I received a CFP in my inbox today that served to rekindle several thoughts simmering in my head since Shadetek went babelfishing —
Analysing the Musically Sensuous
Society for Music Analysis Autumn Study Day
University of Liverpool, School of Music
22 November 2008
For most listeners to music, sensuous affect is of primary, perhaps even singular, importance. Our responses to music in everyday situations, ranging from background ambience to pounding film scores to sources of studious contemplation, are mediated through musicâs sculpting of sensual, physical, emotional and affective experiences.
Yet when it comes to analyzing the musically sensuous, music theory and analysis have proved stubbornly resistant to (and perhaps even fearful of) engaging with the musically sensuous, often retreating instead into ostensibly more cerebral studies of the musically syntactical. This one-day conference seeks to contribute to the process of redressing that imbalance, not least by acknowledging that separations of the sensuous and syntactical in music are, at best, artificial necessities for study and, at worst, utterly misleading. …
The focus of this conference relates closely to a point Ripley brought up in a comment as well as to my own initial trackback linkthink. And the question of music’s sensuous qualities — esp independent of textual/lexical/syntactic primacy — is one thread in the wide-ranging discussion @ DuttyArtz that has been rather underexplored, in my opinion.
I’ll grant the post-struct folk that we’re always already contained by language/discourse/ideology, but even so a phenomenological account of musical experience should not elide the bodily dimensions of listening/dancing — never mind the pleasures we take in vocal timbres (that Barthesian grain) and rhythms and melodies irrespective (certainly sometimes) of their being saddled to or propelled by words, those ideological phenomena par excellence.
I think we do music a disservice when we impose such narrow confines on the various interpretive frames that musical experience opens into. One of the most convincing exegeses of the listening process in all its complex glory can be found in Steven Feld’s, “Communication, Music, and Speech about Music” (pdf), which happens to be one of my favorite ethnomusicological essays of all time.
From a more personal standpoint, I can attest that I don’t always listen to lyrics. In fact, I often ignore them — sometimes so habitually that I’ll have heard a song dozens of times, and attended to and noticed all sorts of details in it, but will have no idea what it’s about. I may have developed this listening mode when waist deep in hip-hop tapes, especially in cases when “lyrical skill” — as we sometimes called it back-in-the-day — was sorely lacking, while “flow” — referring more to the voice’s non-lexical performance — was not. Sheeeeet, in some cases, the beat was actually good enough to sustain one’s attn against some truly awful rapping. (A few Gang Starr album cuts come to mind.)
Whether a matter of habit or an active aesthetic choice (or, more likely, something flittering back and forth between the two), I apply this mode of listening across language and genre. It doesn’t matter if it’s Engllish (my first language) or Jamaican English / “patois” (which, mostly, sounds as comprehensible as any English dialect to me at this point) or Spanish (which I kinda understand) or German (which I understand far less) or Portuguese or French or Italian (some cognates here and there) or the hundreds of other languages I might come across in my musical wanderings. I tend to listen to human voices as simply other voices in the musical texture; I pay no mind to phonemes, just phones. Or at least I try.
Indeed, I say tend because I’m not always able to ignore the powerful work that words can do.
If we’re gonna attend to lyrics, as we sometimes do — for better and for worse — then we still have to ask, what good is an injunction to respect, as Shadetek puts it, “artistic intentions”?
Let’s take what seems to be a common limit case in discussions of which songs DJs will play (or not) due to their lyrical content: Buju Banton’s “Boom Bye Bye.” Indeed, it’s the track that Matt himself offers as an example — and calls “a good song” “nastiness aside” (nastiness aside? but i thought that “we really need to make sure that if weâre gonna engage in a style that weâre doing it on all levels, not just formal”).
I disagree that it’s a good song. Catchy as Buju’s melody is, pleasurable as his gruff tones may be, and enjoyable as I find that chintzy, R&B-flavored riddim (which first endeared itself to me via Mad Cobra’s “Flex,” especially given that track’s ability to incite lascivious dancing at high school jams), I find my experience of that song to be constantly, consistently tripped up by Banton’s intolerant vitriol.
