This Friday, at the very #rare time of 5pm and at a rather lovely spot, I’m psyched to be opening for two of my favorite (erstwhile) local talents: Rizzla DJ & False Witness, the two from the #KUNQ crew who cooked up the time-warped, globally-warmed, zombie beach party of Isla Toxico —
While we won’t exactly be performing on a toxic island (though you might consider Boston such at times), we will be right on the water, at the Institute of Contemporary Art’s waterfront space — definitely one of the nicer sunsetting spots in the city. They’re calling the event Urban Beach, which yeah, but I think that’s a theme we can all work with.
From 5-6:30pm I’ll be doing my best to level the vibes. Playing before dark can be as liberating as it is constraining, so I’m looking forward to the chance to play things that diverge from club imperatives. Haven’t had a chance to play a sun-drenched set in a while. Or slow music, for that matter.
Back to my cohorts, though: I couldn’t be happier to play opening act for these two. It’s been a pleasure to watch Rizzla’s distinctive productions and insurgent sets get the uptake they deserve. He & the whole #KUNQ crew bring together such a great set of shared & individual sensibilities, and the results manage to challenge as they seduce. Take, as another example, the very latest c/o Rizzla & Blk.Adonis —
Crossfading and fusing a special & specific array of styles, their shifting constellation of soca, hardstyle, ballroom, dancehall, and reggaeton transmits a finely-tuned address to a particular (if cross-sectional & always emergent) public — a musical beacon which worked wonders here in Boston back when Rizzla & co. were all resident here & giving this old town some NU LIFE.
That a progressive / queer / genderqueer / feminist / anti-racist / inclusive movement would rally around brusque dancehall anthems and raved-up dembow speaks volumes. Eschewing the imperial work that appropriation does, the #KUNQ approach gestures toward the more complex possibilities that emerge when we embrace difference. “Get to know it,” Rizzla says, “and you won’t want to rip it off.”
But he may have said it even better when he said –
Fortunately for us toxic islanders of Greater Boston, NYC is not too far away, so we’re still graced with the #KUNQ crew’s presence on a relatively regular basis. Hearing some #KUNQ beats echo across the harbor this Friday sure sounds like a vibes to me. Maybe you too?
Ok, Boston Massive, the time has come! Tonight we kick off our new monthly edition of Beat Research with none other than NYC’s DJ Rekha!
What (more) can we say? Flack & I have been wanting to get Rekha up here for ages; we’ve both had the pleasure to open for her at local shows; and we both love playing a bhangra track or three in our sets. I’m not sure anyone else in the house tonight will be quite as excited as we are, and that’s how it should be.
A lot of people, myself included, throw the term “ambassador” around when talking about Rekha, and that’s because it’s an entirely fitting description. Rekha’s been along for the ride — and piloting her own course — since just about the beginning of bhangra’s urbanization and transnational spread. For 15 years she’s helmed Basement Bhangra, and she facilitated the stateside premieres of no less than Panjabi MC, Tigerstyle, and MIA in the US. More recently she’s been collaborating with Zuzuka Poderosa, the NYC-based carioca vocalist. Yup, Rekha knows what’s up.
Moreover, though it should go without saying, Rekha’s Bhangra & Beyond approach — and, especially, how bhangra itself constantly opens into and refigures what lies beyond its borders — makes her a quintessential Beat Research guest. Even were she to play a set entirely comprising bhangra, you’d also hear plenty of dancehall, hip-hop, house, garage, and any other groove worth grafting onto bhangra’s big, sticky tree. It’s remix music par excellence, as likely to please conservatives and/or progressives as make them bristle. Here’s how she put it on NPR last year —
â€¦theres a lot of debate around certain aspects of bhangra. Bhangra, if one would technically break it down, it is a male folk dance. It is a very specific rhythm, actually. So what is considered bhangra today is one of many rhythms, not exactly the bhangra rhythm. But as language evolves, culture moves forward, things start to mean other things. So bhangra has become sort of a ubiquitous term to describe a certain style of music and it’s definitely a battleground for tradition versus modernity.
