Lest it get lost in that last post, allow me to note separately that tonight I’ll be joining Gregzinho at WHRB for the beginning of a 7-hour orgy (10 pm – 5 am EST) devoted to nu whirl music. If you’re local to Boston you can catch it on 95.3FM, if not, it’ll be streaming whirlwide.
Archive for May, 2008
Although my research/interests often turn to (trans)nationalism, lately I’ve been thinking less about nationhood and more about neighborhood — not in terms of an actual space or place (though that’s part of it), but something more akin to neighborliness, to being a good neighbor, to finding an ethics of neighborhood in an intensively globalized/mediated era. I’m curious about a musically-mediated aesthetics more specifically — one that responds not to the condition of living in a world of strangers, as Anthony Appiah might put it, but a world of neighbors. This is a concept that I hope will be useful in coming to terms with what I’ve variously, loosely, referred to as nu-whirl music and global ghettotech.
I have to admit that I’ve yet to catch up with the philosophical (or anthropological, sociological, etc.) literature on “the neighbor.” I was enthused to see that Ian Biddle’s recent piece on “musical neighbors” offers some musicological and theoretical directions, which I look fwd to pursuing. Right now my notion of neighborhood is much more commonsensical, I should confess, which may be for the best, ideological mess that common sense is — the “folklore of philosophy,” as Gramsci called it, among other things.
Not unrelated to the Neighbors Project perhaps, but less concerned w/ addressing gentrification per se (tho it is certainly part of the story), my own impulse — shared by many peers, I think — to attend to and represent local soundscapes seems, nonetheless, to offer some real promise for reconciliation and productive, interactive cohabitation (perhaps visitation too — i.e., a kinder, gentler tourism). I’m obviously a firm believer in the power of music to shape our world(s), and I know that my own ideas about selfhood&otherness, place&space, and social connections & “social consciousness” have been deeply informed by music (and, in partic, hip-hop). Theory too. Indeed, my current thinking about neighborhood has been inspired without a doubt by Paul Gilroy’s recent remarks, in which he makes an argument for “conviviality” and “mutual regard” in the context of the postcolonial multiculture that is London — and by extension, though this is perhaps my own leap of imaginary — to the great number of cities today which host so many people from so many places, especially the once (and future) metropoles of empire.
That said, I don’t have much in the way of developed ideas & theories of my own, but I would like to throw the term out there, to invite feedback, to think aloud about how we might hear neighborhood in musical experience and practice, mediated as it may be by various technologies & distances. Toward a more fleshed out notion, allow me to share a few instances that come to mind via the likkle corner of the musiconnoisseurosphere in which I find/embed myself –
1) One set of examples that comes to mind, consonant with Gilroy’s LDN-centric frame, is the work of man like John Eden, Martin “Blackdown” Clark, & the extended crew responsible for Woofah (now available, for those in my neck of the woods / side of the pond, via ForcedExposure). All of them reflect on the London soundscape in ways that, for me, really help to redefine what England looks and sounds like these days. John Eden not only represents for his own hood as a straightup activist, he amplifies articulations between hoods, and, of course, is constantly mining London’s Caribbean connections (or, perhaps better, its Caribbean constitution), either through his posts and mixes devoted to homegrown reggae, fastchat, etc., or those that — like Woofah itself — serve to underscore the relationship between reggae and, say, grime. Of course, this is a story being spun by the Heatwave boyz too, and it’s worth noting that another keen Londonian observer and sense-maker about reggae, Dave Stelfox, with whom I shared some delish Turkish bbq along with the Heatwavers in London last spring, was, when I ran into him, totally raving about the Kurdish dance sessions happening on his street (which he recorded on his cellphone) — demonstrating a rather Gilroyan sense of regard. And, of course, when he’s not busy translating and transmitting the future-present sounds of London, Blackdown’s own music, which I’m eager to hear in album-form, engages with the wider London soundscape as well, dabbling in desi beats and other formerly “strange” strains which are now utterly familiar (thx in part, no doubt, to noisy neighbors like the Panjabi Hit Squad).
