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February 03 2014

Is Japan Alone? Survey on Dance Regulations and Clubbing

Fresh off writing a series of posts on dance club regulations in Japan for Tokyo's city life magazine Time Out, James Hadfield is taking a survey on clubbers around the world:

In light of the ongoing controversy regarding clubbing in Japan, where clubs continue to be shut down and harassed by the police for the ‘crime’ of dancing, Time Out Tokyo is looking to get to the bottom of the problem. We'd like you to tell us a few things about the clubbing environment in your country, city, or area, wherever in the world that may be. 

January 31 2014

PHOTOS: Humans of Ukraine's #Euromaidan Protests

Protesters help the driver by pushing his car up the street. Photo by Olha Harbovska, used with permission.

Protesters help a driver by pushing his car up the street. Photo by Olha Harbovska. Used with permission.

This post is part of our Special Coverage Ukraine's #Euromaidan Protests.

The short-lived adoption of laws limiting peaceful protests in Ukraine has sparked violent clashes between police and anti-government protesters on and off since January 19, 2014. The dramatic photos of the tense confrontations, sometimes shrouded in black smoke billowing from nearby burning vehicles, have circulated and stunned worldwide. 

The photos that seldom get play in mainstream media, however, are those of the human side of the long and harsh Euromaiden protests, as they are known, seen in images published on social media and photo stream accounts by protesters and journalists on the ground. 

These photos document how protesters have assisted one another to function as normally as possible, while attempting to topple a government they find to be corrupt and failing. Aside from keeping each other safe and warm, protesters often help those passing by to make it through the crowds and below-zero Ukrainian winter weather. Volunteers also provide free medical help to both sides of the protests.

A member of volunteer medical aid briggades. Kyiv. Photo by the creator of Facebook page 'Maidaners'. Used with permission.

A member of volunteer medical aid brigades in Kyiv. Photo by the creator of Facebook page “Maidaners”. Used with permission.

An elderly woman pouring hot tea to protesters. Photo by Olha Harbovska, used with permission.

An elderly woman pouring hot tea for protesters. Photo by Olha Harbovska. Used with permission.

People have set up improvised kitchens and tea stations in Kyiv and other cities to keep fellow keep protesters fed and warm. Volunteers also clean snow and remove garbage from the protest sites.

A man giving out sandwiches to protesters. Photo by Hanna Hrabarska, used with permission.

A man giving out sandwiches to protesters. Photo by Hanna Hrabarska. Used with permission.

Another tea station to keep protesters warm. Photo by Clashdot user Volye101, used with permission.

Another tea station to keep protesters warm. Photo by Clashdot user Volye101. Used with permission.

A woman volunteering to clean protest grounds in Kyiv. Photo by a creator of a Facebook page 'Maidaners'. Used with permission.

A woman volunteering to clean protest grounds in Kyiv. Photo by the creator of Facebook page “Maidaners”. Used with permission.

A man minds several caldrons of food being prepared for protesters, making sure the meal doesn't burn. Photo by Clashdot user Volye101, used with permission.

A man minds several cauldrons of food being prepared for protesters, making sure the meal doesn't burn. Photo by Clashdot user Volye101. Used with permission.

Amazingly, and as more proof that humans are social and creative creatures under any circumstances, entertainment and music in particular have been a huge part of keeping up morale during Euromaidan rallies. Sean Lennon, the son of legendary musician John Lennon, was moved when he saw how a live rendition of his father's famed song “Imagine” had been used during Euromaidan to send a message of peaceful retaliation against the establishment in Ukraine, calling it “awesome” on his Facebook. Live music remains a regular fixture at Euromaidan rallies throughout the country, an example of which is shown below:

A man playing violin to the protester in the center of Kyiv. Photo by Olha Harbovska, used with permission.

A man playing the violin to a protester in a Kyiv underground passage. Photo by Olha Harbovska. Used with permission.

There has also been a lot of visual creativity, with protesters creating posters, painting helmets, tents, etc.

A woman painting a tent at the main protest grounds in Kyiv. Photo by a creator of Facebook page 'Maidaners'. Used with permission.

A woman painting a tent at the main protest grounds in Kyiv. Photo by the creator of Facebook page “Maidaners”. Used with permission.

Despite clashes with police and coordinated police crackdowns on the protests, with six civilian deaths so far and thousands injured, the protesters often talk and interact with police agents during the protests, sometimes finding a common language and common ground. Below is a photo of a Ukrainian police officer on duty during the protests, who seems happy to have reached an agreement with the protesters to keep the peace and not use force:

A smiling policeman. He just promised not to use force against protesters. Photo by Hanna Hrabarska, used with permission.

A smiling policeman. He just promised not to use force against protesters. Photo by Hanna Hrabarska. Used with permission.

A volunteer defender of protest grounds in Kyiv. Has initiated the creation of human chanin between the protesters and the police to prevent provokations and violence. Photo by the creator of Facebook page 'Maidaners'. Used with permission.

A volunteer defender of protest grounds in Kyiv who initiated the creation of human chain between the protesters and the police to prevent provocations and violence. Photo by the creator of Facebook page “Maidaners”. Used with permission.

This post is part of our Special Coverage Ukraine's #Euromaidan Protests.

Images for this post were sourced by Global Voices authors Tetyana Bohdanova and Tetyana Lokot.
Reposted bydarksideofthemoon darksideofthemoon

China's Propaganda-Heavy New Year's Gala Fails to Impress Viewers

It annoys more than it entertains. That seems to be the message people are expressing via social media after this year's broadcast of state-owned China Central Television's Spring Festival Gala celebrating Chinese New Year.

Known in Mandarin as Chunwan, the variety show regularly draws tens of millions of viewers every year and has become an essential part of celebrations for the New Year since its start three decades ago. The South China Morning Post reported that 750 million Chinese watched the gala last year, more than six times the viewership of the Super Bowl in America.

But its popularity has dwindled in recent years. This year's nearly five-hour long event on January 30, 2014, consisting of stand-up comedy, dancing, singing, magic and other performances, drove home the themes of the Chinese Dream - an idea promoting hard work and collective effort for the prosperity of China - and nostalgia for the country's red past. 

The show was never short on rosy language. For example, a song titled “I am not too demanding” performed by a popular comedian presented a comfortable middle-class life as representing the Chinese Dream:

The lyrics go:

I have an 80 square-meter house and a gentle wife. Our kid already finished college and secured a great job right after graduation. I commute between my workplace and home quite smoothly, rush hour is non-existent. I exercise outdoors and see the blue sky every day.

Pensions and health care are not problems because they will be covered by the government. This is my Chinese Dream, it’s small and simple. I am not striving to become a dragon or a phoenix. Instead, I want to be immersed in happiness. It’s easily attainable by standing on your tiptoes.

The backdrop behind the performance displayed the vast landscape of China, complete with newly built rural houses and some showcase infrastructure projects – all packaged to represent the Chinese Dream, a phrase coined by President Xi Jinping which is frequently evoked in media discourse and official speeches.

In addition to the theme of the China Dream, a session was devoted to the Chinese Communist Party's revolution history. The ballet performance of the Red Detachment of Women, a Chinese ballet set in the 1930s, made its debut during the show at a time when the legacy of red culture remains a contentious issue in China. The storyline follows peasant-turned female soldiers’ devotion to communism:

The political underpinnings are subtle but pervasive, in the words of the hosts, and reflected in the choreography. These messages lacing the performances are ordered from above – in an earlier visit to CCTV, Minister the Central Propaganda Department Liu Qibao urged that the gala should “spread positive energy” and promote “the rhythm of our era – the Chinese Dream”.

