Archive for February, 2009

February 25th, 2009

50s Family Dubplates!

Imagine suddenly discovering that there were fifty-year-old recordings of your newlywed grandparents belting karaoke ballads in the family parlor and joshing (on mic!) about their already rocky relationship. For an ethnomusicolobloggerDJ like myself, it would be an unbelievable find — not just a revelation of family history but a truly wonderful slice of theretofore unknown audio/material cultural heritage.


It was a few years ago that my Aunt Lorna first told me of the existence of some home recordings made by her (& my dad’s) parents, Grandma and Grandpa to me, back in the 1950s. She wasn’t sure whether they survived the family exodus from Cushing Street, where the extended Ianelli-Marshall clan once occupied no fewer than 5 houses — or, if they did, who had them. I was delighted to learn that Theresa (or Terry, as she was then known) and Bernie once sang together – and moreover, that they met at an event where Bernie was playing in a Portuguese band (cymbals, Lorna thinks). Who knew we had such a musically-inflected family history? I was also, of course, deeply curious about the possibility of hearing my grandparents as young people — of finding a window into that world of the past, a past that not only I and the other grandchildren never knew but, indeed, a past that even predated the arrival of their own kids.


It was last May that I received an email out of the blue from my dad confirming the existence of the recordings, and their safe keeping:

Waynster….I have some “vinyl”, homemade recordings from the 50s that my mom and dad made. There are about 5 small records. A couple are degrading.

Do you know anyone that could try to transfer these to another media? I would be happy to pay just for the attempt or I fear my mom and dad’s voice will be lost forever on these things.



Turns out that he was right to put “vinyl” in quotation marks. The records that Grandma and Grandpa recorded together are not actually vinyl but aluminum discs with a thin coat of lacquer on them — in other words, dubplates. Of course, the novelty of being able to make your own record (at home!) comes with a price: they can only be played so many times and they degrade rather rapidly, relatively speaking.


Apparently, someone got hold of a consumer-end cutting machine (by DuoTone / DuoDisc) and brought it to 40 Cushing Street, i.e., “Ianelli Manor,” as Grandma calls it on the recording. There were at least two recording sessions, one on March 13, 1954 and another on November 5, 1955.



My father ended up with six records (five from the first session and one from the latter), and I was able to digitize five out of six at the house of a friend with a variable-speed turntable (they’re 78s). At this point, the records are not in great shape. The lacquer is literally flaking off them, and the act of playing them — even once — can be destructive.



Moreover, the recordings themselves suffer from microphone problems, as the occasional low buzz attests. They’re also, as can be expected with any old records, pretty scratchy and full of static. Of course, some people dig that sort of thing.

Regardless, they sound amazing to me. To listen in on the Ianelli parlor in the mid-50s is astounding. When I first heard these records last summer, I felt a little like a space alien encountering the Voyager and listening to the Golden Record. I don’t even have recordings of my own parents before I was born. That I can hear my grandparents singing and talking way back when is an unbelievable opportunity. I’m grateful for the technology and stewardship that allowed these records to be preserved, however imperfect.



The recordings offer quite the snapshot of my grandparents during the first couple years of their marriage. To hear each of them singing is just delightful. They’re pretty good! Now I know where my Dad gets his pipes (and though I haven’t heard them sing much, I suspect Glenn and Lorna inherited decent voices too). They each take turns singing the popular songs of the day. Actually, it’s Grandma who mostly has the mic. She takes two turns through the aptly chosen song, “Jealousy,” while Bernie takes one. She also sings “April in Portugal” and “I Love Paris.” (“Auntie” Josie finishes the 1954 session with a rendition of “I’ll See You in My Dreams,” which closes with a rant about needing to work on Saturdays if she’s gonna make any money.) There are some skips and jumps and such, and lots of voices lost in the static, but to be able to hear these at all is a miracle.


