Sunday, November 24, 2013

Euromusic and the Orientalist Camp Zeitgeist

The notorious VH1 Pop Up Video for Rock the Casbah ran
over 30,000 words without footnotes, had a preface by
Benny Morris, and was completely unwatchable
Is it really possible that four of the most brilliantly ridiculous songs ever written about the Middle East all came out within 4 years of each other? Yes. Even more amazing is that these four years coincided with the high-point of English language interest in the Middle East as a region, at least according to Google N-gram (Google's numbers for these charts get a little unreliable after 2000, but despite a clear uptick after 9/11 interest in the term never approached its 1982 peak). Anyways, i assume this is what people have in mind when they talk about a zeitgeist. What does it all mean? You tell me. Of these four hits, two are by British musicians and the other two by Germans (or rather a German-produced Afro-Carribean ensamble in the case of Boney M and a bunch of East Germans in the case of Dschinghis Khan). Also, all four have remarkable videos. The Clash's features an Armadillo. Dschinghis Khan's is in the fine tradition of Eurovision dance numbers. Yassassin (Subtitle: Turkish for Long Live) doesn't really have one, and Boney M's has a fake beard. What does Ra Ra Rasputin have to do with the Middle East? A lot more than Brown Girl in the Ring, obviously, and it wasn't like we could make this chart without a single Boney M song. More importantly, if you listen to Rasputin carefully you'll hear the similarity to one of  Turkey's classic songs...

** Subsequently readers have drawn attention to two excellent additions: Madness's 1979 Night Boat to Cairo and the Stranglers' 1981 Golden Brown.

Finally, lest this post be accused of lacking a map, here is a handy geographic breakdown of the first verse of Rock the Casbah...

Now the king told the boogie men
You have to let that raga drop
The oil down the desert way
Has been shakin' to the top
The sheik he drove his Cadillac
He went a' cruisnin' down the ville
The muezzin was a' standing
On the radiator grille

The shareef don't like it
Rockin' the Casbah
Rock the Casbah
The shareef don't like it
Rockin' the Casbah
Rock the Casbah

-- Paul Simonon, Joe Strummer, Mick Jones & Topper Headon