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.

 

Top 5 Records of 2015

There was a lot of great music released in 2015. I could easily compile a list of the 50 Best Albums of the year, but instead I am keeping things simple and mentioning the 5 albums that made the deepest impact on my listening last year. If the list was longer, it would include such fantastic releases as Jamie xx’s In Colour, BadBadNotGood and Ghostface Killah’s Sour Soul, Panda Bear’s Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper, Four Tet’s Morning/Evening, Max Richter’s Sleep, and Colin Stetson and Sarah Neufeld’s Never Were the Way She Was, among many others. Here’s the list of my 5 favourite albums of 2015 with a selected track from each record.

5. Father John Misty, I Love You, Honeybear

Josh Tillman’s second release under the moniker Father John Misty tells the story of his courtship of his wife, Emma. This is a really fun record that reads like one long self-reflexive joke that we are let in on. This album is all about juxtaposition, placing caustic irony beside blunt declarations of love.


4. Kasami Washington, The Epic

For those of us who listen to jazz, it’s exciting to see how the genre is being taken in new directions. Last year’s You’re Dead! by Flying Lotus drew on the spiritual jazz of Alice and John Coltrane to the progressive jazz fusion of Weather Report to the humourous and cosmic tones of Sun Ra. Kasami Washington’s The Epic, also on Lotus’s Brainfeeder imprint, builds on that format in a three hour jazz odyssey that digs deep into the past and pushes forward as a kind of generational intervention. The Epic features a 10-piece jazz band with augmentation from a string section and a full choir and holds its own with the best of fusion records. This is consciousness-raising music and it is getting lots of spins over here.


3. D’Angelo and the Vanguard, Black Messiah 

14 years after the critically acclaimed Voodoo, D’Angelo returns with the militant, powerful, and funky Black Messiah. The album is incredibly layered with murky vocals, unsettled grooves, and fuzzy guitars, with deep roots in rock, funk, jazz, and gospel. It’s an album that recalls Sly and the Family Stone’s 1971 funk album There’s a Riot Goin’ On. An unbelievable comeback record from D’Angelo.


2. Sufjan Stevens, Carrie & Lowell

Sufjan Stevens’s beautiful Carrie & Lowell has been on repeat in our house since its release. The songs on the album are inspired by the 2012 death of his mother, Carrie, and the family trips they took to Oregon in Stevens’s childhood. For me, this album is up there with Seven Swans and Illinois. This album is Stevens’s most personal and mature and it is also his most stripped down record, which allows his abilities as a songwriter to shine through.


1.  Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp a Butterfly

Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly provides an Umwalzung—that is, revolution—through a complete overturning of prior mainstream hip-hop album templates, as Lamar enacts one of the most ferocious black chants ever to appear on a hip-hop record. The album’s unforgiving blackness is important, because it reminds white listeners that sometimes we need to sit down and listen to the conversation that is taking place rather than try to control or shape it. This is art and music that is both relevant and functional, showing that you can make music that is both rhetorically powerful and aesthetically pleasing. Without a doubt, Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly is my favourite release of 2015. It certainly restored a lot of my faith in mainstream hip-hop. As David Jeffries puts it, “To Pimp a Butterfly is as dark, intense, complicated, and violent as Picasso’s Guernica, and should hold the same importance for its genre and the same beauty for its intended audience.”

DJ Phoenix (my son) getting into the mix. #DJPhoenixDailyRecord
DJ Phoenix (my son) getting into Lamar’s powerful record. #DJPhoenixDailyRecord

 

 

Improvisation and the Syrian Refugee Crisis

At the end of the summer the conversation around the Syrian refugee crisis changed when shocking images of a drowned Syrian boy went viral. Since then numerous videos have appeared that humanize the millions of displaced and dispossessed refugees. The conversation drastically shifted to one around security after the Paris attacks, and has changed again in Canada after Justin Trudeau gave a welcoming response to Syrian refugees.

I’ve published a short paper about the crisis where I suggest that improvisation might be one way we can frame a meaningful response to the crisis. The current Syrian refugee crisis—the civil war and the displaced peoples that resulted from it, but also the crisis with respect to how Western countries have responded to it—affirms a renewed need to learn to deal with social dissonance. In this piece, I discuss the ways in which social and musical improvisation (particularly when immersed in the ethics of “cocreation”) can teach us about the merits of creative risk-taking in relation to the current Syrian refugee crisis, a form of social dissonance. Learning to improvise imbues citizens with the important notion that creative risk-taking makes for more exciting and, while unpredictable to a degree, egalitarian societies. Ultimately, I insist that we can fight the insular mechanics of an improvisation of fear with an improvisation of hope that challenges the anxiety that refugees destroy borders and culture, as if these things are pure, static, given, unchanging, and authentic.

