My recent post involving a Boston sound session focused on the use of the zunguzung meme, so I didn’t discuss some of the other interesting and awesome things about the recording — and how I found it.
I’ve been turning my attention back to the story of reggae in Boston — a story that I first tried to put together a decade ago. Indeed, I resumed my search by returning to a piece I published back in 2005 in a local zine, “Reggae-Tinged Resonances of a Wicked Wicked City.” (Geez, can I really be insufferably wordy sometimes; I like to think I’ve improved on that count.)
As I was re-reading, I decided to google some of the old soundsystems to see if — praise be to Jah — some vintage sound tapes had finally made it online alongside counterparts from Kingston, New York, London, et al. In 2005 it was damn near impossible to hear any of this stuff; it seemed far more likely in 2016, as the recorded past continues to make its way, however willy-nilly, to the internet.
I CNTRL-C’d on “Evertone Hi-Power, with selectors Wheely and Robot” and was feeling lucky. And what do you know? The top return was for a 1985 Evertone session including a visiting crew representing King Jammy’s from JA! As I started reading the description, I got a strange sense of deja vu before recognizing it as the same paragraph I had just copy-n-pasted from — a paragraph I wrote a decade ago…
In the early 1980s, Boston’s reggae scene was blessed by a number of soundsystems and selectors working mostly in clubs in Dorchester, where Boston’s West Indian population has been based for decades. Echo International (which later changed its name to Capricorn Hi-Fi), with its eponymous selector, Echo, was one of the more well-known sounds in the area. Evertone Hi-Power, with selectors Wheely and Robot, ranked among the best in town and is remembered as one of the biggest soundsystems in Boston during the 1980s. They even clashed with legendary Jamaican sound, King Jammy‚Äôs, in Dorchester in 1986. Apparently, Unity Sound, with selectors Reggie Dawg and Warren, was the “gal favorite,” while Supersonic was known as the “bad boy” sound, with connections to the infamous Dog Posse. Cambridge‚Äôs Western Front earned a reputation in the 1980s as a spot for “bad men” as well as for serious reggae music, especially from local live-bands such as the I-Tones and Cool Runnings. Aside from the Front, though, most of the top spots to hear reggae in Boston were based around Blue Hill Ave in Dorchester: Black Philanopies, Manny’s Bar, Windsor Cricket Club, 4 Aces, Carver Lodge, Kelekos, and, of course, 3 C’s‚ÄĒthe Caribbean Cultural Center, which opened on 1000 Blue Hill Ave in 1981 and has been hosting big reggae events ever since. Veterans of the Boston reggae scene also note the popularity of house parties during the 80s, many of which, not unlike dances in Jamaica, would often last until 7 or 8 in the morning.
It was unattributed, but how could I bother to care about that? The story is not mine, for one; I am but a humble chronicler and interpreter. More important, though, was that my text had led me to something that I REALLY WANTED TO HEAR. This was the best possible scenario. It was as if 2005 Wayne had left a trail of digital bread crumbs for 2016 Wayne. Give thanks!
Cherry on top: the session itself is gold. Great vibes, local color, and a fine dancehall session in solid 1986 stylee. It’s great to hear the deejays reworking all the musical figures that enjoyed currency in that moment, from melodic contours to slang to riddims to ways of “selecting” or playing them (e.g., turning a skanking 4/4 track into a 3+3+2 break using the volume knob/fader). If you’re into dancehall culture, the session offers a wonderful glimpse at the state-of-the-art in the mid-1980s. Reverberating from Kingston to Boston, this is the sound of an institution at work, a resonant diasporic resource, an alchemical production of live sociality from recorded sound–
If I’m hearing correctly, Jammy’s crew come in after a half-hour or so (launching with a zunguzung riff at 35:20) and then rock for a solid 1.5 hours. Before that, the Bostonians hold their own. Skilled deejays pass the mic around and offer a mix of impromptu declamations and more rehearsed routines over the big riddims of the day — and occasionally, in the name of good vibes, playing whole records/voicings in their own right (including some Jammy’s productions — a notable and explicit gesture of respect).
When one of the deejays says “Boston is a island of itself, seen?” at 8:48, it’s as if he’s *trying* to title a compilation or a book. (So much better than the title I came up with a decade ago!) Local references erupt with some frequency, especially in original routines — including a nice set of tunes over the Golden Hen riddim. It’s quite a ride even without the offkey cover of “Karma Chameleon” that I very much wish were a satire.
