Posts tagged ‘music’

Poetic Flow and Gender Fluidity in K Pop

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I am a secret K pop fan. Actually I’m secret K pop addict. Get me talking, or read on and you’ll find I know way more than I should. I know that a SHAWOL (linguistic mashup) is a fan (usually teenage, American, female) who spends too much time on the internet appreciating heartthrob K pop band ShinEE. I know that 2MIN is the slang mash-up for the constant fan speculation over whether Taemin and Minho from ShinEE are gay bromance partners. I know that the Girls Generation members might have surgical enhancements – or so says word on the street. I know that the internet is full of fan made homage to K pop stars, sometimes in the form of wishful written or pictorial pornography embroidering both gay and straight fantasy scenarios between K pop personalities.

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Why is K pop culture so seductive?

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Cursory research reveals the K pop machine to be exactly that – a comprehensive in-house assembly line of picture perfect 20 somethings with athletes bodies and models faces, made even more slick by makeup and in some cases, plastic surgery. The music, lyrics and dance moves, which are shamelessly derivative of US R ‘n’B are created in studio by cadres of session musicians and composers employed by Seoul Media – the centralised empire of K pop product. Seoul Media is its own world, with an olympic sized stadium at which acts ‘debut’, then regularly present shows or ‘stages’ – during which fans chant and wave glo-sticks in ecstatic unison. K pop is often written in English, translated back in to Korean, then peppered with English phrases spoken in American accents, finished off with devilishly slick production and dance routines which inspire mass devotion and group participation. K pop stars may enjoy the celebrity spotlight but they work for their money. Already virtuoso singers, dancers, actors and athletes, they perform and record relentlessly, with an obligatory round of product endorsements, game show appearances, solo projects, soap opera roles and promotional stunts – some of which are deliberately compromising, challenging and embarrassing. Like being made to kiss seedy game show hosts or being hypnotised on national TV. Shows like ‘We Got Married’, (self-explanatory) ‘Hello Baby’ (pop stars get to baby sit a toddler for a month) and ‘Running Man’ (silly sport stunts) really take this to hilarious extremes. Every now and again, boy groups will do their own version of the girl group songs, a few keys down, with the same dance moves. The air hostess glamour of Girls Generation song ‘Genie’ translates into high camp when the boys do it dressed as pink ribboned sailors. It’s hard to say which version is better. (You decide – watch the girls HERE and the boys HERE.)

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It could be said that K pop is uniquely Korean – a national character of steadfast service, obedience to tradition and goodwill, a must try harder and better, (whilst having fun) work ethic – which at the end of K pop concerts erupts into orgies of repressed emotion. Watch any of ShinEEs big concerts – by the penultimate song, lead singer Jonghyun will start crying and can barely sing, to the point where I have wondered whether it’s a stunt.  It’s not, it’s real. Footage of their French tour has them all in hysterics with the entire crowd chanting in French, ‘Don’t Cry.’ (which they must have heard in every language by now)

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But, K pop is also an incredibly skilful mimicry of Western, American pop and soul, with acutely observed and replicated physical and vocal motifs that owe everything to Michael and Janet Jackson, Paula Abdul and Prince. K pop singers can also rap like African-American rappers and dress accordingly too – almost past the point of good taste/political sensitivity, with nuances that might well be lost on the performers themselves. K pop is a performance art that has done the West better that  it could do itself – then exported the product back across the water. South Korea as a nation has in the last 20 years seen a meteoric rise, especially in the realm of technology and business and the ‘soft power’ of the creative and entertainment industries. Always in the shadow of the unpredictable North, a war survivor and a ‘catch up’ nation good at copying, not innovation, South Korea has now emerged into an undisputed global contender, with brand names, catch phrases, fast foods and household names that economists foresee will become ubiquitous in the West. K pop is an energy exchange, manipulated, arguably, by the older generation for the young, but in the hands of the young, has a life of its own. Go on YouTube and you will find that US high school girls are learning Korean just so they can understand their favourite K pop lyrics. They are also crushing heavily on the androgynous beauty of Korean men as a welcome contrast to American standards of  hyper masculinity. From the other side, delve behind the Korean fashion industry and you will see beauty products, accessories, makeup tutorials and whole streets of plastic surgery clinics devoted to making Korean eyes look more European. (also prevalent in China)

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Is this East/West love affair unbelievably messed up or – is something potentially more interesting going on?