And yet, despite contemporary, urban bhangra being about as “nu whirled” as it gets, I also think there’s something conspicuous about it’s general exclusion from the global / tropical bass repertory. Sure, there are echoes and flirtations here and there (especially if enabled by the likes of Timbaland), and some blogs have been consistently committed to staying up on the latest desi bangers, but for the most part, I’m pretty sure there’s a classic bit of brown-isn’t-black-or-white, ahem, coloring the reception and circulation of bhangra. And I’m pretty sure das racist.
Anyway, I was hoping to feature a little interview with Rekha here about that sort of thing, but she’s been too consumed by travel (to Bolivia last week w Zuzuka Poderosa!), so we’ll just have to chat about it later tonight. Looking forward to her perspective on it, but not as much as her set!
Don’t miss it!
Indeed, you might consider getting there early, if you’re up for it, as we’ve got quite an amazing warm-up act in Scotland-born but Salem’s own — that is, Salem the town in Massachusetts — world-class skweee devoteee, Radio Scotvoid.
The main thing you should know for tonight is that Scotvoid is serious about skweee, the semi-obscure but thoroughly awesome and remarkably sinuous synth music based outta Sweden and Finland. Given that its a recent phenomenon, you may be surprised — but then again, not if you’re familiar with the analog-love at the heart of skweee — to hear that a lot of skweee labels issue their music on 7″ vinyl. And Scotvoid is the type of guy (the only guy?) who can put together an hour-long skweee set entirely from 45s. Which is what he’s gonna do. Which is bonkers.
We’ll get things started around 9pm, so come make a night of it with us. Wiggle your mind, baffle your behind.
MAY 30 (AKA 2NITE!)
w/ DJ REKHA
And since I can’t resist sharing, allow me to tease the incredible summer of Beat Research we’ve lined up:
So this also feels like a long time coming, and I couldn’t be thrillder (trillder?) about LE1F’s support that evening c/o of the NU LIFE crew, who just last week got some well-deserved local love —
I’ve long thought that what Rizzla & D’hana & co have been cooking up at NU LIFE and other things around town is pretty much one of the best — and most original — things Boston has going for it. They bring some real vision to the party, as the article delves into, and/but the way their particular musical address — including the songs of Buju Banton, their orthogonally anti-gay comrade (I’ll have to explain that one sometime) — hails a particular cross-section of actually existing Boston diversity.
Ironically (or not?), NU LIFE is going out on top, ending their 3-year residency at Zuzu in Central Square next Tuesday (June 5), and shifting toward being more mobile & flexible. Sounds like a good move to me; I look forward to the next edition, wherever it may pop up. Meantime, we couldn’t be more happy to host a special post-NU DEATH jam with the NU LIFERS, including a rap set c/o Micah Domingo. Need I say more?
Better to let them say it themselves. Here’s a lil blurb they wrote for the Phoenix to provide a little context for their driving NU DEATH mix (which puts me in such fine company, I’m blushing):
Nu Life has hosted some incredible DJ’s and producers, including Kingdom, Venus X, LE1F, Wayne Marshall, Jubilee, Massacooramaan and Physical Therapy. The vibe can range from 90’s dance b-sides to underwater reggaeton house party. This mix is a blend of some styles we love – club and vogue beats, afflicted big room house, juke and harder rave music with twerk vocals. It’s a mixture of Rizzla’s own remixes and productions, the new school anthem YOU by Fade to Mind label head Kingdom, queer vocalists and amazing Boston-based producers like False Witness, Dev/Null, and Wheez-ie.
I can’t even begin to describe how amped I am for this. It’s a little incredible, to say the least, that all of these amazing DJs — who have all pursued impressive solo paths — will be back in town and in the same building, stirring up some good ol cross-genre, art-rave sociability like they used to make together, on the regular, as the Toneburst Collective.
