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Category: musics

source.of.undying.love

I must have met Masimba, appropriately, at Love Movement. I say must have because, though I don’t quite remember ever meeting him (in my mind, he’s just always been there, an integral part of the city’s scape and air and life and sound, a role occupied by but a few special ones in Toronto), the man put up some photographic evidence:

image

He snapped this in the basement of Alto Basso on College Street, late in the summer of 2003. I have only a vague recollection of this moment: Love Movement’s resident DJs Fase and Nana hamming behind the decks, me posted up with a Heineken in hand, smiling at them over my shoulder, not realizing I was included in the shot. When Masimba posted it to social media some years ago, I admit to feeling some combination of touched and horrified. The photo is not flattering, y’all, but it was from an important time. I was 21 and had just landed home for the summer, back from a semester abroad in Madrid where my Cuban rapper/DJ neighbours in Lavapiés and I would spend afternoons talking music and race, and weekends dancing til dawn. One of many worlds to navigate. Back in this other world of Toronto, I spent a short summer sneaking out of my (strict, immigrant) parents’ house to hit rap shows, open mics, and weeklies all over the city, often rolling solo because I didn’t yet know many people who were also into the music I loved. I didn’t yet know myself, either. I’d only recently started to DJ (that didn’t last long), started to co-host a hip hop campus radio show (neither did this), and started to freelance for music magazines (my first-ever published review, unpaid of course, was for an Oddities 12-inch I purchased myself). One of Masimba’s friends wrote last week that, pre-Drake, the Toronto rap scene was like a family. The distant sweetness of nostalgia makes me inclined to agree. I was the chubby, frizzy-haired Portuguese writer girl at the rap show, screwfaced, shy, and happy to be there. Nobody made me feel like I didn’t belong. The basement of Alto Basso filled every Monday night with unfamiliar faces that, over time, became friends, nods of recognition became hugs, and some friends eventually became family.

To look through Masimba’s FB albums is to journey through recent Toronto hip hop history. Jokes and candid moments from places that don’t exist anymore or are called by other names: Bamboo, IV Lounge, Movement Culture parties hosted by Sandra and Noah. He captured Fatski’s million-and-one variations on the b-boy stance, TT’s finger-in-di-air holler, Nehal cheesin, and El looking like the coolest cat in the room from absolutely every angle. Sa’ara B’s electric smile. Big Tweeze in his classic lean. DJ Serious on the decks. I love all of these photos.

These were the days of street teams pressing flyers in your palm for the next show as you walked out of the last one, and Georgie Porgy pushing CDs on the corner, all: Do you like real hip hop? The days of shows at Revival and B-Side and The Comfort Zone and The Big Bop and The Hooch and NASA, Planet Mars (before my time still), Peachfuzz, In Divine Style, Never Forgive Action, Cell Division mixtapes. Of making pause tapes to the Mastermind Street Jam on Energy and Real Frequency on CKLN. Of spotting people in Equinox199 ‘Balance’ and Too Black Guys t-shirts. In the winter, a Big It Up toque on every head’s head.

Then there was the Sagittarius Coolout. I think I looked forward to Masimba’s birthday more than my own, to those sweaty dance tangles and happy-to-see-you! reunion vibes that cut through winter’s alienating chill. I look back so fondly on those nights, even as we’ve all changed, moved, grown older, and grown apart. I’ve missed the Coolout the last few years, rolling back into town for my holiday visit a week too late, but I was counting on returning to Toronto early this December. I hoping to catch up on hugs and cut up a dance floor with my people again. Hoping. Was.

It’s been two weeks since Masimba left us to join the ancestors, since the flurry of long-distance calls and messages, since heartful tributes from friends and strangers flooded my timelines. This lovely man who called me young lady or sis, a brother to so many, he himself went by DJ Son Of S.O.U.L., and his presence was love. Revisiting photos and memories, reconnecting with dear ones I’d lost touch with, all of us mutual and willing victims of time and geography, has filled me with gratitude. This aspect of his legacy lives on. Of course, then there’s the music.

