Amazingly — given I didn’t know it has existed for a decade — my mellow Marvin Hall dropped a YouTube bomb last night in a comment on my recent re-post, “School Bell Nuh Ring“: he actually has video of the awesome impromptu dancehall freestyle session that the students from St. Andrew’s broke into on the day that we visited the school while a teacher’s strike loomed large. Check it out!
I just love this for so many reasons: they’re being clever, having fun, amusing themselves, teasing the teachers, riffing on a Shabba Ranks tune in fine DJ tradition, and using the simple but totally sufficient accompaniment of a soda bottle banging out that ol’ 3+3+2.
Here’s the Shabba track that inspired their cipher. Even though it was already over 10 years old, you can see why the tune — and the video — would still be so resonant for Jamaican school kids back in 2003:
The 2013 Together Fest is underway, and I’ll be playing my part on 2 occasions Thursday (tomorrow!).
First, on Thurs afternoon from 2-3:30pm at the Together Center in Central Square (328 Mass Ave), I’ll be moderating a panel called “Grassroots Digital” featuring three luminaries in the weird world of mediation between DIY/independent and industrial modes of production & circulation: Toy Selectah, Matt Shadetek, and Chris Kirkley. Here’s why I think their co-presence will make for quite a conversation.
Toy Selectah has been making waves for decades, and I could hardly think of a better figure to discuss the ways digital tech has enabled young, independent producers to get their work out there. First, as the DJ Muggs-inspired, sample-wielding producer behind Control Machete, later as the A&R for reggaeton’s massively popular Machete Music imprint, and most recently as the Mad Decent-approved 3ball MTY svengali, Toy has been a major mover and shaker behind the scenes, and in each of these moments he has witnessed the power of emergent technologies when wielded by young artists. Here’s a deep interview with him c/o RBMA in case you need to get up to speed:
Matt Shadetek has been producing street-level bangers for many years, from Berlin to Brooklyn. Especially enamored of the “preset” wielding in genres like grime and dancehall, he makes software sing on his own productions — independently distributed and licensed — and in his instructional work at Dubspot. For our purposes, I’d like to focus on the beyond-his-control but up-his-alley circulation of Craziest Riddim, aka the instrumental from “Brooklyn Anthem.” As Matt detailed in a post back in 2008, unbeknownst to him, his instrumental took on a life of its own, embraced by the “teen bashment” scene in Jamaican-Brooklyn (which, as I commented, is about as good a conferral of cool as it gets). He collected several examples in that post, and many more on the Dutty Artz YouTube channel, but here’s one for your viewing pleasure –
Last but not least, Chris Kirkley, who is presently in Mali, will be (fingers-crossed) reaching us via videolink to join our realtime discussion. You may know Chris from Music from Saharan Cellphones, which is pretty grassroots digital, but he’s also got a more recent project delving into visual culture that I’d like to discuss. According to a blurb from the Portland Museum of Modern Art, Azawad Libre! New Media and Imagined Geographies in the Sahel “examines a burgeoning area of folk art associated with computers and cell phones throughout the Sahel, and the political and personal undertones explored through this recently integrated form of expression.” Both via internet and on the ground in the Sahel, Kirkley has put together a collection comprising “personally crafted avatars, viral propaganda disseminated through cell phone videos, imagined geographies of non-existent states, and personal identities redefined through designers of the digital realm.” Here’s one such example –
In light of a burgeoning movement toward Africans remaking their image via self-representation, Kirkley’s efforts to celebrate and display these examples of personal net-art in US museums is an interesting move, and I hope we’ll be able to consider such complex remediation alongside the ways, say, Mad Decent represents 3ball or JA-BK teens repurpose Shadetek beats.
Once more, here’s the blurb —
From Mexico to Mali to Bed-Stuy, digital tools of production and publication are facilitating new interactions between grassroots culture and industrial capture, informal amateurism and art world remediation. Drawing on the expertise of several actors in this wide, weird world, our panel seeks to explore a few stories of spectacular circulation that shed light on new forms of media exchange and exploitation.
Second — and this is a BIG second — later on Thursday night you can catch me playing an opening set for Toy Selectah’s Boston premiere at the Good Life for Picó Picante’s special Together edition! I’m beyond thrilled to be a part of this, and I’m definitely going to have a special set ready for the occasion. Don’t miss this one. It’s gonna be a floor burner–
I’ll be on from 11-12, and Toy will close out with an epic 2 hour set. Get there on the early side, because the line is always long (at least it will be warm!) and, hey, there’s a whole night of entertainment lined up! Lots of great local folk on the bill, including the Pajaritos, Ultratumba, Brizgnar, El Poser, and HEXbeam on the visuals. Can’t wait!!
Remember when I asked — rhetorically and remixically — whether there were limits to your love for Soundcloud? Well, it took a little over two years, but the super smart sample-sniffers over at Audible Magic have apparently finally decided that one of the two mashups I made by way of commentary / limit-testing should be removed for possible copyright infringement. Here’s the notice I received today:
When one clicks through to options, note that there is no recourse for anyone who does not own the copyright or have permission. In other words, there is NO FAIR USE in this world. Soundcloud does not want to be in the business of adjudicating the lines of transformative use; it wants to be in the business of datamining and other forms of monetizing all the activity on the part of users which makes the site what it is: yet another popular privately-owned public space.