If someone’s artistic intent is to urge violence against gays as a way of puffing up his manhood, I’m just not down wit waving the wannabe flag for that one, you feel me? My own urge is the opposite: to disrespect artistic intent, to distort and subvert, to do something like this —
Now that’s a Buju track I might actually play in the club.
The playful but critical gesture embodied in that mp3 is not gonna make me any friends in Buju’s camp. And, no doubt, it’s gonna ensure that I’ll never set foot in Buju’s camp again. But you know what, I could never be Buju’s friend. Beca’, to be frank, Buju’s an asshole. Simple and plain. (Motherf*ck him and John Wayne.) Even so, I can’t help it — I love ‘Til Shiloh. You done know.
great post by kevin linking lil wayne to coltrane, miles, george duke and other techno-musical visionaries :: including the great question, "Is not Auto-Tune the wah pedal of todayâs Black pop?" :: and, to boot, he inserts his video-supported commentary into recent discussions @ duttyartz re: language and voice and identitititity
interactive site on latin american music, w/ video interviews/demos w/ musicians from across the continent discussing rhythm, harmony, community, y otras temas :: bomba, plena, cumbia, son huasteco, vallenato, y mas!
ned sublette on bo diddley — the man, the music, the legacy :: a pull quote, among many: "It was positively modernist: a song called 'Bo Diddley' about the exploits of a character named Bo Diddley, by an artist named Bo Diddley, who played the Bo Diddley beat. No other first-generation rock 'n' roller started out by taking on a mystical persona and then singing about his adventures in the third person. By name-checking himself throughout the lyrics of his debut record, Bo Diddley established what we would now call his brand. Today this approach to marketing is routine for rappers, but Bo Diddley was there 30 years before. He was practically rapping anyway, with stream-of-consciousness rhyming over a rhythm loop."
Recent discussions spurred by Matt Shadetek and /Rupture quoting him feel like the culmination of a couple years of critical discourse, clumsy practice, and increasing interconnection between the two. I’m enheartened to see this kind of debate taking place and the number of insightful perspectives offered up, and I think it can only be good for “the scene” — if we can — for there to be a greater degree of reflection around all the production and circulation in which we’re engaged.
But the last thing I want to emerge from this critical conversation about “global ghettotech / gobbledigook” is for people like Stu to disengage or stop what they’re doing. I totally understand the conflict Stu describes between one’s time and the ability to blog richly contextual pieces about the wonderful (musical) things we can access these days. It’s a balancing act, no doubt. Which is why my own blog wanes&waxes between linkthink and essay-like catharsis.
This whole dilemma reminds me too much of the crippling process of becoming a graduate student — probably in most disciplines but especially disciplines that practice an explicit degree of self-reflection (e.g., anthro and its kin). I used to get so caught up on words and language and representations (in my academic writing) that I could hardly write at all without employing enough qualifications to paralyze the prose. It sucked, frankly, all around. And I’m deeply grateful to blogging for helping me break out of that particular kind of self-consciousness (b/c surely blogging has plenty of its own) and to feel less timid about just putting something out there.
It’s better, I think, to engage, if clumsily, than not to.
Better still to be thoughtful, careful, and graceful about it. But we can’t all be Jace Claytons. Some of us have to be Stu Buchanans and Wayne Marshalls and Guillaume Decouflets and Will Quinneys and Matt Shadeteks (or whatever his real name is) — or any of you other dear avatars out there.