However, the gala is losing its magic spell on ordinary people. According to a recent survey, nearly 60 percent of the viewers were extremely disappointed in the program this year, particularly with the reduced number of stand-up comedy routines, which usually mock social happenings. The news of Cui Jian, godfather of rock music in China, pulling out of the show caused the gala's reputation to take a hit. He reportedly quit after refusing to comply with censorship requirements for his songs. 

The comments trickled in as the gala was underway, and the topic has remained trending as of the morning of January 31. Microbloggers in China have been largely critical of this year's show. Editor-in-Chief for the Financial Times Chinese Zhang Lifeng exclaimed:


Chunwan, what has happened to you???

Some took notice of the “red” performance. A Beijing-based media professional under the Weibo name Zhangwen de Wenzhang wrote:


Chunwan has been dominated by the Red Detachment of Women.

Xiong Peiyun, an outspoken commentator, found the program full of conflicting values:


Enslavement and freedom, uglyness and beauty, violence and softness, all displayed on the same stage. If I subscribed to a collective Chinese Dream, it would be a dream that is detached from the “Red Detachment of Women”, a dream that would lead to a “rosy life”.

Writer Beicui criticised the propaganda nature of the gala:


Chunwan phenomena: Why is it difficult to direct Chunwan? As if it's some chronic disease? What is the root cause? The answer is found in the fact that it uses the show to promote ideology, whoever directs the show has to implement the theme, it's like making plain water into good wine; 2 Why do [people] lash out at Chunwan every year while continuing to watch it? It's for the same reason of ideology promotion, the hotly debated part is the ideology itself rather than the art; 3 The phenomena will last as long as the “grand glow” [referring to directives from state leaders]. 

On Twitter, Chunwan has also generated a buzz. Jeremiah Jenne, a PhD candidate at Beijing Foreign Studies University, wrote:

Elaine wasn't entertained, she lamented:

Human rights researcher Joshua Rosenzweig seemed to poke fun at Chunwan:

This wasn't the first year that the show's declining popularity was a topic of discussion. Writing in a Chinese newspaper in 2007, Ren Yi, a former visiting scholar of Harvard University, commented:

The Spring Festival Gala still needs to accomplish its political mission and disseminate political information. But its current format still uses the old political propaganda methods which will lose more and more of the younger audiences. Young people want to watch truly interesting entertainment programs, not to attend a class in political theories. In my opinion, that type of politicized style is in serious conflict with the market and commercial needs.

Don't Stop the Party: Copyright Issues Threaten Trinidad Carnival Fete

The Carnival season is in full swing in Trinidad and Tobago – and for many, that signals constant partying or “feteing” – right up until the pre-lenten parade of bands is over and Ash Wednesday arrives.

One of the most anticipated fetes for the season is Soaka Till Sunrise which has been scheduled for this coming Sunday, February 2. Since January 14, the organizers of the fete, Wow Events, have been saying that the party was already sold out. Soaka was catapulted into popularity last year, when soca artiste Machel Montano filmed the video for his hit song “The Fog” at the party.

This has seemingly led to the increased demand for tickets to this year's event.

Fete-goers took to social media early, commenting jokingly on the demand for tickets:

Amidst the ticket frenzy, news broke yesterday that the Copyright Music Organization of Trinidad and Tobago (“COTT”) was threatening to shut down the fete, due to a dispute over a copyright license:

An excerpt of the pre-action protocol letter sent by COTT's attorneys was leaked to the media and posted on Twitter.

 This news sent potential party-goers into a panic, with many of them going online to vent:

One of the fete's organizers, Adrian Scoon, quickly responded to the news on his Facebook page:

Arite. So there are two copyright organizations in this country. COTT and TTCO. For many years COTT has had a monopoly on the market and has taken advantage of the promoter. Any promoter will tell you that when you go to COTT they charge you copyright fees based on ticket sales which is ludicrous and unlawful. 

This year we decided to go with TTCO and we have secured a copyright license for our event. We were actually recommended to them by other credible promoters. 

On hearing this COTT contacted us and threatened to shut down our event as they realized that yet another promoter has defected to their competitors. 

1. COTT is a private company and has no affiliation with the government. Therefore they cannot shut down any event. 

2. TTCO is an authorized copyright organization under the laws of Trinidad and Tobago. 

3. We have a copyright license 

4. We are going to sue COTT for wasting our time with this shit. 

5. I'm at the venue right now and SOAKA is gonna be off the chain.

The central issue in this matter is the recognition of competing copyright collection agencies in Trinidad and Tobago. The Trinidad and Tobago Copyright Collection Organization (TTCO) maintains on its Facebook page that it is a legitimate entity, and enjoys the same rights as COTT to offer licenses:

A Brief background on Trinidad and Tobago Copyright Collection Organization (TTCO):

  1. TTCO is a Non Profit Organization 
  2. TTCO is a Copyright Licensing Body Protects the unique area of copyright Works of Mas, Live Performances under Neighboring rights and Author Composer
  3. TTCO protects the rights of artistes and mas bands by licensing and paying royalties for their copyrighted works.

The debate generated discussion on the popular Trinidad Carnival Diary Facebook page. One commenter, Jenny Lin, noted:

COTT takes advantage of many small businesses as well for having a simple cd playing on computer speakers. They claim it goes back to the artistes. Yeah right. They charge us like 3xx a year

Whether COTT initiates an action in the Supreme Court of Trinidad & Tobago remains to be seen. The penalty for offences relating to unlawful public performances of any copyrighted work or sound recording is TT$250,000.00 (about $40,000 US) or 10 years imprisonment. Aggrieved parties may also be entitled to civil remedies, separate and apart form the penalties for the offense of infringement. 

January 30 2014

Circumstances Surrounding Aspiring Trinidadian Rapper's Death Still Murky

On January 27th at approximately 3:20 a.m., nineteen-year-old Trinidadian Titan Lee-Hai fell fifteen floors to his death from his dormitory building in New York's East Village. Lee-Hai was a former student of St. Mary's College in Port of Spain and was a freshman at New York University. He was also an aspiring rapper who went by the name “Trizzykidd”. According to police reports, Lee-Hai may have been under the influence of hallucinogenic mushrooms before the incident; investigations are continuing.


Titan Lee-Hai had a very active social media presence (although, since his death, his Facebook fan page has been taken down) and there was a great outpouring of grief upon news of his passing, even from those who did not know him or his family personally. An R.I.P. Titan Lee-Hai Facebook page was created, and it was there that many offered their online condolences:

Paul Thomas wrote:

All the love I can muster to his parents and family. So sorry, so very sorry. Nothing we can do or say will bring him back. Please know that you are not alone in your heartache and pain. May God provide you peace over time.

Wendy Cadogan Charles  added:

It is so sad to see someone with such great aspiration to greatness loses their life, Titan Lee-Hai I do not know you but I am also from Trinidad but live in the UK, your untimely passing has sadden (sic) me…God do not make mistakes, he has better plans for your gifted talents…Fly high and may your soul R.I.P.

The National Institute of Higher Education, Research, Science and Technology in Trinidad & Tobago tweeted its condolences; Lee-Hai had participated in one of its competitions:

Others also expressed their grief via Twitter:

One of Lee-Hai's former classmates from St. Mary's College reminisced on their time together:

A few Twitter users spoke to the questions surrounding the circumstances of Lee-Hai's death:

January 28 2014

Calypso, Race & Political Allegiance in Trinidad & Tobago

The 2014 Carnival season in Trinidad and Tobago is heating up in more ways than one. The song “False Papers” by the calypsonian “Bodyguard” has been banned from the Kalypso Revue calypso tent by leader and veteran calypsonian Michael “Sugar Aloes” Osuana.