From my perspective, recordings like these (and I found others) stand testament to reggae’s vitality in Boston in the 1980s, at once grounded in local sociality and in diasporic networks. In that sense, they are a crucial complement to other artifacts that represent Boston’s reggae heritage, most notably the recordings made by local bands and locallabels.
So while I’m here, allow me to share a couple selections from two reggae bands working in Boston at this time. Many of these bands included Jamaican musicians living in Boston, and nearly all seem to bring a reverent, faithful, yet distinctive approach to the music.
First off, check out the dubby stylings of Zion Initiation, as released by a small local label in 1979:
And don’t miss this ambitious video (on location in Paris?!) from the I-Tones. Fronted by the Luke “White Ram” Ehrlich and featuring Chris Wilson on guitar (a Jamaican ex-pat who would later run Heartbeat Records), the I-Tones were one of the biggest reggae bands in town in the 1980s. A song like “Walk On By” shows how their sound was grounded in reggae’s abiding love for sweet pop and R&B. (According to the YouTube page, Ram was not thrilled about the sax solo!) Gotta love that falsetto.
Will share more as the project develops, but do drop a line if you’d like to add anything. Just scattering some digital breadcrumbs here, seen?
Among other recent publications, I’m especially happy to share a paper I co-wrote last year with my ol’ friend and colleague, Pacey Foster. As some of you surely know, Pace has been working for several years to collect, curate, and explicate a very special cassette archive documenting the early Boston rap scene. (Check these articles in the Boston Globe, the Phoenix, and Wax Poetics for further info — not to mention Pacey’s blog.)
Pace and I have been wanting to situate the archive — and such a project/subject more generally — for an interdisciplinary academic readership for some time, and so when we saw the call for a special issue of the Creative Industries Journal below (c/o the mighty Eric Harvey), we knew we found a great place to share some tales of the tape(s) —
CFP: Technologies and Recording Industries
Creative Industries Journal, Special Issue 8.2 (Fall 2015)
The past 15 years have proven transformative for music recording industries around the world, as digital technologies from the ground up (mp3s) and the top down (streaming platforms) have helped transform the landscape of production, promotion, distribution, retail, and fandom. Yet while these transformations have recently upended assumptions about musical practice for artists, industry workers, fans, journalists, and researchers, a broader historical perspective situates them in a legacy more than a century long. Indeed, a history of recording industries told from a media and technology perspective is one of constant flux. The introduction of new media technologies has continually reorganized the practices, regimes of value, discourses, and power relationships of the recording business.
This issue of the Creative Industries Journal seeks to address the constitutive roles of technologies in shaping recording industry practices. How have the introduction and adoption of new tools of production, distribution, promotion, or consumption facilitated changes in the creative and industrial practices surrounding popular music in a variety of global contexts? Following Williamson & Cloonan (2007) and Sterne (2014), we specify ‚Äúrecording industries‚ÄĚ instead of ‚Äúmusic industries‚ÄĚ to focus attention on the myriad creative and industrial processes related to music (or, broadly, sound) recordings, and to evade the tendency to group a variety of disparate music and sound-related industries (licensing, instrument sales, live performance) under one heading. We use the plural to assert the multiplicity and variety of recording industries that have emerged over time, which may not have anything to do with the current corporate-owned, multinational recording industry.
We respond to this call by discussing the Lecco’s Lemma radio show (and cassette archive) as an example of how DIY media technologies facilitated the emergence of a local hip-hop scene here in the 1980s. In addition to some media theory and a brief history of the cassette and its special affordances, Pace and I examine three telling anecdotes about Lecco’s Lemma — stories bearing witness to a remarkable moment of collective effort and creativity, a self-contained “recording industry” that networked a community of amateur artists and supporters.
One vignette revolves around this amazing artifact in the collection, a fascinating glimpse of Gang Starr’s Guru (aka, MC Keithy E) in his early days —
But I don’t want to offer too many spoilers here. For the low down on the incredible thing that Guru appears to have done to his recording of the broadcast above — an intervention that bears witness to the importance of the show, and of cassette technology — go ahead and read the article:
Foster, Pacey and Wayne Marshall. 2015. “Tales of the tape: cassette culture, community
radio, and the birth of rap music in Boston.” Creative Industries Journal 8(2): 164-76. [PDF]
Here’s the abstract to further whet your reading appetite —
Recent scholarship on peer-oriented production and participatory culture tends to emphasize how the digital turn, especially the Internet and the advent of the so-called ‚Äėsocial web‚Äô, has enabled new forms of bottom-up, networked creative production, much of which takes place outside of the commercial media. While remarkable examples of collaboration and democratized cultural production abound in the online era, a longer view situates such practices in histories of media culture where other convergences of production and distribution technologies enabled peer-level exchanges of various sorts and scales. This essay contributes to this project by examining the emergence of a local rap scene in Boston, Massachusetts in the mid-late 1980s via the most accessible ‚Äėmass‚Äô media of the day: the compact cassette and community radio.
