Archive of posts tagged with "radio"

January 25th, 2018

Love That Muddy Ether: Pirate Multiculturalism and Boston’s Secret Soundscape (Cluster Mag Repost)

This is a repost of an article originally published at the now defunct Cluster Mag back in December 2011. I’m grateful to Max Pearl for the platform, to metaLAB for commissioning the project initially, and to the Internet Archive for keeping it online since the mag went down. I’ve been revisiting the mix/project over the last few years as a soundscape/radio example in my technomusicology classes, and I’m now struck that it serves as a sort of memorial given that some of these signals, especially vulnerable pirate stations, have since disappeared. (FYI, I previously reposted my other Cluster Mag pieces here on the blog. Read about / listen to the Lambada mega-mix here, and see / hear about Bump con Choque here.)

wild backyard sunset

Love That Muddy Ether: Pirate Multi-culturalism and Boston’s Secret Soundscape
27 December 2011

By Cluster Mag columnist Wayne Marshall, with his own original audio collage of the Boston radioscape.

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Over the last decade Boston has become a Caribbean radio hotspot. Reggae and soca seep through the unlicensed openings in the local spectrum, vibrantly occupying foreclosed frequencies. In a landscape dominated by ad-driven automated playlists angling for their share of the middle of the road, a new wave of low-power and largely illicit broadcasters imbue the local soundscape with color, carnival, perspective, and polyrhythm, all while addressing pirate publics who find themselves on the same wavelength. Or close enough. (Some static is unavoidable.)

A casual scan of high-wattage FM fails to pick up frailer signals, making Boston sound at first blush no different than any large US city. Tuning into Anglo-Caribbean FM pirates or Spanish-Caribbean AM stalwarts, on the other hand, offers another angle on the Boston soundscape and on Boston itself. What takes shape is a city that’s far from the Boston seen on TV, closer to the one seen on the T. The right numbers on the dial open windows into worlds where DJs talk about voting and disaster relief efforts when they’re not debating local sports, hyping next weekend’s parties, breaking new releases, or revisiting pull-up-worthy classics that would never find their way back into corporate playlists. Imagined community organizing, with music at its core. Dance music, rap music, here music, there music. All, undeniably, part of the sound of Boston.

The rise of Boston pirate radio suggests a yet existing promise for local, open, peer-level communication. As Tim Wu recounts in The Master Switch, the early days of radio witnessed effusive utopian odes to the medium’s ability “to inspire hope in mankind by creating a virtual community” (39), as if “a great social interconnectedness via the airwaves would perforce ennoble the individual, freeing him from his baser unmediated impulses and thus enhancing the fellowship of mankind” (38). Radio’s proponents were inspired by its remarkable, ethereal powers of communication and by its low barriers to entry: a mail-order kit was sufficient. “It was amateurs, some of them teenagers, who pioneered broadcasting,” writes Wu. “They operated rudimentary radio stations, listening in to radio signals from ships at sea, chatting with fellow amateurs” (34). During its infancy in the 1920s, radio was essentially “a two-way medium accessible to most any hobbyist” whereas today, Wu notes, at a moment when radio is “hardly our most vital medium,” it is practically “impossible to get a radio license, and to broadcast without one is a federal felony” (39).

Due to its nature, radio has always been a local medium, but the degree to which content has been locally determined has shifted with the winds of commerce and technological change. In the earliest days of the medium, with no ability to connect to other stations or broadcast further, “radio stations made a virtue of the necessity to be local” (40). During the ’30s and ’40s, the development of AT&T’s national network and ad-driven model created what Wu calls an “irresistible incentive…to control and centralize the medium” (76), not to mention the emergence of national broadcasting companies like NBC and CBS. Later, with the advent of television quickly capturing national advertising campaigns, the pendulum swung back as radio once again found its local calling, fostering an explosive DJ-listener feedback loop that would fuel the ascent of rock’n’roll. Since at least the 1970s, however, the prevailing trend has been toward corporate consolidation, especially after the profound de-regulation of the 1996 Telecommunications Act, with the rise of such industry giants as Clear Channel Communications (which owns close to 900 stations nationwide).

It didn’t have to be this way. As Wu points out, “the FRC had a real choice of whether to back more low-power stations, or fewer high power stations” (83), but long ago the Federal Radio Commission (now the FCC) chose to carve up the airwaves in a manner that favored big commercial broadcasters, freeing up “clear channels” for stations that transmitted across large distances while penalizing small stations who dared interfere. This official enclosure of the ether forestalled radio’s future as an open and democratic medium. While recent legislative efforts to make more room for (noncommercial) low-power FM broadcasting might give hope to some, I wonder whether radio’s lost community promise might yet be heard in the imperfect and decidedly commercial noise of DJs yelling over dancehall loops about the dress code for the big holiday bash.

For all its promise, Boston’s burgeoning Caribbean radio scene faces serious constraints. Even illicit radio stations have operating costs, and that can bring odd bedfellows to the block party—ambulance-chasing lawyers, for instance—while otherwise shaping the public soundscape in unpredictable ways. Based in and around Dorchester, the longtime center of Boston’s multilingual Caribbean community, Anglo-Caribbean FM pirates often attempt to cast a wide net even with their limited reach. (Only half-joking, one local DJ told me that a station transmitting from Codman Square can hardly be picked up in Dudley Square, just 3 miles away.) “If you know somebody that’s Spanish,” announced a well-meaning DJ over the air one afternoon, pausing to clarify, “somebody that, you know, doesn’t speak English — whatever their language is — tell ‘em to tune in, man: Monday through Friday, 12pm to 4pm!” And yet, even such occasionally awkward improvisations and arrangements are clearly attempts, and organic ones at that, to address a local public — often one in search of a local station that actually speaks its language, shares its accent, knows its songs.

