This Wednesday, with the all-volunteer help of Spectacle Theater’s Akiva, Cassie D, and Zoe S, and WFMU’s Mike A, Bill B, and Dave E, we were able to continue our strange and occasionally bumpy journey down the path of live radio built from video clips & staged before an audience.
It’s an uncanny performance mode, talking to a roomful of bodies seated before Spectacle’s screen but knowing that many many more are listening at home, and attempting to create a path that works for both. Feels ‘experimental’ in the word’s basic sense: something for which the process and its possible outcomes aren’t yet established.
For the first of these radio-Spectacle nights, I screened Khaled & Cheb Mami rai comedy 100% Arabica, then in December it was Nass El Ghiwane documentary Transes.
And this Wednesday, on the first day of Black Mystery Month, I teamed up with Lamin Fofana, Chief Boima, and Old Money to host AFRO-SPECTACLE, two hours of live radio constructed entirely from DVDs & VCDs purchased in African-run stores in New York City, followed by a screening of Nollywood-NYC film God’s Own Country.
Are here are two selections from the evening: a jam Lamin & I have been into forever, a perfect song basically, based on an international collaboration between Sékouba Bambino & Kandia Kouyaté.(Lamin’s Brooklyn-purchased video version had much higher quality that this youtubery, alas.)
And my contribution to AFRO-SPECTACLE, a Don Cornelius homage in the form of David Bowie performing ‘Fame’ on Soul Train.
Black Mystery Month begins today! And by Kindly Kosmic Koincidence, friends & I are throwing an event in Brooklyn: AFRO-SPECTACLE. Come join us, *tonight*, Wednesday February 1st for:
On Wednesday February 1st, at 7pm, DJ Rupture and Lamin Fofana will host a special 2-hour live radio show from south Williambsburg’s Spectacle Theater, with guests Chief Boima and Old Money.
Following the live WFMU broadcast — built entirely from African music videos purchased in the cornerstores of NYC — we will screen God’s Own Country by director Femi Agbayewa. GOC presents the story of a young Nigeria lawyer who immigrates to NYC to discover that life in America is not like he hoped… As Boima explains, “It’s firmly in the Nollywood tradition. The story line is a New York story, and I think it’s the perfect context for the non-Nollywood initiated to get introduced to the industry. . . it is also referencing the tradition of the American hood gangster flick like Belly. Almost an amalgamation of the two.”
Palm wine and kola nuts are included with the $5 admission. Space is limited, so come early!
* Tomorrow, I’ll be in Durham, North Carolina, performing at the Duke Coffeehouse.
* Friday Nettle will make our D.C. debut at a special edition of Africa Is Not A Country hosted by DJs Bent and Mothersheister! We have new songs to play, a new album to sell, and hope to see you.
* Saturday, Nettle returns to Brooklyn for an intimate show at Williamsburg gallery space Vaudeville Park. We have four hundred candles and Ian keeps talking about tapestries and/or pillows. ATTENDANCE MANDATORY, NEW NEW YORK. Lamin Fofana will DJ.
* Then on Monday December 5th– the action never stops, does it? — you are invited to Spectacle Theater in south Williamsburg for a live broadcast of my WFMU radio show. Thanks to everyone who made our inaugural 100% Arabica Spectacle broadcast a success. Live FM from our favorite underground theater!
[Nass El Ghiwane]
The December 5th radio show will be built from a YouTube selection of my favorite Moroccan tracks, and will be followed by a screening of Ahmed El Maanouni’s gripping and poetic Nass El Ghiwane documentary film, TRANSES (1981). Nass El Ghiwane, a group of working class musicians from Casablanca, revolutionized Maghrebi music in the 1970s and remain Morocco’s most important band. TRANSES captures them at the height of their power.
[self-portrait in my Transes poster]
Here is an oft-compiled Nass El Ghiwane track, Mahmouma. This version comes from Stern’s epic 18-CD “Africa 50 years” box set (“The most comprehensive compilation of African music ever achieved. . . 183 classic recordings by 183 important artists from 38 countries in North, South, East and West Africa.”)
Sterns cut Mahmouma down to half its length, but the mastering is good:
On Sunday December 11, the Mudd Up Book Clubb returns to Manhattan, to discuss Lauren Beukes’ 2010 novel Zoo City. If you wanted to throw genre signifiers at it, you could say that it’s new African urban fantasy sci-fi noir with a strong musical component. There is even an accompanying soundtrack , released on African Dope records:
As I wrote in my August post on Zoo City, “It’s weird noir, set in contemporary Johannesburg, featuring an ex-junkie protagonist named Zinzi December and her magic sloth. The unconventional pair is caught in a web of intrigue involving murder, 419 email scams, and a missing kwaito/afropop teen star. In short, it sounds like a book specifically engineered for my peer group.” Check out the full post for more thoughts on Zoo City, or join us on December 11th in New York City for realtime talk.