I won’t go into all the lurid details yet again. I’ve said enough about Soundcloud’s practices & policies, as have others. But I promised “to keep you posted” on this little experiment, so I had to share this development here.
I can protest all I want. I can include lines like the following in my description: “I contend, especially for the purposes of critical commentary and educational applications, that this constitutes a ‘fair use’ of all materials.” But the bots won’t care, and I doubt the humans will either. Best I can do, if I really care about this audio residing on Soundcloud (which I don’t), is to upload again, perhaps with a little more sonic camouflage.
No need to bother with that. The limit has been reached. That said, I’ll be curious to see when/whether the “content protection system” (a rather Orwellian ring to it, no?) figures out that the removed mashup’s mirror-image twin, the “Feisty version” — the better/weirder, and the more popular of the two, as it happens — is still just sitting there, brazenly violating copyright–
Plus, I’m happy to note that the Blakey version is still available, with helpful visual tracking, c/o Vimeo:
Finally, my commitment to never paying Soundcloud for their “service” remains strong as ever. We’ll see how long my account lasts over there. Considering that I neither hold the copyright nor have permission for ANY of my uploads (which I suspect is the case for the majority of users), despite all of them bearing rather audible marks of my creative labors, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them disappear one by one. Get em while they’re there, and when they’re not, come get them here.
Got two great gigs in the next couple weeks that I want to make a little bit of a big deal about!
First up, next Monday (May 6) at Middlesex, I’m excited to take a turn as a guest at CVLT, Cambridge / Boston’s semimonthly source for “Electronic Death Music” (as they put it) —
This is an exciting opportunity to delve into some harder, darker sounds I don’t often play out. You can count on some duppy-haunted dancehall, k-hole reggaeton, and unvarnished grime. And as you can see, I’ll not only be joined by CVLT’s residents but by the one and only Nick Dawg of Beantown Boogietown, Boston’s premiere bass(scene) boosting blog.
FYI, Nick just cooked up a mix full of tracks c/o this year’s Together acts (more about that in a moment)–
Plus+++ the night will begin with an 8pm screening of The Earth Rejects Him by local filmmaker Jared Skolnick. Here’s a blurb (and a teaser):
The Earth Rejects Him is a chilling short film written and directed by Jared Skolnick about a young boy who discovers a corpse while biking in the woods, “then faces unexpected and macabre consequences when he tries to bury it.” Influenced by the films of Werner Herzog, Terrence Malick, and Guillermo del Toro and the short stories of H.P. Lovecraft, Skolnick shows us the sinister side of a sunny day in a lush forest when a young boy takes a tumble off his bike over a small cliff and lands in a tangle of fallen leaves.
Sounds like the perfect beginning to a night of pleasurably dark vibes, no?
Just in case you’re still wondering what these all these adjectives might mean, CVLT resident El Poser recently posted a vernal mix that helps give a sense of the vibe (though I also saw him play an incredibly bounce-y set opening for Dubbel Dutch at SWERVE a couple weeks back, so you never know):
On the other side of the vibes spectrum, I’m absolutely thrilled to be a part of this!!!!
There’s a lot I could say about Picó Picante (my fave dance night in Boston) and Toy Selectah (one of my fave producer / DJ / A&Rs in the world), but for now allow me to crib from the infotaining blurb the Pajaritos put together –
// PICÓ PICANTE featuring Toy Selectah, May 16th at Good Life
On Thursday, May 16th, PICÓ PICANTE takes over both floors of Good Life for a special edition showcase for this year’s Together Festival. Monterrey-based producer Toy Selectah (Sones del Mexside, Mad Decent) headlines, known originally as the mix-master wizard for Mexico’s Hip Hop en Español pioneers Control Machete. Most recently, Toy’s productions gallop rural rhythms of Colombian-Mexican cumbias, reggae, and other urban styles to create his own trademark sound and collective called Sonidero Nacional. Toy’s responsible for developing the Mexican phenomenon 3BALLMTY, and has also worked with the likes of Calle 13, Don Omar, Manu Chao, Morrissey and many others. He now resides as Creative Director, A&R and CEO of his own production company and boutique label, Sones del Mexside.
Thursday, May 16th | 9 PM – 2 AM | Good Life, 28 Kingston Street, Boston | 21+ | $5 | FACEBOOK
// Grassroots Digital, a panel-discussion organized by Wayne Marshall, May 16th at Together Center
We’re excited to share that Wayne Marshall (Wayne&Wax, Harvard University) has organized and will moderate a panel-discussion in conjunction with Together Festival daytime programming, with Picó guest Toy Selectah and more to be announced:
From Mexico to Mali to Bed-Stuy, digital tools of production and publication are facilitating new interactions between grassroots culture and industrial capture, informal amateurism and art world remediation. Drawing on the expertise of several actors in this wide, weird world, our panel seeks to explore a few stories of spectacular circulation that shed light on new forms of media exchange and exploitation.
