first page of returns for “world music” on google images –
first page of returns for “global ghettotech” on google images –
The release of Lamin’s EP leads me to think about all sorts of things, stubbornly but slipperily inserting itself into ongoing dialogues in my head and in the worlds of music discourse in which I find myself.
What it makes me think about in the context of all these questions is: to what extent do individuals like Lamin or collectives like Dutty Artz actively direct discussions about music today and boldly navigate the brave new worlds of post-scarcity music industry, and to what extent are their efforts inevitably shaped by, or folded into, those same discourses and forces?
This brings us back to the crux of the question about world music, or global ghettotech, or transnational bass, or wot-ever-u-call-it. What is the nature of the mediation of the encounter with difference that these terms tend to entail? Are we talking about translation, filtration, curation, collaboration, production, or some odd admixture of them all?
These blogs seemed to be doing some interesting cultural work: playing off an emergent, inclusive interest in global hip-hop, dancehall, and international party/club culture, they sought out music with familiar-but-foreign signposts and in the process cultivated — for themselves and their readers/audiences — an open-eared orientation to a wide world of music that hadn’t really been on the metropolitan radar. These blogs differed widely in terms of the context or tone or clarity of what they were doing, but aside from some small but significant ideological differences, they seemed to be doing fairly similar things.
I’m talking about championing genres like reggaeton, funk carioca, kuduro, cumbia, etc. And, for the record, I wasn’t the only one proposing that we might understand these activities as akin to — even as they diverged from and seemed to critique — what previously fell under the awkward umbrella of “world music.” XLR8R, for instance, ran a piece called “The New World Music” in August 2007, beginning, understandably so, with the acknowledgment that “World music” is a horrible idea and hailing such figures as Diplo and Maga Bo, who seemed to function both as curators of a certain sort, seeking out and sharing the latest greatest sounds on the planet, and as producers in their own right, making new music out of their digs and collabos.
Perhaps more than anyone, Diplo has been celebrated — as well as hit with the culture vulture tag, skewered as a newfangled Paul Simon, a privileged “First World” middleman/tourist/colonialist exploiting raw materials from the so-called periphery. But that sort of critique lacks nuance to say the least. While we no doubt need to be vigilant about asymmetrical power relations and questionable representational regimes, we also need translators and filters, especially good ones (and I actually think Diplo, generally, is a good one) — the sorts of thoughtful xenophiles that Ethan Zuckerman calls bridge figures (even if, um, Ethan’s prime example is Paul Simon).
For the most part, these artists and blogs/collectives have grown over the years: increasing their number of collaborators and contributors (and encouraging kindred blogs to pop up — word to Generation Bass and Dave Quam), consistently broadening musical horizons (and, often, sustaining interest in former flavors-of-the-month), and expanding their range of operations to go well beyond “writing” a blog. Having effectively created markets and nurtured scenes around a particularly weighted (get low), open-eared approach to electronic dance music — heavily Afro/diasporic in style & militantly, but rarely smoothly, hybridized — many of the long-running blogs in this vein have launched their own record labels over the last year or so, largely specializing in digital releases.
Moving beyond simply posting mp3s found on 4shared, or YouTube embeds, or rips from “pirate” CDrs — all of these valuable activities, of course, which continue apace — and into actually “releasing” (& sometimes selling) music from the people and places they find themselves drawn to, or from a network of producers inspired to make something new out of these distinctive but overlapping styles from around the world, is an interesting development, to say the least, for whatever we want to call this scene.
Some of the releases by these global bass blogs come from expected (as well as unexpected) bassy hotspots of the Global South, some are fashioned in the multiculti metropoles, and a lot of it blurs these lines so much it frustrates categorization. While the output has varied quite a bit across these labels’ efforts, in general the releases seem, significantly, to emphasizes whirledliness over worldliness — the latter is in there too, but generally as ordinary if not intimate cosmopolitan experience, not fanciful, distanced exoticism.
Take the following cross-section: from Dutty Artz, CIAfrica‘s decidedly rough textures or Lamin‘s disarming synths; from Mad Decent, the 3Ball MTY kids, who source their materials via random YouTube walks and (already!) remix commissions; or Botswana’s Ruff Riddims crew releasing reggaeton-inflected kwasa-house (which can’t get play on the radio in Botswana, ironically, because it’s not hip-hop or reggae enough) through Berlin’s Faluma; or Masalacism putting out Haitian-Canadian kreole-rap over dubstep-dripped beats; or Dave Quam initiating Free Bass with some footwork-inspired, hermetic jukery c/o a Washington-based teenager; or Ghetto Bassquake making all kinds of Hackney high life (including stellar remixes by Chief Boima and Uproot Andy, no strangers to the scene).
What’s great is how these blogs, having initially demonstrated their openearedness and got tagged (or self tagged) as cued into the world / whirled / global / ghetto / tropical / bass thing, are now participating in it at another level entirely. It’s a moment full of possibilities and risks. And, yes, a time for #realtalk, as Tally put it, tossing the bloggy guantlet just the other day —
But I want to make sure our extended family understands what moves we are making, and why. This isnt abo’ut selling more albums then mad decent, or having hyper raves parties then trouble and bass. We are creating a sustainable business model that allows for our work to reach the world AND provide us with the resources to continue pushing beyond ourselves. Major changes are in order- and I dont want any of you- our extended DA family – to be left behind. One of the most important tenants we follow is transparency. WE ARNT TRYING TO HIDE BEHIND BIZ3RRE MARKETING AND EXPENSIVE GRAPHIC DESIGN. WE JUST DO THIS FOR OUR PEOPLE SO YOU KNOW Y’ALL CAN HAVE IT.