Dorchester, Mass. via

At least half a dozen such stations are operating today in Boston, and the results are audibly vibrant, if not always so audible — especially the farther one gets from Dorchester. (It can be pretty hard to pick up certain stations in Cambridge, where I live, depending which side of town you’re on.) To share a suggestive slice of Boston’s secret and ever-shifting radio soundscape, I’ve put together a thirty-minute collage drawn from my own “pirated” archive of Boston’s so-called pirates (as well as licensed broadcasts). Boston Pirate Party is an attempt to offer a more direct, if obviously very mediated, representation of Boston’s airwaves. As such it extends my previous projects concerned with this town’s sound, the Boston Mashacre and Smashacre (as well as my Jamaican Radio Edit, a similar piece recorded in Kingston); ironically, and to its credit, Boston Pirate Party offers a far more accurate representation of the sound of Boston than any collection of music recorded by people who happen to be from here.

This project commenced with an invitation from Harvard’s metaLAB this summer. The basic structure of the mix—triggering of loops + FX—was performed live at Open_Lab3 on September 7, 2011. It contains about 125 sonic slices all told, cut from a total of 1.3 hours of ambient recordings I made on August 24th and 29th while sitting in my car, parked at home in Cambridge. There are a few longish samples (10-15 seconds) to help provide context and to give emphasis to the pirates and AM stations, but mostly one-shot samples and auto-scan fragments I’ve managed to forge into little loops. There’s a fair amount of static, hum, distortion, and other audible indices of power. Low-power FM and AM are both fraught with signal loss, whether fuzzy or muddy. The conspicuous and shifting noise-signal ratio also registers the distance of my vantage point, the limits of listening from across the river.

I have attempted to give a sense of the gamut in as compact yet contextual a way as possible, but I’ve also taken deliberate liberties, playing further with these contrasts and questions of quality in order, again, to bring the low-power to the fore. Since the initial performance, I have replaced certain recorded audio excerpts—notably, some of the murkier I captured—with full-color 320k mp3s. With this recurring procedure, I provide a series of surrealistic close ups through the fuzz, utopian eruptions on the staticky crawl down the dial. So, sometimes you hear it as I actually heard it in my car in Cambridge; sometimes you hear it the way I imagine it could sound. To put it another way, I employ this technique to highlight the issues of distance and power I’ve attempted to describe here — and to effect their transcendence.

And what exactly do you hear beyond static and signal? Among other things: Irish jigs and avant jazz, MOR rock fragments and bachata loops, Rick Ross grunts, reports of accidents in Ecuador and raids on Santeria barbershops, Boston-accented Wall Street numerology, a Brazilian-accented “Boston,” Junior Rodigan’s sui generis Iranian-Londonian-Jamaican-Bostonian brogue, an inevitable (and apt!) instance of the “Lambada,” Christian cheerleading, ads for things that end in “punto com,” ignorance and nonsense and “gar-bajh” of stunning variety, and a wicked lot more than you might expect.

Download Wayne’s radioscape audio collage, Boston Pirate Party, here.

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January 6th, 2016

Tales of the Tape(s)

Among other recent publications, I’m especially happy to share a paper I co-wrote last year with my ol’ friend and colleague, Pacey Foster. As some of you surely know, Pace has been working for several years to collect, curate, and explicate a very special cassette archive documenting the early Boston rap scene. (Check these articles in the Boston Globe, the Phoenix, and Wax Poetics for further info — not to mention Pacey’s blog.)

Pace and I have been wanting to situate the archive — and such a project/subject more generally — for an interdisciplinary academic readership for some time, and so when we saw the call for a special issue of the Creative Industries Journal below (c/o the mighty Eric Harvey), we knew we found a great place to share some tales of the tape(s) —

CFP: Technologies and Recording Industries
Creative Industries Journal, Special Issue 8.2 (Fall 2015)

The past 15 years have proven transformative for music recording industries around the world, as digital technologies from the ground up (mp3s) and the top down (streaming platforms) have helped transform the landscape of production, promotion, distribution, retail, and fandom. Yet while these transformations have recently upended assumptions about musical practice for artists, industry workers, fans, journalists, and researchers, a broader historical perspective situates them in a legacy more than a century long. Indeed, a history of recording industries told from a media and technology perspective is one of constant flux. The introduction of new media technologies has continually reorganized the practices, regimes of value, discourses, and power relationships of the recording business.

This issue of the Creative Industries Journal seeks to address the constitutive roles of technologies in shaping recording industry practices. How have the introduction and adoption of new tools of production, distribution, promotion, or consumption facilitated changes in the creative and industrial practices surrounding popular music in a variety of global contexts? Following Williamson & Cloonan (2007) and Sterne (2014), we specify “recording industries” instead of “music industries” to focus attention on the myriad creative and industrial processes related to music (or, broadly, sound) recordings, and to evade the tendency to group a variety of disparate music and sound-related industries (licensing, instrument sales, live performance) under one heading. We use the plural to assert the multiplicity and variety of recording industries that have emerged over time, which may not have anything to do with the current corporate-owned, multinational recording industry.

We respond to this call by discussing the Lecco’s Lemma radio show (and cassette archive) as an example of how DIY media technologies facilitated the emergence of a local hip-hop scene here in the 1980s. In addition to some media theory and a brief history of the cassette and its special affordances, Pace and I examine three telling anecdotes about Lecco’s Lemma — stories bearing witness to a remarkable moment of collective effort and creativity, a self-contained “recording industry” that networked a community of amateur artists and supporters.

One vignette revolves around this amazing artifact in the collection, a fascinating glimpse of Gang Starr’s Guru (aka, MC Keithy E) in his early days —

But I don’t want to offer too many spoilers here. For the low down on the incredible thing that Guru appears to have done to his recording of the broadcast above — an intervention that bears witness to the importance of the show, and of cassette technology — go ahead and read the article:

    Foster, Pacey and Wayne Marshall. 2015. “Tales of the tape: cassette culture, community
    radio, and the birth of rap music in Boston.” Creative Industries Journal 8(2): 164-76. [PDF]

Here’s the abstract to further whet your reading appetite —

Recent scholarship on peer-oriented production and participatory culture tends to emphasize how the digital turn, especially the Internet and the advent of the so-called ‘social web’, has enabled new forms of bottom-up, networked creative production, much of which takes place outside of the commercial media. While remarkable examples of collaboration and democratized cultural production abound in the online era, a longer view situates such practices in histories of media culture where other convergences of production and distribution technologies enabled peer-level exchanges of various sorts and scales. This essay contributes to this project by examining the emergence of a local rap scene in Boston, Massachusetts in the mid-late 1980s via the most accessible ‘mass’ media of the day: the compact cassette and community radio.