“Aloes” justified his move by explaining that he considered the lyrics to be offensive to Indians. Bodyguard, whose real name is Roger Mohammed, has countered that he was merely responding to a statement by head of the Maha Sabha, Satnarayan “Sat” Maharaj, that while “Africans were beating pans, Indians were beating books.”

Ironically, “Sugar Aloes” has, in the past, been a vocal supporter of the Peoples National Movement (PNM), one of the two major political parties in the country and traditionally voted for by Afro-Trinidadians; he publicly switched his allegiance to the People's Partnership in 2012 by appearing on a platform to serenade the Prime Minister, who heads the predominantly Indian-supported United National Congress (UNC), the main party in the coalition government. As a result, it has been suggested that his shift in political support is responsible for his decision to ban the calypso. Indeed, many have even pointed out that “Sugar Aloes” made a career out of singing acerbic, controversial songs – and that “False Papers” fell well within the tradition of social and political commentary in the calypso genre.

The first verse of “False Papers”, a song no doubt inspired by the increase in instances like this, goes:

It easy to say Sat will be Sat
And try to ignore people like dat
But Sat Maharaj controls a large group in society
So when he makes a definitive declaration
It carries a lot of clout
We feel he know what he talkin bout
But time has a way
Of recycling the tings we say
And holding them up against logic and reason
So when Sat say ‘Indian children beating book
While black children beating pan’
No cousin! Is better yuh didn’t say nuttin

The chorus follows:

‘Cause recently, one setta Indian people get caught
Wid false papers, false papers
I’m yet to see, one single African in the lot
And not one of them fraudsters ever face a court
So yuh theory have more holes than a water can
Like is better some ah dem Indian did beat a pan
When yuh feel dey was beating more book than the African
Dey was fabricating degrees, defrauding the land

Acclaimed calypsonian David Rudder had some fun with the situation:

There is a rumor coming through the African Fed Ex pipeline that claims that Sugar Aloes has declined the services of a Bodyguard. Hahahah! Is that true?
Ah mean,lol! I just had two.

Rudder continued with a parody of one of Sugar Aloes’ most famous songs:

I'M JUST BEING ME. (By Later Or Sooner)

I don't look like PNM, for your information
PNM doh look like me
So when come to survival,
I'm just being me

And I didn't get from PNM, for your information
Deh eh getting from me
So when come to survival, don't have no objection
I'm a UNC.

Kareen Stuart suggested that the song could inflame racial tensions:

This song, while the lyrics in it may point to truthful stories (fabrication of certificates), it can also lead to increased racial tension in Trinidad. If people are going to be concentrating on the lyrics of a song on its prejudiced approach as opposed to the melody, arrangement etc., the real message of the song will definitely be lost in a hoopla of controversy that will make…race…an even bigger issue

Wendy Howell felt that if calypsonians were to start pulling punches, it would damage the relevance of the art form:

By people not singing in calypso, what is actually occurring in the country would be to go against what calypso was created to convey. It highlights and pinpoints all that the citizens are experiencing and has (sic) to deal with daily. It gives them a voice that they would normally not have. To sing about only light stuff and not address the real issues that is (sic) eating away at the hearts of the ppl would be a terrible injustice to the artform that is our calypso.

Others, like Marla Dial Walker, condemned the song outright:

I do support culture; pan etc., but not Racisms’ (sic). And for those of you who commented on some of the songs that Sugar Aloes sang it’s all in the past. In this day and age we have no place for such behaviour. There is so much going on in Trinidad at this current time, why could he [Bodyguard] not sing a song about all the Killings, Rapes, and Druggies?

Bryan Dickson maintained that calypsos were meant to be provocative:

I thought the tent is where you go to hear the controversial, the smutty, political rhetoric, the hard facts. It is not where we look for the politically correct…we have enough censorship on the radio and elsewhere. Toughen up people!

Twitter was also rife with discussion:

@NotoriousDRE_H quipped, tongue firmly in cheek:

Stacy Raphael defended the freedom of the art form:

Finally, referring to one of the biggest calypso competitions in the country, which traditionally takes place in South Trinidad at the open air venue of Skinner's Park, and where the discerning and often tough audience often throws toilet paper at performers who don't meet their high standards, Jeffrey James pleaded:

January 26 2014

‘AFTER 25 Conference': Tokyo and Berlin Discuss Creative Culture

As Berlin and Tokyo mark 20 years of friendship as sister cities, representatives of two creative industries, including Chairman of the Club Commission of Berlin Marc Wohlrabe and Takahiro Saito, a lawyer and member of Let's Dance, a consortium that fights against Japan's dance regulations, will come together for the AFTER 25 conference on March 1, 2014 in Tokyo to discuss how creative culture can contribute to the socio-economic development of both cities: 

After the fall of the Berlin wall, extreme social, cultural and economic changes transformed the city into a unique playground. Today, 25 years later, it attracts creatives, tech startups, social entrepreneurs, and investors from all over the world.

Berlin recognized its creative sub-cultures as part of its identity and history, which now act as key drivers for tourism and economy. This transformed Berlin into a unique, successful city demonstrating how supporting creativity can grow into key economic and social factors fueling innovation and growth.

This dramatic yet positive change that Berlin went through leads us to the question: what role can Tokyo’s creative cultures play in laying the foundations for the city’s next phase? How can we paint a brighter future by aligning the creative potential of these two cities?

January 25 2014

Bloggers from Angola and Mozambique Release Hip-Hop Mix Tape

[The full version of this interview was originally published on 9 January 2014 on the contemporary African cultures website Buala.]

“Submundo Luso vs 12transfusons” is a new mix tape that features rappers from Angola, Mozambique, Brazil and Portugal. Released on New Year’s Eve after five months of preparation, the project brought together hip-hop promoters from the blogs Submundo Luso [pt] in Mozambique and 12transfusons [pt] in Angola. The two met online and the former invited the latter to collaborate.

In this interview for the blog Underground Lusófono [pt], Astérix o Néfilim (Astérix the Giant, in English), a rapper, producer and manager at 12transfusons, talks about the effort, which counted the participation of artists from all over the globe and is now available as a free download. He also shares his views on the artistic scene in Cabinda – a tiny province in the north of Angola – and the challenges caused by such isolation.

Underground Lusófono (UL): How did you get this project up and running?

A Mixtape Submundo Luso vs 12transfusons está disponível para Download Gratuito nos blogues Submundo Luso e 12transfusons.

The Submundo Luso vs 12transfusons Mixtape is available for Free Downloadon on the blogs Submundo Luso and 12transfusons.

Astérix o Néfilim (AN): Passou por selecionarmos os artistas de acordo os objectivos. Neste projecto procuramos trazer as raízes de hip-hop e procuramos fazer algo um pouco fora do normal, é como um “back in the days”. Normalmente os promotores trabalham com artistas de renome e nós procuramos juntar um pouco de tudo, desde a velha à nova escola, e tentamos dar primazia também ao rap feminino, artistas no anonimato e os que já estão na ribalta do hip-hop lusófono.

Astérix o Néfilim (AN): It came about by choosing artists that suited our aims. We wanted to bring back the roots of hip-hop and to do something a little bit different, a bit “old school”. Normally promoters work with renowned artists, but we wanted to bring together a little bit of everything, from the old school to the new. We also tried to give priority to female rappers and unknown artists, alongside those who have already made a name for themselves in Portuguese-language rap.