This is an absolute dream bill, far as I’m concerned, and a historic occasion. I’m grateful to all of these folks for helping to make it happen! For the record, I was never a member of the collective, though as I recollected admiringly some 7 years ago (!!) —
as more of an occasional party-goer than a core participant, i first approached [the Toneburst aethetic] with a fair deal of wonder and curiosity. sounded like some stuff i’d heard before, but then again it didn’t. i liked that it somehow represented boston (a town woefully marginal on the musical map), but i wasn’t sure how exactly. somehow the music was both smart and gritty, though, which seemed right.
Given the way things have turned out in this mashy, remixxy world — not to mention how Jace & Jake & Keith & Larisa &c have all fared in their own pursuits — I’d say they were onto to something back then.
Beat Research is but one local torch still held aloft for the Toneburst spirit, and I couldn’t be happier about how brightly we’re gonna burn this summer.
This is my new favorite thing in the world, and somehow it makes it make more sense that Luanda is the most expensive city on the planet. Sure is rich anyway (here’s a little background, fyi) —
/big tip of the proverbial hat to Farrah Jarral, whose awesome voice I first encountered on Keysound’s classic 00s London mosaic, Margins Music, which I still owe a massive big-up/break-down of a postâ€¦
Not long after my last post went public, a savvy searcher quickly proved that what I thought was fairly ungooglable (at least without knowing Arabic) was, in fact, waiting for me on eBay. And beyond simply locating & IDing the music/CD in question, this kind commenter hit Arabkidsmusic paydirt.
First, I want to take back my description of the CD itself (pictured here) as “clutterred”; scans of the jewelcase reveal heretofore unimagined photoshop riches–
And the seller pointed to other visually alluring CDs that I now want to hear, including one clearly ‘shopped by the same artiste —
And one which departs significantly in visual style, but is no less tempting —
Plus, the seller decorates with nifty gifs to boot —
Taken altogether, even with my lack of Arabic, I find the whole ensemble to offer a rather fascinating snapshot of some of the various and sundry artifacts gathered around music culture today.
But the best part of all is that it turns out, not too surprisingly, that the tracks I shared yesterday are fairly popular songs by Lebanese pop star Nancy Ajram, who — though we must keep in mind that its a bot’s list — has a YouTube channel with 13,000+ videos on it.
I’m not too surprised to learn it was Lebanese, since Boston and Cambridge and especially neighboring Watertown have a relatively large Lebanese (and more generally, Armenian-via-other-places) community. This is why we are so fortunately rich in hummus and other goodies. (Hands down, IMO, Eastern Lamejun beats any other hummus in the Greater Boston area, but I digress…)
The songs I posted yesterday appear, in the same “medley” fashion, in a rather fantastic (and apparently “big budget”) video, which the eBay site links to as a “preview.” They were released in 2007 on an album for kids after Ajram “discovered,” according to the Wiki page, that young people were a substantial part of her audience.
Here’s the must-see video, which, if the beginning gets too cutesy-pedantic you might fast-fwd to 1:20 or so to see Ajram-as-Tinkerbell descending into a city of children-dressed-like-adults:
My daughters, incidentally, really enjoyed this — the visuals as well as the music, though I have to admit I liked it a bit more when I could imagine reggaetoneros in the mix.
At any rate, while perusing the Wikipedia page for Shakhbat Shakhabit, I was slightly surprised to see what seemed like an obvious bit of moralist editorial —
The album & video were the most notable and successful work for children at the time, following a huge wave of works directed to children. The reason for this could be the fact that it was purely meant for children, unlike children works by other singers that included sexual content for adults.
This didn’t seem surprising, exactly. There’s plenty of oddly salacious stuff that gets marketed to children (and their parents) in the US too, of course. Still, “sexual content” seemed a bit strong. But then, in my ensuing random walk (or rabbithole spelunk) on YouTube, I turned up a few things that, in the immortal words of Arsenio Hall (or Freedom Williams), make you say hmmmm, e.g.–
But there’s a lot of fun stuff to be seen too — and lots of songs about telephones maybe? — such as the following, which is awesomely jarring in its treble-culturized teeveediation, but also depicts a roomful of kids having a lot of fun dancing to some classic rhythms:
Anyway, I’ll stop there for now & leave you to your own funky spelunks, but I’m glad to solve this mystery — thx mystery commenter! — and to have found another YouTube musical wormhole to wiggle through.