I’m gonna run a follow-up post, of sorts, in a day or two, trying to keep the #realtalk flowing by discussing a few other approaches in this weird “world” world. This is where the rubber meets the iPhone, seen.
The same thing that animates Goodman’s conjuring of a “Planet of Drums,” nodding to Mike Davis, is precisely what might be termed a “pan-Ghetto” condition. (But don’t get me started on “pan-Ghetto diaspora” — I have no idea what that means.) And the power inequalities Goodman emphasizes, not least the control over increasingly targeted and militarized urban soundscapes — ironically, according to Goodman, a contest fostering, with wicked feedback, all manner of resonant and recombinant electronic dance musics — are also the animating forces propelling the “global bass” scene, or wot-ever-u-call-it. (Don’t ask me.)
So before we too quickly condemn (all politically-correct-like) the invocation of the ghetto as a certain global locus, we should remember that an address to and across the world’s ghettos is often quite explicit in a lot of this music. I was reminded of this yesterday morning via Twitter as well, this time by Samim (another interesting node in the circulation of these sounds — in his case, as a cumbia smuggler), thanks to the following video produced by Maga Bo, but as his collaborator Teba says in the intro, “for all the ghetto youth dem all over the world” –
I’ll leave you with Bo’s video description at the YouTube page, which puts plenty of blogposts to shame. Note the amount of context and credit he provides. At once, translation and production:
After many visits to South Africa, connecting with the African Dope Records crew – Fletcher, Teba, Sibot, and Max Normal in particular, DJing all over SA from Cape Town to Joburg, producing and recording music, here is the third video clip to accompany my record, “Archipelagoes,” released recently on Soot Records. “Nqayi feat. Teba.” was also chosen to represent the sound of Cape Town on the latest African Dope Records compilation, “Cape of Good Dope 2.”
The video was shot over 2 days in Guguletu, probably Cape Town’s most notorious township and Teba’s home turf – with all borrowed equipment – borrowed camera, boom box, the car on loan, people leting us into their houses to film. Back in the day, Teba was a member of the super successful kwaito group Skeem, which put out several albums before he left to do more socially conscious work. He now leads workshops in lyric writing and gumboot dancing (!), is part of the African Dope Sound System, has his own live band and has collaborated with the likes of Stereotyp and SiBot.
A slow hybrid baile funk/macumba/ragga beat sung in Xhosa and English, the lyrics talk about the difficulties faced by youth in townships today and how society tries to force them to drink and take drugs. Nqayi means baldhead and refers to fake rastas posturing themselves, but then bending over to the pressures of society and shaving their locks. An interesting element of the lyrics to this track are in the chorus where he uses the Xhosa ‘q’ sound, a click made with the tongue and the roof of the mouth, as a percussive element. Check the end of the video for a quick lesson…..
Please post this to your blog, mybook, facespace, twittering twit, your neighbor’s refrigerator, the local cafe bulletin board as well as your good natured local DVD pirate or where ever you want!
Actually, I think I’ll leave the final word, for now, to Dutty Tally, writing from Rio:
Last week Dutty Artz released a lovely, largely unpredictable set of 4 tracks produced by longtime blog/label staple but debuting artist, Lamin Fofana. (You can hear & buy individual tracks at Amazon and elsewhere around the web.) I wasn’t sure what to expect, never having heard any of Lamin’s productions. Sure, I’d heard mixes and podcasts, and I knew a thing or two about what Lamin likes through his steady blogging. Oh, and that he’s been working hard behind the scenes at MuddUp radio for a couple years now. But the staggering variety of those efforts still really left me wondering.
Lamin’s obviously a great listener, and I hear What Elijah Said as audible, irrefutable evidence of that. He packs a lot into these four tracks: sudden turns, suprising textures, development, drama and arc. Resisting genre-tags-as-(forestalled)interpretation through their promiscuous relationship to stylistic orthodoxy, his productions are little worlds of music all their own.
Speaking of which, Lamin also cooked up an interesting and apt promotional mix for the EP. #Calypso doesn’t directly feature any elements from What Elijah Said, and yet on the other hand, that’s precisely what it seems to contain: another kind of crucial context, a kindred or parallel sonic universe, something into which one might pass from the EP, and back, via emergent audio wormholes of varying size and character. Slip through and loop around again, & you’ll never grow bored –
You could try to make a certain sense of Lamin’s music via his biography’s knotty routes (via DA) –
Lamin Fofana was born in the West African country of Guinea. When the political situation got bumpy, he moved to Freetown, Sierra Leone, where his routine involved listening to Goodie Mob and Organized Konfusion as well as attending Quranic schools/mosques. In 1997 Lamin’s family had to flee worsening conditions in Sierra Leone – losing friends, belongings, documents, a home. They spent several days crossing roads and bridges destroyed by rebels to prevent people from escaping. At the end of the year, Fofana found a new home in Harlem, New York, where he lives today.
But I actually think it’s the EP (and mix) which helps one to read his bio, not the other way around.
“Downstairs Bhangra” doesn’t quite have the same ring as “Basement Bhangra,” the legendary monthly at SOB’s that DJ Rekha has been holding down since 1997, but I couldn’t be happier to warm up the crowd for her this Friday at one of Cambridge’s biggest local venues, downstairs at the Middle East.