UL: How did you choose the artists?

AN: Mediante sugestão de todo elenco da 12transfusons e Submundo Luso. Trabalhamos juntos nisso, tínhamos uma lista de artistas, contactámo-los directamente embora não tenhamos propriamente todos os artistas que pretendíamos.

AN: That came after hearing the suggestions of everyone involved at 12transfusons and Submundo Luso. We worked together on this, we had a list of artists, we contacted them directly, although we didn’t get all of the artists we wanted.

UL: What level of interest was there from artists in the prospect of working with you?

AN: Em 2011 lançámos a Mixtape 12transfusons Ed. 2011 com o mesmo propósito, e já tínhamos trabalhado com alguns, é o caso do AKAM-M, MAC D –O- MURMURYO e o ALKAPPA (que foi convidado também a participar mas não pôde).

Devo dizer que não tem sido nada fácil trabalhar com mc's, é uma luta constante. Há quem ignore simplesmente porque não acredita no nosso trabalho, há quem ainda subestime e pense que não cairia bem na sua imagem, outros aceitam participar teoricamente mas, no fim, acabam desistindo. Há ainda aqueles que fazem jus à definição de RAF-TAG “Hip-hopcritas” porque nas letras dizem ser verdadeiros, juram humildade, lealdade, que fazem o rap por amor à cultura e que dão tudo pelo rap (estes são os mais arrogantes) mas não aceitam.

Nós somos produtoras independentes, tudo que temos feito até hoje é fruto dos nossos bolsos, sem apoio nenhum. Apesar de tudo devo reconhecer o esforço, o tempo, dedicação, disponibilidade e empenho de alguns artistas, em especial Khris Mc, IKONOKLASTA, AKAM-47 da Poltersonnik, REDGOVEM, KARDINAL MC, Mona Dya Kidi e muito mais, ao pessoal da 12transfusons com destaque para Absinto e Tecla 6/4, ao pessoal de Moçambique, Brasil e Portugal.

AN: In 2011, we released “Mixtape 12transfusons Ed. 2011″ with the same aim, and we had already worked with a few of the artists. This was the case with AKAM-M, MAC D O MURMURYO and ALKAPPA (who was invited to take part but couldn’t).

I’ve got to say that it hasn’t been easy working with MCs, and it’s a constant battle. There are ones that took no notice because they didn’t believe in our work. There are ones that underestimated us and thought what we were doing wouldn’t go mesh well with their image. Others agreed to take part but ended up dropping out. Then there ones that prove RAF-TAG’s “Hip-hopcrites” idea right – the ones that say in their lyrics they are keeping it real, and swear that they are loyal, that they make rap music out of love for the culture and that they do everything for rap (these are the most arrogant ones), but they don’t want to take part.

We are independent producers. Everything that we’ve done up till now we’ve paid for without any help. Despite that, I want to make a shout-out for the effort, time, dedication and hard work of some artists like Khris Mc, IKONOKLASTA, AKAM-47 from Poltersonnik, REDGOVEM, KARDINAL MC Mona Dya Kidi and many other. Also to the staff at 12transfusons with a special shout-out to Absinto and Tecla 6/4 and everyone in Mozambique, Brazil and Portugal.

A mixtape Submundo Luso vs 12transfusons foi lançada em primeira mão nos blogues e, e demais blogues de hip-hop. O projecto não dispõe de qualquer fim lucrativo e é totalmente GRATUITO.

The Submundo Luso vs 12transfusons mixtape was launched on,, and other hip-hop blogs. The album is not-for-profit and available completely free of charge.

UL: What has the public reaction been like?

AN: Olha, o feedback está sendo melhor do que eu pessoalmente esperava, todos os dias recebo elogios, palavras de encorajamento e felicitações pelo trabalho bem feito. E este é sem dúvida o nosso maior reembolso pela inteira dedicação neste trabalho.

AN: Listen, the response we’ve had has been better than I was personally hoping for. Every day I get compliments, words of encouragement, and congratulations on a job well done. And this, without doubt, is the greatest reward for all our dedication.

UL: How long has 12transfusons been on the market?

AN: A 12transfusons é uma produtora independente que actua no mercado de Cabinda desde 2010, tem vindo a colocar no mercado diversas obras discográficas, realizado diversos shows e demais actividades em prol do hip-hop. É composto por: Astérix o Néfilim (C.E.O), Tecla 6/4(produtor), Sacerdote, Rezo-Luto, 02K63, Absinto (designer) e Akônituz e Vars (Produtor) sendo que estes últimos representam os interesses da produtora na capital. O Absinto e Akônituz formam o grupo Artigo 9.0, e todos juntos representamos o colectivo denominado LETAL.

AN: 12transfusons is an independent production company and has been around in Cabinda since 2010. It has put out various albums, put on various shows and other activities to do with hip-hop. In the group are Astérix the Giant (CEO), Tecla 6/4 (producer), Sacerdote, Rezo-Luto, 02K63, Absinto (designer) and Akônituz e Vars (producer). These last guys are the ones that represent production in the capital. Absinto and Akônituz were part of the group Artigo 9.0 and together we are the collective LETAL.

UL: How do you view music – in particular rap music – in Cabinda?

AN: Seria falso se dissesse que estamos bem porque estamos mesmo mal, ainda há muito a fazer para que o pessoal aceite de bom grado a nossa cultura e tente desviar as atenções para o nosso lado.

Em Cabinda não é só o rap que está em péssimas condições, reflecte-se em todos os estilos musicais, desde o kuduro, kizomba, semba, kintueni e mayeye. Na verdade há pouca divulgação da música feita em Cabinda, temos uma secretaria provincial da cultura fictícia e comunicação social inexistente. Nada justifica que, numa província com artistas de talento, saiam dois álbuns num ano e que as poucas rádios que temos se recusem a apoiar iniciativas como as nossas e demais personalidades interessadas.

Voltando para o rap, este é o menos solicitado nas atividades e comícios governamentais mas é o que mais dá voz em termos de presença musical graças ao esforço de todos os companheiros de luta como: Cabmusic, hip-hop de gavetas, agora a Miller Team e não só. A cada dia que passa surgem novas propostas, novos mc´s e produtoras interessados em dar mais vida ao movimento. Fico feliz com isto.

AN: I would be lying if I said that things are good because they really aren’t and there is still a lot of work to do so that people accept our culture and pay it more attention.

In Cabinda, it’s not only rap that’s finding it tough. The situation is reflected in all musical styles, everything from kuduro, kizomba and samba to kintueni and mayeye. The truth is that the music being made in Cambinda doesn’t get promoted. We have a completely non-existent culture secretary with next to no social communication. Nothing justifies the fact that in a province with so many talented artists only two albums a year get released and there are only a few radio stations that support projects like ours.

Returning to rap, this is the least requested for governmental events and rallies, even though it is what represents people the most. This is thanks to the efforts of all of the comrades in arms such as Cabmusic and Miller Team, among others. Each day that goes by there are new ideas coming up, new MCs and producers interested in giving the movement more life. This makes me very happy.

UL: In your opinion, what needs to be done to change the situation in Cabinda?

AN: Em primeiro lugar valorizando a nossa música. É preciso acostumar as pessoas a ouvirem as nossas músicas, o povo de Cabinda é conhecido como “fidalgo” que não gosta de comparecer nos shows, nem comprar CDs. Nós temos de incentiva-los a irem aos nossos concertos, a comprarem os nossos CDs e não devemos actuar isoladamente.

