'Cultural appropriation without cultural appreciation is a recipe for disaster'
Natasha Khan (Bat For Lashes) and Toy collaboration ‘Sexwitch’ have been called out for cultural appropriation, in an essay by Afghan-American artist Zohra Atash.
Sexwitch’s self-titled debut album was released last month, and is made up of diverse covers of songs from around the globe. Atash picks out several songs in particular as being culturally insensitive in her article for The Talkhouse, a website that acts as a forum for musicians themselves to talk about music.
Atash’s article is entitled “cultural appropriation without cultural appreciation is a recipe for disaster,” and gets fairly specific in calling out difficulties with Sexwitch’s work:
“Despite the high quality of Khan’s back catalogue and the undeniable fact that this record sounds great, I’m bummed,” Atash says.
“Aside from the vocals — and the lack of heavy-lifting curating material for the record — there’s one fuck-up so egregious here that it calls into question the authenticity of the whole project: the fifth track, ‘Ghoroobaa Ghashangan’, which is said to be a cover of a song by Iranian star Ramesh — one that comes from Sexwitch’s beloved Zendooni compilation. Contrary to what the Sexwitch press release and liner notes say, this does not sound like Ramesh’s ‘Ghoroobaa Ghashangan.'”
“I’m a long-time Ramesh fan, so I was bewildered. After the first listen, I threw on Zendooni, and I realized that they did, indeed, cover a song off the compilation, but it wasn’t Ramesh’s track — it was a song by a much-less-known artist, Pooneh, called ‘Hamishe Tanha’. With this track, Pooneh is covering the late and beloved Turkish artist Barış Manço’s interpretation of folk musician and bağlama master Neşet Ertaş’ ‘Gönül Dağı’. My blood went red-hot; I actually yelled out, “Khak da-sarit!” It’s a phrase in Farsi that doesn’t have a translation in English, but it’s very poetic.”
“[Dan] Carey [Sexwitch producer] claims to have listened to Zendooni a lot, but I’m incredulous,” she continues. “How is it possible, in two years, to not have learned anything about the artists, the music or even the song titles off of one compilation?”
Atash goes on to define several other areas of the record she feels present difficulties, including a thorough background check on the roots of several tracks covered on the Sexwitch record.
“I’m fine with cultural appropriation as long as you appreciate and respect the music — even on the “I have a few compilations” level. But this record is as culturally sensitive as the last time Natasha Khan homogenized a disenfranchised people by claiming some nebulous affinity with Native Americans and regularly wore feathered war bonnets and played a shaman stick live,” she argues cuttingly.
Zohra Atash formerly fronted New York rock band ‘Religious to Damn’, and now performs as part of ‘Azar Swan’.
Sign up for the newsletter