I’m looking forward to playing through that big ol’ soundsystem, especially since Rekha has requested that I bring some good dubby vibes to the party. She also tasked me with the interesting challenge of playing stuff “suggestive of” but not actually bhangra — and she noted that dancehall works pretty well. Even so, I’m not going to be able to resist pulling out a couple classic tracks here and there, especially some seminal early 90s productions by Bally Sagoo, which still sound to me like quasi-proto-reggaeton and which, as early as 1992, seem to prefigure all the various shapes that modern/pop/club bhangra would take over the next couple decades. Sometimes in the same song!
The young Moroccan at the music stand didn’t get that I was looking for vinyl. I’ve searched for records all around the world, and been shot the same puzzled looks and second-guesses many times before. “CD?” he asked in accented English. “No, the old ones,” I countered, approximating twelve inches with my hands. “You know: big, black.”
He uttered a groan and tossed his head, returning his attention to a rack of small discs with photocopied covers that apparently deserved a careful rearranging.
“Everyone threw those away,” he said with his back to me. “Bullshit,” I thought.
Wherever I dig, I refuse to think that these stubborn digitalists don’t know at least one old neighborhood jazz cat or a parent or grandparent who held onto their clunky plastic music platters.
Sam’s own stubbornness eventually leads him to a trove of sorts c/o Gam Boujemaa, a longtime record collector & seller in Casablanca. A stockpile of vinyl, yes, but great stories too — telling tales about how vinyl from all over the world ended up in one little shop in western Morocco. For anyone who caught Boima’s provocative post last week about the neo-colonialism of digging for records in Africa, no doubt some sentiments in Sam’s piece will seem familiar, irksome even. (Check the rather interesting and contentious debate which has erupted in the comments! Fresh wounds all around.)
Given the trenchant questions Boima raises, I need to note how much I appreciate the nuance and ironies in Sam’s narrative. For all the notes of romance and curiosity that animate his search, he also shows the digger of today — i.e., guys like Sam — to be following, if in a sort of reverse, the steps of diggers before him — guys like Gam — with their own desires to transform themselves, by collecting just the right things, into something else, other, cosmopolitan, cool:
Gam Boujemaa sold newspapers on the street until he turned twenty. By that time, it was 1964, and he had heard enough jazz and seen enough Marlon Brando movies to know he wanted to own a leather jacket and sell the day’s best music to a cosmopolitan clientele.
The city was, and still is, a world away from Fez and Marrakech, the ancient trading hubs of the Moroccan interior where the smells of mint, olives, and live animals pervade all commerce. Casablanca had an Atlantic orientation that brought the Beatles and Otis Redding to Gam’s attention, and to his record store’s shelves years before his countrymen in the Atlas Mountains could know that rock and roll or R&B even existed. …
With between thirty and forty thousand records lining the shelves of his store on Boulevard de Paris, Gam isn’t the explorer he used to be. Some locals bring him their old collections, but his main business is selling to foreigners. French, British, Dutch, and Turkish collectors dominate his clientele nowadays, but the store recalls the time just after Moroccan independence from France when Gam’s excitement brought the newest sounds from overseas to his shop.
For example, between 1966 and 1970, Gam added thousands of Bollywood film 45s to his stock. Then, in 1970, he turned the store’s name into its own music label. He released records by popular singer Naima Samih, and drafted the folk-influenced troupe Jil Jilala to his imprint.
I like that Sam calls Gam an explorer. There’s a sense of commonality there, of certain shared notions and practices, despite their differences. And I like that the portrait Sam offers of Gam complicates too easy a reading of how either of their activities fit into an imperial/colonial order. But I’ll leave further analysis to the hive mind for now.
Instead, let’s let the music speak a little too, if thru Sam’s filter. Here’s the mix Sam made to accompany the Wax Poetics piece, featuring records he picked up in Casablanca and Fez, & liberated from its streaming-only status by yours truly and DownloadHelper:
Complicating things further, Sam offers up another “hand-dug” (his term) gem — this one “exclusive” to W&W — for our listening and debating pleasures. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it brings us into contact with another hot-spot for contemporary cool-vinyl hunters: Amazonian cumbia. Although he turned up the following track in Lima, it’s by Costa Rican soloist and bandleader Alfredo Barrantes, who found such success in Ecuador he became known as “EL PILOTO DE LOS EXITOS” (THE PILOT OF HITS). Note the telltale snaps’n’crackles at the outset:
Incidentally, if you dig sounds like these, we’ve got a real treat coming up in a couple of weeks: on Oct 4, alongside El G and the Frikstailers, representing the digital cumbia of the ZZK collective (!!!), we’ve also got Michael Pigott of Mass Tropicas, a label based in Western Massachusetts specializing in ethically-licensed high quality vinyl reissues of obscure Amazonian cumbia. I’ll be posting in greater detail about that in the coming weeks. But be sure to put Oct 4 on your calendars. It’s gonna be cumbiariffic!
Finally, if you’re looking for a sense of what he might sound like in the mix, here’s a relatively recent and wide-ranging set c/o Balagan:
In anticipation of tomorrow’s opening session of MIT’s Sensing the Unseen series, which, in October, will bring to campus Steven Feld — a scholar of music and sound who has deeply influenced both my field (ethnomusicology) and my own work — I am re-posting yet another riddimmeth0dmashup. This particular mash was even more of a conceptual joke than most of the others I’ve made, and the tongue-in-cheek write-up should attest to that. I’m not sure it’s particularly funny, nor whether all the irony comes through, but I still chuckle when I think about “entomusicology” and “avian sonic subjectivities.” I hope you do too.