2) Another is offered by Cheif Boima, a freq w&w commenter and someone whose mixes I’ve been flagging here for a minute. Boima’s latest mix, Baobab Connection Vol 2, has been making the rounds recently. It’s a pretty excellent example of exactly what I’m talking about here. Boima’s engagement with coupe decale, which precedes more recent critical fawning and which he brought into the convo here last June, is much more than a web-mediated connection. He DJs twice a month at a club in SF called Little Baobab, playing a mix of African dance tracks to a mix of African ex-pats and 2nd-gens. As such, Boima’s love for Ivorian pop, although definitely a homegrown one (i.e., he grew up listening to it with his father and family), is not just about his own strong connections to a place far away, but has been strengthened and shaped by matters very much close-by. Moreover, his decale-style remixes of US hip-hop and r&b offer a rather compelling fusion of the Bay Area soundscape as it swirls around in his head&heart (not to mention, as he’s made clear in other mixes, the Salone soundscape). And though I don’t want to dilute the degree to which Boima’s neighborly soundings are quite locally grounded, it’s worth noting — in the nu-whirl context — that he’s joined another neighborly (LDN-based) blogger, Vamanos @ Ghettobassquake, to share sounds from around the world/way. Did I mention that Boima works with underprivileged youth by day? Nuff said.
3) Finally, though I there are many others I could mention, I want to call attention to the work of Greg Scruggs, a former student, graduating senior (!), and intrepid observer of the intersections btwn city-space and soundscape. Many readers of this here blog are familiar with Greg’s Beat Diaspora, on which he’s chronicled in great, reflective detail his experiences of listening and learning in Rio, Paris, New Orleans, Detroit. But mostly Rio, where he spent last summer — and some other stints — not just going to bailes and interviewing funkeiros, but living and working alongside community activists like the Two Brothers Foundation. Perhaps most impressive, though: Greg spent a good deal of time hunting down funk artists in order to compensate them for an unlicensed compilation issued by US-based Flaming Hotz records and, even better, seeking out other funkeiros in order to strike an ethical agreement (em Português!) to release their music through the same label, with payment upfront and royalties to follow. “Fair trade funk,” Greg calls it, and the album, Pancadão do Morro (Big Hits from the Hill), is an exemplary release in just about every sense: great music, lovingly and ethically compiled, richly contextualized without recourse to the same ol’ sensationalism, and so nicely packaged that you actually want to buy the physical CD. One last bit of nu-whirl localism wrt Senhor Scruggs: I’ll be joining Gregzinho, a not-too-distant neighbor here in Cambridge, this very evening to chat about and broadcast a bunch of the music whirling around this discussion. Greg’s hosting a Nu Whirl Orgy tonight on WHRB — that’s 95.3 if you’re local to (Greater) Boston or streaming here if you’re not. Should be fun(ky)!
It’s probably clear that my notion of “neighborhood” is meant as a way of reading nu-whirled movements in an engaged, positive manner. It moves away from notions of the strange(r) and foreign to the familiar. We become familiar with our neighbors when we have some regard for them, when we listen and play collectively, and I’ll be so potentially naive as to suggest that DJs and bloggers can serve as cultural agents in this process. For all of the inherent problematics, many of the middlemen and women of the “nu world” are aware of their power and privilege, actively resist discourses of the exotic and touristic, and propose other modes of interaction with the strangers / others / neighbors among us: from collaboration, to taking a focused and sustained rather than “eclectic” or trendy approach, to preferring “getting under each other’s skin” rather than simply “used to each other,” as Appiah would have it. Although we see some ways that “nu world” is derivative of “old” “world music,” many of the so-called globalist DJs are quite antagonistic to the underlying exoticism. Like Ghis said –
World music is more exotic, the sounds we play are more urban. They all come from common backgrounds: people without much money, doing music in home studios or in a laptop. It’s something more urgent.
There’s always a nagging question, perhaps, as to whether we’ve simply shifted from safari tourism to slum tourism, but the urgency, urbanity, and class dimensions which Ghislain notes give the endeavor a different sort of spin. Global ghettotech offers a soundtrack to a planet of slums, a ghetto archipelago linking Rio to Detroit to London to Kingston to Salone, decentering the US in the global music industry and imaginary, but — perhaps most crucially — also calling attention to a global underclass whose struggles are shared and intertwined and who reside not just on the next continent but, increasingly, next door.
