Archive of posts tagged with "caribbean"

January 11th, 2011

A Country That Was In Another Country

Since we’re back to the topic of the wide and contested world of reggaeton, it felt fortuitous to find in my inbox this morning a link to a new interview with Renato, Panamanian pioneer of reggae en español. With the effective prodding of Peter Szok, a history professor from Texas, Renato helps to further flesh out the picture of how reggae has been translated and transformed in Panama. Go read the whole thing, but allow me to highlight some illuminating excerpts below.

If you didn’t, you should know that Renato, of Bajan and Jamaican parentage, grew up in the Canal Zone alongside other English-speaking labor migrants from the Caribbean (and their children), and that he strongly identified with US pop culture before moving to Panama City as a teen, where he learned Spanish and participated in a number of crucial ways in the emergent reggae scene: MCing parties, recording songs for drivers of diablos rojos or mini-buses (which Renato describes as “like radio stations”), and, among other things, assisting the rise of Edgardo Franco, aka El General, who got his start as one of Renato’s 4 Estrellas.

Renato’s tale of making the transition from Canal Zone to Panama, from americano to panameño, deserves a little quotation at length:

What I knew was “Buenos días,” “Hola,” and “¿Cómo estás?” So I had a lot of problems. Since I came from the Canal Zone, the kids jumped on me and called me the americano. Once I took an apple to the teacher. That was something they taught us in the Zone, and they went after me for being a brown-nose. So you know, from those experiences, I had a lot of fights. They didn’t like me, because I came from the Canal Zone. The whole experience was a bit confusing. When we moved to Panama, my grandmother told me, “Son, I have to tell you something important. You’re Panamanian. We never told you before, because we thought that you knew.” I initially had a hard time believing. But she explained that we were Panamanians, but grew up American-style, because we lived in the Canal Zone. That’s why we knew the National Anthem of the United States and not the Panamanian song. And that was another problem. When I was at school, I had to sing the Panamanian anthem, and I didn’t know it. This also created a lot of problems. Because you’re Panamanian, and people think that you don’t love your country. But it’s not that. I grew up in a country that was in another country.

And here’s Renato describing how he and Wassanga, a local DJ, made their foray into production — for the buses/busdrivers, before music on buses was banned — using reggae instrumentals:

I’m learning now how to speak in Spanish and sing in Spanish, and so we start doing tapes with the reggae instrumental versions. The guys from the diablos rojos were a big deal for us. The bus drivers would tell us, “Hey I want you to do a song, saying that I’m the number one driver in this sector. I’m the best conductor. I’ve got the girls.” So I’d do something like, “Yeah, this is the number one conductor. Yeah, he’s got the number one structure. Girls like him, so get on the bus.” And we would do it in Spanish and put it on a tape, and he would play it on his bus. Remember that Panamanians had music on their buses. Panamanian buses were like radio stations. What you heard on the buses, was what was hitting. So after we started getting this popularity in Spanish, we began to write our own songs.

Here’s Renato on rap and the Canal Zone’s relationship to the US/NYC:

Rap started in Panama with “Rapper’s Delight.” It was a big hit, The Sugar Hill Gang was really popular. Then came Run-DMC. They brought in the breakdancing. I used to breakdance. Remember that I came from the Canal Zone, and so everything from the United States was my style. And so while I was in Panama and trying to do Panamanian stuff, it was still my style. I used to try to go every day to Balboa, because I was so accustomed to my style of living that I couldn’t stand being here in Panama. I used to go every day and spend all my money on bus fairs and taxis, just to be in Balboa, just to be in Pedro Miguel with my people, my friends. You know it was hard for me to leave my friends and to live in a place where I didn’t know anyone. Then everyone started to leave for New York. Almost everyone who grew up with me now lives in the States.

Finally, Renato gets to parsing the difference between Panamanian reggae (or plena / bultron) and Puerto Rican reggaeton:

But if you hear…the way we sing, then you’ll understand that it’s different from the Puerto Ricans. It’s a little more suave, and you can understand the Spanish more. Puerto Ricans like to invent a lot of words that most people don’t understand. In Panama, we have a different type of reggae. We have the most romantic reggae, because we are a romantic country. We don’t have so much gangster music. I can tell you how many gangster rappers we have. It’s like six or seven. But we have so many romantic singers, almost six or seven hundred singers who don’t sing about gangster stuff. Because we are not a violent country.