And there’s lots more Lecco’s Lemma for your listening pleasure:

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April 11th, 2014

Where’d the Beef?

No one does radio (by which I mean, audio storytelling) like Benjamen Walker. You may know him from his incarnations as the host of Your Radio Nightlight, Too Much Information, or Theory of Everything, which has recently become one of the flagship programs in PRX‘s new podcast network, Radiotopia.

I feel very lucky to count Ben as a friend. His incisive sense of humor consistently cuts to the chase of the kinds of things we find ourselves concerned about in this modern world, or should be. His commitment to running down good stories and telling them with audio aplomb is downright inspiring. Man oh man, the stories he could tell…the stories he does tell!

So I’m thrilled to report that Benjamen has made one of the best episodes of his life with “1984.” To put it plainly, this is a monumental work of media history, largely sourced from YouTube (but also via vintage TV Guides, the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, & his own rich trove of alienated adolescent experience). “1984” is a deeply engaging examination of, as Benjamen puts it, the year, not the book.

I found myself totally entrained and entertained listening to it, and you will too. Benjamen masterfully interweaves and teases out trenchant themes as US society tries to come to grips with the advent of the hyperreal and media politricks in precisely the year that George Orwell freighted with such significance. Borrowing Orwell’s central narrative conceit of the diary is a stroke of genius on Ben’s part, but it’s the dazzling execution of his vision that is most impressive. Imagine Marclay’s The Clock stretched out over a calendar year with grainy advertisements and newscasts in place of Hollywood film fragments.

Here’s how Benjamen frames it:

In 1984 your host was twelve years old, and like Winston Smith he kept a diary for the citizens of the future. For this special installment of Benjamen Walker’s Theory of Everything we travel back in time and give this diary a soundtrack. TV commercials, radio spots, movie clips — all from 1984 (the year, not the book). Along with personal memories of making the transition to middle school the show focuses on four of the most important people of year: Ronald Reagan, Michael Jackson, Steve Jobs, and Clara Peller.

Do yourself a favor and make some time for this one. Ben brings the beef, no doubt.

Word to Clara Peller!

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November 14th, 2012

Selected Student Essays, Transduced

I’m happy to report that the semester has been going swimmingly. Sorry for the dearth of posts here, but I’ve been rather engaged with reading, for one course, across a vast and dense literature on music, race, & nation while exploring, in another, the history and potential of music’s (and sound’s) deep entanglement with technologies of transduction & reproduction.

As we barrel almost unbelievably toward the end of the term, we’ve managed to produce a pretty striking set of technomusicological etudes. While two big assignments remain (a video montage and a DJ mix), the students have produced soundscapes, radio collages, sample-based beats, and mashups. Impressed and entertained by them all, I want to share a few exemplary pieces to give people a (musique) concrete sense of what we’ve been up to. We recommend listening with headphones.

First, a couple entries from the soundscape assignment (including requisite if brief prose descriptions):

Sunday afternoon shopping [for soy sauce!] at the Boston Chinese Supermarket (C-mart).

In this tasty space, life takes many different forms: the entrance music that occupies its own territory 0:00-0:20; 2:36-end); people conversing on their wants and needs in Cantonese (0:21 – 0:40; 2:10-2:22); living lobsters/crabs breathing in tank [with running water] waiting to be picked, killed and consumed (0:45-1:15; 2:23-2:35); frozen dumplings resting in ice cases (1:22-1:26), listening to the check-out machine busy reading barcodes (starting 1:27 through 1:53, transposed); butchers cleaning, peeling and chopping off fish head using their fine/scary collection of life-taking tools (1:46 – 2:09).

All is intertwined and yet at the same time irrelevant. One eats to live, others live to be eaten. Together we breathe.

This recording encompasses the tragedy I face in procrastination – enjoyment of the meaningless which ends as soon as it metamorphoses into the meaningful. This tragedy is composed of five chapters. At first, the frustration with the ominous “paper” becomes not only overwhelming, but overwhelming to the point that I must abandon work with a very definitive “fuck this paper.” I venture outside into Harvard Square where meaningless interaction forms a melody. “Hey” defines the relationship I have with the grand majority of my acquaintances – an acknowledgement of each other’s existence is all we share. However, “hey” leaves me craving for real social interaction, and I do summon a friend upon stumbling on a musical gem in the Harvard Square “pit.” However, reality freezes the real pressure I have found in The Square. I am reminded that the ominous paper is still, in fact, in need of being submitted, and I am forced to retract into my study lair. “Why, why, why” is procrastination always halted when it gets good? The answer: it’s procrastination, it’s temporary. Oh, the tragedy that is procrastination.

The second pair of examples comes from the week we devoted to (Boston) radio collages, and each offers a rather interesting portrait of a particular slice of the local airwaves:

This soundscape/radioscape takes all of its material from a cheap radio clock in a bedroom in Cambridge, MA. The sounds were collected at about 2:00 PM on a weekday afternoon.

The goal in creating a weekday afternoon radioscape of Boston is to represent Boston radio at a time that I’ve always considered to be the least interesting time of day for radio. Because it lacks the audience that rush hour in the morning and evening (and to some extent lunch hour as well) draw, radio in the afternoon does not cater to a specific audience other than those who happen to be driving, are listening to radio as they work, or have nothing better to do for one reason or another. The music tends to be generic and fairly random, the talk shows discuss mundane topics in order to save more important thoughts for the busier hours, and there is no concerted effort to create a certain ambience, as in evening radio.