A Secretaria Provincial da Cultura também deve desempenhar este papel com a comunicação social, neste caso as rádios e TVs (embora Cabinda não tenha nenhuma estação televisiva pública nem privada) de modo a tentar reverter esse quadro, talvez criar programas que ajudassem a promover a música local, apoio aos músicos, deixar de convidar os músicos apenas em campanhas partidárias e actividades governamentais, e que o caché dos músicos locais seja igual ao dos músicos que vêm de Luanda ou de outro ponto do mundo, para que estes se sintam valorizados. Um canal televisivo local ajudaria na promoção da imagem dos artistas no seio do enclave e não só. Na verdade Cabinda carece de rádios e televisões privadas que diversifiquem a rotina das informações. Enquanto isso não acontece continuamos aqui. conhecemos a luta e seguiremos firmes e fortes.

AN: Firstly, valuing our music. It’s important to get people used to hearing our music. The people of Cabinda are known as “prudes” and for not going to shows or buying albums. We have to encourage them to go to our concerts and to buy our CDs. But we can’t act alone.

The culture secretary for this province needs to play this role through social communication, in this case radio stations and TV channels – even though Cabinda doesn’t have any television stations, neither public nor private – in an attempt to reverse the situation. Perhaps create programs that help promote local music, support for musicians, stop inviting musicians only for political campaigns and governmental events. The fee for local musicians should be the same as for musicians that come from Luanda or from any other part of the world so that they feel valued. A local television station would help promote the image of local artists. The truth is, Cabinda lacks private radio and television stations that can mix things up and break the routine of local news. While this isn’t happening, we will continue here. We know what our battle is and we will continue to stand firm.

UL: What projects are on the cards for this year?

AN: 12transfusons não pára, tenho uma equipe fantástica que gosta de trabalhar e está sempre disposta a sujar as mãos. Depois desta mixtape lançaremos o Ruaportagem do grupo Artigo 9.0, um Ep que temos vindo a trabalhar e que só esse ano finalmente vamos poder metê-lo nas ruas, esperamos que seja bem recebido porque estamos a depositar aqui as nossas energias.

AN: 12transfusons doesn’t stop. I have a fantastic team that loves working and is always willing to get its hands dirty. After this mixtape we’re going to launch Ruaportagem [a play on the words "street" and "report"] from the group Artigo 9.0, which is an EP that we have been working on and only this year finally able to get it out on the streets. We hope people are going to like it because we’re putting a lot of energy into it.

UL: What is “Ruaportagem”?

AN: É uma abordagem das ruas, os problemas da população, o modo de vida dos cidadãos, as diferentes maneiras de encarar e sobreviver, os sacrifícios do dia-dia, é um olho das câmara nas ruas de Luanda, e toda a sociedade envolvente.

AN: It’s a way of looking at how thing are on the street, the problems people have, the different ways of surviving, and the daily sacrifices people make.

January 24 2014

‘Steamed Buns Store’ Song in Ode to Chinese President Xi Jinping

A song praising Chinese president Xi Jinping’s everyman behavior has been composed in ode to his appearance at a small Beijing eatery late last year. The song will be officially released after the Spring Festival. Offbeat China has translated the lyrics: 

(accompaniment) Steamed buns store, steamed buns store

(solo) Here’s the story: A few days before the New Year

I walked into the steamed buns store for lunch

As I was lining up, somebody came in behind me

Look at him, with his robust figure, imposing bearing and ruddy appearance

Hey! Why does he look so familiar?

Surprised, the waiter headed forward

“Please take a seat, sir. I will bring anything you want to eat.”

The man smiled, and waved him off,

He stayed in line behind me, the last one in line

He ordered a set meal. It was only 21 yuan

Pork steamed buns, together with vegetables and pork liver stew

He stood in line with us. He paid for the meal himself

With both hands carrying the tray, he walked towards me

(accompaniment) Where did he sit?

(solo) Oh! Hey! Everybody! Everybody! What a coincidence! He sat right beside me!

He enjoyed his meal, even laughed and chatted with us

I hastily took out my phone to take pictures of people posing next to him

I hurried to Weibo to upload the pictures

The story went viral and netizens rushed to comment

Uncle Xi, warm-hearted man of the people,  the “president combo” is now famous

Uncle Xi, warm-hearted man of the people, our incidental encounter at the steamed bun store

Has warmed the hearts of the people in this harsh winter!

Has warmed the hearts of the people in this harsh winter!

January 22 2014

Kazakh Rapper Asks Fans for Money to Finish a “Political” Song

Kazakh rapper Takezhan (Oteghaliev) has reached out to his fans to help fund the production of a new song. In a video [ru] posted on his blog, the rapper sings for his fans and asks them for financial help to finish a “political rap [song]” he is working on. 


Scheenshot from video in which Takezhan is asking his fans for cash. The video was uploaded on on January 22, 2014.

Takezhan, who never shunned controversy, took the spotlight in 2011 after he announced plans to organize a concert in support of striking oil workers in western Kazakhstan. The authorities then pressured him to cancel the performance, while the oil workers’ strike soon burst into deadly riots.

10 Documentaries on South American Music to Watch Online

Nick MacWilliam from the blog Sounds and Colours has compiled a list of 10 documentaries, “looking at all manner of musical styles and movements from the region, with films focused on Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Chile, Peru and Venezuela.”

This list makes no attempt to rank the films, nor does it purport that these films are any better or worse than other music documentaries related to South America. The idea is to provide a sample of some of the films out there so that, firstly, they are enjoyed and, secondly, we hope they will open a few doors for our readers into new areas of regional identity.

The films are available online, for free.

January 20 2014

Is the Vybz Kartel Trial an Opportunity for Jamaica?

Jamaican music has always, and continues to capture the imagination of the world, and so have its musicians, especially when they blur the lines between celebrity and outlaw.

One of the most recent dancehall artists to get on the wrong side of the law is Adidja Palmer, better known as Vybz Kartel. A big name in the music business, he has collaborated with A-list hip hop musicians like Jay-Z, Rihanna and Eminem. Towards the end of 2006, he made headlines in the region over an ongoing feud with his former collaborator Mavado, which led to fans of each side mobilising themselves into two factions – Gaza and Gully – which often culminated in street clashes. Other controversies have followed him – the skin bleaching issue and now several murder charges.

One Jamaican blog, Cucumber Juice, recently examined “the value of the Vybz Kartel trial”, first taking issue with glaring inconsistencies in the media's reporting of the facts:

There is so much rich detail in the charges that were brought against Mr. Palmer. So many moving parts. I am grateful for the page on The Jamaica Gleaner that lists all its articles on Mr. Palmer’s charges. Unfortunately I realized a lot of problems with the reporting. After reviewing over 2 years worth of articles I could almost predict the phrasing and wording…there has obviously been too much copying and pasting and not enough editing or (attention to) detail. I saw inconsistent name spellings, inconsistent facts (e.g., Just how much bail was Mr. Palmer granted for Charge 2, JM$3 million or JM$1 million?).

After doing the research to come up with the above timeline and to properly refresh my memory about the charges against Mr. Palmer…I’m expanding my definition of quality to mean not only the kind of reporting being done on the trials but also how the reporting is presented. The poor quality of the former is amplified by the at least equally poor quality of the latter. It’s sloppy.

