Grapevine Airwaves 2013

November 7, 2013

A Note On Replication And Adaptation

The Reykjavík Art Museum by Páll Hilmarsson

Apparently there has been some controversy — and some misunderstanding — regarding my recent comment about certain Icelandic bands and the music of the African diaspora. I do choose my words carefully, but some people didn’t read them very carefully. They seemed to be just seeing what they wanted to see instead of what was actually there.

The misunderstanding specifically hinges on one word: “replicate.” I advised Icelandic bands not to try to “replicate” the music of the African diaspora. To clarify: to replicate means to repeat, to duplicate. That is far different from adapting or interpreting, which are very good creative things to do.

And in fact, although I criticized Ojba Rasta for attempting to replicate reggae, I praised the band for adapting what I specifically called “Middle Eastern” sounds. Later, I praised a Swedish band (Goat) for adapting the music of Fela Kuti. Not to mention praising Prins Póló for adapting Neu and Jonathan Richman. So, you see, the issue is replication. And I think we can all agree that imitation is generally not a commendable artistic approach.

That’s why I also wrote “Just be yourself” — because when you imitate something instead of bending it to your own creative vision, you are, by definition, not being yourself. And being yourself is the whole idea.

About the Author

I'm the author of "Come As You Are: The Story of Nirvana" and "Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes from the American Indie Underground 1981-1991". I'm now the editor of the Talkhouse, which features smart, notable musicians writing about currently released albums.


  1. Listening to Kiriyama Family and Boogie Trouble perform live is like going into a time machine back to the 80’s and 70’s. Since they didn’t create their own genre of music that they perform, are they no longer considered creative?

    Sorry man, but your perception of music is a rather narrow one. And don’t try limiting your view of replication/imitation to the music of African Diaspora, you’re putting yourself in a smaller and smaller box.

    Mr. Eto

  2. If I didn‘t choose my words carefully I might mention that I know perfectly well what “replicate” means. I might also mention that most words are not just their dictionary definition, the meaning also depends on the context the words are put in. And when that context is full of lines such as the one below the author certainly gives a distinct feeling of not liking people to take their cultural influences from too far away.

    “On the face of it, a reggae band from Iceland is sort of a laughable concept” or
    “played by competent, well meaning musicians who didn’t quite have the cultural sensibility that gave rise to the music and instead filtered it through a European aesthetic, thereby missing the point.”
    And yes, if I didn’t choose my words carefully I might wonder how making such a lyrics-heavy music as rap in Icelandic could be a literal replication of a foreign one – since the author just stated he means the word very literally (sure, it’s possible that the whole thing was composed using google-translate, but not understanding Icelandic the author couldn’t have known that).

    But I want to choose my words carefully, so I’ll simply say that it pleases me enormously that this was all a misunderstanding and that we should all be ourselves, adapting, interpreting and creating. That really sounds like a grand plan. Even better if we don’t have to look at our passports first.

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