But enough narrating for now, the sounds speak — and sing — for themselves:

Terry, “Jealousy” (2:33)

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Bernie, “Jealousy” (2:19)

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Terry, “I Love Paris” (2:17)

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Terry, “April in Portugal” (2:03)

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Josie, “I’ll See You in My Dreams” (1:39)

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Two additional tracks, recorded on a different date, remain something of a mystery. The first one, a rousing rendition of “Auld Lang Syne” (including burp jokes!), is attributed to the “Auld Lang Syne Gang” and, in the audio, dedicated to “Lou and Annette”; while the second one features an older guy speaking in Italian who calls himself “Don Francisco Pablo” and someone named Joe (who may or may not be my grandmother’s brother). I think Bernie’s on these too. Not sure. It seems to be labeled “Joe & Christin Brie” — but I can’t quite make out the handwriting, and I don’t know who that might be. If anyone can help decipher, I’m quite curious.

Auld Lang Syne Gang, “Auld Lang Syne” (2:08)

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Unknown, Talking (1:55)

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I’m not certain that I know these people, but they’re sure sound familiar. I love the personality that comes through on these — the festive spirit, the joking and teasing (“you’re too fresh!”), the laughs shared by fellas & gals & elders. Reminds me of many a family holiday. And then there’s the mix of 50s affects, Boston accents (“New Yawk,” “awlives”), & broken English (“I want a cold bottle beer!”).


The most incredible find in the batch, though, is a recording of my grandparents talking rather than singing. Entitled “Me & You,” it actually offers the story of their first date! Who could have dreamed of discovering such a thing? Even their children hadn’t heard this story before a few months ago. On top of that, it’s a downright hilarious exchange, which I’ve transcribed below (in order to make it easier to follow).

On the flip side, my grandmother discusses the difficulties that have come with marrying my grandfather — both from her family and friends and from Bernie himself (the “ol’ bahstid,” as she calls him). Theirs was a troubled marriage, and this comes through on the recordings. They’re sad in their way, but also sweet; note that Grandma is laughing while teasing Grandpa about his infidelity. It’s really something that we get to hear their relationship so richly encapsulated by these brief exchanges.

Transcripts & audio of “Me & You” –


Side A: Introduction (2:15)

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T: Ladies and gentlemen, it’s Mr. and Mrs. Bernard Marshall broadcasting from the Ianelli Manor at 40 Cushing Street, Cambridge, Mass. … To this date, we have been a very closely knit family. At the time that I had met Mr. Marshall, no one was in agreement that I should continue this friendship, which later culminated into a full love affair. So we have now decided to be Mr. and Mrs. Bernard Marshall despite the fact that we do not have the good wishes and good will of all our friends and relatives, but eventually we hope to accomplish this feat. … My husband is, uh, nice at times, but then again there are times when, um, I just don’t meet his requirements and standards, but I hope too to accomplish this in the near future. … I, I think I can say that we are very much in love, but, um, sometimes I don’t know about Bernie. … You know this morning he met a nice little waitress, and I think he attempted to make love to her. But when he discovered she was one of my neighbors he changed his mind. (laughing) … The telephone, dear. Oh please, don’t answer the phone.

B: You’ll have to excuse, the telephone has rung. This wife of mine, Josie, what am I gonna do with her? Josie, where are you? Josie, where are you? Josie, where are you? Come home, Josie, come home. Josie… Bye.



Side B: First Date (2:14)

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T: Bernie, what’d you tell me?
B: That I was single.
T: Why?
B: Huh?
T: Why?
B: You know the answer.
T: What did I tell you?
B: That you were married.
T: And what else?
B: Had a couple of kids.
T: And what else?
B: How do I know?
T: C’mon.
B: What else did you tell me? Oh yeah, you were a nurse.
T: Where?
B: At Mt. Auburn. Phony!
T: Remember the fun we had that night, though. What’d we do?
B: Dancing.
T: What else?
B: You weren’t hungry.
T: Go ahead.
B: You ate a chicken. If it wasn’t for being embarrassed, you would’ve ate the bones.
T: What else?
B: Oh yeah, you wanted to come straight home.
T: Yeah?
B: You didn’t want to go park. It took you two hours to get out of the car.
T: Oh no no no.
B: Oh yes it did. That’s the truth, go ‘head.
[inaudible]
B: That’s what happened. It took you two hours to get out of the car.
[inaudible]
T: Well, anyway, Bernie, mom wants us to go to Bermuda for our honeymoon. Whattaya say? Yah, you got enough money? Huh?
[inaudible]
T: D’you wanna go to Bermuda for your honeymoon, Bernie? Ten years from now do you think you can save 1000 dollars? Ok, now you say something, honeybun. Oh, come on, darling. Oh, please.
[inaudible]
T: Well, anyway we did have a lot of fun together. It was nice. But then we also had a lot of troubles too. Hey, Josie, got any dirty bloomers? I’m doing my laundry. You ol’ bastard, you. … Well, Bernie, I just hope the next 50 years will be as happy as the last one for us both. Good-bye.

