[7 November 2004]
I’d like to use this review as a standing point to rail briefly against the tides of multi-culturalism. Not that I’m conservative, or even nationalist, and I’m certainly not Eurocentric. No, I’m all for a global appreciation of every country and people’s discrete cultures, traditions, languages, and idiosyncrasies; the key word here being discrete. For, whilst it is my opinion that art only belongs to someone in the sense that it is theirs to share, rather than theirs to own, and while I would be the first to applaud the occasionally marvellous musical crossbreeding that is currently taking place on the global scale—giving us Norwegian Simon & Garfunkel apostles who like their bossa nova inflections, hip-hop bands performing live with Yoruba priestesses, and even New Orleans-style brass band covers of Madonna tunes—while all of this is frequently enjoyable, often interesting, and occasionally significantly innovative (and while this sentence attempts to imitate the Amazon in length and multitude of tributaries), there appears to me to be a genuine risk that the popular domain will devour whatever’s currently trendy without ever truly acknowledging and appreciating its roots before boredom sets in. The mainstream’s co-opting of hip-hop remains perhaps the best example of this; glorifying the modern offshoots without going to any effort to unearth the vital (and vitally important) roots of the music.
I don’t want to live in a world where everything is rigorously kept separate and venerated for its eugenic purity, but neither do I want to watch popular culture make everything banal and bland by repeatedly broadcasting a few upper canopy clippings to the point of nausea, letting the supporting life and structures wither and be discarded in the dark. It horrifies me that, though I might not make much effort to keep abreast of what’s hot on MTV right now, I can read a few books based in Hong Kong or Singapore and know more about their history and heritage then some of my Armani-wearing, Oxbridge-educated friends who were born and live there. I’m not Christian (in fact, I’m a pretty hardlining anti-religionista), but it appals me that schools in England are now no longer allowed to put up fir trees come yuletide, out of some misguided governmental sense of religious exclusion—that the whole thing is actually a pagan rite far older than Christianity is neither here nor there. Much too often, the result of this politically correct evangelical interbreeding is not complementary or contrasting, but simply inappropriate and unnecessary, not a polyphony but a discord. Multi-culturalism is an amorphous, aimless sham that is crushing the intricate, strange, and seemingly irrelevant details of what it is to be variously human out of existence, and it will have to be succeeded by a more respectful form of polyculture if the herds are not to follow the dancing dollar to the cultural culling grounds.
And now, briefly, back to the studio.
King Chubby are—despite their blatantly dub moniker—a quartet comprising a flautist, bassist, percussionist and two multi-instrumentalists, and their music on King Chubby Is takes the form of a diluted stew (certainly not a bouillabaisse, and sadly not a gumbo) of rock jamming, ambient new ageisms, and jazzy touches. One of the tracks, “Wandering Angus”, features a very stoned-sounding reading of the poem of the same name by Yeats. It’s all technically accomplished but slightly pretentious, and, with the shortest track present being over five minutes long, tends to sprawl rather aimlessly. Twelve-minute epic “Microgrand” and closer “Swaha” drift along dreamily, and there’s certainly enough flute playing (of many international variants) to make anyone into ethnic woodwinds deliriously happy. For the rest of us, though, the odd effects, slapdash time signatures, jazzy noodling, and random vocals that appear when things become a little more active will be annoying rather than intriguing, and the listener is left sorely missing any sign of real structure, memorable melody, or message. Though none of it is inept as such, I for one struggle to see the point of music that brings to mind King Crimson (with whom the percussionist has worked) or Pink Floyd skinning up between bored recording sessions. It’s neither Sketches of Spain, nor Music for Airports, nor for that matter Sketches of Airports; it’s all just rather unnecessary.
All religions express at some point the idea that just because man can, doesn’t mean man should. I’m off to look for some traditional Ethiopian music, and that’s taking it back, B.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/kingchubby-is/