As for Dr. Feld, I kinda hope he never gets wind of this. While I was thrilled to be asked to serve as discussant for his talk in October, I’m also fairly intimidated by the prospect. His work is rigorous, often challenging, and usually takes me some time to absorb. (I still try to read this essay, perhaps my favorite piece on the semiotics of music and the mechanics of the listening process, at least once a year; and there’s no writing about “world music” — which y’all know I like to do — without reckoning with this and this.) Trying to riff on Feld’s talk in more-or-less real time will be a challenge to say the least. That said, I am really looking forward to it! If you’re interested in sensorium (and sound) studies, and you happen to be in the Cambridge area, please join us for any and all.
first, i should note that the temporal convergence of these sounds — i.e., morning — presents one of several significant unities brought out by the juxtaposition of the two recordings. despite this obvious alignment, however, the sounds and sound qualities — a product as much of the microphones, media, and mastering as their specific spatial sites — are rather different in a variety of ways, and these divergences are similarly highlighted by their simultaneous sounding. the resulting tensions across the mash’s spatio-temporal resonances produce an alternating, enveloping effect/affect of location and dislocation.
indeed, by bringing together here several geographically-distinct but diurnally-linked sound sources, the mashup displaces as it triggers one’s sonically-informed sense of place. as the sounds of the new zealand forest, in characteristic form, lift-up-over the southeast asian soundscapes, what emerges is an acoustic ecology that is — at once — here and there, where and frere.
along these lines, what i find most striking about this mashup is the way it calls our attention to the overlapping qualities between the two sound sources in question. it has long been my (casual) hypothesis that the bugs of southeast asia have influenced, as they have been influenced by, the bugs, birds, and waterfalls of new zealand. indeed, a cursory glance at migratory patterns and informal pitch- and rhythm-based analyses suggest that not only do the dragonflies in question appear to “riff” off the unique sounds of the bosavi rainforest, the latter sounds themselves appear “broken-hearted” in their warbles and woops. in these intertextual moments, such seemingly serendipitous combinations reveal themselves to be, perhaps, less than coincidental, to be — indeed — crucial to the constitution of insect and avian sonic subjectivities, not to mention human ones.
as such audible interplay pushes the very edges of ento-/ornitho-musicology (two fields in which i am, admittedly, but a dabbler), i humbly submit this sonic example as an outsider’s ear’s view on worlds heretofore unconnected in the acoustic imagination and yet, as you can hear, deeply and soundly intertwined.
Apropos of noticing, this marks the 700th post since I moved this blog to my own server, way back in October 2006 — almost exactly 4 years ago, and well before Google/Blogspot starting alienating users en-masse. That’s a lotta posts, and I want to thank all of you who read here on occasion for the support, criticism, love, and feedback in general. (Speaking of, I also recently passed the 4000 comment mark — spam free! — which is maybe even more impressive than 700 posts.) As loyal readers know, I wax and wane like the name, and I’m grateful to those who can deal with the ebb and flow. Recently, it’s been more ebb than flow, but as you know, I’ve got my reasons. (Two of them, mainly.)
So, I thought I’d celebrate, and wax a little, with classic bit of “linkthink” for ya, mostly w&w + extended fam related –
First, I want to point you all to the latest helping of bass baditude c/o of my pardner in Beat Research, DJ Flack. Last month Flack boiled down a really tasty mix, full of weighted bangers, including a number of his own, for Mad EP‘s radio show. It’s a great distillation of the sort of set he’s been rocking on Mondays at the Enormous Room, so if you like what you hear, come catch him live. I love how the mix brings Flack’s own bouncy, tuneful productions into conversation with the music that inspires him (from dub to garage, & lots in between). You can see the tracklist and grab the mix here, or head over to Soundcloud if you prefer that – StepDropAndRoll by dj_flack
Speaking of my man MadEP/MattyP, I was just enjoying one of his own latest productions last week, thanks to !Kaboogie records, which is releasing an EP on Sept 20 including heat from MadEP, Ed Devane, the Banker, and Sarsparilla. As I listened to MadEP’s track, which features at least 3 or 4 distinct species of bass, through headphones last week, I was struck by how the lows were resonating not only my eardrums but my cranium, face, and down into my neck. As I noted on Google Buzz (yeah, I still use that), “i thought my brain was gonna leak out my nose for a minute.” Which Matty took as a high compliment, which it was. Another charming part of the track is that it includes some vocal cameos from one of Matty’s dear kids, who, I’m told by proud pops, also helped design the bass-patch on the track! Now that’s proper parenting. (And if you want a true testament to his superdaddiness, read this tweet from last night!)
I’d also like to point people to the episode of WNYC’s Soundcheck that I appeared on a couple weeks ago. Our “world music 2.0″ convo will have familiar contours for many longtime readers, but I thought it was a nice summation of some of the major differences between what formerly (and still) gets marketed as “world music” and what a lot of us have been hearing as the music of a new “world,” a world of increasingly interconnected technologies and societies and marked by shared urban signifiers, random walks on YouTube, and banging club beats. I didn’t get to say everything I would have liked to, nor did I say everything the way that I would given a second chance, but that’s live radio for ya! (In particular, though, I want to note that I misspoke when I said that DJ Tito was sampling a reggaeton vocalist — actually it was mambo/merengue — and when I placed kuduro in “Brazil” rather than Angola/Luanda — total brain failures on those two.) You can access it here, or just stream it below. And don’t miss host John Schaefer’s sympathetic take on laptopping teens of the whirled vs. “rich producers manufacturing world music supergroups.”
In other news, I gotta thank Christina Xu once again for spotting yet the latest allusion to the good ole “zunguzung meme.” If you haven’t heard it yet, Vybz Kartel’s new track, “Whine (Wine),” produced by Max Glazer of Federation Sound, employs our familiar zig-zagging friend as a recurring, structural element (rather than a one-off reference)!