19 comments

February 20th, 2009

Buried Treasure, Excavated Sizzle

The haunting echoes of r&b and garage ephemera are hallmarks of Burial’s music. Myriad, minute vocal snippets, tossed-off castaways in a sea of murky radio remembrances, reanimated as deeply expressive fragments, pitched around, recontextualized rhythmically and harmonically and vibewise. This is a poignant poetics, sometimes jaw-droppingly so, as the producer projects an alarmingly “human” voice despite denaturing the originals so audibly. (Reminding me of my reactions to Mouse on Mars’ excursions in synth-bent emoting, evoking an obviously artificial but affective fragility — but that’s the topic for another post perhaps.)

Prolly the best example in Burial’s oeuvre is “Archangel” which, as noted here, sources its suggestive vox from a couple amazingly fleeting moments (ad libs even!) in a semi-successful but forgotten r&b jawn.

Beyond Burial’s own distinctive remixing of the recent past, the approach has become more broadly adopted across contemporary electronic/sample-based production, especially by dubstep producers wielding similarly semi-obscure (and sometimes truly obscure) reggae samples. Burial falls into this camp too, with recent dancehall recordings — like their r&b and garage counterparts — serving as suggestive sonic signposts of post-millennial/colonial London.

As /Rupture noted via this insightful bit of sample spotting @ the lockitdown blog, Burial sampled Sizzla’s “Just One of Those Days” (aka, “Dry Cry”), his BIG CHUNE from 2003, for 2006′s “Broken Home.”

Living in Kingston in 2003 I bore repeated witness to the power of Sizzla’s massive one-drop revival album, Da Real Ting, so Burial’s allusion jumped out at me way back when his first album dropped. One of the things I found so striking and beguiling about Burial’s use of a phrase from “Just One of Those Days” was the way he displaced its original emphases by shifting its place in the meter by but an eighth-note.

So, while the original sounds like

whose FAULT no ONE but mySELF

in the Burial track, it goes

WHOSE fault NO one BUT myself

This may seem like a subtle distinction, but that’s what makes it great. Indeed, that’s what makes it better, to my ears, than a rather similar attempt at transformation: e.g., what strike me as the baldly (and badly) manipulative efforts of Zomby for “The Lie,” which takes the following Sizzla lyric

I was born in a system that doesn’t give a fuck about you nor me, nor the life of our kids

and turns it into

I was born in a system that doesn’t give a fuck about you nor me, nor the lie

WHICH. MAKES. NO. SENSE. & totally undermines Sizzla’s critique.

Is this supposed to be a sly and suggestive gesture? If so, it comes up woefully short. I think it rubs me the wrong way, interestingly, a lot more than than, say, Kanye West’s equally brazen use of Chaka Khan’s “Through the Fire” to propel “Through the Wire” (which I find funny and surprisingly compelling) — and I think this difference emerges largely for ideological reasons, which are inextricable from aesthetics (or, in other words, my idiosyncratically but also historically / culturally / socially / politically situated reception of the poetics at work in these tracks), despite that some may want to make room for “strictly” musical considerations in these rarefied conversations.

Now, obviously I enjoy Zomby’s production in other instances, so I don’t think this is just some simple prejudice expressing itself. Rather, it’s an attempt to work out why I find essentially the same sample-based procedure to have very different effects/affects in two different instances: whereas Burial’s subtle, muddled invocation of Sizzla invites a range of responses, Zomby’s strikes me as simply distortionary, rubbing against accumulated affective resonance in an awkward, hamfisted way. When we’re talking about handling such materials as beloved, if dated, reggae and r&b — so treasured and variously remembered and embodied — I guess I prefer a more sensitive touch.

