I’ve got an article in The Wire‘s new issue devoted to “Freedom Principles” (December 2014). I was inspired by the call for submissions to thread the idea of freedom through the story of Dutch bubbling, which I think embodies it in a number of important ways.
After having the privilege to visit with some of bubbling’s pioneers and torchbearers in Aruba this September, I’m feeling as inspired — and required — as ever to give this wonderful story of translocal music culture and creativity the telling it deserves. This is a start.
I’ve also put together a “portal” of audio and video examples for the Wire’s site; check it out and sink deep into the sounds and images of bubbling!
The essay that appears in the print issue follows below. Big up Moortje, Chuckie, Coversquad, Fellow, & everyone else involved in this remarkable story! Thanks for sharing with me. Keep bubbling free!
Moortje on the decks in ~92
Is there any sound so free as DJ Moortjeâ€™s mid-1990s track â€śDonnaâ€ť, his remix of Singing Sweetâ€™s 1992 lovers rock rendition of Richie Valensâ€™s 1959 hit pitched to chipmunk levels and propelled by doubled-up dancehall drums in double time? With such feathers in its cap, Dutch bubbling should have long ago established the Netherlands on the global bass map. A hyperkinetic, hyperlocal, sample-centric take on dancehall, bubbling thrived in obscurity throughout the 1990s, and today it continues to enjoy a certain liberty on the margins of international reggae culture. Obscurity is but one of several key forms of freedom embodied by its almost implausible existence. Its very genesis and gestation, never mind its spectacular and strange shapes, are products of the buttressing effects of inherited traditions with liberating aesthetics, technologies with plasticity, and the social support and political economy of small scenes.
Networking Hollandâ€™s immigrant enclaves in Rotterdam, Amsterdam and the Hague, bubbling took root in dancehalls where African-Antillean youth could gather, socialise and dance. Notably, the music of choice for first and second generation migrants from Aruba, Curacao and Suriname was supplied not by these islands or the Netherlands, but by Jamaica. At clubs such as Voltage in the Hague or Imperium in Rotterdam, dancehall reggae provided a soundtrack for couples to rub-a-dub, schuren (thatâ€™s Dutch for rub), or, in the parlance of the day, bubble along with sensuous, polyrhythmic Jamaican music that sounded at once Caribbean and global, ancestral and utterly modern. Bubbling — or bobbeling — channelled the energies of a new youth culture that gave people united by their experience in postcolonial Dutch society a common platform for creativity and community, especially as DJs and dancers together pushed tempos beyond reggaeâ€™s comfort zone and twisted dancehall into a shape that became more recognisable as a local innovation.
Bubblingâ€™s DJs, MCs, producers and dancers took flight from reggaeâ€™s DJ driven and remix-oriented music culture, an imperative to revisit and revise familiar forms accentuated by hiphopâ€™s relentless flipping of scripts. Inspired at once by hiphop sampling and reggae versioning, the practitioners of Dutch bubbling remade dancehall in their own image, manipulating samples of well-worn riddims in ways no Jamaican producers ever would. In this way, bubblingâ€™s referential yet irreverent chop and stab approach to dancehall — more directly derivative than a reggae relick but less faithful to a riddimâ€™s integrity — makes it an uncanny twin of reggaeton; they even share a love for the same canon of riddims: â€śFever Pitchâ€ť, â€śBam Bamâ€ť, â€śDem Bowâ€ť and pretty much anything featuring Cutty Ranks. With a premium on transformation, skirting the line between recognition and surprise, Dutch-Antillean DJs like the pioneering DJ Moortje would take reggae B side versions and make them the basis for new performances, quite as they were intended — if not in the wildly distorted shapes Moortje and cohorts would make of them. Recording new vocals over an instrumental is one thing; combining loops from multiple riddims, some pitched to double time and some screwed to molasses, spiked with whimsical samples from the hardcore gabber of Rotterdam Termination Source or Snoop Dogg album skits, is another thing entirely.
