Bands like Hjálmar and Ojba Rasta have shown that Icelandic reggae is not necessarily something to scoff at. White guys from privileged Nordic islands can sing about Babylon and oppression, do covers of “Who the Cap Fit” and pull it off without being written off as naive cultural appropriators. To be sure, they’ve cultivated a special, homegrown blend, sometimes trading in the rastacap for the húfa, a Marley cover for a cover of an Icelandic folksong, or adding a flare of lo-fi electronics to the steady bass line. Or maybe getting away with it has something to do with the nation’s collective consciousness as it still prefers to dote on a peasant past; being first and foremost harðfiskur-chewing victims of Danish colonialism rather than consumer crazed benefactors of post-WW2 American imperialism. Whatever the recipe, lopapeysa reggae somehow manages to work up a genuinely “jolly good” feeling.
I was somewhat excited to see AmabAdamA, the latest incarnation of the genre, live in Gamla Bíó on Airwaves opening night. Their newly released debut album,’Heyrðu mig nú,’ features the fun-loving “Hossa Hossa,” which is a song about forgetting your troubles through booty shaking on the dance floor. And their live performance didn’t fall short of my expectations. No doubt, they had a wholesome, gay-family-friendly feel and I could dig it.
But they didn’t exactly blow the crowd’s socks off. Not that they were missing any key elements. The nine-person set included three vocalists and various dudes on horns, guitar, bass, keyboard and mini bongos, one sporting the rastacap and another the signature red Adidas track jacket. A little bit kitsch, yes, much like the psychedelic cover art projected above the stage. The visuals certainly matched the garishness of the vocalists’ retro print dresses, and that’s all fine and fun and dandy, but there’s something that smacks of sexism in this conventional set-up: ragamuffin men on instruments and women in colourful dresses doing the arm’n’hip swaying, shalala vocals. If we’re going to import and modify old sounds and foreign traditions to suit a new context, can’t we push the envelope a little further? Drop certain retrograde aspects? Go on AmabAdamA, you can do better! Push it good.
Posted November 6, 2014