For the multimedia project final, I will pursue the idea and practices of commodification and commercialization of minority music and culture through the visuals of music videos. I will draw mostly on the mainstream example of Poland’s 2014 Eurovision entry, with a second source being a broader base of visuals from smaller-market Polish rap and hip-hop as a more specific nation-level case. I will approach the problem from what I view as three main perspectives: general commercialization and appropriation of folk culture; the appropriation of ‘black genres’ such as rap and hip-hop by nonblack performers and audiences, and the specific appropriation of aspects of black rap and hip-hop folk dress.
For the 2014 Eurovision Song Contest, Poland entered a song titled “My Słowianie” (pron: Mayh Swo-vee-AH-nee-eigh) officially translated into English as “We Are Slavic” (more literally “We Slavs”). The video features the female vocalist, Cleo, (also the lyricist) with a backup cast of women dressed in traditional Polish folk garb—with an added emphasis on cleavage: the normally high collar is brought down to the bodice. It opens with girls dressed in more modern party clothing, leopard prints, tanks tops, and dyed hair, undergoing a fashion makeover to a more traditional folk dress. The video also features other scenes of folk life; it is all set on a thatched-roof farm, with scenes of bread making, butter churning (yes, it is a visual metaphor for sex), and folk dancing. Folklife has been sexualized and fetishized visually.
The lyrical content is also remarkable—the closest thing I know to it is the content of early Afro-centric music of the Native Tongues, but even that takes a very different construction.
My Słowianie wiemy jak nasze na nas działa
Lubimy jak poruszasz tym co mama w genach dała
To jest ta gorąca krew, to jest nasz słowiański zew
My Słowianki wiemy jak użyć mowy ciała
Wiemy jak poruszać tym co mama w genach dała
To jest ta słowiańska krew, to jest ta uroda i wdzięk
Roughly translated as:
We Slavs know how to make it work for us
We like to shake the genes that mama gave us
This is the hot blood, this is our Slavic call
We Slavs know how to make our bodies talk
We know how to shake the genes that mama gave us
This is the Slavic blood, it is beauty and grace
It is the use of the word “genes” here that I find so curious. It seems unusual, but is it unusually dangerous? Does it represent a real revival of—if not racism—racialism? How should think about it in comparison to other racialized discussion of body and beauty in songs like “Baby Got Back”?
When considering the folk, I hope to examine where the line is between cultural and national heritage, and ethnic or racial groups, and how ethnicity and race are constructed in folk settings. The discussion of “My Słowianie” will be used to frame an understanding of race politics in Poland. In an overwhelmingly white country, where ethnic minorities are often also white communities (German, Ukrainian, Belarussian), how are divisions still created and played on? One of the most interesting thing about the song is its apparant pan-Slavist message. Pan-Slavism is often rejected in Poland as a Russian tool for cypto-neo-imperialism, and so the lyrical content must be examined with that knowledge. This will set the stage for a broader-based understanding of race cultures and identity in Poland.
Because “My Słowianie” falls within the genre of hip-hop, I hope to explore the world of thought on the topic of the internationalization of rap and hip-hop and other genres of ‘black music’ such as jazz. How do issues concerning the commodification and commercialization of these genres jibe with an understanding of the roots and internal politics of these genres? Theodor Adorno offers an insight into this process in considering jazz when he states that
like commodity consumption itself, the manufacture (Herstellung) of jazz is also an urbanphenomenon, and the skin of the black man functions as much as a coloristic effect as does the silver of the saxphone. In no way does a triumphant vitality make its entrance in these bright music commodities; the European-American entertainment business has subsequently hired the [supposed] triumphant victors to appear as their flunkies and as figures in advertisements, and their triumph is merely a confusing parody of colonial imperialism.* (1990:53)
*Rather confusingly, Adorno uses both parenthesis and brackets in this selection; both appear in the quoted portion verbatim from the text.
Here Adorno seems to be saying that blackness, “the skin of the black man” has been sold, and the ‘black music’ has been commodified and sold with it, making the skin of the artist, of its root, nothing more than a fashionable accessory. This will be my theoretical launching point as I pursue further research into the theory of appropriation in the commodification of ‘black music’. Is this appropriation wholly an “unwanted side effect of cultural contact”? (Nercessian 2002:22) It would also be an oversight to ignore literature on the music industry and the artistic-commerical choices that are made in the process of marketing and selling of music. Why do some things sell?
Tying these two aspects together, through the lens of Polish rap culture, I will address the issue of the folk dress of rap. International musicians will often wear and perform in American garb, specifically styles learned from African-American rappers and hip-hop artists. Hooded sweatshirts and baseball caps appear around the world worn on the backs and crowns of these non-black musicians. In a country as white as Poland, this fashion decision is clearly made to legitimize these rappers by drawing on the African-American roots of the musical culture they practice. This fashion can clearly be considered as an authentic folk dress of a black rap culture. With this in mind, I hope to use the wide literature on appropriation such as Vine Deloria’s Custer Died for Your Sins and Philip Deloria’s Playing Indian. How is folk culture used and abused by all groups—those entitled or ‘licenced’, and those not? Some attention will also be payed to the position articulated by Andy Nercessian that “could we ever have spoken of cultures as if they were independent and tightly cocooned, unaffected by other cultures and therefor clearly different”? (2002:21). Polands international position in relation to America, the country of origin for hip-hop, will be critical to a conversation about this specific instance of appropriation.
Adorno, Theodor W. and Jamie Owen Daniel
1990 On Jazz. Discourse. Fall-Winter:45-69.
2013 My Słowianie. Donatan, prod. Urban Rec.
2002 Postmoderism and Globalization in Ethnomusicology: An Epistemological Problem. Boston: Scarecrow Press.
1992 Baby Got Back. Sir Mix-a-Lot, prod. Def American
2014 Screenshot of glamrap.pl article “FUSO: JESTEM PRODUCENTEM, KTORY RAPUJE SOBIE Z ZAJAWKI”. Glamprap.pl. Authors original work.