Moortje enjoyed a critical degree of creative freedom thanks to the affordances of vinyl and turntables. Exploiting the limited but profound capacities of these playback technologies, he took the familiar records that made dancers bubble and pushed their tempos into uncharted territory by playing 33 rpm records at 45 rpm and sliding the pitch fader right up to and beyond its upper limit. Given the opportunity, Moortje would sometimes remove the turntable platter from a pair of Technics to access an internal knob controlling the pitch adjustment range, allowing him to shift 100 bpm riddims into a far more uptempo terrain.
Moortje showing me, in the sand, how he would modify the Technics’ pitch range
Later, audio software vastly expanded bubblingâ€™s creative possibilities. Moortjeâ€™s innovative performances planted the seed for speed bubbling, a digital development first enabled by Amiga 500 tracker software that allowed production crews like The Coversquad to take tempos upwards of 150 bpm, much to the bemusement or dismay of visiting reggae artists experiencing bubblingâ€™s love of chipmunked and screwed vocals and drums. Commissioned by dancers requiring dramatic, sample-packed soundtracks for their choreographed, competitive routines, producers would suture audio from films and rap albums onto the breakneck bubbling beats that impelled dancers to move like marionettes doing the butterfly. Indeed, the strikingly experimental nature of bubbling productions was predicated on an intimate feedback loop with audiences who appreciated how the music had coalesced as a genuinely local style. Such a supportive setting was fostered and enjoyed by MCs like Pester and Pret, who helped to push the tempos and excitement levels as they added their own accents to the mix. With their Dutch and Papiamento lyrics chanting down Babylon or simply telling people to shake it, bubblingâ€™s MCs further imbued the music with local resonance.
For better or worse, bubblingâ€™s deeply idiomatic qualities may also grant the genre a certain freedom from external forces. In its heyday, it only happened live or on recordings informally circulated on cassette, meaning its heavy use of samples bypassed the attentions of the mainstream pop industry. Whether mainstream Dutch house has since effectively sublimated bubblingâ€™s mojo is an argument for another day. And even as the musicâ€™s artefacts finally mount up in online archives like YouTube and Soundcloud, or as musical references percolating through the releases of Fade To Mind, Mad Decent, or Planet Mu, bubblingâ€™s baseline weirdness might yet guarantee that its signature sound will always be free.
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 BĂ˘, 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 —
an utterly awesome eight-year-old diva, via YouTube
This past week I’ve whipped up another couple YouTube montages in the vein of Gasodoble, Bump con Choque, and my students’ projects in last year’s technomusicology class. Unlike my previous efforts, which not too surprisingly involve reggaeton, these new mega-montages engage repertories that I don’t generally mess with: opera and K-pop.
The dear colleagues I have to blame for these excursions are two Berklee faculty, Isaiah Jackson and DJ Hatfield. I’m collaborating with them, as well as with Lori Landay (who has posted her own video here) and Darcie Nicole, to explore the possibilities for using YouTube in the classroom, as well as in our efforts as scholars — and as artists.
We’re giving a collective presentation at Berklee tomorrow morning as part of the college’s annual BTOT event (Berklee Teachers on Teaching), and I’m grateful to Isaiah — an ol’ friend, an acclaimed conductor, and a consummate gentleman — and the others for letting me interlope and help guide the discussion.
In a nutshell, or an abstract, here’s how we’re framing the thing —
We are all familiar with YouTube as an endless archive of weird, ordinary, awesome, and awful performances, but suppose we approach YouTube itself as a creative teaching resource. Since we can now remix video as easily as audio, YouTube performances can be edited into montages that 1) tell vivid stories about contemporary music culture; 2) stand as artworks in their own rights; and 3) supply valuable insights to students seeking to understand the role of social media. This session will explore the ways in which everyday audio/video software and global publishing sites now render visible and audible a staggering variety of musical performances. Participants will learn how they can harness new tools for examining the state of musical arts.