Got some great feedback from this show, like this email: “your interview with Chris Kirkley was inspiring …great job ..its amazing because each time he played something i wanted to ask him a question and you asked the same question right afetrwards…i like his method of finding weddings by taxi ..what an optimist !! I love the idea that music ends up being spread by whatever technology is widely available in this case via the shitty speaker of a cell phone …soundwise not so different from transistor radios 40 years ago …some great music he found …hes a brave man”
you can listen up here :
As always, you can subscribe to the Mudd Up! podcast for downloadable versions, issued about a week after FM broadcast: , Mudd Up!RSS. Also useful: WFMU’s free iPhone app. We also have a version for Android (search for “WFMU” in the marketplace).
One of my favorite musical investigators will be joining me live on Mudd Up! a week from today: Chris Kirkley. You may know him from the Music from Saharan Cellphones compilation, or the Ishilan n-Tenere LP on Mississippi Records, or his TOP LEVEL blog, Sahel Sounds. As I was working on Beyond Digital this summer, Chris was (relatively) nearby in Mauritania doing all sort of amazing & related work, and I can’t wait for him to take us through it.
Chris will be coming to the WFMU studios on Monday September 26th, stopping by Mudd Up! from 8-9pm. In a recent email, Chris details what we can expect:
I’ve been looking over the music I have and putting together a rough collection of stuff to bring. The music is representative of some of the local popular styles and genres, often the synth / drum machine / DIY PC aesthetic.
I’d also like to talk about the work of sound archivist/producer and the different ways of collecting, be it old school field recording style or searching for mp3s. One of the fascinating things to me with the whole cellphone project has been how music exists in the sahel — its creation, propagation and experience, via cellphones or cyber cafes — and how this creates these p2p networks that exist similar to but independent of the internet.
In terms of specifics, I’ve got Mauritanian synth wedding recordings, Hausa music, “Balani Show” Bamako parties, and hip hop — pretty diverse stuff, but cohesive in character.
A few days ago I came across the first mention of Auto-Tune I’ve seen in fiction: Lauren Beukes’ 2010 novel, Zoo City. It’s weird noir, set in contemporary Johannesburg, featuring an ex-junkie protagonist named Zinzi December and her magic sloth. The unconvential pair is caught in a web of intrigue involving murder, 419 email scams, and a missing kwaito/afropop teen star. In short, it sounds like a book specifically engineered for my peer group… There’s even a corresponding soundtrack album “of kwaito and electronica… painstakingly put together by African Dope’s Honeyb to evoke the feel of Lauren Beukes’ new novel.” Each page drips with local references (including a passing mention of Spoek Mathambo); this book must read quite differently to those familiar with Jo’burg and the pop culture landscapes of South Africa.
A member of the Mudd Up Book Clubb recommended it to me. Zoo City is a fast read, cynical and sassy, reminiscent of a streetwise Charles Stross, and it makes me think of that masterpiece of weird-noir-with-animals, Jonathan Lethem’s incredible Gun, With Occasional Music.
(The difference between Zoo City‘s two covers is striking: from stark animals-and-architecture as typeface to cartoon Lauryn Hill. Guess which one the American stores carry?)
I love noir books and film, from Raymond Chandler’s Angeleno classics to Beukes’ darkly magicked (yet respectful) take on it.
Noir is urban exploration as literary form. It evolves around a main character — neither cop nor robber but a bit of both — who gets paid to search the city for fast answers, reading characters who function as stand-ins for entire ways-of-being in the tough metropolis. Noir offers allegories of social and spatial interpretation in which truth takes backseat to power.
Cities force us to confront (or, as the case may be, to pointedly ignore) an enormous amount of socio-economic distance contained within a relatively small geographic space. Noir acknowledges that violence is one of the few events that can crosshatch all the various barriers raised; and that you must be a quasi-outsider (private investigator, former cop, ex-junkie, and so on) in order to successfully communicate across the city’s compressed and always potentially violent differences. It’s not easy, in other words, to climb outside your circles in the urban jungle.
Noir protagonists speak in wisecracks, and usually get physically punished for doing so. Zinzi December is constantly, hilariously mouthing-off. And as all real wise-asses know, humor is the only way to speak through certain taboos (calling Richard Pryor!). Noir protagonists’ world-weary approach to truth comes from that place of joking. They size-up people and, by extension, the city itself, scrutinizing every conversation not for its truthfulness (PIs expect to be lied to) but rather by how what is being said reflects the interests of the speaker. Truth as power struggle rather than fact.