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).
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:
So, yeah. There’s rearing; and then there’s rearing —
Slightly older kids, well enculturated & irrepressibly motivated, can tend to take things to the next level, bumping body parts with acrobatic abandon and lighting rooftops (and laptops) on fire —
Devotees of dancehall reggae and reggaeton will no doubt recognize elements of perreo and daggering in the “choque” (alt. “choke” or “shoke”) — named after the collisions so central to the dance. (One bump on each beat = 95 bumps per minute!) As one choque song goes, and there are many of them, the dance might be conceived as “perreo con toque.” Musically speaking, all the big choque songs (whether by La Combinacion, Son de AK, Element Black, Los de Tura, etc.) are basically reggaeton productions, if by reggaeton we mean Spanish-language, reggae-inflected rap over beats constructed piecemeal from mid-90s dancehall riddims — a stab of guitar from Murder She Wrote, a Fever Pitch hi-hat, kicks and snares resampled so many times they’ve taken on a new character, thick and crunchy, perfect for soundtracking the crashing of hips. In this way, we might appreciate an aesthetic symmetry between the ways the dance and the music both sample from as they explode well-worn forms.
Notably, however — and clearly departing from perreo and daggering in this way — the choque has a strong and, for many, surprising (or even subversive) “equal opportunity” character. As seen in the video above (and in many others), after doing some “leading” of their own, the men take turns being “led” (i.e., smashed on) by the women. Moreover, as I’ll discuss below, the choque also appears to lend itself to a fair amount of same-sex coupling — a rather rare sight in dancehall or reggaeton (especially male-to-male). But despite (or perhaps because of?) how clearly the choque is indebted to Caribbean forms — both musical and embodied — the video above has been received and recoded, again and again, as “African.”
When I first “stumbled upon” and reshared that video (via @culturedoctor, aka Sonjah Stanley Niaah), it wasn’t just called “Best Dance Ever. Watch it.” — it was called “Best African Dance Ever. Watch it.” And while I have no doubt that Africanists and Caribbeanists and scholars and enthusiasts of all stripes could hold an animated debate over what constitutes an “African” dance, whether here or there, and how much it hinges on aesthetics and history and politics — or, per Sonjah, whether “there is ground for analyzing inter-dependent genealogies” — I’m not so interested in hashing out that particular argument as I am in teasing out how ideologies of race and nation and sexuality, as routed through the charged site of Africa, play out in the public spheres gathered around YouTube and the myriad places, online and off, where a video like the one above can be discussed or re-embedded.
Comments on the various instantiations of the video reveal a remarkable resonance produced by the familiar movements and milieu. (It’s actually rather striking how little of the YouTube discourse around the song&dance mention the music at all.) This everyday but spirited rooftop jam clearly activates viewers’ social, global, and racial imaginations (to name a few). Some claim the dance for themselves, folding it into a capacious sense of identititity, others distance themselves from the scene and all it opens into —
All manner of associations and explanations are proffered —
Remarkably, debate continues despite that the uploader — who was, incidentally, not the first: this copy has nearly 20X as many views — finally “corrected” the title after several commenters correctly ID’d it as a Colombian scene/song (i.e., “Choque” by Son de AK).
People remain keenly interested in, skeptical of, and, indeed, ignorant of the video’s provenance. Some insist it is African African. Of course, even once we locate it in the Americas, that hardly means it’s not “African.” Note that Sonjah refers to the dance as a product of “the African community in South America,” an interesting (and, of course, political) way to describe it — as opposed to say, “Colombian” or “Afro-Colombian” or “Buenaventuran” etc. — and, I hasten to add, not necessarily an identititity that the kids in the video would oppose.
