photo manipulation & text by nacrowe
im guilty as anyone of getting JADED. feeling like ive seen and heard it all before. its probably part of getting old. then you hear a UNIQUE band like the wildly ECLECTIC HOUSTON trio KHRUANGBIN who mix everything from DUB, PSYCHEDELIA, SOUL and ROCK MUSIC and have whole albums exploring specific TRADITIONAL SONIC TRADITIONS from the likes of THAILAND, MALI, SPAIN, AFGHANISTAN and the MIDDLE EAST. their sound is both AESTHETICALLY FAMILIAR and a radical departure on each track. it is hard to explain but a pure pleasure to listen to.
KHRUANGBIN are definitely worth checking out, whether or not you are a fan of FOREIGN MUSICAL TRADITIONS or more familiar WESTERN INDIE ROCK. they are easily one of the most EXHILARATING and boldly CREATIVE bands i have come across in a while.
photo & text by nacrowe
for the uninitiated to the world of AFROBEAT and AFRICAN music legend FELA KUTI, there is a slight learning curve to appreciating this COMPLEX and REWARDING music. much of his music is a HYBRID of the AMERICAN JAZZ and R&B he took in while traveling stateside in the late 1960s at the tail-end of the CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT, as well as intricate WEST AFRICAN POLYRHYTHMS with TRADITIONAL CALL-AND-RESPONSE GROUP VOCALS. there is almost a SPIRITUAL aspect to his music in that the POLYRHYTHMS create an INHALATION and EXHALATION mantra-like experience that is not as much SONG-ORIENTED as it is VIBE-BASED. you just have to acquiesce and let the MUSIC envelop and subsume you to its will, and not fight it seeking out markers such as RECOGNIZABLE CHORUSES and VERSES and the like.
ARMY ARRANGEMENT (CELLULOID, 1985) is a STANDOUT example of FELA's creative output in his later years. by this point he had long since established himself as a revolutionary cultural icon for all AFRICANS with his musical diatribes against the various MILITARY DICTATORSHIP REGIMES that effectively suffocated NIGERIA in the POST-COLONIAL period since the 1960s. REVERED albums such as GENTLEMAN (KALAKUTA, 1973), ZOMBIE (KALAKUTA, 1977), EXPENSIVE SHIT (KALAKUTA, 1975) and COFFIN FOR HEAD OF STATE (KALAKUTA, 1981) questioned and challenged AFRICAN identity in the wake of BRITISH rule, which still held HEGEMONIC cultural and economic influence over their former subjects, much as he also eviscerated the unabated CORRUPTION of NIGERIA leadership who acquiesced to the agenda of their former superiors for financial motives. these themes are a constant through-line amidst most of his catalogue and is part of the reason he is still so widely CELEBRATED even two decades after his passing in 1997.
with ARMY ARRANGEMENT, FELA sets his sights firmly on the CORRUPTION of the MILITARY DICTATORSHIP of MUHAMMADU BARI, who overturned the second republic of NIGERIA in 1983 before being toppled himself in 1985. the song "ARMY ARRANGEMENT" is about the transition to DEMOCRATIC RULE in the late 1970s and the mindset of the military who wantonly STOLE, MURDERED, KIDNAPPED, IMPRISONED and even RAPED the NIGERIAN population seemingly at will. not surprisingly, BARI had FELA arrested on trumped up charges due to him being a vocal critic of his REGIME. had him DETAINED at the airport en route to a stateside tour. his release happened shortly after the regime fell apart. "GOVERNMENT CHICKEN BOY" takes aim at NIGERIAN citizens that support the REGIME out of fear of reprisal. i spent almost three years in LAGOS between 1996-1998, which coincided with his final years, and his message was as POWERFUL as ever with the locals. in fact, i learned about FELA through the NIGERIAN help that my parents employed during our stay there. i still wish i had those original NIGERIAN-manufactured cassette tapes of I.T.T. (KALAKUTA, 1980) and CONFUSION BREAK BONES (KALAKUTA, 1990). FELA and his message was stridently POLITICAL during an era of TURMOIL and PALPABLE REAL DANGER. even during my stay, the BRUTAL dictator SANI ABACHA had people TORTURED and even HUNG on public beaches who dared to cross him. what FELA did was beyond PUNK ROCK, beyond posing or making ARTFUL, METAPHORICAL stances against CORRUPTION. he looked POWER square in the eye and spit in its face point blank. one man versus a CROOKED GOVERNMENT.