Let’s keep the deep conversation going, yes, and/but the linkthink too –
In my sha3bi searches last night I came across all kinds of odd & awesome stuff. And I don’t say ‘odd’ as an uninformed outsider (though I am one, relatively speaking), but b/c some of the cha3bi vids one finds are truly bizarre mashups of footage ranging from what looks like a Francophone African music video (Reunion? really?) to clips from Tom&Jerry —
But one of the best things I came across is a video of a more traditional — indeed, acoustic — mulid street performance than the soundsystem-propelled events portrayed in Jennifer Peterson’s article. According to the uploader, this depicts “men whoop[ing] it up on the streets of Al Hussein [Cairo]” in a post-mulid mood. One can certainly see connections to the recent/remix version of mulid/inshad/sha3bi, though one also gets to see/hear the improvised poetry a bit more, which inspires one commenter to call it “8 Mile on the Nile ;)” — watch the MC with the frame drum step up around 1:12:
The other thing I find uncanny about this clip — given the way that “ghettotech” has emerged in “nu-world” discourse — is how the call-response chants from 0:47 to 1:07 sound pretty much exactly like several ghetto-tech/-house/juke tracks. I don’t know what they’re saying (sounds like “yeah yeah”), but it would mix very well with any number of tracks that anchor themselves with a repeated “uh oh!” or “hold up!”
I know I’ve used it before, but, that said, I can’t resist ending with this gif —
— which not only, beyond some linkthink, merits a post of its own here (for a few reasons), but inspires some further thinking re: the whole whirled debate we’ve been having (which I’ll get to in a moment).
First, what I like about the article: the content. Peterson offers a richly contextualized (if awkwardly “scare-quoted”) portrait of the mulid remix scene — a Cairo-based circuit of bedroom production and street/soundsystem dance which reanimates the Sufi inshad tradition for an urban youth audience. I confess to knowing relatively little about sha’bi (alt., sha3bi / shaabi / shabbi / cha3bi / etc.) or baladi, though I’ve always got my ears perked & eyes peeled for any kind of musical-cultural phenom that brings together computers, giant stacks of speakers, time-honored traditions, and street dance.
Not only does Peterson offer a fascinating history and contemporary account of mulid/inshad and its relationship to pop/dance music in Egypt, she bolsters her account with some great audio and video examples — something that music journals are pretty (remarkably) slow to do in their migration online. Props to Arab Media & Society for supporting such a multimedia, widely accessible form of publication. They will be a better read and referenced and respected journal for doing so. (Though, I have to confess that my own jury’s out on whether their “peer-reviewed” commitment is retrograde or not — I understand what they mean, and I’m sure it’s useful for certain academics competing for status and resources, but I’d argue that “peer-review” on the internet is another thing entirely.)
Check the article for the examples, which are better encountered in the context of Peterson’s narrative. But do permit me to embed a couple awesome clips of mulid-related dancing —
What strikes my admittedly outsider eyes most about these is the presence of familiar figures — dance moves that would look more recognizable if the guy in the green were wielding a glowstick rather than a knife: sufi trance meets psy-trance…
This mulid remix scene is undeniably, as the practitioners themselves dub it, “haaaaaardcooooore” (gaaaaaaaaaaamid) and would hence seem to fit rather well into the global g-tech constellation, the ruffneck “nu world” music that constitutes a recurring concern on this here blog and others on the ‘osphere. And yet, I’ll be surprised to see mulid remixes, or sha3bi more generally, start to turn up with any frequency on hipster muxtapes.
I’m not sure exactly why that is, though I have a nagging feeling it has to do with race. It’s conspicuous that so many of the genres that have found favor among the bloggers and DJs and tastemakers and downloaders associated with this nu-whirl biz — funk carioca, kuduro, cumbia, reggaeton, dancehall, kwaito, coupe decale — are marked, implicitly or explicitly, as black. They’re either Afrodiasporic (“New World” innit) or straight-up African (of course, extricating the two is downright impossible at this point — see, e.g., kwaito). And this is something I was trying to get at with my “coinage” of “global ghettotech” — i.e., that race as much as class is a prevailing dimension of our engagement with these genres.