I posted a tribute back in 2008 to DJ S.O.S. and his birthday fête, including a link to one of his sets. I’ll happily re-share it here: The Sagittarius Cool Out 2007, Parts One & Two. The download will be live for the next week, so play it, laugh loudly at the ad libs, throw a finger in the air, dance. If you come around late, hit me up and I’ll gladly post it again.

This isn’t a eulogy — there have been too many this past year. Instead, this is a hug. Along with music, hugs are one of the sweetest gifts and most healing blessings he bestowed, and so I’m offering up the biggest, warmest, most open, joyous one I can muster.

Hugs for the past and future journeys, for yours and his and mine, for wherever they may take each of us, whoever may join us, whatever may come. Hugs whenever we may cross. Hugs for magic. Hugs for peace and love. Hugs honouring where you’re from, for the people who made you, for forgiveness, hugs for knowing yourself. Hugs to hold up the ones who need them. Hugs to celebrate dreams coming to life. Hugs to try harder, be better. Hugs, just because.

something that does not love a wall


Thomas Edison on loop. From the perma-installation on American Identities at the Brooklyn Museum.

 

Thanks to a hookup from fellow Poundling Angelica, I’ve jumped aboard the New Amerykah Badu-wagon. It’s a beautiful record, and schizophrenic just the way I like it. Everyone seems to be feeling ‘The Hump’ extra hard, but I’m still trying to listen without looking at song titles. Do yourself a favo(u)r, take the time to let it sink in as a whole, to let the pieces and patches bleed together.

It means a lot to find a piece of exciting, loving music these days. So much of my identity used to be framed and punctuated by the music I listened to, the music I was paid to write about. I don’t know what happened, but I lost that… loving feeling. Which is okay. I’ll stay bored and detached from it as long as I need to. Other things have been framing and punctuating my days — texts, images, conversations, tides, windchills, textiles.

I’ve never been able to understand identity, or taste, as anything less than fluid. My takes on citizenship, immigration especially, and other physical markers are influenced by my (family’s) own continent-hopping, and by the lessons I picked up as a kid from the other kids on the block with similar emigrant or émigré stories. Émigré. Rhymes with gourmet, betray, folkway. Segue.

Here’s an excerpt from part one of The Border by William Langewiesche. The Atlantic, May 1992:

The twin cities of El Paso and Juárez, with a combined population of 2 million, mark the midpoint of the border. This is where the Rio Grande, having flowed due south from its origin in the Rockies, snakes through a gap in the desert mountains and turns southeast. It is also where the two halves of the boundary join: to the west the line runs crisply across the deserts; to the east it rides a more ambiguous midchannel course through the curves of the Rio Grande.

As it flows between El Paso and Juárez, the river is hemmed in by levees. We drove for a time along the northern side. On the opposite shore the tin and cardboard shantytowns of Juárez sprawled over low hills. The Juárez slums are as bad as the shantytowns I know in West Africa. They are less crowded than but as bad as the slums of Bombay. A gully spewed black water into the river. Tainted upstream by agricultural runoff and sewage, the Rio Grande swallowed the filth easily. A family bathed among the bushes. Out of modesty the women washed themselves with their dresses on; the men had stripped down to their shorts. They stood in the water and watched us pass. Ahead the bridges between Juárez and El Paso spanned the river. A rowboat heavy with passengers nosed against the U.S. shore, bypassing Immigration. One woman couldn’t climb the steep embankment. Others, who had made it to the top of the levee, went back down to help her.

Sealed in the air-conditioned minivan, we crept through the crowd on the levee. There were about a hundred people, getting their bearings and watching for the Border Patrol. Though the levee is technically U.S. territory, in practice it is neutral soil; retreat to the river is easy. The crowd was mostly local — unemployed Juárez youths without border-crossing cards, going to El Paso for the day. Some were going farther; they might have come from the interior of Mexico, or from Central or South America. These travelers carried suitcases and scurried away from the van. The locals were not so shy. Recognizing the Boundary Commission seal on the door, they tapped on the roof, peered through the windows, smirked and joked. They begged cigarettes, which we did not have. Boys stood in our way nonchalantly, showing off for girls.