Or, in other words, the happy medium is the massage.

12 comments

February 19th, 2009

Old (and Not So Old) Weird (and Not So Weird) America

We’re visiting Becca’s sister, her husband, and their 6-month-old twins in North Carolina this week. Initially drawn to Durham/Duke, Leila&Sebastian und Sasha&Max now live in a small-ish town called Burlington, in an old mill house they rebuilt themselves (with a little help from their friends).

Yesterday, we escaped some rainy morning blues by heading to a nearby antiques mall. It was, to say the least, a trip. The building, essentially a warehouse (or maybe formerly a supermarket), houses hundreds of individual stalls, each of them a little shrine to some collector’s material muses.

Amusing indeed. But also, utterly utterly odd. I mean, was something like this “Jolly Chimp” actually intended to amuse (as opposed to, terrify) children?


Beyond marvelling at such oddities and artifacts in their own right, I couldn’t help but be struck by how the thorough juxtaposition of tchotchkes from across the ages seemed to flatten even as it called attention to the differences across the mythified decades of our collective past and their symbols, their peculiar fixings — often, in this case, in the form of cheap commodities — of the imagination of self, other, past, and future.

How easily the dated images from the 80s and 90s sit alongside counterparts from the 50s, 60s, 70s, &c –






Or how “African” art of various sorts (or carved wooden exotica more generally) found space alongside kitchen kitsch and cross-stitched masterpieces –



Perhaps unsurprising, given all the dirty laundry on display, America’s racist representations of itself also reared their ugly heads. Most frequently in the form of the mammy –




yes, alongside a wooden watermelon

Another strange refraction of racial representation was embodied by the following curiosity (of which I spotted two specimens): Big John, “the Chimpee Chief.” Given current controversies here in present-day post-racial America, I think it’s not too much to ask you to read this, with me (and Al Sharpton), as an insidious if everyday example of substituting one dehumanized subaltern for another –


And yet despite reservations aplenty (no pun intended), I admit that there were a couple objects that were quite arresting — charming in a different manner than those above, if still tainted with resonances of the primitive. Take, for example, this amazing “outsider ark” (and don’t miss the Scooby Doo detail), which is sui generis if anything ever was —



Will I forever regret not picking it up for a mere $50? Would I forgive myself if I did?

No matter, already made my day.

5 comments

February 19th, 2009

But One Book of Poetry to Contain Them All

Longtime readers know I’m quite the devotee of those dear local philosophs / civic superheroes / transcendentalist romantics, Emerson and Thoreau. I’ve quoted them at length and composed songs inspired by their fiery oratory.

So I was excited to stumble upon (hat tip forgotten) a blog dedicated to posting Thoreau’s journal entries, pegged to the corresponding day of the year (“THIS DATE“). Living quite near where Thoreau would have wandered, I enjoy the shared sense of place that emerges, as when he observes a balmy day in February and we experience the same.

In this bit from yesterday, one of the more striking I’ve read, Thoreau really hits a writerly stride, so disarmingly plainspoken, so alarmingly insightful. Indeed, this short reflection seems to encapsulate his very approach to writing –

I have a commonplace-book for facts and another for poetry, but I find it difficult always to preserve the vague distinction which I had in my mind, for the most interesting and beautiful facts are so much the more poetry and that is their success. They are translated from earth to heaven. I see that if my facts were sufficiently vital and significant, – perhaps transmuted more into the substance of the human mind, – I should need but one book of poetry to contain them all.

Passages like that set a high bar, and we’ve been finding — myself and Rebecca, my better half, who’s begun a similar blog from Emerson’s diaries — that Thoreau is, to this date, the more engaging of the two. Pearls of wisdom aplenty, though. Or should I say barberries?

2 comments

February 18th, 2009

Vid Wit It

For those who liked my modyfier mix but really want to know what track is playing when, now u kno –


Vid Wit It from wayne marshall on Vimeo.

