Archive for July, 2007

July 31st, 2007

P®AGGAMATIC ?

The Jamaica Observer reports this week that a “recently formed” Rastafarian group known as the Ethio-Africa Diaspora Union Millennium Council “intend[s] to pursue the use of intellectual property protocols to protect and preserve the culture and symbols from misuse” — specifically, the kind of misuse embraced by self-proclaimed “Gangsta Ras” and dancehall flavor-of-the-month (but likely longer), Munga Honourable.

As recounted here recently, Munga’s “Bad From Me Born” has been mashing up the place back a yard. And some Rasta dem nuh tek kindly to his juxtaposition of Rastafarian symbols and gangsta stylings in the song —

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But why object to this sort of thing now? And why in this way? Previous (and perennial) Rasta reggae artists — Sizzla & Capleton (aka, Kalonji and Shango) come to mind — long ago opened this can of worms with their pragmatic anti-politricks politics of culture, reconciling chanting down Babylon with riding in a Bimma, thanking Mamas with pumping up pum-pums, & coulda-been-ing the most notorious with taking the righteous path. Fuckery and livity? Bling-bling for Rastafari? Something like that. I think. Damn confusing at any rate.

& of course, Rastafari has been inventing itself over and over again since its emergence, assimilating various changes in its own organization and sets of community relationships (across various churches, communes, & sects) as well as to changes in Jamaican society more broadly (such as mass emigration): near destruction in police raids and failed prophecies, international diffusion via diaspora and reggae, co-optation by the state and market (sometimes voluntary), and, of course, the apparent physical death of g0d. Accding to that line, today’s praggamatical® stylings seem hardly unorthodox. Drawing on contemporary, international “black” culture (heavily influenced by hip-hop) — and re-articulating Jamaica’s distinctive place in it — the next generation projects (their own versions/interpretations of) Rastafari as widely as ever, and as strongly locally too. About as strongly as one slaps one’s hand against the wall when Munga self-assuredly & crunktastically comes to “take his place.”

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Finally, especially given the decentralization and openness to interpretation within/across the “community” (if we want to use the word in that abstract way we use it these days and in the only way it can apply here), it seems a little absurd for a Rastafarian group to call for, as one “Rastafarian attorney” puts it:

Protection against the misrepresentation, commercialisation and improper use of the name Ras Tafari, capital R, capital T; Rastafari as one word; and derivatives such as Rasta and the persona, the portrayal of I and I

I mean, are we really gonna ignore the irony here? I wonder what certain Ethiopians who lived during Haile Selassie’s reign — some who go so far as to call H.I.M. a despot — would think of such righteousness around the “misrepresentation” of Ras Tafari?

& while the explicitly anti-commercial stance here may be consistent with broadly held Rastafarian belief, and hence opposed to more recent praggamatic® readings of Rasta stricture, it seems to stand contrary to the last few decades of Rastafarian practice, during which time a number of prominent representatives (w/ reggae artists the most widely seen&heard) and a great many everyday people have flown Jah’s red, gold, & green banner for some humble profit in the market. And I’m not talking about wolves in sheep’s clothing, I’m talking about adored icons of Rastafari, people who have legitimated, spread, and often reshaped its tenets.

I don’t mean to imply, I hasten to add, that there is nothing strange — or downright wrong — about official Jamaica marketing itself with Rastafarian ideas&imagery while still marginalizing and degrading Rastafarians in wider Jamaican society. Or foreigners tiefing such signs to sell specious distortions.

But I’m not sure what’s worse, anti-Babylonically speaking —

Rastafari embracing guns’n’bling? or filing a trademark?

5 comments

July 30th, 2007

No Te Veo, Pero Te Oigo

I’m rly enjoying (and learning from) all the reggaeton conversation happening here these days (e.g.). Thanks to all for contributing! And keeping it going

Toward further linkthink, here’s a quick analysis I put together in response to a question from Raquel (who’s got a great post up re: Mala Rodriguez and Calle 13), who thinks — along with many others, it seems — that this new jawn, “No Te Veo,” by Casa de Leones (which = Jowell & Randy & some compatriots) is, well, “hot” and yet, interestingly seems to skirt reggaeton norms —

Raquel asked me to lend her my musicological ear, and here’s what I came up with:

Although “No Te Veo” will no doubt be heard as reggaeton by most listeners (and promoted as such by Los Leones), the underlying track differs from most reggaeton productions in some significant ways. For one, it’s much faster: whereas typical reggaeton tracks tend to hover around 90-100 beats per minute, “No Te Veo” clocks in at around 120 bpm, which makes it sound and feel closer to house, techno, soca, and other club/dance music (especially with the thumping kick drum on every beat). The other significant departure is the role of the snare drum. Rather than tracing out the standard “dembow” pattern (boom-ch-boom-chick), the snare drum here plays something closer to a 3:2 clave, emphasizing the upbeats in the second half of the measure rather than repeating that classic Caribbean polyrhythm that reggaeton shares with dancehall and many other regional dance styles.

