Tuesday, April 17, 2007

You say we all want the same thing

Do you ever wonder how much what artists do outside of their own music should influence your opinion of their music?

It's not an issue I've really had to face yet--I mean, sure, you could argue that Charlotte Church's attitude on her show means I should like "Moodswings" less, but what she's said is really nothing, in the scheme of things. Most of the artists I listen to aren't known for their politics in either direction (and in the rare cases I do know their beliefs, there's been nothing I significantly disagree with), so I've managed to pretty much avoid this dilemma until now.

I've always tried to keep this blog separate from politics and from news, unless it's music-related, and, to whatever extent I can, I'm going to continue to try to do so. The issue at hand isn't one I imagine anyone reading this blog would be likely to hold close to their hearts, so perhaps that's why I'm about to do the following; more likely, though, is that I need a forum to work this out, and a blog provides that.

The story: I heard a song by a South African boy band. Liked it. Sure, you could call it MOR, compare it to Westlife, but I thought it was quite sweet--there were these little "don't know" backing vocals at the end of the chorus that I keyed in on and enjoyed.

A few days later, I found out about Bok van Blerk. If you just want a quick summary of the controversy surrounding him, Wikipedia is a good place to start, or, for more detail and an official source, you could read the New York Times article about him. In short, Bok is an Afrikaaner singer whose song "De La Rey" has become a flashpoint for the issue of Afrikaaner identity in South Africa. The song itself is about Afrikaaner general Koos de la Rey, a figure from the Boer Wars who fought against the British and is a symbol of Afrikaner nationalism. As I said, I want to keep this blog out of politics as much as possible, but I think the best and quickest way to sum up the reason such Afrikaaner nationalism causes concern is this: Afrikaaners are an ethnic group (or a nation, take your pick), and there are many groups in South Africa--it is, after all, the "rainbow nation"--but, as a result of South Africa's history, does Afrikaaner nationality carry particular connotations or particular dangers that make the assertion of it something more worrisome or problematic than the assertion of, say, Xhosa or Zulu identity? Or are they just a group worried about the erosion of their identity and so with every right to use the symbols and language they identify with, who, because of those historical connotations which are from the past--not now--are having their own right to a group identity threatened, and are consequently being marginalized? Even after that, the song itself has been questioned--is it just historical? A sort of reflection of youthful disenfranchisement and the desire for direction? Or a call for Afrikaaner revolution? What does it mean if you're of African background, or if you're of British background?

At the very least, whether or not one views the song "De La Rey" as acceptable, it has led to some less-than-desirable reactions by some people (extremists, if you want), including people flying the old (pre-end of apartheid) South African flag, and the song has indisputably led to a huge number of debates in South Africa.

What does all this have to do with the South African boy band I mentioned? Well, one of its members co-wrote "De La Rey." With that in mind, and how that in all likelihood reflects that particular member's beliefs and possibly the group's as a whole, does that or should that change my reaction to their music--or rather, the one song of theirs I know...which, it's worth noting, is in English; if I heard more of their music, much of which is in Afrikaans, and understood it, that might change my perceptions, too. Actually having more background about the group itself would certainly do so, as I have no idea what they're like or what reputation they have, though I'm worried now about some of the possible hints I've dug up.

One sweet little MOR ballad now carries all this weight. Can it hold up under that? Should it? I have no idea. To be honest, it's colored my perception of the song, of the group as a whole, and it's without doubt uncomfortable to listen to the song now (the boy band's song; I don't own "De La Rey"). I feel I'm in an especially bad position, though--I've only got small snippets of information, making it impossible for me to really reach an accurate conclusion about what "De La Rey" means and what this group is like. Then again, if even the people of South Africa can't reach a consensus about what "De La Rey" means, how am I, an American operating both on little information and a lack of context, not actually being there, supposed to know what it means and what its implications are? And yet, I feel like I have to--ultimately, it's my decision as to whether or not to listen to it, and at this point, a decision either way means something. What does it mean that I still listen to it, though less often, but do so uncomfortably? Is that hypocrisy? Compartmentalization? Or simply trying to stay in the middle ground and remain ambivalent instead of actually reaching a real conclusion?

The song in question is below; it's off of boy band Eden's self-titled and most recent album, which has sold platinum and won a South African Music Award for best pop album in Afrikaans (though the song I'm posting, as well as several others on the album, are in English).

Running Away

To buy Eden's album Eden, go here (physical). In a move that I'm quite sure is designed to capitalize on whatever press he may be getting, Bok van Blerk's record company has made his album available on the U.S. iTunes (on a lighter note, I'm amused that the album containing such a controversial song also contains songs with names like "Girls in Bikinis," "68 Chevy," and "Vodka en O.J."); however, if you want to see what the debate is about, you can just watch the video on YouTube. It is in Afrikaans, though, but some of the imagery and sound effects are worth noting. Edit: link updated to a version that has English subtitles.

(Random: their previous album, The Point Of No Return, included a cover of Nick Carter's "I Got You.")

(Preemptively, before anyone might ask, I’ve not bought a Carola album—yet.)

Next up: maybe music from Israel.


In South Africa said...

What a nice blog - I whould have liked to know your age. Im a young South African "Afrikaner" and feel the De La Rey song is cool,catchy tune and so on but it stays just a song. Will keep reading it.

Poster Girl said...

Oh, thank you! "De La Rey" is, even at the least, a very well-made song; it perfectly captures that whole "chant along with the crowd" feeling. It's interesting to hear your opinion on it--as I said, I'm not there.

As for age--well, let's just say fairly young, but not wanting to get much older!

In South Africa said...

Hi there. Just to give you some inside info - if you dont know it already.EDEN the boy band you mentioned in your blog was a 4 man band. Sean they member that left co-wrote and produced the song De la Rey with Johan - The guy on the right on the CD cover of Eden. I just thought it intresting that you mentioned EDEN and the "DE la Rey" song.

keep your eyes on my blog

orange anubis said...

It's a very interesting question. I don't think you can ever completely separate someone's music from their politics, not if their politics are outspoken or their songs provoke an idiot mob reaction.

But then, I've been known to dance to songs by people who would cheerfully burn me to death on the spot, if the beats are addictive enough.

My grasp of South African history is pretty much non-existent, but you made me wonder - is it possible to have nostalgia for some of the events or situations of the past, WITHOUT automatically endorsing apartheid by doing so? Thought-provoking.

Poster Girl said...

Oh, I didn't know that the member who'd left was also involved in making the song! I think I'd heard that he was the host of the last season of Idols, though, maybe? I'll check out your blog!

I don't know...I think the song tries to avoid that by going back to pre-technically apartheid time and focusing on antagonism against British soldiers, but I'm not sure. I think the whole ignoring politics thing is a lot easier when they're not even slightly alluded to in the song itself, though even then it can be difficult.

In South Africa said...

Haha thx for the comment. For all i Know you are Angelina JOli or Jennifer Aniston or some famouse person.. in that case age is no big deal... Please do more stuff on S.A find it you view very interesting.