Tonight at Beat Research we’ve got a special session in store: our main man, Pacey Foster, will be teaming up with heavyweight hip-hop scribe Brian Coleman to celebrate Boston hip-hop. Yeah, you read that right. And what? We rep da bean, knamean ;)
The occasion is the publication of an essay by Pace on the history of Boston’s hip-hop scene. It’s featured in a new volume, Hip Hop in America: A Regional Guide. Given that we in Boston must necessarily live in the tractor-beam of NYC, that cultural-economic vortex constantly siphoning our finest locals, Pace’s article is appropriately titled, “How Boston Rap Remained Underground.” Even so, as Pace recently told Chris Faraone of the Boston Phoenix (which published a nice piece on Pace’s project last week), hip-hop is here and long has been —
If Foster has one recurring theme, it’s that pride and even prosperity have prevailed here against the odds that weigh down any talent crop born in the shadow of New York. “I kind of went into this thinking about why Boston hip-hop didn’t happen, and what I got from everyone I spoke with was that it’s been here all along. I have the tapes to prove it.”
As I’ve detailed here before, Pace has been working hard on his contribution for some years now, interviewing many of Boston’s seminal DJs, producers, and performers, and I’m enthused that this first instantiation of his efforts has finally come to fruition. (We look fwd to — and are plotting with Pace about — future work on this rich subject, which opens into all the things that make this city great and not-so-great.)
Tonight, Pace and Brian will offer quite a sweeping take on the Boston sound. For his part, Pace will be playing some digitized nuggets he plucked from the treasure trove he found in the archives of legendary Boston radio DJ, Magnus Johnstone, whose “Leccos Lemma” show on WMBR (gwaan MIT!) in the mid-80s was the first airwaves-outpost for Boston’s locally-produced rap records — or, more often, tapes. But they’ll also range from early 80s electro jams c/o the Jonzun Crew and their ilk, through the indie (undie?) explosion led by Brick Records, 7L & Esoteric, Mr. Lif, Akrobatik and others in the mid-90s, and up to the present day.
Adding a bit of personal poignancy to the night, Brian reports via email: “I’ll be spinning mid/late 90s to mid-00s Boston tracks — the exact same jams we used to throw down on WZBC’s ‘School Beats’ show throughout that same era — with my esteemed co-hosts Rani Neutill, and the late, great Tim Haslett.”
Need I say more? To put it another way, nodding to our town’s biggest hip-hop hit: U Got To Have It.*
Hope to see some headz in the house. One more crucial detail: E ROOM GOT A NEW SOUNDSYSTEM!!**
* Actually, Brian Coleman pointed out to me that the “biggest” rap song outta Boston — if we’re counting in terms of sales — is not Edo’s classic banger but, rather, Marky Mark’s “Good Vibrations.” Duh.
** Also, in a bit of qualification, I should note that it’s not a NEW soundsystem, per se, so much as an augmented soundsystem. The same old craptastic speakers hang from the ceiling, though they’ve been crucially complemented by the addition of two large speakers, also mounted above, and two big subs sitting on the floor. We can still quibble and kvetch, but it’s a much improved sonic situation IMO.
About to turn the corner on fall/winter, so allow me to remember my favorite season of the year with some choice moments made immortal (as the Internet). Longer time since my last, so a few more flicks than usual. Got a post devoted to Mexico to follow pronto. Here, a fair amount of family fare. All totally “safe” for “work” —
Tonight at Beat Research, we’re happy to play host to one of our favorite producers/DJs of the moment, Kingdom! Have you heard his recent mix for Discobelle? You really should. It’s so many different colors of awesome, I can’t even tell you.
I’ve been digging Ezra’s approach for a couple years now, lucky to have him playing here (his home state, whatwhat?!) fairly frequently, esp when bredrin Lone Wolf was in town. The way Kingdom’s been blowing up lately, I’m not sure we can count on seeing as much of him in the coming months, in-demand as he’s becoming. His distinctive take on crunk, funky, soca, r&b, bassline, & future club beats of all sorts is ass-shakingly mind-boggling (in fine Clintonian spirit). Kingdom surfs transatlantic bass waves with panache, balance, joissance.