Of course, I have my own favorite examples in this regard, from Kutiman’s collages to the works that I and my students have cooked up, but I was excited to partner with other faculty, with their own realms of expertise, to see how the technique of using montage to represent a song or dance’s social life, as made visible by YouTube, might play out in other musical and cultural domains.
The first (mega)montage I’d like to share reveals the remarkably sustained “virality” (i.e., the ability to find new hosts) of a tune composed more than 200 years ago. Isaiah suggested that I take on Mozart’s well-worn soprano aria, “Queen of the Night,” as the sort of musical text so resonant that surely a staggering number and variety of performances would reside on YouTube.
Sure enough, Isaiah picked out (and annotated!) about 30 instances for me to consider, a small selection all told, but a fine cross-section of contexts, modes of performance / reception, and arrangements. Notably, one of these selections, which I didn’t actually use, was itself a mega-montage of some 40 different renditions. (In that regard, it’s worth noting that the amateur montage is something of a native YouTube genre in its own right, though as Lori will explain tomorrow, as a cultural form “Soviet” montage has been ascendent for some time.)
I’ve been chatting with Isaiah about what has emerged from this exercise, asking how a text so, well, old could continue to enjoy so lively a social life — only glimpses of which are revealed by trawling YouTube — even into the media-suffused 21st century. And despite clearly calling for a certain virtuosity (which some deliver and some do not), one significant detail that Isaiah noted about the story behind this favorite aria from The Magic Flute is that it was composed precisely to inspire such a desire to sing along (or hum or whistle). Apparently, Mozart’s friend Emanuel Schikaneder, who wrote the libretto and played the role of Papageno in the production’s first run, encouraged him to make the aria short and punchy, the sort of thing that would be popular at “the Lodge,” as Isaiah put it (they were both Freemasons). In this sense, Mozart’s aria might be thought of as a proto pop song, written to be short and catchy and popular. It sure looks and sounds that way according to YouTube.
To my eyes and ears, the montage, which aside from a slightly extended coloratura section essentially sticks to the original (brief) length of the composition, vividly reveals how the aria spans professional and amateur contexts, gender and age, virtuosity and cringeworthiness, various modes of reception (e.g., note which examples contain applause), drama and humor, private and public settings — the sort of versatility that helps to secure a certain longevity. Despite pre-dating “participant culture” theory by a few centuries, surely this is a spreadable song for the ages!
The other montage I worked up may be more familiar in some ways, if you keep up with YouTubey dance memes, but I find it no less interesting or revealing when it comes to grappling with YouTube and what it shows us about music culture in the contemporary moment. DJ Hatfield’s central text is a song — and, crucially, accompanying dance — called “Sorry Sorry,” performed by the popular K-pop “boy band” Super Junior. (And yes, there are already other fan-produced montages of it floating around.) Like lots of other popular song+dance routines (e.g., Crank Dat), one can search for “Sorry Sorry” on YouTube and discover a plethora of examples, from solo routines at home to large numbers performing their mastery of the popular steps in public.
Pointing me to just over 20 examples — again, a small slice of what’s up — DJ led me down a K-pop rabbithole, wherein I found residing alongside each other a marvelous variety of instances: slick commercial productions from Korea and ambitious spoofs from Mexico, goofy karaoke sessions, dead serious tutorials, all manner of home- and school-based versions, breathless TV broadcasts, anime remixes, toy robots, and of course, Filipino prisoners. (You just haven’t made it as a dance meme if the CPDRC hasn’t immortalized the choreography in all their orange splendor.) You can even see the choreographers of the dance, two guys from Los Angeles, strutting their stuff in their own darkened dance studio version. It’s really quite a rich set of instantiations, raising on old question for me: what’s the text and what’s the paratext? (EL QUĂ‰?!). Take a look yourself —
One genre that I couldn’t resist including here, and which may also deserve the status of “YouTube native,” is the K-pop reaction video. Apparently, watching people watching people on YouTube on YouTube is a thing. Special thanks to longtime W&W interlocutor Alexis Stephens, aka @pm_jawn, for bringing this phenomenon, which really deserves a post or two of its own, to my attention. The K-pop reaction video gave me a way to frame the whole montage that was just too meta to resist.