And there’s lots more Lecco’s Lemma for your listening pleasure:
I recently added a few “new” instances of ye olde zunguzung meme to the list, each helping to tease at this knotty tapestry we’ve been weaving.
First, thanks to the attentive ears of NYC-based Puerto Rican electronic act Bal√ļn, we discover that PR-based Nuyorican reggaeton pioneer Ivy Queen once wove a zunguzung allusion rather seamfully into her verse at ~1:52 in the Noise 6 excerpt here:
The reference appears as one would expect it might: as yet another of many, many nods to reggae and hip-hop knit together in the “Spanish reggae” (i.e., proto-reggaeton) of San Juan’s distinctive mid-90s underground scene. Indeed, the production is deliciously typical if you like connecting musical dots: it opens with the well-worn sample from ESG’s “UFO” (possibly a reference to Kane and, by 1996, who knows who else), then layers on a detuned loop of the “Method Man” riff while Ivy comes in chanting “Noise! Clan!” like “Wu! Tang!” before unloading a barrage of laser-precise syllables. At this menacing tempo, Ivy’s doubletime fliptongue bars — a clear stylistic nod to raggamuffin flows — manage to sound like the elder cousins of the Migosflow they are.
So with this allusion Ivy Queen joins such compatriots as Mr. Notty and √Ďejo — and no doubt other reggaetoneros whose references have thus far eluded my dragnet. At this point, far as I know, she’s the first on record — in reggaeton — repping reggae with the zunguzung.
Like many other carriers of the meme, Ivy Queen invokes the tune at precisely the moment when she directly addresses the audience — no doubt something she also did in numerous live “freestyle” sessions in San Juan and Nueva York — which brings us to our next example(s)…
The second example — or perhaps, second-umpteenth — reveals how zunguzung works as a distinctive resource for live reggae performance practice, something that Ivy Queen’s reference registers in its desire to serve as functional address, as live and direct. In this sense, the session “tape” below can be heard alongside the myriad zunguzung deployments in other sound sessions, especially in the mid-80s.
In this case, and in Boston no less, we hear how zunguzung figures in state of the art toasting practice circa 1986. The tune cycles in and out of the performances, one of several stock figures on the tips of deejays’ tongues (alongside “call the police,” “money move,” and other allusions to allusions that don’t have proper names). And yet, zunguzung also emerges here as a powerful and special signal, a musical trigger nearly always hitting with the weight of a forward / pullup / wheel, or a chorus.
In this session featuring Jammy’s sound on a visit to town, I count no fewer than a baker’s dozen zunguzungs over the course of the 1.5 hour excerpt (and that’s omitting the repetitions when used as a chorus). That’s 13 distinct moments in the session — roughly, every few minutes — when the zunguzung erupts into presence, often stopping the music in its tracks.
Shifting shape as it goes by, the melody serves to big up the “Boston posse” as well as “all Yardies” — and as is so often the case with the zunguzung, the deejays here use it as a special means to enlist audience participation, crooning at listeners to push up a hand “if you love Jammy” or “beca’ you’re expensive.” The strong responses of both performers and audience to each of the zunguzung’s invocations bear consistent witness to the signal force of this tricky likkle earworm:
See, e.g., ~0:43, 4:00, 21:00, 26:40, 28:20, 38:30, 48:20, 51:20, 58:55. 1:11:20, 1:13:40, 1:17:25, 1:20:35 — or, better, just listen to the wole ting. Vibes nice, enuh.
The final addendum is perhaps more of a “footnote,” less interesting to this zigzagging genealogy given that it’s a novelty production nodding to Tupac rather than, say, grassroots media invoking Yellowman and dancehall tradition. On the other hand, as I’ve also pointed out, the ways the riff grows distant from being a reference to reggae culture is, in some sense, perhaps as interesting as its explicitly intertextual resonance in reggae, hip-hop, and kindred genres.
