Music and the Mood of Resistance: Keny Arkana and Nietzschean Emotions

Rap has never been my favorite musical genre. Growing up it was associated with gangs – thuggish, paramilitary organizations which have no goals other than the expansion of their own power and profit. At best, I could see it as an expression of dissatisfaction with the social mainstream. When I learned that it had its roots in struggles of blacks against white oppression I began seeing it as the decay of something which at some point in the past might have had real value. There is certainly little that speaks to the struggles of oppressed groups about the bling jewelry, expensive cars and sexist portrayal of women as sex objects that graces the average rap video – a formula which as far as I know has not changed since the 90s. Just as gangs evolved from the dissolution of militant black nationalist organizations, rap seemed to have evolved into a force of apparent resistance which in fact re-enforces the social mainstream rather than challenging it.

More recently, however, I’ve noticed that rap and hip hop music does exist which expresses real challenges to the social and political mainstream. The french rap artist Keny Arkana‘s music explicitly challenges globalization, and valorizes the rage felt by the dispossessed in economic systems which continue to increase the gap between the rich and the poor.  Her song “La Rage du Peuple”, about the 2005 period of riots in the Banlieus of Paris. Watch it here with English subtitles. The song ends with a precise and ominous declaration:

Anticapitalistes, alter-mondialistes, ou toi qui cherche la vérité sur ce monde, la résistance de demain à la veille d’une révolution. Mondiale et spirituelle, la rage du peuple, la rabbia del pueblo, parce qu’on a la rage, celle qui fera trembler tes normes. La rage a pris la populasse et la rage est énorme.

Translated:

Anti-capitalist, alter-globalist, where you search truth on this world, the resistance from tomorrow towards the eve of a revolution. Worldly and spiritual, the rage of the people, the rage of the people (spanish), because we have the rage, which will make your norms tremble. The rage has the hold of the populace, and the rage is enormous.

Rage is an emotion. Specifically, it is an emotion that takes over the whole of one’s being – an emotion that possesses. Emotions that possess us distill our life direction and clarify what is of importance by simplifying our motivations. In the sense described in the song, one does not decide to be enraged, and rage is not an emotion experienced by oneself – it essentially social. The object of the rage is complex, but not incomprehensible – and rage refuses to allow that object to be mystified by those who dismiss discourse outside the narrow band permitted in liberal society. This rage is not something “negative”, no more than rage in the past against colonialism, racism, monarchy (English or French).

Rage, in this sense, is not unrelated to Nietzsche’s Rausch, usually translated as “Rapture”. In Rausch there is a precise distinction made between the emotion of being taken over by a rapturous state, and being oneself in a rapturous way. Citing from Heidegger’s 1936 “Will to Power as Art” lectures,

Rapture is a feeling, and it is all the more genuinely a feeling the more essentially a unity of embodying attunement prevails. of someone who is intoxicated we can only say that he “has” something like rapture. But he is not enraptured. the rapture of intoxication is not a state in which a man rises by himself beyond himself. (100)

This description of Rausch sheds light on the difference between “blind rage” and the “rage of the people” in Arkana’s song. This rage is not a blinding rage, but a rage which, through the pre-possession of an overcoming of injustice, challenges the norms of a society which perpetuates that injustice. Rage is primarily concerned with overcoming of obstacles, and with the empowering of people. This further corresponds with Heidegger’s account of Nietzschean Rausch:

At the outset Nietzsceh emphasizes two things about rapture: first, the feeling of enhancement  of force; second, the feeling of plenitude….Enhancement is to be understood in terms of mood: to be caught up in elation….In the same way, the feeling of plenitude….means above all an attunement which is so disposed tha tnothing is foreign to it, nothing too much for it, which is open to everything and ready to tackle anything…(100)

The “feeling of plenitude” and strength described here, and felt in Arkana’s music is desperately required in these needy times when liberals cling to the systems they know even after they stop believing those very systems will not bring about the extinction of the species. We above all need strength and imagination to fight against hypocrisy and against those ideals which would allow the continual dispossession of most of the world’s population for the benefit of few.