But pan-African commitments do not always lead to the tightest coalitions, for local cultural mores can produce fissures. It’s clear, for instance, that certain Jamaican viewers, even as they observe strong links to their own dear practices (“Dagga dat”!), find themselves repelled by certain practices that, no pun intended, give them pause (“dat cyaah gwaan a yaard”) —
And I think he was further convinced, and a little dismayed and bemused, when I shared some other choque videos I had turned up:
That video led me to a couple more, where the action is set in front of and then inside a home, and (thus?) it gets a little more intimate:
As you might imagine, given how YouTube has become ground zero for gay slurs, the comments on these videos get pretty hyperbolic. Indeed, trawling for interesting responses, I came across some classic chatroom Spanglish invective:
My friend and colleague, Michael Birenbaum Quintero, a self-identified “ethnomusicĂłlogo gringolombiano” who has been working in Colombia (and specifically in Buenaventura) for many years now, and is well acquainted with the choque phenomenon, offered another interpretation. He told me this sort of display — dancing in front of one’s house with a small soundsystem — is a commonplace practice in Buenaventura, including same-sex partnering. It may be homosocial, but it is not necessarily homoerotic — and according to MBQ such activity is rarely seen that way. Rather, and perhaps ironically (for some outside observers), this sort of galavanting is, more often than not, a means of showing off for girls. (But tell that to YouTube.)
Moreover, and this is something I hadn’t picked up on, MBQ noted that there’s a fair amount of subtle deflection in the dancing between men: rather than a square crotch-to-ass thrust, the guys are more likely to swivel hips at the last moment, so the bumping of sides is more frequent.
This is not always so, however, as some fellow Buenaventuran fellows demonstrate:
Then again, here they are again (and again), with opp-sex partners, so go figure:
And here’s a great example of two girls from Buenaventura, at what appears to be a family party, showing how the dance can be a lot more athletic than erotic —
Clearly, specific cultural frames and contextual understandings structure the meanings of choque, even as translocal elements (reggaeton, daggering, skinnyjeans) undeniably inform both local engagements and global circulation / fascination / revulsion. That said, it’s worth noting that the reason the choque became the phenomenon that it did — inspiring local and regional artists to record songs about and for it — is precisely because of all the kids in Buenaventura and ChocĂł dancing with abandon out in the street, up on the roof, and, eventually, on YouTube. This has made the choque more popular than ever, and it has invited contributions and appropriations of all sorts.
For one, thanks no doubt to YouTube, it has long since traveled beyond Buenaventura and Colombia: uploaded in September 2009, this video finds a Dominican couple doing the “baile de choque” (as well as jerkin’s “reject”) to some local dembow beats:
Closer to home, some recording artists have attempted to court crossover success by translating the choque for audiences outside of Colombia’s Afro-Pacific communities. As noted on the Masala blog a few months ago, Element Black and Bloke 18 premiered an upscale take on the tune, complete with HD video:
note the mambo outro
According to MBQ, although hailing from Buenaventura, Element Black appear to be targeting the regional capital, Cali, with this production. The most obvious cue is the participation of Cali-based group Bloke 18, but as MBQ told me via email, there are other signs to be read here: for one, whereas “videos for Pacific-focused music tends to have a generally darker demographic like that of the Pacific itself,” in this video we see “much lighter-skinned, upper-class-CaleĂ±o-looking models”; moreover, MBQ contends that “the fact that the more virtuosic aspects of the dance (e.g. head to butt headbutts) don’t appear” suggests that they wanted to “make it easier for Cali dancers,” a strategy seemingly buttressed by the use of mambo / merengue in the production. (But then, MBQ adds: “This is more that post-Ilegales No Pare Sigue Sigue neo-merengue mambo stuff than merengue, but it’s probably important that merengue is generally associated with the upper classes in Cali.”)
While listening to an Element Black mixtape I turned up, it occurred to me that mambo (as well as reggaeton) was working as a sort of platform in itself — as a means to project and promote one’s act, to invite the participation of a readymade public (i.e., one already addressed/amassed by mambo). It seems telling that there are multiple choque mambos circulating with their name on it. Then again, is mambo the platform, or does “choque” itself create a new scaffolding?