Gunaji seemed oblivious. He spoke about his decision to become an American citizen. His older sister objected, but he insisted. “I told her, ‘I’m going to serve India by staying out of India.'”

I interrupted him. “Doesn’t it seem odd, if you think back, to find yourself managing this boundary?” I gestured toward the crowd.

He looked annoyed. “In the United States I have always tried to participate in the workings of government. I served on the Las Cruces City Council. Now I serve as commissioner. I am happy such an honor has been bestowed upon my family. A nation needs its boundaries, no?”

I nodded yes. You need a them to have an us.

All sorts of identities are defined in this way, not just the most obvious, political ones. And when self only exists in opposition to another, in the absence of an-other, you must invent one. Is that why war is so important? Assert your own existence by destroying that of others?

I know I’ve said it before, and I know I wasn’t the first to spell this out. That: the idea(l) of a static, definable, distinct identity — one with strict, defendable borders — is dangerous and toxic and boring, and it doesn’t work. Whether it be in terms of music, nationalism, subculture, it’s not healthy. I wonder what came first, though — the border or the enemy discourse? The threat or the wall? How does one define the other?

synesthesia


Solidao, 1969.

My father never got used to the taste of mint toothpaste. His appetite was robust and his stomach enviably strong, but there were three things that I knew always made him want to wretch: the smell or taste of roast lamb, the smell or taste of cheese, and toothpaste. I never thought to ask him what he had used to clean his teeth as a kid (did they even have toothbrushes back then? if he couldn’t afford shoes, could he have afforded colgate? what about that sorriso pepsodent?), and became accustomed to hearing him gag and curse as he brushed before bed each night.

His voice was, and still is, a warm, low rumble. A perfect tenor. And my mom’s a perfect fadista. I remember making pause tapes and recording random sounds around the house, even at a young age, but I wish I had thought to record my mom singing, at least once. She sang usually when she thought she was alone — working, sewing, cleaning — in time to a machine’s loud rumble or the vacuum’s whir. Her voice traveled throughout the house, filled up the basement, wound up the stairs, under my door, and through my headphones. The high notes were loveliest, and even now the memory of the sound pinches my throat. I used to creep closer to her, duck down on the stairs or behind a wall, just to hear her better. She reads my blog, so I guess now she knows.

It was years before I realized that many of those songs were made famous by Amalia Rodrigues. I had a conversation about Amalia the other day. She brought an oppressive sadness to Fado that it had never had before, said the other. She was a disturbed individual. Depressed and agitated and complex, and her love songs were almost always sad songs, but I don’t care. There’s something so beautiful about her kind of rawness. Yes, she fused Fado with an almost unshakable legacy of misery and saudade, one that has permeated and stretched across all sorts of Portuguese cliches, but every time this woman’s voice brings me to tears — and she does bring me to tears — it’s delicious. The older her voice, the more tortured, the more desperate, the more complex… She didn’t even have to try. She didn’t have to sing. It just happened.

I’ve been investigating past, present, patria, beloved dictators, graceful revolutions, the psychology of my peoples, citizenship and belonging, all as part of some neverending, almost irritating fascination with identity. Pot’s on the boil, I’ll be back to regular programming soon. For now: cheekiness and cheekbones, subtle melodies, and heartache:

the coolout


Condensation on the window, traffic lights blinking stop-wait-go below. Another January night. Dang it was hot in there.

I don’t have much use for end-of-year top-ten-album lists or record rankings of any sort. Partly because I’m too indecisive to ever be good at compiling them, but also because the way I take in music is far from orderly, stackable, or business-like. (I even once discussed critics’ lists in the same breath as Ursula LeGuin theories on literature, but we won’t turn this into a gendered discussion right now.)

My old editors can attest to my dislike of record rankings. Just getting me to turn out record reviews eventually became a painful process, so I stopped doing them altogether three or four years ago, and stopped reviewing live shows soon after. I had to own up — I’ve always been a far more passionate ref on the court when it came to judging disk jock skill, the strength of a sound system, and dance floor rockability.