And when it comes to explaining reggae vis-a-vis “black identity,” Renato draws the lines pretty starkly, in blood red:

Yes, because we took it from Jamaica, and it has a black culture. And remember something. The majority of Panamanian reggae singers are black. In Puerto Rico, they’re white. The Puerto Rican reggae singers are white. Over here, they’re black. Why? To them, it was like something new, these new moves that they wanted to do. But for us, it was something from our families, something we loved.

He paints in some broad strokes here, and perhaps fans a few flames, especially with such sweeping generalizations about national difference, but I appreciate the greater sense of context he gives us for hearing how reggae resonates in Panama.

To read more from Renato, download the full chat here, and see our book for two additional interviews.

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December 23rd, 2010

Nuh Gimme So-So Bunch

Notably — at least for this enthusiast of Jamaican culture bubbling through the American mainstream — to help stage Lil Wayne’s big comeback, producer Bangladesh contributed another a-milli-esque banger, in this case opting to deliciously substitute Harry Belafonte’s well-worn Jamaicanisms for Phife Dog’s more obscure ragga filigree

What’s funny — and telling, in a lost-in-translation-but-who-cares sorta way — is that the centerpiece of the song is a sample of the part of Belafonte’s recording that departs oddly, and some would say wrongly, from the Jamaican folk song that is its source. A chorus chanting six foot, seven foot, eight foot, bunch! underpins Weezy’s relentless show-and-prove show, but as the Honorable Doctor Louise Bennett Coverly — better known as Miss Lou — would explain, bananas don’t come in feet, they come in hands. Or as she puts it, they don’t have toes, they have fingers!

You have to hear how Miss Lou puts it herself. If you aren’t familiar with the pioneering work of Miss Lou, you should know, at least, that she’s a towering figure in Jamaican culture, more responsible than perhaps anyone else for recuperating the distinctive twists and turns of Jamaican creole English, aka patois / patwa. (Miss Lou’s legacy on this count includes her legitimation of alternate spelling and pronunciation practices.) Not only was Miss Lou a walking, talking, singing vessel of Jamaican folklore, she also created a body of patwa poetry that has been committed to memory by generations of Jamaican children and which includes my favorite poem about reggae (even though it was written in 1966, before reggae hit the town).

Just hear how she tells the story of “Banana Boat Song” and coaxes a sympathetic call&response from her adoring audience (note: after thinking aloud about it — what year it was? — Miss Lou guesses it was the 1960s when she and Belafonte first sang the song together, but given that Calypso came out in 1956, she must have meant the 50s):

Louise Bennett, “Banana Boat Song” (from Lawd…Di Riddim Sweet)

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The only thing is I did teach him to say “6 hand, 7 hand, 8 hand” and him a say “6 foot, 7 foot” [laughter]. My dear! So I said, after it became famous now, I think, great. Singer of Jamaican folk songs. I say, “Harry, but what about this foot ting? Banana don’t have toe, y’know. Di banana have fingers.” Him say, “yes.”

Notably, Belafonte did apparently eventually correct his rendition. By the time he’s performing the song on the Muppet Show in 1978, we’re back to “hand” —

But the classic version, as heard on the old 78, as famously re-animated in Beetlejuice, and now again given new life by Bangladesh, most definitely says “foot” —

And, so, funny enough, the one part that Belafonte gets bizarrely backwards is the part that Bangladesh and Weezy fasten onto. This makes sense: it sounds like a proud, strong-backed boast in Belafonte’s rendition, fit for full-throated brag-raps and ennobling folkloric worksongs alike.

What’s especially interesting then, about Miss Lou’s exegesis, is that it’s not so much about the correct body part to describe clusters of bananas, it’s about the central meaning of the song itself. The workers may be strong and proud; they came to work, not to idle. But they’ve been working all night and they’re exhausted. They waaaaaaan go home, and they want the bossman and the tallyman to take it easy on them as they make the final, daybreak round of a backbreaking night.

