From Compton to the Kremlin: hip hop’s presence in Russia

Ever since my cousin introduced me to Mos Def when I was 13, I’ve had an obsession for hip hop.  I listen to all the greats from the 80’s and 90’s, some from the 00’s, and remain on the lookout for new talent coming around today.  Although I love the genre, my perspective has always been limited to American rappers, because I never believed that anyone could do hip hop justice outside the U.S. of A.  Little did I know, there exists a thriving hip hop subculture in a place where I least expected, the vast expanse that is Russia.

Dino MC 47

The Russian Hip Hop group Dino MC 47, infamous for denouncing the Russian government after two suicide bombers killed 40 in Moscow in 2010

Now, just because you exist does not necessarily mean you’re out there throwing down fresh rhymes, and that goes for all rappers everywhere.  So admittedly I was skeptical of these Russian upstarts.  After all, my favorite rappers usually hail from the deadly streets of Compton, CA or the run down projects of Brooklyn, NY.  Could Russian rappers ever hope to channel the same level of swagger, angst, and danger that MC’s like Biggie Smalls did?

That’s probably not a fair comparison for anyone, but guys like Artyom Tatischevsky  out of the Samara region in Russia have caught my attention.  His beats are chill, he has a nice flow, and his poetry (as far as I can tell) comments on the struggle of being a rapper in Russia today.  He’s aware that he isn’t big, but he’s not afraid to take bold shots at the musical tastes of the pop music loving majority in his track “Titmice Sang”:

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Timati, an international pop culture icon just following the trends.

MC’s like Artyom are undiscovered.  He does’t have his own website, but instead uses the Russian equivalent of Facebook, VKontakte to advertise his upcoming albums and performances.  He doesn’t get a lot of media attention, but he is honest about his roots and about his opinion of society, and for that he has my respect.

On the other hand, there are a whole slew of rappers in Russia who seem to be doing their best to emulate the direction which hip hop has been going in the U.S.  These guys are all about the money, women, cars, and clubs – they are widely known in Russia and abroad.  Timati has his own website and has done songs with several American rappers including Long Beach’s own Snoop Dogg (or Snoop Lion).  He appears in articles for popular networks such as MTV, and appears to be interested in branding himself as some sort of russified P. Diddy.

Hip hop is clearly still in its early stages of development in Russia, but Vladimir Putin himself publicly recognized its importance when he addressed a crowd of youths at a rap battle meant to discourage drug use:

“These youngsters who work at this art in our country – they bring unique Russian charm.  Street rap may be a little bit rough, but it contains social meaning, raising social problems.”

While this statement is probably more meant to rescue Putin’s approval ratings than to express his actual feelings about hip hop, I agree with the gist of what he is saying.  Hip hop began in America as a way for the underprivileged, the forgotten, and the angry to voice their perspective on life and produced what is some of the most visceral, meaningful poetry I’ve ever heard.  It could certainly come out that way in Russia if artists like Artyom Tatischevsky continue to rap about what’s in their soul, and don’t fall under the glamorous spell which American pop culture has cast on the genre.

Across Borders: A Parkour Generation

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Human motion need not be delimited by carefully-set sidewalks nor inhibited by obstacles. Leap over walls, swing from the rafters to get to your next destination via le method naturelle. The spectacle often leaves average pedestrians awestruck in the dust. Parkour enthusiasts, called traceurs, draw unique lines of approach to this sport of urban free-running and develop their philosophies from the spirit of it. The movements evoke practitioners’ primitive sides while the discipline places them vis-à-vis with moments of fear and truth about the psychological and physical limits. The conceptualization of parkour breaks down ideas of spatial and social confinement, which have restricted our harmony with our environment. As one enthusiast put it, “The idea that the only way to get to the second floor is from the inside of a building is preposterous.”

Nicola

The community’s consensus is that this adrenaline-pumped martial art was born in Lisses, France, where modern legends-in-the-making like Sébastien Foucan and Jérôme Ben Aoues expressed their free-flow style by jumping, flipping, scaling, leaping along their own paths with exceptionally acrobatic, and distinctly defiant, French flair since the 1990s. Here, skateboarding was not allowed and public playgrounds had rules against this type of play. They developed a sport that complemented surrounding architecture in creating alternate, and often impressive, routes of transit for the nonconformist traveler. The style quickly spread throughout the United Kingdom, Europe, and the Americas. Parkour Generations America started in 2005 with a runabout rendezvous – here is their showreel: http://youtu.be/lD3_Fn0erPw

 

