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Dedications II

I recently completed a new DJ project/album. Dedications II continues in the spirit of the first album. While the first Dedications project largely explored the space between poetry and music, particularly jazz and jazz-influenced poetry, Dedications II is particularly indebted to the blues and is blue-tinged throughout with a low-fi aesthetic, and a boom-bap poetics. The album mixes, mashes, samples, spins, cuts, signifies, rhapsodizes, poetizes, layers, collages, remixes, breaks, distresses, archives, remakes, reshapes, and re-edits pieces of recorded history to create a sonic audio homage to a host of musicians and styles with a nod to the avant-garde. If you listen closely you will hear J Dilla, Louis Armstrong, Sun Ra, Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald, Bessie Smith, Robert Johnson, Howlin’ Wolf, Alice Coltrane, Pauline Oliveros, Ursula K. Le Guin, among a slew of other voices, sounds, samples, echoes, and cuts. At times I added a live-recorded layer of chant/voice, singing bowl, beatbox, or field recordings (especially on the final track). I played most of the drums on an MPC Live, and many of the samples are recorded directly from vinyl. Dedications is an opening and a close listening exercise: it is a portal to the past and the future.

The music is FREE and is a not-for-profit creative project (although you can donate to my musical praxis and future projects when downloading). It is available, here: http://djtechne.bandcamp.com

Recommended for late night listening with headphones.

Warmly,
Paul (DJ Techné)

DJ Techné - Dedications II - back

“An Incontestable Beauty”: A Review of Esi Edugyan’s Washington Black

Washington Black—the third novel by Esi Edugyan and her second to win the Giller Prize—depicts the life of Washington (Wash) Black, who rises above the conditions of his time to shape a life based on his imagination, intelligence, and artistic talent. Wash seeks freedom and dignity in a society that would deny him the right to be fully human. The novel opens when Wash is eleven years old (it is narrated from his perspective as an eighteen-year-old) on Faith Plantation in Barbados in 1830. The contrast between a young and curious Washington and the injustice of his brutal surroundings is provided through the recollections of his older self: “What I felt at that moment, though I then lacked the language for it, was the raw, violent injustice of it all.” Edugyan does not shy away from the “unspeakable acts” of slavery and the way that slavery continues to affect Wash even when it is abolished throughout the British Empire in 1833. Edugyan’s writing—from her careful plotting to her complex characters—speaks a veritable truth about what it means to be truly free.

You can read my full review over at Canadian Literature, here.

Intercultural Hip Hop Panel: “Telling Your Story”

Thursday, November 8 at 2:30 pm – 4 pm
Vancouver Island University, Nanaimo: B210/ R275

Come check out this amazing Intercultural Hip Hop panel that I am moderating on Thursday, November 8th, as part of VIU’s 2nd annual Intercultural Hip Hop Forum.

The panel is centred on the theme of “Telling Your Story,” and I will ask this diverse panel of hip hop artists to speak about their personal journeys in finding their voice through hip hop, as well as how their art connects with culture, community, and personal identity.

Everyone is welcome to this free event!

It features three remarkable artists:

Meryem Saci is a singer, songwriter and MC with a vocal range that fuses R&B, Hip Hop, soul/jazz, reggae and Afro-Arabian rhythms. Born and raised by her single-mother in Algeria, the two were forced to escape the civil war and immigrated to Canada as political refugees. Meryem is an established artist in Montreal’s music community and a member the city’s soul-jazz-hip hop super group Nomadic Massive.

The Northwest Kid (Craig Frank Edes), from Gitxsan Nation in northern BC, is one half of the group Mob Bounce. He delivers passionate and soulful hip hop music that blends acoustics and electronics with elements of his Indigenous cultures. Since 2015, Mob Bounce has focused heavily on creating social and environmental awareness through the arts by leading workshops and youth dances to help youth explore their cultural identity.

dr.Oop is a veteran emcee and youth educator from the Los Angeles underground hip hop scene. He is best known for his dynamic MC-ing, freestyle skills, and thoughtful lyrics. dr.Oop is no stranger to BC as he has toured here every summer for the past decade, has appeared numerous times at Shambhala Music Festival and is the main man behind The Red Gold & Green Machine, a hip hop-soul-reggae project, in collaboration with Vancouver’s Tonye Aganaba.