I played a couple Kingdom tracks last week in Mexico to whoops and hollers and a whole lotta (co)motion. Something about his peppery use of bass drops, diva vox, funky/soca drums, and synth fantasia really resonates right now. I’d tell you more about it, but since you should really just hear it for yourself, and since I’ve got some catching up to do after 5 days in Mexico (debriefing pronto!), I’ll let the always eloquent DJ/Rupture — most recently, see e.g. — tell you what’s up when it comes to Kingdom (with an obvious edit of my own toward the end, esp given how much /R “dislikes Boston” lol)
Part of the excitement is that his mixes are littered with original exclusives and refixes and female vocal power, and Poppa Ezra is one of best club beatmakers around right now, so the moral of the story is: BOSTON STAND UP!
I’ve been dying to get back to Mexico City since I first went there a couple years ago. I’m headed there today (primarily to attend the SEM conf) and will be staying through the weekend, and I’m excited to report that in addition to #sem09 I’ll be playing a couple gigs!
Big thx to my colleague in matters ethnomusicological and DJ-wise, the mighty Ripley, for working with Ricardo/Nimbo to put these together. I’d have been psyched to simply attend some interesting music clubs/parties in MX, so actually playing a couple takes the cake. Go, go, great bass coaster!
Anyway, I’ve got a plane to catch shortly, so gotta make this quick. Here’s the deets for any of you who might happen to be in DF or Puebla this week. (I’m amazed and honored to say that I actually do have some readers there! Hope to link up with y’all.)
First, in Mexico City, tomorrow (Thursday) night — a free event @ Salon Calavera (Tacuba 64):
Followed, Friday night, by some sort of house party, out in San Pedro, Cholula (Puebla), a place I’ve wanted to visit for a while, at least since discovering some TCK MEX there —
I’ve got to admit that I’m remarkably proud in these cases, odd as it sounds, to represent — according to the flyers/websites — “el vecino del norte” as well as “Massachusetts”!
For those out-of-towners who were wondering (and I’m flattered, really), it turns out that last week’s talk at MIT, “Skinny Jeans and Fruity Loops,” was recorded after all. That said, it’s audio-only whereas my talk was fairly visual-centric at times, so it’s a little weird to not be able to see the accompanying videos, photos, and slides. If I get a chance, I’ll try to post some of the links here before too long; otherwise, get your search on. Special thx to Generoso Fiero for bringing the equipment & hooking up the CMS podcast, and to Ian Condry for the effusive introduction — http://cms.mit.edu/news/2009/11/podcast_skinny_jeans_and_fruit.php
Finally, Beat Research won the Weekly Dig’s Dig This 2009 award for Best Monday Night! Big thx to all who voted in support. Now do us one better: come out and jam with us! Next week we’re psyched to feature one of our favorite up-and-coming producers in the transatlantic bass/dance scene: Kingdom. If you don’t know, get familiar–
For those who don’t know, Sonido has been a driving force in the recent (re)surgence in cumbia interest outside of its longtime hotspots. He co-authors La Congona New Cumbia with Sñr Rupture, and he’s largely responsible — at least by my ears — for brokering the screwy sounds of “cumbia rebajada” to listeners more familiar with Houston-style slrrrddness. His Rebajadas Come to Brooklyn mixtape has been a mainstay in my car (where better for a CDr?).
Most notably — and what brings him to Boston — Sonido has compiled (and contributes to, in his own remixxy manner) a vivid, vivrant cumbia compilation for Soot Records (pictured above). Based in Buenos Aires but traveling widely across Latin America, Sonido, a traditional and digital digger, is well positioned to present La Nueva Cumbia Argentina. But, y’know, the folks over at Soot Records have a way with words, and I have to get over to South Station to rendezvous with Sonido, so I’mma let them finish (but hope to see some loco locals en el club tonight!) —
Nueva Cumbia Argentina is set to be the most important cumbia compilation of 2009. It includes major figures Damas Gratis and DJ Taz, whose work kickstarted both cumbia villera the new cumbia/cumbia digital scene. The comp then reaches forward to the scene’s latest developments, like El Hijo de la Cumbia, who got his start producing for big-name Mexican cumbia soundsystems before going solo. Buenos Aires implodes! This comp gathers delicious fragments for the dancefloor, with a lot of sweet female voices to boot.