Perhaps inspired by the same crossover dreams, another act drummed up a (blanqueado?) salsa version:
Given the choque’s “African” connotations, there are consequences — in terms of social, cultural, and financial capital — for facilitating the circulation of choque beyond Colombia’s Pacific coast. While I can’t speak further to its reception in Cali, I have noticed a few videos portraying the choque in BogotĂˇ, where it is definitely received ambivalently, not least because the suggestive dance has been embraced by (putatively) non-Afro-Colombians — most scandalously of course, by highschool kids and even younger.
Indeed, the following footage of uniformed students in BogotĂˇ doing “EL NUEVO BAILE PARA JOVENES” (as the description phrases it) became the focus of an alarmist “national” news story —
Despite, then, what we might observe — and some would celebrate — as a certain set of cultural mores on display in choque videos, discourses of shame and scandal persist, at least in certain quarters. (One gets the sense, looking across these various videos and their metatexts, that these dances are ok, y’know, on the coasts, but not in the center!) Or maybe it’s just another lame excuse for the moralist media to replay the same supposedly salacious imagery again and again and again:
Resonant (and in conversation) with mediatized youth dance scenes the world over, the choque stands as another site of cultural and social contest. The myriad comments on choque videos using terms like “mierda” or “porquerĂa” alongside racist and heterosexist epithets merely serve to confirm, among other things, that as with its kindred genres (perreo, daggering, wining, freakin’) the choque can do a whole lot of cultural work at once. Whether teaching kids how to be in their bodies and cavort with their peers (sometimes a lot more innocently and playfully than critics let on), or pushing against longstanding biases, the choque vividly embodies the inevitable collisions in a post-slave, post-colonial, and multicultural society like Colombia.
And, indeed, despite vitriolic debates on YouTube and the fanning of populist fears on TV news, a large part of the choque’s cultural work may already be done. As MBQ also noted in our email exchange:
As for the upward mobility of choque, I recently saw on a friend of mine’s Facebook page a video of a middle-class white mother of about 40 and her 20something son in Buenaventura unironically dancing choque together.
Mil gracias a Marisol LeBron, who not only first brought to my attn the wonderful nueva-media phenom of “Watagatapitusberry,” but who has offered some interesting thoughts on its homosocial joi de vivre (check her initial round-up of home videos) and has kept up on the latest developments around the song. Most recently, the launch of a slick new video/remix featuring Pitbull and Lil Jon —
What i find most fascinating about the Watagatapitusberry phenomenon — though I still need to tease a lot of this out, and I wish YouTube would make it easier to do so — is that the most popular instantiation is neither the “original” video by Del Patio & Blackpoint (a static image w/ audio, uploaded in early summer 09 — plz correct me if I’m wrong), which has, nonetheless, had over 1M views, nor (at least not yet) the new remix w/ Pitbull & Lil Jon, but the loopy, casual, creative theatrics of a handful of young DominicanYorks which has racked up over 3.5M views since it was posted in early August. If you haven’t seen it yet, you’re missing out; get cultured–
I love that the dudes who made the video above had the cojones to label it the “Official Video.” It may as well be, for it has arguably done more to popularize the song — to make it what it is — than anything else.
I confess, though, that I have been able to glean relatively little about how all these productions are related. Does anyone know if there’s any (formal) connection between these Wash Heights kids and Sensato del Patio & Blackpoint? Whether or not, it sure offers a fine example of how legions of YouTubers can add value to something by making it their own.
Let’s hope that the new, Big Music-funded version doesn’t produce the kind of collateral damage on the YouTubosphere that, say, the signing of the New Boyz seemingly caused to many of the videos that helped make “You’re a Jerk” the career-breaking single that it became — the majority of which either suddenly disappeared once the song’s audio became Major Label property, became unfortunately muted, or even more oddly, took the option of “swapping” the song for something “legal.” Of the latter camp, this is my favorite, surreal example (click thru for some sad/hilarious comments about the “African” music now soundtracking the Action Figures’ moves):
Sounds more like Avatar than Africa to me, but whatevs…
[Sticking to the seasonal, here's another musical maneuver I pulled on some well-worn Christmas fare. Given the recent resurgence of talk about homophobia in reggae -- not to mention what must be some serious shadenfreude over Buju Banton's arrest -- I have to admit that, sharing Rizzla's frustration, I'm a little ambivalent about adding, um, flames to the fire. But a lot of my thoughts below still hold, and I still find it unsettling that I can't hear "Little Drummer Boy" without thinking "Fire Mek We Bun Dem!" This was originally published on Dec 14, 2005.]