For a complete list of events, please visit the WorldVIU Days website, here

 

A Review of Shane Rhodes’s Dead White Men

Shane Rhodes’s stunning sixth collection of poetry, Dead White Men, repurposes settler texts with pioneering deftness (words cascade, fonts change, statues silhouette, language obliterates), using poetry to critically interrogate the Eurocentrism found in many foundational settler texts. While the names of many dead white men have faded in the annals of history, their mythopoeic justifications for colonization remain woven into the fabric of Euro-American society. Stories shape our beliefs and ethics, and so there’s good reason to go back to colonial origin stories, especially given the cultural amnesia around them. As Rhodes explains in the Notes section, “I was interested in looking to these past stories (especially those focused on North America and the South Pacific), not to add to the fictions of past white heroism but to better understand the problematic relationship between the stories, the mythologies they have become, and the lands and peoples they describe.”

You can read my full review over at The Malahat Review, here.

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“holding each other up”: A Review of Katherena Vermette’s The Break

Katherena Vermette’s The Break is a devastatingly beautiful novel that depicts the bonds between the women of an extended Indigenous family. With warp and weft, Vermette weaves together the voices of numerous intergenerational women to tell their personal stories as they deal with the enduring after-effects of trauma. The prose is sparse, yet dense (“Stella blinks a tear”), as the narrative takes a bare-knuckles approach to cut a jagged truth. Like her stunning poetic debut, North End Love Songs (2012), The Break deftly crafts Vermette’s complex relationship to Winnipeg’s North End. A surface reading concerns the mystery surrounding the sexual assault of a thirteen-year-old Métis girl vis-à-vis the police procedural that unfolds as a result of the crime: “Aboriginal female. Blood loss. Signs of sexual assault.” But the novel is far more complex than this, using numerous viewpoints to reveal the complicated sociopolitical conditions that produce violence and racism, and that cause harm to people, especially women, in Indigenous communities.

Click here to read my full review at Canadian Literature.

Special Issue of Critical Studies in Improvisation on Hip-Hop is Now Live

Cyphers: Hip-Hop and Improvisation

Vol 10, No 1

Edited by Paul Watkins and Rebecca Caines

To cypher is to rap, break, beatbox tightly together in a circle where each person just might get a moment in the spotlight. To cypher is to borrow and to lend, to playfully freewheel through whilst taking an exacting care for each word and carefully considering all the sounds, meanings, and interpretations. It is to fight back, to borrow, to steal, to represent, and to collaborate, whilst suddenly—surprisingly—at times aggressively claiming your own voice, your own right to speak. A cypher is a gathering of rappers, beatboxers, and/or breakers in a circle, extemporaneously making music together. In recent years, the cypher has also grown to include the crowd and spectators who are integral to maintaining the energy of a given cypher. In a cypher, one emcee will rap about a certain topic, which is quickly taken up or flipped by another emcee who plays off the prior words and themes. Each artist takes his or her respective turn, much like in a jazz solo. Cyphers flow freely between diverse performers who improvise their words, sounds, or movements to create a complex matrix of sharing. The circle can go on continuously, as long as emcees, beatboxers, dancers, and the crowd keep the fluidity of the cypher going. The cypher is welcoming and thus models a pedagogy that is inclusive and improvisational in nature.

This issue of Critical Studies in Improvisation/ Études critiques en improvisation aims to act as a cypher, engaging with the embodied practice of locally specific yet globally implicated hip-hop, as we consider the cypher as a metaphor for the complexities of critically thinking about improvisation more broadly. Appropriately, our theme of “Cyphers” attracted a wide range of analyses with many points of intersection. Our final selection ranges from discussions with historically significant scholars and practitioners in hip-hop and Black expressive culture to newer texts at the intersections between hip-hop and other art forms, as well as those tracing the improvisatory affects of hip-hop across cultural and technological boundaries.

Each paper in this issue addresses specific responses to the improvisatory impulse in hip-hop. We start the issue with a number of interviews. We are honoured that George Lipsitz agreed to interview Tricia Rose for this issue, bringing two significant scholars in Black Studies into conversation. This interview emphasizes Rose’s vital contributions to the field of hip-hop scholarship and addresses the broader importance of improvisatory Black expressive cultural practices as “sites and sources of knowledges, as repositories of collective memory, as sights of moral instruction, as ways of calling communities into being through interaction and through performance.” Rebecca Caines’ interview with leading Canadian hip-hop researcher Charity Marsh focuses on Marsh’s creation and leadership of the Interactive Media and Performance Labs in Saskatchewan as an innovative, exploratory space for disenfranchised communities to meet and learn about themselves through hip-hop practices. In conversation with Vancouver-based poet/scholar/DJ Wayde Compton, Paul Watkins addresses Compton’s work on history, identity, and race, exploring the idea of improvising Blackness from within both local (BC) and transnational contexts. This audio interview is then remixed a number of times to allow the conversation to interact with Compton’s readings of his own poetry and with a number of different music samples. Watkins then continues this exploration of critically engaged approaches to artistic practice with his review of Flying Lotus’s (aka FlyLo, born Steven Ellison) 2014 release, “You’re Dead!