Sonido Martines was the perfect person to organize this compilation, The Argentine has spent the last decade traveling between Bolivia, Buenos Aires, Bogota, and Lima, organizing parties and connecting scenes in the emerging independent cumbia movement. He’s currently collaborating with national radio in Argentina on a series about cumbia and tropical music! Martines is recognized as one of South America’s premiere record diggers, finding obscure vinyl LPs and hot-off-the-harddrive digital bangers. The result is the best snapshot of what’s happening in nueva cumbia to date, from cumbia villera’s populist explosion to sultry cumbia-electronica hybrids.
What can we learn about contemporary culture from watching dayglo-clad teenagers dancing geekily in front of their computers in such disparate sites as Brooklyn, Buenos Aires, Johannesburg, and Mexico City? How has the embrace of “new media” by so-called “digital natives” facilitated the formation of transnational, digital publics? More important, what are the local effects of such practices, and why do they seem to generate such hostile responses and anxiety about the future?
Next, Thursday @ Princeton (4:30pm, McCormick Hall 101):
A roundtable featuring myself and my co-editor Raquel, the brilliant blogger Marisol LeBron, DJ El Niño (one of my key consultants while writing my chapter for the book), Ines “Deevani” Rooney (aka, reggaeton singer and sister of Luny), and the great Miguel Luciano (whose Pure Plantainum pic really makes our book cover POP).
When Guillaume was here last week, we discovered in conversation that we both had long been sitting on posts that centered on the question of Africanness and UK funky. I joked that we should both finally get around to finishing these posts and drop them on the same day, causing a ruckus on the ol’ ‘osphere, but then G went and jumped the gun (en frances) and here I am playing catch up ;)
Of course, since Guillaume wrote his post in French, I guess that leaves it to me to provide some, as they say in French, explication for the Anglophone side of things. I too have been interested in what Guillaume calls “la récupération du Funky par les jeunes africains vivant en Angleterre, qu’il soit de première ou de deuxième génération” — or, the reshaping/reclaiming of funky by African youth in England, whether 1st or 2nd gen — at least ever since Boima put me on to T-Boy’s hilarious “Don’t Jealous Me Funky.”
What’s interesting about Guillaume’s post — and different from where mine was focused — is that he’s looking at the actual participation in funky on the part of Africans in England, hearing the UK’s African (as opposed to Afro-Caribbean) heritage finally come into the mix, so to speak. As Guillaume points out, what makes the current crop of “African” funky tunes interesting is the explicit use — if often tongue-in-cheek — of African accents and other symbols (including traditional dress), esp if we compare to Afro-British artists like Dizzee or Tinchy who seem to speak with a more creolized (and often Jamaican, or Carib-cockney) accent. That all of this is happening in London at the same time that a new kind of Afro-kitsch permeates the global beat-o-sphere is curious to say the least.
At the same time, as we attempt to think through this stuff, we would do well to heed Dan Hancox’s warning —
It’s unnecessarily reductive for us to posit the idea of Africa (e.g. ‘Donaeo’s ‘African Warrior’, and the potential but difficult-to-prove influence of Afro-house percussion) against the Carribean, in some kind of bizarre fight for the lion’s share of influence over funky, but these are issues worth thinking about.
Whether this phenomenon actually signals a shift in poco cultural politics for cool Britannia is a fascinating question, though it’s not what I would like to focus on in my own post. Rather, what caught my attention in the discourse around UK funky was the common projection of Africanness (prior to the likes of T-Boy) onto the genre even as it was simultaneously denied its “funkiness” (and there, as I’ll explain, we get into some fascinating differences between hearing Africanness and hearing African-Americanness). I still don’t feel like I have the time to give the big questions here the requisite attention. But in lieu of that, and in the interest in actually publishing this post and keeping the convo going, please accept my attempt at suggestion.