That’s not problematic in itself, I hasten to add, for aligning oneself / identifying with the struggles and triumphs of the black poor of the world is an obvious thing to do. But all this talk of “global,” of “world,” starts to seem like a crock when we look at the actual genres that accrue cachet. Where are the Asian, Middle Eastern, or even European standard bearers for the global proles, if that’s what we’re repping? (Or are we repping something else?) Sure, we may talk from time to time of Belgian jumpstyle or Malaysian shuffle, but when we look at the mp3s we share and play in our DJ sets and radio shows, the skewed representation is clear. So what’s the deal? Is it merely a matter of New World blackness retaining a certain resonance (for a variety of reasons, some more insidious)? Or is there a special sort of xenophobia operating here? Or both or neither? I’m more curious than rhetorical on this point.
After reading Peterson’s article I wrote to Jace/Rupture, who offers one of the more longstanding examples — among the usual suspects — of a DJ/blogger/middlemang based in the US/Europe digging for and sharing and grappling with and spinning/mixing/mashing Arab music. Considering the uptake that his cumbia blogging has received, I wondered how his forays into Maghrebi territory compared, online or in da club. His reply —
i would love it if when i
blog/play maghrebi + berber stuff it rcvd a similar blogospherical
echo as w/ the cumbia/etc … but it simply hasnt happened
Which is basically what I expected him to say.
I’m not sure quite what to make of it, but as someone who likes to make a lot — perhaps even make a living — on making mountains of meaning from molehills of music, I wonder what the world would be like (sound like?) if we could embrace the sha3bi remix scene like we embrace lots of other remix scenes. Could we, in doing so, remix our ideas about Muslim societies and cultural practices? Remix our foreign policy? Remix ourselves?
“We try to shuck our inherited identity as tourists or consumers or Orientalists or neocolonialists, and build new identities in their places … that will assure us that our musical choices match up with our liberal politics”
‘In the trial of a pornographic Web site operator, the defense plans to show that residents of Pensacola are more likely to use Google to search for terms like âorgyâ than for âapple pieâ or âwatermelon.â’ :: b/c teh net is teh spot for pie
“From Argentina to Nicaragua, Latin Americans have elected leftist leaders over the last decade who are challenging Washington’s aggressive war on drugs in the world’s top cocaine-producing region.” :: LatinAm’s newly “non-aligned” soft war on drugs
I’ve been meaning to share my reflections on the smut/slackness symposium I participated in @ Penn for some time now, but, well, you know how the end of the semester can go. Many of the themes that emerged in the panel have been ‘verberating in my head, however — ideas which seem to resonate with recent debates elsewhere on the ‘osphere, not to mention previous thoughts on booty-bass (esp received as “foreign”).
Grades are in, tho, so time fi get this off my to-do list. Pardon the prolixity — this is a long one.
In my talk at Penn, I first made a point of acknowledging and affirming that something like “slackness” in Jamaica — i.e., an attitude about publicly performed sexual mores and morals — can work to challenge a hypocritical, Eurocentric hierarchy of value and culture of “respectability” with its frank, healthy, humorous take on sexual and gender relations. As some Jamaican observers such as my fellow panelist Carolyn Cooper have argued, slackness can be understood as a trenchant response to official (i.e., church and gov’t) discourse about sexuality and the control of the body (politic). Slack lyrics and dances are strong gestures of opposition in a country still so scandalized by bad words. Slackness thus pushes against a public culture of respectability and decency that masks the enduring disrespect and indecency perpetrated against the disenfranchised (black) masses. Moreover, beyond any pushback, many will argue — Afrocentrists among them — that such ways of dancing, singing, talking, and relating are part of a rich cultural heritage that recognizes the power and importance of (sexual) pantomime (if often in a heteronormative fashion), not to mention both frankness and sly (or crass) innuendo, and — on the flipside — the problems that come from repressing our desires, our (second) natures, and ourselves.