Thursday, May 16th | 2 – 3:30 PM | Together Center, 328 Mass Ave, Cambridge | All Ages | Free
Here’s Toy’s latest, btw; can’t wait to lose it, raverton stylee, on that dungeony dancefloor —
Today is the final meeting of my last class at Harvard this year — and possibly my final class as a college-level instructor, but we’ll save that discussion for another day. For now, I’ll leave you with a few playlists I created in order to have some examples a click on during class.
In short, this was the one class this year that I didn’t completely make up myself. Music 97c (“Music in Cross-Cultural Perspective”) is a long-running requirement for Music concentrators here. Essentially an introduction to ethnomusicology — theories, methods, and repertories — it departs from standard “World Music” courses by eschewing the survey/smorgasbord and instead focusing on just a few geographical areas in some depth. I designed my own syllabus from scratch, of course, and perhaps unsurprisingly the emphasis largely fell on the Caribbean, North America, and Afrodiasporic matters. We did, however, also include units on Turkish and Balinese/Indonesian music. You can see the whole syllabus here, if you like.
Or you can just edutain yourself by perusing these playlists–
Later this week, on Friday April 19 from 2-3:45pm, I will have the pleasure of hosting a panel of some dear friends & colleagues & all-around awesome folks at the EMP Pop Conference at NYC (at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts @ 721 Broadway). An experiment of sorts, this year’s Pop Conference will take place in five cities at once over the course of the weekend: the EMP Museum in Seattle, NYU/NYC, Tulane in New Orleans, USC/LA, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. Each will take on a different theme. For NYC, it’s “After the Deluge” — a reference to Hurricane Sandy, if interpreted farily loosely.
As a longstanding admirer of and participant in the #PopCon, it was an honor to be asked to curate a conversation at the conference, and I’m taking the opportunity to bring together several of my favorite artist/writer/smartfolk to talk about some overlapping and intersecting music scenes across the boroughs. Here’s the skinny –
In the wake of a different kind of deluge, this roundtable aims to explore how particular waves of migration — a constant if dynamic feature of the city — serve to initiate new senses of locality across NYC’s boroughs. Each panelist, all drawing from a wealth of experience as artist-practitioners as well as public critics of sorts, will explore how immigrant cultures have reshaped the sound of the city through an often diffuse but undeniable soundscape presence, savvy use of club spaces and informal commercial networks, and in culturally charged interplay with other new and established scenes. Building on years of engagement with cumbia communities from Buenos Aires to Monterey, Jace Clayton (aka DJ /Rupture) will describe how transnational cumbia today flows through Mexican Brooklyn; Jazmin Soto (aka Venus X) will discuss how Dominican music textures Harlem life as well as how it serves to address a wider GHE20G0TH1K public; “Chief” Boima Tucker will report on the burgeoning African club scene in the Bronx and Queens; Dr. Larisa Mann (aka DJ Ripley) will tease out the ways that Jamaicans work within and beyond established diasporic spaces; and LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs will add crucial perspective on African-American Harlem to flesh out our picture of how places gets made and remade by the arrival of newcomers. Hosting the roundtable is Wayne Marshall (Harvard University / wayneandwax), whose work on reggae, hip-hop, and reggaeton consistently revolves around NYC’s vibrant, variegated, sonically-mediated encounters between established and emergent groups.
I’m pretty sure none of these panelists need any introduction to readers of W&W. But just to whet appetites a bit, allow me to share some recent items from/on them all:
1) Jace Clayton’s latest project, The Julius Eastman Memorial Dinner, has been receiving great critical praise. A recent profile in the Guardian does a nice job of exploring his aesthetics and how this latest effort makes sense within his varied oeuvre.
2) Venus X continues to make waves with the GHE20G0TH1K movement. Check out this piece published last week that examines the wider ripples she & partner Shayne HBA are having on the fashion world & NYC culture more broadly.
3) Chief Boima’s always cooking up something. Look out for his forthcoming report for RBMA delving into the African club scene he’ll be talking about at #PopCon. Meantime, get a sense of the sounds swirling through the club scenes he deftly navigates as a DJ, this time with Dutty comrade Geko Jones:
4) For her part, Dr. Ripley has also recently issued a blistering Dutty mixtape, an ode to her roots & abiding interest in high tempos & dark moods:
5) Latasha Diggs has just published TwERK, a book of “poems, songs, and myths” that ask “only that we imagine America as it has always existed, an Americana beyond the English language.” Allow me to quote the mighty Vijay Iyer’s blurb:
This long-awaited compendium of works by LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs will blow your mind with its delirious play of signs, its cultural repurposings and reclaimings, its endlessly spinning polyglot wheel, and its breezy repertoire of ribald, faux-naif cyberfolk myth-science. With dazzling rigor and imagination, Ms. Diggs shares with us a view from Harlem that shines a knowing light on every place in the observable universe.
Given the recent attention on Harlem as both real and imagined space of ebullient dance, I can’t wait for our panel to, ahem, shake out some new perspectives on the musically-suffused significance of the many waves of culture constantly washing over the place. If you’re in NYC, hope you’ll be able to join us. If not, do tune in! (And follow the hashtag on Twitter: #PopCon.)