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6 thoughts on “Music and the Mood of Resistance: Keny Arkana and Nietzschean Emotions

  1. What I think is interesting is that “rap music” that was commercially successful when you and I were probably first being exposed to it WAS inciting violence and tied to gangs, but there was a strong and sustained backlash against that in the following years that is impossible to dismiss.

    Gangsta rap artists, who eventually burned themselves out in a fit of prison sentences and murders (not to mention the public’s growing distaste for blatantly violent acts), helped inspire so-called “conscious hip-hop,” a genre that was more interested in calling attention to poverty, police injustice, the over-sexualization of mainstream hip-hop, the conspicuous consumption encouraged in radio rap, and the disparity between what was presented as “normal” for the Black community (bling, cars, hos and guns) and what Black Americans were actually living with.

    Conscious hip-hop, though it never directly received much commercial success, can be traced from popular and multi-nationally influenced rise of hip-hop culture. In the Bronx in the late 1970s and early 1980s, recent immigrants fused various homegrown sounds with American and European breakbeats to create a startling new sound, and MCs would “battle” for the crowd’s approval. Gangsta rap took these battles literally, creating an atmosphere of violence around a genre that had its roots in parties; Conscious hip-hop acknowledged both the violence of the streets and the musicality of the genre, and strove to manage the issues through art, not brutal action.

    Current artists like Talib Kweli, Mos Def, Atmosphere (who is white, not that it really matters), early Eminem, Eyedea and Abilities, Jurassic 5, Blackalicious, The Perceptionists, Saul Williams, Jean Grae and others have expressed their rage and frustration about a wide variety of subject, from an abusive home life to WMDs and other Bush-era obfuscations. Dismissing rap or hip-hop because of gangsta rap’s tendency towards violence is like shutting out rock music because Marilyn Manson’s “demonic” stage shows.

  2. Thanks for the excellent comment, Kaitlyn. You certainly understand the history of this music genre much better than I.

    What do you think of Keny Arkana?

  3. Thanks. Rap and hip-hop music has been one of the more socially conscious musical genres, especially in the last 15 years or so, and it annoys me to see people dismiss it because the only kind they’ve been exposed to has been the 50 Cent kind of nonsense.

    I watched the subtitled video that you linked to, and I liked the song. The beat is good, I liked seeing a female MC, and it’s well produced. However, it’s not a particularly articulate song, choosing to call out things like “the police” and “GMOs” instead of targeting specific people and groups, which she could have done.

    I also take issue with the use of stock news footage in politically inclined videos (which drove me nuts with Rage Against The Machine), because decontextualized shots do no-one any favours in complicated political, personal and national issues; instead, they escalate the emotional response and train the viewer to associate that music with those images. Pop music can be a great forum for political activism and debate, but videos like that aren’t a great way to accomplish that task.

  4. I don’t think it’s fair to say that political generalizations are inarticulate. Our ability to see something common in disperate instances is what makes us human. Also, I think the assertion that every situation is completely different and needs to be treated only in context is form of ideology, or mystification – it makes people believe the world is too complex for them to understand. The way I read this Arkana song is that “rage” is a feeling of strength which grasps the unity of injustice in a way propositional thought is incapable. If the “rage of the people” is a political force, it is not simply because of the violence of riots, but because it is essentially incomprehensible to those who put it down.

    Some of Arkana’s other songs concern specific issues, i.e. this song about a girl “Victoria” living in a slum in Salta:

    Unfortunately, that one isn’t subtitled.

    As for RATM, plenty of their songs are about specific, contextualized struggles. I.e. “People of the Sun”, “Freedom”

    But, there are also RATM songs which make more general critiques of late modernist society, i.e. “Sleep now in the Fire”, “Killing in the name of” etc…

    I think there is room for both.

  5. very interesting essay about the song “la rage du peuple”. Shure, la rage is something like emotion, but also a collective spirit. I think it’s very important to underline this aspect of this song (you can see for example : laragedupeuple.org)

  6. “Shure, la rage is something like emotion, but also a collective spirit.”

    I agree, this is why I wrote:

    “…rage is not an emotion experienced by oneself – it essentially social.”

    That said, I could have highlighted the sociality of this emotion more explicitly in the post – especially since that might be a point where Arkana’s “Rage” greatly diverges from H’s interpretation of Nietzsche’s Rausch.

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