Strangely enough, though, this all serves to loosen radio to a certain extent, encouraging hosts to let their hair down a bit, and allowing each station to be a little less authoritarian in their choices of music. While listening to the radio for easy entertainment or interesting concepts may be difficult in the afternoon, listening with a critical ear at this times can become immensely entertaining. It is that strange combination of humor, flair, mediocrity, and commercialism that I am trying to convey in this piece, representing most of the material I found while striving to keep the pace entertaining for the listener, who doesn’t have the comfort of being at the control. I used a lot of layering, blending, and automation to splice events together convincingly, as well as some other effects like looping, delay, reverb, and mixing in cleaner recordings of songs in order to give a little surrealism and extra realism to the sound, which was limited by the reception of the radio.

The piece starts out with quick flipping through a few channels, then settles in with a couple of announcements about the time and place. The first section mainly moves back and forth between songs on different channels, but as we go on, new characters are and themes are introduced, such as talk radio, advertisements, a discussion about receipts, a sportscast and the ever-present (in New England) Dunkin Donuts. Finally, we close with a “goodbye” and a contrast between upbeat folk-classic music that evokes a kind of “simple gifts” feel characteristic of old-time New England and some inspirational words in Spanish. And maybe one last quip about Dunkin Donuts and their great coffee.

The voice is often used as a symbol of personal interaction. In early descriptions of radio, the feeling of such interaction and indeed of intimacy through the radio was often dependent on speech and the voice. In this exercise, I have edited short clips of radio recordings taken on October 14 and 15 in Allston, MA. The resulting mix produces a simulated radio world that is all talk, all voices speaking in different registers, different levels of excitement, and different languages. The listener’s relationship to the various voices depends on many markers of identity – religious, political, linguistic, sports, etc. This collage is thus a reflection on the limits of radio voices to convey intimacy.

Our third assignment required students to get into the aesthetics of sample-based hip-hop, combining samples of their choice with two classic breakbeats I provided (the Funky Drummer and Apache). Here’s a few fun standouts (including one dubsteppy excursion):

On the surface, this piece is a hip hop beat that goes on for a couple of minutes, and this is probably all that’s really apparent when listening. In some ways, it’s all that really needs to be apparent; when putting this together I was trying to make a new piece out of the materials that I sampled from a few other songs, but there is some thought that went into the choices of material. The beat takes sounds from the Funky Drummer and Apache breakbeats, cut up and made into new rhythms: pretty standard. The harmonic and melodic material, though, all comes from a couple of songs by Billy Joel and Elton John. For some reason, maybe because they’re both rock/pop pianists, I’ve always considered Billy and Elton to be two sides of the same coin, so I wanted, at least intellectually, to put them together in one piece. I don’t really feel like the interaction is audible, mostly because I limited myself to just one or two samples each from two songs by Elton and one by Billy, cut down to the point where they are really just a note or two in most cases and often edited until they don’t resemble the original at all (for instance, slowed and deepened until a medium-high synth sounds almost like dubstep) but I still like the idea of them both being in there.

Turkey is sometimes known as the crossroads of the world, and here, the shape (Dilli Düdük) and electronic sounds (Çakk?d?) of Turkish popular music mix with the rhythms (Funky Drummer) and jazzy lines (Apache) of Western samples. Their interaction makes a dense sonic fabric, and there is some tension scattered throughout, but ultimately, the two pairs of samples serve to reinforce and advance each other.

I decided to be quite liberal with the Funky Drummer sample provided to us, and chopped it down to individual sounds. I then put this on a new drum rack and treated it with a filter delay, reverb, and a couple other elements to create a dub-like effect. The tempo and syncopation is reminiscent of most dubstep tracks, with a BPM of 140 and the snare falling on the third beat. The melody and vocals of the track come from chopped samples of the 1970’s Angolan protest song Valódia by Santocas. Samples are treated with various filters and reverb as well as sidechained to the kick drum via a compressor. We hear a looped verse, “Bem longe/ Ouví aquele nome/ Inesquecível/ dos filhos de Angola” (Far away/ I heard that name/ Unforgettable/ to Angola’s children).

And one last example, a rather esoteric mashup from one of the grad students in the course:

Here’s a mash-up of a Brazilian maracatú (“Será” by Siba e a Fuloresta) and an unaccompanied Cretan rizitiko song performed by Vasilis Stavrakakis. Instead of mashing two pieces of similar tempo, I decided, inspired by the a capella intro to “Será,” to liberally chop up the unmetered Cretan song and manipulate it in various ways (pitch changes, overlapping punches, the creation of drones) to frame and comment on various musical events in the Brazilian song. Aside from a small gap inserted near the beginning, “Será” is basically intact; the challenge was to isolate and reconfigure phrases, both short and extended, from Stavrakakis’ performance to give the impression of a melodic, harmonic, and phrasal dialogue with Siba, the chorus, and the brass band. I especially like how, though the melodic trajectories of the two songs are similar, they often treat the second and sixth degrees of the scale in opposite ways (minor second and major sixth from Crete, major second and minor sixth from Brazil). This adds a nice pinch of tension without spoiling the soup (at least to my modally biased ears), and points to the manufactured nature of the operation.

It’s been a real thrill to hear what these talented students have cooked up this term. The best of these productions really speak for themselves. And that’s the point: how can we make audible stories about audition in the age of technological reproducibility? Toward that end, I was delighted to stumble across these thoughts just yesterday:

I think of the Marshall’s taxicab soundscape, how it captures not only the sonic communications of Jamaican cab drivers, and the broader dancehall soundscape in which they live, but also something of the musicologist himself. It’s just an essay transduced. What if students and academics were to pursue the craft of phrasing and editing sound, photographs, and film with the same doggedness with which we pursue the written word, aiming for the same sophistication that we do in our written texts? What would anthropology sound, look, feel like then?

“It’s just an essay transduced”! I like that. Gonna run with it — or take it for a ride? On that note, let me leave you with an intentionally schizophonic video mashup of my “Taximan” piece (as discussed here) set to soundtrack a trip down the Palisadoes to Norman Manley International Airport, where I chat a bit (in my own odd wavering accent) about Sunday radio in Jamaica (an old fave topic) with the driver:

Jamaican Taxiscape from wayneandwax on Vimeo.