What makes the example especially interesting to DJ — and notably what doesn’t show up as much on YouTube as the dance routine per se — is that, back in 2009 or so, the particular hand-rubbing gesture for “Sorry Sorry” entered the greater gestural lexicon. People would do that hand-rub gesture anytime they apologized! Such quotidian moments don’t show up especially well on YouTube, but one other interesting example of the dance’s “migration” connects to DJ’s work on music in Taiwan. As you’ll see at the end of the montage, a Taiwanese artist named Suming incorporates the gesture into a video for his song “Kapah” that mashes up a variety of traditional and popular Taiwanese (and other) gestures and references.
There’s a great deal to be teased out here, obviously, and it’s our collective hope to do some of that tomorrow morning while also gesturing (sorry sorry) to other possibilities and uses of YouTube, whether we’re thinking (or singing or dancing) as scholars, teachers, artists, choreographers, or toy robots.
Once again it’s that time! I’ll be guesting at Boston’s Best Dance Night™, PicĂł Picante, this Friday–
PicĂł 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 PicĂł 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 PicĂł 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 BogotĂˇ, 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. PicĂł 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!Âˇ! We look forward to hearing all about it.
I just want to reiterate how fortunate I feel to have had PicĂł 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 PicĂł 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
Summer vibes really on lock all a sudden, eh? Boston tropical and ting! (In fact, the main reason I’m finally getting around to writing this post — best intentions notwithstanding — is on account of IT IS TOO HOT TO SLEEP.)
The dog daze arrived just in time, tho, for I’m delighted to report that this very evening, FRIDAY JUNE 22, on only the second or so night of summer, I’ll have the pleasure of plumbing some seasonal depths by playing what has become, hands down, my favorite dance party in town: PicĂł Picante. And alongside no less than my pardner-in-beatresearch, DJ Flack, & other local luminaries —
Can’t wait! Nuff props to Pajaritos for making the space. It’s really an honor to finally get behind the decks (if while triggering a laptop) to rock the reliably great crowd they rally. You’ll find few sessions in Boston as welcoming and warm. Expect plenty reggae/ton from me. Time to get some dembow into dem bones!
The second gig I want to mention here isn’t actually mine at all, but it’s well worth your consideration — and as it happens, it’s being put on c/o two good friends: Pacey “Library of Vinyl” Foster and local author Elijah Wald (who, I’m pretty tickled to say, was a student in my global hip-hop course this spring).
Elijah is a real polymath and a serious scholar, and when he sets out to write about something — whether the blues or narcocorridos — he sure digs deep. His last book, How the Beatles Destroyed Rock’n’Roll, is an indispensable history of US popular (dance) music during the first half of the twentieth century, no less worth your time for its polemical title (which is really more of a subtext).
I’m pleased to note that Elijah’s new book bears at least as provocative a title as the last, especially for those of us who grew up a little closer to hip-hop than r’n’r —
This new tome, hot off the presses, is the subject of Elijah’s talk this Sunday night at Pace’s place (accompanied by germane musical selections by the vinyl-librarian himself), the first of what I hope will be many such “salons” Pacey hosts at his awesome East Cambridge loft. Here’s the deets:
“The Dirty Dozens: From Mississippi Blues to Gangsta Rap”
A talk/listening session with Elijah Wald, author of “The Dozens: A History of Rap’s Mama”
Sunday, June 24, 8-10 PM
Library of Vinyl Experience @ The Chicken Loft (above the “Live Poultry Fresh Killed” sign)
613 Cambridge St., Cambridge, MA. 02141
$5 Tickets at Brown Paper Tickets
Snacks and beverages will be available. Also copies of the new book.
Limited to 30 People! Get your tickets now to reserve your spot.
DJ Pace will be spinning dirty classics before and after the talk. Friend the new Library of Vinyl on Facebook for information about this and future events.