But again, I suspect that many people will hear this — at this point — more as a variation on reggaeton’s dembow than as some reconnection to clave rhythms. Moroever, the style of rapping/singing on “No Te Veo” definitely sounds closer to reggaeton than anything else (with the vocoder/autotune effect offering a parellel to the “robot”/”computer” vocals so ubiquitous in contemporary r&b, hip-hop, dancehall, and just about all pop music these days, including a hefty share of Arab pop). The layered harmonic elements — guitar arpeggios and a bassline tracing out a simple chord progression — are fairly standard reggaeton fare, similar to lots of Luny Tunes productions in that regard. So, overall, an interesting variation on the norm. I’ll be curious to see whether other groups follow suit, which could make for a spate of uptempo reggaeton releases — ironically, that would push the genre’s contemporary sound back toward previous stylistic moments (a la DJ Blass or even some earlier “underground” tracks), when tempos in the 110s and 120s were not uncommon.

Curious as always to hear what others hear…

23 comments

July 28th, 2007

Bouncement 2

BOUNCEMENT 2

Featuring:

DJ /rupture (Decks n EFX)
Wayne and Wax (Beats and Rhymes)
Baltimoroder (DJ Set)
w/ DJ Flack (DJ Set)
& Daviday (DJ Set)
Visuals by Bonk & Zyler

@ Great Scott
1222 Commonwealth Ave, Allston, MA 02134
MBTA Access: Harvard Ave. Green Line “B”
Saturday July 28th, 2007 9pm-2am 21+
$5

July 26th, 2007

Poses, Panpipes, and Forbidden Dances

Thanks to Troels (who’s got some nice digi-reggae mixes up over here), who pointed out in a comment that the melody from Red Fox and Screechy Dan’s Drum Song-driven dancehall perennial, “Pose Off” —

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— as heard as a background synthline in Wisin y Yandel’s “Pam Pam” (discussed by me here), can be connected back further to Kaoma’s “Lambada,” an accordion-propelled cumbia that animated so many “forbidden dances” back in 1989 (and which gives Luny Tunes’ subtle nod to dancehall reggae yet futher “Latin” resonance, at least for plenty of listeners) ::

As I dug into that connection, however, I learned — via Wiki ! — that the tune underpinning “Lambada” is “actually an unauthorised translation of the song ‘Llorando se fue,’ from the Bolivian group Los K’jarkas” — which Youtube unerringly confirms (along with countless other versions of the song) ::

This is the sort of genealogy that really makes my neurons light up. & I’ve got several other dazzling examples along these lines I’ve been meaning to get around to sharing. (Soon come!) They provide such wonderfully audible threads for discussions of musical migrations and appropriations and versions and aspersions and all that good stuff. But part of me wants to get my video mixing skills on point first, as such sonic stories would be far better told if mixed’n’segued in certain ways. (Would help with “fair use” arguments as well, no doubt.)

And round and round we go –

12 comments

July 25th, 2007

Sgt. Sailor Moon Singin’ Sola on the Senny-Three

The other day I was taking the 73 from La Belle Mont to Harvard Square. When I got on, I couldn’t help noticing the chap flickrd above, what with his makeshift Sailor Moon police outfit, complete with blue fabric glued to shoulders and breast, metal plate thing on head, and badges to boot (not to mention the extra-large Tokyo Kid bag).

As u can also see, dude was rocking a discman, and he seemed rather engrossed by whatever he was listening to. I assumed it was probably some ol’ Sailor Moon J-pop or something, y’know, to go with the outfit and help set the mood. (Whatever the mood is for a Sailor Moon policeman.)