In 2011, the remarkably well-produced satire act Baracka Flacka Flames released a version of 2pac’s “Hit Em Up” and (inadvertently) invoked our familiar contour —
I gotta admit, though — research aside — for my money/time, “I Run the Military” is far superior:
But I’m especially happy to welcome BBrave to town as he’s the only one I’ve yet to meet IRL.
I suspect Benjamin “BBrave” Lebrave needs no introduction here at W&W, but for those who don’t know, Benjamin is the force behind Akwaaba Music, an independent label devoted to African music of the post-Fruityloops era, or as he puts it “syncopated music made on computers all across the African continent.” Carefully and lovingly curated by Benjamin, a champion for genres and artists from West to East Africa, South to North, Akwaaba has served since 2008 as a crucial international platform for emerging artists, including acts as varied as Just a Band or FOKN Bois.
Akwaaba’s latest offering is a blistering rap album, Burkin B√Ę, from Burkina Faso’s Joey Le Soldat, who pushes social critique with wicked flow over jagged electronic soundbeds that recall the Bug’s distorted dancehall. The lead single boasts an arresting video too; should slay in London or anywhere grime resounds —
Once again it’s that time! I’ll be guesting at Boston’s Best Dance Night™, Pic√≥ Picante, this Friday–
Pic√≥ is always the ideal occasion to break out treacly dancehall pop covers, classic reggaeton, salsa remixes, and azonto jams, among others, so, yeah, pretty much always ready for that.
And readers of W&W need no intro to headliner DJ Ripley — Riddim Methodist, PhD, & Dutty Artizt extraordinaire. But maybe you haven’t heard her latest?
A preview, perhaps, of what might be in store Friday night, given Picante proclivities and all, but Ripley reliably keeps her sets unpredictable. So it’s bound to be a fun one, twists and turns galore.
This Friday, at the very #rare time of 5pm and at a rather lovely spot, I’m psyched to be opening for two of my favorite (erstwhile) local talents: Rizzla DJ & False Witness, the two from the #KUNQ crew who cooked up the time-warped, globally-warmed, zombie beach party of Isla Toxico —
While we won’t exactly be performing on a toxic island (though you might consider Boston such at times), we will be right on the water, at the Institute of Contemporary Art’s waterfront space — definitely one of the nicer sunsetting spots in the city. They’re calling the event Urban Beach, which yeah, but I think that’s a theme we can all work with.
From 5-6:30pm I’ll be doing my best to level the vibes. Playing before dark can be as liberating as it is constraining, so I’m looking forward to the chance to play things that diverge from club imperatives. Haven’t had a chance to play a sun-drenched set in a while. Or slow music, for that matter.
Back to my cohorts, though: I couldn’t be happier to play opening act for these two. It’s been a pleasure to watch Rizzla’s distinctive productions and insurgent sets get the uptake they deserve. He & the whole #KUNQ crew bring together such a great set of shared & individual sensibilities, and the results manage to challenge as they seduce. Take, as another example, the very latest c/o Rizzla & Blk.Adonis —
Crossfading and fusing a special & specific array of styles, their shifting constellation of soca, hardstyle, ballroom, dancehall, and reggaeton transmits a finely-tuned address to a particular (if cross-sectional & always emergent) public — a musical beacon which worked wonders here in Boston back when Rizzla & co. were all resident here & giving this old town some NU LIFE.
That a progressive / queer / genderqueer / feminist / anti-racist / inclusive movement would rally around brusque dancehall anthems and raved-up dembow speaks volumes. Eschewing the imperial work that appropriation does, the #KUNQ approach gestures toward the more complex possibilities that emerge when we embrace difference. “Get to know it,” Rizzla says, “and you won’t want to rip it off.”
But he may have said it even better when he said –
Fortunately for us toxic islanders of Greater Boston, NYC is not too far away, so we’re still graced with the #KUNQ crew’s presence on a relatively regular basis. Hearing some #KUNQ beats echo across the harbor this Friday sure sounds like a vibes to me. Maybe you too?