Hearing Miss Lou provide the context makes one hear even the exclamation on “bunch” as less a matter of celebration and more of consternation — “Banana Boat Song,” she explains, is a good ol’ workaday kvetch:

That is a banana loading song, and you sing it when it coming on to morning time and the poor men — mostly they were men — working at this loading of the banana boat, the whole night, and when you coming out at like four o’clock in the morning, dem waan go home. And they wanted the smallest amount of bananas they can get. And you know the six-hand little? Of course, those stay. Seven-hand. Eight-hand. Bunch!? Nine. Ten. Bunch!?! Cooyah. Noh gimme so-so bunch, me no horse wid bridle. [laughter]

Now, Miss Lou’s explanation might itself merit some explication, at least for those who aren’t quite up on their patois proverbs or banana facts. About the horse and the bridle: this is a colorful and humorous worker’s plea, eager to intervene before he gets too heavily weighed down. He’s cool (cooyah) with the reasonably-sized stems, the smaller sets of clusters, the six-hands and seven-hands and so forth. But not a bunch! And certainly not a bunch like that, not so-so bunch. If he were a horse with a bridle maybe he could handle such a load, but poor overworked human that he is, a whole bunch at this point strikes him as unfair — and worthy of some patois-peppered protest.

The use of so-so here marks a significant way to voice the resistance of an Afro-Jamaican laborer. As this Dictionary of Jamaican English elaborates, so-so(h) is possibly derived from a Yoruba term (sho-sho). Of course, tellingly and a little confoundingly, it sources the very line Miss Lou quotes from the “Banana Boat Song” as an example of usage:


Now, if all that six-hand, seven-hand stuff is still not clear, we can look to, say, early twentieth-century accounts of the burgeoning banana industry for some good technical prose. In his 1914 work, Conquest of the Tropics: The Story of the Creative Enterprises Conducted by the United Fruit Company, Frederick Upham Adams provides the basic lowdown on counting clusters while specifically big-upping Jamaica and black Jamaican workers (who, we should note with a nod to reggaeton, were also crucial, as migrant workers, to the operation of plantations across Central America):

…A bunch of bananas consists of a stem, hands, and fingers. Each hand has from ten to fifteen fingers. A bunch of bananas is thus known to the trade as a “five-hand stem,” “a six-hand stem,” and from that up to the nine or ten-hand stems, which are average commercial limit, though Costa Rica has produced stems containing as high as twenty-two hands — a veritable giant of tropical fecundity.
In Jamaica the bananas range from five to nine hands to the bunch, with an occasional one exceeding this grading, but the individual fingers are smaller than those which grow in the humid lowlands of the Central American coast. But they are good bananas, wholesome and marketable. The Jamaican negro is the workman who has made possible the wonders which the United Fruit Company has achieved in Central America, and Jamaica can lay just claim as the birthplace of the banana industry.

And now, dear readers, as they say inna Jamaica, you done know.

It may not matter much to that Wayne and his flights of fancy, but it does to this one.

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June 23rd, 2010

Too Much Island

I first met Benjamen Walker in prison in Jamaica. Either there or the hotel down the street. We were both in Kingston together, with a ragtag band of a couple dozen more, in order to, as best I can understand it today, sprinkle some internet magic on the place. (And help support some serious reform of the prison system.) Back then Benjamen was producing radio for Christopher Lydon while doing his own show, Your Radio Nightlight, on WZBC in Boston.

When Your Radio Nightlight morphed into Theory of Everything, I hardly skipped a beat, though I enjoyed Benjamen’s reinvigorated play with notions of fact and fiction, myth and reality. Grokking one’s way through Ben’s shows is always a fun hermeneutical exercise in that way. Since last year he’s tweaked the title once again, now offering Too Much Information every Monday evening on WFMU (right before /Rupture’s Mudd Up!) though the format — if we can call it that — remains similar.

Ever since meeting him and getting to know his voice, I’ve been consistently entertained and edified by Benjamen’s particular approach to telling the truth. But maybe the current WFMU teaser best hits the nail:

Too Much Information is the sober hangover after the digital party has run out of memes, apps and schemes. Host Benjamen Walker finds out that, in a world where everyone overshares the truth 140 characters at a time, telling tales might be the most honest thing to do.

And so I was pleased once again to make an appearance in one of Ben’s shows for last week’s TMI episode, “The Island.” It’s a special episode for a number of reasons. You should just go and listen, but let me tell you briefly why I think so:

  • Benjamen recycles some really poignant bits from an earlier Theory of Everything show (inspired by some of our on-island adventures together several years back), but rather than sounding dated, it seems as relevant and resonant as ever, particularly the parts about Jamaica’s threatened sovereignty in the face of US drug-don extradition requests (!!!).
  • His storytelling remains as twitchy as ever, inviting listeners to identify and dis-identify with the unreliable narrator and to guess at what is real and what is not — and to think about whether it matters and why.
  • There are plenty of funny send-ups of island/Jamaican culture, especially with regard to outsider observers/enthusiasts. This latter camp is one that Benjamen, i&i, and Christina Xu all firmly fall into — not to mention the guy from the “Voice of the Revolution” soundsystem.
  • You get to hear my ol’ “boom-ch-boom-chick” routine once more, this time in the context of explaining how I’ve changed my line on the so-called “island rhythm” over the last several years of giving lectures on Caribbean music at Harvard. Bonus: much beatboxing throughout!

