Pardon the late notice, but for anyone who can attend, I’ll be talking today at Tufts at the annual conference of the Transnational Studies Working Group, which this year gathers around the theme: “The Sights and Sounds of Transnationalism: Sensing Through the Nation-State” (pdf).
I’m happy to report that I’ve been asked to speak as part of a “keynote panel” at noon. Even more exciting, especially given the setting, I’m thrilled to have been invited to talk about, when it comes down to it, my favorite form of publication: this here blog. Importantly, this means that I’ll also be noting the crucial participation of all you dear readers and interlocutors, who I think of — even and especially in contentious moments — as a strong, supportive, and engaged community.
My talk is called “Imagined Community Organizing: Research Blogging as Transnational Address” (I had to add the subtitle later, fyi), and the first part of the title is an idea I’ve been playing with for a few months now (and using as a self-description here and on Twitter). Of course, me being me, I couldn’t resist a semi-self-deprecating pun, and so obviously I plan to examine the ways that I conceive of my blogging (and social media/ting more generally) both as a form of “organizing” around imagined communities (e.g., via hip-hop, reggae, reggaeton) and as an “imagined” form of community organizing.
I’ll also feel compelled to note the irony that my efforts in this realm, despite obvious enthusiasm among some academic peers, don’t (yet) really seem to count according to hiring committees. I’ve been taking some risks with this blog over the years, no doubt, and the departments I tend to apply to don’t appear ready to take certain risks themselves. See you on the other side of the sea change. (But I’ll save the semi-annual talk of my imminent joblessness for another post!)
Srsly, thanks to all of you for the affirmation and engagement that keeps me going.
For this week’s “Back Talk” — the Q&A that runs on the back page of the Phoenix — I had the pleasure to pose a few questions to Nancy Baym, a scholar who’s work (& Twitter feed) I’ve been following for a few, especially as my own research turns more to questions of music “industry” in an age of “social” media.
Nancy is coming (back) to town next week to take part in Rethink Music, “a solutions-focused conference” being staged by Berklee and MIDEM “in association with” the Berkman Center & Harvard Business School. I was also supposed to join a panel there, but I withdrew from the program a couple weeks ago based on contractual language that seemed, in short, out of step with any meaningful “rethinking” or reform of the way business gets done in “the” “industry.” (I was surprised and disappointed that the “association” with the Berkman Center failed to produce better boilerplate.)
I confess that I was lukewarm to the prospect anyway: the last thing I want to do, really, is to forestall the crash-and-burn of the current regime by sharing ideas about creativity and grassroots practice with them. (Though I’m still wondering who the audience will be for this event, given the hefty pricetag.)
At any rate, I’m happy to contribute in my own little way to any rethinking that might happen here in the next week by amplifying some of what Nancy has been thinking and writing about recently. You can read the full interview online here (the physical paper features an abridged version), but allow me to share a pull quote or two –
Does the question of “social exchange” (as opposed to economic) become more important in an age of “social media,” or just more noticeable? Where does something like (unpaid) “fan labor” fit into the equation?
Social exchange is both more noticeable and more important. It’s always been there. When I talk to musicians about what they find most rewarding in their engagements with audiences, they never talk about the fan who paid them $100 for a CD when they were only asking for $10. They talk about hearing that their music helped someone deal with a loved one’s death, they talk about realizing people had traveled far just to see them perform, they talk about receiving art that fans had been inspired to create because of their music, they talk about getting to travel and meet people in different cultures. These are all social rewards and none of them rely on social media, though they often arrive through those means.
Fans engage in unpaid labor for social reasons rather than economic ones. In fact, they often view monetary compensation as devaluing what they do, which is common in fan communities. They do what they do for one another because they want to share the pleasure they take in the music. They also do it to build their own status in fan communities. They do it because it brings more music into their inbox. They do it because it’s a way to form social relationships with the artists they love. Sometimes they do it to build a base for a career in music themselves, and some do move on from running a fan site to working for the label, but it’s rarely intended from the get-go as a way to make money. Just as people in the music industries need to recognize the social values that matter in the music ecosystem, people who think about the work fans do as exploitation need to recognize and respect the social rewards that these fans receive and value in exchange for their labors. That said, the potential for exploitation is always there and is something everyone involved should be sensitive to.
Your current research has brought you into conversation with rock stars, singer-songwriters, and globetrotting DJs. Are there ways in which certain genres lend themselves better to this moment of transition/disruption?
