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Here are what went streaking through my head while watching Vampire Weekend’s video for the song “Cousins”:

1. Are Vampire Weekend channelling their inner Bappi Lahiri with that “Eh-eh-ooh-aah!” bit in the beginning of the song? (The link is just an example, by the way. Those who have know Mr. Lahiri’s discography will know that he’s done this stuff in an alarming number of songs.)

2. Shooting pigeons is on Ezra’s list of things to do in 2006. Along with “learn french”, “write a novel” and “steal gold”. This could be my 2009 list of things to do.

3. Despite being reasonably fluent in English and accustomed to a variety of American accents, I understood exactly 14 words of that song. Which is actually more than how much I understood of “A-Punk” or misunderstood of “The Kids Don’t Stand a Chance” so go me!

4. Where have I seen that fluorescent tape thing before?

It turns out I haven’t seen precisely what’s in the “Cousins” video but I have seen pictures of something remarkably similar when I came across the work of a guy called Aakash Nihalani. Of course, long before my sluggish brain got its act together others had picked up on this resemblance. In the comments to Stereogum’s post announcing “Cousins”, someone jubilantly said Nihalani had worked on the video and then someone by the handle “m” corrected them: “this tape art was definitely NOT done by aakash nihalani. Vampire Weekend totally ripped him off (poorly) without consent or compensation. how’s that for supporting the arts?” From the sound of things, Nihalani isn’t particularly amused by this ripping off either. Do I hear a chant of “FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT!” in the distance? (Probably not but hey, it could happen.)

Street art is a tough thing for which to claim provenance. It’s out there in public, often without any signature other than the style in which it’s been done. If the production of crew didn’t exactly copy one of his shapes, then there’s nothing technically wrong with having stretches of luminous pink, green and yellow tape stretching across walls and roads. As someone said to me, “What was the crew supposed to do? Call Nihalani and ask his permission to go out and buy bright pink tape?” Yeah well, I bet everyone thinks a hundred times before showing sliced livestock or sharks in formaldehyde, especially since Damien Hirst decided to sue Cartrain.  So if Nihalani is feeling miffed, I think he has every reason to sulk. I’d like to believe that if they were asked about that tape art, then the crew of the film would have doffed their hats to Nihalani but it doesn’t seem like they did. All that is said about the tape in this behind-the-scenes thingie by MTV is that the tape stuff are supposed to be “little signifiers” (I mean, really. Signifiers? We’re going to drag Levi-Strauss into a music video?). And the chap saying this keeps his bandanna on. Tsk tsk tsk.

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10 thoughts on “Tip Tape

  1. You exaggerate about the obliqueness of the lyrics. I’d be so grateful, if I couldn’t make out the words to this song. And I suspect Ezra Koenig speaks in an accent that can only be described as Ashkenazic. That’s probably anti-semitic, I’ve been saying unwittingly racist things ALL day.

    Footnote for your blog footfall meter: I came here after I typed in the query “does vampire weekend steal from satyajit ray soundtracks”?

      • You know, I thought that it’d be just like VW to cop a few riffs from Darjeeling! Thanks for confirming that! To be fair, WA uses them in his soundtracks (moderate to fairly well, I’ll add) and he credits all original composers, so one can’t technically say that he ‘steals’ music. But I keep hearing Ray/Rabindrasangeet in Bryn/Walcott off of their first record. I have plagiarism to add to my list of woes concerning VW, yay!

  2. I would actually love to hear a Rostam/VW version of a Rabindrasangeet because I’m so sick and tired of hearing those gorgeous melodies sung in the standard, boring wail. They’d probably do a great job of infusing some life into those tunes. Something like this, for example (sadly, there’s none of the slickness of Rostam’s producing skills): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ehWLLq5qjl0

    In Walcott and Bryn, eh? I can see why you’d hear it but I can’t think of a precise song that has the same chords and progression.

    • Haha, thanks for the link! That was literally a Vampire Weekend song in Bengali! I mean ontologicaly, they are saying the exact same things within the confines of a sprightly tune – “How am I supposed to pretend?/I never want to see you again?” and “Kotobar-o bhebhechinu apona bhuliya/tomaro chorone debo hridoyo khuliya” is like, the articulation of the exact same sentiment, vide. a composite of regret, wistfulness and irony.

      Seriously, I’m not being archly humorous, or ironic. Well, maybe a little bit. On the other hand, Tagore wrote semi-scathingly about the exclusivity of the Bengali upper classes, and, in exhibit a – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=abNc1gLig3s, VW speak about being tired of the bourgeoisie weekend spent at the Hamptons. Isn’t that totally shesher kobita? If that isn’t the sound of the twain meeting, idk what is.

      Re: Ray, in some recess of my memory, the Ghare Baire soundtrack sounds in essence like Bryn. Or it should, ideally.

      PS – I wrote all of this assuming that you are Bengali? If I was erroneous in my assumption, I’m sorry for the rudeness and I will certainly furnish you with the translations of my rudimentary cultural references.

  3. And if you aren’t Bengali, where do you get the cojones to call that ‘wailing’???? 😛 j/k

    That is Sagar Sen, I’ll have you know!!! *righteous Bengali pride*

  4. I’d never have thought of Shesher Kobita and VW in the same breath and I must admit, I’m having trouble seeing Ezra as Amit. But you’ve got something there with the critique of the bourgeoisie in VW songs and Shesher Kobita.

    Can’t remember the Ghare Baire track, sadly.

    And come on, you can’t feel such pride at Sagar Sen of all people. It’s not like I’m accusing Debabrata (love how they called him “George-da”) or Kanika of a weak voice or –gasp!– not emoting.

    • And not just the bourgeoisie critique, also the fact that they were themselves embedded in a top down social network, had similar backgrounds – homeschooled/erudite literary anal Jewish/Bengali families/Ivy League (I guess some variation of a spell at Oxbridge in Tagore’s case). The results are spectacularly similar. And when they attempt to channel the common touch they fail horribly. Everything, including art, is cyclic, is my submission (yay! big woop). It’s all been said and done before.

      And I was totally kidding about Rabindrasangeet exponents, my poorly developed Bengali sensibility was partially offended I think. I don’t think I’d be able to tell Debabrata apart from Sagar Sen if I heard them on the radio or something, to be honest. And I love their homogeneity, don’t you? The histrionics make it for me. No one does that Alice Cooper thing anymore. 😦

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