New Tune : Gordon Koang : Coronavirus

Photo Credit: Michael Reese-Lightfoot

A few days ago, I was sneaking out of work early to participate in my patent pending personal brand of self-care (read: downing Southern Tier 2XIPA while spinning through the new music logjam that is my Inbox), and within 30 seconds of starting my car, the opening notes of Fela Kuti's "Zombie" came snaking out of the stereo.

Needless to say, I was transfixed for the next 12'26", to the point where I opted to circumnavigate my parking garage several times, rather than cut the song short. I thought about the song, and Kuti, well into the evening before I realized how, in many ways, Nigerian guitarist Mdou Moctar is carrying on the tradition of not allowing political music and party music to be mutually exclusive.

Sure, you could make the claim that successful punk music does the same thing, as well as bands like Public Enemy, The Coup, Bad Religion and basically anything Tom Morello touches. That said, for whatever reason, the audiopolitical freakouts that cats like Kuti and Bob Marley presided over (and Moctar does currently) just feel different somehow.

Then, for whatever reason, I started think about how it has become very popular to talk about the politicization of our current pandemic. You know, because the HIV/AIDS epidemic wasn't political.

Truth is, disease has been political for a long time. If you're looking for proof, look no further than when syphilis popped up in Europe in the late fifteenth century. The Italians, Germans and Poles referred to it as "The French Disease," while to the French, it was "The Italian Disease." Meanwhile, it was "The Spanish disease" to the Dutch, "The Polish disease" to Russians and, to your average Turk on the street, "The Christian disease."

Takeaway: It's always the other guy's fault. Think about that the next time you hear some clown make a crack about "The Kung Flu."

Then the new single from Gordon Koang landed in my Inbox.

Because of my big boy job, I've had occasion to think about the current pandemic quite a bit, along with the fact that this planet hasn't truly experienced anything comparable since good old influenza wreaked havoc from 1918-1920. I think we have a good idea of how that pandemic experience effected people, but probably a far lesser understanding of how it impacted art, literature and, of course, music.

Now, if you don't think we're going to see the impact of COVID in the arts, particularly music, well, you're not paying attention, because we're witnessing it in real time as music written and recorded over the past 18 months hits the airwaves and record bins.

So, is disease music a genre unto itself?

Hard to say.

Certain sub-genres of metal clearly seem to gravitate to it, along with guys like Nick Cave and John Cale. And I guess you could make the case that it all started with "Ring-a-Ring-a-Roses," a ditty that became popular when the Bubonic Plague was rocking London around 1665, and which later evolved into "Ring Around The Rosie."

I suspect Huey "Piano" Smith might've served up the first example of popular music dipping its toe into epidemiology, albeit humorously, though I've got a fiver that says one could prolly find a handful of blues tunes dedicated to the burn and indignity of STDs, if one were so inclined to research that and get back to me.

And it you're a fan of irony, consider that one of the all-time great disease tunes was written and recorded by a fellow who has recently become a pariah, and rightfully so, thanks to his stand on COVID.

Regardless, decades from now, I suspect music fans will listen to albums recorded during the pandemic, and give each other slow, knowing nods, because not all of it is going to be good. Hell, I think some millionaire rockers have already proved that.

Luckily, Gordon Koang's tune is pretty delightful, despite the obvious anger and pain in the lyrics and impassioned vocals. And couldn't we all use a little delight these days?

A little more about Koang so you can impress your friends at your next happy hour. A full-blown star in what is now South Sudan, he was forced to flee the civil war in his home country, and eventually landed in Melbourne with his cousin, Paul Biel, and a thom, the four-stringed guitar-like instrument whose flourishes flavor "Coronavirus." The song itself is lifted from a double-A-side release with a tune called "Disco" that will drop August 4th on Music In Exile. The hope is that the release, and subsequent sales, will not only raise awareness of conditions in South Sudan, but also help get the families of Koang and Biel out of that war-torn nation.

So there you go. Drop some of that hard-earned for a good cause, and enjoy the benefits of shaking your ass into the post-pandemic world.


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