Musical politics

15 05 2022

As Ukrainian performers Kalush Orchestra, whose “political statement” was allowed by Eurovision organizers for “humanitarian reasons,” went on to win the Eurovision Song Contest (while Russian performers were banned), and as Vladimir Putin continues to complain about western “cancel culture” (while canceling those who disagree with him), the arts world more generally has come to heavily feature the cultural politics surrounding Russia’s ongoing war on Ukraine.

Ani Bundel writes that Eurovision has always been “a stand-in” for the political climate, despite organizers’ insistence that it is not. The same thing can be seen in other places on the musical spectrum.

Time’s Andrew Chow writes about how “A Russian DJ’s Silence About Ukraine is Dividing the Electronic Music Scene.” The scene, as Chow writes, is divided between people like Clone Distribution’s Serge Verschuur — for whom “the house and techno scene [has] stood up for” (and been “built by”) “minorities, for the less privileged, for the oppressed” — and, on the other hand, the “toxic positivity” of the ravers who want to “have fun” and not “think about anything.” In contrast to DJ Nina Kraviz are others like Ukrainian DJ Nastia and Russian DJ Buttechno, who urges his fellow Russians “to admit the imperialistic and colonizing approach of Russian culture and politics throughout Russian history.”

And writing in the New York Times, Gabrielle Cornish describes Ukrainian musical modernism and its destruction at the hands of Stalinism. The article quotes Ukrainian-American ethnomusicologist (and my collaborator) Maria Sonevytsky, who perceptively refers to the association of “greatness” with Russian culture as “Russian soft power” — the “kind of exceptionalism that empires produce and make seem virtuous that smaller countries, depicted as the ‘threatening nationalists’ on the border, are denied.”

See also The Conversation on “How Russian musicians are taking a stand against the war in Ukraine,” The Guardian‘s interview with Gogol Bordello’s Eugene Hütz, or my recent interview with David Novak.


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