What surprised and delighted me at the time, and which remains bewildering, was what he was singing when he started singing along, aloud, to the song. As he thrashed his arms about (that’s an action shot, yup), he mumbled some intermittent but not totally incoherent Spanish:

blahblah blahblah blah blah sola
blah blahblah blahblah vuelto con el
blahblah blahblah dido borrar
blahblah blahblah en tu piel
blahblah blahblah vas a llorar…

in other words, interestingly enough, dude was clearly ‘singing’ along to this —

Now, I’m afraid I never got a chance to ask the good Sergeant whether he always listens to reggaeton, whether he knows Spanish, how his love for reggaeton dovetails with his devotion to Sailor Moon, etc. — he too engrossed by his discman, and I too in a rush to get elsewhere. But it was definitely another striking example of the genre finding fans beyond where one would expect to find them and cropping up in the darnedest places.

I may not have recognized Hector El Father’s tune had it not been drilled into my head by La Kalle in Chicago last year. Guilty as any other contempo-corporate radio station when it comes to short playlists, La Kalle would without fail play “Sola” for me on my commute to and from Hyde Park each day. At first I found it annoying, treacly, unremarkable — but another dose of dembow bombast. Gradually tho, as tends to happen with repetition, it grew on me. Despite its cheesiness and cookie-cutter qualities, “Sola” does some interesting things, challenging facile dismissals of reggaeton as overly repetitive (“the same beat”) and unoriginal.

For one, the beat structure offers a fair amount of variation, alternating between reggaeton, dancehall reggae, and hip-hop grooves (i.e., boom-ch-boom-chick to bomp-bomp to breakbeat/backbeat accents), and thus propelling the song forward in a fairly dynamic way (see my notes to Another Crunk Genealogy for more elaboration/examples of these rhythmic approaches).

The other thing that strikes me about “Sola” is the way that Hector El Father sings / raps. It seems to me that this song, like many others in the genre, offers a good example of a fairly distinctive style of vocalizing that has emerged in reggaeton. Many observers, myself included, have noted that reggaetoneros tend to mix dancehall and hip-hop vocal styles, but few have gone into further detail about the other influences one can hear in reggaeton vox, especially in the (nasal / strained) timbres (which tend to recall a number of Puerto Rican vocal traditions, from bomba to salsa to various folkloric / religious styles), the use of melisma (or not), the kinds of melodic contours employed, etc.

It seems to me that we can hear in Hector’s vocalizing a wide number of influences being synthesized. In particular, the overwrought, by-the-numbers ‘emotive’-ness — dig that octave jump halfway thru the chorus! it’s something of a mini-truck driver’s gear change, innit — seems equally indebted to baladas y salsas romanticas, with perhaps a dash of rock power-balladry to put it over the top. Perhaps this is not terribly original in its own way, but it’s definitely distinct from (as it overlaps and engages with) dancehall or hip-hop approaches, and I think one could make a genealogical argument that extends into the first ‘crooners’ of the underground days (e.g., Baby Rasta) who, influenced as they were by dancehall singjays, also inevitably incorporated the sounds of boybands. (Let’s not kid ourselves: who do you think Hector is making a play for with songs like “Sola”? The thugs?) As the genre turns toward “romantic” recordings in the mid-late 90s, this tendency is exacerbated. & of course with the rise of the “thug ballad” in hip-hop around the turn of the millennium, the approach becomes both popular and profitable. And there we have it, at least to my ears.

Which is the sort of thing I think about on the bus.

But I’m curious: What do you hear?

14 comments

July 23rd, 2007

Bouncement Too!

Have I mentioned yet how utterly enthuuuuused I am about this thing weh’s happenin this Sat’day night?

A Beat Research tradition inaugurated by Ghislain Poirier, DJ C, and DJ Flack this spring, the next party in the series has been co-conspired w/ that Basstown bwoy, Daviday. Together we’re bringin (back home) none other than the mighty DJ /rupture, who readers of this blog no doubt know well.

I’d say it’ll be an honor to warm up the decks, but unlike the 3-table-rockin /rupture, I’m totally a digital dude, so let’s just say it’ll be an honor to warm up the room. (I plan to bring some heat, yup.) Of course, I’ll have plenty of help in Flack and Baltimoroder — two of the funkiest, agilest, genre-jumpin DJs in this here town — not to mention Mr.Day, who’s been workin to Make It New for Other Music here for a while. And did I note that there’ll be live video mixing to boot? Mmyep. Stepping into the large shoes of Señor Zebbler (who will be making mayhem in Alaska instead) are two of his Glitchy associates, Bonk & Zyler. (More.)

