Screaming in tongues
Metal music and the haka, a Maori dance ritual, are surprisingly similar, according to Henry de Jong, a 17-year-old drummer from New Zealand. Both are “brutal, angry and about stories of great courage and loss”. So de Jong, his brother and their bandmate decided to combine them. As Alien Weaponry (above), they perform songs like “Ru Ana te Whenua” (The trembling earth). A raging screamer sung in Te Reo Maori, the indigenous language, it’s about a battle waged in 1864 between Maori and British soldiers in which the de Jongs’ ancestor died, defending his land from the British. Te Reo Maori is in decline – only 21% of Maori speak it. Alien Weaponry is trying to change that; their efforts may be paying off. “Ru Ana Te Whenua” has had over 100,000 views on YouTube – quite an achievement for three teenage boys from a town of 1,490 souls.
Soul of a nation
Fado, the raw traditional music of Portugal, fell from favour after the overthrow of the dictatorship in 1974. Seen then as an expression of the regime’s chauvinist values, it was anathema to a younger generation set on remaking the country as a modern democracy. But years later, the music re-emerged, renewed and as popular as ever. On “Roberto Carlos por Raquel Tavares” (Roberto Carlos by Raquel Tavares), currently topping Portugal’s fado charts, one of the leading artists of the new generation of fadistas reinterprets 14 classic songs made famous by “the king” of Brazilian pop. The big productions of the originals have been stripped back to a filigree of fado guitars and discreet strings – but Tavares’s raw emotion cuts through even the sweetest ballads.
All the president’s men
Zimbabwe’s coup came with a soundtrack: the music of Jah Prayzah, a singer who often performs in military-style uniform. His catchy songs blared at rallies and meetings after soldiers “intervened” to oust Robert Mugabe in November. When Mugabe finally resigned, Zimbabweans danced in the streets to Prayzah’s biggest hit, “Kutonga Kwaro” (How a leader rules). It has since become an unofficial theme song for Zimbabwe’s new president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, and was performed live at his inauguration. Over bouncy guitars and the sound of the mbira, a traditional thumb piano, the lyrics describe the arrival of a hero who will change all the rules, an idea that resonates with a beleaguered people hoping for better times.
The colossus of electronica
Lena Platonos was a pioneer of Greece’s electronic-music scene in the 1980s, layering her dreamy poetry over minimalist synths. She emerged at a precarious moment in Greek history: the military junta had been replaced by a democracy, and consumerism was taking the country by storm. Well ahead of her time, she wrote songs about computers (“An Unsolved Exercise in Physics”) and migrants (“Rumanian Immigrants”). Her moody electronica was a confusing departure from the lighthearted pop of the 1980s – but makes perfect sense in today’s Greece, where the “mother of Greek electronica” has been enjoying a revival. While Platonos’s popularity has grown worldwide, she is now playing sold-out concerts in her own country.
Colour me dark
“Melanin” by Sauti Sol, Kenya’s pop group du jour, isn’t just a sexy song. Over sultry beats, the band croons: “In my life I’ve never seen melanin so dark / You’re the queen of the dancefloor”. In proclaiming their devotion to dark-skinned women, Sauti Sol have pledged their allegiance to a campaign being waged by progressives the world over against “colourism” (in which darker-skinned black people, particularly women, are discriminated against in favour of those who are lighter-skinned). That’s not good enough for some bloggers, though. They have criticised the music video, which has been viewed millions of times, for featuring only slim women in scanty, see-through nothings.
To listen to a selection of songs from these pages, search “spotify:user: 1843mag” on Spotify