It’s been hard to get a pulse on this, because even within genres people are having such different experiences. Genres that are already heavily technological (like electronica) or highly personal (like singer-songwriters) lend themselves better to this era, the former because they are already game for experimenting with technology and playing with technological mediation as a means of creating connection, the latter because there is already a sense of intimacy and personal connection between musician and listener. But it’s really more about the attitude of the individual musicians and the team of people they’re working with than about the kind of music they’re making. This moment serves people who like to socialize with strangers and acquaintances, it doesn’t serve people who prefer to be private and just make music. Those differences exist within as well as across genres.
Ok, mis local locos, tonight’s the night! We’re kicking off the Together Festival 2011 with none other than Geko Jones, Dutty Artz bredrin and co-host of Que Bajo?!, NYC’s awesomest Afro-Latin dance party (& honestly, probably the best night I’ve ever had the pleasure to play at).
Do come out and welcome Geko to town & help us show him how Boston gets down –
Beat Research w/ special guest GEKO JONES
& hosts Wayne & Flack
Enormous Room (567 Mass Ave)
Central Square, Cambridge
To get ready, here’s a recent remix cooked up by Sñr Jones that I turned up over here; as Juan Data describes it –
In preparation for a Colombian carnaval event happening in New York, DJ/producer (and Qué Bajo?! co-brainchild) Geko Jones grabbed this bullerengue song by Colombian folklorist Maria Mulata and mashed it up with Frikstailers‘ “Dancehallete” from their latest EP Bicho de Luz.
The track above is rather appropriate to share today, for as it happens, I’ve roped Geko into sticking around through tomorrow (Tuesday) afternoon in order to join me at a lecture-discussion I’ll be hosting in conjunction with the Together Fest (which has organized a number of free daytime events in addition to all the stuff at night). In discussing remixes like this one, Geko will be helping me to tiptoe through the tricky turf of “electro indigeneity and powwow rhythms” — in other words, what are the implications (the pitfalls, the possibilities) of “Remixing the Traditional and the Indigenous” in our digital age?
A couple items to share, pardon the self-centeredness, but hey, this is a blog, right?
First, hot off the virtual presses: Radio Berkman has just posted a snappily edited podcast featuring yours truly in conversation with the one and only Ethan Zuckerman about world/whirled music, globalghettotech, jerkbow, tribal, moombahton, and platform politricks, among other things. Go check out the full post here (where you can also stream or DL the audio).
Second, it took the dedicated team that organized TEDxIrie just a week and half to edit & post the talks to YouTube. You can see them all here, including my own talk — which, in somewhat classic w&w form, tried to pack in a little too much and grooved a little too hard in places — but if you watch just one, it has to be Ebony Patterson’s “Fashion Ova Style” (which I’ll embed below).
For those of you who have been following some of dancehall’s style trends in recent years — whether we’re talking skinnyjeans and mantourages or bleaching — you’re no doubt aware that Jamaican masculinity appears to be undergoing some peculiar revisions. Unfortunately, a lot of the coverage of such turns — both on and beyond the island — tend toward a sort of surface sensationalism rather than a deeper grappling with their implications. But Ebony goes in DEEP in her art and her talk, and her discussion of dancehall’s “camp” dimensions and the structural relations between gender (roles and representations) and employment seems to me a thoroughly insightful reading. It helps, no doubt, that she is a genuine dancehall devotee who also works in other worlds (the art world, first and foremost).
Her talk is probably the smartest, most nuanced, and most creative engagement — Ebony is a stunning visual and conceptual artist — with these complex questions that I’ve yet to behold. I just wish you could see her art in full color, as we did on the big screen in Kingston a couple weeks ago. Nevertheless, this is well worth your time:
I’m happy to report, just in time to soundtrack that new spring in your step, that I’ve cooked up a new mini-(mega)-mix! This one follows the circulation and permutation of a song I’ve tracked herebefore, “Llorando Se Fue” — better known to the world as “Lambada.”
You can get some sense of the history here, but that Wikipedia page only scratches the surface (for now; here’s hoping this bit of mixxage can help aid expansion). I’ve been hearing the tune turn up in some unexpected places over the years — in hardcore dancehall reggae, for instance, which despite a certain capaciousness still surprises with what seem to be far-flung borrowings. As with similar projects, I’ve grown fascinated by the way such a spreadable song can draw attention to the inflections of individual interpreters as well as the very conventions that give genres their ability to uniquely address an audience.