If you haven’t heard it yet, I finally cooked down a Zunguzung Mega Mix that features all 50+ instances that have come to my attention since I first started listening for that catchy likkle tune and, with the publication of this piece back in 2007, enlisting others to lend me their ears.
The impetus for finally bringing this together is that my friend and fellow music scribe, Garnette Cadogen, was visiting Yellowman last week and told him about my work. (Garnette reported, much to my delight, that King Yellow was “touched, truly touched” by my work on his legacy.) When he requested a full mix of the “Zigzagging Zunguzung Meme,” I could hardly refuse.
So here it is, for now anyway: 54 strikingly similiar contours! (See full track list below.)
1982 — Yellowman, “Zunguzungunguzunguzeng”
1982 — Yellowman & Fathead, “Physical / Zunguzung (Live at Aces)”
1982 — Sister Nancy, “Coward of the Country”
1984 — Frankie Paul, “Alesha”
1984 — Toyan, “Hot Bubble Gum”
1985 — Little John, “Clarks Booty”
1985 — Super Cat, “Boops”
1986 — Cocoa Tea, “Come Again”
1986 — Cutty Ranks @ StereoMars PNP Rally
1986 — BDP, “The P Is Free”
1987 — BDP, “Remix For P Is Free”
1988 — BDP, “T Cha T Cha”
1988 — Queen Latifah, “Princess of the Posse”
1988 — Masters of Ceremony, “Keep on Moving”
1988 — Sublime, “Roots of Creation”
1989 — Nice & Smooth, “Nice & Smooth”
1989 — Nice & Smooth, “Dope on a Rope”
1991 — Leaders of the New School, “Case of the P.T.A.”
1992 — Lecturer, “Gal Yu Mean It”
1992 — Sublime, “Scarlet Begonias”
1992 — Leila K, “Open Sesame”
1993 — Us3, “I Got It Goin’ On”
1993 — K7, “Zunga Zeng”
1993 — KRS-One, “P Is Still Free”
1993 — Jamalski, “African Border”
1993 — Buju Banton, “Big It Up”
1994 — The Coup, “Pimps (Freestyling at the Fortune 500 Club)”
1994 — Ninjaman, “Funeral Again”
1994 — Bounty Killer, “Kill Or Be Killed”
1995 — Buju Banton, “Man a Look Yu”
1995 — Junior M.A.F.I.A. ft. Biggie Smalls, “Player’s Anthem”
1996 — 2pac, “Hit ‘Em Up”
1996 — Captain Barkey, “Go Go Wine”
1996 — Junior Dangerous ft. Lucas, “Comin’ Out To Play”
1997 — Cru, “Pronto”
1998 — Mr. Notty, “Sentencia de Muerte”
1998 — Black Star, “Definition”
1999 — Lil’ Cease ft. Jay-Z, “4 My Niggaz”
2000 — Dead Prez, “It’s Bigger than Hip-Hop”
2000 — Daisy Dee, “Open Sesame”
2000 — Wyclef Jean ft. Xzibit and Yellowman, “Perfect Gentlemen Remix”
2001 — Ñejo, “El Problema Ser Bellaco”
2003 — Joe Budden, “Pump It Up”
2004 — Jin, “Learn Chinese”
2005 — Looptroop, “Chana Masala”
2006 — POD ft. Matisyahu, “Roots in Stereo”
2006 — JD (aka Dready), “UK Zunga Zeng”
2007 — White Rappers, “One Night Stand”
2007 — Gwen Stefani ft. Damian Marley, “Now That You Got It”
2009 — Wax Taylor ft. ASM, “Say Yes”
2010 — Vybz Kartel, “Whine (Wine)”
2011 — Tifa, “Matey Wine”
2011 — Yellowman, “Zungguzungguguzungguzeng (Horsepower Productions Remix / Dub)”
2013 — Benga & Kano, “Forefather”
Notably, with the exception of Nice & Smooth, K7, and Horsepower Productions, all of the echoes of Yellowman’s tune to date have been re-sung rather than sampled. Sometimes a one-off phrase, at other times it structures the chorus. The tune twists and turns in so many ways over the course of 30 years, I find it truly beguiling. I just want to sing it all the time. That’s a good riff for you.
[Update: Only took a day before another version popped up in the comments! Thanks to Noriko Manabe and Marvin Sterling for pointing out that Rankin Taxi's "You Can't See It, and You Can't Smell It Either" -- a 2011 post-Fukushima protest song -- also contains a zunguzung allusion. Guess I'll have to re-mix the mega mix, again, at some point. Nice to have an appearance from beyond the Americas & Europe.]
I can’t leave you with just that, however, as similar threads demand to be looped in.
When we make songs, Spanish people take it and sing it different, and we don’t speak Spanish, so we don’t realise. Because of that, the Spanish artistes don’t pay us royalties and it slips right under our nose. I think the Spanish owe reggae music millions of dollars right now.