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OK, so pop culture is mass manipulation – which has suckered me along with everyone else – but let me now focus on the positive. I first saw the the video to ShinEE’S ‘Hello’ playing at my favourite Korean restaurant where I sometimes stop before going to my teaching job. I was utterly taken. My first thought was how like Michael Jackson they were, in sound and choreography. Then, what genuinely good singing. But mainly they seemed to have a pink haired drag queen/LadyBoy singing with them – how progressive, unusual and refreshing. How gay! Was this a gay act? Of course it was K pop phenomenon Lee Taemin, youngest member and ‘maknae’ (trainee) of the group, (joined at 14 now 22) whom SHAWOL fag hags all over the world passionately hope is fellow member Choi Minhos gay lover.

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I began to follow ShinEE, to the point of even tracking down imports from now defunct HMV. Their whole act fascinated me. Not just their music, (they are great singers, each very distinctive) but also hilarious fan-made mashups, parodies and mistranslations that gently satirise group members quirks and also manage to reference the down low yet obvious gay undertones of the group. Here’s what was refreshing to me, since I am a gay act with virtually no role models.  I don’t like all their releases or – fashion phases, (blue contact lenses – no!) but at best, their energy is a perfect storm of male and female energy that makes more sense to me than anything I am seeing in the western music world, male or female, gay or straight. As a lesbian person, songwriter and performer – I am craving some sort of reflection back to myself of something that feels like me – a kind of third path. Femininity that’s tough, baggy trousered, streetwise, desirous of female company and not afraid to grab it’s crotch. Masculinity that’s camp, glam, kind, silly, funny, gentle and homo-erotic. They really are my honorary lesbians…

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And what about Amber (pictured above) – female rapper and dancer with K pop group FX? This super fit and bendy dancer was born and raised in the US, and can be under no illusions as to what her style suggests to a generation used to ‘The L Word’, ‘Orange Is The New Black’ and Ruby Rose. Amber is a pure delight, whether body popping on daytime TV, promoting her cosmetic line, ‘Talent’, filming her army reality TV experience (which positions her as a straight tomboy falling for the male officer – but we don’t believe her) or hanging out with the ShinEE boys singing, (google it) the Llama song. She radiates affability, humour and ease. She’s especially cute hanging out on the Eat Your Kimchi show – eating Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour beans – which may be a a fictional confection from the Harry Potter books – but also exist as a real product that’s big in South East Asia. She too, has attracted speculation as to whether she was involved with ShinEE members. They all grew up around each other in a celebrity environment so, who knows?

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At the end of the day, K pop kids, your gay fans don’t care that much if you are gay or not – we love that you might be. You make a product that is inspiring and ever so slightly challenging enough that it might just soften up the world we live in. We hope you didn’t have to sleep with unsavoury people to get to the top, that you are not too tired, dieting and working out constantly, and that you are not contractually forced into plastic surgery and that you are not mind controlled robots and that you get to see and spend some of those earnings. In the West we have a LGBT movement with lots of visibility and social acceptance. I understand that in South Korea – for all that Seoul has Gay Pride and a gay district – that things are much more on the ‘down low’ and less accepted in the conservative mainstream, especially with the older generation. Still, like in Thailand there seems to be a very unaffected natural same sex erotic flow that is actually more laid back than in UK media and society. No-one shouts ‘gay’ as a insult if men hold hands in the street (do they?) whereas in the UK, they will. Amber can look like a dyke in broad daylight on national TV and is safe to do so. Maybe visible K pop Bromance is a way for hidden but ‘genuine gays’ to hide in plain sight. Maybe it’s just affection and us ‘real gays’ in the west are guilty of sexualising everything. It’s hard to believe the love between this lot is not real. It comes across onstage as more than an act. And the widely available fan cam, candid and casual footage of these stars just hanging out, is filled with chemistry, attraction and affection. Who knows for sure?  Can these worlds meet? The wonderful combination of not having to call it what it is, but having the human right to do so, and yet one day not even having to. AND YET, being proud. Because love is love. Even as a distant dream – this is a world worth imagining.  So come out when you’re ready, guys and gals.

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 ShinEE fighting! 화이팅 ! Amber too! Gay Icons (or not) forever! 

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Resources:

Eat Your Kimchi  Hugely enjoyable quirky travel and culture show by straight, but gay friendly Canadian couple Simon and Martina.

What the Pineapple  Ambers recently launched entertainment channel.

Sweet and Tasty TV  Language lessons, travel, food, culture and ‘KWOW’ (Korean word of the week) from sweet and tasty, age-defying, gender-bending Professor Oh.


