Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Gentrified: Capercaillie and "Waiting for the Wheel to Turn"

I first heard the word "gentrification" in the mid-eighties when I was doing volunteer work in the inner-city. At the time I thought that the term meant white people coming into black neighborhoods, buying up the real estate and forcing the original inhabitants out. I have learned that is only one possible outcome. Gentrification happens, of course, when any group of people with money comes in, buys up real estate and moves in, driving out the original inhabitants and changing the cultural character and flavor of the neighborhood. Given this definition, it is perfectly plausible that non-whites can gentrify non-white neighborhoods, and non-whites could even gentrify poor white neighborhoods. However, that doesn't happen very often in the United States, which is why gentrification has a just-below-the-surface ethnic and racial component. The main point is that people are forced out through the forces of capitalism and the very cultural underpinnings that made the neighborhood what it was is lost forever. Neighborhoods in northside Chicago are being gentrified by young, white people, and corporations gentrified Times Square. Brooklyn is being gentrified by people who can't afford to live in Manhattan, and San Francisco is being gentrified by waves of high paid tech workers.  Low income housing in New Orleans is torn down and replaced with high income apartments and condominiums.

Today's song, Waiting for the Wheel to Turn, references a similar process in the British Isles. The lyrics speak eloquently to this phenomena: 

Remember the Buachaille Mor
Reaching for the skies from the barren shores
Watching over the village of burns
And counting the days since the gael kept home
 Well, the stranger claims it now
Sitting like a king with his gold from the south
Don't you see the waves of wealth
Washing away the soul from the land?

It speaks to the loss of culture and tradition:

Yes, you're taking it all away
The music, the tongue and the old refrains
You're coming here to play
But you're pulling the roots from a dying age

It also relates this phenomenon to The Clearances, the Highland Clearances policies in the 18th and 19th centuries that allowed Scottish farmers to be forced off of their lands to make way for aristocratic sheepherding.  The original Clearances were government policies, but the latest waves of these types of things in the developed world are capitalism at work.

I am divided on whether this phenomenon is inevitable or even harmful.  I lament the losses that come with gentrification of any kind, and certainly people and cultures are hurt by it.  But I am also open to the fact that change happens and can lead to dynamism in decaying neighborhoods, just as new participants in things like arts, music and literature can provide bursts of creativity.

I'm glad therefore that groups like Capercaillie keep the old traditions alive while also giving them new relevance by infusing them with new styles and instrumentation. Capercaillie is a Scottish band founded in the Argyll region of Scotland in the early 1980s. Known for their mixing of traditional Gaelic tunes with modern recording techniques and instrumentation, Capercaillie started as a purely traditional band. In the 1990s, they began mix in funk bass lines, synthesizers and electric guitars into their repertoire of traditional tunes, but lately have been going back to more traditional instrumentation while retaining a light fusion feel to their music. In 1992, they recorded the first Scottish-Gaelic song to crack the UK Top 40. They have released eleven studio albums, four of which have made the UK Albums chart, and one live album. They also have two compilation albums and have performed on two soundtracks. Waiting for the Wheel to Turn can be found on their 1991 CD Delirium, on the remix album Get Out (1992), and on the 1998 compilation album Dusk Til Dawn. The version above is their original 1991 version and video, but if you want to hear their longer remix version I am posting it below.