Before the end of the semester, I hope to have some amazing videos and mixes to share with you too. Thanks for listening along!

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April 17th, 2012

Junior Rodigan @ Beat Research

It’s finally time, Boston Mass(ive): tonight, Tuesday April 17, we’ve got the city’s undisputed #1 reggae selector, the mighty Junior Rodigan, in the house at Beat Research!

We’ve been wanting to have Junior over for a long time now, and though we’d welcome any set from him, we’ve taken the special occasion to ask him to go beyond what he typically gets to do — a lot of his gigs around town and spots on the radio are necessarily up-to-the-time affairs, though Junior is always careful to slip some history in. Of course, digging deep isn’t necessarily so easy for someone who, I’m told, now keeps 90% of his tens of thousands of records in storage. Based on what’s accessible, Junior’s decided to put together a classic set, dedicated to the foundational productions of Studio One and Treasure Isle. In other words, this deeply knowledgeable reggae selector will offer a guided tour through some of the biggest tunes and riddims cooked up in the late 60s / early 70s down in Kingston-town. Should sound absolutely sublime through the big subs and speakers downstairs at the the Good Life.

If you don’t know, Junior has a pretty interesting story. He takes his stage name, of course, from “Father” Rodigan, aka Sir David “RamJam” Rodigan, England’s irrepressible reggae ambassador for decades now. (This remains my favorite clip of the man in action.) Born in Iran, Junior first came under David’s tutelage as a young man growing up in London, where he would religiously tune into the elder Rodigan’s highly educational reggae radio shows. Moving to Boston in the early 80s, Junior was impressed to find a fledgling reggae scene and quickly became ensconced in things, from Dorchester to Cambridge, working as a party DJ, a promoter, a record label and record store operator, and in many many other supporting — and leading — acts. Impressively, he just hosted a 25th anniversary bash this past weekend.

Tribute to his namesake aside, Junior long ago established his own name here in Boston and more widely in the northeast as a stalwart for repping reggae here in the USA. Just watch him at work in the video below with some serious dancehall DJs & singers (“Star time, me say!”) during his drive-time show on Big City 101.3, the biggest Caribbean radio station here in town. Note how he presides over the action, not afraid to shout requests — “One more ting!” he shouts at 2min in, “(W)hol’ on now!” — and take part in the fun. The niceness of the session is a true testament to Junior’s vibes —

But Junior’s standing on the scene here well predates the rise of Big City. As featured here a couple weeks ago, you might have caught this clip of him rocking with the Almighty RSO back in 1991, adding some ruff ragga filigree to their sound at a moment when flip-tongue Jamaican rap signified the hardest of the hardcore. And Junior made a number of other recordings as a vocalist at a time when such skills could really command an audience. I wish that he could play us an entire set from these semi-obscure but treasured times, but that may have to wait for an official excavation. In the meantime, we can appreciate some great moments from a fine moment in time–

This one betrays a touch more of a UK accent than he has these days (his inimitable English-Jamaican-Bostonian brogue remains one of my favorite things on the airwaves):

And here he is playing lovers-rock deejay over a smoove take on a Johnny Gil jam from Errol Strength:

Another big chune yah —

And this may be his best known of all, another BIG lovers-rock jam; indeed, this one was such a hit that it merited inclusion on Strictly The Best Vol. 8! — a rare distinction for Jamaican artists, never mind Iranian-born, English-raised, Boston-transplants like Junior:

Here’s hoping we can give Junior the eager Beat Research reception he deserves. Hope to see you tonight. A some real nice vibrations to be shared, truss…

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December 28th, 2011

Secret(e) Soundscapes & Other Ethnomusicologoodies

tower in the sun
radio towers > ivory towers

This week in Cluster Mag I’ve got a piece that follows up on my late summer production & performance, at metaLAB‘s openLAB_03, of a personal(ized) archive of Boston’s radio soundscape. The centerpiece of “Love That Muddy Ether” is Boston Pirate Party, an ode to an increasingly diversified sound of the city thanks to insurgent transmissions, especially from Boston’s Caribbean core, in and around Dorchester.

     wayne&wax, Boston Pirate Party (mp3 | video)

Initially, metaLAB’s Jesse Shapins suggested something along the lines of the Mashacre and Smashacre, and I like how this latest mix builds on these previous takes on Boston’s sound (or similarly, for Kingston, Jamaican Radio Edit); ironically, and to its credit, Boston Pirate Party offers a more accurate representation of the sound of Boston than any collection of music recorded by people who happen to be from hereabouts (which is what guided the selections, however iconoclastic, on Mashacre and Smashare).

Love That Muddy Ether” presents a mix of reflections on the potentials and pitfalls of low-power radio in Boston (and the emphasis is definitely on power here) and an explanation of the poetics behind the mix I’ve made, which, though it has its moments, is not the typical zuper-smoove DJ mix; for all the looping and tweaking involved (and there’s a lot), it’s a bit more of a jagged and figurative thing. Might be best on headphones, or in a car. Anyway, let me lend you my ears for a minute and sing a song of Boston.

And here’s a video of the Ableton Live session if you want to visually track the audio objects —

As it happens, I get to share this latest endeavor in suggestive sound studies (which some might read as applied ethnomusicology) at the same time as some other fine ethno/musicological works are making the rounds. So let me point to a few kindred efforts — all well worth your time if your interests overlap with ours at W&W. (And I don’t say that sort of thing about ethno/musicological work all that often.)

The first is very much in the realm of remix-as-creative-archival-practice, and — it turns out — this very blog appears to have played a part in its genesis. After seeing A Tribe Called Red mentioned here, UCLA’s Nolan Warden got in touch with DJ NDN about working with samples from the Archives of Traditional Music at Indiana University. Having noticed that although the group “sample from a lot of Native American music” their sources tend to be “commercial recordings of drum groups,” Nolan made the rather ethnomusicologisty gesture (that’s vergleichendemuzikwissenschaftig in the original German) of offering, via email, to connect A Tribe Called Red with some digitized cylinder recordings featuring members of their respective tribes (Cayuga and Ojibway).

