coming from an ethnocentric perspective that still thinks in dualities of ‘us’ and ‘the other’. Popular culture continuously produces, assembles and restages symbols, stereotypes and images. It’s important to analyse and understand those processes of cultural circulation, to recognize similarities caused by comparable social and political circumstances.
Today everything political and everything aesthetical is as much part of a local as a global context. Everything has a history and a contemporary – just be aware of it.

  • http://faluma.com Julia

    not long ago “exotic” people were shown in zoos, today I sometimes have the feeling they are shown on music stages just in the same way.. it is so important to differenciate and to be aware, just like you wrote! thanks for that great article, Jelka!

  • http://faluma.com Julia

    not long ago “exotic” people were shown in zoos, today I sometimes have the feeling they are shown on music stages just in the same way.. it is so important to differenciate and to be aware, just like you wrote! thanks for that great article, Jelka!

  • http://www.reggaeton-music.org reggaeton music

    I am french and as much as my english goes your blog is pretty interesting and well written.

  • http://www.reggaeton-music.org reggaeton music

    I am french and as much as my english goes your blog is pretty interesting and well written.

  • http://myspace.com/zhaoism zhao

    i met one of you randomly in Berlin last week. and i’m having a birthday party at the spot where we met this coming Saturday: http://differentwaters.blogspot.com/2010/03/party-next-saturday.html

    good food and i’ll be dropping hits from World Music 1.0 and 1.5

    dj zhao

    :D

  • http://myspace.com/zhaoism zhao

    i met one of you randomly in Berlin last week. and i’m having a birthday party at the spot where we met this coming Saturday: http://differentwaters.blogspot.com/2010/03/party-next-saturday.html

    good food and i’ll be dropping hits from World Music 1.0 and 1.5

    dj zhao

    :D