Not necessarily the most gripping video or anything, but I do like the demystification of the process it presents. Just to clarify, what you’re seeing here is the playback of an arrangement that I’ve already mixed down (live, w/ improv) and then tweaked & tweaked until I was happy with the transitions, etc. So it’s more like a performance of a performance of a performance, or something. Don’t mistake it for the performance itself. To catch that, you gotta come to the Enormous Room on Monday nights.

Again, hope you dig/gig. If you do, gwaan and get some of these fine tracks for yourself!

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February 18th, 2009

Gig Wit It

I made a mix for modyfier! Go on get it, gig wit it, etc.


If you’re not familiar with the modyfier series, here’s a primer, written back at the 50th episode milestone (mine’s #124). Rayna has commissioned tons of great mixes, with ruminations on process, from such lovelies & luminaries as Luomo, Philip Sherburne, Ripley, Catchdubs, David Last, Mochipet, & many many more. I’m delighted to join the list — and happy to deliver after maybe a year and a half of gentle prodding. (Best intentions, knamean?)

Given that my mixes can tend toward the thematic (if not didactic), I was pretty torn wrt what to submit. In the end, wanting to stress process, rather than cooking up something so conceptually organized (several sets of which languished & perished), I decided to go with a refined/revised excerpt from recent adventures in Beat Research. In essence, although you’ll hear me criss-crossing genre & geography as usual, what anchors things here is the long-overdue (long-building? longstanding?) intermixture of global dub and global techno. Post-disco dance music has gotten a lot more polyrhythmic in recent years, and Caribbean club beats have gotten a lot more techy. Hooray for all of that.

I’ve already given away the ending, and I’ve got a bunch more words over at modyfier-modifying that I invite you to digest while/before/after gigging wit it, so I’ll leave you here with what I hope is a tantalizing tracklist (w/ a little linkthink for good measure). I don’t ask for permission to play tracks in the club, and I didn’t ask for permission to include these in my mix. Lots of tracks come direct from friends who produced them or are promoting them. To the artists included, I hope you like hearing your music all mixed&mashed with other people’s. Thx for keeping things moving & letting us gig along –

>> w&w, “Gig Wit It” (mix for modyfier) [22 min | 50.5 mb]

Frikstailers & MC Gringo, “Fudegú de Perequetê
Them G.Spot Boyz, “Stanky Legg”
Shackleton (DJ /Rupture remix) “In the Void”
Zombie, “Dripping Like Water”
Terror Danjah, “Trojan”
Scuba, “Tense”
An-ten-nae, “Citoyan Du Monde” (Dov Remix)
L-Wiz, “Girl From Codeine City”
The Dice Man, “Polygon Window”
Soul Clap, “Die Ente”
Kirkledove, “Middle East Riddim”
Emynd, “We Don’t Give A … (Instrumental)”
Oliver Huntsmann, “La Boum”
Starkey, “Pressure”
Dusk + Blackdown, “Lata VIP”
Teetimus and Daseka, “Beauty Riddim”
Glenn Frey, “You Belong to the City”

7 comments

February 16th, 2009

Re:Wine Wine Wine Wine Wine Wine Wine (We Like It)

As things ramp up for carnival, the strains of soca seem increasingly in the air (& my inbox).



Believe it or not, there actually is a likkle soca in the air here in Boston. One key source projecting the strains of carnival into the city’s soundscape is BIG CITY FM, my fave “pirate” reggae/soca channel in town. It’s great just to be able to have such a reliable public resource for Caribbean pop & dance music (well, relatively reliable — at least, it’s a pretty clear signal close to the city). But what makes BIG CITY so special is that, for all the ways it reps for JA or T&T, it also sounds very Boston.

Case in point: Junior Rodigan, the Iranian-British bloke who mixes up UK, JA, and Bawstin accents seamlessly while chatting about the Celtics or the latest reggae scandal. (I’ve got an old, juicy interview with Junior — who takes his name from Father Rodigan, of course — which I should post here at some point.) Take, for example, this recent excerpt that I recorded in my car on my phone a couple weeks ago (on Bob’s b-day, as you’ll hear). It gives a sense of the Boston-Carib banter of BIG CITY, but the main reason I recorded it — and share it here — is b/c it offers another lovely example of how something like the beat from “Miss Indpendent” gets loosed from its connections to the original tune, serving here as but a background riddim for hyping local events (sorry, Stargate, u cyaaaan stop that) —

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pardon the dict-iphone audio quality

As you hear at the end of the excerpt, showing the station’s broad musical mandate, they launch into a new track by Ryan Leslie (who, you may not know, once sang in the same gospel choir as yer boy, but that’s a story for another time). BIG CITY tends to mix up hip-hop, reggae, r&b, and soca, depending on who’s DJing. Sunday morning = serious slow jam oldies session, complete w/ pullups!