And here’s a little about the book, including some pretty killer blurbage:
A century before gangsta rappers took dirty rhyming to the top of the charts, Mississippi barrelhouse pianists were singing lyrics as hardcore as anything in the rap canon. In fact, they were singing some of the same lyricsâ€”the nasty insult rhymes known as â€śthe dozens.â€ť A form of verbal dueling popular in rural fields and on urban streets, the dozens is one of the basic building blocks of African American vernacular virtuosity, and has overlapped into pop songs, comedy routines, instrumental cutting sessions, and rap freestyle battles.
Tracing back to African ritual poetry, the dozens is part of a vast tradition of unashamedly sexual verse that consistently flourished in African diaspora communities but rarely surfaced on record or in print, except in heavily censored or bowdlerized versions. Some popular rhymes have endured in oral culture since the nineteenth century, turning up in the work of artists as disparate as Jelly Roll Morton, Zora Neale Hurston, George Carlin, and Flavor Flav.
“This book is sexy… and poignant, smart and a piece of history.”
“This impeccably researched study of the classic black insult game may be the funniest work of serious scholarship ever published.”
–Terry Teachout, Artsjournal
“The Dozens are in very good hands here. Wald gives them the detailed, broad, and serious consideration they have long deserved.”
–Tricia Rose, author of Black Noise and The Hip Hop Wars
Maybe I’ll see you or your mom there?
Finally, I just want to remind that we’ve got our next session of Beat Research coming up next week, and buay is this one gonna be a doozy!
Click on that flyer above for an “invite” and check the video promo below c/o D’hana, aka Chubrub —
Not much more to add here. But get yourself ready for a full-on live performance from LE1F, plus a set from Boston’s own Micah, and yeah, we really couldn’t be more thrilled to host the first appearance of ZOMBIE NU LIFE. (Pretty sure Rizzla DJ is my favorite people-mover on the planet right now.)
This is my new favorite thing in the world, and somehow it makes it make more sense that Luanda is the most expensive city on the planet. Sure is rich anyway (here’s a little background, fyi) —
/big tip of the proverbial hat to Farrah Jarral, whose awesome voice I first encountered on Keysound’s classic 00s London mosaic, Margins Music, which I still owe a massive big-up/break-down of a postâ€¦
Africa Is a Country, a wry but passionate blog devoted to “Africa” — the idea, not (simply) the song — in contemporary media (but “not about famine, Bono, or Barack Obama”) has been threatening to make a weekly series out of the genuinely remarkable resonance of Toto’s 1982 soft-rock anthem. It’s a begrudging tribute of sorts to the song’s “resilience as a piece of media about Africa.” Did you know that in addition to dozens of covers, which they promise to feature, the song is also popular sampling fodder for hip-hop producers (among them, Madlib)?
It promises to be entertaining, whether or not you can withstand the earworm. This week they pointed to a new appearance of what they’re calling “the Toto ‘Africa’ meme” courtesy of r&b crooner Jason Derulo, which, I have to admit is both “inane” as they note over there and a pallid by-the-numbers attempt to reproduce the feel and form of “Watcha Say,” his debut single and highest charting song (it hit #1).
I can’t help but be reminded of a strange and oddly apropos discovery about Toto’s “Africa” I made a few years ago, which may be of passing interest to some of you, especially fellow followers of Africasacountry.
Here’s how it happened: my dear friend and colleague, Sharon, is a doctoral student in anthropology who studies the transmission of traditional Malian dance, especially in transnational contexts. A longtime trad-African dancer herself, she has studied and danced in Mali, the US, and France. Anyway, long story semi-short, when Sharon was getting hitched a few years back she asked me whether I might help her arrange some music for her reception (an awesome & lively affair, full of drums and dance, in which a young & chubby Nico got to prance about with the august & strikingly spry Dr. J. Lorand Matory).