as a sort of musical reflection/intervention on the murder of steve harvey, i offer a mashup that i’ve been thinking about putting together for a while.
as with “boom bye bye” – that ever-so-catchy ode to killing gays by buju banton (who has recently been on trial for allegedly beating, with some help from his friends, six gay men back in June) – TOK’s “chi chi man” always struck me as similarly pernicious in its pleasures. by giving such sensual form to such violent thoughts, making it easy for hateful sentiments to roll around in our minds and on our tongues, these artists abuse some special powers. and though i’m not one to call for censorship, i do believe in the value of self-censorship and of community censure. at times, TOK and buju clearly suffer from too little of both.
i’ve always heard the chorus melody of “chi chi man” as an unmistakable riff on the christmas classic, “do you hear what i hear?” (one of my favorite renditions of which is the johnny mathis version used here). i’ve heard others claim, however, that TOK borrow the melody from a jamaican folk song. (can anyone confirm that? and, if so, which song?) regardless, i, and probably many other listeners, always hear it referencing the christmas carol. and although one doesn’t hear “chi chi man” too frequently ’round these parts – my brother called me one day from hartford, completely shocked that they were playing it on the radio – at this time of year, one does hear “do you hear?” and guess what it makes yours truly think of?
yup – TOK have colonized my musical imagination in this case, so i find myself dubbing “blaze di fire, mek we bun dem!” over the refrain to the song. it’s a little absurd, really. annoying, sure, but so’s the original by itself. it’s the cognitive dissonance that i find most striking: as this very (new testament) christian song overlays with the very (old testament) christian sentiment of smiting abominations, i find myself thinking about all sorts of amazing contradictions.
this mashup calls attention to the ridiculousness of TOK’s assertions. although the group boyband would likely claim to speak from a communal voice, when we hear the lyrics put in the mouths of shepherd boys, mighty kings, and people everywhere – never mind night winds and little lambs – the utter smallness of espousing such hatred is more than evident. its very christianity, of course, also comes into question. (but whose doesn’t these days?)
at any rate, i present it here in the hope that it might provoke more thought about the issue of homophobia in general and about music’s role in reflecting/informing people’s values (and, crucially, actions) around it. i agree with robert carr that “If the dialogue is going to be effective, it has to be clear that it is an internal dialogue, not something imposed from outside influences with different agendas.” but i’m not exactly sure where we draw the lines of internal/external. these lines are blurry. i hear TOK’s as well as more “homegrown” anti-gay sentiments here in cambridge, MA, and jamaican citizens (a large number of whom live outside of JA, let’s remember) encounter various perspectives, in public and private, with regards to sexual orientation. there are no discrete communities or cultures in the world. they all intersect and overlap.
I’m heading to Seattle tomorrow to attend EMP’s Pop Conference for the second time (the last time was back in 07). I think EMP might have the best vibes of any music conference I’ve attended (and I’ve attended a few). The reason is simple: it brings together people — generally academics and professional music writers — who: a) are excited about music, and b) are excited about the challenges and joys of finding words to talk about music. Neither of these conditions is necessarily — or even commonly — found among the attendees of academic music conferences, in my dreary experience. (Don’t get me wrong, though, I also feel quite at home nerding out with a few fellow excited-abouts at SEM each year.)
This time around I won’t be “giving” a “paper”; instead, I’ll be speaking on a roundtable alongside two fellow Reggaeton contributors, Alexandra Vasquez (who wrote an imaginative, interesting piece about Ivy Queen for the volume) and my co-editor Raquel Rivera. The topic of our panel has to do with reggaeton but, rather than presenting summaries of our chapters or something wack like that, we’re turning our attention instead to perreo and the myriad questions posed by the genre’s provocative dance. Here’s the blurb from the conference website:
Friday, April 17, 2009:
2:00 – 3:45 >> iReggaetĂłn! Perreo and Beyond Venue: JBL Theater
ReggaetĂłn and especially perreo, the genre’s doggystyle dance, has been accused of facilitating corruption. This discussion, keyed to a new book, links sympathetic and critical observers from the humanities and social sciences, visual artists and genre performers, and a perspective from Jamaica.