I highly recommend going and listening to the whole episode (mp3 stream | pop-up player). It unfolds in an engrossing way and I think there’s something important about the accretion of meanings over the course of the show. But if you want to jump right to my part, here’s a direct link (mp3 stream | pop-up).


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August 5th, 2009

Gwada Blondinettes Have More Fun

White people can’t dance, you know — to be more precise, not if they’ve been raised in a place or community or family where they’re not socialized and enculturated into dancing, or don’t later make great efforts to correct such an impoverished upbringing. (& of course, that goes for ppl of any color.)

This video of Elvyna, “la petite blondinette,” getting her groove on to some coupé décalé definitely gives the lie to racialist bs about skin color and shake-ability. Nuff culture, and yes, some natural talent no doubt, on display here —

The song is by Jessy Matador, who is apparently from the DRC but whose MySpace has him repping “Paris/Dakar/Miami/Kinshasa.” He’s clearly plugged into the Francophone world, and if I’m not mistaken this track is somehow connected to Guadeloupe (Gwada). But Google doesn’t translate most of the (French?) lyrics. I do like what it gives me for the first verse, tho —

It is there to do the show
Did you want to heat
One meter is for the ambience
Did you want to dance

You can compare her choreography to the original here. Notably the top comment on the YouTube video leads with this:

mdr elle a eté adopté par des noir ??

another one includes this —

Superbe!! une futur chorégraphe d’enfer!!? WHITE PEOPLE DO DANSE merci petite blonde!!

Merci from me too! (& to kiddid for sending the link)

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June 22nd, 2009

Can We Talk About “Can We Talk About the Reggaeton Crash?”?

Gavin’s throwing darts again, and he hits a couple bullseyes — or offers some sharp prodding at any rate. The post is on par with his thoughtful and provocative ruminations on the ethics of musical tourism from almost exactly a year ago, and we can read it as something of a follow-up, a continuation not just of bloggy resonances but of nagging questions that must be asked.

The subject Gavin returns to is near and dear to me: (brave?) nu-whirled music / global ghettotech. He distills into a neat narrative arc a certain dynamic of the musical blogosphere (or at least one humble corner of it). As Gavin sees it, most of the nu-whirled/global-gtech genres follow a predictable pattern, the ol’ boom-and-bust of the hype machine —

The dominant narrative is well established: in the midst of urban poverty afflicting a community of color/nonWestern nationality, young people appropriate the techniques of hip hop/reggae/techno and make their own version of these established genres in their vernacular. A flurry of creativity creates an entire musical culture full of rapid stylistic changes and hybridity; meanwhile, the older generation and middle classes disdain the music as oversexual and immoral. Then the music hits the shores of the West, through immigrant diasporas, study-abroad programs, and canny journos looking for the next big thing. Gushing articles are written, cosmopolitan centers host parties centered around the sound, and the most recognizable sonic elements of these genres (dem bow, tamborazo) show up in remixes and DJ sets. A few artists are cherrypicked as leading the crop. A compilation album firms up the brand identity (what are genres but brands?). Tours and careers are launched. And then the genre fails to keep up with the rapid cultural turnover endemic to digital capitalism and interest fades. Luckily new genres from new locales spring up to fill the void.

A lot of this makes a lot of sense. And Gavin’s call for a close examination of the “political economy of global ghettotech” is imperative. Of course, the call for an attn to specific political economies seems in conflict with the impulse, on the other hand, to offer meta-narratives (i.e., “global ghettotech” itself) — but perhaps Gavin acknowledges this with his use of “dominant narrative,” a distancing gesture or sorts.