It’s no coincidence that many noir plots end with the person ‘getting to the bottom of the story’ by uncovering complex power-plays that led to the crime, at the same time as they learn that that story can’t be made public, that those particular truths can’t be spoken, that something larger keeps them silent. Thinking back, Philip K. Dick’s A Scanner Darkly effectively internalized this noir premise — that truth or truthfulness is both sought-after and ultimately corrupted — by steeping the main character in drug-induced psychosis and paranoia; Lethem and Beukes each profit from Dick’s substance D deliriums.
Here’s an excerpt from Zoo City, riffing on the noir megathemes of class & access and the ways in which moving through a city is understanding it:
Traffic in Joburg is like the democratic process. Every time you think it’s going to get moving and take you somewhere, you hit another jam. There used to be shortcuts you could take through the suburbs, but they’ve closed them off, illegally: gated communities fortified like privatised citadels. Not so much keeping the world out as keeping the festering middle-class paranoia in. . .
and another, about entering a club:
…He ushers me towards the velvet ropes that have seen better days, and a short, wiry bouncer who is wearing a t-shirt that reads TRY IT MOTHERFUCKER.
“She’s with me,” Gio says and, although the bouncer is not happy to see Sloth, he gives us the tiniest of head tilts to indicate, yeah, sure, whatever.
The Biko Bar is to Steve Biko as crappy t-shirt design is to Che Guevara. His portrait stares down from various cheeky interpretations. A hand-painted barber-shop sign with a line-up of Bikos in profile modelling different hairstyles and headgear; a chiskop, a mullet, a makarapa mining helmet. Steve stares out with that trademark mix of determination and wistful heroism from the centre of a PAC-style Africa made of bold rays of sunlight. Steve, with a lion’s mane, is the focal point of a crest of struggle symbols, power fists, soccer balls, and a cursive “The most potent weapon of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.” My academic dad would have hated it. Reduced by irony and iconography to a brand.
“I see they sell t-shirts,” I say. “Do the kids’ sizes come pre-soaked with acid?”
* * *
Zoo City is the first book I’ve read where the author tweeted at me whilst I was reading it! Lauren was letting me know about the soundtrack, embedded here and thoroughly buyable. Also: the Kindle/eBook edition of Zoo City is currently available for $1. VERY AFFORDABLE.
last minute but hey – tonight we’re giving a free party at the Instituto Cervantes in Casablanca, Morocco. Info here (francais, arabic, espanol).
The party kicks off this week’s Beyond Digital series at the Instituto Cervantes. All events are free and open to the public, and will be conducted primarily in French.
[photo by John Francis Peters]
Tomorrow, Wednesday June 22, we’ll be having a work-in-progress presentation on our Beyond Digital project.
And on Thursday June 23, Fader photo editor John Francis Peters will give a photo workshop session, walking us through his editing process and approach to documentary photography. His growing body of work here is stunning, check our weekly Fader updates for a taste.
Beyond Digital présente un projet qui vise la relation qu’il y a entre le digital et le traditionnel dans le monde contemporain de la musique chaabi et bereber. Avec la collaboration d’une équipe internationale d’artistes, le projet explore le monde de cette musique à travers l’usage de la vidéo, de la photographie et de la collaboration musicale.
Mardi 21 juin à 21h DJ Sessions avec DJ/Rupture et Maga Bo. Deux DJs de renom international qui proposent une soirée sans frontières. Maga Bo: basse transnational. DJ/Rupture : rythmes inattendus, intelligent + dansant.
Mercredi 22 juin à 19h Introduction: work-in-progress (travaux en cours). L’équipe de Beyond Digital partage un échantillon du travail accompli jusqu’à présent à Casablanca : fragments de vidéo, musique, photographie, encore inachevés. Une invitation à venir débattre et à participer.
Jeudi 23 juin à 19h Atelier: édition de photographie. John Francis Peters, éditeur de photographie de la revue new-yorkaise Fader et photographe de Beyond Digital, nous montre ses photos faites à Casablanca et avec ce matériel – en plus d’autres ouvrages de photographie documentaire – nous propose un atelier participatif sur le travail d’édition.
In just a few days I leave New York City for a season. Beyond Digital in Casablanca, then shows in Poland, Denmark, Italy, and I think Croatia… But there’s one last event to shake things up in NYC before I go: a concert at 92Y Tribeca.
On Saturday March 5th, Nettle will perform at the Bell House in Brooklyn. Info. Nettle, flexible and growing, is currently a 5-piece. We’ve even started using words and a guitar – although not too much of either.
Malian singer Khaira Arby will headline. The event is a benefit for ASSOCIATION OF THE SAHEL TO AIDE DECENTRALIZED DEVELOPMENT (ASSADDEC), a collection of 71 women’s groups in north Mali, supporting women’s small business enterprises, HIV/AIDS awareness and more. Which is awesome. Also performing: The Sway Machinery and DJ Israel Soulico.
Here’s a nice clip of Khaira and her band performing on KEXP — note, at least three of her musicians are rocking WFMU stickers! A wise band with excellent taste.