the dude is still an icon. his MUSIC should be taught and appreciated everywhere.
when people consider the PUNK ROCK movement that swelled up on both sides of the ATLANTIC in the late 1970s, the bands that usually come to mind are iconic acts like THE RAMONES, SEX PISTOLS, THE CLASH and THE DAMNED. whats interesting about those bands is that in many ways they are rather conservative in their approach, basically recycling CHUCK BERRY riffs and taking back ROCK AND ROLL in essence back to its core 1950s origins with ROCKABILLY legacy acts like ELVIS PRESLEY, EDDIE COCHRAN, GENE VINCENT, CARL PERKINS and the like. i find it one of the great ironies that a cultural movement so celebrated for being transgressive was actually quite traditionalist in a sonic sense, at worst even nostalgic.
such was not the case with two bands of that period, X-RAY SPEX and especially THE SLITS. the documentary HERE TO BE HEARD: THE STORY OF THE SLITS (HEAD GEAR FILMS, 2017) interview surviving members (and former members) TESSA POLLITT, VIV ALBERTINE, PALMOLIVE and NENA CHERRY about their experience during that period. the recently deceased ARI UP (R.I.P.) appears in archival interview and performance footage.
my big takeaway from that film was how truly revolutionary THE SLITS were in context, both musically and socially. musically they blazed the way forward towards POST-PUNK by incorporating WEST INDIAN and AFRICAN rhythms into an aggressive yet sophisticated sound which sonically reinforced confrontational lyrics dealing with the VICTORIAN ideals of womanhood. and if you thought these famous male PUNK bands were supportive of their female brethren you'd be surprised. apparently while on tour with THE CLASH on their WHITE RIOT TOUR in 1977 across BRITAIN, the bus driver needed to be bribed in order to allow THE SLITS on the bus. such was the stigma against female musicians in this effective boys' club. this resulted in THE SLITS developing a sense that other bands and their manager's became extensions of the establishment.
think about that. THE SLITS were outcasts within a subculture defined by their outcast status. its quite remarkable and really puts those other bands in proper focus, since the revolution advocated at least initially had no place for women outside of traditional roles. it is almost absurd how truly conventional those bands were and how authentically subversive THE SLITS were during their prime.
and it doesn't stop there either. founding member and powerhouse drummer PALMOLIVE (later of THE RAINCOATS) was dismissed because the PUNK ROCK ethos of the band couldn't square itself with her CATHOLICISM. so even within the internal realm of a band that was the outcast within a scene of outcasts, a CHRISTIAN found herself to be the most isolated of all. if anything, her example is to follow your convictions despite societal or peer group pressure, which is by definition the essence of PUNK ROCK. funny how life works sometimes.
the larger aim of this documentary is to present THE SLITS and ARI UP (in fact, this film fulfills part of her final will) to a new generation of music fans that may be unaware of them and their influence not only on the experimental POST-PUNK scene but also perhaps on the RIOT GRRRL scene that flourished 20 years after. THE SLITS due to the misogyny of rock critics from major BRITISH and AMERICAN publications alike have been dismissed from the greater narrative of PUNK ROCK as nothing being a footnote or curiosity. this documentary helps shed light on their proper place as an equal (and perhaps maybe a little more equal than other bands) creative force in a storied, influential scene.
years ago when my time as a PEACE CORPS volunteer in ALBANIA was coming to a close, i learned that i was able to secure a teaching position at an international school in VENEZUELA. its funny because i have former peers on the international teaching circuit who will only take positions in first-world situations like EUROPE, AUSTRALIA or select countries in the MIDDLE EAST and ASIA. i've actively sought out places that weren't necessarily in line with what i was familiar with (which explains my teaching career of being in MYANMAR, ALBANIA and of course VENEZUELA).