The bar was set high early on. While the decks at most school dances are manned by somebody’s cousin, at my high school the cousin happened to be DJ Mikey Sly from the Sunshine Soundcrew, the premier soundsystem north or south of Eglinton Avenue. It was the era of Master T and Roxy on Da Mix, when Mastermind still ran the Street Jam, and DJ Short was making girls sweat blending Black Sheep into Mr Vegas. I still remember my favourite playlists, my favourite mixes, my favourite sets.

I have a critical ear when it comes to DJs, but I’m also generous with my appreciation — and so I’d like to salute some of the stand-out DJs, mixes and limes from 2007. Thank you for giving me reasons to pound the walls of a club in excitement, wile out to your selections, and lose my mind with every white-hot genius-perfected blend. I know I’ll always find a home between my headphones.

Gang of Two & The Peachfuzz Soundsystem

Click here for the gang of Andy Capp and Rod Skimmins, and here for the peachy triad of Skimmins, Mensa and ArowbeX3.

I think I started off 2007 with an early Gang of Two party at The Boat, all over-heated and dancing shoulder-to-shoulder with the spandexed set to hard disco, electro, and generous helpings of Grace Jones. I spent much of the rest of the next eight months around the corner at Peachfuzz, with some of the same faces, a completely different dress code, and a playlist that ran thick with SWV, Tiombe Lockhart, Juice Crew, and a dash of E-Rule. I don’t have any Peach mixes, but you can go here to download Go Bang! parts one, two, and more.

Son of S.O.U.L.

Son of S.O.U.L. (aka Masimba) has been one of my favourite DJs for as long as I can remember. With a sound as warm and unmistakable as his trademark grin (and beanie), he’s been carrying his incredible haul of records from Scarborough to gigs across the city for yearrrs. The highlights for me have been his appearances at the old Movement Culture parties on Queen West. These jams were password-only affairs filled with friendly faces, creative vibes, and tangles of dancing bodies. Movement Culture is no more, not since the eviction party in the spring, but I hear the fete continues over at a certain tea gallery on Adelaide West.

I’m sad that I missed out on Masimba’s annual Sagittarius Birthday Coolout a few weeks ago at Moja, but I have Toronto Fusicology to thank for posting links to his set: parts one and two. Kornflake Saymore handles toasting duties, like the gentleman he is.

Superfriends

This is a mix by DJ Ayres and Nick Catchdubs. When I first moved to New York in August, I remember hitting up a pool party in Williamsburg, where Ayres was handing out copies of this mix. I get handed mixes all the time, and usually I’ll let them live in my purse for a few weeks before I finally take them out and add them to the ever-growing dusty piles of CDs I don’t listen to. This one was different, though. I popped it in my stereo right away, and have been listening to it fairly regularly every since. Full mix and playlist here. Oh, and I caught his set with The Rub at Southpaw last weekend, too. Always nice to see a crew on their home turf.

APT

No, not a soundsystem, and not a mix, but this little nook in the meatpacking district is where I’ve felt most at home in New York so far. It reminds me of the basement at Alto Basso circa 2001 on Love Movement Mondays. I love the dancefloor, I love the crowd, and I love the sets I’ve caught there so far. Here’s a little gift Lovebug Starski dropped (along with some delicious cookies and turkey-themed flower pots) during his Thanksgiving Blowout in November.

Vá Primeiro Você

I can’t remember when I downloaded this, but at some point I followed my mouseclicks to Minusbaby’s new contributions on this site, downloaded Vá Primeiro Você, Pt. 9, and forgot about it. I found the curious folder on my hard drive in December, and boy oh boy am I glad I did. Rich has always had a fantastic ear for soft or endearing sounds, and every note on this compilation is soaked through with his love for Portuguese-language music. It’s part of my personal soundtrack, and had me sighing and singing along all through the holidays. Such a lovely way to wind down the year and cozy up to a new one.

Special mentions: Footprints for their insane and wonderful monthlies, DJ L’Oquenz for a phenomenal poolside summertime set (still waiting on that mix!), the Peer Pressure Crew for actually getting me to step foot in the Drake upstairs lounge, and Bryan from the Legends League for Volume 1, Volume 2.5, and that song by Ox. I seem to have misplaced the download links, but they’re out there somewhere in the interwebs.

