web analytics
Press "Enter" to skip to content

Month: May 2005

and we don’t dance neither

New article on Skratch Bastid up here, from the June issue of Exclaim!. The print version comes with a half-page closeup of homeboy’s face. Go clip that for your little sister’s locker.

Bastid is one of my favourite DJs, both for his mixtapes and for his live performances. He was one of the first people I met in Halifax when I first made my big move to the East Coast, and every single club or party set I hit up – from posh nightclub to grimy beer-soaked New Brunswick hole – Bastid always managed to work the crowd into a dancing frenzy.

He was in Toronto last weekend to play a few shows, and I caught his last gig on Saturday night – LOADED @ System Soundbar. It was a dope set, and I wiled out to his famous M.O.P. routine, wishing desperately that we were in some other city, any city, anywhere but Toronto. Because if we had been in Halifax, or Moncton, or even bloody Montreal, more people would have been dancing. There were three of us on the dancefloor Saturday night, and the rest of the crowd was leaned up against the wall or slumped in a chair, perfecting their screwface. Pffft.

When Toronto goes out to a hip hop show (or rock show, for that matter), Toronto does not dance. There’s this move we seem to have mastered that’s called the Cross-Your-Arms-And-Fake-Like-Rigor-Mortis, and it can be applied to any live bassline, riff, sax solo, scratch routine, triple encore, etc. We’re unmovable. It’s not like we don’t love great dance music – some of the premier dance music talents have come out of this city. Some acts, like the Pocket Dwellers, have even made careers out of making audiences sweaty. But still – for every person dancing, there are at least ten more doing the Carebear Stare. The hip hop crowd appreciates dance, and at any given show you’ll find an enthusiastic crowd (mostly still wearing the screwface) gathered around the one or two b-boy/b-girl circles that invariably form. So why is it that we love to watch good dance, we know good dance, but we’re so hesitant to un-cross our arms and dance ourselves? Regular dance nights like Souled Out or Love Movement don’t count. I’m talking about when you go to check your favourite emcee or a big-name DJ rock a club and you act like the jams that make you go co-co bananas through your headphones don’t have an affect once you’re in public. What is this?

In studying anthropology and migration, I’ve learned about how we’re losing an alarming number of languages with each ensuing generation. A language can only survive if it is passed down and used actively; once it drops from regular use, it becomes extinct. I worry that the same thing may be happening with dance. If we forget what it feels like to throw our hands up at a concert, to sway our hips, to stomp our feet, to tear our shirt off and wave it around our head like a helicopter – if we forget how to show a performer appreciation by having a good time, what sort of future can we look forward to? I’m being serious. I can see the same Rigor-Mortis stance seeping onto the stage; where someone who’s been around for a decade or more, like Roam or Fatski or N.I.Gel, will jump up in front of an audience, strike up a rapport and have a good time, the newest emcees and crews coming up don’t seem to want to crack a smile at all. They sulk and they pose, and it becomes a case of a screwface performer looking back at dozens of other mirrored screwface expressions, and everybody’s too concerned with proving something to have a good time. Body language speaks volumes for a person’s comfort level and how they regard themselves, and Toronto has got some major demons to deal with.

west coast, french toast

It could be the onset of summer weather, or maybe just this crazy travel itch that’s been building over the past year, but I’ve had the West Coast on my mind.

[I grew up in Toronto but spent several years living in the Maritime region and traveling through Europe, and the more I moved around, the more I came to notice just how closed and narrow the Toronto sound is – particularly when it comes to hip hop. I call it the “Toronto ear”, and, barring the significant West Indian influence that’s spiked the flavour of so many local emcees and producers, it favours an almost exclusively American North/East Coast sound, with a heavy preference for anything NYC. That’s cool, man, I mean, I like Nas too, but anyone with broader tastes is hard-pressed to find a likeminded audience. Case in point – the CaliComm tour that passed through town a few months ago. Del was there, Acey was there, I was there – where the hell were you?]