The most spectacular stunts are done among rooftops, but fundamentals should be learned at ground level. Today, online organizations like ParkourGenerations.com and Monkeyspirit.org seek to inspire young French traceurs by providing tips, tricks, and testimonials from those who have become proficient in the art of creative movement. The masters teach use of fundamental and natural motions, mental rehearsal, and hard work to become fluid in the art of manipulating your horizon, because after all, “the art of moving is about hard training.” Exercise regimes challenge cardiovascular systems, build core strength and improve muscular endurance. The essence is in the footwork, the hand placement, the unique flow of the individual in their route and how they assess obstacles. Uncontested sensei Sébastien Foucan explains that, in his experience, “practice is best done alone…to be focused in yourself. When you are alone you’re a little bit afraid and you need to find why and the solution.” And Monkeyspirit.org urges hopefuls in its introduction not to put the cart before the horse. “The flow comes from years of hard work. Even apes and monkeys practice all the day long during their childhood learning from their parents.”
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Groups like UrbanFreeFlow and Freemouv display skill at international competitions, most recently this July in the French Alps and in August in Wisconsin, USA. Their talents have also been displayed in such recent films as 007 James Bond: Casino Royale and Jump Britain. Foucan recently helped K-Swiss develop the Ariake, the first freerunning and parkour shoe. Nikon and GoPro have contests to sponsor amateurs in creating parkour videos for the web.

To date, the writer has personally adopted many movements of Animal Planet in conquest of free-running basics. Visualize me at 25, meditating at dawn and practicing throughout Missouri’s karst landscape during my frequent hiking trips. I still get the urge to climb to the top of the playground tower and every other imposing structure I come across. As a novice, I hurt my ankle while leaping between platforms last month and haven’t been as spry since. I should have been wary of encouraging instructions that included the phrase, “various opportunities to jump off the roof.”

 

Ultimately, parkour is for hard-chargers, fast runners, young kung fu masters, trapeze artists, and those kids who grew up having the most fun on the school playground. It continues to be rapidly embraced by a generation of unprecedented physicality and philosophy: a parkour generation.

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Komödie vs. Comedy – Understanding German Humor

© Cinetext

Germany is experiencing the end of an era with the recent August 22nd death of Bernhard Victor Christoph Carl von Bülow, pseudonym “Loriot.”  For decades, Loriot has characterized and personified German humor, as well as confused and confounded American and British comedians.

It would be a decently safe assumption to say that Loriot lead and directed German humor.  His influence is massive and lives on even after his death.  Dieter Wedel, one of Germany’s most famous television directors (known for shows like Tatort and Schwarz Rot Gold) once said, “The Germans don’t have any sense of humor — the Germans have Loriot!” However, such a broad, sweeping statement also asks the question, what is German humor and why is it so widely misunderstood?

Loriot is known for his live action sketches, but even more so, for his cartoons.  His work reflects the mindset and pervasive “German” perspective on life and human interactions.  Most of his humor stems from problems with communication between individuals during every day life, the comedy therein coming from the staunchly formal nature of the German language.  Loriot was, as per usual with all typically German writers, a stickler for grammar.  In this sense, Americans attempting to understand German humor often deal with the problem of the fundamental humor being, so to say, “lost in translation.”

Many German jokes are based on double meanings, coming from German’s favoritism towards taking many words, ideas and concepts and crashing them into one (sometimes absurdly) long compound word.  The German language has very strict grammatical structure and often relies more on humorous ideas opposed to English’s reliance on wordplay.  Loriot brought a sort of inanity to his work with the juxtaposition of his character’s dignified behavior against the exaggeration of their features.  This is typified in his short sketch Herren im Bad.

For the original version (auf Deutsch) click below

Herren im Bad (Men in the Bathtub)

Seriousness combined a focus on banal flaws is a stereotypical theme in German humor.  This is also seen in the way that Germans observe and perceive the world and people around them.  I mean, there is no serious data to prove this and I’m being entirely subjective, but in my experience, Germans do not focus on personality flaws as something you can easily change, but instead as something that is a basic part of a person’s being.  You aren’t dumb because you don’t study, you’re just dumb because you are.  They’re not going to shun you for being a bit socially inept, they’re just going to accept that you’re kinda weird and run with it.  Needless to say, Americans generally DO NOT get this.

The problem with German humor, is that you need to understand German to get it.  You can’t explain or clarify the nuances of German diction or the play of grammar in English.  Comedy doesn’t translate.  Loriot’s genius comes from the fact that he was exactly as meticulous with his words as he was with his physical comedy.  He made fun of the narrow-mindedness of and excessive formality of German while maintaining respect for the language’s tone and essence.