 

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A Woman’s Worth…

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(The picture is of Norma Jean Wofford, also known as ‘The Duchess’ – lead guitarist with Bo Diddley from ’62-’66. She doesn’t appear in the book I’m talking about here, but this image goes very well with my blog post title. There were dozens of artists that I could have envisaged in the project. Would I like to see Giving Birth to Sound volume II and III and beyond? Yes.  Also a CD compilation and a dedicated music festival? You bet. I’m dreaming big…)

This post is about the worth and significance of musicians – female ones in particular – our capacity as story-tellers, mediums, healers, visionaries, agitators, collaborators entertainers and communicators. Every week, I am still riding the wave of momentum generated by ‘Giving Birth To Sound’ – the new book by Cologne jazz publisher Buddy’s Knife. With a foreword by legendary jazz pianist Amina Claudine Myers and featuring 48 female musicians – including myself. Over a year ago, I was approached by the editor, Renate da Rin. Would I like to be interviewed for a book about female musicians in jazz and creative music? I was up for it of course, and now suddenly the book has arrived and it’s an absolute dream. I am honoured and happy to be sitting side by side with some of my influences and industry legends. A rich collection of personal histories and records of incredible achievement. The contributions have all been translated into English but each artist tells of a very personal relationship to sound, with a diverse range of nationalities, cultures, languages and instrumentation.

All the artists in the book are receiving our copies at different times and reading the final creation at different paces. Needless to say, with a sense of unfolding wonder and high hopes for further contact and projects. This feels unstoppable! For my part, I feel determined to draw attention to what has been achieved here and why it’s important. Despite distinct differences in age, race, language, education and geography, attitude to music, society and concepts of ‘womanhood’, there are common themes amongst the participants – which speak volumes about the times we are living in. An awareness of injustice, a recognition of global inequality and an economic climate where poverty is being demonised and money worshipped, the natural world being destroyed. A recognition that things are in some ways worse not better. A proud, fearless independence, but love of collaboration. An almost mystical, ecstatic reverie that comes from the creative process. Early exposure not just to musical stimulus, but to the worlds of the imagination. A generous passion and hope for the music above all – often expressed in words that are non-linear, poetic, idiomatic and rhapsodic. The book actually reads like a piece of music itself.

Women and girls have been told so many times that we can’t do stuff – either that we’re weak, incompetent and decorative … or in other periods of history and geography, that we are only good for sex, childcare, menial labour and social scapegoating, physical/emotional punchbags, with no access to self-improvement. I don’t say that lightly. In some areas, women have lower status than a domestic animal. Though happily, neither extreme is my own personal experience – the reality of worldwide abuse of women and girls is now so widely known about, that the concept of  female emancipation can no longer be ridiculed as some special interest feminist minority issue. It’s affecting the gender which is actually the majority. So it brings me joy when I see initiatives that really celebrate women. Our stories need to be heard. Some of them are shocking.

 (Here’s what I wrote to the editors:)

”The more I read of the book, the more I am blown away, with love and inspiration, heart quakes and shakes, tears of solidarity and empathy and also a fair bit of socio-political outrage. Today, reading the story of the musician who was accused as a child of being a liar – (TWICE) as her work was so advanced they didn’t believe it was hers… (this happened to me at school, with a play I wrote.)”  * I remember too, after a performance at the Isle of Wight Jazz festival, being approached by the (drunk) director of another prominent UK jazz festival. He accused me of not being the author of my own songs, which he threatened to  research and expose as classic standards which I had in fact plagiarised. Talk about a compliment and insult at the same time. I later received an apology …

 (I also wrote this to the editors:)

”I have to say, a book, (so much more than just a ‘book’) of this nature could not have happened at this time in the UK. We’re beset here with a governmental drive towards austerity that is unbelievable. But there are valiant pockets of rebellion and creativity resourcefulness, generosity and people-power all the more amazing, as we are operating against the odds here. A common theme amongst some of the contributors seems to be the increasing punishment of the poor and of poverty by government and media, affecting all artists – so maybe this economic trend is worldwide. BUT I am so thankful to you creative jazz loving folks at Buddys Knife – for your intellectual courage, determination and artistic integrity in doing this project.
Each one of these 48 contributors is not just a musical creator, but leader, visionary and dare I say it – shaman/sorcerer/witch/wizard/world-bridger and changer of epic proportions. Each with her own networks of international creativity. There are some global possibilities here. As with all creations – a mixture of strong desire/intent and a trust and ALLOWING… the inevitability and momentum of dreams coming to fruit : ) Thinking big. Loving large. Powering the imagination. Women are rising again.”