Read the rest of the story here and check out the audio and some pics here — or hear it direct via ATCR:

General Generations by A Tribe Called Red

The same new issue of Ethnomusicology Review includes an article that should be of interest to any who have been interested in the contentious discussions around “new” “world” music over the last several years. I first heard a version of this paper on a panel where I was a co-presenter at the 2007 meeting of the Society for Ethnomusicology, and I’m glad to see it finally take shape and to circulate so publicly. David Font-Navarrete’s “File Under ‘Import’: Musical Distortion, Exoticism, and Authenticité in Congotronics” takes the remarkable international success — and marketing / discursive reception — of Konono No. 1 as its central concern, considering “promotional materials, press articles, reviews, and blogs” to argue that “representations of Konono’s music amplify and distort problematic issues of musical technology, exoticism, tradition, and authenticity.”

Along the same lines but focusing on the realm of reissues — or in today’s theoretical parlance, “remediations” — of the music of the world (out there), David Novak’s new article in Public Culture, “The Sublime Frequencies of New Old Media” is a crucial contribution to some longstanding debates. You can read a provocative excerpt here, and there’s also a supplementary page filled with linkthink. Also, as one who tweeted in annoyance when first noticing the full article resided behind a paywall, I’m happy to report that, like an increasing number of scholars, David has posted a pdf of the article on his page at UCSB.

[Next-day Update! I totally blanked on mentioning something quite important about the work of both Davids to whose papers I point above — and something that more deeply connects their work to the other stuff I’m highlighting here — namely, that both have been engaged in rather “applied” kinds of projects as well as bringing that knowledge to bear on their more formal/traditional scholarship. Dave Novak, no dabbler in electronic music, has himself done the sort of recording during his travels, for instance, that might make for a rather sublimey compilation of (putatively) foreign frequencies; and for his part, David Font-Navarrete’s Elegua Records releases sparkly, gritty, slowly evolving productions that take into their abstracted orbits everything from mbira, to flamenco, to punchy static made from scratch. It’s a tad remarkable that neither author situates their essays in these personal practices, but they are an important background to bear in mind when reading.]

Finally, I want to share the latest bit of edutaining YouTubery c/o Philip Tagg, “Harvest Song from Bulgaria,” which, in his words (to the IASPM list) —

simply demonstrates how those women’s semitones have nothing to do with discord, dissonance, horror films, stabbings in the shower or anything else commonly associated with such sounds in Western Europe, North America, etc.

& he adds,

Besides, personally I think those seven women kick proverbial butt with their semitones

Now that’s what I call ethno/musicology 2011!

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April 15th, 2011

Talking Music & Media, Whirled & Jamaican, Self & Other

A couple items to share, pardon the self-centeredness, but hey, this is a blog, right?

First, hot off the virtual presses: Radio Berkman has just posted a snappily edited podcast featuring yours truly in conversation with the one and only Ethan Zuckerman about world/whirled music, globalghettotech, jerkbow, tribal, moombahton, and platform politricks, among other things. Go check out the full post here (where you can also stream or DL the audio).

Radio Berkman 178: Whirled Music

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Second, it took the dedicated team that organized TEDxIrie just a week and half to edit & post the talks to YouTube. You can see them all here, including my own talk — which, in somewhat classic w&w form, tried to pack in a little too much and grooved a little too hard in places — but if you watch just one, it has to be Ebony Patterson’s “Fashion Ova Style” (which I’ll embed below).

For those of you who have been following some of dancehall’s style trends in recent years — whether we’re talking skinnyjeans and mantourages or bleaching — you’re no doubt aware that Jamaican masculinity appears to be undergoing some peculiar revisions. Unfortunately, a lot of the coverage of such turns — both on and beyond the island — tend toward a sort of surface sensationalism rather than a deeper grappling with their implications. But Ebony goes in DEEP in her art and her talk, and her discussion of dancehall’s “camp” dimensions and the structural relations between gender (roles and representations) and employment seems to me a thoroughly insightful reading. It helps, no doubt, that she is a genuine dancehall devotee who also works in other worlds (the art world, first and foremost).

Her talk is probably the smartest, most nuanced, and most creative engagement — Ebony is a stunning visual and conceptual artist — with these complex questions that I’ve yet to behold. I just wish you could see her art in full color, as we did on the big screen in Kingston a couple weeks ago. Nevertheless, this is well worth your time:

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February 1st, 2011

Catch a Spark

If you’d like to hear more about how Masala’s collaboration with Ruff Riddims relates to the central questions of “world music 2.0” — a term that has seemingly (thankfully?) gained as much traction as “global ghettotech” (if among the commentariat rather than, say, DJs and bloggers) — you should tune in to a recent episode of Spark in which I discuss the phenomenon with the show’s sharp host, Nora Young.

The full show, aired a week ago, is streamable/downloadable here, and it includes segments on Glenn Gould’s prescient technoptimism, online curation, toddlers and cavemen. You can listen to any of the segments individually over there (and check out a bloggy supplement I submitted), or you can just stream the world2.0 segment right here (it’s just under 10 minutes long, FYI):

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Because the show is based out of Toronto, it seemed a fine occasion to talk about my Canadian brethren at Masalacism — what they’ve been up to and how they fit into world music 2.0’s distinctive media ecology. I’ve been reading their blog for many years now, and we’ve collaborated on a variety of things, from gigs (in Montreal and Boston) to radio shows.

I can’t quite keep up with all the blogs as well as I used to (blame Twitter?), so it was a pleasant convergence that the Masala guys happened to post about Canada’s own A Tribe Called Red and their “electric pow wow” sound on the day before I spoke with Nora and the Spark crew. (Apparently, I failed to catch previous mentions over at kindred blogs, Mad Decent and Generation Bass.)