Her idea was to take one of the common rhythms from the Malian repertory and mash it up with some pop or hip-hop tracks that employ the same patterns. The idea was suggested to her by the fact that her local teacher, Joh Camara, himself would reference Will Smith’s “Gettin Jiggy Wit It” as a sort of mnemonic device when introducing students to the didadi rhythm. You know, the na-na-na-na-nana-nah bit. You can hear it pretty clearly in this performance I turned up on the ‘Tube (esp between 0:40 and 1:00):
This seemed like a fun task, especially given how much I love tracing patterns across different repertories. But after a few days of intense humming along to myself and attempting to trigger things in the recesses of musical memory, I had come up with relatively little. However, while I had only located a couple tracks that make reference to the rhythm, I had seemingly stumbled across an almost incredible possibility: that Toto’s “Africa,” which seemed like one of the least African songs I could imagine, might actually be based around an actual African rhythm. (And I use actual there twice because it’s a magic word, like Africa.)
Here’s what I shared with Sharon:
I have to confess that I’ve found it rather challenging to think up other songs that employ the same rhythm(s) as Didadi (aside from the tight fit that is “Gettin Jiggy Wit It”). Been racking my musical memory, which has led to some false leads and close fits, but nothing else — until this afternoon — save for a funny refrain from a Cypress Hill song (“la la la la la la la la” in “Hand on the Pump”).
Funny enough — actually I think you may find this discovery fascinating — as I was trying once more this afternoon to think of other songs that might match (and I’m being fairly exacting in wanting a good match — a direct rhythmic overlay), I started humming the rhythm to myself: buh-duh-duh-duhduh-duh-duh. Eventually a vaguely familiar bassline / chord progression emerged from my murky brain. I couldn’t place it, though, and couldn’t remember any words, so I just sang along with the melody until I reached the chorus, where, I hoped, I might remember a single Googlable word. When I got there, I was stunned: the word was “Africa” and the song, natch, “Africa” by Toto! What a hilarious coincidence! I have no idea whether the group was intentionally figuring Africa with that rhythm — it’s never sounded very African to me, but it sure does now!
Anyhow, I’m afraid that means I have only turned up 3 songs that use the same rhythm(s) as Didadi. And two of them are quite cheesy. But this is all in good fun, right? Anyhow, see attached and tell me what you think. For now, I’ve chosen to leave Joh’s performance unedited, so you hear the entire ~2:00 rendition that he gave us, the full arc, including all his variations and the general accretionary/crescendoing dynamic. If that works for you, that’s cool. If not, we can do some editing. Just let me know what you think. It’s easy enough to loop any of the measures he plays or to cut something here or add something there. I could extend any of the songs mashed with the drums, or shorten them, or change their order. I could also change the tempo so that it is faster or slower or gets faster over time (Jo does gradually get faster, and that’s one change I’ve made: now he stays at the same tempo, which helped me to mash/match things up).
Now, judging by this Wikipedia entry and it’s detailed accounts by members of Toto of the way the song came together, it sounds like the guys in Toto might have more or less entirely stumbled upon this felicitous rhythmic concordance. Meter minutiae aside (however fascinating), I find this quotation from drummer Jeff Porcaro most pregnant:
… a white boy is trying to write a song on Africa, but since he’s never been there, he can only tell what he’s seen on TV or remembers in the past.
At any rate, you can imagine the bizarro eureka moment as I pulled that schmaltzy tune out of some dark corner of my mind. As for the main keyboard riff’s Africanness, you’ll have to decide for yourself. Here’s the “mashup” I sent to Sharon (which, suffice to say, was a little too goofy to work for the wedding):
Allow me to point you over to Norient.com, where I’ve just contributed an article that attempts a brief history of perreo and other “spectacular copulative” dances, including a glance at such recent instantiations as daggering, perreo chacalonero, and of course, choque.
Longtime readers know I’ve been working to develop an analysis of such practices — and their fraught reception in local and extra-local spheres — for sometimenow (often in collaboration with queridas colegas). The invitation from Norient — in conjunction with their 3rd annual music-film festival (ostensibly to help frame the screening of this doc) — was a fine opportunity to provide some historical perspective, as well as to offer a concise primer on the central questions of power and race/gender at the heart of debates around such dances.
