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WPGM Commentary: Four Tet’s Playlist Protest Is A Celebration Of Culture

Pioneering UK producer Four Tet (Kieran Hebden) made a political statement of a unique sort last week. The musician collated tracks by artists from the seven Muslim-majority countries named in Trump’s blanket ban (which would prevent them from entering the US for 90 days).

Whether it is regarded as a necessary precautionary measure or not, the fact remains that the people of these countries are being persecuted as a whole due to the actions of a minority. In these circumstances, we need new ways to speak for and to these people.

The idea came to Hebden when reflecting on his time recording with Syrian musician Omar Souleyman in Brooklyn (he produced Souleyman’s 2013 LP Wenu Wenu as well as the title track of his 2015 album, Bahdeni Nami). Under the new executive order, Hebden acknowledged, Souleyman’s nationality would prevent these collaborations.

Along with Souleyman’s hyper, organic electronica, the playlist features tracks from artists such as Hassan Aden Samatar, Rahim AlHaj, Coulibaly Tidiane, Kourosh Yaghmaei, Martik, Mohammed Rafi, and Troupe Chaoueche Saad. It’s a crash course in eclectic, inventive Eastern talent, and it’s got a lot to teach us.

The world right now is at peak protest. Trump’s inauguration alone saw dozens of demonstrations in the US from LGBT, to pro-marijuana-legalisation, to anti-war, to pro-immigrant, to the biggest and most-discussed Women’s March (attended by 200,000 people).

Though it is a hugely positive and important thing to rise up, the sad truth is that we are becoming desensitised to a seemingly constant stream of rallies, placards, soapboxes, fights, parades, punctuated chants. If we repeat the same old formulas and none quite work, it would seem we need new tactics, new perspectives.

Political statements similar to Four Tet’s have been done before; Paul Simon’s controversial, but immensely important Graceland album saw Paul Simon standing with the ostracised people of South Africa during the apartheid in the eighties. In the midst of the boycotting, blood and protests, Simon traveled to the most persecuted country at the time and made an album with South African musicians. No soapbox, just music.

A lack of physicality in a protest is a powerful thing; the sheer act of going over there and making a record with those persecuted spoke the words he wasn’t saying louder than anything else possibly could. We drown out noise but we can’t drown out silence; subtle, peaceful protests do not invade, yet infiltrate, the way we think.

The truth of the matter is that we (through no fault of our own) receive one-dimensional coverage of Islamic countries; their names evoke rubble, racism, refugees. Fundamentally, Four Tet pays deserving homage to the art, aesthetic and musical identity of these seven countries.

Furthermore, he makes an important point about multicultural collaboration; if it weren’t for the meeting of minds across cultures, we wouldn’t have dub, ska, reggae, and all other fusion genres (which is most of them). Closing doors and closing borders will stop us from learning and growing by collaborating multiculturally.

Considering Trump’s plans to eliminate funding for the National Endowment for the Arts, it seems musical culture is not of fundamental importance to the new president. That being said, Four Tet’s peaceful playlist protest speaks to everyone. It raises awareness not only of the xenophobia of the travel ban, but also of the soul, the society and spirit of those affected.

It’s important to stay educated on either side of the cultural chasm between East and West. The boundaries and barriers set by the government may be out of our control, but in times like this, we need the power of these people, their talent and their perspective, their diversity, everything. Collaboration can most definitely prevent stagnation, and when borders are closed the world’s entire creative community will surely suffer.

Words by Hannah Bruce

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