She continued, this time addressing the third offence on which the dancehall star is charged:, “the murder of Clive Williams (aka Lizard) on August 16, 2011″, which she sees as an opportunity to right some wrongs:

This trial (for Charge 3) has captured the attention of a lot of Jamaicans. A significant portion of…trial watchers are Vybz Kartel fans but others are following the case because, frankly, this is a high-profile landmark case and it’s the first time (that I can remember) a popular person actually going on trial for something and the trial not dragging out over a number of years. Evidence is being presented, the judge is making rulings; it seems that things are moving along.

But more than the unfolding of this case is the characteristic of a large number of people who are following [it]. They are people most likely to encounter Jamaica’s criminal justice system. Too often the average Jamaican’s experience with Jamaica’s criminal justice system is hostile, even deadly. The Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) is viewed with suspicion and contempt. Our courts are viewed as inefficient, burdened, and, I think, unjust. I believe the fancy parlance is that there is a trust deficit. Like him or hate him, Mr. Palmer’s alleged misdeeds have provided us with the opportunity to teach and, perhaps, even to address that trust deficit.

I’m wondering why neither the media nor Jamaica’s legal community is grabbing hold of this opportunity.

In particular, she saw clear roles for the Jamaican media and judiciary:

I think that it’s fair to expect Jamaica’s media to be doing more with the coverage of these trial. It’s fair to expect the legal community (which would include the judiciary) to proactively engage the Jamaican public to capitalize on this interest. Use it as an opportunity; you have a captive audience – the average Jamaican – that needs the information. Kartel ah ‘dem’ artist but I guarantee you that ‘they’ also identify with him…by calling upon their own experiences: in custody for over 2 years, no bail, charged with an array of things. It’s David versus Goliath; the underdog versus the big opponent already considered unjust and unfair. Babylon at work, even.

That’s why lawyers are important: to be the interpreter and navigator of that system on his or her client’s behalf. The lawyer knows the system and that the system is meant to represent and protect the society. They must…defend their clients against it not to bring the system down but to ensure a fair result, to ensure justice.

Next, she took on the way in which information is being disseminated online and offered suggestions:

I’ve seen some journalists and lawyers live tweet the trial. Good. But their reporting is necessarily limited by their own interest and availability. There isn’t even a consistent hashtag being used to allow easy curating of (relevant) tweets. Where’s the dedicated live tweeter (perhaps a former court reporter or a law student?) who will deliver dispassionate reporting on what is said from the stand and ruled on from the bench, and who will follow that reporting up with an end-of-the day wrap up and, geez I dunno, Legal Lesson of the Day?

At most these internships could cost a newspaper a transportation stipend and a lunch per diem. The student gets credit and a good entry on the résumé. Put interns on a rotation to cover this trial (it is news) and maybe another trial on a live blog.

Why is all this so important to her – and so many other Jamaicans? She summed it up by saying:

The law touches every aspect of society; it defines the boundaries for our interactions.

If you are at all interested in justice then you must be interested in ensuring that the ‘average man’ is aware of his rights and feels empowered to exercise them. That’s the opportunity of this trial and it’s being wasted.

January 18 2014

Chinese Rock Star Cui Jian Refuses to Sing Under Censorship

Chinese rock star Cui Jian is not likely to perform this year at China’s spring gala show due to authorities’ requirement that he censor his lyrics.   

There has been speculation about Cui performing at the spring gala show since the beginning of January. Cui’s agent told the New York Times earlier this week that there’s possibility that Cui could perform if no cuts to his songs were required.

The invitation to sing at the spring gala had surprised many due to his controversial role as a rock singer in China. His song “Nothing to My Name” became an anthem for student protesters in Tiananmen Square in 1989. In the 1990s, the government banned his performance in big venues due to the political content of his lyrics.

Cui Jian's CD cover

Cui Jian's CD cover “nothing to my name”

The Spring Festival Gala Show has been China’s most watched entertainment show as families have the traditional of watching it on Chinese New Year’s Eve.

However, the show has lost its appeal among younger generations during the past few years due to its cheesy and patriotic performances and the rise of online entertainment. Many think the invitation to Cui is an attempt to revive the show.

Cui’s fans have expressed mixed feelings on Chinese social media. While many think it might be a good opportunity for rock and roll to grow in China, some worry Cui’s involvement with the propaganda-style show will damage the rock and roll spirit.

On Sina Weibo, China's most popular microblogging website, “Han Haoyue” wrote [zh]:  


Cui Jian on the spring gala show means the opening up of ideology. There will be a comeback of rock and roll in 2014, the bored middle class need some stimulation from rock, powerful public opinion will push rock back into the center of entertainment.

However, others disagreed. “Paihuan de Suiliang” wrote [zh]: 

乌托邦永远是小众的乐园。 一旦,它被主流接受很多事情将被改变,会被利用被捆绑,像美国就有很多这样的主流乐队。 摇滚终究属于操场和露天舞台,所以解决的办法是所有乐队一起上春晚,或者直接把春晚改成迷笛。

Utopia always belongs to a small minority. Once rock was accepted by the mainstream, it will be taken advantage of and controlled, just like many mainstream bands in the US. Rock eventually belongs on the playground and open air stage, so the solution is for all bands to join spring gala, or change the show directly to the Midi music festival.

“Xin Changzheng Lushang” echoed the same sentiment:


Cui Jian represents the times, but singing his own songs on this occasion doesn't seem suitable. Cui Jian's songs don't show warmth or compromise, they're more of a force, an elegiac, and thoughts, not something that the spring gala show can tame and control.

For most fans, they just want to see Cui on the stage. “Chibuzhe tiefanwan” wrote: 


First, Cui Jian at the spring gala show won’t have any significance for the development of rock music. The spring gala is a serious political arena, which is not suitable for rock and roll. Second, the problem with selecting songs, from being banned for a decades to the invitation to the gala show, the rebel spirit and critical force will be reduced. However, the idea of watching Cui Jian on TV is still a happy one.

“Gu feng” predicted danger: 


If Cui Jian does well on the show, it will strongly promote the self-censorship of rock bands. Speculation, compromise, and looking for the middle route will become part of Chinese rock, while the exposing, the venting, and the critical elements will stay away from rock given the reputation and interests of the [Chinese Communist] Party. Then we could only hear superficial rock rather than rock as an attitude for life. Can you imagine a group of people with long hair and leather jackets praising our country on the [China Central Television] stage?

Check out one of Cui Jian's songs “A piece of red cloth”

January 16 2014

Jamaican Winner of The Voice Sings for Haiti

Just another reason to love Tessanne Chin: she's singing to support a housing programme in Haiti. Repeating Islands republishes the details.

January 15 2014

Intonaspacio: a New Digital Musical Instrument Made in Portugal

Mailis Rodrigues, a young talented Portuguese women has invented a new musical instrument and now needs help to show it to the world in an annual event to find the world’s best new ideas in musical instrument design:

Hi, I was selected as one of the 20 semi-finalists of the Margaret Guthman competition with my PhD work. This competition chooses the best new music instrument. I have to travel to Atlanta in February to present Intonaspacio, the music instrument that I designed (you can take a look on how it looks like in the photos), to a juri. But I need some help to pay my trip to Atlanta. Please contribute, even if it's just 5 euros it would help me a lot. I can promise to send you a postcard from Atlanta. Thank you so much!

She explains what Intonaspacio is, and shows the instrument in action in the video below:

She has raised so far €1.275,00 out of the €1.500,00 she needs to cover the costs of her trip. To contribute, check her Go Fund Me campaign.

Jamaica: Measuring the Effect of Shaggy's Charity Concert

Jamaicans got a good show with this year's edition of Shaggy and Friends, but Cucumber Juice wants measurability:

This applies to any organization, but especially to charities and public organizations.
It’s called transparency.