In response to Loriot’s death, Germany’s president of parliament, Norbert Lammert, captured von Bülow’s lasting effect on German humor and culture stating, “Vicco von Bülow put his stamp on cultural life in Germany for decades and, as Loriot, helped Germans to gain a more relaxed view of their mentality and habits.”

Stefan Kuzmany, a correspondant from Der Spiegel(Germany’s top newsmagazine) summed it up nicely: “Abschließend bleibt zu sagen, dass Loriots Tod absolut nicht nötig gewesen wäre. Unsterblich war er längst. Er wird es bleiben.”  (“Loriot’s death was absolutely unnecessary.  He had long since become immortal. And will remain it.”)

Versailles: The Manga Invasion

Photo by Jaclyn


The Château de Versailles, arguably the most beautiful castle in France, was and still remains a symbol of France at the height of its monarchical power and cultural splendor. Not only did Louis XIV move the political center of France from Paris to Versailles, but he brought some of the best architects and artists of the era (le Vaut, le Nôtre and le Brun, to name a few) to develop a palace fit for a god.

So, what would the Sun King say if he knew there were sculptures of gaudy mushrooms and dreamy blondes being displayed amongst all of his prized possessions?

Since the opening of Japanese artist Takashi Murakami’s exposition at Versailles on September 14, 2010, there has been a lot of outrage. Many art and high culture critics are upset about Murakami’s use of manga, a popular type of Japanese comics.

According to Le Figaro, the idea of putting contemporary art inspired by mangas alongside the historical and royal finery of Versailles is sacrilegious. Not only is it considered by many a disgrace to the historic and artistic value of its era, but also to France’s current culture and pride.

Jean-Jacques Aillagon, museum director at Versailles, defends Murakami’s exposition on French 2 television show On s’est pas couché by explaining that contemporary art rarely ceases to have a controversial first reaction. The Louvre’s glass pyramids and the Centre Pompidou were originally critiqued with indignation – Now, they are structures with universal success; that have become symbols of French culture and art around the world.

Photos by Jaclyn (1&2) and Baptiste Lafontaine (3)

Aillagon also argues that exhibiting contemporary art along with historical and “high culture” art is stimulating. The art of the old complements the art of the new.

So, what would Louis XIV have to say about Murakami’s exposition at Versailles? Would he be offended by this intrusion of popular culture? Aillagon disagrees. Versailles was intended to be a place for happiness and good living, he says. At the end of his life, Louis XIV believed his palace to be too serious. He told his architects, “Mettez de l’enfance partout” (roughly meaning, put childhood throughout).

Photo by Charles Nouÿrit

NOTE: This isn’t the first time that Versailles has held a controversial exhibition. Be sure to check out contemporary art expositions by Jeff Koons (2008) and Xavier Veilhan (2009).

Jackass à la française?

Ever since Johnny Knoxville created MTV’s Jackass, a television show featuring a group of guys trying to pull off a bunch of dangerous stunts and ridiculous pranks, Americans throughout the nation became obsessed with this popular culture phenomenon.

Little do Americans know, pulling outlandish stunts and making embarrassing video footage is also a sensation in France. Thirty-five year old Rémi Gaillard of Montpelier has been circulating his less dangerous but equally entertaining videos via the internet.

This Frenchman, often referred to as the “French Johnny Knoxville,” claims that, “C’est en faisant n’importe quoi qu’on devient n’importe qui” – It’s by doing whatever, that you become whoever. But this “whoever” has quickly become one of the best-known pranksters online.

After launching N’importe qui in 2001, a website documenting a series of pranks, jokes, and soccer tricks, Rémi continues to show the influence of the Internet on popular culture – and how it is possible for any ordinary schmuck to become a celebrity.

According to L’Édition Spéciale (Canal Plus), it is Gaillard’s goal to “declare war on television.” He wants to show that popular culture is no longer predominately determined by the television business and the celebrities within. Instead, the internet has given a stronger voice to the majority – the public.

One of the hilarious acts that launched Gaillard into celebrity stardom was when he snuck into the victory celebrations of the Lorient soccer team after winning the Coupe de France tournament in 2002:

Nearly eight years later, Rémi’s website, nimportequi.com is thriving off of millions of views – as are his Facebook, Twitter, Myspace, YouTube, and Dailymotion accounts.

This year roughly marks the 10th anniversary of the N’importe qui website. Be sure to check out his most popular videos, highlighted at the bottom of the homepage.

“Ich bin ein Berliner.”