I followed this rehearsal of the merits of slackness, however, by proposing a possible limit case (and hence inviting accusations of conservatism, of being — indeed! — rearguard). I wanted to see whether my co-panelists and the other participants in the symposium might hesitate in giving license to any and all forms of representation in the context of dancehall (or, more generally, musically-mediated) performance. I wondered whether certain examples might strike us as unredeemable from a progressive or playful perspective, tipping so far into suggesting sexual(ized) exploitation and domination that we’d have to recognize it, if not chant it down, as something beneath the basic level of humanity that we can also celebrate, dignity intact, as liking to get low, u feel me?
The panel was titled “Smut/Slackness in Caribbean Music,” and I had to admit that the term smut was puzzling to me in this context (before I was enlightened by fellow panelist and ethnomusicologist Shannon Dudley, who explained that smut has operated in Trinidadian discourse the same way slackness has inna JA). With regard to Jamaica, I found smut a suspicious term to throw into the mix. Why would we describe the practices we’re discussing in that way? Or better, who would describe them that way? What might be lost or gained, politically / epistemologically, from employing such a term, such an analysis, such a judgment?
For me, smut refers to porn, but slackness does not. And I was worried about what might get lost in the conflation of the terms (at least in a US-based discussion). Does the debate around morals, and whether one adheres to them tightly or slackly — especially in the performative, spectacular site that is the dance hall — disappear when we move to the category of smut? Well, only if we think of smut as coterminous with porn, of course. Nevertheless, it seems important, to me, to maintain a distinction between slackness and pornography. (Sidenote: this is a line blurred increasingly by pop-chart hip-hop and r&b — a related and interconnected, if often implicit, topic in our Carib-centric conversation, to which I’ll return).
Like everywhere, one can find porn qua porn in Jamaica: there are “titty bars” and resorts called “Hedonism” and such; there’s imported pornography; there’s even the occasionally rather racy, but not XXX, spread in the X News; and sure, dancehall artists’ descriptions of sex and certain dances or ways of dancing can lean toward the pornographic in their explicitness. Along these lines, it’s worth noting that the video recordings of dancehall events such as Passa Passa, recordings which circulate internationally, and overlap with and inform local scenes in the diaspora (e.g., Florida), offer up-skirt perspectives a good 50% of the time — one may as well call it the “punaany cam.” (But I should note, as well, that the subjects of such shots are as often exhibitionist as evasive.) Still, the term smut is rarely, if ever, so baldly associated with reggae. So it seemed a little inappropriate to me, perhaps problematic — distracting at best — to conflate these terms.
As I thought more about the title of the panel, however, it occurred to me that it might be better to see “smut” and “slackness” not as coterminous, as synonyms, but instead to see the slash between them (“smut/slackness”) as expressing a threshold, a line that might be crossed. (And, yes, this entails ignoring the meanings of smut in Trinidad, but bear with me for the sake of argument.)
If we consider the ol’ “i know it when i see it” test — an infamous phrase associated with Justice Potter Stewart’s opinion in the 1964 Supreme Court case, Jacobellis v. Ohio, which hinged on whether a French film could be deemed obscene by the state of Ohio — if we consider that test (admitting that who the “I” that knows and sees is, of course, quite important), than it might be productive after all to interrogate the boundaries between smut and slackness, especially in such a cross-cultural, transnational conversation as this one.
And so I proposed a limit case, something to pose the question: is this slackness or smut? where do we draw the line? where do dancehall participants draw the line? and what are the implications — for gender relations, for questions of interpersonal and international politics and power — of deeming something obscene or not. Such a judgment is a conferral of value, and because I think we can argue for the value of something like slackness in the way that it publicly pushes against certain strictures and structures, while the value of smut is perhaps more dubious, I think these are crucial questions to consider.