Anywaaayeee, during a soca block a couple weeks ago, I heard a song on BIG CITY which quite caught my ears — on its own musical merits, yes, but also, importantly, how it tugged on the strings of musical memory. It sounded like this (actually, a lot better before it hit my phone) –

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I tried shazam-ing it but no dice, so I later quoted the memorable chorus to a trusty Trinny trainspotter –

yes boss!

heard a nice soca pon the radio yesterday. chorus goes, “wine wine wine wine wine wine wine wine wine wine wine wine wine wine wine wine wine wine,” and has a buju-sounding vocalist on it (bunji?). any tips?

to which –

Hope tings cool on your side, rasta.

That’s Iwer George and Ziggy Rankin…Ziggy Ranking is the gravelly voiced singjay, a budding talent from T&T. Iwer is the self-proclaimed ‘boss’, but I have my issues with dat artiste…one thing’s for sure, he’s a guaranteed hit maker.

De riddim BAD for days…it’s out of Barbados (who always impresses me with their soca productions, especially their groovy soca), but make sure to check out the Peter Ram track and the Rupee track on dat riddim (coconut tree).

Yup, that’s the one. As noted, what caught my ear wasn’t just the tune itself (though I do like the simple, catchy chorus) but the references to reggae, including a riddim relick and a vocal allusion.

I mentioned these features to my bredrin, who replied,

De FIRST time I heard dat riddim, I was like: now DAT is how you combine dancehall and soca! Bro, there was a time growing up in Trini that NO session was complete without a complete Cat classic set!

The Bajan crew responsible for the Coconut Tree is known as Monstapiece Inc. They produced Bunji Garlin and Family’s “By de Bar” a few years ago. Interestingly, the riddim for “By de Bar” (which also propelled an ode to fancy alcohol by TOK) is itself a relick of sorts, though it takes inspiration not from a reggae riddim but from a hip-hop song: Busta’s “Pass the Courvoisier” (produced by the Neptunes).

This seems to be their shtick, relicking hip-hop/r&b beats for soca songs: 50′s “P.I.M.P.” and R.Kelly’s “Snake” have also been relicked by the Monstapiece crew. (Hear and excerpt of the former here.)

& round & round we go. Par for the course at this point, I know. Don’t mean to sound like a broken record. Just think of all these copywrong posts as relicks of each other, or sumpm.

Anyhow, here’s a playlist on the Coconut Tree, if you care to listen. I must confess I do like that Iwer/Ziggy jawn, but that might be due to pure music nerdery –


(2009)Coconut Tree Riddim***(Mostapiece Productions)(Trinidad & Barbados)

Or, if you’d prefer to watch a CDjuggling –

9 comments

February 12th, 2009

But Siriusly, Folks…Back to Work!

You may have heard, somewhere in the background perhaps, that Muzak filed for bankruptcy.

Here’s an MOR-perspective podcast about it, bordering on inanity –

A better use of your time & in the pdf-blog spirit, here’s a musicological analysis, written 20 yrs ago (!) by me ol’ advisor –

     >> Radano, Ronald M. 1989. “Interpreting Muzak: Speculations on Musical Experience in Everyday Life,” American Music, 7, pp. 448-460.

& here’s a track I made 10 years ago (!) called “Elevator Hip-hop”; it samples the Beach Boys –

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this is that same track, bit-crunched & chopped & dancehall’d up –

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5 comments

February 12th, 2009

Meta Matters!

ok, second post in a row jacking a video from those canny video jackers @ immanentdiscursivity

i love this. don’t you?

not only is kid downright adorable, he’s using a youtube vid of a solo piano rendition of the akon song (now a duet!) to accompany himself. that’s some srsly born digital creativity right there. he even frames his own rendition with a live screenshot & offers some genuine thanks/attribution to the pianist.

any corporation that wants to mute this kind of activity should be ashamed of itself.

