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The Aussie queen of country

Australia’s queen of country

Plus, protest songs from Armenia and megachurch music from Zimbabwe

Plus, protest songs from Armenia and megachurch music from Zimbabwe

April/May 2017

Homeland insecurity
There are three times as many Armenians living outside Armenia as in it. One of them, Sevana Tchakerian, a French-Armenian, sings in Collectif Medz Bazar, a group of folk musicians. Their latest single, “Notre Patrie” (Our Fatherland), sounds at first like a charming ballad, but listen closely to the lyrics: they throw down the gauntlet to those members of the Armenian diaspora, who visit their homeland every year for two weeks of sun, cocktails and barbecues, but can’t speak the language. “They sit by the pool all day and say they’ve been ‘home’,” says Tchakerian, who has since settled in Yerevan. “They don’t see the corruption, the poverty, the inequality. They’re blind to the real Armenia crying out for their help.”

Knocking on heaven’s door
“Madam Boss”, by the veteran Zimbabwean singer Leonard Zhakata, is a cheerfully upbeat ode to a beautiful woman who holds the purse strings. It was voted the best song of 2016 in a recent Radio Zimbabwe competition, with two other Zhakata tunes winning second and third place. Zhakata’s reward? All three cash prizes. Some Zimbabweans have complained that he wouldn’t have won without the votes of worshippers at the mega-church where he is a pastor. Religious fervour has swept the beleaguered country in recent years, with Zimbabweans joining “prosperity churches” that promise better economic times. Zhakata’s own church, led by a controversial “prophet”, has told followers to donate cash in amounts ranging from $7 to $77,000 to guarantee blessings for 2017. Music to someone’s ears, surely.

Crowning glory
For 16 years, Kasey Chambers (main image) has been the undisputed queen of Australian country. Her latest record, “Dragonfly”, confirms her as one of its great innovators too. Many of Australia’s young urbanites see little of their own lives in traditional outback ditties about droving sheep, but in Chambers they see someone they recognise. She chronicles a journey from crisis to emotional certainty on this versatile double album which blends pop, folk, gospel and jazz with undertones of bush-dwelling, heavy-drinking, old-school Australian country. Big-name guests like Ed Sheeran bring mass-market appeal. Not that she needs the help: “Dragonfly” is Chambers’s fifth album to chart at number one.

A bridge too far?
“Bridge”, a patriotic pop ballad, oozes nostalgia for an imagined past when Thailand was a harmonious nation. Written by the prime minister, Prayuth Chan-ocha, and sung by a sergeant major, it likens Prayuth to a bridge unifying society’s rifts. Listening numbers are modest compared with “Return Happiness to the Thai People”, his chart-topping debut released just after he was installed as prime minister following a military coup in 2014. It’s a sign that Prayuth may have peaked. The new king has already energetically promoted a rival army faction – a move that may also herald the end of Thailand’s dictatorship pop.

Old blades
Ireland is bracing itself for a summer of hands-in-the-air 1980s stadium-rock memories, with U2 descending on their native Dublin in July as part of their Joshua Tree tour. One of the local bands left in their slipstream back then has used the opportunity to release their first album in 31 years, to widespread acclaim. The Blades, sharp mods from the wrong side of town, built a loyal local following alongside U2 but never made the big break internationally. Representing a different Irish musical tradition, captured best in fiction and film by Roddy Doyle’s “The Commitments”, their new record, “Modernised”, is getting rave reviews and finding younger audiences for its spare three-minute anthems. Nostalgia never sounded so modern.

#SorryNotSorry
Claims that South Africa is the “rape capital of the world” are nonsense, but there have been reliable reports that up to 25% of women in some provinces have experienced sexual violence at some point. Conservative social attitudes and low conviction rates mean many do not press charges. The case of the talented rapper Okmalumkoolkat is all too familiar. Last year, he was convicted in Australia of indecent assault and spent a month in jail there. Many fans were disenchanted by the episode, and by the public letter of apology that followed. Lady Skollie, an artist, thought it “self-serving” and circled in red all the personal pronouns he used. Barely a year later, his debut album “Mlazi Milano”, an account of growing up in a township outside Durban, is performing well in the charts.

To listen to a selection of songs from these pages, search “spotify:user:1843mag” on Spotify

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