DonutThe famous line, “Ich bin ein Berliner” was said by John F. Kennedy when the Berlin Wall isolated East Berlin from the rest of Germany. The common misconception is that he said he was a doughnut. While a Berliner is a type of pastry in Germany, if used in the correct context it can also mean you are from Berlin.

British comedian Eddie Izzard makes fun of Kennedy saying he called himself a doughnut in front of thousands of Germans. In reality Kennedy did get the phrase correct but only because of the context he was using it in. Had he been in a bakery, Kennedy might have been laughed at. Learning how to say a phrase in another language can be easy but really understanding what it means can be difficult.


Language is one of the most complicated aspects of life and translations can be lost or misunderstood so easily. Throughout my time posting on EuroKulture I have found how exciting and complicated it can be to write about another country’s popular culture. In my first blog post An intro into culture shock, I discuss that the differences between cultures is what makes them great. I hope EuroKulture has brought insight to many readers and encouraged others to explore and celebrate cultures that are different from their own.

The world is getting smaller and we are going to have to come into contact with people that are different than us. It will no longer be enough to be aware of other countries but actually to study and to learn about their culture. Popular culture is a good starting off point, because it really shows what other countries are like. Where will America be in ten years? Does America need to become more aware of other countries cultures and languages? Was this blog helpful to people unfamiliar with European culture? What could we have done differently to make this blog better?

“Golden Arches” at the Louvre?

Ronald-Mona

Courtesy of fr.novopresse

The Paris-based Louvre is a symbol of French culture and one of the world’s most beloved art museums.

It houses works like Monet’s Water Lilies, Eugene DelaCroix’s Liberty Leading the People (a.k.a. Coldplay’s Viva la Vida album cover), DaVinci’s Mona Lisa and now, McDonald’s McCafe.

Huh?!

Yes, that’s right. The golden arches will become a part of the Louvre, in the upscale shopping mall beneath its glowing pyramid (please see image below).

So – how did “Mc Do” (mack-DOH), as the French call it, earn a spot in the same building as these aforementioned masterpieces? No one is quite certain, but its placement will coincide with the thirtieth anniversary of the first-ever McDonald’s Restaurant (can we even call it that?) in France.

In an article from knoxnews.com, “Walt Ricker, a vice president of media relations for McDonald’s says the French McDonald’s chain is ‘thoroughly French.’ According to him, the company has ‘not adopted, but adapted to matchup with the French culture.’ For instance, most French diners do not eat their burgers with ketchup.”

Really? Is that what makes the McDonald’s chains in France “thoroughly French?” The fact that French customers don’t use ketchup with their burgers? What about with their fries?

Michael Steinberger, author of a book about the decline of French food, attempted to answer this question. He tells knoxnews.com that the French have made the restaurant chain their own because, “They came, they ate, they lingered.”

Although I remember grabbing an après-swim McDonald’s cheeseburger during my elementary school summers with friends and family — and taking the time to enjoy it — the tradition of spending hours at the table is definitely European. We Americans typically tend to get in, get out and get on with our lives.

Courtesy of eu-forums.com

Courtesy of eu-forums.com

On NPR, Didier Rykner, chief editor of the French art journal The Art Tribune is one critic to those who profess that this Louvre-McDonald’s is going to be high class.

“They say, ‘Oh, it’s going to be a very high-level McDonald’s,'” Rykner says, laughing. “I don’t know what is a ‘high-level McDonald’s!’…Rykner says it is not McDonald’s fault. He blames the Louvre for selling out to commercialism and mass marketing.”

France’s Le Post highlighted the responses of one sarcastic French Twitterer:

“Un Mc Do au Louvre? Ouais, pourquoi pas. Et metton un KFC à la chapelle Sixtine ou un Pizza Hut au National Gallery. Ridicule.” (@aisfornala)

Translation: “A McDonald’s at the Louvre? Yeah, why not. And let’s put a KFC at the Sistine Chapel or a Pizza Hut at the National Gallery. Ridiculous.” (@aisfornala)

And, in an even more satirical manner, one blogger on The Spoof comments on the Mona-Ronald portrait above: “Of course, some may be surprised by the portrait appearing, but this is part of a new neoclassical-subbaroque postmodernist antediluvian preGothic form of oil painting. It follows in the tradition of Monet, Manet, Minnie Mouse and Homer Fils de Simp, and Ronald makes us face a classic world-weariness in juxtoposition with an all-pervading struggle with Nature, and with man’s struggle to open the ketchup bottle.”

Well, if you’re Frenchman or woman at a Mc Do, apparently you won’t have the ketchup bottle struggle.

Bon appétit!