Niney may be right. It’s true that this happens all the time. Indeed, the latest example I stumbled across is classic in its overt and simultaneously reverent and irreverent reanimation of a hit reggae song. Still, I wonder whether Ricky Blaze knows about this (or, for that matter, this) and what he’d think —
Niney offers additional barbs about white people owning ska & other perversions of property. He even raises the specter of the entire genre of reggaeton owing a grand debt to Shabba Ranks’s (and hence, Bobby Digital’s / Steely & Clevie’s) “Dem Bow” — though he reduces it to a general rhythmic pattern that is hardly copyrightable. And though I could discuss dembow for days, here I want to flag another specific allegation and its recursive riffs on riffs:
Songs like Murder She Wrote is in Spanish right now and I don’t even think Sly and Robbie know.
Niney’s reference to “Murder She Wrote” is interesting, especially as the first track mentioned in this light. Of course, he’s right, to some extent. But it’s not actually true that “Spanish people” are singing the song so much; more precisely, little loops and bits of the riddim from “Murder She Wrote” have, by this point, been as deeply embedded into the aesthetic code of reggaeton (especially Dominican dembow) as “Dem Bow” itself. (& I will add that I find Niney’s comments on “Dem Bow” quite timely given that I’ve got a piece in a forthcoming Wax Poetics detailing the surprisingly mixed-up and mysterious “origin” of reggaeton’s Dem Bow. Spoiler alert: reggaeton’s favorite loop was not recorded in Jamaica.)
As it happens, not only does “Murder She Wrote” live on in a thousand DJ Scuff mini-mega-mixes, it’s about to get as big a push into the US (& global) mainstream as it has received since the early 90s thanks to none other than French Montana (featuring, natch, Nicki Minaj), who additionally riffs on the vocal melody from Chaka Demus & Pliers’ warhorse:
As odd as I find the juxtaposition of two unrelated early 90s dancehall songs here, and as squirmy as such caricatured takes on dancehall make me, “Freaks” represents an exciting moment for the lil lilting riff that so defines “Murder She Wrote” (also known as the Bam Bam riddim) — a riff which, as I’ve explored in mini-mega-mix form, is itself quite caught up in international networks of creative riffing –
I hope French’s folks licensed those samples, though, since his jam is not as likely to fly under the radar as its Puerto Rican cousins. That said, I’d love to see a case like this actually go to court somewhere. (Not really.) It’s more than clear that this stuff goes around and around and around, and hence making claims to ultimate origins (and exclusive exploitation rights) always seems a little suspect. But who knows what a judge or jury might decide.
Along those lines, the last riff on a riff (on a riff?) I want to share here is based around a story BigBlackBarry told me when I was in Kingston last month. Check this set of echoes:
As complicated as this may seem, just because Bo Diddley recorded it “first” (and who knows who he may have been riffing off) didn’t stop Willie Cobb from shaking down Dawn Penn when her rocksteady hit was rejuvenated with a mid90s twist and became a sudden crossover success.
So I’ll leave it here for now: big up the one King Yellowman for recognizing how influence and allusion work, for relentlessly riffing on the sounds around him, and for never suing the many, many souls who did him the same service and extended his echoing chant into a realm of truly remarkable reverberation.
We had a lovely time in JA. It was especially nice & easy thanks to our local hosts and longtime frens, Sara & Marvin, who in addition to leading our party round the island, convening some great crews of friends & colleagues, carrying us to this party and that beach, and being total sports about hanging with our large fam, opened their home to us — a sweet perch in town, complete with mangoes in the yard!
Like any Kingston hosts worth their salt, Sara & Marv made sure we made it to Hellshire Beach our first weekend there, where we had our fill of oysters, lobster, and fried fish –
We couldn’t resist a likkle dip, the first of many on the trip –
That night we hit up Rockers Sound Station’s Rock Ur Soul Sundays, a dubwise session held at a spot called the Dub Club way up Jack’s Hill. It was a wild & windy ride, but the payoff was an incredible vista and some good, heavy vibes. It was a serious system, frequently exploited by the selectors who mostly withheld the massive bass for maximum effect. And when it dropped, bomba… While we were there, and this is hardly surprising, we were treated to an Italian guest selector wielding a single turntable (and the mixer & airhorn, of course), playing tracks with lines like “African or British, Italian, Japanese / it’s important that we share in love and harmony.” Amazingly, I found the session archived on Ustream! –
But we only got a couple nights in town. Most of our time was spent up in Portland at a far more leisurely pace. When we finally made it to the other side of the island, after threading mountain turns for a few hours, the first thing I saw was some graffiti nodding north & repping the THUG LIFE (G-UNOT!) —
We stayed in an amazing place called the Belmount, an exquisite little spot on the San San peninsula, overlooking the Blue Lagoon, Monkey Island, and San San Beach –
Pretty sweet at sunset too –
Here’s from the other side of the house/peninsula –
And don’t get me started on the plantings and flowers and such. But I will share one great moment: on one walk around the yard, I noticed a flower that had been choked by a small vine, so I snapped the vine and gently unraveled it and the flower opened right up, as if in some act of magical gratitude –
Belmount is just down the road from Frenchman’s Cove, so we spent a couple days in the special spot where the cool river meets the warm sea and a swing hangs from an almond tree at just the right height –
Of course, we also pilgrimaged to Winnifred Beach, maybe the most perfect natural beach I’ve ever seen, so well captured in this epic panorama shot by Sara –
Of course, we had to stop for some post-beach jellies (& about a dozen other fruits during the week) –
Becca had her first otaheite apple in a decade, and the girls their first ever, so that was sweet –
If only we could plant one of these things up in Cambridge…
Of all the delicious and alien fruit we sought out and encountered, I discovered I’m a sucker for almonds. Sea almonds, I believe. And more the trees than the fruit, which I didn’t get much a chance to try. (I did bite into a freshly fallen one I found on the beach, which had a tart, pear-ish taste and an almost avocado feel. Pretty good, but it wasn’t ripe enough.) I hadn’t noticed before, but almond trees totally proliferate in Jamaica, both as wild beach majesties and squat sculpted lawn ornaments –
They have great teardrop leaves, which turn orange, then red, and drop gently from the trees –
This ol’ struggler provided crucial shade at Frenchman’s –
While this one in the Belmount yard has orchids growing out of it!