What more can i say? It’s gonna be BIG like that. Prepare to bounce —

BOUNCEMENT 2

Featuring:

DJ /rupture (Decks n EFX)
Wayne and Wax (Beats and Rhymes)
Baltimoroder (DJ Set)
w/ DJ Flack (DJ Set)
& Daviday (DJ Set)
Visuals by Bonk & Zyler

@ Great Scott
1222 Commonwealth Ave, Allston, MA 02134
MBTA Access: Harvard Ave. Green Line “B”
Saturday July 28th, 2007 9pm-2am 21+
$5

5 comments

July 19th, 2007

“Jamaica Nice To Raatid!”

said my fren Marvy Marv as we cruised down a dark Kingston slope, post Port Royal escoveitch fishfry (what a welcome!), him commenting on a ‘Chinese’ couple who stunned onlookers recently by getting down onstage at Bembeh only to stun right again by showing up later that night at Asylum, in new outfits. I’m assuming it’s these folks, but I’m not sure —

But Marvin’s point that dancehall culture is alive and well and seemingly rolling on in its local resonance, international reach, and call to mimesis — as demo’d by the courageous couple from farin doing the dancehall thing — seems pretty well supported by what I saw last week.

Indeed, as Ripley ripely recounts, Bembeh didn’t disappoint last Thursday. Place was ram. Fullup. And though the dancing was generally cool, loose, and subdued (save for on the stage [more on that in a sec]), the selections were hot, tight, and hype: nuff now ting, w/ a whole heap a riddims on a upbeat crunkhall vibe, a la Drumline. Downsouth rumbabumba meets redbull & guinness bidness. Bomb a drop.

Top a top? Mavado, seen. Man’s robo-voice sure moved the crowd most (and got a lotta walls slapped and gunfingers inna the air). Especially this yah one —

Pullup! Every time.

Between Mavado’s ubiquity, and the increasingly prominent vocodo-voice of Munga Honourable — a hip-hop gen dancehall DJ par excellenceLarisa, Christina, and I started speculating that, having perfected the robo-rapper prototype with the popular T-Pain model, some shady US-based entity was now getting its export on.

On the really, tho, Munga’s “Bad From Me Born” (from 1:55) was propelling the place in its own right —

As Bembeh began win(d)ing up, so did the dancers on stage. Around 2:15 or so, after Tony Matterhorn had been screaming his bloodclaat mouth off for a good while, centerstage became the site of a practically burlesque dance scene that alternated between the most explicit gestures of simulated sex and the most absurd exaggerations of the same. It was buckwild. And hilarious. The (thinning) crowd seemed to eat it up —


my crappy cellphone pic of centerstage

It was food for thought, too. I’ve been in several conversations lately about reggaeton’s perreo and whether or not it is misogynist / patriarchal / phallocentric. Obv there’s no easy answer to that big question. But it’s kinda yes and no, IMO. Seems fairly ambiguous at any rate. At the least, we could use some ethnography around perreo before we all try to speak for the girls doing the deed. To the whatever-wave feminists who worry that the whateverrr-wave feminists have left the cause behind, I’ve been trying to argue — alongside colleagues such as Raquel Rivera and Sonjah Stanley-Niaah — that there’s a whole lotta play going on in this. Dance a dance. Sex is something else. Drrty dancing’s nothing new & does not necessarily lead to the nasty.

To wit: just prior to these full out antics — which included a group of men tossing a woman back and forth between them IN THE AIR AT WAIST LEVEL (until someone missed and tossed her to the floor); a lot of energetic humping in couples; and a routine in which four men swung a woman by her arms and legs, spread eagle, while a fifth jumped into her torso in various and increasingly ridiculous thrusting positions — just prior to all of that, a few women held the spotlight on their own, dancehall queen style. Which is to say, they gyrated every which way one could imagine — and left little to the imagination at that: several times, one or the other did a headstand, her skirt falling over her upper torso while she shook her stuff at the crowd. It was quite a show. At any rate, Tony Matterhorn made a rather revealing comment during the segment. To paraphrase: why is it, he asked, that girls who dance like this so rarely do such outlandish, acrobatic things in the bedroom?

You see me?

Of course there’s a lot more to say about this. But this post is not the place (if I’m ever gonna finish it). So I’ll point you to this discussion at reggaetonica for starters, for example. & I’ll wager this: witnessing a sexual pantomime performance in a Jamaican dancehall context would make many detractors of the perreo reconsider their positions. In a certain sense, win(d)ing and grinding in a dancehall stylee — which, notably, doesn’t even have an explicit tag like the perreo — would seem to offer a pretty good limit case for our abstract debates about gender and power and public performance.

