After friday’s absolutely great Dis-Orient X event which went off so well – thanks to ALL concerned… now I’m on the way to Magdeburg to talk about the new Fun-Da-Mental video, so, a few more notes (actually these were nutted out on the way to Stockholm last week – added to the ever growing file)…
A discussion of new work by diasporic world music stalwarts Fun-da-mental and the drum and bass outfit Asian Dub Foundation, relating to insurgency struggles, anti-colonialism and political freedom in the UK. The presentation will argue for an engaged critique of “culture” and assess a certain distance or gap between political expression and the tamed versions of multiculturalism accepted by/acceptable in the British marketplace. Examples from the music industry reception of ‘difficult’ music and creative engagement are evaluated in the context of the global terror wars.
I increasingly find it problematic to write analytically about “diaspora and music” at a time of war. It seems inconsequential; the culture industry is not much more than a distraction; a fairy tale diversion to make us forget a more sinister amnesia behind the stories we tell. This paper nonetheless takes up debates about cultural expression in the field of diasporic musics in Britain. It examines instances of creative engagement with, and destabilisation of, music genres by Fun^da^mental and Asian Dub Foundation, and it takes a broadly culture critique perspective on diasporic creativity as a guide to thinking about the politics of hip-hop in a time of war.
Thinking about pantomime terror deserves a little historical play. The popular christmas and summer holiday entertainment form has roots in vaudville and melodrama and might also be traced back through French mime, Italian Commedia dell’arte, or even to Roman mythology and the flutes of the god Pan. A more detailed history of course would have to contend with the relation of the Pied Piper of Hammelin to J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, with issues of role reversal, double entendre, drag, slapstick, superstitions (left side of the stage for demons, right side for fairy princesses), and theatre ghosts if not more. The trajectory within the pantomime archive that I find most relevant here would start with Scheherezade and the stories of A Thousand And One Nights, the first ‘proper book’ I owned as a child – illustrated with lavish pictures of Sinbad the Sailor, various alluring princesses on flying horses or magic carpets, Alladin and his lamp, and of course Ali Baba and the forty thieves. That Sherezade had to tell devious stories to evade death at the handsof the despotic King Shahrya is only the first of the points at which Edward Said-style critiques of Orientalism would need to be deployed. Wicked and conniving traders outfoxed by fantastically beautiful maidens told as fairy tales to children but barely disguising the violence at the heart of the stories themeselves did certain ideological duty. My problem with Said however has always been that these effects are not just literary and historical, even as a wealth of historical research was released in the wake of Said’s texts. Today however pantomime seems to play an even more sinister role.
The ghost that is ‘behind you’ in today’s panto is the sleeper cell living and working amongst us, travelling on the tube, preparing to wreak havoc and destruction unannounced. Ali Baba is the despot holding the west ransom to the price of a barrel of oil; Sinbad is Osama, with a secret cave to which only he knows the secret opening code words: ‘open sesame’. The fears that are promulgated here are of course childish terrors and stereotype, but the problem with sterotype is their maddening ability to transcend reason and keep on poping back up to scare us. This is not a place for thinking, its theatre. We might consider the repetition of the historical as seen in Marx’s study of Louis Bonepart in the Eighteenth Brumaire: the second time history repeats it returns as high farce. The need for someone to write the brumaire of Blair is pressing. It suggests to me a speculative dream version of sheherezade; who has been detained, rendered and interned in Guantanamo. Kept on her own in a cell except for a daily interrogation when she is brought before her captors who demand a story. She obliges them with the production of a narrative that provokes ever more draconian civil liberties crackdowns and higher and higher terror alert ratings in the metropolises, but the production of this narrative can never set her free and she will never become queen (Blair and Bush are already hitched to each other, and perhaps to history in the same way Nixon was to Watergate and defeat in Vietnam). Although, my dreaming of Sheherezade is only a conceit – yet a thousand and one terrors assail us all.
In the video for DIY Cookbook, pantomime characters make the argument. There are three verses. The first entails a cross-of-St-George-wearing youth constructing a strap-on bomb from a recipe downloaded from the internet. He is dressed as a rabbit and as a lizard in parts of the verse, playing on childlike toys and fears; the second verse references the Muslim scholar and the figure of the armed guerrilla as the character relates a more cynical employment as a mercenary making a ‘dirty bomb’ with fission materials bought on the black market in Chechnya or some such; the third pantomime figure is the respectable scientist discussed in RamParts by Dave, here the scientist in a lab coat morphs into a member of the Klu Klux Klan and then a suited business man, building a neutron bomb that destroys people ‘but leaves the buildings intact’. Pantomime allows Aki to point out the hypocrisy of an Empire with no clothes. The terrors we are offered every night on the news are pantomime terrors as well, a performance melodrama, operatically grandiose. The scale they require – weapons of mass destruction; Saddam’s show trial – is exaggerated in a way that welcomes oblique internalization. These figures are patently absurd, yet all the more effective as incitements.
 James L. Miller 1978 ‘Review of Roman Pantomime: Practice and Politics by Frank W. D. Reis in Dance Research Journal, Vol. 11, No. 1/2 (1978-1979), pp. 52-54
 Marx’s Eigtheenth Brumaire is by far the most eloquent articulation of class and ideological politics available – the classic phrases are well known ‘they cannot represent themselves, they must be represented’, ‘potatoes in a sack’, let the dead bury the dead’ and so on. See the translation by James Martin for Pluto Press 2002.