It’s funny, though, that Gavin picks reggaeton as his example — & funny for two reasons:

1) it’s misleading
2) it’s wrong

Wrt #1: As I initially commented on Gavin’s post, I think reggaeton is a misleading example for understanding the general dynamics of global ghettotech because it is, in some respects, exceptional. Although it may have been one of the first non-Anglo/non-mainstream genres to find uptake on the (world/whirled) music connoisseurosphere (getting lots of love here, & at Muddup, Ghettobassquake, Masala, etc.), it also departs from what I would consider more representative worldmusic2.0 genres (funk carioca, kuduro, nu-cumbia, juke) in significant ways. Perhaps most obviously, while we might be able to argue that nu-whirled bloggers played some role in the popularization of such genres as funk carioca and kuduro and (nu)cumbia — outside of their originary/primary sites of production, that is — I think we can hardly say the same for reggaeton.

Indeed, the economic arc of reggaeton’s story — which Gavin describes pretty accurately, actually — makes it seem like quite the outlier in all of this, since none of the other genres so popular among “global ghettotech” (for lack of a better term) DJs and bloggers, etc., have enjoyed even a modicum of reggaeton’s remarkable success within American (and global) commercial culture. One might be able to make an argument for cumbia — but not nu-cumbia — which has enjoyed a steady, and growing, level of popularity across Latin America for the better part of a century (though reggaeton’s incursions into English-language media still make it special in this regard).

Given the scale of the reggaeton phenomenon, it’s popularity among a relatively small number of DJs and music bloggers hardly seems remarkable. I do think it’s remarkable that reggaeton was among the first non-English genres to make inroads in the INTL urban DJ/enthusiast scene (for lack of better terms), and in this way it’s an important footnote in the story of global gobbledicunk, sin duda. Perhaps, and maybe this is what Gavin cares more about, the way in which reggaeton quickly fell out of favor for this set (which, yes, finds parallels in a broader “recession” for reggaeton) is endemic to the nu-whirled phenomenon. In that case, I would certainly agree. Nu-black is the new black.

Wrt #2: Despite all the chatter about it crashing or, more cutely, running out of gasolina, reggaeton is far from dead.

Among other indicators, as I tweeted the other day (pointing to this):

And I was happy to get some quick, on-the-ground affirmation from Brooklyn:

For my part, in the days since reading Gavin’s post I’ve counted several dembow-rattled trunks passing me on the street here in Cambridge.

And indeed, I was heartened to read this morning that Gavin himself has recanted somewhat. After attending Chicago’s Puerto Rican Pride festival this weekend (in my former hood, Humboldt Park!), he reports that, having heard a dosa buena de dembow, “[r]umors of reggaeton’s death are be greatly exaggerated.” That’s reassuring, especially since I think Gavin has long held a keen ear to the reggaetony (under)ground, as demonstrated in this relatively early piece on the genre.

Moreover, Gavin’s critical ears and eyes remain sharp. His description of the contemporary sound of reggaeton (or wot-ever se llama) hits the nail on the head —

The Dem Bow is definitely muted or completely absent in a lot of these tracks, instead there’s a kind of digital-dancehall feel, with lots of effervesynths and autotune. The way reggaeton (if you can call it that) is looking in 2009 is a hybrid of T-Pain R&B, Caribbean pop, and hints of trance.

But what more should we expect from a “genre” that has consistently engaged with contemporary hip-hop, pop, and dancehall for the last 15 years? To my ears, this is hardly a departure for what we call(ed?) reggaeton, but which has gone under many other names (and forms). If anything, the LunyTuny dembow orthodoxy of 2002-07 stands as a greater aesthetic aberration — a formal “distortion” produced by a timely collision with market “forces” — than the current crop of tracks coming out of PR (and the diaspora).

Even without an explicit dembow in the more recent productions (by the same people who produced hits during reggaeton’s heyday, to date), there’s still a recognizable aesthetic core there, I’d argue — one that emerges precisely out of the PR-based engagement with US and Caribbean and Latin American dance/pop/rap. You might miss it if it’s dembow orthodoxy you’re searching for (and I may be as guilty as any in pointing people to keep their ears on the snares). I could go on in some detail and elaborate, but, you know what, I already have. If you’re interested in this aesthetic history (and the role different genre names and forms have played), READ MY CHAPTER ALREADY.

To me, it’s more telling that reggaeton continues to generate such heated debate than that radio stations (and reggaeton stars) have shifted their strategies and broadened their palettes. That the genre still serves as such a (self-serving?) target speaks volumes.