My primary reason for traveling to Jamaica was to offer audio and music production workshops in three Kingston-area prisons: Tower Street (aka GP), South Camp (formerly Gun Court), and Fort Augusta (the women’s prison). It was prison rehab that first brought me to Jamaica back in 2001. Indeed, the first place in Jamaica, aside from the airport, that I ever set foot was the prison yard at Tower Street. Later, when Becca and I were living in Kingston during the first half of 2003, we were able to get into South Camp to help set up a computer lab, where I spent a few sessions showing some inmates the basics of making beats / building riddims with Fruity Loops. I had also visited Fort Augusta a couple times for similar workshops. But I hadn’t been to any of these institutions in a few years.

Thanks to the efforts of Kevin Wallen, a radio host, motivational speaker, and aspiring Mr.Universe with whom Charlie has been working closely, all three institutions now have computer labs for participants in the SET program that Kevin has been helming for several years. Tower Street even has its own low-level radio transmitter, and inmates are broadcasting 4 hours a day of news, sports, talk, and music programs for their fellow inmates (as well as, I’m told, a few neighbors and drivers-by). The hope is to eventually establish radio stations at South Camp and Fort Augusta too, and perhaps before then to have inmates from those institutions produce segments to be aired at Tower Street. At some point, though security concerns make this a bit delicate, the goal is to share this audio with the world via the internet, perhaps rebroadcasting on terrestrial radio stations as well. (Christina, a member of the Antenna Alliance, is there to push toward this goal; Larisa is there to discuss the possibilities, potentials, and restrictions that copyright and copyleft offer.)

For all the slow and steady progress, however, dealing with the Department of Correctional Services is never an easy road, and we encountered a fair amount of bureaucratic fuckery while attempting to navigate our way through the system. Rather than dwell on Kafka-esque waiting sessions and tortuous conversations (none of which were as bad as this), I’d rather spend this time&space recounting my experiences at the three sites we visited.

Fort Augusta was our first stop. It’s just on the outskirts of the city, located in an old fort that once guarded Kingston harbor —


rusty cannon outside Fort Augusta

We arrived on Thursday afternoon to find the SET students gathered in the computer lab. The women at Fort Augusta are often there for shorter sentences, many of them hapless drug mules, a good number foreigners duped into doing a favor for a romantic interest. The students / inmates I have encountered there are always eager to learn, quite polite, and good humored. On this visit, the aim was to demonstrate the possibilities of Audacity for recording and editing audio, again toward the goal of producing radio segments (drama, storytelling, etc.) to be aired at Tower Street and eventually on Fort Augusta radio as well.

I gave an overview to the group and then spent some time reviewing the basic steps again (and in more detail) for three inmates who volunteered to teach the others. Two were Jamaican, the other was a young woman from Lithuania who spoke in an odd (but not uncharming) amalgam of Eastern European and Jamaican accents. They all seemed enthused. We concluded the workshop with a brief Fruity Loops demo, which included creating and exporting a quick reggae loop so an inmate could DJ over it in Audacity; she rocked the mic with a likkle freestyle, and the exercise no doubt served to pique their curiosity further. This week Christina and Larisa already returned to follow-up, demonstrating further dimensions of the software and delivering some tutorial materials. I can’t wait to hear what comes out.


leaving Fort Augusta

The next morning we went to Tower Street. I hadn’t been there in some time, and it was a trip to return, sights and smells and sounds reminding me of previous visits. After checking in with the guards, we walked toward the building now housing the computer lab, recording studio, and radio booth. As we passed through the main yard, we walked by a soccer match taking place on a concrete patio. One of the players turned to us, beaming: it was none other than Jah Cure, set to be released at the end of this month; he waved hello to Kevin and the rest of us, and later sat in the back of the room as I demo’d Fruity Loops and Audacity for the SET group there.

The Tower Street lab was indeed impressive, in part b/c it was clearly buzzing with activity. Inmates (and a couple guards) sat at the computers, learning how to type, among other things. Several gathered at the center table, assembling cuttings from the day’s newspaper for their news broadcast. A band rehearsed in the adjacent studio room / chapel. Several inmates, including a few of the musicians, seemed very interested in the potential of the software for building their own riddims (in part by versioning / sampling other music) and for augmenting / mixing their live recordings — not to mention create jingles and theme music for the radio shows. I look fwd to hearing what comes of that.