Good fences make good neighbors, yes, but so do good parties.
vamanos keeps the torch aloft for kuduro, resisting flavor-of-the-month global-gtech consumption
first, a pardon for slick rick, and now this?! i’m starting to like this paterson guy (n/h)
among other fun facts! — “By 2006 (the last year for which full data is available), the United States alone accounted for more than half the world’s trade in arms with $14 billion in sales.”
among other gems — “Common sense is not something rigid and stationary, but is in continuous transformation, becoming enriched with scientific notions and philosophical opinions that have entered into common circulation.”
how (shock&)awful is it that foreign troops riding around your hood in humvees = “a sense of normalcy” ?
what can i do? US troops in iraq + water bottles (see prev item) = reminds me of this horrid scene
more US-imposed normalcy in iraq (see below)
videyoga :: grand theft oil 2
As I linkthunk yesterday, I was gassed to hear (via /rupture) a reggaeton-inflected remix of some Mexican cumbia (video here). I was doubly gassed tho to see it labeled “cumbow,” which I took to mean cumbia + dembow or, perhaps, “with (dem)bow,” as in cum bow, to employ a little Latin, a la the Spanish descendent con. Now maybe that latter interp is a stretch, but this afternoon it was brought to my attn that there’s another, similar remix by the same crew, except that this one is labeled “combow,” which seems to suggest the con/combo meaning. Anywho, check it out –
What’s especially interesting to me about this one is that, whereas the Julieta Venegas version employs dembow-style snares (that ol’ 3+3+2), the remix for Miranda features one of the very same loops / samples used in a great many reggaeton songs. So in this case, remarkably and quite audibly (to me?), it’s not even a matter of bringing in “dembow” / reggaeton rhythms — which is essentially what the Venegas version does with its 3+3+2 snares (not a common characteristic in cumbia) — it’s actually the use of the very same drum samples used in reggaeton. Compare the Fever Pitch / Bam Bam -derived intro from Lady Saw’s “Rich Girl” (a common sample-source for reggaeton producers) to the ticking drum track running through the Miranda song. Rings a bell, no?
Not only does this show how Sonidero Nacional are able to produce a reggaeton-y sound thru a well-informed production touch, this is a great example of reggaeton’s continued resonance and influence. What perhaps makes it even more remarkable is how subtle the incorporation is. I suspect that neither of these tunes necessarily screams “reggaeton!” to most listeners. A colleague who writes about cumbia didn’t hear reggaeton in them at all.
it’s a peace scarf
via /rupture, a mexican cumbia given a reggaeton remix :: i love the term “cumbow” — so apropos!
“…That doesn’t sound bad to Ahmed Ali Mahmoud, who left the sugar cane fields to seek his fortune in Cairo only to find a job parking cars and sleeping on the floor of a garage owned by Sedgi Hafez, who, with a propane flame and a battered kettle…”
“The Canton-based company has abruptly canceled an ad in which the domestic diva wears a scarf that looks like a keffiyeh, a traditional headdress worn by Arab men.”
ted swedenburg on kufiyas in dunkin donuts commercials & grand theft auto
What up Wayne,
Hope all is well. Felicidades on 3-2, you don’t look a day over 25.
So the other day I was listening to Tony Dize’s new album “La Melodia de la Calle” & one track struck me. The song “Permitame” feat. Yandel, which also happens to be the 1st single off the album is a completely different sound for Tony Dize & I would argue much of Reggaeton. The track is infused with Timbaland/Timberlake type sounds & I could envision someone like Justin Timberlake singing over this track & it being a hit.
I was wondering if you could lend your musical ear to the track & let me know what you think. I haven’t been on my Reggaeton game as much as I used to, my MA thesis is has been taking up most of my time, so maybe this track is something not out of the ordinary. Anyway, I find it musically intriguing & wonder if this American Pop style of Reggaeton (is it even Reggaeton anymore?) could possibly be a new wave of the genre? The track is getting a lot of play in PR & is making its way to the radio here in the states, I heard it the other day on “La Kalle” here in Chicago.
and before I could answer, he follows with
In the same vein, check out Daddy Yankee’s new track “Pose”
Here’s what I wrote in response:
These are some interesting examples. Thanks for bringing them to my attention. They definitely depart from recent orthodoxy in reggaeton (though perhaps suggest an emerging new orthodoxy). For one, they’re faster than a lot of reggaeton ca. 03-07; instead of around 100bpm, they’re closer to 120/130, so more like house/techno/club/dance tempo, which is — as usual — pretty consistent with contemporary hip-hop/r&b/pop. Also significantly, — perhaps in part b/c of the tempo — I don’t hear any “Dem Bow” samples; there’s still that ol’ boom-ch-boom-chick (which some might hear as a general “dembow” rhythm), but even then it’s less pronounced/consistent. And the type of synths in use on both tracks, that buzzy/tactile, mid-range wheeze — which perhaps is what suggests the work of Timbaland/lake to your ears — is pretty au courant, not just in hip-hop but all kinds of genres. I think that’s, to some extent, a matter of shared software, but it’s also an aesthetic thing: a return to “ravey” synths that may have been reinitiated, at least in the mainstream, by Lil Jon’s refitting of rave presets for crunk tracks a few years ago.
