Last week I wrote about the Bolivian Saya, and how I fell in love with it. The story was connected to the lesson I taught about indigenous Latin-American music . This week I will teach a lesson on EurAfrican Latin-American music – or is it AfrOpean?
We have quite a lot of all that going on in the Netherlands. Latin-American music is enormously popular here; salsa and comparable genres are danced and listened to by hordes, and the same counts for tango; and then reggae is not to be missed, including white Dutchies with rasta-hair hoping to return to Ethiopia some day (I am not making anything up here; nor am I judging this as foolishness or trying to get a cheap laugh out of it – I am just stating some facts).
But let’s not forget part of the popularity of Latin-American music is due to the fact that many people from Latin-American descent live in the Netherlands. Refugees from the mainland dictatorships came to the Netherlands in quite some numbers, added by fellow countrymen attracted to our royal (Royle) family. And then there is “our” colonial past, accounting for many Antilleans and Surinamese living in the Netherlands. Mind you: technically speaking many of them are just as Dutch as I am; and often not-technically speaking also, by the way.
Music from the Dutch Antilles and Surinam have internationally not gained the attention they deserve, I think, although things are changing slowly. I recently met an American who occasionally went to Surinam because he thought he amazing multicultural set-up of the population so interesting – he even knew about Jarang Kepang. Listen if you can to the excellent Antillean bard Oswin Chin Behilia. And if you think of trying to get a glimpse of Surinamese music, check YouTube for kawina and kaseko, its mixture kaskawi, groot bazuin, hindipop, baitak ghana, and what have you. It is amazing.
One of the things I like best is kaseko music. This very Latin-sounding music with its characteristic snare drum rattling is forever in my ears for two reasons. One is the fact that during my study we had a class in which we had to make a transcription of the songs of the King of Kaseko, Lieve Hugo. Just last year a complete concert in the Concertgebouw with the Metropole orchestra and a bunch of Dutch celebs was held in memory of this extraordinary singer who died way too young.
The transcription assignment led me to ask a Surinamese colleague from the Amsterdam secondary school where I worked at the time to translate the lyrics for me. He did; it was something like “Young man, don’t eat all the food, leave something for the old men too”. He translated it neatly; it kind of matched with what was written about the song on the cd inlay. But then, of course, he explained – and I seem to remember he was a bit embarrassed but amused at the same time - the song was not about food so much as about sex – as loads of Hugo’s songs are. Tongue-in-cheek was probably one of his main postures.
The other reason why I like this music so much is that, also for the same course, I had to visit a kaseko dance party. So again I asked my excellent colleague – I often wonder what he is doing now; if you read this, J., do you remember us meeting occasionally at the Vondelpark open air concerts in summer holidays on Sunday afternoons? I cherish those memories - and he agreed to go with me to such a party. Again he seemed a bit embarrassed, but at the same time he kind of liked it. So we went to a party which was announced to start at 10 PM. We arrived at 11.30 in a completely empty dance hall where a band was playing mainly for itself and the bar keepers. Only after 01.30 or so people started coming in, and when we left at 3 in the morning the hall was steaming hot and the party in full swing.
At the entrance of course there were people selling food from the boots of their cars, and when we left one of them said next time we should stay until at least 7 in the morning. I don’t remember much from the music or the dancing; I think my friend danced with a woman after which he was discouraged to carry on with that by some guy; but it was kind of my first fieldwork experience, and it taught me a lot, especially about ways in to the “field”.
Later I have heard much more kaseko, with endless pleasure. I read about it in Ronald Snijders’ books and learned about its predecessors from the beautiful movie Brass Unbound (Boonzajer Flaes/Van der Keuken). And I think Lieve Hugo, who opened up his world for me just by being the innocent victim of a not too brilliant university course, deserves a statue in the Netherlands.
And I probably have to include him in the next edition of my World Top Ten (did you notice it consisted of only nine?).