My limit case, as I reported back in April, was a (then) recently coined song&dance weh dem call the “Titty Wine.” An obvious play on the “Dutty Wine,” a very popular dance of the last couple years, the “Titty Wine” takes the duttiness, I think it’s safe to say, to another lebel. The “Dutty Wine” is hardly very dirty; sure, it demands some rather vigorous waistline (and neck) gymnastics — win[d]ing is always about the movement of the hips — but it still leaves plenty to the imagination. The “Titty Wine,” on the other hand, essentially calls for the gyal dem simply to rub their breasts, with a fair amount of freedom (or disregard) for what happens around the waist and below. To my eyes, and to other observers’ (and lovers of dancehall, I hasten to add), the “Titty Wine” hardly seems like a dance at all, but rather the beginnings of a strip-tease, or worse, a “breast self examination“!
Clearly the dance is interpreted differently by various dancehall participants: it’s either beyond the pale or in the tradition, though — as this exchange indicates — even then the dance is not criticized as scandalous, just wack/stupid. I suspect that for many outside observers, esp if one’s focus is the lyrics and the images rather than the surrounding discourse and debate, the “Titty Wine” is easy to dismiss as pure objectification, fantasy fulfillment on the part of the men calling the shots — perhaps, even, as smut (in the non-Trini sense). To wit (?): CV’s latest song&dance, the “Kattapila” — an attempt to encourage the kind of below/around the waist activity which many Titty Winers were forgetting — is hard to interpret outside the realm of pr0n: the promotional video doesn’t even feature women actually doing the dance to the title track, it simply sets the song to a series of win(d)ing/striptease videos culled from around the YouTubosphere. I don’t think it’s coincidental — or insignificant — at all that some of the clips employed are actual softporn / amateur / YouTube-safe (but NSFW) stripteases, rather than videos of girls, y’know, dancing to dancehall (never mind to the title track). I’m sure we can still argue over whether or not this fits the slackness bill, but is there really any question here as to whom this is being made for and whether it can be extricated from the category of smut/porn?
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Carolyn Cooper responded by noting that the “Titty Wine” (the “Kattapilla” hadn’t buss yet) seemed to contain a fairly strong dimension/connotation of self-pleasure. I can certainly see that. (So does a lot of porn, of course.) And I should note that I’ve sometimes found myself on the other side of this argument, against “rearguard” critics — such as last summer in Mexico City when, during a panel on reggaeton and wrt perreo, I enlisted dancehall scholar Sonjah Stanley Niaah to help me make the argument that a lot of this is simply (if, yes, complexly) a form of play. Or as I wrote when I returned from a brief trip to Kingston last summer —
Iâve been in several conversations lately about reggaetonâs perreo and whether or not it is misogynist / patriarchal / phallocentric. Obv thereâs no easy answer to that big question. But itâs kinda yes and no, IMO. Seems fairly ambiguous at any rate. At the least, we could use some ethnography around perreo before we all try to speak for the girls doing the deed. To the whatever-wave feminists who worry that the whateverrr-wave feminists have left the cause behind, Iâve been trying to argue â alongside colleagues such as Raquel Rivera and Sonjah Stanley-Niaah â that thereâs a whole lotta play going on in this. Dance a dance. Sex is something else. Drrty dancingâs nothing new & does not necessarily lead to the nasty.
In general, I’ve decided that the best feminist I can be is one who respects women’s rights to do what they deem appropriate with their bodies and selves. But that doesn’t mean I don’t still have reservations, perhaps even condemnations, that I think are important to bring into the public conversation, especially when certain acts are perpetrated by men. I often have trouble hearing crunk, for instance, as anything more than barking at strippers, which is hardly an ideal model for the kind of healthy sexual acculturation (against Euro-Christian repression & hypocrisy & squirminess) that many of the participants in the symposium saw as a positive dimension of a great deal of Afro/diasporic music and dance. (Nor is criticizing the dudes/dogs in question at odds with allowing a woman the right to be a stripper/sex-worker, or simply the right to take pleasure in playing certain roles — in the (non-strip)club or the bedroom — some of which may be submissive, exhibitionist, or downright “freaky,” as they say.)