What I’ve put together here is hardly comprehensive, but I’m not sure that’s a bad thing. For one, 15+ renditions is already pushing the limits of monotony, I suspect, despite the subtle twists and turns the tune takes in new settings; moreover, it would be quite impossible to catalog the song in full, especially given how it continues to spread. (I’m sure that J Lo’s global imperial club version will inspire many more.)
So, like Nguzunguzu’s magisterial Moments in Love, which I think of as offering another bit of inspiration for this effort, Moments in Lambada is simply an attempt to give a sense of the shape-shifting the tune undergoes. Who knows? Perhaps someday there will be a part two. (Feel free to bring to my attn any versions that seem conspicuously absent; only learned this morning that I left out a new Don Omar take!)
Whirling together a world of Lambadas is something I’ve been wanting to do for a while, but the impetus finally came in the form of an invitation to contribute to a new online magazine devoted to creative engagements with contemporary music and arts, Cluster Mag, edited & published by an enterprising dance-theory maven from here in Massachusetts, our own Max Pearl.
Over the course of the mix, we dip into forró, UK funky, dancehall, reggaeton, lambahton, lambow, norteña, global guettatech, panpipe pop, and other club-ready confections that may or may not have real or invented genre tags, with some delightful, surprisingly recurrent nods to vintage house. Palimpsests push their way through the texture, as when J Lo seems to retrace phonemes from “Llorando Se Fue” before singing along with Vakero’s everyman adaptation (“la la la la la”). Her zigzag jetset cartography in “On the Floor” could as easily be following the circulation of “Lambada” — Brazil, Morocco, London to Ibiza, straight to LA, New York, Vegas to Africa — but the earthy sentiments that Vakero expresses in a local tongue — “vamo a beber, vamo a joder” — are just as global.
Finally, after giving a listen, I challenge you to dispel the wriggly earworm embedded in this sweet song of a thousand dances, forbidden like fruit. Lambada is a feeling. Enjoy.
What is it with early April? Two days ago we mark the assassination of MLK, yesterday is the day we lost both Layne and Cobain (some years apart) — I don’t talk much about my grunge years here, but rest assured I sported mad plaid in the mid-90s — and today was the day the Rwandan genocide began in 1994, taking some 800,000 precious lives before it was over.
April 6 also marks a memorial closer to home. 12 years ago today our dear friend, Sharif Moustafa, a core member of our tight-knit West Cambridge crew and the BFF of my younger brother, suddenly collapsed on the same basketball court where we all spent countless days and nights — a court now named after him.
Thinking about Sharif — his life and his death — makes me want to write about our neighborhood and our city and things like race and religion and community, but rather than mobilize his passing for some politicking, I’d prefer to focus on Sharif here — and on the larger questions his untimely departure raised for us with regard to loss and mourning.
None of us really knew how to deal with losing a dear friend, with no warning, in the prime of his and our lives. Some dark, cathartic days followed. The strangeness of encountering Muslim forms of mourning and making peace was, I think, actually quite helpful in bringing some of us — some of us infidels, that is — to terms with an experience that seemed to resist explanation, that seemed in its own way utterly foreign.
(The Moustafas’ religious life was largely a private affair — one conducted in the privacy of their family home or outside of the neighborhood entirely, with fellow faithful in Greater Boston — and Sharif’s death was a notably rare moment where that veil was lifted.)
For my own part, inspired by the likes of “T.R.O.Y.,” which itself became endowed with new meaning in the wake of Sharif’s death, I wrote a “Song for Sharif,” an attempt to work/rap through some of the intense feelings I was having and witnessing, and though I actually recorded it and shared it with my friends and with the Moustafas (including his devout parents, who loved the Umm Kulthum sample and didn’t mind the additional blasphemy of sampling Koranic recitation), all of whom received it positively, today I find the recording a little too heart-on-sleeve to share more widely without embarrassment.
So allow me instead to offer a few lyrics that remain resonant (and perhaps work better on the page than in my cracking voice) —
How to persevere through this sudden shock of a loss?
Some cry, some wail, some chant their hum-du-Allahs
And some to a cross wanna grasp
How else to fathom the chasm left by a friend who’s passed?
So many questions to ask, so much left unsaid
Some people punish themselves, wish it were them instead
On new ground I tread: how to fill this void?