To my ears, once again, reggaeton shows itself very in touch with contemporary global/American pop trends, while maintaining a distinctive sonic profile all its own.
Ok, I really need to get that “raveyton” post in order at this point, to help put all this into context.
As some might have noticed in a recent linkthink, “Ghetto Revivalist”® John Brown (aka, the King of da Burbz) — idiot-savvy hypeman extraordinaire — is promoting a new mixtape with a spoof commercial for a cereal product called “Ghetto Revive-Os” –
Despite being at the center of a number of truly cringe-worthy moments in the White Rapper Show (highlights for sure), I have to confess that I find dude’s grind pretty winning. Indeed, as I argued way back when, if the EgoTrip guys “were more cynical and if they wanted to talk about where hip-hop really is right now, they would have picked John Brown” to win the competition, or the game, to put it (more?) precisely. Indeed, not only does dude continue to call for a “Ghetto Revival” even after getting straight-up dissed by Lord Jamar for taking an ironic approach to “poverty and pain,” dude’s grind is such that he found my email (via this blog) and, despite my own criticisms, still sends me promo emails for something like the above.
At any rate, his timing is good since I recently obtained a pdf of the full conversation that we had about the White Rapper Show back in Boston last spring. It’s been published in the Journal for Popular Music Studies, and in addition to my own comments, it includes the words of such esteemed ethnomusicological colleagues as Joe Schloss, Kyra Gaunt, Cheryl Keyes, Timothy Mangin, and Miles White — none of whom, far as I can tell, agreed that John Brown deserved to win.
aka, the big 3-2
not much more to say
but i guess that number’s commensurate with the number of gray hairs i’ve got
plus, like, having a job and a daughter
onward & sidewayz…
feel free to leave me a nice comment about not seeming nearly as old as i am
or, better yet, buy me a book!
“Structures of Participation in Digital Culture, edited by SSRC Program Director Joe Karaganis, explores digital technologies that are engines of cultural innovation…”
“The vibe in the room, though, is more uncomfortable than appalled, like we’ve all been dragooned into watching Porky’s Revenge at grandma’s house.” :: yowza — josh levin’s dispatches from the r.kelly trial are hilarious, sad, & surreal
having actually watched GI Joe (religiously) as a kid, the following observation, among others, just slays me: ‘We are at Cobra’s secret base in Patagonia. It has a giant Cobra-shaped tower on it. “Secret”.’ :: also the one about gung-ho
low end fire from the duttyartz-affiliated DJ :: dense danse beats as hip-hop meets dubstep meets grime :: dutty yeah!
all things considered, i still think the kinguvdaburbs shoulda won that white rapper show :: doesn’t seem like he’s capitalized on his 15 min, but dude’s still grindin, ridiculously :: e.g.
ay ay ay!!! :: more stereotypes than you can shake a stick at, and some “latin” rap to boot :: gwaan, disney, but where’s the dembow? (h/t tito)
“…partly about my personal obsessions (the films, music, art, books, politics about Africa …), analysis of … media coverage of the continent and its people in Western (mainly United States) media, and my experiences as an African immigrant in NYC..”
wake the town! a blog featuring a trove of old sound tapes
I’ve been meaning to share my reflections on the smut/slackness symposium I participated in @ Penn for some time now, but, well, you know how the end of the semester can go. Many of the themes that emerged in the panel have been ‘verberating in my head, however — ideas which seem to resonate with recent debates elsewhere on the ‘osphere, not to mention previous thoughts on booty-bass (esp received as “foreign”).
Grades are in, tho, so time fi get this off my to-do list. Pardon the prolixity — this is a long one.