Here is the intro on the back cover, which says it beautifully. Here’s why you need to read this book! Please order it and buy copies for your friends, libraries, schools, jazz cafes. By doing so you will be helping to support the next stage of our journey – you too will be ‘giving birth to sound!’

”Giving Birth to Sound is about Her-story as told by some of the most brilliant and creative women musicians in the world. Individual thinkers and movers who have been brave enough to devote their lives to the making of music the way they hear it. They were not afraid to sing and speak in the name of sound, showing us that they are a family of unique individuals, separate but united. Read their words and listen to their music whenever you can – it will take you even closer to the great mystery called life.”
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   How to buy the book:
   http://www.buddysknife.de/our-titles/
   info@buddysknife.de
   Available on amazon.com and amazon.de.
Thank you for reading!

 

 

 

Beginner’s Mind

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Whatever it is, begin it. Everyday. Start again. Don’t think about the time you have left, or may have wasted. Eyes in front. Start. Don’t look at the clock. Time is a poor container. Only connect deeply with the content that you have to do, then do. Sink magically and with conviction into your content and master time. Think in chunks, slices, segments, ribbons, minutes or epochs. It doesn’t matter. Just begin and begin every single second if you have to. Begin. When did you, as a being, as a process, begin? You always have been. In reality, you never were not and never will not be – in some form or other. There will always just be now. Even before, that was still now, from the point of view of then…so, get present and stop worrying about the illusion, the veritable tyranny of the linear. It’s not real. Even if you are 1 minute from death, use that minute to begin what you always wanted to do or be. Sounds mad? It’s about how you think about it. Just wake up! That faraway voice in the back of your head. That is the alarm clock. Begin the rest of your life – now!

Begin. Step out into thin air. There is glory in the attempt. Just do it. Allow it. if you have any sort of spiritual life, you know that you are just an instrument of some bigger cause. A precious fragment of an expanding idea playing with its own edges and limits. Therefore, what have you to lose? Did you waste the morning through sloth or procrastination? You still have the afternoon.

If you have trouble starting, it’s all about perception and attitude. How do you begin your day? Make it enjoyable in whatever way suits you. Welcome it in. Think about how you enter your day and also how you leave – as entry into the dream/sleep world is also a beginning, waking up on the other side.

Do you have trouble finishing? Well, finishing is also a beginning – the beginning of the new transition into the next phase that your project or accomplishment has caused. We are just reference points upon an unfolding skein of existence.

In the worlds of  jazz improvisation or martial arts manoeuvres, you may think you know everything there is – every lick, hook, sleight of hand, combination of kicks, punches and locks. You may have a virtuoso tool kit, honed by experience and years of study. But you never know the context, the form your challenges may take, or the new travelling companions that may turn up. Be prepared for absolute surprises in each and every moment. Do not expect things to take a certain course because that’s what always happened previously. Life favours long periods of routine followed by wrenching, paradigm bucking, imagination warping change.

That means you too! Get ready to begin!


 

 

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Survival Tips for Musicians.