Tower Street / GP

South Camp was probably the most delightful visit, largely because I got to reconnect with a handful of inmates with whom I had worked several years ago. I was particularly thrilled to learn (and hear!) that one former student, a rhythm guitarist named Orlando, had been steadily producing tracks in FL since I installed it on the computers back in 03. During that initial session way back when, Orlando proved to be one of the more promising students, whipping up the following hip-hop-ish sketch —

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After I showed some new tricks in FL and answered some longstanding questions people had about particular functions, Orlando played me several cuts from an “album” that he has put together over the last couple years. They were all solid, digital roots riddims, with a fair amount of variation in the arrangements. (Sorry that I don’t have any to share here — we were not allowed to record, etc.) The guy’s definitely got a future in the music biz when he gets out next year. I just hope he continues to share his skills with his fellow inmates in the meantime; Kevin tells me he’s been a fine video instructor to date, so I trust he will.

In the last day or so, I’ve heard some slightly disturbing news about Kevin’s ability to continue building the programs he has worked so hard to cultivate. As Tower Street Radio appears to be an emerging success story, many parties are eager to grab a piece. I’ve been working, alongside Charlie, off-and-on with prison rehab programs in Jamaica for many years now, and I can say without a doubt that no one else has been able to make the steady and solid progress that Kevin has. Eager as some may be to grab credit, I doubt that others will match his dedication and sacrifice. It will be a tragedy if the program is wrested from his guiding hands only to fall into neglect.

But this all remains to be seen.

So, to be continued then: here, here, and here, for starters.

8 comments

July 18th, 2007

Hol’ On



back from a brief trip to funky Kingston

still unpacking, literally and figuratively

details soon come

meantime, u can catch up with my gracious, bloggin’ hosts: christina & ripley

July 10th, 2007

And What? (pt.2)

FIRST CHURCH OF CHRIST, SCIENTIST

snapped (by me) in Belmont, MA — a couple blocks from home

1 comment

July 6th, 2007

And What? (pt.1)

¡Asi Somos Nosotros — y Que!
by Francisco Palma Lagunas

snapped (by me) @ UIA, Santa Fe, Mexico City, DF

2 comments

July 2nd, 2007

Que Viva


make way: american express meets el angel de la independencia uptown

Allow me a little (belated) unpacking, now back from Mexico City, where I swear I will return, clunky español and all, que pronto es posible. !Que ciudad!

My principal reason for going was, as mentioned, to attend the biannual international meeting of the International Association for the Study of Popular Music (popularly, awkwardly referred to either as “yaspum” or “i-aspm”). The event was hosted by Universidad Iberoamericana in Santa Fe, a ritzy area on the outskirts of the city, which was — for me — not an ideal location given its remoteness (at least an hour’s commute from city center). That said, the students, staff, and faculty at UIA were gracious hosts, plying us with midday tacos & horchata, plush bus rides, and several field trips, including a private showing of the largest ever assembled exhibition of the paintings of Frida Kahlo, brought together for the first time in the gorgeous Palacio de Bellas Artes, a magnificent building with an art nouveau exterior and art deco interior which also houses a striking set of larger-than-life Diego Rivera murals (including this one, which is downright stunning upclose). Maybe it was the altitude — MX City’s on a high plateau, making for some extraordinarily pleasant, temperate weather — but it was a breathtaking trip.


Also agitproppy, I spotted the following sign hanging over the reception desk in the Office of Media Studies at UIA, an appropriate response to the striking number of “American” franchises littering the landscape —


Other highlights from my trip included an all-too-quick walk through the truly amazing Museo Nacional de Antropología, as well as — fortunately, given that the majority of my time was spent at the conf — several interesting, well-presented papers, esp:

