More on Cultural Dilettantism

Here’s a pretty sterling example of a tendency I criticized a few weeks ago:

After the remarkable efforts of Gulag Orkestar and The Flying Club Cup, Zach Condon’s offbeat hybridization of traditional Eastern European motifs and Western indie pop reached a glorious pinnacle. But where take things from there? Rather than resting on his laurels, the 23-year-old Santa Fe native packed his bags, hopped on a plane to the state of Oaxaca, Mexico, and began recording a selection of new material with local 19-piece collective the Jimenez Band. Aided by a translator to help communicate their compositional ideas, Condon and his cohorts worked tirelessly on March of the Zapotec, a slew of songs composed in the small weaver village of Teotitlan del Valle during the spring of 2008.

Now, I enjoy Beirut, having listened to and enjoyed both of their first two albums. I also think our own artistic traditions would be greatly impoverished absent some sort of cultural cross-pollination. But there’s something vaguely unsettling about a Western artist – however talented – air-dropping into some remote Mexican village, hiring a translator, and promptly appropriating the locals’ music for his own purposes. It’s not that collaboration is bad per se – I just feel that this sort of thing should take place on a more or less equal footing. Now that I’m done sounding like a dirty fair trader, here’s an excellent live version of “Scenic World” (via TAS):

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2 Comments

Filed under Culture, Music

2 responses to “More on Cultural Dilettantism

  1. Clint

    I don’t know about all those big words, but the album is just not as good as Gulag Orkestar, The Flying Cup Club, or Lon Gisland. The lyrics remain nostalgically pre-war European, though.
    Considering Condon’s approach to Eastern European/gypsy folk, though, his upbringing in New Mexico perhaps provides a more throrough background in Mexican brass than you give him credit for…
    Interesting contrast: Rage Against the Machine’s appropriation of the struggle of the Zapatistas. More or less exploitative?

  2. I’ll go with Rage Against the Machine, if only because their appropriation of native liberation movements is all the more egregious when contrasted with their lavish celebrity lifestyle.

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