(have you been reading the youtomb blog? you should.)

2 comments

February 8th, 2009

El GaTo VoLaDoR

thx to bill@immanentdiscursivity for sharing this hilariously awesome lookinassnigga-style google-img setting for el chombo’s pre-chacarron reggae/ton panameño classic, “el gato volador” –

i wonder how this might shed light on ethanz’s cute-cat theory?

7 comments

February 5th, 2009

Zunguzung Revelations


photo by Brent Hagerman

In the first comment on my Zunguzung Meme post, Droid asked the perfectly reasonable question,

Is it possible that Zunguzung itself is an adaptation of someone else’s work?

It’s something I’d been wondering myself, of course — for about as long as I’d been noting the melody’s long legs, really. In my reply I said,

I’d love to ask him about it sometime.

Well, I’m happy to report that someone has.

That someone is Brent Hagerman, a PhD student in religion and culture writing a dissertation about Yellowman which, as he put it via email, “reads” his slackness “in terms of his Rastafarian faith.”

Here’s what Brent had to say about “[Zungu]Zung”:

I asked him once about Zung and he told me that he got the melody/phrasing from a Michael Manley political rally — similar to your Cutty Ranks clip, I assume, except it must have been earlier.

If you think that’s a revelation, you’ve got to hear the story for yourself. Many thanks to Brent for sharing it with me and allowing me to share it with you (and thx much to King Yellow too, of course!):

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Allow me to transcribe the conversation, with some cuts for clarity sake:

Brent: What does zunguzunguzunguzeng mean?

Yellowman: Zunguzunguzeng is a slang, you know? It can mean anything. Like, I can say I’m gonna zunguzunguzeng you, which means I gwine kill you. And I can look on a girl and say, I want to zunguzunguzeng you. It mean I want to ‘f’ you. It have many meaning. … But it was a political song, for Michael Manley. Like, “zunguzungunguzunguzeng, you shouldn’t trouble Mr. Manley, boy.” So I turned it into “zunguzungunguzunguzeng, jump for happiness and jump for joy” …

B: I thought you wrote that melody?

Y: No, the melody come from a political song.

B: A song that Manley used?

Y: Some guy used to go around with Manley and mic and say, “you shouldn’t trouble Mr. Manley, boy.”

B: That was never recorded, though?

Y: No, that never recorded. I take my style, and record it. I use the melody.

B: And did he use the term zunguzung as well?

Y: No, no. He don’t use the term. I only use the melody. … “Jump for happiness and jump for joy, you no fi call Yellowman no boy.” … So that get ban off the radio. … The reason why they ban it in that time, it was the Labourite government was in power. …

B: Because you borrowed this [melody]? You were making fun of the melody?

Y: No, I’m taking it to an entertainment level. … It became #1, you know? For several months.

B: Without being played on the radio.

Y: Right.

B: So his lyric? …

Y: Him say zazazazazazazaza, but me say zunguzungunguzunguzeng.

B: And zaza has no meaning, right?

Y: No, it just a slang, like I would say zunguzunguzeng. It can mean anything, you know.

B: What was that guy’s name, do you know?

Y: No, no. I don’t know what his name, you know. But I heard that guy is in Miami now, you know.

B: So he was an artist?

Y: No. You know like how Obama carry around Oprah? Fi get crowd, y’know? So they just carry a entertainer. …

So much for Swahili theories.

For students of Jamaican democracy, the timing for such controversy might seem a little odd given that Yellowman’s song was released in 1982, but the JLP had been in power from 1980 and the 1983 election was boycotted by the PNP. No doubt there was still a lot of fraught politicking a gwaan at that time. I’d love to know more about how it seeped into Kingston’s soundscape.