Staying in Canada’s remarkably wide world, then, the show afforded an opportunity to listen to and discuss ATCR’s remix of “Red Skin Girl,” which I described as stunning — a response that lingers. Note how well it fuses Northern Cree traditions with contemporary dubsteppery:

Red Skin Girl (ATCR Remix) by A Tribe Called Red

ATCR deserve their own post, opening into the fascinating questions around hybridity, modernity, and refiguring indigeneity, but aside from what I said on the show — noting the marked difference between what ATCR appear to be doing (i.e., inserting themselves into the global bass scene with an air of local authenticity) and what previous sorts of native/indigenous “world music” sounded like (i.e., New Age synthflute fantasia) — I’ve got to bracket that larger discussion for now.

Meantime, you should definitely check their Soundcloud page, especially the Electric Pow Wow Mini Mix (DL), and some of their equally amazing videos, produced by crew-member Bear Witness, a few of which I’ll embed below. Their provocative, propulsive mix of global dance currents (hardly limited to dubstep), traditional music, and surreal pop representations of Indianness (“I’m an Indian Too”!) adds another important accent to the conversation, to be sure.

Electric Pow Wow Drum from Bear Witness on Vimeo.

native puppy love from Bear Witness on Vimeo.

Pow Wow Riddim from Bear Witness on Vimeo.

Props to DJ NDN, Bear Witness, and the ATCR crew (those guys have a way with names, eh?), and thanks to the Spark team for putting together a great little show!

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September 13th, 2010

Wax On! (700 Club Linkthink)

self-portrait in stainless steel sculpture
here’s looking at me

Apropos of noticing, this marks the 700th post since I moved this blog to my own server, way back in October 2006 — almost exactly 4 years ago, and well before Google/Blogspot starting alienating users en-masse. That’s a lotta posts, and I want to thank all of you who read here on occasion for the support, criticism, love, and feedback in general. (Speaking of, I also recently passed the 4000 comment mark — spam free! — which is maybe even more impressive than 700 posts.) As loyal readers know, I wax and wane like the name, and I’m grateful to those who can deal with the ebb and flow. Recently, it’s been more ebb than flow, but as you know, I’ve got my reasons. (Two of them, mainly.)

So, I thought I’d celebrate, and wax a little, with classic bit of “linkthink” for ya, mostly w&w + extended fam related —

  • First, I want to point you all to the latest helping of bass baditude c/o of my pardner in Beat Research, DJ Flack. Last month Flack boiled down a really tasty mix, full of weighted bangers, including a number of his own, for Mad EP‘s radio show. It’s a great distillation of the sort of set he’s been rocking on Mondays at the Enormous Room, so if you like what you hear, come catch him live. I love how the mix brings Flack’s own bouncy, tuneful productions into conversation with the music that inspires him (from dub to garage, & lots in between). You can see the tracklist and grab the mix here, or head over to Soundcloud if you prefer that —
    StepDropAndRoll by dj_flack
  • Speaking of my man MadEP/MattyP, I was just enjoying one of his own latest productions last week, thanks to !Kaboogie records, which is releasing an EP on Sept 20 including heat from MadEP, Ed Devane, the Banker, and Sarsparilla. As I listened to MadEP’s track, which features at least 3 or 4 distinct species of bass, through headphones last week, I was struck by how the lows were resonating not only my eardrums but my cranium, face, and down into my neck. As I noted on Google Buzz (yeah, I still use that), “i thought my brain was gonna leak out my nose for a minute.” Which Matty took as a high compliment, which it was. Another charming part of the track is that it includes some vocal cameos from one of Matty’s dear kids, who, I’m told by proud pops, also helped design the bass-patch on the track! Now that’s proper parenting. (And if you want a true testament to his superdaddiness, read this tweet from last night!)
  • I’d also like to point people to the episode of WNYC’s Soundcheck that I appeared on a couple weeks ago. Our “world music 2.0” convo will have familiar contours for many longtime readers, but I thought it was a nice summation of some of the major differences between what formerly (and still) gets marketed as “world music” and what a lot of us have been hearing as the music of a new “world,” a world of increasingly interconnected technologies and societies and marked by shared urban signifiers, random walks on YouTube, and banging club beats. I didn’t get to say everything I would have liked to, nor did I say everything the way that I would given a second chance, but that’s live radio for ya! (In particular, though, I want to note that I misspoke when I said that DJ Tito was sampling a reggaeton vocalist — actually it was mambo/merengue — and when I placed kuduro in “Brazil” rather than Angola/Luanda — total brain failures on those two.) You can access it here, or just stream it below. And don’t miss host John Schaefer’s sympathetic take on laptopping teens of the whirled vs. “rich producers manufacturing world music supergroups.”
  • In other news, I gotta thank Christina Xu once again for spotting yet the latest allusion to the good ole “zunguzung meme.” If you haven’t heard it yet, Vybz Kartel’s new track, “Whine (Wine),” produced by Max Glazer of Federation Sound, employs our familiar zig-zagging friend as a recurring, structural element (rather than a one-off reference)!
    .
  • And I want to send a shout to Dan Hancox, who published an interesting, apparently provocative piece in the Guardian on “treble culture,” aka, “sodcasting” in London. It reads largely as a defense and celebration of the practice, and as such it invited a fairly strong bit of opposition in the comments. Since I’m still polishing up my own essay on the phenomenon, I’m grateful for the plenty more grist for the mill this provides. Also, to Dan for quoting me in the piece! e.g., —

    .
    On London buses, I’ve seen middle-aged gay couples playing South American pop on a wet Saturday afternoon, moody raver mums sodcasting acid house from their glory years; it’s not just the preserve of teenagers with attitude problems.

    Nor, contrary to popular belief, is it an especially recent phenomenon, says the American anthropologist and musicologist Wayne Marshall, who is currently researching what he calls “treble culture”. “Sodcasting could fit into a time-honoured tradition of playing music in public as surely as reggae sound systems or the drums of Congo Square, never mind their antecedents,” he says. “Transistor radios and ghetto blasters are both good examples of a longstanding history of people making music mobile. The case of the transistor radio shows that people have long been willing to sacrifice fidelity to portability; while the ghetto blaster reminds us that defiantly and ostentatiously broadcasting one’s music in public is part of a history of sonically contesting spaces and drawing the lines of community, especially through what gets coded as ‘noise’.”

