Global Hit: Vamprie Weekend

The World
The World

Finally, the headline for today’s Global Hit is “America loves Congo.” Thanks to the quartet Vampire Weekend, it seems many American pop music fans suddenly love Congolese soukous guitar.

�The music that I was trying to emulate when Vampire Weekend was starting was not necessarily soukous.�

That’s Ezra Koenig. He’s the lead guitarist and lyricist for Vampire Weekend. Ezra Koenig says getting tagged with a soukous label isn’t a bad thing. It’s just that the band’s music is more African than just Congolese.

�I started becoming more aware of it in listening to people describe our music. I mean the records I was listening to were from all over the place in Africa. There’s a record of 80s music from Madagascar, then there was South African stuff, Orchestra Baobab from Senegal. And obviously all those music’s are very different. But there was a certain kind of tone and a certain style that I heard in all of the guitar playing.

And then I realized what I really liked was a clean chimney guitar sound, and the same thing I liked about the Smiths and even sometimes surf music was the same thing I liked about a lot of African guitar playing.�

The clean chimney sound Ezra Koenig likes is all over the place on Vampire Weekend’s self-titled debut CD.

It’s definitely a part of the catchy melody of this tune, “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa.”

�The Kwassa Kwassa is a dance that kind of originated in Central Africa. But it became popular all over Africa. And one of the things I like about it is it’s spelled K-W-A-S-S-A, kind of looking like it’s maybe a Swahili word or something, but really that’s just another way of spelling “quoi ca?” meaning “what’s that?” in French. So already there’s this interesting mix of cultures in the word alone, a by-product of French colonialism, so there’s a lot going on even in that phrase.�

A couple of years ago, the four lads from Vampire Weekend were a party-band at Columbia University in New York with an abiding interest in music from all over the globe: from the Smiths and the Buzzcocks to Fela Kuti and soukous guitar.

Then they recorded a few demos.

And the next thing they knew, they had become the first band ever to appear on the cover of Spin magazine before they even had their debut album out.

�We want to make music that’s unself-conscious, that you can say “I like listening to music from places other than Brooklyn, and enjoy music from around the world.” And especially because the African music we like is modern African music, played on electric guitars.�

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