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I was asked recently to share my survival tips in the form of a guest blog article for London Jazz News.
You can read the slightly shortened article HERE.
Here’s my original stream of ideas…
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Bruce Lee talked about the importance of ‘travelling alongside the barrier’ not breaking yourself against it. He also counselled that everyone’s journey will include that barrier, obstacles being the universal experience, not the individual experience of any one oppressed group. He should know. He met with constant industry barriers and personal demons and in fact did not survive past 32. Still, his insights, achievements, films and notebooks are of philosophical and practical benefit to us today. In my  20 years of studying Aikido, I encounter repeatedly the principle of yielding/rolling away safely and living to fight another day.
If you want to survive in music, you have to totally accept that time, (like money) is an illusion. Aim for longevity and consistency and repetition. Never go away, never give up. Think big, whilst attending to the everyday details of what needs doing each day to advance the goal. Trust that people will start to recognise your name.
If you want to survive sexism, and misogyny in any industry, zoom back and look at what’s going on globally. Historical and current oppression of women and girls through religious programming, economic hardship, Capitalist/Imperialist plunder war and sexual enslavement is systemic and worse than ever. Take a deep breath and realise that you were born into a longterm malfunctioning paradigm – you didn’t invent it. Therefore forgive yourself that you can’t personally surmount it overnight. Take heart from the fact that many, many, many people are well and truly sick of it. Cultivate solidarity with female projects and initiatives, and mentoring networks. Accept and enjoy professional solidarity from both guys and women. This epoch in history will pass, like all the others. Change is underway.
Be aware of reputation. Cultivate it consciously. Your actions are powerful. If you hire musicians, treat them well, speak of others well, be aware that you function as part of a community and that your actions and words reflect upon you. Cultivate connection and right relationship. We draw that which is like, unto ourselves. I have tried and trusted personnel that I work with over and over again. Band members, mentors, engineers, venue managers – we stand the test of time. Build and keep a team of extended and expanding professional family and keep it tight and good-natured. Pay debts, get paid. Work clean.
With so much emphasis on social media and internet marketing and promotion and the onus upon the individual artist like never before, we are living on the edge of a business paradigm that changes daily. There is an option (even subtle obligation) to be available 24 hours a day via social media. On top of this you have to practice and rehearse your actual music. It’s brutal. Periodically, allow yourself a regular retreat into darkness and quiet. You are an animal, not a machine. Avoid burn-out by getting outside into nature and away from computers as often as possible.
Be aware and sceptical about the current plethora of  business advice out there, some of it New Age/Law of Attraction in tone. Much of it is common sense and true but think twice before paying through the nose for it. It may be stuff that you could have worked out yourself. Skim it, apply the principles but stay grounded, stay independent and focus on the content of what you do. ‘Advertising speak’ van be very corrosive to the artistic soul. When people talk about ‘branding’ it just means be clear and consistent in what you are selling and where customers can find it.
Be joyous – or what’s the point? Music mogul Russell Simmons recently said in an interview,  ”Money doesn’t make you happy – happy makes you money.”
The art that you make, and the gut instinct to create and express has to come from a place of raw love. The work must be done first and foremost for its own sake, from a place of pride and sincerity in order for it to withstand the long haul. Every now and agin, this is worth reviewing.
Successful people tend to have huge ups and downs and have no fear of taking risks. They know that the tools required to survive both poverty and riches, are the same. Stay cool, hang on to your hat. know that it’s an illusion and could change at any minute, so be alert, be curious and get ready to have fun!
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Women, Music and Revolution.

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(Khadijatou DoynehFaye Patton and band onstage Trafalgar Sq. 8th March 2014. Photo credit, Frederique Rapier)

What’s the connection between women, music and revolution?

Voice is both physical vocal power and a metaphor for wider expression, soul signature and identity, contribution, creation, comment, analysis and dissent within the arena of public and private life. There is a political voice/authorial voice as well as the ability to speak or sing. At any given time across the world, women’s voices are not heard, or are actively suppressed and silenced. Sexual/reproductive, economic, educative, domestic, religious and social agency are all ‘voices’ that get maimed, shattered and squashed in girls and women across the world. Those voices that do rise up and escape – both to express  the original impulse – and to report the injustice of suppression, do so at enormous risk.

A woman’s voice is clearly a tool of awesome power.

As someone who sings professionally and has taught both singing and self-defence/martial arts to groups of women, I have a perspective on the power of speech and song. I have seen over and over again that moment when an individual opens the floodgates and releases her unique voice. Sometimes accompanied by tears, laughter or sheer bewilderment. It never ceases to humble and inspire me.  The first thing I teach any aspiring singer or fighter, is the same thing – how to yell – really yell, long and loud, repeatedly. It’s a vital ‘first port of call’ in boundary definition. People are amazed at the discovery that if done in a relaxed way, this is no effort, indeed, it energises and sustains. If you can yell, you can sing. Sound travelling on the breath, sustained by the body, is a magical act. Do with it what you will. Change will occur! No wonder it makes our suppressors nervous and no wonder so many women find their own power hard to handle at first.

On March 8th, I was proud to be involved again with the Million Women Rise march and rally in Trafalgar Square, London, UK. Thanks to titanic, steady hard work, both behind and in front of the scenes, this  movement is becoming, year after year, an organic phenomenon. A uniquely diverse, grassroots forum for female activism and expression from across the globe. Songs, speeches, celebration and hope, anger and outrage, dancing, drumming, reportage and courageous testimony. Information and exchange, strategy and solidarity, friendship and extended kinship. Right in the very the heart of this planet’s most imperialistic country and city. (Ironic, no?)

This movement now has its own collective ‘voice’. Let’s celebrate that voice. It’s here to stay.

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LINKS AND INFO:

Official Million Women Rise Site.

For more amazing shots of the day’s march and rally, click here. Site of official event photographer is Frederique Rapier Photography

There is a situation going on in the UK which is a national disgrace. Female asylum seekers fleeing situations of gender persecution, (including but not limited to: war/rape, female genital mutilation, and homophobic violence) only to end up incarcerated in UK detention centres. One group that does great work to support lesbian/gay asylum seekers from African countries is Movement for Justice.

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