I’ve got the West Coast on my mind and, as luck would have it, I’ve been invited to participate in a conference back back in Cali Cali this July. I can’t say no to a free trip (even if it is funded by a creepy Libertarian organization – more on that some other day). I have yet to touch the Pacific or cross into US territory, and though it’s exciting enough just to be going somewhere new, what I’m hyped most about taking in some new jams. Here’s my starter’s kit:

4th Avenue Jones – Monumental Continental [x]

My trip starts in Orange County, which, according to my sources, is a hotbed for KKK activity. My sources also tell me that it can take anywhere between 30 minutes to 2 hours to get to Los Angeles, so goodness knows that I’ll be flippin outta there as soon as I’m able. Aside from tracking down Aceyalone for tea, I’m hoping to catch a show with these cats, 4th Avenue Jones. They describe themselves as “hip rock soul,” and are obviously aiming for some mainstream, heavy-video-rotation appeal with this new album. Am I snobby enough to care? Hells no. Their sound is heavy, thick, and HUGE. Layers upon layers of distorted guitar wails, laid-back raps, and strong storytelling (read: delicious dramatics) to tie it all together. I remember seeing their name plastered all over the city a few years back (helloooo street team), but was put off by the name. They’ve finally caught my attention.

75 Degrees – Fly High (Icelandic Remix) [x]

At the far, far, other end of the hip hop spectrum, and about four hours up the Cali coast, is 75 Degrees. Another iffy name, but GOODNESS GRACIOUS, this is something special. I remember going apeshit when I first heard the pre-release version of “The Last Great Hip Hop Album” last summer, and I’m really hoping some big things happen now that the official cut has been dropped. Whereas 4th Ave will build their sound, the 75 strip it down; in conversation with bandleader Rick Bond a while back, he explained that he was all about going back to the basics of songwriting. Rather than trying to hide or mask a song’s structure behind multiple layers, he gives the listener only the naked, raw, rugged (yet refined) pieces. My ears are so accustomed to over-produced, shiny product, so it took me a few listens to really enjoy what they’re doing musically. Lyrically though, the 75 get A+ top notch grades, all around. The first words on the opening track (from the pre-release) were “I got your album, but I took it back“, and snap, they had me. This track is a remix of kind of a pep-rally, shake-like-yer-crazy song on the same album, and utterly different from any of their other songs, but I think it’s such a brilliant concept that I have to pick it as my favourite. A crunk remix over an airy Bjork soundscape? Get outta my face!

Josh Martinez – Cheers [x]

Many, many, many hours north of the San Fran Bay is Vancouver, another place I’ve never been to but that is at the top of my list. If I don’t go bankrupt between now and the end of the month, I’ll hopefully be able to touch down for a few days either before or directly following the So Cal trip. Josh Martinez is not from Van (he’s a Bluenoser), but while the West is Canada’s self-proclaimed mecca of chill, the real easy-going Canadians are from the East (despite the lousy economy, crazy blizzards, etc). J-Mart really does have the best of both coasts, and listening to him is, for me, what summer and being young is all about. Every so often I’ll get his lyrics stuck in my head, walk by the mirror and yell to my reflection: “I’m twenty-three years old and I look great naked!” For that little nugget of joy, and for everything else, I thank you Josh.

NB: The first post is always the hardest. Too many years of music writing have left me with an inability to express myself. Time.

em começar de novo (an introduction)

MV Bill — a Brazilian activist, emcee, and UN “Messenger of Truth” — has this lyric that’s stuck with me hard from the moment I first heard it:


In or out of context, what he’s basically saying is: don’t hesitate, or the boogeyman’s gonna get your ass. This site, and all of its intended or potential content, is something I’ve been sitting on for far too long, and I can’t stand any more blows. That said, a proper introduction is in order.

First, a note on the word “nowarian” – a term I initially encountered in The Swinging Bridge, a novel by Ramabai Espinet. The word is Trinidadian in origin, and Espinet applies it to her protagonist – a multicultural patchwork character, floating between a number of clashing identities and homes. It breaks down to mean someone who comes from nowhere – a nowhere-ian. (With the flip side to that coin being: a nowarian is also someone that comes from many places; he or she can be from nowhere and everywhere all at once.) In essence, the word strikes at the very heart of the multicultural phenomenon. There is an entire generation of nowarians in North America and the West Indies and beyond, all of us floating together, struggling with overlapping cultural identities in the face of so much deep-rooted structural or institutional racism. A new movement is taking shape, and quickly.

This website is a floating patchwork, and so am I. You can count me as Portuguese and Canadian, a writer and a fighter, a hip hop lover and an anti-racist struggler, browned skin and cold weather chillin, everything and no one, all at once. No one tells our stories – and if they do, they end up telling them wrong. Inequality in education and the mediocre “outsider looking in” media approach (upheld by hack journalists) are so so threatening to this still-developing generation of multicultured individuals. The most powerful tools at our disposal – music, media and political movement – are also the ones in the greatest trouble. I’m not letting my ass get kicked. This is not the time to hesitate.