A blog post

Haba haba – beyond racism

Posted on the 15 February, 2011 at 10:06 pm Written by in Music

Babel Fish Depend on me did not make it to the final Norway Melody Grand Prix, but it should be said that it lost gracefully and indirectly perhaps helped pave the way, for a song like Stella Mwangi’s Haba haba to win. The winner can perhaps send out an even stronger signal about a new cultural message, a Kenyan face and a Norwegianized persona, as the media focus the event. The final, this year, was more than usually interesting, with quite different Norwegian traditions including variants of Norway (noway?) Americana. Some good independent Norwegians were squeezed out in the first round already, and subversive music was probably a bit downplayed in the final people’s choice round too, yet on the whole the MGP has emerged as a more democratic arrangement, no mistaking the team spirit as well as the competition in NRK’s handling. The people’s choice for the crosscultural message of Stella was, in one Norwegian newspaper’s words, a “knockout”.

Haba haba is an appeal about what to do, while the fathering in Babel Fish’s Depend on me is a more vague appeal what to be, what it consists of is less clear. True, in Haba haba, the doing is fairly basic, it is a about dancing, and social orientation and relations are far less pronounced, but everyone can do it, appealing to a basic element of pop music as a democratizing (and gender etc conflict resolving) force. Babel Fish has portrayed fathering as practice in other songs, eg. beautiful rendering of lullabyes – but not with the same dance and do it now factor. In the broader view, I agree with Blood Sweat and Tears, The Child is Father to the Man (or in modern words, children to their parents). The idea beyond the musical form is to capture a sense of a better society, a better future for young people, which is – in the sidelines – what the MGP and similar contests are all about.

Whatever the cause, the people’s judgement selecting Haba haba with several hundred thousand votes, is a calming note for “ethnic fear”.  It is a slap in the face of racism in Norway and everywhere. It is perhaps a sign of people power, as in Egypt, so also in Norway, we shall see. Norwegians have some fire too.

One year in the early 1970s I  helped create an alternative to the  commercialization of MGP, an alternative and well visited music event in Oslo, arranged by the music organization Samspill. I was coeditor of the organization’s music magazine, that was critical of the MGP arrangement for failing to show what actually went on, advancing music, including new pop music. In later years, I must admit, I followed MGP at a more critical distance, with half-closed senses, sometimes just shutting off the TV in exasperation. This, also, is why it is interesting to notice the greater social dimensionality in 2011 and the more fair “doable” competition. Haba haba. All together now.