I was even enamored of the morbid beauty of fallen almonds being dismantled by beetles –
But enough about trees. That’s enough, I’m sure. Thanks for watching! Since I’ve had you here this long, I’ll leave you a couple parting shots I can’t resist leaving out: a herd of goats running the road –
Special thanks to Charlie 1.0, driving above, and Fern, not pictured, for making the whole dang thing possible. It was a Jamaican vacation I’ve always dreamed of — and to be able to introduce Nico and Charlie to the place this way was wonderful.
I’m thrilled to report that tomorrow morning I’m headed back to Jamaica for the first time in a couple years. It’ll also be the first time in a decade for Rebecca, and the very first time for Nico and Charlie. I can’t describe how excited I am to see their faces upon having a cold jelly, a sun-ripened banana, some ackee & saltfish, and other likkle wonders of the place. We’re very lucky to have the opportunity for a multigenerational vacation (Charlie 1.0 and Fern will be there too), to have dear friends in Kingston to receive us (bigup Sara & Marvin), and to have a lovely time ahead of us, both in town and up in Portland, arguably the most beautiful corner of a beautiful country.
Our vacation will no doubt stand in some contrast to the all-inclusive tourist-traps many college students and other folk are looking forward to this Spring Break. And so it seems as fitting a time as ever to re-run an excerpt from an ol’ “Jamaica Blog” post about our experience of an all-inclusive in Ocho Rios some 10 years back. (This was first published on 25 Feb 2003, so, yeah, still lagging a bit. Soon Come ;) I don’t feel like quite as strident a critic of other people’s experience of Jamiaca as I did 10 years ago, but I think it’s useful to register (and re-register) my experiences, aesthetics, and prejudices all the same. And I have to admit that the questions i raise at the end remain trenchant and recurring ones for me. We’ll see whether I have anything to say about all of that when I return next weekend.
L to R: sour sop, naseberry, naseberry tree, at our friend kush’s place, just outside ochi
after four weeks of living in jamaica, becca and i finally got a chance to spend a few days outside of kingston. becca was asked to speak at an internet forum being held in ocho rios by the ministry of utilities. for her part, she was provided accommodations at the hotel where the conference was to take place, the renaissance jamaica grande, a subsidiary of marriott, the largest and most prominent all-inclusive resort in the attractive coastal town. (ocho rios stands third to montego bay and negril as a tourist spot in jamaica.) despite the pre-packaged feel we suspected the hotel would have, we were both looking forward to spending some time on a beach and taking a little holiday. moreover, we were curious about the hotel, wanting to compare our experience in jamaica so far with the jamaica that most tourists are shown. we were glad to have a complimentary chance to check it out.
since i was conducting workshops at the american school on thursday, i decided to meet becca in ocho rios later in the day (she left at five am). i had planned to take a bus from kingston, which seemed to be an inexpensive and interesting prospect. it turned out, however, that one of the companies at the conference was offering a cruise departing at 5:30 that evening, so i chartered a taxi to get me there quickly (the ride can take well under two hours, depending on traffic and the driver’s desire to tempt fate). driving in jamaica is quite an experience. never mind the wrong side of the road problem, which, for the passenger (being a driver, i assume, requires more adjustment) quickly loses its jarring effect. taking corners and passing cars in kingston is often enough of an adventure. taking corners and passing cars (sometimes several at once) as one winds through the mountains, pedal to the floor, is a more grueling experience.
my driver was an excellent driver, which did a little to assuage my frequent fear of hurtling to my death. i don’t think he ever let up on the gas so long as he could accelerate, which meant down-shifting — not breaking — and speeding up around tight corners, getting as close as possible to the rapidly traveling (though never rapidly enough) car ahead, and passing caravans of slower cars if possible. that said, my driver did an impressive job. he was easily the fastest car on the road (no one passed us anyway), partly because he knew the winding road so well that he traced it incredibly efficiently. i asked him how many times he had driven this route. “how many times? nuff times, mon. sunday, tuesday, and wednesday of this week.” i got the point. he had been driving twenty-years, probably with this kind of weekly frequency through the mountains. he got me to ocho rios in the time he said he would (two hours), which was rather fast considering the thursday afternoon traffic.
