Had a talk with Yale (Luaka Bop) yesterday re: the visa restrictions the U.S. has imposed on foreign musicians in recent years. This was triggered by a discussion regarding the scheduling and budgeting of Susana Baca’s next recording, which will probably take place in both Lima and NYC.
The tightening of the borders in recent years, while it may be understandable regarding genuinely suspicious individuals, is in fact applied with almost no rhyme or reason — although in fact it may only appear to be without reason. A friend told me over a lunch meeting that a chunk of Pina Bausch’s troupe of dancers, based in Wuppertal, Germany, were denied entry, which effectively scuttled the performances that were booked months ahead of time. A tango group in Buenos Aires told me a week or two ago that they have toured Europe 3 times recently but have been consistently denied U.S. visas, so at this point the U.S. doesn't even figure into their performance plans. Yale says that some of the new regulations make the applicants pay when they apply, without knowing if they will even get the visa. Needless to say some individual members of many bands and troupes are refused visas, usually at the last minute, which effectively cancels the tour. The promoters in the U.S. have become loath to even book or schedule foreign acts these days, as the odds are just not in their favor. The prospect of spending money on promotion, ads and radio only to have the show cancelled by the INS when the act applies for their visas is discouraging, and financially ruinous to some small promoters — so they eventually just don’t end up taking the risk. Likewise, many small U.S. labels who might release recordings by foreign artists will think twice if there will be little likelihood of a local live show to generate press and interest. Often that’s the only way they have or generating press and word of mouth. So, many times, the labels “edit” what they release based on these legal and economic factors.
It amounts to a kind of cultural censorship. Call me paranoid, but given all the manipulative tricks the Republicans have gotten up to recently, I am prepared to believe that this has less to do with Homeland security and more to do with keeping the American public ignorant and free of foreign influence and inspiration. An ill-informed, isolated, ignorant populace is a populace easily manipulated. Fed a diet of reality shows coupled with faith-based reasoning (an oxymoron if ever there was one) and you have a perfect recipe for a country in which the government that can do more or less whatever it wants. Democracy becomes a farce without access to information. And culture — music, theater, dance, etc. — is information for the heart. Yes, we can still obtain news reports and recordings online, but without live performance there is a hole where there should be face to face “news” about how others live, how they love and why and what their passions are. If we are not allowed to feel the rest of the world then we can be told anything about it and not know what those people are really like. If the Other is hidden from you, then you don’t even know to ask or inquire about what it is you’re not getting — because you don’t even know it exists.
Any government that can cynically manufacture fake news reports, install fake reporters, create fake media outlets and then simply shrug it off when caught is capable of doing this as well.
Went to a discussion at the NY Public Library between Paul Auster and Chico Buarque. Buarque has written numerous novels over the years, so despite being known mainly as a Brazilian songwriter, he’s now also part of the literary world, hence the Auster connection.
A number of times he mentioned that he writes the words to songs last — that the music comes first and words are eventually found to fit the existing meter and melody. The chart, the framework for the text he referred to a “monster”. Meaning that he writes a more or less nonsense text that fits the melody, the accents and the meter, and uses that as a guide… and he calls this a monster version of the song.
Being familiar with this way of writing — it’s the way I usually work, too — it was amusing to see the reaction of the audience — almost disbelief. Being literary types the primacy of the word is paramount for them, so imagining that choosing words primarily because they fit a tune and a meter must be anathema, unbelievable. Well, more or less — I’m exaggerating a little. There were quite few questions from the audience that to me attempted to challenge this idea — people just couldn’t believe, for example, that a song written for a musical or a film didn’t have words first. I mean, it had to fit the story, the character, right? Well, the words even for these often don’t come first, and yet they still adhere to the subject, and if they’re well written they give the impression that the words and music arose simultaneously.
Afterwards, at a dinner party, there was a lot of discussion re: the lack of books in translation in the U.S. It’s another way in which the US has become more isolated, closed, shut off. It’s a little harder to ascribe this to a willful conspiracy like the visa rulings — it might be the legacy of years of cultural dominance, a dominance which is gradually disappearing. Part of the backwash, or blowback as the CIA calls it, of globalization is that cultures and regions around the world have rediscovered their own cultural resources. Rather than simply seeing themselves as a market for American goods they see America as a market for their goods, services and culture. It goes both ways. So, while the US might not be interested — there isn’t a true reciprocity — the self-image of many nations has changed. Music charts in most countries are no longer dominated by U.S. or English language product, much or which was force-fed and is no longer seen as relevant, and likewise the book lists around the world are no longer dominated by translations of English language writers — there is a more equitable balance… though this balance is not reflected in the U.S. Rome still believes that it makes and the rest of the world should simply buy and consume.
These writer reporter guys at this dinner party exchange amazing stories — that the U.S.-installed president of Afghanistan is a well known pederast (he likes young boys), for example… but everyone is loath to put that in print. I was sort of mystified — why not print it? The explanation seemed to be that it's not unusual over there and it deflects attention from whether or not he's actually doing anything about pulling that country together, which is deemed a more important issue.
Hmmm. I see.