Saturday, February 6, 2010

Shaping my musical aesthetic. Or, “How I popped my musical cherry”

I think one of the most interesting/spritual/human/unhuman moments in life is when a few sounds come together and create a spiritual-carnal reaction that puts you inna space of bliss; where time stands still, where all burdens seem to dissolve and wait for you in the air, until you return. And it’s during that moment, which can last from one song to 10 hours, nothing matters- you feel the most of yourself, of others, of atmosphere, of instinct, of joy.

This happens across time, generations, and peoples. It’s the moment when the sprit comes into your church service – folks speaking in tongues, old ladies doing dances that defy their health conditions, where grown-ass men sweat up their $500 dollar suit. It happens in the cipher – where b-boys and b-girls get in the groove and everyone from the DJ to the MC comes in sync and true Hip Hop manifests. You see it in Salsa where everyone is dancing so rough/sexual/smooth that you stand back and keep away to not ruin it for anyone else. It happens in the Rave – where the DJ took a good half hour to take you, and everyone else, in a space where everyone has nothing but smiles. Chemicals, lights, synths, and bass, come to a rising crescendo… everyone is your lover, your friend. It’s that trance you see from tribal ceremonies in Africa… It’s the pocket, getting open, riding the vibe, catching the spirit…
This has happened to me several times. One of my earliest experiences was in 1986, when two kids brought my father Run-DMC’s “Raising Hell” and Ice-T’s “Rhyme Pays”. I took those records to my room after my dad put it on the turntable, played, and removed, in two minutes. What blew my mind were the snares… those distorted, loud-ass snares… boom-CLACK, boom-boom—CLACK!1 over and over again… These guys were talking WAY too fast, and way too loud… trying to out-yell the snares… it was beautiful noise.

My next experience came in 1995, when I bought a CD of “John Coltrane’s Greatest Hits” (I knew nothing of the importance of LPs in Jazz, or the influence of labels). I was introduced to Jazz by this kid in high school who did a presentation for class. I was in my room when I heard “Naima”. I never had such a melancholy reaction, a sadness, associated with sound in my life. It hurt, it made me sad. It complemented the bullshit I was feeling at the time as a young man… it was Coltrane’s lament, his tribute to someone he loved. And that emotion and tenderness transmitted through his sax playing, which I felt at my core.

Along the way, I acquired other influences and tastes obviously. I got into Rock quite heavily. I bootlegged a James Brown’s greatest hits boxed set from the public library and listened to that thing at least 100 times. I loved me some Spanish Reggae, Jamaican Dancehall, and some Spanish Trance music. But the next time I was spiritually moved by music was listening to the Jungle tune “Original Nuttah” by Shy FX and UK Apachi. It was in the 90’s when Cypress Hill, Wu-Tang and the dirty-hardcore was in full effect. As an angry sonavabitch, this shit suited me quite well. Yet, but yet, I remember buying a Jungle compilation CD from a bargain bin in some CD store… and popping it in my player on our way back to the house. First came the sirens, those sirens of PE the sirens of Cypress Hill… going on and on and on… Then came the warning, from some reggae toaster… then the bass where UK Apachi starting toasting… but the payoff came at 1:18… when the most scattered, swung, destructive breakbeat I’ve EVER heard just boooommed through my ears… such energy, such anger was manifested in the rhythm, on the beat, and it was over after that.

I had the opportunity to think about this in depth… how this connects to my “American Pupusa” aesthetic, and what this means now. If you were to think of the common ingredients of these musics and these moments… they would comprise of

1. Significant relationship between bass and drum 2. Rhythm 3. Emotion through atmosphere 4. Swing or sway. 6. Grounding in social commentary or context. 5. Production/Technology 6. A harkening to ancestry, or heritage. 7. Hybridity

Hip Hop was a soundsystem culture acculturated to U.S. tastes. Toasting, sound clashes, and all in between were reappropriated from JA to US. Instead of Mento being the forefather to the newer styles of Reggae, it was Funk and Soul that served as Father and Mother. As the culture moved forward and created its own aesthetic, there was the Funk of James Brown and the synths of Cameo that connected the future to the past. Jungle used the same breaks and added elements of the future, Reggae, and other old-school, to anchor it down as it moved forward. We may look at today’s music and see the same thing from Kanye, Madlib, Joker, or Zomby, each taking it forward by taking it from the back to the front.

And, it’s these influences, and the unique makeups among these genres that guide my work and shape my music culture. This framework leaves room for SOO much source material, where electronic, tribal, melodic, and all can come together under these measures and be formed into something exciting, eternal, and moving. For a good overview of what I’m talking about, see my “Worldwide Liberation Sound” post for additional explanation, alongside examples from across the way.

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