Wednesday, December 03, 2008

December 3, 2008

      I haven’t yet had a chance to check out the current Spin magazine cover story on M.I.A., which was penned by my good friend Lorraine Ali. But seeing the rag on newsstands jarred my memory about a conversation I had at DePaul recently with a student who asked what I thought of M.I.A. I told him I thought she was a poseur but it was okay because I like the pose. When pressed to elaborate, I explained that I like the fact that she places political content front & center of her multi-culti soundwave mash-ups. I hear her music and feel like I’m in a paradoxically gritty, idealized/hyper-stylized underground club or impromptu house-party that could be taking place in a Brazilian favela, a slum in India, or some divey spot in Baltimore. Her music is timely and prescient, foreshadowing and obvious. Still, I tend to like it more in theory than execution. Much of it lacks… something I can’t put my finger on. I almost want to say that her shit is absent soulfulness but that term has a certain connotation I don’t mean. There’s something almost too mathematical about her overall package of music, lyrics and image. And yet, isolated tracks grab me whole.
      I very much appreciate how she capitalizes on the grating, reflexive and retarding pop culture impulses and mandates that have the machine and its consumers of pre-fabricated culture always foraging for the new, the hip, the next. A musical daughter of Neneh Cherry and Joe Strummer, she capsizes the pirate ship of “globalization” that pulls into ports around the globe, spilling forth trend-chasers that fuck & fuck-over the indigenous, exploit children, rip off cultural traditions and smashes it all into a stew of cool-kid product tagged with the labels “color-blind” and “post-race,” but that actually maintains an age-old status quo. Against musical beds of beats and rhythms pulled from assorted underdog club cultures, she spits lyrics about social struggle and consciousness. As Lorraine wrote me a few days ago, “I love her for stepping out and representing the rest of the world – the ones who make Nike gear for 2 cents an hour.”
      What’s interesting to me is her shrewd marketing savvy and the tensions said savvy once buzzed around her political and artistic “authenticity.” In the beginning, she let the press run with the stories of her being the daughter of a controversial Sri Lankan revolutionary. She was initially less vocal about having been an art student in London. That omission / shrouding is quite telling, and though I think it’s foolish to dismiss her or her work outright because of it, it does speak to her own anxieties about both the perceived and real privilege of that specific educational background. On the flipside, when you read her press, she definitely knows how to pander to and flatter the “outcasts” for whom she’s been positioned as heroine and role model. She pulls all of that into the mix of her aesthetic, her persona and her carefully set-designed politics. I also find it hilarious and somehow very fitting that her fiancé / the father of her soon-to-be-born baby is Benjamin Brewer, son of Warner Music Chairman Edgar Bronfman – who is a very wealthy, very powerful man. It’s those kinds of layers of irony that I love, and that make me curious to see what she (with her own fledgling record label and clothing line) does next, how she will navigate being the daughter of a revolutionary, the daughter-in-law of a captain of industry, a fashionista label honcho, and the mother of a child born with a silver spoon in its mouth.


      Quite a few people have sent me this link to the November 29, 2008 op-ed in the New York Times, titled “Gay Marriage and a Moral Minority,” penned by the Negro writer Charles M. Blow. What an apt surname for a column that blew. Actually, I have to be fair. I didn’t read the whole thing. I couldn’t. I stopped a few paragraphs in. It’s yet another editorial theorizing about why darkies of African descent voted overwhelmingly for Prop 8. The thing is, in the very first sentence, Sir Blow owns up to and even provides a link explaining that black folk “probably didn’t tip the balance” for the proposition’s passing, but then he proceeds to quote and base his whole column on the same widely discredited CNN exit poll that claimed black folks did tip the balance. You can’t have it both ways. This is precisely the kind of sloppy writing and analysis that the NY Times (and they are far from alone) frequently employs when it comes to dealing with Black folks. How can I take you seriously when the very foundation of your thesis is tainted – and your black ass knows it?

I've been been remiss (CP-Time) in putting up photos from the last installment of Blow Pop, the monthly club that I and my fellow New Ninjas throw once a month at Club Fais Do Do here in LA. Here are just a few images from that night. Click the link below to go to our Facebook photo album and see the whole set. The next Blow Pop is December 19th. You should come.
New Ninja Kizzy (singer Kim Hill) moves and grooves with singer Rahsaan Patterson. Kizzy was channeling her inner Kara Walker when she handmade her earrings.

New Ninja Ninjette (Kim Blackwell), in the back, and her girl Mica Camacho (in front) surrounded by some Nuyorican Dreams, including the Legendary Luis Camacho in the upper right corner.

Blow Poppers workin' it out...

Lynette and Tony

Adolpha, Jeanie and New Ninja Field Ninja J

For more images click Blow Pop: The Second Time Around

1 comment:

Jack Curtis Dubowsky said...

"Much of it lacks… something I can’t put my finger on." Musically it's a pastiche, which has been common in pop music since sampling became easy and simple, with groups like DeeLite, Pizzicato Five, Plastic Fantastic Machine, and so on, capitalizing on this format. There is artistry in the selection of the beats and the samples and the uniqueness of the combinations and the cleverness of the references used. But there's inherently the danger of any pastiche work to become tired, like those tracks which exemplify the over-use of the Amen break. I think what you are hearing is a sort of a priori knowledge that the track has a "now" sound which may become predictable very quickly as others adopt the same "multi-culti" musical references. The track is fun but I relate to your skepticism as well. Time will tell.