For one, I’ll point any curious gawkers to the video I posted to YouTube in which Vico C demonstrates by beatbox the difference between hip-hop and reggaeton. Like a lot of other reggaeton-related postings around the net, it has become a vehicle for anti-reggaeton vitriol. How could something so dead generate such heat?

For two, consider a couple germane texts that my co-editor, Raquel Rivera, emailed to me recently: 1) the comments on her blog generated by her appearance on WNYC; and 2) an article in El Nuevo Dia in which salsa legend Willie Colon argues that reggaeton has peaked (the original is now behind a pay wall). My response was this —

i think reggaeton’s gonna be around (and popular) for some time to come. we’ll see what it sounds like, though. and whether people still call “it” reggaeton (they did, after all, used to call “it” any number of names).

colon may be right that the “euphoria” has passed, but that doesn’t mean the genre’s days are numbered. plus, this is clearly a bit of self-promotion for his own music, talking bout how people have returned to salsa. they never really turned away.

on another note, isn’t saying “música urbana” basically like saying “música negra”? it is in english — a pretty specious euphemism really. might as well say “race records.” so maybe we’re back where we started, but in a worse place?

The exchange made me think that if I were writing my chapter now, it might have to be titled “Música Negra to Música Urbana” — a sly story of commodification, accommodation, and shape-shifting.

I also spoke recently to a reporter asking essentially the same questions (is reggaeton dead? has it crashed? its moment passed?), and I told her I think it’s just as possible that 2004-06 represents the first of several “reggaeton” waves (que onda!), as opposed to but a flash in the pan. And I’m not simply talking in terms of the periodic Latin “booms” (and busts) that have punctuated US popular culture for at least the last century. It seems totally plausible to me that “Gasolina” and the other reggaetony blips on the “mainstream” radar were just the tip of the iceberg for Afro-Latin-American media finding a permanent place in American (in the broadest sense) mass culture. I guess we’ll have to wait and see whether history & demographics & (American/global) popular culture bear this out.

I think one could contend, at any rate, that reggaeton is as popular as it’s ever been, billboard hits notwithstanding: reggaeton stars still fill stadiums across the Americas, sell millions of CDs, and have secured a spot on urban Spanish-language radio and in the “Latin” wing of the Music Industry; moreover, there are more “bedroom” producers at work producing the music than ever before, and in more places. That reggaeton (whatever it gets called) continues to thrive at both the corporate and grassroots levels is not to be underplayed, whether or not the “euphoria” has passed (for whom?).

In a sense, this question of whether reggaeton is “dead” amounts to the PR-centric version of an odd question posed recently in the Jamaica Observer: “Is Dancehall Still Dancehall?” On the one hand, as I noted somewhat cheekily, with a nod to Norm Stolzoff, dancehall is now, was always, and ever shall be dancehall. On the other, it’s also reggae. But then again, it’s not. People distinguish roots from dancehall all the time, sometimes with the confusingly metonymic use of “reggae” as a stand-in for “roots reggae”; ask these sample people, however, and reggae is reggae is reggae (even if it’s ska). Or yet another angle: a good friend of mine, a Jamaican who grew up in Cambridge, wouldn’t consider Bounty Killer to be dancehall since, for him, Josey Wales chatting over some rub-a-dub reggae was dancehall (indeed, the music of Josey, et al., was the first style of Jamaican pop to be so strongly identified with the music’s social space — the dancehall — that it took on its name); rather, Bounty & Beenie, et al., represented something else, perhaps better described as rap (at least from my fren’s perspective).

As usual, I’m not saying there’s a there there. It can all get pretty tautological really. (Word to Wiley.) Some labels stick, some don’t. Some become brands, some don’t.

It’s still pretty astounding to me that something as clunky and freighted as “global ghettotech” might prove a useful brand, but DJs/bloggers like UMB are waving the banner, apparently with some modest success. Guillaume has some interesting thoughts about all of this, which I hope he’ll share soon. Lest we get carried away, I think we should keep in mind, as /Rupture noted, that

The exposure and interest is overrated. ‘Global ghettotech’ club nights are a minority, it is just a few individuals in a few cities doing it.

As I put these thoughts together, and commented on Gavin’s next post, it occurred to me that I might sound at times as if my own meta-narrative about reggaeton is akin to some sort of Afro-Latino version of TEH NUUM. And I hardly intend anything like that. The last thing I want to do is “overdetermine” a lot of fresh music by imposing some sort of totalizing theory on it. And I sure don’t want to produce for myself (and others) a myopic lens for interpreting new music by saddling it with the weight of tradition (e.g., bassline as hardcore?), much as that can seem inevitable. Kinda like missing the trees for the forest, innit.

