With more than 80,000 views within two weeks, a student project video from Karachi went viral and brought the international hit single “Barbra Streisand” to Pakistan. But besides the interchangeability of the lyrics, what is it that makes the song as well as its video adaptations that successful?
“Start spreading the news / I’m leaving today / I want to be a part of it / New York, New York”. This is how Frank Sinatra opened his hymn to the "city that doesn't sleep" in 1979. The song became iconic both for its performer and its subject, as it has been embraced as a celebration of New York City. Three decades later, a new generation’s anthem to the same city made do with just two words; the name of actress Barbra Streisand.
The tune for Duck Sauce’s song seems to have travelled just as much as the typical resident of the ‘melting pot’ that New York City often is referred to as. The song originates in Berlin, where the German band Nighttrain released their song “Hallo Bimmelbahn” in 1973, asking a small train with its warning bell to bring back the beloved one left behind.Six years later Boney M.’s version “Gotta Go Home” achieved more popularity when the German producer used Caribbean singers and dancers to make it an exotic disco track.
In late 2010 “Barbra Streisand” became a massive international hit and a new hymn for New York City. Although, the latter much more for visual than for lyrical matters, as we shall see. I assume that the main reason for its success is to be found in the video clip by French graphic designer So-Me, who worked for artists like Kanye West and Justice before. Filmed with a Digital Single-Lens Reflex (DSLR) camera, something most people would rather recognize as a stills and not as a video camera, the images get more depth, rougher, sometimes out of focus and hence more of what is often perceived as authentic. Not only for budgeting reasons, more and more filmmakers and creative make uses of this technology.
The video is said to be filmed on a night out and portraits the members of the American DJ-duo among friends, fellow celebrities (Kanye West, again), people on the street and a Streisand impersonator. The final music clip conveys an utmost likeable, laid-back and vivid image of the metropolis; it appears to serve the longings of a generation under pressure to perform: independence and innocence, creativity and authenticity. This depiction of naturalness and light heartedness has been welcomed around the world and the video has been remade in different cities using the same song (e.g. in France, Austria and Russia). And this is a very New Yorkish phenomenon itself, as Sinatra sang "If I can make it there / I'll make it anywhere".
As Pakistans’s Team Awesome joins the queue with their version entitled “Karachi City”, they give credits both to Duck Sauce and the Karachiites, who are at the centre of the surprisingly genuine video. Using the same camera technique, IQRA University students Mr. Jazz, Dani, Sebtain and Meister Waheed got inspired by the Duck Sauce video. Regardless, they did not simply copy the American scenery but aimed at showing the Pakistanis in their daily routines. “Show must go on and it’s a reality that on every next day of any incident happening in Karachi life is normal. We go to work, school, shopping, parties, wedding, cinemas - like normal people in any other city”, Meister Waheed explains their motivation.By showing people who dance and have fun, the Team wanted to show that the perception created by the foreign media is wrong: “Karachi is not a war zone”. And indeed, the Karachiites and their city appear to be cheerful and admirable, the video is refreshingly different from the Karachi that can be found in international broadcasting. If not all, some of the scenes are reminiscent of touristic marketing spots that romanticise countries similarly unknown to the western audience. And it might be some romanticism indeed that connects the Pakistani metropolis to its equivalents in the United States or continental Europe at this point.
This can be read in several ways: as an attempt to liberate oneself from both pressure from inside and stereotyping ascriptions from outside the country. At the same time, it can be read as an attempt to connect to a global demand for independence and authenticity, as well. Not necessarily a contradiction.
Sebastian Juhnke is a sociologist and an occasional disc jockey based in Berlin. For your very own version of the ever mentioned song he recommends you visit http://gobarbra.com/
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