I just came across these two dope blogs attempting to chronicle early and recent Toronto radio DJ history: 416 – Before the Bloods and Crips and FM 416. My jaw dropped when I saw some of the gems on there. There’s a lot of material to go through, but if you’re up for it, check out some of the classic sets from Masterplan, Powermove, and others. What better way to kick off 2008 than with a trip back to 1998?

Happy listening, keep your levels right, and don’t forget to tip your DJ.

can’t see the panties from the grass

Five blue Canadian dollars to whoever can scout the reference in that title.

It’s been a fast minute since I’ve had any desire to read or write anything vaguely rap-blog-related, but that changed when someone sent me the link to this, this, and this on the XXL website today. I’ve been out of this loop on purpose, but right now feels like a good time to throw down some cents.

Let me preface this by saying that I’m a relativist, and believe that a tailored cocktail of perspectives underlies every last one of our tastes and interpretations. Me (female, ESL, downtown-raised, whatever) and you (male, fifth-generation something, suburban-raised, whatever) are bound to have some different opinions on things. So, FOR EXAMPLE, when a man jumps in with his thoughts on females and hip hop (representations within; contributions to; impact on; etc), I already know that his perspective’s going to smell funny to me in at least a few different ways.

Rules are made up by the folks who hold the reins. The most powerful, dominant voices in every community set down laws that protect their interests — it’s always been this way. This is how punishable crimes, monetary values, and socio-cultural definitions get their measure. There’s no science to it. I’m bigger and I can fuck you up — take my word as law or else. The end.

And so, I find the overall three-part conversation on XXL pretty interesting. Not because of what is said, but because of the borders it’s bound by.

To me the “female principle” is, or at least historically has been, basically anarchic. It values order without constraint, rule by custom not by force. It has been the male who enforces order, who constructs power structures, who makes, enforces, and breaks laws.

– Ursula K. Le Guin

In high school English class, we read Ursula Le Guin’s “A Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction” (here are the first two pages, plus the fifth — copyrights, yanno) as part of an introduction to feminist theory. We only spent one or two days on it, but it stuck with me for the rest of that semester, and far far beyond. It wasn’t just about the flip side to some male-female dichotomy of differing opinions — that’s really kind of a lazy way of positioning it. What it really did was blow my mind wide open to the vast potential for how to craft and consume a piece of work, apart from the possibilities that had already been carved, drilled and established.

In that essay, Le Guin challenges the idea of a story as hero + conflict + climax + resolution. She rejected that a story could only be shaped like an arrow, with one unmalleable and inevitable direction and target. Why not, she wondered, shift away from the hunter mentality and into a gatherer state of mind? Why couldn’t a story be shaped more like a bag instead — holding many pieces and possibilities, drawing them out as needed or desired.

I wonder what she’d have to say about the ultra-conservative watchdoggies of rap. She’d probably laugh at the criteria for what makes a good rap song, or at the painstaking back-and-forth on whether or not Lauryn Hill’s Miseducation “counts” as a hip hop album because she sings too much. Spittin hard over a beat is the arrow, but she roamed too far over some guitar strings and lost the hunter-hero’s attention, I guess.

As it stands, there’s not much room for different shapes in hip hop or rap “criticism”. A “best of” list is a lot like an arrow — it starts in one spot, ends in another, and flows in one distinct line, to a sharpened point. Rap looks like this. A rap album looks like that. This culture/gender discussion, as with nearly every related discussion I’ve either be a part of or eavesdropped on, is being played out according to a set of rules that were put in place before my time, but could I possibly be the only one that’s bored by these rules? That’s bored of arguing in circles under an umbrella of definitions that was designed to only allow for one sort of argument anyway?

Industry success, impact, dopeness. Arrow, arrow, arrow. We’ve shaped them all the same, and for no good reason.

Am I crazy? Are there similar (better, smarter, eloquent) arguments out there that I don’t know about? I need to think on this further… A part two is to come soon, possibly maybe.