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Nurture insurgent culture

to retool prosperity


By now, not even my decade deceased moggy will have managed to escape Gangnam style – the k-pop dance track sensation that has literally got the world and Eric Schmidt mime-riding their phantom steeds with choreographed verve. Inevitably, multiple column inches in serious publications have been devoted to extolling the soft power benefits this song and dance have bestowed upon a grateful South Korea. Take that censor-loving China! So long Justin Bieber!

But hear this. Gangnam was nice and all, but Gangnam is to 21st cultural expression what junior public official responsible for lane markings is to foursquare. Level one stuff. Do you want more? It’s time to become a true Kimosabe of the pop culture zeitgeist.

Well ok, not quite, I can’t promise you that Eric. But the point I want to make is that we do, in our own special ways, value these things. From billionaire CEO to n millionth youtube viewer, the ears of our networks prick up, our collective muscles twitch and people – for a whole host of reasons – feel good while Gangnaming it up. And so it multiplies…I don’t know about you, but that sounds like a the type of thing that a modern, human, connected economy that is rebalancing around new global axes might be interested in exploring further. But, sadly for us, as it stands this isn’t the case. In our world, ‘economy’ still worships the widget, prefers humdrum conformity to ‘dangerous’ expression and sees culture – from the high falutin to the angry paint-dawbed variety – as extra to its mission. This (I hope to try and explain) is a criminal misjudgement.

Now, let me just say that I’m not proposing that we need to gangnamify everything for it to cross the rubicon of attaining deeper significance to our inner beings. But I do think it gives us is a sneak glimpse into why we need to create the space to let many, many insurgent cultures, big or small, flourish to allow us to tap into the type of meaning and significance that they embody. And if we do this, we can give our understanding of what we value a much overdue shot in the arm and a chance of renewal.

Passinho, Tuki & Kuduro

So, let me introduce you to three corners of the world where a remarkably similar form of expression is being nurtured by cultural insurgents with the type of flair, panache and heart that our knock-kneed, humdrumified global economy and splintering society is crying out for.

I hope to show you how the likes of Passinho, Tuki and Kuduro are the types of things that you or I need to see as critical to to dealing with the big issues – like steepening inequality and uneven access of opportunity – and address head-on how we are going to create a world that lets people make the most of their potential. For what it is worth, I also think their similarities are a fascinating glimpse into how networks, access to low-cost tools and place lend themselves to cultural creation in the 21st century.

In the mesmeric photo at the top of the post you are looking at a lad dancing passinho in Rio de Janeiro. Passinho is a type of dance battle that has grown out of baile funk – a musical genre that was born in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro that mixes a deep syncopated rhythm with a caller type vocal track. Baile funk, despite being cringewothingly deemed dangerous by the powers that be (way to create a 21st century city, chaps), has gone on to become worldwide phenomenon updating the cultural iconography of a historic city too often trapped in the outdated global collective memory of beach-football-bossa etc.


In Dança do Passinho, dancers battle each other by proposing a move and them mimicking it and trying to do go one up on what they have just performed. If you watch it, you will see that it is kind of hard to pin down and super expressive. And that is the point. It is a fruit of our times. One that is at once deeply tied to place -the music of baile funk, the favelas of Rio -while at the same time giving a nod to decades of breakdancing culture etc. Do watch the video of the film that is documenting the movement or check out the tons clips of it on youtube taken by kids on their phones who post their latest exploits to prove their worth to their adversaries.

Next stop Caracas, Venezuela. Time to check out Tuki. I have started the clip where dancers Elberth and Cho talk their their moves like ‘the hairdryer’ that they take to the battles and what Tuki means to them. they explain how the moves gorw out of each person bringing their own style along and the next person trying to build on what they have just seen. It sort of tells of a story about how personal creativity, when expressed, becomes a new type of public good that we could call collective creativity.


Now onto Angola and Kuduro. Kuduro as it has spread across the Portuguese diaspora and become a serious cultural export popping up all over the world. Again it is about deep rhythms and as they say in the film it is all about the dance. You don’t need to watch the clip for too long to see that it has flair and expression in abundance.

Ok so now you have had a look into these highly expressive movements- inspiring not least because of their birth out of adversity in environments that you or I might think of as woefully lacking in resources, but also because of their striking similarities (cultural cannibalism for the networked age anyone?). But so what? My economy is tanking. These detours are a ‘nice to have’ but that is where it ends.

But what if your ‘economy’ was made of the things you loved, cherished and nurtured? And what if the probing questions for a healthy economy weren’t simply your year-end inflation expectations, how your nation is doing on labour market deregulation and the number of people joining the food service labor force on temporary contracts?

What if instead your country cuts the mustard if it has the right kind of incentives (backed by the institutional struts) to allow its citizens to make the most of their creativity; to tap into, and be recognised for, their passions? And what if we judged cities – where most of us live these days – not on how many high-rises they are able to build in hitherto public space, but actually on how well set up they are to let their own version of Passinho, Kuduro and Tuki thrive.

Sometimes it feels like the gap between where we are with what is deemed productive and what we as humans love, cherish and nurture is growing by the day. But as the world rebalances and connects like never before with cultural nourishment that quenches and enriches in ways that our version of ‘economy’ cant compute (and which thanks to many things is more accessible and more easy to create than ever), the idea that we deserve more is becoming too hard to ignore.

In our networked world, insurgent cultures, big or small, can act as battering rams to help us recognise the good stuff in life and have the potential to be profound catalysts of retooled recognition of what matters.

Food service sector job growth wont save us. But learning to love Passinho, Kuduro and Tuki might…Let’s retool prosperity so that the stuff we love, cherish and nurture is part of the equation.

many thanks for the cc photo Joao Xavi

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