It’s worth noting that our views on such topics can’t always be cool, abstract, and disconnected from our (emotional) relationships with friends and family. My own talk was preceded by Raquel Rivera’s cautionary tale of defending the extreme vulgarity and symbolic violence of some proto-reggaeton artists only to want to withdraw her support after hearing from her little sister about a dancefloor encounter that had slid quickly into harassment and abuse. And Raquel’s confession / discussion was anticipated by Shannon Dudley who, after offering a history of “smut” in Trinidadian carnival & calypso, described the challenges and delights of listening to Calle 13 — a group that deliberately confronts the elite/mainstream value system in their music — with his pre-teen kids in Puerto Rico last summer. Thinking about the “Titty Wine” from a parental perspective puts a whole ‘nother spin on it, even for those of us who are quite comfortable with the notion that sex/gender play is a part of life, throughout life, and that frank discussions and depictions of sex can help us to shape healthier attitudes about ourselves than, say, Victorian-era notions or Catholic/Protestant/Puritan dogmas.
If the dancefloor is a place where it is safe to move one’s body in unusual ways, perhaps it is also a space where the embodiment of the sex act can be exposed, toyed with, and manipulated.
Part of me wonders what happens, however, in the YouTube era when we move from dancefloors into each other’s bedrooms, kitchens, etc. (i.e., domestic/intimate spaces) — when virtual communities are not just imagined but actually interfacing, exchanging media and ideas, & sometimes phone numbers. Does what Kevin calls “the liberating potential of a construction of sonic space in which sexual desire, fetish, and perversion are no longer taboo” hold true when the sonic space in question — which is, of course, always a (special) social space — increasingly extends into other social spaces? (To some extent, it’s worth noting, the overlap between sonic and social space can sometimes seem total, even without — though usually with — the penetration and ubiquity of new media technologies, as in the way that dancehall culture reflects and informs Jamaican sociability and sociality in general.)
We might also ask, to turn to a probing comment by Unfashionably Late Gavin on Kevin’s post, does this liberating potential hold if it’s all about patriarchy and heteronormativity?
The nature of sexuality at play is incredibly important as well. Disco and house were gay musics, or at least queer, and many of the important originators were gay men. Electronic music in general is seen in the U.S. as âgayerâ than other types of music. During my ethnography for my thesis, I discovered that techno (made by straight black Detroiters) currently has a gay connotation in Detroit. Ghettotech and bootybass producers (all hetero) are quite consciously claiming dance music (their first love) for heterosexuality â they are not breaking down the walls of sexuality so much as shoring up a very traditional notion of heterosexuality, in tune with contemporary commodified sexuality such as porn and strip clubs. In effect, they are making dance music that allows audiences to NOT question their sexuality â they are comforting conservative hetero audiences. It is interesting, however, that the music seemed revolutionary to a liberal feminist such as yourself â I think that is worth considering further. To me, the queer and open sexual politics of disco are more revolutionary than the concentrated hetero domination in booty bass. In any case, I think we can safely say that the era in which flaunting bourgeois sexual values can be considered revolutionary is definitively over.
That last statement seems like something of a knock for defenders of slackness (and perhaps undercuts a lot of what I’ve said above). I think Gavin raises some trenchant points here, as well as when he questions whether camp and pleasure may potentially undermine a straight-forward reading of booty-bass practice.
The truth is, I really can’t say. And that’s one reason I resist imposing anything like a definitive interpretation on — never mind a call for censure or censorship of — something like perreo (or even the “Titty Wine”). Who am I to say? Who is anyone to say? In order to get a better understanding of what all of this means, we need to bring more voices, more moments of meaning-making, into the conversation. (Where are all the dance ethnographies/autobiographies we so badly need?) I want to hear from more women and girls, from more people of color, from fewer gradschool-educated white dudes. Sin duda, “dame mas gasolina” — eloquent as it may be — is hardly the last word. And while a musically-mediated breast exam may speak volumes, it also seems profoundly silent.
on music, noise, and neighbors :: “…it is precisely at this interface of community and sovereignty, at the imaginary line that separates âthemâ from âmeâ, that the story of the noisy neighbour can be told.”