Jesse Stewart examines the form of “jazz-rap” that emerged in the 1980s and ’90s. He charts the use of improvisational jazz forms in this type of hip-hop music and perceives this act as a kind of cultural memory practice that “mobilizes the musical past in the service of a socially progressive cultural politics of difference.” Niel Scobie addresses dissonance and “noise” in improvisation and in hip-hop music, with special attention to the music of Public Enemy. For Scobie, “anti-musical” aesthetics allow the group to create lineage with the “discordant cries” of African-American past practices whilst developing a potent improvisatory musical urgency and a call to arms.

Both Marcel Swiboda and Mark Campbell address technological mediation in hip-hop practices. Swiboda addresses “the break,” developing a new critical history of electronic tools for beatmaking to supplement existing scholarship, which has tended to focus more on the use of turntables for isolating and manipulating the breakbeat. Swiboda suggests that technological and material histories of improvisatory beatmaking practices can be “technologically driven, idiomatically specific vernacular modes of critical knowledge practice” and can also bear an “intimate link to improvisatory practices.” Campbell, on the other hand, focuses on current digital DJ practices. His ethnographic project is to discover how newer digital interfaces affect younger DJs in live performance and in radio settings. He argues that digital DJ interfaces might represent “ways to continue to humanize technology as a subversive afrosonic activity, while evolving the practice of DJing.”

See the full editorial and issue, here.


Critical Studies in Improvisation / Études critiques en improvisation is generously supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (through both its Major Collaborative Research Initiatives and Aid to Scholarly Journals programs) and by the University of Guelph Library.

Intercultural Hip Hop Panel: “Telling Your Story”

Thursday, November 9 at 2:30 pm – 4 pm
Vancouver Island University, Nanaimo: B305/R507 (Library Boardroom – Top Floor)

Come check out this amazing Intercultural Hip Hop panel that I am moderating on Thursday, November 9th, as part of VIU’s inaugural Intercultural Hip Hop Forum.

The panel is centred on the theme of “Telling Your Story,” and I will ask this diverse panel of hip hop artists to speak about their personal journeys in finding their voice through hip hop, as well as how their art connects with culture, community, and personal identity.

It features three remarkable artists:

Ndidi Cascade is a Vancouver-based hip hop artist of Nigerian-Italian-Irish-Canadian heritage. A talented songwriter, vocalist, and educator Ndidi has showcased her music across North America and internationally– from classrooms to stadiums. Ndidi facilitates youth empowerment workshops that use hip hop, spoken word, and dance as a medium for healthy self-expression.

Mo Moshiri has lived in four countries, was a refugee at age 3, and a Canadian citizen by age 19. He speaks English, Farsi, and German and is a member of Sweatshop Union, a BC-based conscious hip hop collective that has produced six albums, won two Western Canadian Music Awards, and earned multiple Juno nominations.

Ostwelve is a veteran emcee, youth facilitator, and actor from the Stō:lo Nation. He is widely-known for his role as “Red” in the APTN/Showcase series “Moccasin Flats.” As an emcee, he is a leader and a mentor to many in the Indigenous hip hop scene. He has opened for major acts such as K’Naan, Guru, and Snoop Dogg.

And on Friday, Nov. 3rd, Montreal’s multilingual soul-jazz global hip hop super group Nomadic Massive will be performing at a “Pre-Party” at the Old City Station Pub. Get tickets, here.

For a complete list of events, please visit the WorldVIU Days website.

 

“The Gathering of Nations” Anthem

I was fortunate to take part in recording and mixing the audio portion of Marlene Rice’s (Hwiem’) “The Gathering of Nations” Anthem at VIU’s Cowichan campus. The video work is done by my colleague Jay Ruzesky in the Creative Writing department. It is a song that welcomes students to learn and it is performed in the Hul’qumi’num language. As Marlene Rice puts it:

This song teaches us respect for our family and our friends. It says “speak your mind, and keep your mind strong.” Our communities want to bring our generations together. We need to always think about the elders of the past and the teachings they provide and bring to the present day that will give strength to our youth. We can take a look at our young people and look at the elders of the past and form a vision of bringing them together so they can survive in this world.

Feel free to share.