And I want to send a shout to Dan Hancox, who published an interesting, apparently provocative piece in the Guardian on “treble culture,” aka, “sodcasting” in London. It reads largely as a defense and celebration of the practice, and as such it invited a fairly strong bit of opposition in the comments. Since I’m still polishing up my own essay on the phenomenon, I’m grateful for the plenty more grist for the mill this provides. Also, to Dan for quoting me in the piece! e.g., –
On London buses, I’ve seen middle-aged gay couples playing South American pop on a wet Saturday afternoon, moody raver mums sodcasting acid house from their glory years; it’s not just the preserve of teenagers with attitude problems.
Nor, contrary to popular belief, is it an especially recent phenomenon, says the American anthropologist and musicologist Wayne Marshall, who is currently researching what he calls “treble culture”. “Sodcasting could fit into a time-honoured tradition of playing music in public as surely as reggae sound systems or the drums of Congo Square, never mind their antecedents,” he says. “Transistor radios and ghetto blasters are both good examples of a longstanding history of people making music mobile. The case of the transistor radio shows that people have long been willing to sacrifice fidelity to portability; while the ghetto blaster reminds us that defiantly and ostentatiously broadcasting one’s music in public is part of a history of sonically contesting spaces and drawing the lines of community, especially through what gets coded as ‘noise’.”
Finally, I want to point people to the Library of Vinyl blog, where Pacey Foster shares exciting news about becoming the trusted keeper of a trove of early Boston hip-hop demo tapes, as well as to b-ball blog supreme Freedarko, where I’ve got a guest post discussing this incredible cassette:
FD’s Bethlehem Shoals asked me if I might write up an “imaginary archaeology” of the thing, and since I can’t actually find anything on the interwebs about either the mysterious TROLL ASSOCIATES or the beat-boxing, tape-head-rocking Double D Crew, who have forcibly occupied the cassette since the mid-80s, that’s about the best I’ll be able to do at any rate. So here goes an attempt to channel my inner Dave Tompkins–
On one very merry late 70s Christmas morning, a young Markie D, yet to rise to local stardom as one of Boston’s several answers to Doug E. Fresh, found in his stocking a cassette boasting amazing contents: basketball “SUPER THINK” according to Julius Erving. Released by the suspicious but nonetheless seemingly credible TROLL ASSOCIATES, Dr. J’s informational and inspirational spoken-word performance had a reportedly noticeable effect on Markie’s ability to penetrate the perimeter. But when those dividends dried up around the same time hip-hop came to town, the tape was — somewhat ceremoniously — taped over, scotch guarding the knocked-out knockout tabs that tell cassette-players to keep their heads to themselves. (As noted clearly on the cassette, duplication was prohibited, but the word was mum on overdubbing.) For several years the tape played host to the latest greatest raps one could catch on the airwaves, or copy via visiting cousins from New York.
Eventually, it served as the eye-popping receptacle of 9 minutes of beatbox fury, bragadocious cautionary tales, and reverb freakouts, carefully packed and mailed to DJ Magnus, whose “Lecco’s Lemmas” radio show on WMBR (and later WZBC) was fast becoming the primary platform for the Bean’s aspiring rap talents, including a young, recently-relocated-to-Brooklyn M.C. Keithy E (aka, the late, great Guru of Gang Starr). The broadcast of these 9 minutes may have warped more minds than the TROLL ASSOCIATES’ original and perhaps even taught more listeners the proper method for driving the lane despite that the wisdom of Dr. J had by this point been encrypted into a series of throat clicks, pursed-lip bass bombs, and allusions to famous German automatons counting in Spanish.
We’re happy to welcome Kingdom back to Beat Research this coming Monday, Sept. 13. Readers of this blog need no intro to one of the dopest producers/DJs working the decks in the global bass scene these days. But if you haven’t checked his latest EP, That Mystic (Night Slugs), you need to get right on that (hear it here). Once again, the man delivers a clique of new tracks that work that half-time/double-time hinge where crunk and garage exchange digits, where things get all kinds of hazy clubby funky, and where chirping synths and warbling diva shards conspire to steal some of that low-end thunder.
Dude stays grinding, DJing constantly while managing to whip up fresh tracks and chunky mixes on the regular. I don’t know how he does it, but I’m happy to bear witness (and, on Monday, play host). If you haven’t been keeping up, go treat yourself to his summer mix for FACT magazine (which is no longer up at FACT but can be found around town). Or, if you’ve really been sleeping, go and DL his legendary set for Discobelle from last fall. It still holds up like a mofo, rare in an age of online DJ mixes for days and daze.
I guess I’ll have to hold off this Monday when it comes to playing a track like “Fogs,” which has insinuated itself into many recent sets of mine, leaving the man to his own oeuvre — all the better to hear how he sutures it to something else. The last time Kingdom came through — indeed, everytime — he played an impeccably bouncy, dark, deep mix of tunes, and the E Room felt like just the right setting. Come catch some feelings with us this time around.
Next week I begin teaching my second course at MIT. It’s a new syllabus, though it draws on certain materials I’ve used before. In contrast to previous offerings, however, this will be the first time I teach a class with a primary focus on reggae outside of Jamaica — on what I’m calling here “global reggae” or “reggae as transnational culture.”