“If, by [‘work in the humanities’], you mean only individualistic research, directed at arcane topics detached from real-world needs and written in inaccessible and insular jargon, there is indeed very limited money.”
“Every New Years Eve/Xmas Eve time, DC’s local community Jazz station WPFW 89.3FM goes all out. Bobby Hill hosts this show called The Other Side Saturday nights, and he has been doing an instrumental PE/Bomb Squad special every year since 1990 or somethin
This Friday — here in Cambridge, Mass — the Thunderdudes are bringing none other than Detroit ghettotech luminary DJ Assault to move the (m)asses @ the Greek American Political Club —
I have to admit that I’m pretty excited ’bout that, since I find ghettotech, ghetto house, juke, etc. — various hardcore post-house/techno booty beats — to be really quite engaging on a visceral level. The breakneck tempos, the driving drums, the low-fi, DIY, indie aesthetic (often [self]described as “raw“), even the dirty chants, repeated ad absurdum, all work together to do some work: on my body, on my psyche, on the collective. It’s no surprise that “work that” (and similar imperatives) tend to dominate ghettotexts. These imperative qualities have a lot to do with what makes ghettotechs appeal more broadly, beyond their original, local confines (they’re labeled “ghetto” for good reason), globally even.
Of course, when I stop to think about it, when I let the looped words grind their lexical meanings into me, I wince. That ol Cartesian dualism, er, rears its head, and I find my mind wrestling with my hind, like, Are we really nodding along to this?
& I know I’m not the only one who asks such questions. I think — and hope — that this kind of inner (and sometimes outward) dialogue is pretty much shot through the ghettotech experience (for ghetto denizens and diggers-at-a-distance alike). Indeed, as some of the exchanges captured in this short documentary on ghetto house in Chicago attest, the producers and their people themselves grapple with the genre’s “abusive” sounds —
There’s an interesting contrast, however, between listening to ghettotech in English, where it’s not so easy to ignore the words’ meanings (even if I try to let them function as another nonlexical layer of sound, which, hell, I’ve been doing with nuff hip-hop & dancehall for some time now) and listening to “ghettotech” in another language, e.g., Carioca Portuguese or San Juan Spanish. I suspect that a lot of us global ghettotechies out here, especially those of us in the monolingual camp (ahem, USers), have an easier time listening to booty music when we don’t have to think about the meanings of the words. If it’s all gobbledecrunk, it’s all good.
I was recently e-terviewed for a piece by a Brazilian journalist on “global ghetto” ish, and I think the following q&a is germane, so I’ll end with this —
Q: Do you sometimes feel there should be more political lyrics in global ghetto music (I’m thinking of Rio funk, reggaeton, kuduro and kwaito which are largely sexual and/or party-oriented)? Or maybe feel that these musics could have more of a commitment to change or denounce their situation (if you think they do promote some kind of social change, please explain why)?
A: Sometimes I might feel that way, but then again, I think that music about sex or pleasure or partying is already political in a certain sense. It depends very much on the social or cultural context, of course. It’s no surprise that the themes that dominate a lot of ghetto music have to do more with everyday concerns, or with transcending the stress of everyday life, or with pissing off the middle-class, the government, the power structure. As for promoting change, sometimes one sees that sort of thing, especially in the Rasta-inspired visions of a lot of reggae, but in general, people living in ghettos worldwide haven’t seen much change, don’t see much hope for change, and probably won’t change the focus of their lyrics until there is some real change in the social conditions in which they live. I guess it’s something of a chicken and egg question, but it’s not for me to tell people what to rap about. Of course, as a DJ it can often be uncomfortable to play songs that are overtly misogynist or which objectify women as sex objects (and little else). Perhaps that’s another significant appeal of “global” / foreign ghettotech: it’s easier to listen to booty music when you don’t understand all the words.