In my talk at Penn, I first made a point of acknowledging and affirming that something like “slackness” in Jamaica — i.e., an attitude about publicly performed sexual mores and morals — can work to challenge a hypocritical, Eurocentric hierarchy of value and culture of “respectability” with its frank, healthy, humorous take on sexual and gender relations. As some Jamaican observers such as my fellow panelist Carolyn Cooper have argued, slackness can be understood as a trenchant response to official (i.e., church and gov’t) discourse about sexuality and the control of the body (politic). Slack lyrics and dances are strong gestures of opposition in a country still so scandalized by bad words. Slackness thus pushes against a public culture of respectability and decency that masks the enduring disrespect and indecency perpetrated against the disenfranchised (black) masses. Moreover, beyond any pushback, many will argue — Afrocentrists among them — that such ways of dancing, singing, talking, and relating are part of a rich cultural heritage that recognizes the power and importance of (sexual) pantomime (if often in a heteronormative fashion), not to mention both frankness and sly (or crass) innuendo, and — on the flipside — the problems that come from repressing our desires, our (second) natures, and ourselves.
I followed this rehearsal of the merits of slackness, however, by proposing a possible limit case (and hence inviting accusations of conservatism, of being — indeed! — rearguard). I wanted to see whether my co-panelists and the other participants in the symposium might hesitate in giving license to any and all forms of representation in the context of dancehall (or, more generally, musically-mediated) performance. I wondered whether certain examples might strike us as unredeemable from a progressive or playful perspective, tipping so far into suggesting sexual(ized) exploitation and domination that we’d have to recognize it, if not chant it down, as something beneath the basic level of humanity that we can also celebrate, dignity intact, as liking to get low, u feel me?
The panel was titled “Smut/Slackness in Caribbean Music,” and I had to admit that the term smut was puzzling to me in this context (before I was enlightened by fellow panelist and ethnomusicologist Shannon Dudley, who explained that smut has operated in Trinidadian discourse the same way slackness has inna JA). With regard to Jamaica, I found smut a suspicious term to throw into the mix. Why would we describe the practices we’re discussing in that way? Or better, who would describe them that way? What might be lost or gained, politically / epistemologically, from employing such a term, such an analysis, such a judgment?
For me, smut refers to porn, but slackness does not. And I was worried about what might get lost in the conflation of the terms (at least in a US-based discussion). Does the debate around morals, and whether one adheres to them tightly or slackly — especially in the performative, spectacular site that is the dance hall — disappear when we move to the category of smut? Well, only if we think of smut as coterminous with porn, of course. Nevertheless, it seems important, to me, to maintain a distinction between slackness and pornography. (Sidenote: this is a line blurred increasingly by pop-chart hip-hop and r&b — a related and interconnected, if often implicit, topic in our Carib-centric conversation, to which I’ll return).
Like everywhere, one can find porn qua porn in Jamaica: there are “titty bars” and resorts called “Hedonism” and such; there’s imported pornography; there’s even the occasionally rather racy, but not XXX, spread in the X News; and sure, dancehall artists’ descriptions of sex and certain dances or ways of dancing can lean toward the pornographic in their explicitness. Along these lines, it’s worth noting that the video recordings of dancehall events such as Passa Passa, recordings which circulate internationally, and overlap with and inform local scenes in the diaspora (e.g., Florida), offer up-skirt perspectives a good 50% of the time — one may as well call it the “punaany cam.” (But I should note, as well, that the subjects of such shots are as often exhibitionist as evasive.) Still, the term smut is rarely, if ever, so baldly associated with reggae. So it seemed a little inappropriate to me, perhaps problematic — distracting at best — to conflate these terms.
As I thought more about the title of the panel, however, it occurred to me that it might be better to see “smut” and “slackness” not as coterminous, as synonyms, but instead to see the slash between them (“smut/slackness”) as expressing a threshold, a line that might be crossed. (And, yes, this entails ignoring the meanings of smut in Trinidad, but bear with me for the sake of argument.)
If we consider the ol’ “i know it when i see it” test — an infamous phrase associated with Justice Potter Stewart’s opinion in the 1964 Supreme Court case, Jacobellis v. Ohio, which hinged on whether a French film could be deemed obscene by the state of Ohio — if we consider that test (admitting that who the “I” that knows and sees is, of course, quite important), than it might be productive after all to interrogate the boundaries between smut and slackness, especially in such a cross-cultural, transnational conversation as this one.
And so I proposed a limit case, something to pose the question: is this slackness or smut? where do we draw the line? where do dancehall participants draw the line? and what are the implications — for gender relations, for questions of interpersonal and international politics and power — of deeming something obscene or not. Such a judgment is a conferral of value, and because I think we can argue for the value of something like slackness in the way that it publicly pushes against certain strictures and structures, while the value of smut is perhaps more dubious, I think these are crucial questions to consider.
