Boom Go the Bombs, Boom Goes the Bass
It is now common knowledge that the upper echelons of the Bush Administration ignored warnings of the 9/11 attacks. But the resulting devastation continues to expand. Bush Junior's War on Terrorism, like his father's Gulf War, has shifted the attention of even the most apolitical Americans towards the so-called "third world." Palestine and Israel, India and Pakistan, Saddam Hussein and Oil Sanctions, and, of course, Afghanistan, have been sent straight to the forefront of the news agenda. Such heightened interest has created a strong market for the sounds and sights of these regions, so it is not surprising that U.S. music producers are finding ways to pillage the "third world" for material.
Of course, Americans are not going to pounce on the latest Dahler Mehndi or Reda Darwish albums, but by appropriating the cultural assets of the "foreign" lands from which these musical styles originate, a new (to much of the "first world") aesthetic has been applied to established Western formulas. The creators of this "new mix" are viewed in turn as having "discovered" an "exotic" or "different" sound. They set imperialism to a new bass-heavy beat, claiming traditional "third world" art forms as hot commodities.
The aural and visual epitome of this "new beat" is the Henna-soaked music video entitled "Addictive" by Truth Hurts, featuring Rakim. DJ Quik produced the song, sampling traditional Hindi music. Although the track is centered on sounds from India, the video features choreographed belly dancing: a Middle Eastern dance form. This odd combination is indicative of a typically totalizing Western mentality: India, the Middle East, what's the difference? The entire "third world" is one big backwards and "underdeveloped" wasteland, right? Wrong, but such assumptions are embedded into every note, chant, beat, image, and dance in "Addictive," relying on the romantic notion that the Middle East and India are inherently mystical and sexy, as if everyone studies the Kama Sutra, practices Tantric Sex, rides magic carpets, and belly dances naked in the moonlight.
While the video's "exoticism" may seem exciting to the average Westerner, who's more used to grinding and grabbing on the dance floor, it comes with imperialist undertones. "Addictive" paints a Westernized Middle East, offering a luxurious palace-turned-nightclub, full of beautiful models slinking and gyrating sexily on the dance floor, in "ethnic," sequined costumes and Henna.
Such seductive images become increasingly politically significant in a time when the dominant (that is, U.S.) media images from the Middle East and India feature decontextualized violence and aggression. Because of these images, many confused and terror-paranoid Americans view the Middle East not as a region with its own history and concerns, but as a vast, evil, anti-American terror network, unhindered by geographical bounds and hell-bent on destroying democracy forever. In that sense, by collapsing the two, "Addictive" convolutes and expands the boundaries of "evil" by making India part of an "anti-American terror network." After all, expanding "boundaries" is what the War on Terrorism is all about, as Ashcroft and Bush know all too well.
This is not to say that Truth Hurts is some secret agent working for the U.S. government, but that representation is always political. Even the average pole-greasing stripper will refer to herself as an "Exotic Dancer," exposing underlying attitudes towards non-Western culture. It is because of these attitudes that the average American can feel magically sexy, dancing in a club to the "forbidden," "risqué" sounds of a faraway "foreign" land like India, even when almost all of those people have no idea what is being said in the song. For them, it simply does not matter how the lyrics translate, only what preconceptions are embedded in the sound.
The result is yet another layer of chaos: two completely unrelated narratives going on simultaneously, in different languages, only one of which is known to the average listener. The sampled Hindi lyrics describe a garland of wedding flowers that are "beautiful" but "bittersweet," while the English lyrics tell the clichéd "Bonnie and Clyde" story, drug life and thug love, so familiar from previous hip-hop tracks, from "Gangsta Bitch" to "Down Ass Bitch."
However, because the visuals recontextualize the music, it isn't quite the same story. Rakim portrays a very wealthy drug lord in his rap, which he performs in an enormous, lavish Middle Eastern palace. With the Taliban having been removed from power, such an image complicates the recent tactic of linking the "War on Terrorism" to the "War on Drugs," and the Taliban to the drug trade. Consider that Mullah Omar banned opium planting in 2000, after years of international pressure, which dramatically decreased production in areas controlled by the Taliban, but it flourished in areas controlled by the Northern Alliance, who are now key allies to the "War on Terrorism." The removal of the Taliban, while beyond beneficial to most of the people in Afghanistan (particularly the women), will actually increase the drug production in the Middle East, allowing more drug lords to come into power.
But this is a music video, and we are not supposed to think beyond its surface and aesthetics, just dance and buy the record. "Addictive" is just another love song set to choreographed dance moves in a club few of us could actually enter. And, although it is currently enjoying heavy rotation on BET and MTV, like so many other fleeting, postmodern concoctions, it will soon be abandoned by fickle Western consumers.
Before it does, Truth Hurts and Aftermath will milk "Addictive" for all it's worth. While promoting her video in an interview with MTV, Truth Hurts admits she has "never heard anything like [Indian music] before," yet describes "Addictive" as "bringing some truth to the table." Complicit in cultural misrepresentation, contextual manipulation, and the reinforcement of stereotypes that impede understanding, "Addictive" is far from truth. It projects its mix of Indian music and Middle Eastern dance through the American filter of excessive opulence, offering an alluring, sexy image of both expanses, that fits well into the War on Terrorism's media landscape.
There is nothing sexy about thousands of Afghan civilians becoming unreported "casualties" in the War on Terrorism, or the millions of troops massed along the Indian and Pakistani borders in preparation for yet another war. This new war will have serious consequences for the Bush Administration, not only because 12 million people could be slaughtered if a nuclear conflagration should occur, but because Musharraf is pulling his Pakistani ground troops from the Afghanistan border, which is problematic for the War on Terrorism. The Bush Administration does not have a simple relationship to India either, especially since they so recently and aggressively pressured the country on Enron's behalf (to sell Enron's Dubhal operations for billions of much-needed dollars) even after 9/11 and the declaration of the War on Terrorism. In such an ugly, war-ridden reality, "Addictive" provides a reassuring sedative to the average American viewer, conveniently leaving out mutilations by landmines, refugee camps, resurfacing warlords and drug lords, suicide bombers, occupations, and those current and imminent wars in these regions that could destroy them entirely.
Chris Fitzpatrick is Features Editor at PopMatters.