Tonight is the 2 year anniversary of Pic√≥ Picante, one of the shining lights of Boston’s club scene, and something I’ve been grateful to be close to —
The pics of me at Pic√≥ over the years attest to the special vibes of the place (even when I’m seemingly giving the stankface to someone making a ridiculous request, which is maybe just the face I put on when Nick points his camera at me while I’m DJing) —
But tonight is extra special not only because it’s a celebration of two great years of dancing together, but because it’s also a send-off for 1/2 of Pajaritos, Sara Skolnick, who is embarking on a promising ethno/techno-musicological endeavor in Colombia very soon. Here’s the story c/o Sara herself:
I want to share a note of deep gratitude for your ongoing support and for the sense of family that you’ve helped grow over the past two years. On Sunday I’ll be relocating to Bogot√°, Colombia to take on a year-long ethnomusicology grant that focuses on new opportunities for artistic agency and self-representation for marginalized musicians, encouraged by democratized access to digital music production tools and networks. This project was inspired by the experiences I’ve had as a DJ and organizer in Boston, and undoubtedly by the big hearts I’ve connected to through it. Thank you for the gift of an energized belief in music as a force for social change (& in the dancefloor as the most valuable classroom I’ve yet to find) and for creating such a reliably warm, dynamic space to celebrate life. Pic√≥ continues on with full force & I can’t wait to see what’s in store and to share my experiences from afar. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
Thank YOU, Sara. And BUEN VIAJE!¬°! We look forward to hearing all about it.
I just want to reiterate how fortunate I feel to have had Pic√≥ Picante as a platform for a set or two. Thanks to the efforts of Pajaritos & crew, I’ve had the pleasure to run through my collection of Caribbean and Caribesque dance-pop with abandon, and it’s been a thrill to see people getting down to it all. In tribute and thanks to the night — as an ode, if you will, owed to Pic√≥ Picante — here’s my set from this May’s special edition, opening up for Toy Selecta, who proceeded to completely demolish the place with an epic 2-hour set. Wish I could share *that* with you, but for my part, here’s this —
As usual, it’s a mix of clubb faves & obscurities that should be, connected dots & forced collisions. Hot summer vibes. Who’s in the mix? Oh, just all these awesome guys —
Ini Kamoze -> Busta Rhymes -> Million Stylez -> Popcaan & Poirier -> Chief Boima -> Shabba Ranks -> Vybz Kartel & Dre Skull -> Dirtsman -> Cutty Ranks -> DJ Deeon -> Johnny P -> Tito DJ -> Hector y Tito -> French Montana -> Chaka Demus & Pliers -> Pliers -> Daddy Woody -> Rodolfo Y Su Tipica -> Murlo -> Super Cat & Heavy D -> Wayne Wonder -> Mavado -> Di Genius -> Chino -> Emynd + Trinidad James -> Blk.Adonis & Rizzla DJ -> Los Rakas -> Willie Colon -> DJ Double F -> Tito El Bambino -> Murlo -> Fuego -> Doctor Dru & Adana Twins -> Ricky Blaze -> Daniel Haaksman -> DJ Joe & Sir Speedy -> Ensemble aux Calebasses & Nemours Jean-Baptiste
Thanks again to my eloquent interlocutors, all of whom had colorful stories & trenchant perspectives to share, and to the Together panel people — especially Sara Skolnik and Ethan Kiermaier — for making it happen. And thx to everyone who attended the panel, tuned in, and/or wish to help continue the convo.
Got two great gigs in the next couple weeks that I want to make a little bit of a big deal about!
First up, next Monday (May 6) at Middlesex, I’m excited to take a turn as a guest at CVLT, Cambridge / Boston’s semimonthly source for “Electronic Death Music” (as they put it) —
This is an exciting opportunity to delve into some harder, darker sounds I don’t often play out. You can count on some duppy-haunted dancehall, k-hole reggaeton, and unvarnished grime. And as you can see, I’ll not only be joined by CVLT’s residents but by the one and only Nick Dawg of Beantown Boogietown, Boston’s premiere bass(scene) boosting blog.
FYI, Nick just cooked up a mix full of tracks c/o this year’s Together acts (more about that in a moment)–
Plus+++ the night will begin with an 8pm screening of The Earth Rejects Him by local filmmaker Jared Skolnick. Here’s a blurb (and a teaser):
The Earth Rejects Him is a chilling short film written and directed by Jared Skolnick about a young boy who discovers a corpse while biking in the woods, ‚Äúthen faces unexpected and macabre consequences when he tries to bury it.‚ÄĚ Influenced by the films of Werner Herzog, Terrence Malick, and Guillermo del Toro and the short stories of H.P. Lovecraft, Skolnick shows us the sinister side of a sunny day in a lush forest when a young boy takes a tumble off his bike over a small cliff and lands in a tangle of fallen leaves.
