Re-Appropriating Appropriation

An analysis of influence: what Esau Mwamwaya's sampling of Vampire Weekend means.

In the past week, two major music blogs (Stereogum and Gorilla vs. Bear) have featured Malawi's Esau Mwamwaya along with leaked tracks from his highly anticipated debut release produced by Radioclit, the British DJ/production duo with a naughty name. Mwamwaya was also featured on the cover of Fader magazine's Africa-centric issue earlier this year, and he is increasingly getting attention in the U.S. due to collaborations with such headline-grabbing indie acts as M.I.A., Santogold, Bonde do RolĂȘ, and Vampire Weekend. Now, Vampire Weekend has been maligned in a lot of press over the past year due to their Paul Simon-ish appropriation of Afro-pop, Columbia University grads (read cynically: privileged white kids) that they are. But what does that really say about their music itself? And, furthermore, does it mean that white, Europe-descended performers are forever relegated to finding inspiration from Bach or John Philip Sousa? Does anyone begrudge the Beatles for their infatuation with African-American bluesmen like Bo Diddley? Did it not bring greater attention to those deservingly inspirational artists?

Rhetorical questions aside, what Esau Mwamwaya has done by sampling Vampire Weekend's "Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa" is the deliciously cannibalistic re-appropriation--or reclamation, even--of appropriation. The result, like M.I.A.'s more politically minded contributions, decentralizes Western influence as "normative" and shines the spotlight even more directly on global issues, specifically those relating to the rise of so-called "third-world" (an opprobrious misnomer if ever there was one) nations. Even if I don't speak the language.

TMN Editor Erik Bryan is living the dream. He grew up in Florida, but he’s from all over. He likes playing chess, making cocktails, smarting off, and not freezing to death in Brooklyn, where he currently resides. More by Erik Bryan

blog comments powered by Disqus