Keep your shirt on
The Bulgarian intelligentsia tend to look down on chalga, a form of party music that blends Turkish rhythms, Balkan folk tunes and Western pop. Azis, a poster boy of the genre, is causing some to reconsider. A gay Roma in a country where both Roma and LGBT communities still face stigma, Azis has spent his career challenging Bulgaria’s taboos, in the past appearing at his concerts in drag. In “Motel”, a recent music video, he exchanges the scantily clad women and expensive cars normally extolled in chalga for a group of commuters on a crowded bus. An elderly couple talks to a lesbian one; a young Roma shares his bottle of water with a choking skinhead. They shake hands. Hailed for its message of tolerance, the video has racked up 18.8m views. Azis shows once more that he needn’t wear stilettos to climb the charts.
Turning the tablas
Its deeply conservative society means that Egypt is consistently ranked among the world’s worst places to be a woman. Little wonder then that two young female tabla players have caused such a stir. The tabla, a pair of drums, are normally played by men, who dictate rhythms to the country’s belly dancers. But ever since a video of Donia and Rania playing the tabla went viral, the pair have won praise for defying social mores with their crisp, hip-hop-inspired beats. Not everyone is onside. Donia broke up with her fiancé after he said the pair’s behaviour was unbecoming of Egyptian ladies. They hope to change minds like his one drum beat at a time.
Je ne regrette durian
Until she died in June, aged just 36, Julia “Jupe” Perez (main image) was a singer of dangdut, a style of techno popular in Indonesia. Her raunchy songs appealed to the masses. “Eat durian at night/Most delicious with a lover/Split man split,” she purrs in “Belah Duren” (Split the durian). Jupe certainly challenged prudish attitudes towards female sexuality. Her debut album, “Kamasutra” (2008), came with a condom and was part of a campaign to promote safe sex. She regularly defied conservative clerics who wanted her to tone down her lyrics. Her death, of cervical cancer, has revived interest in her saucy songs, which can be heard blasting forth from karaoke stalls in kampong (villages) across the country.
It was not a sudden wave of nostalgia that turned a 25-year-old Taiwanese pop song called “The Sea” (Da hai) into a hit in China this summer. The ballad went viral as the ashes of Liu Xiaobo, the Nobel peace-prize winner and political prisoner who had died under guard in hospital, were being scattered in the East China Sea. Chinese censors went into hyperdrive, deleting any mention of his name, opinions or achievements. Slipping through the censors’ net, the song became his memorial. The first verse runs: “You disappeared from the far end of the sea/Your once-blurry face somehow became clear again/I wanted to say something but didn’t know where to start/So I just bury you in the bottom of my heart.”
If listening to good music is one of the joys of being human, cringe pop turns the notion on its head. The practitioners of this fad, which has taken India by storm, film themselves singing tunelessly then post the videos on YouTube. Its latest star is Dinchak Pooja (Kickass Pooja), who has racked up 47m views with unpolished Hindi songs like “I’ve taken a selfie today” and “Dad, gimme some cash”. Her grating voice is a hit with a young Indian audience weary of staged content and synthesised music. “[Cringe pop] makes me feel good about myself,” says a fan, proving success doesn't always require perfection.
South Africans are tuning in to a new show on Beats 1, Apple Music’s radio station, with pride. Black Coffee is the station’s first African host and he is one of their own. The DJ and producer plays unreleased songs from famous friends around the world while showcasing lesser-known DJs from South Africa. His show also introduces listeners to “Afropolitan” house, his signature blend of funky rhythms and soulful vocals, in songs like “Superman”, a sensual, jazzy track with which he closed his first episode. Black Coffee got his start in a South African township – now he’s being streamed around the world.
To listen to a selection of songs from these pages, search “spotify:user: 1843mag” on Spotify