I noticed, many months ago now, that a lot of people have claimed that UK funky house is, in so many words, not really that funky. This is a funny position in a way, as it puts forward a certain essentialist notion of funk or funkiness — based, far as I can tell, on the sonic priorities of (African-)American funk circa the 70s — at a time when “funk” and “funky” are more loosed from that moor than ever.
I was particularly struck seeing this notion advanced by UK cultural theory heavyweight, Paul Gilroy (who has shaped my own thoughts and work around race and nation as much as anyone). In an email to Hancox, Gilroy appears to put forward a certain kind of essentialism (or is it anti-anti-essentialism?) about the ontology of funk — i.e., about what is truly funky, or what it means to, in his words, “bring the funk”:
We are moving towards an African majority which is diverse both in its cultural habits and in its relationship to colonial and postcolonial governance so the shift away from Caribbean dominance needs to be placed in that setting. Most of the grime folks are African kids, either the children of migrants or migrants themselves. It’s not clear what Africa might mean to them. Not all are Muslim. They are open to a US sourced version of black style and culture which is also contentious and repellent. Their ambivalence towards it is the key I’d guess. The Ethiopianist framing of a post-slave history means next to nothing to them, even as a generic signifier of human suffering and powerlessness. I suppose that Pokes’ ironic celebration and affirmation of the DJ lineage is a residual trace of that past. He is not Wiley, “Bashy” or African Boy.
I am an agnostic when it comes to the “rudeness” comparison. I suppose my basic difficulty is that the misnamed “funky” and its adjacent styles are a problem precisely because they aren’t remotely interested in bringing the funk. That has always been a dividing line for me. I haven’t gone deeply into soca/grime but “funky” often sounds just like soca to me and has some of the same small island rapture that made that unlistenable.
Now, maybe I’m just missing something, and I’d be curious to hear more about what Gilroy means by “bringing the funk.” There’s clearly a socio-sonic agenda undergirding his comments, and, knowing my sympathies, I’d likely find Gilroy’s take on this persuasive. But not if what he means is that soca drum-patterns are too far from James Brown’s rhythm section to be worthy of the “funk” label. I sure don’t mean to be reductive in my own reading of Gilroy’s position here; perhaps I’ve simply seen in too many other places a kind of insistence that funky isn’t funky. For example —
I don’t mean to rehash too much of this if it’s already a settled matter (which is another reason I need to publish this post now and move on); for instance, in a long and fascinating thread on dissensus a while back Gabriel Heatwave expressed a similar reaction to Gilroy’s comments as my own —
my problem with gilroy’s thing about ‘funk’ in funky is that it’s such a widely used word, to mean so many different things to different people, that it seems ridiculous to start making claims that something does or doesn’t have it. there are many more interesting things to say about funky than this.
didn’t mean to recycle anti-disco heresies but rather to point out that the issues of swing, syncopation and what I call “generic thump thump” electronica do correspond directly to the conceptual and critical problems that arise when the racialised attributes of musical styles are articulated.
What is disco? Are Chic funky, is Sharon Redd, are The System, Ian Levine and the South Shore Commission? These questions aren’t very interesting. But the problems involved in finding, using, claiming and loving the black in this music are, as this thread reveals, still alive.
Some folks love the blackness they hear but aren’t quite so keen on the company of the people whose being invests that quality in the music. This matters as we (hopefully) shift towards a post-exotic relationship with black culture.
Above all, I wanted to highlight the evolving and unstable character of contemporary Britain’s (europe’s) black communities. Ethiopianism is still there but it is residual. Another, postcolonial Africa is emergent. Does unfunky, funky herald its becoming? probably.