It’s a short piece, so it only scrapes the surface really, but here’s hoping it proves a stimulating read and leads to a richer framework for our discussion and dancing alike. Here’s a teaser, but do click on through —
Sexual pantomime runs deep through dance, not surprisingly, and moral panic right alongside. In the New World and trans-colonial Europe, Afrodiasporic rhythms like reggaetonâ€™s dembow (for some, a synonym for perreo) have repeatedly engendered the kind of intimate dance that provokes policing along the lines of race, class, and age, usually under the banners of Christian moral authority or the civilizing imperatives of nation-building.
Among other predecessors of perreo, consider the European reception of the zarabanda, a high-energy dance first recorded in Panama in 1539. In his book on the music of Cuba, Ned Sublette describes the zarabanda as â€śa mimetic dance that simulated sexual actionâ€ť which â€śruledâ€ť dance floors in Spain for 30 years around the turn of the 17th century despite clergy attempts to suppress it with threats of whippings for men and exile for women.
Another fascinating forbear appears in new research from historian Lara Putnam who turned up archival evidence of weekly â€śreggeeâ€ť dances held in the early 1930s by West Indian migrants to Costa Rica. Propelled by jazz, mento, and tango and tarred by reports of coarse language, public drinking, and vulgar dancing, the parties appear in local newspapers as causes for concern, at odds with notions of racial uplift held by local editorialists who recommended that organizers instruct musicians â€śnot to play any pieces which may be a temptation to those spectacular copulative gyrations.â€ť
Despite my relative silence here this summer — about which, more soon — big tings a gwaan, especially as the fall semester rolls around.
First up, I’m thrilled to report that I leave today for Rotterdam, my first visit to Holland / the Netherlands! I’m fortunate to have been invited to participate in a conference gathered around an exhibition on Bengali film at De Nieuwe Oogst —
You might be wondering what I have to say about Bengali film, but you’ll have to ask me after the weekend is over for that. Happily, the conference organizers are using the event to stage some broader conversations about media and popular culture, and I’ve decided to take the opportunity to organize my thoughts around a topic that’s been bubbling up on my blog from time to time: Dutch club music — or more specifically, the contrasting media ecologies and aesthetic affinities between 90s bubbling and 00s dirty house / moombahton. In other words, Dutch club music from Moortje to Munchi, with a lil Afrojack along the way. Or in other words:
Look at Me Now: Dutch Club Music from Invisible Local Marginality to Invisible Global Ubiquity
Holland’s bubbling scene of the 1990s was so unremittingly anchored in local sites of realtime production and material circulation that in two decades, with few exceptions, the genre has hardly migrated beyond Rotterdam and the Hague. In marked contrast, contemporary Dutch house producer Afrojack, whose style audibly emerges from a national club music inspired by bubbling’s distinctive take on foreign but familiar forms, could credibly be counted among today’s top-tier producers of global dance-pop (if often overshadowed by US-based partners such as Diplo and Pitbull). Moreover, Afrojack’s remix of “Moombah,” slowed down several clicks by a Washington DC-based DJ named Dave Nada, has served as the basis for an emergent genre, moombahton, that enjoys a similar breadth of engagement and international circulation, but with relatively little attention to questions of Dutch origins — again, offering a striking departure from bubbling’s insistent locality and marginality. Although at a glance, then, the formal aesthetic qualities of mid-90s bubbling and today’s moombahton might have a lot in common — highly referential and resonant drum loops, Afro-diasporic signposts, a strong embrace of denatured synths and samples — a closer attention to their particular contexts and technologies of production and circulation can reveal striking shifts in the cultural politics of urban Holland, and the wider wired world, in an age of digital and so-called “social” media. Tracing the shapes and forms of Holland’s club music from bubbling’s Antillean counterpublics to the multicultural mix of participants addressed by Dutch “dirty” house and moombahton, this paper examines the distinct media ecologies that fostered the rise of such styles while considering the implications for understanding how musical media can facilitate forms of social collectivity and interaction, mobilization and disarticulation, audibility and illegibility.