having, towards the end, grown a bit nauseated by the twisting, turning, and lurching, i was not looking forward to a cruise. but it was refreshing and reinvigorating to pass through fern gully (a cool, damp stretch of road, surrounded by ferns on both sides, and covered overhead by a thick canopy of trees) and then into town, sun still shining. i shouldn’t skip over the beautiful ride by focusing on the dangerous driving. the roads through the mountains have granted me some of the most gorgeous glimpses of grand jamaica i have ever beheld. from kingston, you pass through spanish town (with its central-but-abandoned colonial-era courtyards) then you ascend into the hills, where before long, the vegetation grows denser and the air cooler. soon enough, you are driving along high mountain roads through bamboo forests. here and there people sell fresh fruit, mostly mangoes and otaheite apples. then the vegetation recedes a bit, villages spring up, and the descent begins. fern gully makes for a fitting cool down in the final stretch before the coast. once through fern gully, ocho rios springs up fairly quickly. dancehall reggae fills the air from several directions as soundsystems (advertising that night’s dance or a particular record store), cars, and vendor’s carts take part in an informal soundclash (the dancehall term for a competition between soundsystems). the jamaica grande is located right on the beach and right off the main road. i paid my driver JA$3000 (US$60), which is the standard fare for the journey in a taxi (the prices dive for buses: JA$125 – 250, or US$3-5), and not a bad price considering that my stay at the hotel would cost me nothing.
i met becca at the aptly titled “fantasy pool,” which, i noticed, was cleaned every morning by a shirtless dread, the stella-got-her-groove-back type. the cruise left from the hotel dock. (you really never have to leave the hotel.) it was not worth the breakneck pace of the drive through the mountains, but it was a good introduction to the culture of the jamaica grande (not, mind you, the culture of jamaica. oh, no. this was an entirely different animal). we shoved off with twin speakers blaring lovers rock at us, a little heavy on the treble, and set off down the coast to dunn’s river falls, a famous waterfall nearby. it was a nice enough view from the boat, but not quite worth the trip. still, the sunset was lovely, and then the stars. and the rum punch (white overproof rum mixed with water and syrup) hit the spot. the water got very choppy and we had to head in early because some people, myself not included (remarkably enough), were feeling ill. we cruised back into the hotel bay and camped out in the calm waters while a man entertained us all by eating fire, ripping apart a coconut with his teeth, and lifting up women by the belt with his teeth. then there was a limbo and a beer-drinking contest. i kid you not. participation was lackluster (we’re talking about internet service providers here), especially since the prizes were promotional company-logo polo-shirts. “hey, that would look sharp on the golf course! or on casual friday!” thoreau says beware any enterprise that requires new clothes, especially promotional polo-shirts.
the rest of the jamaica grande was less impressive than the boat ride. for an expensive resort, the lack of quality was astounding. the all-you-can-eat buffet was practically inedible, though becca and i knew quite well (and confirmed on friday night) that there was absolutely astounding food to be had around town. they couldn’t even put out fresh, local fruit or juice, never mind fish, bammie, and calalloo. (world of fish on james avenue, a short walk from the hotel, is not to be missed. even so, one is lucky to see another white face in the vicinity, especially after sundown.). it seemed as if, in truly contemporary jamaican fashion, everything was imported. the beach was a flimsy, artificial-looking strip along a stale bay. white girls aged 10-18 walked around with their hair in complimentary braids. a high percentage of guests — over half were american, and there seemed to be an inordinate number of italians this weekend — could best be described as resembling whales or lobsters, and there were plenty of lobsterish whales. the music and “culture” were completely canned. consider, for example, the dinner-time serenade of a smooth-jazz-ish reggae band doing lionel richie covers or the friday night faux-naughtiness of doing the limbo and conga-line-dancing to the lascivious sounds of trinidadian soca (“turn it around and push it back in” [repeat ad nauseum]). compare this music with the dancehall and roots reggae pounding away, day and night, in the center of town — just a stone’s throw away. to the detriment of their own experience, and certainly their cultural horizons, the all-included set miss out on the vibrant local music scene as much as they miss out on ochi’s culinary delights.
it would be incorrect to call the hotel’s bizarre mix of cultural signs a representation of jamaicanness, for the mix was too messy and the focus too vague. to be more precise, we might talk about the hotel’s “projection of caribbeanness,” which struck somewhere between exoticism and familiar fun. one wonders how much the presentation is fueled by the guests’ actual desire or by an assumption on the part of the proprietors (who are american) that such is the experience people desire. i am sure it is more of a push-and-pull than any supply/demand model could attempt to explain. still, i can’t help but feel cynical about the phenomenon. don’t get me wrong: i hold no delusion that there is some “authentic” jamaica to be found and presented, oyster-like, to fat, ignorant american tourists or to naive anthropologists or to reggae lovers. the real jamaica is, of course, all of the jamaicas anyone imagines. the projection of the idyllic and carefree jamaica creates some serious tension when compared with, say, the reputation of jamaica as the country with the highest murder rate. (the tension jumps out of the little pink booklet of dos-and-don’ts that the hotels distribute to guests.) for all of the fantasy, one always bumps up against the stark reality of poverty, of desperation, of hunger. but perhaps not if one never leaves the hotel.