My limit case, as I reported back in April, was a (then) recently coined song&dance weh dem call the “Titty Wine.” An obvious play on the “Dutty Wine,” a very popular dance of the last couple years, the “Titty Wine” takes the duttiness, I think it’s safe to say, to another lebel. The “Dutty Wine” is hardly very dirty; sure, it demands some rather vigorous waistline (and neck) gymnastics — win[d]ing is always about the movement of the hips — but it still leaves plenty to the imagination. The “Titty Wine,” on the other hand, essentially calls for the gyal dem simply to rub their breasts, with a fair amount of freedom (or disregard) for what happens around the waist and below. To my eyes, and to other observers’ (and lovers of dancehall, I hasten to add), the “Titty Wine” hardly seems like a dance at all, but rather the beginnings of a strip-tease, or worse, a “breast self examination“!
I played some examples (but do do your own YouTube surfing) — among them, a Trini version; an impassioned introduction by the Brooklyn-based song&dance-engineer, CV; as well as two eager avatars and early adopters, the white/farin dancehall queens, Lisa No Mannaz and DHQ MoMo
Clearly the dance is interpreted differently by various dancehall participants: it’s either beyond the pale or in the tradition, though — as this exchange indicates — even then the dance is not criticized as scandalous, just wack/stupid. I suspect that for many outside observers, esp if one’s focus is the lyrics and the images rather than the surrounding discourse and debate, the “Titty Wine” is easy to dismiss as pure objectification, fantasy fulfillment on the part of the men calling the shots — perhaps, even, as smut (in the non-Trini sense). To wit (?): CV’s latest song&dance, the “Kattapila” — an attempt to encourage the kind of below/around the waist activity which many Titty Winers were forgetting — is hard to interpret outside the realm of pr0n: the promotional video doesn’t even feature women actually doing the dance to the title track, it simply sets the song to a series of win(d)ing/striptease videos culled from around the YouTubosphere. I don’t think it’s coincidental — or insignificant — at all that some of the clips employed are actual softporn / amateur / YouTube-safe (but NSFW) stripteases, rather than videos of girls, y’know, dancing to dancehall (never mind to the title track). I’m sure we can still argue over whether or not this fits the slackness bill, but is there really any question here as to whom this is being made for and whether it can be extricated from the category of smut/porn?
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Carolyn Cooper responded by noting that the “Titty Wine” (the “Kattapilla” hadn’t buss yet) seemed to contain a fairly strong dimension/connotation of self-pleasure. I can certainly see that. (So does a lot of porn, of course.) And I should note that I’ve sometimes found myself on the other side of this argument, against “rearguard” critics — such as last summer in Mexico City when, during a panel on reggaeton and wrt perreo, I enlisted dancehall scholar Sonjah Stanley Niaah to help me make the argument that a lot of this is simply (if, yes, complexly) a form of play. Or as I wrote when I returned from a brief trip to Kingston last summer –
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.
In general, I’ve decided that the best feminist I can be is one who respects women’s rights to do what they deem appropriate with their bodies and selves. But that doesn’t mean I don’t still have reservations, perhaps even condemnations, that I think are important to bring into the public conversation, especially when certain acts are perpetrated by men. I often have trouble hearing crunk, for instance, as anything more than barking at strippers, which is hardly an ideal model for the kind of healthy sexual acculturation (against Euro-Christian repression & hypocrisy & squirminess) that many of the participants in the symposium saw as a positive dimension of a great deal of Afro/diasporic music and dance. (Nor is criticizing the dudes/dogs in question at odds with allowing a woman the right to be a stripper/sex-worker, or simply the right to take pleasure in playing certain roles — in the (non-strip)club or the bedroom — some of which may be submissive, exhibitionist, or downright “freaky,” as they say.)
It’s worth noting that our views on such topics can’t always be cool, abstract, and disconnected from our (emotional) relationships with friends and family. My own talk was preceded by Raquel Rivera’s cautionary tale of defending the extreme vulgarity and symbolic violence of some proto-reggaeton artists only to want to withdraw her support after hearing from her little sister about a dancefloor encounter that had slid quickly into harassment and abuse. And Raquel’s confession / discussion was anticipated by Shannon Dudley who, after offering a history of “smut” in Trinidadian carnival & calypso, described the challenges and delights of listening to Calle 13 — a group that deliberately confronts the elite/mainstream value system in their music — with his pre-teen kids in Puerto Rico last summer. Thinking about the “Titty Wine” from a parental perspective puts a whole ‘nother spin on it, even for those of us who are quite comfortable with the notion that sex/gender play is a part of life, throughout life, and that frank discussions and depictions of sex can help us to shape healthier attitudes about ourselves than, say, Victorian-era notions or Catholic/Protestant/Puritan dogmas.
