The [Howard government-era citizenship test booklet] starts its section on Australian government with a picture of the Queen. It argues the nation’s values are based on ”Judeo-Christian ethics, a British political heritage and the spirit of the European Enlightenment”. Most strikingly while there are nearly 100 pictures in the document, there are just a few pictures of Aborigines and only two other photos of non-Anglo Australians.
We get so much American music here in the rest of the world that we forget that entire genres of American music barely permeate our consciousness; it belongs to them, not us. Corny country singers and snappin’, jerkin’, hyphyin’, chicken-noodle-soupin’ black kids; New York icons like Dipset and New Orleans aliens beaming mixtape transmissions like Lil’ Wayne; and genuine celebrities like T.I., whose mega-hit “What You Know” only existed as an Internet record for me because, down here, King arrived in stores months after its American release. In the early ‘00s, even emo and indie rock seemed a peculiar, exotic creation of American collegiate culture, as removed from my own experience as any other world music. But through the wonder of copper wire and optical fiber, any mainstream was my mainstream. Any scene was my scene. We lived on the Internet now.
This spirit infused stuff that wasn’t even Internet music. Timbaland fell in love with Indian rhythms and rappers swiped dancehall cadences. African artists like K’Naan and Akon came to North America and released Western music, while Vampire Weekend grabbed Afro-pop rhythms for their indie pop tunes, subsequently taken back by Malawian Londoner Esau Mwamwaya. Jay-Z turned Panjabi MC’s “Mundian To Bach Ke” into a worldwide hit and used it to protest the invasion of Iraq. Maori rappers showed up on my TV, and, when I downloaded M.I.A.’s Kala I found a new version of a song by some Koori kids from out Wilcannia that had already been a novelty hit here. And back in Internetland, the online émigrés watched as the digital Nisei created a wave of sounds that existed within Mediafire links on Wordpress posts: blog house, MySpace Teenpop, mashup, shitgaze, glo-fi, and — whether Uffie or the Cool Kids — a deluge of hipster rap.
Several months ago, when I was visiting Australia, I walked through the spectacular botanical gardens in Melbourne with a native-born Australian and a British expatriate. I was bedazzled by the lushness, and said how much I admired it. The Australian deferentially said to the Briton, “Well, I suppose it can’t quite compare with Kew.” “Ah, Kew!” the Englishman said, and then said no more, as if he were too polite to detail all the ways in which London’s Kew Gardens were superior. A few seconds later, the Australian slapped himself on the forehead. “The colonial cringe!” he said. He’d made himself feel inferior about something that was objectively superb.