I want to take a moment to counterpose these questions of funky’s funkiness with the assertion of its (sonic) Africanness, which is more often than not a quality taken for granted — unlike the more audible aspects Guillaume focuses on — and hardly elaborated upon beyond vague references, as in the following, e.g. —
Perhaps not the most alluring genre-heading in electronic music, Funky House, or UK Funky, or just UKF for those with shorter attention spans, is currently the most invigorated and lively branch of British urban music. The sound of UKF is typified by refurbished House music templates injected with elements of Soca, broken beat, dub and African music, sometimes fashioned into R&B style vocal smashers, but often stripped into dark yet party-fied instrumental anthems. Put another way, UKF is basically a toughened and stripped, yet fluid and sexy House music often made by ex-grime producers, with traces of their former style still apparent in the predilection for African rhythm flavours and sub heavy grooves. (emphasis added) http://14tracks.com/selections/63-14_tracks_opening_up_uk_funky
Maybe Kevin gets at it a bit more directly with this quip (which is funny counterposed to this) —
Interestingly, qualities like “loose” and “shuffling” bring us back to some commonly remarked features of funk-qua-funk, even if the kind of “looseness” or “shuffle” Kevin is hearing (and I am too) in UK funky and African house alike is not quite the same as deployed in the music of JB or George Clinton.
In general, though, I find myself in alignment with Bok Bok’s sentiments here than with any attempts to hear in UK funky an engagement with contemporary African house & techno (much as I look forward to that) —
Ok I’m getting really sick f this. All of you romantics talking about African influences wake up!!! These ate at LEAST second hand. I’m willin to bet nobody in funky has heard of dj cleo. Us house a the source of all the new non-uk soubding ideas you’re hearing. Now stop this false anthropology, it’s no better than Reynolds ket-fiction
And I appreciate Gabriel’s attempt at some nuance in his own comment on that post, even though he opens a big can of worms with the reference to “traditional african drumming” —
as much as people say that funky sounds like soca, I don’t really believe that this is where the rhythmic ideas actually come from.
like you say, masters at work etc are obviously a big influence and though it’s worth noting that they (maw) have worked with soca artists (e.g. that song ‘Work’), I think it’s more the case that soca, dancehall, (funky) house and reggaeton use rhythms that are rooted in traditional african drumming.
so it’s more a case of them sharing the same influences than funky directly originating from soca. though clearly now things have got going, all these different scenes are crossing over – precisely because they share similar rhythmic foundations and operate at roughly the same tempo.
Speaking of “traditional african drumming,” let me attempt to move toward a close with a brief video clip I ripped from the recent film, The Visitor. It offers an oblique sort of reflection on some of the issues swirling around the question of funky’s funkiness and the implications of hearing/thinking Africa. I actually quite liked the film, so bleak and beautiful, though I was puzzled by a couple (well-meaning?) scenes.
Especially given that some of the drumming-in-the-park moments were so full of funk (in my own somewhat capacious understanding of the term, which does have to do with looseness and syncopation but doesn’t privilege any particular interpretation of them — and hears Pretorian funk and Rio funk as equally “funky” despite each having its own distinctive but decided grid-iness), I was quite struck by the following scene’s insistence on drawing some stark (and erroneous) lines between African music and its Other(s) —
In case it’s not obvious, what’s weird about this scene is that Tarek explains the difference between classical music (“in 4s”) and African music (“in 3s”) in terms of metric organization, and yet WHAT THEY ACTUALLY PLAY is better counted in 4/4 time (and yeah, classical has its fair share of waltzes obviously, making this a weird shorthand). I appreciate the distinction Tarek attempts to draw here, calling attention to the centrality of 3:2 interplay in West African drumming and the relative lack of such polyrhythm in European art music, but this is really clumsy language for illustrating these differences. This sort of (mis)representation of African music (not to mention “classical”) props up a misleading racialist dichotomy (which even opens into how — or whether! — people “think”), if, perhaps, with the best of intentions.
It’s those same good intentions that can perhaps lead us astray in guiding us into hearing UK funky as funky, unfunky, African, or not. I hope I haven’t kicked another hornet’s nest with this post. My interest (investment?) in talking about and thinking through these issues brings me a lot closer to some of Gilroy’s thoughts above than my differences with him w/r/t “funk” might imply.
