8 December 2010

Contextualising music

“the most enlightened country or you say so
but how modern is it to be racial


Well it looks to me
like our history's
running on repeat
over and over again”

What makes an artist or a crew of artists what they are? A very general question, obviously requiring as many answers as there are artists and crews. Perhaps the real question with art and any aesthetic is that do I like it. If yes, then let’s have it, but otherwise let it be – what more really is necessary? Nothing. Such is art. No matter how on point it is supposed to be, if you think it’s rubbish then that’s that.

But just because it isn’t necessary doesn’t mean that I am not allowed to look into it. An interesting example is soon again album releasing European independent sonic giant Looptroop Rockers from Sweden. Recently they made a song and video available online to build momentum for the forthcoming album and at the time, I didn’t even have the frame of mind to link it here, but that doesn’t mean that I wasn’t moved by it.

I am moved by the song as on top of focusing on a national problem of right wing populist party getting into the Swedish Riksdagen – the parliament – it draws the comparisons and reflects on a European standard. It is a song by a group that generally does this. A European conscience. This is not very common occurrence to be honest with you. I am no absolute authority on the topic, far from it, but I haven’t really come across another group that would act as regional commentators realistically saying that this is Europe – a continent that instead of being an underdog has gone around creating underdog’s globally, and rap has traditionally, even if it wouldn’t look like that on the surface anymore, been an expression of the counter culture. It’s not very fashionable to make Euro rap – rather artists on the continent identify with their cities and neighbourhoods. But Looptroop makes its observations from the frontiers of the society, representing the counter-culture, but doing so realistically, not pretending to be something they aren't.

Without much evidence I’m saying that Looptroop speaks out because they are Swedish and speak without borders because they are not from a major city. It’s a guess, but not completely uneducated. It is a terrible generalisation and of course there are tons more reasons – more personal and individualistic by nature – I am sure, but none of this takes place in a vacuum; it is part of broader culture which has been encouraged.

A lot can be said about the Swedish post-war (which they officially didn’t particpate in, but obviosuly were influenced by) society and the birth of the Scandinavian welfare society. While for decades the state was ran by the Social Democratic Party with no apparent threat from the opposition, the culture that was introduced was the one of solidarity, relative openness and healthy public discourse. The most important individual of the century, at least arguably, Olof Palme who many criticised for pushing through his decisions even forcefully, was still always available for discussion and to give a speech. Palme, later assassinated and whose assassin wasn’t found after the shooting, and of which Looptroop ‘took the responsibility’ was not afraid to distance himself from both major players of the cold war, Soviet Union – he was dedicated anti-communist – and United States, who he criticised for the imperial wars in Vietnam and beyond. This wasn’t very convenient strategy, but what can you do when you have to stand up for what you believe in. Under his command the nation stood firm by the side of the African and Asian countries in their battle for decolonising their lands. It’s no accident. And it isn’t an accident either that for the first time in my life I heard someone who isn’t forced to do so, to take responsibility of the benefits of colonial and post-colonial relationships between Europe and Africa. We all gained financially regardless of the actions of our nations. It isn’t an accident that it should be a Swedish group that acts as our mirror to ourselves and have the decency and understanding to start from the premise that avoiding the responsibility focuses on the counter arguments instead of solutions. Of this, the best example is their brilliant album Fort Europa which really dwells on some really important issues and which was somewhat prophetic and ahead of its time as many questions raised there later became the key ones in attempting to understand the continent.

It is interesting how Looptroop is talking about the politics of the far right to be repeating themselves from the history books – and it seems to very much be the case on some level, but for Looptroop to make this point is another side of the history equally repeating itself. Perhaps there can’t be one without another, but needless to say, and for some reason I still say it, I much prefer the tradition of responsibility over the petty finger pointing.

I like Swedish rap – I have since 1998 when I first was introduced to it – but as far as Stockholm goes, perhaps it is the identity of the biggish city that is too strong to allow the broader continental commentary with the same impact than the guys from smaller places. The city itself of course is also a home to many stories and material to write and rap about. Fair play, but together with the Nordic sensitivity that many insiders find difficult to express and outsiders impossible to understand Looptroop does something quite special with its art. I think it’s distinctly Swedish.

I may have presented a very idealised image of the country, its people and culture. That hasn’t been my aim; they have got bigots and shallow fools like anyone and on top of that they’ve also got king and queen. It also is clear that Looptroop isn’t really representing anything officially Swedish; they are not part of the elites at all. But the whole point is, that being Swedish is not about being perfect – far from it – nor is it to be innocent. To me it seems that what makes Swedish appear to be more mature than many of us rest is the exact ability to deal with imperfections.

We could all learn from that.

********

Here is the video and download the song free and completely legally here. Looptroop in Twitter @LooptroopDVSG

1 comment:

Christian Wiedel said...

I'm Swedish and a long-time Looptroop fan but I had't thought about this European perspective you're discussing here. Well put!