No doubt we’ll encounter a good number of themes resonant with the inextricably related subject of global hip-hop. But I’m also keen to identify particular dimensions of reggae’s transmission and transformation abroad that might, for significant reasons, diverge from the reception and refiguring of hip-hop around the world. We’ll let you know ;)
Meantime, if you happen to know any MIT students to whom this sort of course would appeal, by all means point them this-a-way. And if you spot any conspicuous absences in the syllabus below — a work-in-progress, as always — please do point them out, make recommendations, & feel free to offer critiques, supplements, and blessings.
21F.035 / 21M.539 Topics in Culture and Globalization
Global Reggae: Reggae as Transnational Culture
Mellon Fellow in the Humanities
Foreign Languages and Literatures
Music and Theater Arts
Tuesday/Thursday 12:30-2:00 pm
Reggae is incontestably one of the most popular musics in the world. Despite its origins in the working-class urban culture of the relatively small country of Jamaica, reggae artists have powerfully projected their voices outward (in part via the imperial networks of the UK and USA) and one can hear reggae today in almost any corner of the globe—not just Jamaican reggae, but local versions and fusions with nearly every other conceivable genre. Reggae precedes the global reach of its progeny, hip-hop, but, in its dancehall guise, it has also in turn piggybacked on hip-hop’s own impressive international spread. As remix approaches and massive sound systems have become increasingly common worldwide, reggae stands as a remarkably influential template for world music, electronic dance music, and popular music more generally. Itself constituted by international flows of music and musicians but increasingly produced outside of Jamaica, reggae thus offers a rich resource for the examination of today’s global circulations of music and media.
This course considers reggae, or Jamaican popular music more generally—in its various forms (ska, rocksteady, roots, dancehall)—as constituted by international movements and exchanges and as a product that circulates globally in complex ways, cast variously as Jamaican, Caribbean, Afrodiasporic, and/or black, and recast through the cultural logics of the new spaces it enters, the new soundscapes it permeates. By reading across the reggae literature, as well as considering reggae texts themselves (songs, films, videos, and images), we will scrutinize the different interpretations of reggae’s significance and the implications of different interpretations of the story of Jamaica and its music. We will attend in particular to how reggae informs notions of selfhood and nationhood, race and ethnicity, gender and sexuality, religion and politics—in particular places and at particular times.
Although Bob Marley still serves as the most ubiquitous symbol of reggae (and, indeed, of Jamaica), the reggae tradition and repertory go far deeper and represent a great deal to listeners and practitioners. In its shifting shapes and forms the genre has served for four decades as a potent symbol of independence and social critique, communitarian commitment as well as rugged individualism. While certain core values appear regularly in reggae, the genre also offers a rather flexible palette for a wide range of ideological positions, from Pan-Africanism and other forms of transnationalism to utterly provincial nationalism, from peaceful and respectful postures to aggressive machismo and militancy, from tolerance to its own forms of oppression. Perhaps most notably, reggae has made such scripts of personhood and nationhood available not only to Jamaicans but to people around the world who have adopted the genre’s gestures as their own.
Beginning with a consideration of how Jamaica’s popular music industry emerged out of transnational exchanges, the course will proceed to focus on reggae’s circulation outside of Jamaica via diasporic networks and commercial mediascapes. Attending to how the genre’s pliable but distinct forms have been, in turn, transformed in particular localities, the course will help to illuminate ongoing dynamics between the global and local. Among other sites, we will consider reggae’s resonance and impact elsewhere in the Anglo Caribbean (e.g., Trinidad, Barbados), the United Kingdom (including British reggae styles but also such progeny as jungle, grime, and dubstep), the United States (both as reggae per se and in hip-hop), France and Germany, Panama and Puerto Rico and other Latin American locales (e.g., Brazil), Japan and Australia, as well as West, South, and East Africa (Côte d’Ivoire, Tanzania, Uganda).
Bilby, Kenneth. “Jamaica.” In Caribbean Currents: Caribbean Music from Rumba to Reggae, ed. Peter Manuel, 143-182. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1995.
Veal, Michael. Dub: Soundscapes & Shattered Songs in Jamaican Reggae. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2007. [Intro & ch. 1, p. 1-44]
Thomas, Deborah. “Modern Blackness; or, Theoretical ‘Tripping’ on Black Vernacular Culture.” In Modern Blackness: Nationalism, Globalization, and the Politics of Culture in Jamaica, 230-62. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2004.
Jones, Simon. Black Culture, White Youth: The Reggae Tradition from JA to UK. London: Macmillan, 1988. [ch. 2, 4, Conclusion, p. 33-56, 87-118, 231-40.]
Gilroy, Paul. “Between the Blues and the Blues Dance: Some Soundscapes of the Black Atlantic.” In The Auditory Culture Reader, ed. Michael Bull and Les Back, 381-95. Oxford and New York: Berg Publishers, 2003.
Hebdige, Dick. Cut’n’Mix: Culture, Identity, and Caribbean Music. London: Routledge, 1987. [ch. 11-12, p. 90-117]
Sharma, Sanjay. “Noisy Asians or ‘Asian’ Noise?” [p. 32-60] & Shirin Housee & Mukhtar Dar, “Re-Mixing Identities: ‘Off’ the Turn-Table” [p. 81-104]. In Dis-Orienting Rhythms: The Politics of the New Asian Dance Music. London: Zed Books, 1996.
Quinn, Steven. “Rumble In The Jungle: The Invisible History of Drum’n’Bass.” Transformations, No. 3 (May 2002): 1-12.
Stephens, Michelle A. “Babylon’s ‘Natural Mystic’: The North American Music Industry, the Legend of Bob Marley, and the Incorporation of Transnationalism.” Cultural Studies Vol. 12, No. 2 (1998): 139–167.
