A lone voice
Rolling Stone magazine once described Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu (above), who died last year aged 46, as “Australia’s most important voice”. His final album, released nine months after his death, set out to meld indigenous and classical music, and gave birth to a new sound. “Djarimirri” (Child of the Rainbow) marries modern orchestral arrangements with the traditional rhythms of the didgeridoo. Gurrumul’s otherworldly chants soar above it all, telling stories of the crow, the octopus and other totems of his Yolngu tribe, to give a feeling at once sparsely contemporary and ancient. “Djarimirri” glided straight to number one, becoming the first album recorded in an indigenous dialect ever to top Australia’s charts.
The mistakes stayed in
As a young pianist at the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague, Tomas Kaco was scolded for playing Chopin “with mistakes”. Kaco couldn’t help himself. He enjoyed splicing in snatches of the gypsy music he heard growing up. Home – a small town in the Czech Republic’s north-east – was always filled with music. His Roma father played him his beloved gypsy songs, again and again, on cassette tape. When Kaco started tinkering on the piano, aged five, he kept those melodies and rhythms in mind. They stayed with him even as he went to school in Prague, to the Berklee College of Music in Boston, and to Carnegie Hall for a performance earlier this year. He played Chopin. The mistakes stayed in.
Reggaeton, a raunchy fusion of hip hop and Caribbean music, has spilled over from Mexico’s nightclubs into its politics. Several months ago a music video appeared praising the presidential candidate from the Institutional Revolutionary Party; the campaign denied any involvement. Then another video emerged extolling his main rival (and the eventual winner), Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the former mayor of Mexico City who is often known by his initials, AMLO. In “Niña Bien” (Good girl), a flirty teenager prays to God for voting advice. She chooses “you know who” (López Obrador) and starts dancing with a priest who chimes in with the key line: “Your vote is like your virginity/don’t give it to those who defend impunity”. With its sultry rhythms, the song proved a winner with voters who flocked to the cause of the anticorruption crusader. Yes, we can.
Out of Tunis
Rap is the most popular musical genre among the youth of Tunisia, where angry protest songs exude political energy. Yuma’s folk music is quite unlike that, yet the duo’s intimate songs are no less attuned to the concerns of the young. A wistful duet – “Mestenni Ellil” (I wait for the night) – expresses the longing felt by two lovers torn asunder by society’s expectations: the girl’s parents made her marry another man. Arranged marriage remains both legal and common in Tunisia, though the infamous “marry-your-rapist” clause, which suspended punishment for rapists who married their victims, was repealed last year.