  • Rob Bowman‘s discussion of the timbral aspects of Marvin Gaye’s singing, specifically the role of rasp — an elusive, allusive and subtle but powerful quality that Rob zeroed in on via the magic of the unheard acapella. While consulting on a Motown DVD reissue project, Rob convinced Universal to provide the lovely feature of allowing people to listen to the separated acapellas and instrumentals of some really classic performances. Not only does this enable casual fans and aficionados to hear the well-worn in a wonderfully new way, it presents a treasure trove of instrumentals and acapellas for dstep-blenders and mashup-makers. The discs appeal much more widely, natch: according to Rob, these sets, esp the Temptations’ volume, have outsold competitive offerings from U2 and Nirvana.
  • Anahid Kassabian‘s “Hearing as a Contact Sense” explored — in dazzling fashion — the physicality of listening, the haptic dimensions of music, hearing as a “specialized sense of touch,” and effectively & provocatively brought Kode9 & Joe Nice, Deleuze & Guattari, Laura Marks & Brian Massumi into a humming, productive friction.
  • Shuchi Kothari and Nabeel Zuberi offered an engaging, media rich interpretation of the “musical bondage” between Bollywood diva Asha Bhosle and her husband, composer RD Burman. Aside from giving an entertaining overview of the duo’s relationship, collaborations, and intertwined artistic growth, Kothari and Zuberi provided a far more measured take on hip-hop’s borrowings from B’wood than I usually see, representing it as the other side of the coin to Burman’s similarly irreverent, wholesale lifting from Mancini, Morricone, Cugat, and others. When, from the audience, Tony Mitchell wondered whether hip-hop’s borrowings didn’t demonstrate a distinctive sort of “ignorance” in their samples from filmi recordings, Kothari was quick to label Burman’s own practices as quite “cavalier” in their own right. She recounted an anecdote about Burman’s reaction to opera: he liked the fat women belting and the bombast of it all, she paraphrased (as I do her), & he could care less about what it was supposed to mean, there in Europe.
  • All the way from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Joshua Schmidt’s “Fused by Paradox: Interpreting Israeli Psychedelic Electronic Dance Music Culture” was a virtuoso video-assisted presentation that sympathetically portrayed as it critiqued the trance/rave scene in Israel. Elaborating on the scene’s relationship to wider shifts in Israeli society, Schmidt found parallels along axes of individualism, materialism, & hedonism. (As happens to me on occasion — given media practices here — I was reminded that a great deal of self-critique happens in Israel, and that to conflate the actions of Olmert&co with all Israelis is akin to conflating Cheney&co with all Americans: they’re inextricable, yes, but that’s not the whole story.) At any rate, it was a great video, quite informative and provocative. Apparently it will be online soon.
  • Finally, Benjamin J. Harbert’s “Fade to Black: The Catalysis of Politics and Aesthetics in Egyptian Heavy Metal” was, as the title might imply, totally honest-to-Satan awesome. Not only did Harbert put the various manifestations of metal in Egypt into rich, sensitive, complex context, he also pursued the distorted mirror-images and disquivalent meanings of the monster figure in US/UK and Egyptian metal, an abominable but attractive merging of self&other, classical&grotesque so iconic to metal imagery, and which surprisingly opens out into orientalist fantasies on one side and unironic appropriations thereof on the other. He drew a fine and detailed portrait, and offered up some awesome audio to boot. (Keep your ears out for a compilation of Egyptian metal from Harbert.)

Ben’s paper also holds the virtue of having introduced me — and everyone else in the room, I think — to the Alexandria-based band, Odious, who utterly and completely rock, as they say, with their combo of Egyptian traditional music and (cookie-)monster metal, and which this site (based in the “Central American Vastlands”) describes as “Exotic Black Metal Attack from Africa!!!

Take, for example, the full-on fieldrecording thrashup, “Poems Hidden on Black Walls” —

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or the epic stylistic synthcollage of “Split Punishment” (but don’t mosh too hard, habibi)

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I’m sorry to report that I didn’t get a chance to check out Kongatron y su Kongatronix @ La Bipolar (but thx for the tip, Srs. Frikstailers, and the invite, Hugo), nor did I get to go “digging” (subway CD-vendor stylee) for mucha banda para rebajar, as I had hoped to.

I really only hardly scratched the surface of Mexico City, so I have an intense urge to return soon.

Fortunately, one can find bits and bytes of Mexico, always and increasingly, all over the US. (Though Massachusetts is way behind Illinois, I gotta say: Chicago — I’ve been telling people — felt to me como una ciudad mexicana.) So the banda rebajada, is on the way, some way or other, yo te prometo.

All I can say for now is hasta pronto, you big, beautiful, sucio city!

4 comments

Wayne&Wax

I'm a techno-musicologist, internet annotator, imagined community organizer.

I left my <3 in the digital global, but I reside in Cambridge, MA, where I'm from.

I represent like that.

wayne at wayneandwax dot com

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