Watch: excerpts from Sound Class, Marked for Death, Belly, Predator 2
Putnam, Lara. “The Weekly Reggee: The Greater Caribbean Jazz Age and Youth Dances in Limon, Costa Rica, 1930-1932.” Unpublished/forthcoming.
Twickel, Christoph. “Reggae in Panama: Bien Tough.” & “Muévelo (Move It!): From Panama to New York and Back Again, the Story of El General.” In Reggaeton, ed. Rivera, Marshall, and Pacini-Hernandez, 81-88 & 99-108. Durham: Duke University Press, 2009.
Nwankwo, Ifeoma C. K. “The Panamanian Origins of Reggae en Español: Seeing History through ‘Los Ojos Café’ of Renato.” In Reggaeton, ed. Rivera, Marshall, and Pacini-Hernandez, 89-98. Durham: Duke University Press, 2009.
Giovannetti, Jorge L. “Popular Music and Culture in Puerto Rico: Jamaican and Rap Music as Cross-Cultural Symbols.” In Musical Migrations: Transnationalism and Cultural Hybridity in the Americas, ed. Frances R. Aparicio and Cándida F. Jáquez, 81-98. New York: Palgrave, 2003.
Flores, Juan. 2004. “Creolité in the ‘Hood: Diaspora as Source and Challenge.” Centro 16, no. 2 (Fall): 283-289.
Marshall, Wayne. “From Música Negra to Reggaeton Latino.” In Reggaeton, ed. Rivera, Marshall, and Pacini-Hernandez, 19-76. Durham: Duke University Press, 2009.
Davis, Samuel Furé. “Reggae in Cuba and the Hispanic Caribbean: fluctuations and representations of identities.” Black Music Research Journal Vol. 29, No. 1 (Spring 2009): 25-50.
Hansing, Katrin. “Rasta, Race and Revolution: Transnational Connections in Socialist Cuba.” Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, Vol. 27, No. 4 (2001): 733 – 747.
Baker, Geoffrey. 2009. “The Politics of Dancing.” In Reggaeton, eds. Rivera, Marshall, and Pacini-Hernandez, 165-99. Durham: Duke University Press, 2009.
Fairley, Jan. 2008. “How To Make Love With Your Clothes On: Dancing Regeton, Gender and Sexuality in Cuba.” In Reggaeton, eds. Rivera, Marshall, and Pacini-Hernandez, 280-96. Durham: Duke University Press, 2009.
Behague, Gerard. “Rap, Reggae, Rock, or Samba: The Local and the Global in Brazilian Popular Music (1985-95).” Latin American Music Review 27, no. 1 (Spring/Summer 2006): 79-90.
de Araújo Pinho, Osmundo. “‘Fogo na Babilônia’: Reggae, Black Counterculture, and Globalization in Brazil.” In Brazilian Popular Music & Globalization, ed. Charles A. Perrone and Christopher Dunn (New York: Routledge, 2001), 192-206.
dos Santos Godi, Antonio J. V. “Reggae and Samba-Reggae in Bahia: A Case of Long-Distance Belonging.” In Brazilian Popular Music & Globalization, ed. Charles A. Perrone and Christopher Dunn (New York: Routledge, 2001), 207-219.
Neate, Patrick and Damian Platt. Culture Is Our Weapon: Afroreggae in the Favelas of Rio [ch 3, 4, 7, 8].
Goodman, Steve. Sonic Warfare: Sound, Affect, and the Ecology of Fear. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2009. [ch. 31, p. 171-5]
Watch: excerpts from Favela Rising, Favela on Blast
WEST, EAST, AND SOUTHERN AFRICA
Akindes, Simon. “Playing It ‘Loud and Straight’: Reggae, Zouglou, Mapouka and Youth Insubordination in Côte d’Ivoire.” In Playing with Identities in Contemporary Music in Africa, ed. Mai Palmberg & Annemette Kirkegaard, 86-103. Nordic Africa Institute, 2002.
McNee, Lisa. “Back From Babylon: Popular Musical Cultures of the Diaspora, Youth Culture and Identity in Francophone West Africa.” In Music, Popular Culture, Identities, ed. Richard Young, 213-228. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2002.
Savishinsky, Neil J. “Rastafari in the Promised Land: The Spread of a Jamaican Socioreligious Movement among the Youth of West Africa.” African Studies Review Vol. 37, No. 3 (Dec 1994): 19-50.
Remes, Pieter. “Global Popular Musics and Changing Awareness of Urban Tanzanian Youth.” Yearbook for Traditional Music, Vol. 31 (1999): 1-26.
Gilman, Lisa and John Fenn. “Dance, Gender, and Popular Music in Malawi: The Case of Rap and Ragga.” Popular Music Vol. 25, No. 3 (2006): 369-81.
Sterling, Marvin D. Babylon East: Performing Dancehall, Roots Reggae and Rastafari in Japan. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2010. [Intro, ch. 1, 3, 5, 6]
Dresinger, Baz. “Tokyo After Dark.” Vibe, 2002.
Wood, Joe. “The Yellow Negro.” Transition 73 (1997): 40-67.
AUSTRALIA & BALI
Maxwell, Ian. “Sydney Stylee: Hip-Hop Down Under Comin’ Up.” In Global Noise: Rap and Hip-Hop Outside the USA, ed. Tony Mitchell, 259-79. Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 2001.
White, Cameron. “Rapper on a Rampage: Theorising the Political Significance of Aboriginal Australian Hip Hop and Reggae.” Transforming Cultures eJournal, Vol. 4 No 1 (April 2009): 108-130.