I get a sense that the liberty some of us — whether “outsiders” or “insiders” — see/feel in dancehall’s or reggaeton’s or soca’s slack side is akin to what Kevin Driscoll heard/felt in booty-bass, at least for a while. As he writes in his recent paper for Henry Jenkins:
If the dancefloor is a place where it is safe to move one’s body in unusual ways, perhaps it is also a space where the embodiment of the sex act can be exposed, toyed with, and manipulated.
Part of me wonders what happens, however, in the YouTube era when we move from dancefloors into each other’s bedrooms, kitchens, etc. (i.e., domestic/intimate spaces) — when virtual communities are not just imagined but actually interfacing, exchanging media and ideas, & sometimes phone numbers. Does what Kevin calls “the liberating potential of a construction of sonic space in which sexual desire, fetish, and perversion are no longer taboo” hold true when the sonic space in question — which is, of course, always a (special) social space — increasingly extends into other social spaces? (To some extent, it’s worth noting, the overlap between sonic and social space can sometimes seem total, even without — though usually with — the penetration and ubiquity of new media technologies, as in the way that dancehall culture reflects and informs Jamaican sociability and sociality in general.)
We might also ask, to turn to a probing comment by Unfashionably Late Gavin on Kevin’s post, does this liberating potential hold if it’s all about patriarchy and heteronormativity?
The nature of sexuality at play is incredibly important as well. Disco and house were gay musics, or at least queer, and many of the important originators were gay men. Electronic music in general is seen in the U.S. as “gayer” than other types of music. During my ethnography for my thesis, I discovered that techno (made by straight black Detroiters) currently has a gay connotation in Detroit. Ghettotech and bootybass producers (all hetero) are quite consciously claiming dance music (their first love) for heterosexuality — they are not breaking down the walls of sexuality so much as shoring up a very traditional notion of heterosexuality, in tune with contemporary commodified sexuality such as porn and strip clubs. In effect, they are making dance music that allows audiences to NOT question their sexuality — they are comforting conservative hetero audiences. It is interesting, however, that the music seemed revolutionary to a liberal feminist such as yourself — I think that is worth considering further. To me, the queer and open sexual politics of disco are more revolutionary than the concentrated hetero domination in booty bass. In any case, I think we can safely say that the era in which flaunting bourgeois sexual values can be considered revolutionary is definitively over.
That last statement seems like something of a knock for defenders of slackness (and perhaps undercuts a lot of what I’ve said above). I think Gavin raises some trenchant points here, as well as when he questions whether camp and pleasure may potentially undermine a straight-forward reading of booty-bass practice.
The truth is, I really can’t say. And that’s one reason I resist imposing anything like a definitive interpretation on — never mind a call for censure or censorship of — something like perreo (or even the “Titty Wine”). Who am I to say? Who is anyone to say? In order to get a better understanding of what all of this means, we need to bring more voices, more moments of meaning-making, into the conversation. (Where are all the dance ethnographies/autobiographies we so badly need?) I want to hear from more women and girls, from more people of color, from fewer gradschool-educated white dudes. Sin duda, “dame mas gasolina” — eloquent as it may be — is hardly the last word. And while a musically-mediated breast exam may speak volumes, it also seems profoundly silent.
some super summer sounds c/o kkingdomm: freestyle-tinged electro-house/r&b con raveyton b/w self-made remixes!! THIS IS DRIVING MUSIC EVEN IF UR SITTING STILL
a trove of eletro melody files c/o CRIADOR eder joe, aka joe benassi, who left a lovely, informative comment on my “electro malady” blogpost >> http://wayneandwax.com/?p=286
chief boima, freq w&w commenter, wicked _african_-american DJ, & occasional contributor to bennloxo, ghettobassquake, & other bloggs — you see this coming, yes? — has a BOG of his own!
“The conservative movement began as a true counterculture; how unlikely that its gloomy creed took hold in America, the optimistic capital of modernity.” :: a fascinating study by George Packer