Moderated by: Alexandra Vazquez
Featuring: Wayne Marshall, Raquel Rivera, Alexandra Vazquez
I’m sorry to report that our “perspective from Jamaica” will be absent from the conversation. We were excited to have Sonjah Stanley Niaah join us, but at the last minute she was unable to make the trip. That’s unfortunate, especially since I’m eager to talk about perreo (aka, winding, grinding, freaking, etc.) in cross-cultural perspective, not to mention reaffirming the links between reggaeton and reggae. We’ll still do all that, no doubt, especially anticipating all the knowledgeable colleagues who might be in the audience. But it would have been great to have Sonjah inna the house.
For my part, I’ll be discussing the circulation of “perreo” outside of Puerto Rico — both traveling with and, interestingly, also without reggaeton. See, e.g., Colombia, where you get perreo con champeta —
Among other things, I’m interested in how perreo enters into (inter)national(istic) discourse around race, class, gender, and morals. I also think there are some interesting ways in which Peruano instantiations of perreo call special attention to dimensions of the dance that challenge too easy an understanding as patriarchal/submissive.
I’m quite looking forward to hearing what Alex and Raq have to say too. For her part, and I hope she doesn’t mind my sharing this, Raquel wants to discuss
recent written/visual work focused on dance/music and eroticism/explicit sexuality in hip-hop, dancehall and reggaeton… and explore how those works grapple with issues of power, healing, objectification, commodification, liberation, etc. I want to understand better the points of contention among feminists/”progressives.” My focus will be perreo in reggaeton but since there has been so little on the subject… I want to discuss it within a broader framework.
That’s a lot of stuff I’ve also been trying to wrap my head around lately in various ways, partly in conversation with Raquel and Sonjah and others. I can’t wait to hear what other perspectives emerge on Friday. (I’m also looking forward, among other things, to this.)
Finally, let me leave you with our initial abstract for EMP, as I think it lays out in greater detail (and fine concision, if I don’t say so myself) what we’d like to talk about —
ÂˇReggeatĂłn! Perreo and Beyond
In the last decade, reggaetĂłn has risen from the Puerto Rican underground to the global mainstream. Reflecting as it informs the shifting shapes of American society, the genre’s hyper-modern, synth-driven mix of rap and reggae, with occasional “Latin” flourishes, has topped international charts while finding grassroots adherents across the Americas. Ubiquitous in urban soundscapes and penetrating the heartlands via digital media, reggaetĂłn animates vociferous debates around race and nation, class and gender, morals and mores. Crucial to its appeal and rejection alike, reggaetĂłn travels not simply as music, but as image, fashion, and dance. As such — and especially as perreo, the doggystyle dance so part and parcel of the genre — reggaetĂłn has been accused of aiding and abetting the dirtiest of dancing, providing the default soundtrack for sex work, and facilitating the corruption and deflowering of young people on dancefloors worldwide.
ÂˇReggeatĂłn! Perreo and Beyond celebrates the production of critical literature on the genre, the forthcoming volume Reggaeton (Duke University Press, February 2009), as it offers new directions for subsequent scholarship by extending the book’s topics and analyses. Edited by Raquel Rivera, Wayne Marshall and Deborah Pacini Hernandez, the volume is the first of its kind to stage a conversation between scholars in the humanities, social sciences, and the genre’s performers. Our panel gathers representatives from all three constituencies and adds a perspective from Jamaica, a crucial source of inspiration for reggaeton music and dance. As sympathetic and critical observers, we engage reggaeton’s twists and turns in order to better see it, hear it, feel it, and tell it like it is.
I suspect there’ll be a few friends & readers of this humble blog in the strangely shaped house. Hope to see some of you there —