It’s easy to mock the clichés of gangsta rap, something exploited to delightful effect on “GerviGlingur” (Fake jewellery), the second album by JóiPé and Króli (above), two teenagers from Iceland. On “B.O.B.A”, they rap in a swaggering style not about money, attractive women and flash cars, but about being ignored by girls and driving the family hatchback. Even their album title ridicules hip hop’s extravagance – if you do catch them wearing gold chains, a staple of many rappers’ wardrobes, you can be sure that they will be fake. Locals seem to appreciate the joke: “B.O.B.A.” has more views on YouTube than there are people in Iceland.
There is a moment in “Origin”, the latest thriller by Dan Brown, a bestselling novelist from America, when the hero, Robert Langdon, winds up at a computing centre that contains the secret to life. There, Langdon hears voices chanting a Christian mass – only they seem to be singing about natural selection. The intersection of religion and science has always intrigued Brown, as it has his younger brother, Gregory, the composer of the piece that Langdon overheard. “Missa Charles Darwin” takes the form of a Latin Mass but substitutes scripture for excerpts from “On the Origin of Species” and “The Descent of Man”, and transcribes into musical notation genetic concepts like insertion, mutation, deletion and even the DNA of Darwin’s finches. Since the publication of “Origin”, Langdon has been joined by many thousands of new listeners, eager to discover what evolution sounds like.
Homing in on prejudice
Ask any Aussie and chances are they’ll be able to belt out a few bars of “I Still Call Australia Home”. When it came out in 1980, the piano ballad arguably gave laid-back Aussies permission to be publicly patriotic. So it is a brave soul who puts his own spin on the lyrics, as Tim Minchin, a comedian and singer-songwriter, did earlier this year. He wanted to weigh in on the debate provoked by Australia’s Marriage Law Postal Survey, a plebiscite on whether to permit same-sex couples to marry. Minchin’s rendition of the song, which was written by Peter Allen, one of Australia’s most-famous openly gay performers, crescendos with the refrain, “No matter how far, or how wide I roam, I still call Australia home…ophobic”.
Rival schools of thought
On “Teach Qatar a Lesson”, drums and tambourines blend with the sound of gunshots as some of Saudi Arabia’s most famous musicians, including singer Rabeh Sager, bemoan Qatar’s “scheming, treachery and conspiracy”. The song is the latest salvo in a war of words between the two countries that began in June, when a group of Arab countries led by Saudi Arabia severed diplomatic ties with Qatar. Racking up more than 5m views online in just five days, the song does not seem to have beaten Qataris into submission. Mirthful Twitter users pointed out that one of the singers performed a song in 2009 called “I swear I love you Qatar as much as the sky and sea”, while Dana al Fardan, a Qatari composer, responded with “Al Yaqeen” (“One Nation”), which sings the country’s praises.
Not to be sniffed at
The people of El Salvador have never been wild about rap. Residents of a war-torn, gang-wracked country don’t need a bling-clad star to tell them life is tough on the streets. But Snif, a 24-year-old rapper, woos them with verses that chide corruption and call out violence while celebrating el barrio. The title of the most popular song on his first EP, “Barrio”, refers to a slum like the one Snif grew up in, located between a prison and a military barracks. “My mom is a seamstress, my dad a carpenter/the neighbour is a baker/I’m a rapper,” he spits over a melancholy piano melody and a harsh beat. His 5’5” stature is about as threatening as his name, while his humility, candour and zeal enrapture the crowds.
A change is gonna come
To outsiders the Caribbean islands of Trinidad and Tobago, which locals call “TT”, are famous for inventing calypso music and playing some of the world’s finest test cricket. But they also have among the highest murder rates on the planet. Now, some of the islands’ most popular artists, including David Rudder, a legend of calypso, and Kees, who sings its local variant, soca, are trying to rally their fellow citizens to create a more peaceful society. “No Greater Time”, TT’s answer to “We Are the World”, opens with footage of a woman screaming for an end to the violent crime that is plaguing her country. “I fed up a this killing…Everybody has lost somebody! Everybody in pain!”. Cue a gentle piano melody, and a rousing chorus of over 30 voices demanding change.