  • Finally, I want to point people to the Library of Vinyl blog, where Pacey Foster shares exciting news about becoming the trusted keeper of a trove of early Boston hip-hop demo tapes, as well as to b-ball blog supreme Freedarko, where I’ve got a guest post discussing this incredible cassette:
    .
    SUPER THINK (SIDE I)
    .
    FD’s Bethlehem Shoals asked me if I might write up an “imaginary archaeology” of the thing, and since I can’t actually find anything on the interwebs about either the mysterious TROLL ASSOCIATES or the beat-boxing, tape-head-rocking Double D Crew, who have forcibly occupied the cassette since the mid-80s, that’s about the best I’ll be able to do at any rate. So here goes an attempt to channel my inner Dave Tompkins

    .
    On one very merry late 70s Christmas morning, a young Markie D, yet to rise to local stardom as one of Boston’s several answers to Doug E. Fresh, found in his stocking a cassette boasting amazing contents: basketball “SUPER THINK” according to Julius Erving. Released by the suspicious but nonetheless seemingly credible TROLL ASSOCIATES, Dr. J’s informational and inspirational spoken-word performance had a reportedly noticeable effect on Markie’s ability to penetrate the perimeter. But when those dividends dried up around the same time hip-hop came to town, the tape was — somewhat ceremoniously — taped over, scotch guarding the knocked-out knockout tabs that tell cassette-players to keep their heads to themselves. (As noted clearly on the cassette, duplication was prohibited, but the word was mum on overdubbing.) For several years the tape played host to the latest greatest raps one could catch on the airwaves, or copy via visiting cousins from New York.

    Eventually, it served as the eye-popping receptacle of 9 minutes of beatbox fury, bragadocious cautionary tales, and reverb freakouts, carefully packed and mailed to DJ Magnus, whose “Lecco’s Lemmas” radio show on WMBR (and later WZBC) was fast becoming the primary platform for the Bean’s aspiring rap talents, including a young, recently-relocated-to-Brooklyn M.C. Keithy E (aka, the late, great Guru of Gang Starr). The broadcast of these 9 minutes may have warped more minds than the TROLL ASSOCIATES’ original and perhaps even taught more listeners the proper method for driving the lane despite that the wisdom of Dr. J had by this point been encrypted into a series of throat clicks, pursed-lip bass bombs, and allusions to famous German automatons counting in Spanish.

    Recently rediscovered by vinyl librarian Pacey Foster, Boston’s premiere hip-hop historian and assistant professor of management, now you too can learn how to dunk like Dr. J, or at least maybe rock the bells like Markie D. Here’s how:

    Double D Crew, Lecco’s Lemmas tape (née Julius Erving, “Basketball” — Super Think, Troll Associates) from wayneandwax on Vimeo.

That is all, for now. Thanks again for stopping by! Here’s to 700 more…

/wax off

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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).

BOOM-ch-boom-chick–

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April 9th, 2010

Hello Stranger, My Old Friend

A couple weeks ago, as I was driving cross-country with my brother, we tuned into a show somewhere in Tennessee which was devoted to playing 50s and (early) 60s jams from the current week, however many years ago they may have hit. This was quite a treat, especially in comparison to insane-but-boring talk radio and endless middle-of-the-road schlock, as it offered up a lot of great songs from beyond the typical “oldies” cannon. One of the songs caught my ear at a certain point with its seemingly unremarkable riff “shoo bop shoo bop, my baby” which, as I sang it over in my head, started to recall a classic reggae riff.

Because my iPhone was running low on batteries and I needed it for navigation, I couldn’t Shazam the track then and there, so instead I scrawled “shoo bop shoo bop, my baby” on a scrap of paper and filed it away for later. I was a little afraid that a Google query for “shoo bop shoo bop, my baby” might be a total mess, but as it happens, when I finally tried it yesterday, it turned up the song right away. It’s this —

Listening back to it, especially the section from 1:40 onwards, I was struck once again by how much it appears to mirror (and hence probably informed/inspired) the well-worn horn riff in Alton Ellis’s “Still in Love,” originally recorded in 1967 for Studio One — thus four years after Barbara Lewis’s R&B hit, with which Ellis and Coxsone Dodd and the Studio One band were likely familiar, being such R&B heads — a riff which has reared its head again and again on songs that take flight from Ellis’s rocksteady hit (including, most recently and notably, Sean Paul’s hit version from 2002’s Dutty Rock). Here’s the original Ellis / Studio One version; sound like a connection/derivation to you?

I was curious to know whether I was imagining this relationship myself, so I asked Twitter to lend me an ear. I can’t say that the response was overwhelming, but I was thrilled that DJ Dabbler decided to do some digital sleuthing with me. Among other things, we discovered that not only had Alton Ellis re-recorded the song in 1977, but that ’77 also happens (tellingly? which came first?) to be the same year that another American R&B singer, Hawaiian crooner Yvonne Elliman, scored her own hit with “Hello Stranger”! Check em out below (btw, I wish that someone would video the Elliman record playing like these others — such a nice witness to material culture/history):

Although, as with the 60s examples, this still only suggests without confirming — and we can’t ask Ellis anymore, unfortunately — that some amount of borrowing/inspiration is happening here, Dabbler turned up another version that certainly offers evidence of some players in the reggae scene explicitly connecting these dots. Check out this version of “Hello Stranger” by UK-lovers group Brown Sugar (which features a young Caron Wheeler, who would go on to perform with Soul II Soul):

It’s pretty obvious that Brown Sugar here employs the horn riff from “Still In Love” to animate (and make more meaningful) their cover of “Hello Stranger.” This is all par for the course for reggae’s riddim method, of course, but still, a really wonderful example of how a little riff can do so much. I wonder where Barbara Lewis & co. might have heard it themselves. Seems like the sort of thing that might have been bubbling through R&B and doo-wop for a while. If you have any other leads or connections to offer, no matter how seemingly far-flung, I’m all ears!

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Wayne&Wax

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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