First time I find that emptiness could have such heaviness
I guess we just gotta remember the very best
Please rest in peace, my brother, you know you passed every test
Of friendship and family and everyday I plan to be
Reminded by the visual memory of the man I see
And when I cannot see, I’ll still hear your tune
You’re like a favorite song, that always ends too soon
Now, I’m not saying any of that’s profound or anything. The process of writing the song was much more about articulating the confusion and searching that followed our friend’s passing — and which, in retrospect, looks a lot like a stage of mourning, both for our friend and for ourselves. Along these lines, I was happy to run across the following quotation from Judith Butler over at Zunguzungu today; to my mind, it presents a poignant and helpful bit of thinking about mourning:
… Perhaps one mourns when one accepts that by the loss one undergoes one will be changed, possibly for ever…I do not think, for instance, that one can invoke the Protestant ethic when it comes to loss. One cannot say, “Oh, I’ll go through loss this way, and that will be the result, and I’ll apply myself to the task, and I’ll endeavor to achieve the resolution of grief that is before me.” I think one is hit by waves, and that one starts out the day with an aim, a project, a plan, and finds oneself foiled. One finds oneself fallen. One is exhausted but does not know why. Something is larger than one’s own deliberate plan, one’s own project, one’s own knowing and choosing…
Tonight at Enormous Room, Beat Research is delighted to welcome Zuzana Husárová, a Slovakian scholar currently in residence at MIT. In her own words, Zuzana is into:
electronic literature, inter/transmedial narrative, digital art, interdisciplinary literary theory, theory of fictional worlds, multilinear writing, techno-aesthetics, performativity of digital sign, playful aspects of culture, etc.
She also takes very pretty pictures of Cambridge and Boston and hereabouts. And she has an ear for bass music that strikes somewhere between the slamming and the subtle. Here’s a recent mix she put together, which may give a sense of what to expect tonight — or not. (She’ll also present a simultaneous film.)
As usual, the details are:
567 Mass Ave
9-1 | FREE
And later this week — Thursday to be exact — Boston is muy suerte to have Los Rakas sweeping into town in support of Collie Buddz.
Because this blog is a lot more sporadic than comprehensive, I don’t think I’ve mentioned either of those acts here before. Which is weird. Because I rate them both highly and have enjoyed a lot of their music. Collie Buddz has really developed a style of his own, and to my mind he occupies an important niche in reggae right now: not credible whiteboy, but suave singjay of timeless topics.
For their part, Los Rakas have been on the radar for a minute, for reasons that should be obvious to readers of this blog, and I was more than happy when they asked me to retool their bio. Need I say more?
Los Rakas represent pan-American flows. Two cousins who grew up in Panama before spending their teens in Oakland, Dun Dun and Rico put a distinctive “Panabay” twist on hip-hop and reggae, bridging the streetwise sounds of the places they’ve called home. Drawing on Panamanian plena’s faithful approach to reggae classics and the Bay Area’s independent and idiosyncratic hip-hop scene, Los Rakas merge familiar dancehall melodies with a lyricism all their own. The approach is audible on their 2010 standout, “Abrázame,” translating and transforming Gyptian’s “Hold Yuh” with vivid portraits of local love and drama. Thanks to their sustained hustle and creative efforts, Los Rakas have been embraced all over: in the Bay and back in Panama, at local hip-hop rallies and global bass parties. Looking to reach new listeners and never out of place, they tour widely, appearing alongside underground hip-hop mainstays like Brother Ali, Latin rap luminaries like Bocafloja and Mala Rodriquez, and rising reggae star Collie Buddz. Critically acclaimed and blog favorites, Los Rakas keep on top of their game by releasing a steady stream of tracks, remixes, mixtapes, and videos, and expanding their circle of collaborators to include the Austrian aggro-dancehall of Stereotyp and the electro-tropicalia of New York’s Uproot Andy. Working the flexible idioms of hip-hop and dancehall into their own pliant medium, Rico and Dun Dun channel Afrodiasporic dance currents to reflect on race and racism, poverty and violence, love and pride, partying, and the sundry stuff of everyday life. Los Rakas make music born of migration and tradition, critique and celebration, joy and pain. They make New World music. American music. Panamanian Jamaican Californian music. Music for b-boys and rude boys, dancers and romancers, mainlanders and islanders and isthmus folk alike.