Sounds like the perfect beginning to a night of pleasurably dark vibes, no?
Just in case you’re still wondering what these all these adjectives might mean, CVLT resident El Poser recently posted a vernal mix that helps give a sense of the vibe (though I also saw him play an incredibly bounce-y set opening for Dubbel Dutch at SWERVE a couple weeks back, so you never know):
On the other side of the vibes spectrum, I’m absolutely thrilled to be a part of this!!!!
There’s a lot I could say about Pic√≥ Picante (my fave dance night in Boston) and Toy Selectah (one of my fave producer / DJ / A&Rs in the world), but for now allow me to crib from the infotaining blurb the Pajaritos put together —
// PIC√ď PICANTE featuring Toy Selectah, May 16th at Good Life
On Thursday, May 16th, PIC√ď PICANTE takes over both floors of Good Life for a special edition showcase for this year’s Together Festival. Monterrey-based producer Toy Selectah (Sones del Mexside, Mad Decent) headlines, known originally as the mix-master wizard for Mexico’s Hip Hop en Espa√Īol pioneers Control Machete. Most recently, Toy’s productions gallop rural rhythms of Colombian-Mexican cumbias, reggae, and other urban styles to create his own trademark sound and collective called Sonidero Nacional. Toy’s responsible for developing the Mexican phenomenon 3BALLMTY, and has also worked with the likes of Calle 13, Don Omar, Manu Chao, Morrissey and many others. He now resides as Creative Director, A&R and CEO of his own production company and boutique label, Sones del Mexside.
Thursday, May 16th | 9 PM ‚Äď 2 AM | Good Life, 28 Kingston Street, Boston | 21+ | $5 | FACEBOOK
// Grassroots Digital, a panel-discussion organized by Wayne Marshall, May 16th at Together Center
We’re excited to share that Wayne Marshall (Wayne&Wax, Harvard University) has organized and will moderate a panel-discussion in conjunction with Together Festival daytime programming, with Pic√≥ guest Toy Selectah and more to be announced:
From Mexico to Mali to Bed-Stuy, digital tools of production and publication are facilitating new interactions between grassroots culture and industrial capture, informal amateurism and art world remediation. Drawing on the expertise of several actors in this wide, weird world, our panel seeks to explore a few stories of spectacular circulation that shed light on new forms of media exchange and exploitation.
Thursday, May 16th | 2 ‚Äď 3:30 PM | Together Center, 328 Mass Ave, Cambridge | All Ages | Free
On the 243rd anniversary of the Boston Massacre (bigup Crispus Attucks!), I’m reposting the merely titular-pun-related mix of Boston-associated songs I cooked up for the Somerville Art Council back in 2005. This is also (barely) germane to the day given the currently flaring debate over Massachusetts’ official rock song. (As they say around here, I shit you not.) Not to mention, if only very tangentially, the emergence of one of the best mashups in years. (Really love how it reproduces the effect of that ol’ Eminem/Britney mashup, revealing the underlying pop sensibilities of two putative hardcore outsiders.) Without further ado, here’s the Boston Mashacre (my follow-up, the Smashacre, resides over here)‚Ä¶
we begin with sounds of the davis square farmer’s market, with several different languages being spoken, including what sounds like a guy saying “habibi.” the percussion is an empty soda bottle that another guy was banging on his hip, quietly singing what sounded like a reggae song at the same time. confirming my impression, yet another guy–this one a farmer/vendor–walks up to him and says rather dryly, and to my incredulous ears for stumbling upon such a soundbite, “champion sound, yeah?” from there, the man with the bottle plays a classic 3+3+2, reminiscent of so many caribbean styles, and we hear car alarms and horns spin into melody. as a bus pulls up and takes off again (and “buses” was one of the most popular returns i got to the question “what are the sounds of somerville?”), the familiar strains of the standells’ “dirty water” enter the soundscape and the mix. from there, the incidental sounds of the city–which, as you can hear, are rather musical in their own way–yield to the “musical” sounds of the city. that is, we enter the realm of pop recordings, of the boston soundscape as MOR radio presents it (at least as filtered through the ears of a lifelong boston jerk who harbors a strange mix of pride, humility, and humiliation when it comes to the sounds of his city).