Baulch, Emma. Making Scenes: Reggae, Punk, and Death Metal in 1990s Bali. Durham: Duke University Press, 200 [ch. 3, p. 73-90]
That’s it, for now. There are plenty of holes that I’m aware of (anything on roots reggae in Cuba, say [update: after one day of comments, that's been ameliorated; new readings now above!]), and surely plenty more that I’m not. Then again, I’m finding the extant literature on local reggae scenes outside of Jamaica fairly impoverished at the moment. (Nothing on Italian sound systems? Really?) The course can’t exactly be comprehensive — we only have so much time — but I would love for this post to serve as a spot for collecting some good materials. So, as they say inna di dancehall, send on!
As it happens, this week a new Vijay Iyer album came out, Solo. And it just so happens that for the recording Vijay decided to take on one of my absolute dearest jazz compositions. (He also plays through “Human Nature” and “Darn That Dream,” two cheeseball songs I find quite endearing; it’s like he’s daring me to make more mashups!) Vijay’s “African Flower” reworks Duke Ellington’s “Fleurette Africaine,” which I know (&love*) from the sublime session with Charles Mingus and Max Roach that yielded Money Jungle.
Considering that Ellington and Mingus are, for realz, my two favorite jazz composers — & that each cultivated unique voices on their instruments (as did Roach) — the album has long held a special place in my life / collection. Mingus’s fluttering bassline, and then his melodic moaning during the B section of the composition, make my heart ache. And I love the idea, as widely reported and fairly audible, that the session had its share of tension, with Mingus playing almost aggressively “out” while Ellington maintains composure, Roach’s tuned-toms knitting it all together.
As a solo take, Vijay doesn’t have to contend with any bandmates playing at cross-purposes, but somehow, one imagines, he needs to sublimate the engaging energies of Money Jungle into his own performance. (Or maybe not. I suppose we’d have to ask him whether the composition itself served as his guide, or whether his experience hearing Duke&co. play the tune has indelibly stamped it.) To my ears, Vijay’s version is at once reverent and distinctive, as the process of lining these up demonstrated to me in great detail — and hopefully as this mashup will suggest to you.
About the process: while the making of “Galangs” was relatively clear cut, the very same procedure in this case presented some serious technical and ethico-aesthetic challenges. MIA’s “Galang” is, of course, rather metronomic, since it moves to a drum-machine / programmed / quantized beat, and since Vijay & his trio-mates attempt to emulate that consistency, it was neither difficult, nor IMO problematic, to warp the two recordings and line them up. With “African Flowers,” however, there was no such steadiness; rather, Duke & co., although pretty odd-swingingly propulsive, are rather elastic in their relation to each other and the pulse, and Vijay, playing the tune solo, takes some rubato liberties to be sure.
So even though both recordings have palpable pulses — and indeed, Mingus and Roach, for all their outtitude, still play rhythm section — it felt a little odd / wrong to snap them onto a grid. But there’s no making a mashup without that level of correspondence, unless one wants cacophony, and that does not a good mashup make. So I made a deal with the Ableton devil and disciplined each to a click-track.
One thing I (re*)learned while warping them is that “African Flower” is not as straightforward as it sounds. Despite its stately sadness and surface simplicity, it contains some surprising twists, including one place where a measure seems to skip a beat. Grappling with this through Vijay’s performance, and then again on Duke’s, I was thrilled to hear, in the end, that they generally lined up.
But while they shared the same underlying form, the process of juxtaposing the two also brought to my attention some remarkable macro and micro differences. In the end, I again struck a compromise with regard to whose performance I would “subordinate” to the other. I decided to favor the brevity of Duke & co.’s rendition, so I chopped off the latter half of Vijay’s performance, essentially a repeat run through the changes, with all the signal differences one expects of a great jazz musician. At the same time, I decided to loop Duke & co. in order to leave in tact Vijay’s creative stretching of the form whereby he repeats the first section (12 bars) of the tune (after a 4-bar intro), as you see in the screenshot below. In the end, just one splice a piece, essentially –
Once I started mucking around with the snap-to-pulse stuff, certain dilemmas arose with regard to what degree of manipulation I would employ. Sometimes the whole point (of jazz, etc.) is that the musicians play a chord or a figure a little before or after the beat. As much as possible, I wanted to maintain the individual approaches of each performance, so as to bring them into greater relief when combined. In the end, I did my best to strike a balance between preserving the original feel of each while letting them line up when not too coercive a procedure. Perhaps only Vijay, or an astute mashup-analyst, will discern the micro-tweaks of tempo and articulation.
Even though I’ve done some quasi-violent clobbering of an occasional gesture, I’d like to think, as with any of these endeavors, that the mashup I’ve made justifies its existence as more than an exercise in arithmetic, but rather, as living up to the new math of the form.
But that’s a question I’ll leave to y’all.
Here’s the mashup, again in video form to help listeners track the changes and the degree of overlap / departure. One thing I’ve done in this case is to split the audio in the stereofield (Vijay on the left, Duke & co. on the right), to aid with hearing them in tandem. I’ll offer two different audio versions for your listening pleasures, one stereo-split and one centered/combined. It’s nice to hear Vijay playing on a nearby platform, but also to hear two pianos on the same stage. (Because the effect was so helpful, edifying even, I’ve gone ahead and made a stereo-split version of “Galangs” as well.)
* Incidentally, just in case you doubt my longstanding admiration of the composition, here’s a version of “Fluerette Africain” which I myself put together — programmed note by note, using FruityLoops! — way back in 2001: