Archive for March, 2009

March 9th, 2009

Clap Yr Hands

Tonight at Beat Research, we’re happy to host Boston techno mainstays Soul Clap!

The Soul Clappers are a vibrant part of this city’s music/dance scene, playing nearly non-stop, blogging and prolifically podcasting, keeping the flame aloft for (weekly) techno in Boston/Cambridge (including some great parties on the Charles when the weather’s right), supporting a broad cross-section of the music scene (I bump into them all over), and increasingly distinguishing themselves as producers of fun, bumpy tracks that never settle too long on a particular idea, representing (for) American techno in the process.

See, e.g., “Die Ente” as mix’n’mashed recently in my Modyfier mix — hear it here on its standalone own (here more here) >>

So, should be a vibes tonight at the E Room to say the least, esp since — in fine BR style — the Soul Clap boys have been known to drop all kinds of gems into their techy-housey-DANCEY mix, from new jack jams to golden age classics. Indeed, unless I’m mistaken, I’d gander that their name itself is an allusion to one of my favorite early 90s jawns, the “teakettle”-infused dusty grooves of Showbiz & A.G.’s mighty “Soul Clap.” Might have to play that one tonight… Come clap along!

March 7th, 2009

Covers, Blurbs, y Otras Traducciones

Amazing how an Amazon link makes our book finally feel real. (Pre-orders in teh house!)

And though they don’t have any imgs yet, I’m happy to report that I do, and — having lobbied HARD for this particular photo by Miguel Luciano to grace our cover — I’m thrilled to share it with y’all:

On the other hand side, I may be as excited about the back cover as the front, since we were able to land such luminary thinkers and wordsmiths re: music and race and nation as Jeff Chang, Mark Anthony Neal, Juan Flores, and Residente (!).

Since I’m in a sharing mood, here’s a pdf of an article by Flores that makes a wonderful argument about diaspora “as source and challenge” what with its many “cultural remittances” “from below.” (Incidentally, Centro is offering many more pdfs at their site; see, e.g., the 2004 issue on “Rican Structing Roots / Routes,” from which this piece comes.)

Flores’s narrative centers on salsa and rap, but I’ve found the thesis utterly illuminating wrt reggaeton (as readers of my chapter in the book will see) —

>> Flores, Juan. “Creolité in the ‘Hood: Diaspora as Source and Challenge.” Centro Journal 16, no. 2 (2004): 282-93.

& while I’m at it, here are two excerpts featured on a relatively recent Tego mixtape (almost a year old now, actually). I offer these up as each wonderful examples of how reggaeton “works,” if you will, consistent with the rich remix/reference culture that it is.

The first is a reworking of Fabolous’s unavoidable track from last year (and/or 2007), “Make Me Better” (incidentally, is it just me or does that central string motif sound awfully close to a recurring bit from the Lost score?). We hear here, among other things, how reggaeton artists — just as their “underground” bredren did in the 1990s — continue to version contemporary US/urban pop, translating and transforming the sounds that surround us:

>> Tego Calderón (feat. De La Ghetto), “Tú Me Haces Sentir”*

As you hear toward the end there, that track leads into a rowdy cumbia parody (sounding remarkably similar to a Manu Chao song in the chorus). I like how it shows reggaeton’s ability to incorporate / allude to other genres — and the “cultural work” inherent to such (re)figurations — not to mention how it shows off reggaeton’s (and Tego’s) sense of humor, with El Negro Calde putting on an extra coarse accent for “realism”:

>> Tego Calderón, “El Hijo’e Puta Sin Saludar”*

* for some reason, the tracks above sound distorted when listened to through the player; click on the song titles to hear more clearly.


March 5th, 2009

Music Unites Us, Gets Under Our Skins

I couldn’t be more thrilled to announce this —

At a time when the arts community at Brandeis is feeling rightly beleaguered, it brings me no little satisfaction to know that we will be putting on a rather art-ful residency later this month, sponsoring the US premiere of such an exciting, provocative, and relevant group as Nettle. It brings added satisfaction that we’ve been able to pull this off at all, especially since we thought we had to call it off back in October. We have some dedicated fundraisers and generous donors to thank for that.

For those who don’t know, Nettle is the brainchild of Jace Clayton (aka DJ /Rupture), someone who is no stranger to readers of this blog. He started the group when living as an ex-pat in Barcelona along with several other ex-pats (from Scotland & Morocco), all of them speaking second or third languages in order to converse with each other. There’s a lot to like about the group, starting with their unique sound but branching out into the myriad questions their collaboration seems to pose about cultural & social life in our contemporary, globalized cities.

Jace has quite a way with words, though, so I’ll let him tell you more himself (via) —

Nettle originated in my fascination with the concept of an album heavily influenced by Middle Eastern ideas, but not necessarily at the audible level. I was unsatisfied with the narrative poles of electronic music — loop-based dance pieces or abstract/ambient pieces without storytelling force. A suite of rigorous modal improvisation in Arabic music called taqasims offered the solution: I knew and loved their internal play between free-flowing improv and strict technical guidelines. I spent a year or two translating these ideas into pieces for samplers and laptop. Two albums later I still wasn’t satisfied: one-way cultural flows aren’t good enough. I wanted community, two-way translations, the squeal of a feedback loop.

Earlier this year I was commissioned by a British arts council to transform Nettle into a proper live ensemble. Violin, oud, percussion, electronics, realtime sampling. I’d been involved in Barcelona’s Moroccan music community for a while, but the Nettle project has upped the intensity of collaboration. A few days ago, Nettle’s violin and oud player, Abdelaziz Hak, brought up taqasims to explain his response to a beat I’d prepared for him.

I broke into a silly grin.

This is working. We’re starting to get under each other’s skin.

When I met Judy Eissenberg last year and she told me about the MusicUnitesUS program & how she was inspired to start it in the wake of 9/11 as a way of embracing and exploring cultural difference, I almost immediately thought of Nettle.

Whereas MUUS residencies in the past have offered an opportunity for intercultural exchange, bringing representatives of some ‘non-Western’ society to share their traditions with the Brandeis community, what is wonderful about Nettle is that the group already embodies that process of encounter and exchange. What especially attracts me to the group’s sound and spirit is their eschewal of easy fusion cliches, choosing instead to embrace moments where they “get under each other’s skin,” as Jace puts it.

Electronic beats rumbling beneath folk and pop idioms from North Africa and avant-garde cello, Nettle represents the sound of New Spain, but they also, to my ears anyhow, offer pregnant musical metaphors for our ‘Nu World,’ to put a zeitgeisty spin on it: they seem to revel in the cultural ruptures — and spaces — created by today’s rapid circulation of people and media, in which some things have an easier time crossing borders than others. (On that point, INSHALLAH that Abdel & Khalid don’t get tripped up by customs agents, even in the age of Obama.)

I’m further delighted to report that Nettle will be joined by their occasional percussionist (aka Filastine!) and visual artist Daniel Perlin (aka DJ N-RON!) who will be providing realtime visual accompaniment. It’s gonna be quite a show.

If you’re in the Boston area (or not!), you’re welcome to attend any of the on-campus events, which, aside from the concert Saturday night, are all free and open to the public. I expect tickets for the concert to go quickly, so you may want to snap some up ASAP. I’ll be giving a brief talk in the Rose Art Museum directly prior to the concert, exploring the ways music expresses selfhood and neighborhood in our globalized, if perhaps not quite (yet?) cosmopolitan, cities.

Hope you can join us!


March 2nd, 2009

Dem Bow Dem

I’ve already discussed and DJ-demo’d the degree to which the Dem Bow riddim underpins the lion’s share of reggaeton tracks. But one remarkable part of the story I haven’t given much focus here is how “Dem Bow” the song — in particular, the chorus melody, but also the basic theme of the lyrics — has also seen its share of reincarnations (often in the form of creative, localized translations).

Last year I wrote an article that specifically traces the migrations, transformations, and connotations of Shabba’s “Dem Bow,” a song released in 1991 and, that same year, covered (twice!) en español. Shabba’s tune has inspired versions of varying fidelity to the original by Jamaicans, Panamanians, Puerto Ricans, and Frenchmen, no doubt among others I’ve yet to hear. Over the course of its already long life, it has gone from a relatively stable anti-gay anthem to a floating signifier for reggaeton’s sexy beat — or, in the case of Paris-based Daddy Yod, a Verlan inversion (“delbor” from “bordel”) for trouble or agitation (h/t Guillaume pour la traduction*). I try to make sense of the implications of such shifts, linking translation to transnation, or the audible articulation (pace Stuart Hall) of communities that transcend as they traverse state borders — something I hear deeply embedded in reggaeton’s sonic structures themselves.

But enough about the article, here’s the thing itself. It was an invited contribution by the editor of a special issue on popular song in Latin America, published in a German journal. Please note that the copy I’m making available here is a pre-print proof, though the final version is quite close to this. Here goes —

>> Wayne Marshall, “Dem Bow, Dembow, Dembo: Translation and Transnation in Reggaeton.” Lied und populäre Kultur / Song and Popular Culture: Jahrbuch des Deutschen Volksliedarchivs 53 (2008): 131-51.

Having tracked down all these versions of “Dem Bow” (including no fewer than THREE songs by Wisin y Yandel, who seem quite content to rip themselves off), I couldn’t resist putting them alongside each other “in the mix,” as they say. It’s a little weird to put a bunch of anti-gay anthems “to tape,” but then again, one thing that’s interesting about the history of this song is that, despite the musical continuities, only the first third of the mix contains homophobic sentiments (many of them, as I describe in the article, quite colorful and imaginative). As you’ll hear, however, “Dem Bow” quickly comes to stand for other things (in other words, it becomes THE dembow, dembo, denbo). Notably, even in the suave hands of W&Y (or w&w for that matter), it remains a chant centering a heteronormative/macho subject. What’d you expect?

      >> w&w, “Dem Bow Dem” (11 min | 24 mb)


Unattributed, “Son Bow” (The Beats: Pistas De Reggaeton Famosas Vol.3)
Shabba Ranks, “Dem Bow” (Just Reality)
Nando Boom, “Ellos Benia” (Reggae Español)
El General, “Son Bow” (The Hits)
Grinds Man, “Dem Bow” (At The Super Stars Conference)
Unattributed, “Dembow ‘The Original'” (Pistas de Reggaeton Vol. 2)
Unattributed (Luny Tunes?), “Dembow ‘The 2004 Version'” (Pistas de Reggaeton Vol. 2)
Wisin & Yandel (Luny Tunes), “Dembow (Pista)” (Pistas De Reggaeton Famosas)
Wisin & Yandel, “Dem Bow” (Jamz Tv Hits, Vol. 2)
Wisin & Yandel, “Dembo (remix)” (A Otro Nivel)
Wisin & Yandel, “Llamé Pa’ Verte (Bailando Sexy)” (Pa’l Mundo)
Wisin & Yandel (ft. Tempo), “Deja Que Hable El Dembow”
King Daddy Yod (ft. Flya, Ragga Ranks, Jamadom, Tiwony), “Delbor 2006”

* sez Guillaume via email re: “Delbor” —

Yeah so no reference to sexuality, just straight up social problems and that the society is fucked up. You even have an eschatological reference at the end of the song. What’s interesting is that they use verlan only in the first verse, like an indication for the listener to make the chorus easier to understand at first. They don’t use verlan in the rest of the song as far as I could understand. Bottom line, it’s pretty safe to say that this song reference the 2005 riots and expand it to express a view of a fucked up society.

[Update 6/2010: A few months ago I found the original recording of Daddy Yod’s “Delbor” (which can be purchased here); also, although it’s not strictly a “Dem Bow” cover, Nando Boom’s “Pension” very clearly traces the melody/vowel-sounds rather closely, and indeed many of the lyrics are the same that he later uses in “Ellos Benia.” The riddim undergirding both Boom tracks, the Pounder, was clearly inspired by the Dem Bow riddim and may just be the missing link between Bobby Digital’s / Steely & Clevie’s production for Shabba and the dembow beat so widely used in reggaeton.]


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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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