At any rate, this is all moving so fast that we may as well just keep our ears open for the time being. Just yesterday Boima told me that coupe decale appears to have arrived in London, and this degree of transnational Afrodiasporic/YouTubey interaction is precisely the kind of thing that will toss all these theories on their, as they say in the UK, arses:
Have you seen some of the Anglophone Logobi spinoffs? I saw a youtube of this group K5!, I don’t know their background (I think I remember seeing Ghana), but if they’re Londoners that means we got Coupe Decale-Funky Scene Fusion going on, and that just makes me wet my pants :)
Actually, interestingly, the tags on the YouTube video are:
clifford owusu cliff opoku K5! k5 wanna dance want to coupe decale africa african ghana ghanaian stand alone k5live mapouka ivory coast Yep! ça c’est du vrai renoizR Couper Decaler instrumental
Bringing us full circle in a sense, an anonymous commenter on Boima’s logobi post had this to say:
Say – this Coupe Decale shit is the most boring shit on the planet! Okay, not THE most boring shit…just more homogeneous Euro-dominated artificial zombie robot music for people with no soul or funk about them. Oh well, can’t stop “progress” can we?
Is this commenter just missing out on what today’s “unfunky” Afrodiasporic dance music actually “heralds” (to return to Gilroy)? Or is he or she all too convinced that what is emerging is an alarmingly “Eurocentric” loss of funk and soul? This reminds me that more-or-less the same debate about (Africanized/racialized) funk and its various (Euro/whitened) others has been rearing its head all over the place lately — most memorably in SFJ’s latest gauntlet-toss, in turn tossed right back at him by Victor Vasquez of Das Racist.
But that’s quite enough for now innit. DISCUSS!
Finally, here’s the real full circle, uploaded in May (!!!), back when I should have published this post and well before any of us outside observers caught on to any of this —
Afropop Worldwide has a new program, airing currently on terrestrial radio in the US (and soon to appear online as streamable audio), which focuses on a subject near&dear to the heart of this blog: world music 2.0, aka nu-whirled music, aka global ghettotech. Or as they put it —
Afropop Worldwide takes us into the world of the globalistas, a far-flung grouping of polyglot hipsters, bass freaks, and digital beatsmiths who rally around the sounds of the 21st century dancefloor – rhythms such as Angolan kuduro, Brazilian funk carioca, reggaeton and dancehall, Indian bhangra and Argentine electro-cumbia. Ethnomusicologist/DJ/Blogger/Writer Wayne Marshall calls this music World Music 2.0, highlighting how digital production technology and the internet has created new, younger, international audiences for music from other places. Marshall will guide us through the sonic circuitry of global bass music and show us why old assumptions about “world” music might no longer apply. We’ll also speak with DJ Rupture, Dutty Artz founder and visionary world mashup artist, and, of course, listen to some ground shaking tracks from across the beat-o-sphere.
I’ll be sure to post a link here when the whole program comes online; meantime, if you don’t live in one of the radio markets where Afropop is carried, you can hear an 8 minute teaser here —
This week on Afropop Worldwide, we took a look at how technology is shaping music production and listening practices around the world with Afropop Soundsystem 3: Nu-Whirled Music. Over the course of the program, we explore the question – is there such as thing as World Music 2.0? And if so, what are the consequences? Here, you can read our full interview with our guest Wayne Marshall, who has some pretty interesting things to say about the topic.
Wayne is an ethnomusicologist, blogger, and DJ, currently doing a postdoctoral fellowship at MIT. He is the co-editor of Reggaeton, an excellent anthology of essays on the Puerto Rican reggae-rap. He works, more broadly, digging into the “sonic circuitry” of contemporary global music.
You can read Wayne’s thoughtful rambles on technology, culture, and electronic dance pop from the globe at his blog Wayne & Wax. In fact, the colorful analysis on Wayne’s blog was the prime inspiration for this week’s program!
Thoughtful rambles! I can live with that ;) “Nu-whirl” on the other hand…
But ambivalent as I am about pretty much all of the terms being used to discuss this stuff (I disavow coining “World Music 2.0” in the interview, though I do take responsibility for the monster that is global g-tech), I’m excited to see the conversation continue, and I’m especially thrilled to see Afropop bring some of these new sounds and styles (dare I say new worlds?) to the attn of their listenership.
Finally, I want to give special thanks to producer (and interviewer) Marlon Bishop for initiating this project and for making, as Rachel put it, “afropop sound like radiolab”!