after the standells, the lineup moves through a number of boston mainstays and one-hit wonders, has-beens and shoulda-beens. the full tracklist is as follows:
the standells, “dirty water” (not a boston band, but they might as well be) the cars, “you might think i’m crazy” (yup, a boston band) dj c, “boston you’re my bounce” (beat research) NKOTB, “hangin’ tough” (omg! jordan is my fave lol ;-) mr. lif, “home of the brave” (so he lives in berkeley now, and what?) tracy chapman, “fast car” (used to play T stations) extreme, “more than words” (found an acapella!?!) aerosmith, “walk this way” (nice break, dudes) run DMC, “walk this way” (better break, jam master) NKOTB, “the right stuff” (williamsburg where ya at?) bell biv devoe, “poison” (girl, i must warn you: i know that BBD album by heart) the cars, “just what i needed” (uncanny how the intro mirrors BBD’s) j geils band, “angel is a centerfold” (urbody whistle now) boston, “more than a feeling” (guitars are for dorks) ed O.G., “i got to have it” (representin’ the bean harder than guru since 1991) MBTA, “davis square redline stop” (a wicked hahd-to-find recording)
listeners will notice that some of these tracks are in more fragmentary form than others. (hope not to leave anyone hanging too much, but you should seek out the originals in that case.) as with most mixes, it was the tracks’ suggestive qualities and affective resonance that i was going for–not some sense of their textual wholeness. this is however less a mix or a mashup, per se, than what might be better called a mix’n’mash. at times, i play songs on their own, though more often than not i play two or more songs at once (or instrumental versions/loops of them).
the sound and shape of the music i am making here is a product of the technology that i am using: ableton live. having the relative freedom to stretch tempos without changing pitch allows me to match a number of songs together that the average vinylist couldn’t/wouldn’t. of course, i also change pitch sometimes, purposely, either to make a harmony sweeter or to weird/chipmunk something out. generally though, at least in this case, i have preserved the original pitch/key of the songs in question, which i think makes them much more recognizable. the changes in tempo are less noticeable. you’ll notice i like the echo button, too.
It’s gonna be bonkers, sin duda. After this summer’s well received reggaetony set, I’m gonna have to up the ante, especially with downstairs’ subs to exploit. Trust it’ll be another crunk genealogy of some sort. Bottom-line: there’s nothing like playing to a room full of smiling dancing people. Can’t wait!
Then, on Sunday Nov 18, I’ll be at the Queens Museum in conversation with Apache Indian and DJ Rekha–
Felicitously — and aptly — the event is tied to an exhibition I’ve been wanting to check out, Caribbean: Crossroads of the World. What better angle to take on an English-born Punjabi bloke who raps over dancehall rhythms in a convincing Jamaican lilt, chatting bout arranged marriages with good creolized girls who “talk the Indian with the patwa” while proposing fusions of ragga and bhangra that, alongside contemporary Bally Sagoo, sketch out the blueprint for the entire genre as it’s known today.
A pioneer crossover artist, in his heyday Apache Indian addressed massive public followings in the UK and India, while enjoying a rare bit of outsider success in reggae and rap networks. And you can hear why. No more indebted to his namesake, Super Cat (aka the Wild Apache), than, say, Sean Paul is (which is to say, deeply indebted), Apache Indian distinguishes himself with a mastery of form that exceeds imitation. Man sound real, as they say. Check the original Don Raja stylee —
His knowledge of & affection for Jamaican music clearly run deep; note the fidelity to classic 60s style in what may be his best known song (thanks to inclusion on a few film soundtracks) — and, yes, he clearly enjoys playing “the Indian” in a Jamaican context (and the reggae guy in an Indian one):
Of course, all of this is to say that he sounds about as British as anything (or anyone) else. And his recordings embodied as they emboldened a generation of Asian youth who grew up amidst England’s unruly and often Caribbean-accented multiculture, and who wanted to own all of that — and to make it their own thing (no matter how Jamaican it might sound). Directly or indirectly, Apache Indian’s performances always raise questions about race and nation, (cross- and intra-)cultural dynamics and traditions, mutable and fixed positions. And this is irrespective of whether he’s performing in full Jamaican regalia, some bhangramuffin ensemble, or Putumayo-pleasing homeland garb (b/w Rastafarian rhetoric)–
Lots to talk about, no doubt. The event is free and open to the public, so come on thru!
I'm a techno-musicologist, internet annotator, imagined community organizer.
I left my <3 in the digital global, but I reside in Cambridge, MA, where I'm from. I represent like that.