Published Oct 28, 2015In the last couple of months, Bat for Lashes singer Natasha Khan has teamed up with TOY and producer Dan Carey to form a new project called Sexwitch. Last month's self-titled EP featured covers of psych/folk songs from around the world, and while it was generally well-received, the group have now been accused of cultural appropriation.
In a scathing essay for The Talkhouse, Zohra Atash (of the New York bands Religious to Damn and Azar Swan) wrote that Sexwitch are guilty of "cultural appropriation without cultural appreciation." She called the six-song EP a "Mean-Disney-era dystopia of imperialist, witch-burning othering where gender, cultures and archetypes are whittled down to the lowest common denominator for the sake of slapdash art."
Atash, who is Afghan-American, accuses Khan of making "over-the-top attempts" at Eastern-style singing. What she particularly takes issue with, however, is the fact that Sexwitch apparently botched one of their song titles: the track that they present as a cover of Ramesh's "Ghorooba Ghashangan" is actually Pooneh's "Hamishe Tanha." (Both songs were on the 2012 Iranian music comp Zendooni, hence the confusion).
While Atash praised Sexwitch's versions of the Iranian song "Helelyos" and the Moroccan track "Kassidat el Hakka," she had this devastating commentary for the EP as a whole:
But this record is as culturally sensitive as the last time Natasha Khan homogenized a disenfranchised people by claiming some nebulous affinity with Native Americans and regularly wore feathered war bonnets and played a shaman stick live. With Sexwitch, she is implicitly linking the East with the most un-feminist The Malleus Maleficarum portrayal of "witch" — some nocturnal unhinged beast —and it's insulting. Asia is not one big country full of primal dancers and/or terrorists. We are living in a world in which tensions between East and West are reaching an apex. So forgive me if I'm not psyched — ha! — that you think the East is your blank canvas.
It's worth pointing out that Khan herself has Asian roots, as her father is Pakistani. Atash didn't mention this in the main article, even when criticizing Khan for attempting to simulate a "Pakistani girls' choir." She did address Khan's heritage in the comments section, however, writing, "Iran and Pakistan have little to do with each other culturally, musically, language-wise etc so it would be like me saying, 'I'm French so I'm covering these Bulgarian songs!'"
Read the full article here. Sexwitch is streaming in full below.