Video: Music Parody about Food in China

Rice, Rice baby” is a recent parody about the food culture in China from the expats’ point of view. The video is about how expats in China love the food but also are a little nervous of its effects.  
The lyrics says: “Love it or leave it, you better gain weight. You better just down it, lick that plate If they serving Chinese, yo, I’ll eat it! Take it dao bao(take away),tomorrow reheat it. “

Watch the video below:

January 13 2014

Where Soca Music Begins and Ends

Bunji Garlin

Artwork depicting Trinidadian musician Bunji Garlin. Photo by Paul Lowry on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

If it sounds like soca, and makes you dance like soca – is it still definitely soca music? The success of the carnival song, Differentology, by the artist Bunji Garlin has spurred public debate about what exactly constitutes soca, a style of music that originated in Trinidad & Tobago. The song breaks with tradition instrumentally in several ways.

Trinidadian musician Michael Low Chew Tung hosted a lengthy discussion on his Facebook profile to explore the issue. The discussion evolved into a discussion of music history and the development of the Trinidadian music industry.

We share parts of the Facebook conversation below with permission from all quoted.

Michael Low Chew Tung started the discussion by asking whether the song “Alingo” by Nigerian pop duo P-Square qualifies as a soca song:

Soca 2014- So seeing that Bunji and Faye Ann have blurred the lines, would you call this a soca? And if not, why not?

Nigel Campbell believes it qualifies as soca:

Soca. Four on the floor, and the percussive pattern on the synth snare. Their “problem” (if it is at all) is that they aren't Caribbean but African.

According to Dion Boucaud, anyone can make soca, just as anyone can play jazz:

The question then, is soca a genre? If it is, then it can be produced by any artiste from any country in much the same way we produce Jazz. Pop or Rock. In my humble opinion this is soca, built on the same structure as any produced in Trinidad. They may not call it that, however if the influence is from here or if it is as undefined as what we produce then opportunities exist to brand it. The ones with an identity crisis over what we produce is us. They have no qualms in Japan calling what they do soca. My two cents.

Michael Low Chew Tung believes that what is now marketed as soca has strayed far from the essential qualities of the genre:

I submit that the problem in Trinidad, is that soca 2014 has very little of what makes it soca, and now morphed into EDM [electronic dance music]. Aside from “content” related to carnival as Ian stated, there isn't much else.

Rubadiri Victor, however, believes that there are elements which unite all musical expressions in the African diaspora:

Rhythm is the main signifier. The African Diaspora is made up of Rhythm Nations who have created national sounds based on rhythmic permutations of ancient ancestral patterns- each with its distinctive character. There have been fusions and borrowing- determined by the power of different outposts of the diaspora during respective Golden Ages: Calypso affected rhythms in America, the Caribbean, Latin America, and Africa from the 1930s to 50s, pop, rock and especially funk influenced stuff from the 50s to the 70s, and reggae and dancehall from the late 70s to 90s with hip hop dominating since. Important to note however has been the unspoken role that Soca has played since the 80s in influencing all the world's popular music- the only thing that has stopped this identification has been our cowardice and stupidity and refusal to claim what is ours

Victor added that much of today's pop music has been influenced by soca, even though it is not always acknowledged:

The entire sound of popular dance music now- which is the pop of the world- is completely derived from the unspoken influence of Soca music on the dance scenes and best DJs and producers of the world and the artists who have been crafting rhythm based music for the last 30 years who have been listening and influenced heavily by Soca and our Carnivals…

M.Rudder asserts that what is now called soca should be considered a whole separate genre:

This is not Soca. It is the new genre called “Island Pop”. Differentology kept one Trini element in it, but not in the drum and bass, but in the Horns; the Shango beat in the horns of the chorus which, to me, was genius. Cant believe I reach late for this discussion.

In a separate thread, Michael Low Chew Tung critiqued the notion that a single element could qualify a song as soca by listing several songs that would then have to qualify:

After all this, do you still think having only one “soca” element in a tune makes it a soca?

Nigel Campbell quoted one of the jazz greats to argue that what is and isn't soca depends on the song:

Thelonius Monk once said, famously, “I don't have a definition of Jazz. You're just supposed to know it when you hear it.” I would assert that a similar sentiment can be made for soca. The fluidity of music makes definitions sometimes pointless, but we know it when we hear it.;

Mackini Joseph questions the extent to which contemporary soca constitutes a separate genre:

From what i see posted here and based on my own knowledge of African derived music; soca to me cannot be classified as a genre. We developed a form of musical expression in Trinidad and called it soca. But this form of of expression (energetic soulful music) developed in other places where the cultural background is similar. When we listen to all the variants of this music Salvador Bahia, Dominican Republic, The French Caribbean Islands, Suriname, Colombia, Grenada and Most of latin america, the lines begin to be blurred as you can hardly distinguish any large differences in the music and it's feel. Just my two cents.

He later clarified that while the roots of the music are distinct, they have all evolved in a similar direction:

…Samba, Son and Calypso's pulse are extremely different. I am talking about the evolution of the music into the various forms that we have today; mainly in it's modern electric forms. Most of the time “watered down”.

Michael Low Chew Tung thinks that educated listeners could differentiate the types of music:

Outsiders think it's all the same but on careful analysis, the patterns emerge. For example: What is the rhythmic difference between Son, Calypso and Samba? While you may think it's all the same because they share some characteristics, it's where the pulse is felt in each one that is uniquely different.

Carlos Thompson does not think the mixing of the musical genres is such a bad thing:

Good discussion, but let me play devil's advocate here. Is the blurring of the lines a bad thing? Would it help the art form if we all agreed on what is soca? And the same for parang, chutney, kaiso? In this world we are just 1.3m so shouldn't we embrace all our artistic variations and interpretations (even our interpretation of rock, r'n'b (Carol Addison comes to mind), fast soca, new parang etc)? For me I love the fact that we have all these forms from poetry to comedy to pan to music. I just wish we were less competitive among ourselves and move away from giving shedloads of money to the winner and devil take the hindmost approach. In the end we just might be cutting our noses to spite our faces?

January 12 2014

Hockey, Diving for Crosses and Other Christmas-in-January Traditions

For Christians of the Western hemisphere, Christmas comes a little earlier than for their counterparts in Eastern Europe, North Africa and other countries. According to the Gregorian calendar, one of many man-made concepts to measure time and the calendar the globe uses today, Christ was born during the night between December 24 and December 25 just a little over 2,000 years ago. According to the Julian calendar, still used by many religious organizations in the world, those dates correspond to January 6 and January 7.

Among those who celebrate Christmas on those January dates are most Orthodox and Coptic Christians, from Eastern Europe to Egypt and Ethiopia. We called on the wonderfully diverse team of over 700 Global Voices authors to share their favorite local Orthodox and Coptic Christmas traditions and learned that the world is indeed a festive place, long after the Western world has taken down their Christmas stockings and stripped their Christmas trees.

Markos Lemma from Ethiopia explains how a game of hockey is the centerpiece in this North African country's Christmas celebrations:

Christmas falls on December 29 of the Ethiopian calendar (January 7 according to the Gregorian calendar). Ledet (Christmas), it is celebrated seriously by a church service that goes on throughout the night after 43 days fasting known as Tsome Gahad (Advent), with a spectacular procession, which begins at 6 a.m. and lasts until 9 a.m. After the mass service, people go home to break the fast with the meat of chicken or lamb or beef accompanied with injera and the traditional drinks (i.e. tella or tej). Traditionally, young men played a game similar to hockey called genna on this day and now Christmas has also come to be known by that name.