It’s interesting to hear (and see!) how the melody remained a staple of PNP rallies into the mid-late 80s, as seen in the Cutty Ranks clip from a 1986 PNP rally. Browsing 80s dancehall videos on YouTube, I discovered a couple other clips that show the “zunguzung” melody doing a particular kind of political work (i.e., rallying people around the PNP). Indeed, invocations of the tune provoke some of the biggest responses from the crowd.

Take the following clip, for instance, which I think is from the same 1986 PNP rally as the Cutty Ranks excerpt, held at Skateland by Stereo Mars sound. After a lot of pro-Manley chatting, you hear the tune at the very end of video (“hold up your hand if you love the power”). Note the immediate call for pull-up!

There are a couple more examples in the following clip from the same rally (at 0:16 & 3:34), affirming again how common a reference (and rally-cry) it was. Selassie gets nuff shoutouts too, though. As do Spanglers and Junglists (“all spanglers hold tight, all junglists hold tight”) –

And, one year earlier, we behold a similar use at another PNP rally held by Stereo Mars at Skateland, this time featuring Tenor Saw, Burro Banton, Super Cat, and others. See Likkle John at the 5:00 mark and then at 5:40, and once again note the crowd response! Notice too, however, that for all the potential “political” connotations of the tune, Super Cat goes on to condemn politicians’ role in the island’s gun violence problems (even, ironically, as Joe Lick shot, er, “licks shots” in support) –

Despite all this activity, the zunguzung melody was so rapidly adopted by dancehall DJs — turning up in a flurry of recordings/performances from 83-86, and a little more sporadically thereafter — and often in songs that have nothing to do with politics, that I wonder about the degree to which the tune was heard as “political.” By whom? In what contexts? I’d love to know a little more about the instances in which Yellowman received any kind of pushback for using the tune. What does he mean that it was banned? (And yet was “#1″?)

Before this revelation, I had simply assumed that Cutty Ranks was making use of a well-worn riff, leveraging a powerful bit of musical memory for political ends. That may still be what is happening in his case. But I’m not sure whether the opposite is true, beyond Yellowman’s initial use. Did the melody also (just as often/powerfully?) mobilize political sentiment in the service of entertainment? Were artists like Sister Nancy, Toyan, and others who invoked the melody around that time always acutely aware of its political connotations? Or did Yellowman’s hit serve to “liberate” the tune from its partisan moorings, at least to some extent / for some listeners?

One relatively early example which seems to suggest an unmoored melody comes from a 1983 Gemini session in Jamaica, where Johnny Ringo casually weaves the tune into the beginning of his talkover spiel –

Another good example of the melody’s more free-floating character comes from Yellowman himself. In the following video, from a 1984 Volcano session, he uses the melody not to sing “Zunguzungunguzunguzeng” but to propel another routine, imploring the crowd (or a particular gyal?) to “boogie for me.” (Note: this video is a slightly odd assemblage; you’ll have to FF>> to around 26:10, when Yellowman grabs the mic; 10 seconds later he breaks out the familiar contour.)

Any others out there? Do tell/point/link. (One of these days I’ll make a montage.)

One final note, per recent discussions here about musical “borrowing” and ownership: b/c Yellowman plucked the zunguzung melody out of the air, as he did so much material — as we all do, don’t? — he doesn’t much mind if others take those same ideas and do something new with them. At least that’s what Brent surmises –

As you probably know he won the Tasty Patty competition in 1979 with an answer to Lone Ranger’s “Barnabus Collins” and often jumped on whatever thematic/lyrical/musical bandwagon was in fashion at the time, whether it be sleng teng, punanny riddim or whatever. So I really don’t think he minds if another deejay “borrows” something from him. The industry seems to thrive off that give and take, though Yellowman, like most artists, recognizes the need to receive credit for his inventions, even if it is just by insisting that he is the king of dancehall and the originator of several fashions/styles.

But Brent’s gonna ask him directly about this issue, to be sure.

If you want to follow along, or even lend a hand, to Brent’s research project. Check out zunguzung.com, an online database devoted to Yellowman’s lyrics and discography. As he puts it, “I haven’t got a lot there yet but it is starting to take shape.” As he also puts it, much to my delight — and quite in line with the spirit of the zunguzung meme — “I was inspired by your work when I chose the domain name.”

And on and on and on and on and on we go…

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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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