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Bulgarian “keks” appeal

Let’s talk about keks

Why Bulgarians are going mad for a suggestive song, and other musical highlights from around the globe

Why Bulgarians are going mad for a suggestive song, and other musical highlights from around the globe

April/May 2018

Kitchen caper
“Keks” may be a parody of pop, but that hasn’t stopped it from becoming a hit in poet and copywriter Konstantin Trendafilov’s native Bulgaria. Despite a music video that resembles a “Callanetics” exercise routine from the 1980s and features two women dressed in spandex singlets, the song is full of sexual innuendo. It takes a seemingly mundane kitchen chore – baking a cake – and presents it in a suggestive way. Moreover, the whole concept of the song is based on a pun. Keks, a kind of Bundt cake, sounds very similar to the Bulgarian word seks. In the video Trendafilov’s alter ego, Papi Hans (above), lists a number of misfortunes – a neighbour scratched his car, his bike has been stolen and he’s had a pay cut – but he’s undeterred by his bad luck because “last night he made keks”. Since it was released last November, Trendafilov’s song has been viewed more than 6m times on YouTube. One line, “Vsichko e tochno” (Everything is just fine), has taken on a life of its own. 

Song of woe
Saccharine ballads about love and loss are always popular in Uzbekistan, where an easy-listening style called estrada rules the pop scene. A mournful ode by crooner Sardor Mamadaliyev recently captured the mood of a nation in mourning. It is an elegy to 52 Uzbek labour migrants – all men – who perished when the bus taking them to Russia exploded in a ball of fire while they were travelling through Kazakhstan earlier this year. Called simply “In Memory of 52 Countrymen”, the song, delivered in a dolorous baritone, urges Uzbekistan to mourn its dead sons. As President Shavkat Mirziyoyev acknowledged, they were only on the bus because there weren’t enough jobs at home. The rate at which Uzbeks are leaving their country to find jobs elsewhere is more than twice the global average.  

Dissenting voice
Mai Khoi started her career in Vietnam as a lissome pop songstress singing easy-on-the-ears tunes about rice paddies. In recent years she has moved towards political dissidence and musical experimentation at the head of a band called – what else? – The Dissidents. Along the way, her music has grown darker and bluntly political, to the point that she has been harassed by police, evicted from her home and effectively been banned from playing (she now performs only at underground concerts). Her new work reaches further into the dark depths of Vietnam, where the economy is booming but dissent is harshly dealt with. In “Re-Education Camp” she tackles enforced “rehabilitation” with barely suppressed fury and bitter irony, imagining a world in which politicians are sent away like dissidents to be taught party doctrine. “Inside you’ll have time to think,” she sings. It sounds like a croon, but could easily be a growl. 

Back of the class
Cambodia's Information Ministry likes banning things, but it doesn’t always get the response it wants – or expects. A recent target was the breezy pop song, “Drunken Teacher”, that laments and mocks the country’s shoddy schools. Although the song has some silly lines — “When you are drunk you are unusually mean, you use strange teaching techniques” — 40 years after the fall of the Khmer Rouge the education system in Cambodia is in dire straits and the government knows it. Corruption and bad behaviour are the rule in state schools, and that’s just among the teachers. The government has tried making reform a priority, but progress is slow. Social media has encouraged young people to speak up about their bad experiences with teachers, police officers and other officials. After "Drunken Teacher" was ordered off the airwaves, the biggest reaction was mockery.

Yo salsa!
Nigeria is one of the places where the salsa sound originates, according to Seyi Shay, one of the country’s best-known singers. Its rhythms can often be traced back to the Yoruba tribe, many of whom were trafficked to the Americas by the Spanish. Shay’s breakout hit last year, “Yolo Yolo”, captures the salsa spirit, as does “Bia”, another more recent tune. In her music video Shay combines fringed rumba dresses and traditional west African prints (she also mixes Latin American music with Afropop and highlife). Shay is not the first to bring these genres together – Afro-Cuban jazz is a style in its own right – but she has put a new pop gloss on a facet of Nigeria’s music history.