The case in Serbia is far from similar, but followers of the Orthodox faith in Serbia, Montenegro, and Bosnia-Herzegovina celebrate Christmas Eve on January 6, the last day of the same 40-day fast observed in Ethiopia, and then break that fast on Christmas Day, January 7, with a similar family feast abundant with meats of all sorts and special Christmas dishes. Different regions of these countries have somewhat different traditions, but this author chose to share one particular tradition that the vast majority of Orthodox families still uphold in this part of Southeast Europe:

On Christmas Day, January 7 according to the Julian calendar, Orthodox Serb households welcome a young male or male child, called a Položajnik, into the house in the early morning. The young male is usually a younger cousin, grandson or neighbor and he should be the first to enter the house that day. He brings in a wreath or bundle of small well dried oak branch tips, hay and such, called a Badnjak, with him and uses it to light the fire. In urban households, most of which don't have a fireplace, the stove is used to light the Badnjak. As sparks from the dried leaves and branches float around, he chants “As many sparks, that much health; as many sparks, that much wealth; as many sparks, that much love; as many sparks, that much luck…”, in no particular order. Different communities and families have their own versions of this ditty. The položajnik is considered a representation of health, prosperity and all things good. He brings luck, health, and love into the home. He then receives a gift from the family and joins them for Christmas breakfast.

Expat blogger David Bailey, better known as “An Englishman in the Balkans”, posted this video explaining the traditional breaking of the Christmas bread, known as the Česnica, on Christmas day in an Orthodox home in Bosnia. The Česnica, however, takes on different shapes throughout the region and in the Vojvodina region of Serbia, for example, is very sweet, resembling baklava more than bread.

The traditional Christmas greeting in Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Montenegro is “Christ is born!”, to which the proper response is “Truly He is born”. Coincidentally, Lebanon, a country relatively far from Eastern Europe, now uses the same Christmas greeting. Thalia Rahme explains:

In Lebanon … its becoming more and more trendy to say the formula you just mentioned as in reaction to the secularization of Christmas

While usually we used to say that in Easter – Christ is risen, Indeed he is risen – now we also say [it on] Christmas – Christ is Born, Indeed He is born.

Lebanon seems to be a particularly special case when it comes to calendars and Christmas celebrations, with a plethora of faiths and traditions truly all its own. Thalia managed to unravel some of the marvels of Lebanese Christmas for us:

Lebanese Orthodox celebrate Christmas with Catholics on December 24.

Only Armenians Orthodox do have it on January 6 and, since it happens to be Epiphany for us Catholics [marking the baptism of Jesus], it's a kind of double celebration and an official holiday in Lebanon as part of giving each community its rights.

We have a small Coptic and Orthodox community and [an] Ethiopian one who celebrate it on January 7.

On the other hand, Armenian Orthodox choose to celebrate their Easter with us Catholics, but this is not the case for other Orthodox communities [...] but this year Easter for both Catholics and Orthodox is falling on the same date

At the mention of the marking of the Epiphany, many other Eastern Europeans chimed in with their stories of this frequently forgotten, not-so-minor Christian holiday. Global Voices’ veteran author from Bulgaria Rayna St. wrote in to say this:

For the French, January 6 is Epiphany so people eat Galette des Rois (and yes, it's yummy).

For Bulgarians, January 6 is also Epiphany, also called Yordanovden, when everyone named Yordan/ka, Daniel/a, Bogomil/a, Bojidar/a celebrate. The day's name is also Bogoyavlenie (God's appearance) and it is believed to be the day when Jesus Christ was baptized in the Jordan River. When He came out of the waters, the skies opened and there was a voice saying, “You are my beloved Son, all my good will is in You” or something along these lines.

The most exciting moment of this nowadays is the ritual that accompanies this day: the priest throws a cross in the river and young men jump in to fetch it. As you may imagine, it's quite sporty as temperatures in Bulgaria differ from Jordan… :) So, when a guy catches the cross, he is believed to be blessed, fortunate, and to have iron health for the coming year. The priest also goes through houses and, in my region at least, fills in the rooms with tamyan smoke (a specific kind of wax mixture) so it chases away bad spirits. Bogoyavlenie is actually the last one of the Dirty Days and only meatless dishes are served for dinner.

Interestingly enough, while a common Christmas date may not be something all Eastern European Christians share, swimming for crosses in ice cold waters on Epiphany is. This tradition is also the same as Rayna describes in Russia, Serbia, Montenegro and other countries of the region. The dates of when they mark the Epiphany and break the January ice, however, do differ, with those who follow the Julian calendar coming in 13 days “late” again.

But back to Christmas in that region. Busy with following Ukraine's 2013 Euromaidan protests, which continued throughout the Christmas holidays and into 2014, Tetyana Bohdanova set aside a few moments from these worrying events to fill us in on how Christmas is traditionally celebrated by Orthodox followers in this country when they aren't out in the streets holding anti-government rallies by the hundreds of thousands:

In Ukraine most people celebrate Christmas on the 7th of January, according to the Julian calendar. On Christmas Eve, January 6, we gather for a traditional dinner that consists of 12 meatless dishes honoring the 12 Apostles. The dinner may begin only after the first star appears in the sky indicating that Christ has been born.

Another Christmas tradition is Vertep, which originally included a puppet theater representing Nativity scenes. A contemporary version, however, refers to a group of people acting out the story of Christ’s birth. Vertep also commonly includes folk characters and singing of Christmas carols. This year Ukrainian Vertep has been influenced by the political turmoil in the country. Among dressed up actors one may recognize Biblical and folk figures along with contemporary politicians, who are not necessarily represented by the good characters!

Tetyana Lokot, also from Ukraine, echoed what Tetyana Bohdanova had to say about caroling and added video evidence of this community holiday tradition:

One [tradition] is caroling – going around singing carols and bringing people the good news, for which carolers sometimes get candy and small change. It is typical for carolers to dress up in national costumes and go in groups, and the carols’ tunes and texts have been carried through generations. One of the most popular ones, and certainly my favorite, is Schedryk (known in English as Carol of the Bells), an old Ukrainian song. [The video] is a recent version from 2011 by Oleh Skrypka, a Ukrainian musician. The cartoon that goes along with it is strangely hinting at the Euromaidan spirit of 2013 and 2014, but also reminds us that we are all kids at heart :)

While Orthodox Coptic Christians account for the largest Christian community in Egypt, they form an even larger percentage of the Ethiopian community. Befekadu Hailu from Ethiopia reminds us that many of us may not even be in the same year, much less on the same date:

As you may know, our [Ethiopian] calendar is also different so we didn't start a new year with most of you. We started 2006 in September and this is the 2006th birthday of Jesus. We are just celebrating Christmas tomorrow [January 7] – which is a public holiday. The Orthodox Christians will also complete their 40 days of fasting season tomorrow. So, it will also be a day of eating much meat products. People spend it at home and as usual coffee ceremony, holiday food, family gatherings are the features of the holiday.

Thus, we end this quick journey through what may be a belated Christmas to some, where we began – in North Africa, with a traditional Christmas song performed by an Ethiopian choir. May your Christmases be as plentiful, warm, and well-rehearsed as theirs, wherever and whenever you choose to celebrate them. In the meantime, some of us are off to prepare for Orthodox New Year's Eve, coming up on January 13 – and you're all invited!

January 11 2014

Happy Hong Kong

Inspired by American rapper, Pharrell Williams’ viral music video, Happy, Hong Kong based French multimedia journalist Helene Franchineau made a local music video, Happy Hong Kong.

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