On the other hand, sometimes these metanarratives can serve as profoundly meaningful frames for making sense of music (and cultural politics) as it engages our senses. For better or worse, that’s what “global ghettotech” has done / attempts to do — to contain within its ambivalent name(brand?) a set of questions, challenges, critiques. Not to beat a dead horse (or an undead one!), but one reason I employed the term “ghettotech” — problematic or confusing as that “appropriation” may be — is that it perhaps acknowledges the “uncomfortably romantic” dimension in so much of this engagement and activity. Then again, my hope — if I may risk such technoptimism — is that the (increasingly) p2p nature of all this musical exchange might promise some rapprochement between the celebraters and celebratees, the metropolitan DJs/promoters/bloggers/critics and their bredren on the peripheries (or right next door).

This is something I’ve been struggling with — in part c/o some provocative talks and interviews given in the last 6 months by Kode9 (occasionally with Kodwo Eshun). Honored as I am to find “global ghettotech” appearing alongside the ‘nuum and their own possible (afro)futurisms, I am definitely wary of creating a critical apparatus that somehow absorbs the future shock of new music. Grappling with this issue — with the critical effects of web2.0 discourse on worldmusic2.0 — seems very necessary, indeed central to my next/current project.

But I’d better stop here, as I’ve still got a lot to think through in this regard, and I’ve already written too much already. (Congrats if you made it this far!)

Thanks for the continued conversation, all —

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February 18th, 2009

Gig Wit It

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

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

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

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

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

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

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February 16th, 2009

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

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

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

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

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pardon the dict-iphone audio quality

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

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

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

yes boss!

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

to which —

Hope tings cool on your side, rasta.

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

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

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

I mentioned these features to my bredrin, who replied,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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January 26th, 2009

Are You African-American?

from a blog and forthcoming documentary re: “How rapid immigration from Africa and the Caribbean is transforming the African American narrative” (via) —

The Neo African Americans @ Yahoo! Video

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December 16th, 2008


It’s that time of year again, even if the incongruously balmy weather suggests otherwise. So, this past weekend Bec & I made another set of black cakes. This time, in anticipation, we started the fruits soaking in black-strap rum and Manischewitz a couple weeks in advance. And man, did they come out sweet.

To vibe with the Caribbean Christmas recipe, we listened to a whole heap of panang of course (h/t). How can you go wrong with songs about how great it is to eat a food and drink a rum and have a jolly time with friends & fam? Well, I s’pose you could introduce daggering to the whole(some) equation–

Dagger Dagger (2008 St. Lucia Parang) – Mantius Cazaubon

In a slightly more (?) traditional vein, some friends around the ol’ ‘osphere have been putting together some xmassy mixes. I highly recommend Gavin’s and Siebe’s seasonal selections. Plus, DJ BC put together another Santastic comp, which includes a bassliney / dubsteppy remix of the Chanukah song by my partner in Beat Research, DJ Flack.

For my own part, I’m sorry to report that for a third straight year I have failed to put together another Christmas mix of my own, but for those of you who haven’t yet heard it, or — as with things like It’s a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Story — are happy to revisit such fare every December, allow me to point you once again to my “Remix-mas” (originally posted here):

Wayne&Wax, “Remix-mas” (30 min, 28 mb)

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My failure to produce is not exactly for want of trying. Over the last few years I’ve put together a couple flailing attempts at Christmashy things, some more successful than others. Most of them quite odd (nature of the beast?). If you’re in the mood, have a listen / read on —

2005TOK vs. Johnny Mathis, “do you bun what i bun?”

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2006Jacob Miller + Nat King Cole, “The Blazing Yule (Dread the Halls)”

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2007“refried pasteles”

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We’ll see. I may yet have another odd attempt in me. Til then, hope these (good) tide(ings) you over!

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November 13th, 2008

Halal Beats

videyoga :: (via illuminarcy)

Sundance – Waahli aka Wyzah from Noé Sardet on Vimeo.

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November 12th, 2008

Austerity Gospel

videyoga ::



I'm a techno-musicologist, internet annotator, imagined community organizer.

I left my <3 in the digital global, but I reside in Cambridge, MA, where I'm from.

I represent like that.

wayne at wayneandwax dot com


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