See here for the full program. I’ll be giving my talk on Friday, Sept 1 at 11:45am as part of a panel addressing questions of “Urban Form.” Even more exciting (for me anyway), I’ll be DJing an afterparty on Friday night alongside Munchi himself! (not to mention State of Bengal and Nafer Loves You) It’s gonna be fun connecting all these dots! Sentello velocity indeed…
The second upcoming event I want to mention here is another DJ gig of sorts. On the evening of September 7, I’ll be performing at openLAB_03, a gathering at Harvard’s cool new experimental research unit, metaLAB, happening in conjunction with the Berkman Center’s iLaw conference.
The directors have been using the openLAB event series to present projects from Boston-area artists and share ongoing metaLAB experiments with the public. The theme of openLAB_03 is remix/curation of media archives (“broadly interpreted,” I’m told). Along these lines, they’ve asked me to reignite the Boston Mashacre/Smashacre stuff I worked up a few years ago, and I’ve decided that the next chapter in this series of sonic explorations of Boston’s sound(scape) will focus on radio transmissions.
Although I haven’t had a chance to write about the subject here yet, I’m deeply interested in how Boston’s radio landscape offers a uniquely audible picture of the city and the people who live here. The vivid, if often muted, presence of low-power and “pirate” radio stations — especially emanating from Caribbean communities — is something I’d like to explore, and accentuate, especially alongside the crushing amount of hi-fi, ClearChannel, middle-of-the-roaditude that saturates the airwaves here. In terms of aesthetic procedures, I plan on toying with degrees of distance and difference, signal and noise. To that end, I’ve been making my own “personal” (and/or public) archive of Boston radio scans, which I plan to cut up and loop and reassemble in the spirit of, e.g., my 2003 Jamaican radio edit.
Not sure yet about the title — think I’ve exhausted the (s)mashacre schtick, so maybe something like “Towers of Power” — but, at any rate, I hope something suggesting these power relations emerges in the performance. Will share in audio form here once I get a chance to bounce it all down, but please do come to openLAB_03 for the live mix if you’re in the area.
Association with the Berkman Center is always a felicitous thing, IMO, and I’m happy to report that, in addition to this latest bit of convergence, I’ve been selected to serve as one of the Berkman Center’s Faculty Associates for the 2011-2012 academic year (alongside a humbling list of luminaries).
Speaking of the academic year, the fall semester is soon to commence, and although I don’t have time (right now) to go into the long story of my academic employment situation, I’m excited to report that although my fellowship at MIT ended this spring, I’ll be continuing to teach here in the Boston area. I’m offering two courses this fall, one at Brandeis and another at UMass-Boston. I’m delighted to be teaching at both institutions, and very much looking forward to meeting the students. If you happen to know anyone at either place, please help spread the word. In brief the deets are:
1) On Monday evenings from 5:30-8:00 at UMass-Boston, I’ll be attempting to fill the very large shoes of Reebee Garofalo, who is retiring, teaching his perennial and popular course on the “Social History of Popular Music.” This is a great opportunity to dig into the question of the “popular” and how it opens into, emerges from, and informs social history. I’ll share the syllabus here as soon as I’ve got it into good enough shape. It’s being offered through the American Studies department (AMST 235).
2) On Tuesday nights from 6:30-9:20 at Brandeis I’ll be returning to the topic of “Reggae, Race, and Nation” for the department of African and African American Studies (AAAS 171a). The syllabus will not look too unlike my Global Reggae course for MIT (now on OpenCourseWare!), though I will be tweaking it a little, of course.
These topics are near and dear to my heart & work, and I feel fortunate (if a little undercompensated — twice the teaching for 20% the pay!) to be able to continue thinking and talking about music, popular culture, and social history & theory for a “living.” Nice work if you can get it. Do help me out by directing good students my way!
Hope to see some of y’all at some of these things. And I promise to fill you in on my Summer of Relative Silence very soon. Also, I’ve got some pieces of writing to share. Soon come, patient readers, soon come.