i am deeply interested in the concept of authenticity, at least partly because i recognize that it operates on my own perception, my “reception,” or interpretation, of various texts, cultural and literal. i also see the way it plays into other people’s ideas about life and art, essence and appearance, soul and race. it is good to confront oneself about what one deems to be real and why. what is involved in such a value judgment? what kind of assumptions undergird the determinations we make, the reactions we have, especially to cultural materials (e.g., music, film, advertisements, language, social practices)? examining the way that i react to music that i deem to be authentic or not, and asking myself why and how i confer authenticity to something, is usually an edifying experience. the conversation about hip-hop, including and far-exceeding the lyrics themselves, is pervaded by the question of what, or more often, who, is real. i am curious about how authenticity is communicated in sonic terms — what are the musical signs which convey the real? i wonder how it works as a psychological process — is it a kind of elicited empathy? i wonder about the negative ideas that often travel with things deemed authentic — how are one’s ideas about race, about the inherent differences and aptitudes of groups of people, informed, reinforced, or challenged by the experience of the “real” in music? i wonder whether by making the machinery of authenticity more visible, i can challenge people’s complacency about their received knowledge. i wonder whether happy italian tourists give a damn. i doubt it.
me & naseberry tree, in a quieter and prettier (if less “grande”) part of ochi
Initially serving as an outlet for the IDM scene and its offspring, the label has since undergone a series of radical overhauls, consistently wrong-footing its detractors and cementing its position at the forefront of all things electronic. In the mid-2000s the label served as an essential platform for dubstep’s launch into the mainstream; in recent years it has become renowned for championing Chicago footwork, helping to plant a previously obscure music firmly in the global musical consciousness.
With footwork for example, how did you discover that? Was it something you stumbled across?
MP: “Yeah. I think Wayneandwax posted something on his blog, maybe, and I clicked a link. Then I just followed all the YouTube links from there, and there was shitloads of stuff, and it was all completely amazing in its own way. Although we got a lot of criticism from certain corners of Chicago for releasing DJ Nate. So then I suppose we had to redress the balance slightly.”
Noncommital attribution or not, I do appreciate the nod. (Thanks, Mike, if you still read on occasion.) Can’t help but be delighted by even the faintest possibility that this here blog had something to do with oddball Chicago bedroom / rec-room music crossing over into the global bass mainstream (for better and worse). I started blogging about juke back when I lived to Chicago and discovered imeem (at the same damn time). Sudden juke goldmine even if everything was pretty much streaming at horribly compressed levels. And I was a certified Nate booster, so that might explain some things too. If this really was the chain of events, sure was a roundabout way to finally score some Nate 320s!
Speaking of betterdom or worsement, allow me to share a bit more:
In general do the Chicago scene approve of what you’ve done with footwork?
MP: “I think they just want to make money. I mean I think they care whether they’ve been represented, individually, correctly or not, obviously. And that the scene has been represented OK. And that’s why they didn’t like what had happened about DJ Nate – self-appointed scene members were upset by it. But above that, I suppose everyone wants to be successful. I think artistically we were successful [with Footwork], but it hasn’t been the best-selling thing. Some of the artists made advances from us, and that’s been good for them. And Rashad and Spinn have been playing out a lot. I’ve always wanted Hyperdub to release some [footwork]. Because I felt like people were looking at Mu as if it was mental, releasing all this Chicago footwork. I wanted not to be alone. Though there are a lot of labels releasing pseudo-footwork – even us, even Planet Mu.”
What sort of things are you referring to?
MP: “People like Machinedrum. FaltyDL has been doing a bit of it, though I don’t think it’s been released. I think Machinedrum’s has been successful in that it wasn’t emulating footwork – he was taking a deeper sort of response to it. But there has been a lot of other things – like Krampfhaft – it’s all a bit pyrotechnic-ey. I don’t think the European and white American response, unless you’re in the [Chicago] scene, has been that successful. It’s not very grassroots is it, it’s just part of the post-dubstep scene, and so there’s not really a big reason for it to exist other than, ‘Oh I’ve been listening to a bit of this, I’m going to put it in my music’. Some of it’s more successful than others. I think the first successful track for me – apart from Machinedrum – was Mark Pritchard as Africa Hi-Tech, ‘Out In The Streets’. But then Mark’s a fucking great producer.”
My first reaction was: don’t blame me for future-juke! Just kidding, my actual first reaction was: gotta appreciate the candor. Paradinas appears to come by his love for and opinions about the music honestly. Gotta appreciate as well that he’s put some Chicago-based producers, established and emergent, into circulation for entirely new publics — and into little more posterity than the socialmedia “platform” du jour.
The Young Smoke album Planet Mu put out last year was one of my favorite things of 2012 and still resides on my smartphone many months later (which is something, trust me). To think that I might have had some passing influence on the processes that led to this music finding me 6 years later puts a little smile on my face, no lie.