anyway, once learning i was gonna be in SOUTH AMERICA in 6 months i went about reading as much as i could about VENEZUELA and the region. i highly recommend EDUARDO GALEANO's epic ant-colonialist OPEN VEINS OF SOUTH AMERICA (MONTHLY REVIEW PRESS, 1971) as well as COMANDANTE (PENGUIN, 2013) by RORY CARROLL of THE GUARDIAN newspaper. i also investigated for months as much SOUTH AMERICAN music as i could locate online.
so glad i did because i discovered the music of ANA TIJOUX. she is a CHILEAN MC by way of FRANCE and her work is entirely an extension of her unique political, socio-economic and inclusive worldview. i very much view her in the tradition of other politically conscious artists of years past like PUBLIC ENEMY, WOODY GUTHRIE, M.I.A. and RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE.
her parents emigrated from CHILE to FRANCE in the 1970s after the overthrow and murder of the democratically-elected SALVADOR ALLENDE by the UNITED STATES-backed military dictator AUGOSTO PINOCHET. what followed in CHILE was a brutal military dictatorship that basically fell in line with the insatiable capitalist needs of the AMERICAN economy for copper (which we use for electrical wiring and consumer electronics).
when i listen to the music of TIJOUX i am reminded of the perspectives of the inhabitants of countries who resources are essentially exploited for western capitalism. its a narrative often ignored and wholesale discounted.
discovering her work and the pride she showed in being SOUTH AMERICAN was something i greatly admired even before i got to the continent. the music itself often makes use of elements of indigenous music and re-contextualizes them in a HIP HOP context, much like M.I.A. before with the indian subcontinent or SEPULTURA with the XANANTE tribe of eastern BRASIL on their album ROOTS.
i highly recommend her music to anyone interested in HIP HOP or LATIN AMERICAN culture. totally worth it.
when SRI LANKAN-born, BRITISH mc M.I.A. came on the scene in the 2000s she was a revelation partly due to the unique production of her first two records and partly due to the unique global scope of her lyrics.
given the dearth of powerful female mcs at the time (and since), it is quite remarkable that this daughter of emigre political refugees from SRI LANKA (her father was involved with the TAMIL TIGERS) would assume such an outspoken role in such a hostile genre. it is not lost on anyone that women involved in the genre usually have to debase themselves with overly sexualized videos in order to gain traction in the industry (exemplified by likes of NICKI MINAJ, CARDI B, RIHANNA, MEGAN THEE STALLION, LIL' KIM and FOXY BROWN). in a sense M.I.A. is a bit of a throwback to a previous era where women where considered equals in terms of their lyrical content (artists like SALT-N-PEPA, QUEEN LATIFAH, MC LYTE, LAUREN HILL and MISSY ELLIOT). it is almost comical that she was side-by-side with NICKI MINAJ in a now overlooked MADONNA video, since in my mind they are opposite ends of the spectrum, almost like comparing PJ HARVEY or PATTI SMITH to CHRISTINA AGUILERA. but maybe i am off-base for making comparisons between female artists. let them have the freedom to portray themselves as they wish to represented. amen.
for me what separates M.I.A. from her competition (of both genders) is her use of sound collages and lyrical refrains that represent the hidden communities of underdeveloped countries around the world. hearing a song that deconstructs the power of money ("$20" off of KALA) within a third-world context is something that i have seen firsthand abroad living in NIGERIA and ALBANIA but have rarely come across in pop culture. it is just not part of the idiom of mass entertainment. same goes for her visuals which can showcase everything from amorous GIFS from the ARAB world (think about how much subterfuge is involved in that) to BOLLYWOOD dance production to Indian subcontinent visual culture of hand-painted shop signs.
when i hear her records i intuit that i am riding along an artist in full control of her artistic vision. not to get back to my point about female representation in HIP HOP, but i get the feeling M.I.A. would never allow herself to get drawn into that game. in her i see another singular artist in the vein of past luminaries like BJÖRK, EMMYLOU HARRIS, PJ HARVEY, CARLY SIMON, JANIS JOPLIN, PATTI SMITH and MARIANNE FAITHFUL who follow their own distinct lead.
could not recommend her music any stronger. check her out.
photos by SABRINA CHEMLOUL
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