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What the world is watching, reading and singing

Havana’s hottest tune

Plus, a wholesome Chinese meme and edible rolexes in Uganda

Plus, a wholesome Chinese meme and edible rolexes in Uganda

April/May 2019

What Cubans are singing
He’s got moves like James Brown, style like Bootsy Collins and Havana can’t get enough of him. Erick Alejandro Rodríguez, lead singer of Cimafunk, has taken Cuba by storm with “Me Voy” (I’m leaving). A song about where to end the evening after parties have wound down and the streets have emptied, it pairs a loping guitar melody with stuttering handclaps and Afro-Cuban percussion. Rodríguez’s voice – teasing yet insistent – dares you to stop dancing.

 

What Israel is listening to
Dancing at the edge of a precipice has always been a potent metaphor for life in Israel, which Rona Kenan, a singer-songwriter, has explored throughout her work. The sighing accordions of “Songs for Joel”, her concept album from 2009, recall the songs of her father’s idealistic generation, even as the lyrics hint at their growing political discomfort. Her new album, “Time of the Orange”, explores that same tension between vibrancy and existential dread. “There is a dark and narrow corridor,” she sings in the haunting yet upbeat “These Times”, “between those who die and those who sing.”

 

What Africans are laughing at
Pity the woman who takes a shortcut through Anne Kansiime’s banana garden. “You think there is a road here?” she yells, brandishing a hoe. “People of your size should not trespass: do you know how big you are?” The sketch is typical of Kansiime, a Ugandan comedian who has won fans across Africa with her TV series and Youtube skits, and is breaking down barriers in a male-dominated industry. Her most popular character is a forthright Ugandan everywoman, indignant at everything from cheating husbands to ripped jeans. Most of her rage is comically misplaced, but her struggles – whether seeking work, paying rent or defending her land – are bitingly familiar.

What Ugandans are eating
You can buy a rolex on any street corner in Kampala – just don’t expect it to tell the time. A chapati wrapped tightly around an omelette, the “rolex”, or rolled eggs, is a quintessentially Ugandan snack. The greasy meal has spread from student hangouts to stalls on every roadside, creating work for many young men who otherwise struggle to find jobs. The ministry of tourism now holds an annual rolex festival. Posh restaurants sell their own versions. But unlike its glitzy namesake, the edible rolex is always best bought on the street.

What feminists are worshipping
Fancy a full-moon gathering in Brooklyn or a celebration of the summer solstice in Central Park? Then peruse the Witches’ Voice, a networking site. Many young women in New York and across America are embracing witchcraft as a form of feminist protest against institutionalised misogyny: “Hex the patriarchy” is a favourite refrain. Across the pond, their French sisters, known as the Witch Bloc, have taken to the streets to protest against President Emmanuel Macron’s reforms to employment law. Their rallying cry? “Put Macron in the cauldron!”

What China is sharing
A child enters a room, followed by her mother, then her grandmother and, finally, her great-grandmother – and everyone collapses in giggles. The four-generation challenge is already touted as the most wholesome meme of 2019. It was born on Douyin, a Chinese video app that invites users to make videos up to 15 seconds long, which has become one of the most-downloaded apps in the world. Its ease of use is only part of the appeal: in China, where the media are under state control, Douyin is a rare forum for spontaneous expression.

 

What India is listening to
A decade ago, a group of reggae enthusiasts from New Delhi started putting on Bob Marley tribute nights. Then the Reggae Rajahs, as they called themselves, began to record their own music and perform across the country. Thanks to the Rajahs’ efforts, reggae is now a core part of India’s music scene. The same themes of rebellion and political resistance that inspired their Caribbean forebears influence these bands. But though these groups hew closely to the genre’s sound, others layer traditional Indian instruments such as the bansuri flute and tabla drums over wobbly dubstep beats and ska guitar strokes to create what King Jassim calls “Raggamuffin Reggae with an Indian twist”.

 

Where Finland is hanging out
To go where no library has gone before. That could be the motto of Oodi, Helsinki’s new starship-like Central Library. Oodi has three floors but only one is devoted to books. The second has music rooms, film-editing suites and a workshop containing 3D scanners and sewing machines. The emporium-like ground floor is for dining and mingling. “Idle hanging out is allowed, even encouraged,” declares the library’s operating rules.

What Los Angeles is smoking
Since California legalised marijuana for recreational use in 2018, cannabis has become Los Angeles’s fashion accessory of choice, with a proliferation of new pot paraphernalia. Residents of Silver Lake, an aspirational neighbourhood, are using rose-gold vape pens designed by Scott Campbell, a celebrity tattoo artist. In the hipster enclave of Venice Beach, trendy techies use handmade, ceramic, Mexican, one-hit pipes to puff Old Pal cannabis flower, a new brand with rose-gold and matte-black packaging.

What Ethiopia is watching
Ethiopia’s liberal revolution has raised the prospect of a more democratic government and a reinvigorated economy. A new TV comedy suggests popularculture may be in for a shake-up, too. “Min Litazez?” (How can I help you?), is set in a café and has become a sensation since it was launched by a state-affiliated broadcaster last year. Every Sunday Ethiopians tune in to laugh at themselves and, perhaps for the first time, at their leaders. Politics is never made explicit, but the café is a metaphor for the country. Silly workplace dramas – squabbles over mugs and coffee pots – hold a mirror up to the nation, especially its tribalism. And the show obliquely pokes fun at the ruling party, something unimaginable less than a year ago.