See the full article, here.

Featured image from here.

PRESS RELEASE: Celebrated ‘Africadian’ Poet George Elliott Clarke Reads at VIU Oct. 22

Toronto Poet Laureate, playwright, and literary critic George Elliott Clarke, VIU’s 2015 Gustafson Distinguished Poet, will deliver a free public lecture, On Entering the Echo Chamber of Epic: My “Canticles” Vs Pound’s Cantos, Thursday Oct. 22nd at 7pm in building 355 on the Nanaimo campus.  Clarke introduces his epic poem, “Canticles,” in response to Ezra Pound’s contentious Cantos, a 20th-century post/modern epic both vilified for its integration of fascist propaganda and heralded for its haunting lyricism. Pound, a classicist, nodded to T. S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” and Stephen Vincent Benet’s “John Brown’s Body,” both of which skirted racist material yet refused to be contained, or restrained, by formalism.

Clarke will recite excerpts from his work-in-progress “Canticles,” which echoes slave and imperialist debates from Cleopatra to Celan. Clarke will also invoke contemporary poets Derek Walcott and NourbeSe Philip who invite harmonious, multiple, and multicultural voices in their revisions of Pound’s controversial masterpiece. Clarke champions writers of African descent and coined the term, “Africadian” to identify the Black culture of Atlantic Canada, a term he says is both “literal and liberal—I canonize songs and sonnets, histories and homilies.”

Clarke traces his own inspiration to “poet-politicos: jazz trumpeter Miles Davis, troubadour-bard Bob Dylan, libertine lyricist Irving Layton, guerrilla leader and poet Mao Zedong, reactionary modernist Ezra Pound, Black Power orator Malcolm X, and the Right Honourable Pierre Elliott Trudeau.” Clarke finds their “blunt talk, suave styles, acerbic independence, raunchy macho, feisty lyricism, singing heroic and a scarf-and-beret chivalry quite, well, liberating.”

Clarke’s colleague and VIU English professor Paul Watkins says, “For George, poetry is not only a printed form, but also an oral art. His boisterous readings present the listener with a gumbo-concoction of jazz rhythms, blues-infused gospel vernacular, and plenty of play upon the standards of the larger literary tradition. This is poetry presented with the ‘lightning of prophecy’.”

Clarke has published: a 13 works of poetry including Whylah Falls (2002 Canada Reads contender), Execution Poems, winner of the Governor General’s Award for Poetry, and his latest Traverse; 4 plays, screenplays, or libretti One Heart Broken Into SongBeatrice ChancyQuébécité, Trudeau; the novel George and Rue; and 4 anthologies of African-Canadian writing including Directions Home: Approaches to African-Canadian Literature. He has been the E.J. Pratt Professor of Canadian Literature at the University of Toronto for the last 12 years and holds 8 honorary doctorates from Royal Military College and Dalhousie, New Brunswick, Alberta, Waterloo, Windsor, Acadia, Saint Mary’s universities. He received the Martin Luther King Jr. Achievement Award, the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Fellows Prize, and Order of Nova Scotia and the Order of Canada.

After Clarke’s lecture, a catered reception, cash bar, and book signing will follow in Bldg 300’s Royal Arbutus Room. Several of Clarke’s books will be sold at the VIU Bookstore. Courtesy parking is available in Lot N, in front of building 355. Clarke will also perform with musician James Darling at the Corner Lounge Wednesday October 21st 7:30-8:30. These events are sponsored by VIU’s Faculty of Arts & Humanities, Writers on Campus, and the Canada Council for the Arts.

The Gustafson Distinguished Poetry Lecture was established in 1998 from the estate of the late, pre-eminent Canadian poet Ralph Gustafson and his wife, Betty. The Chair has been held by celebrated poets Don Domanski, Dionne Brand, Tom Wayman, Daphne Marlatt, Robert Bringhurst, Don MacKay, Jan Zwicky, Dennis Lee, Michael Crummey, and Katherena Vermette among others, most of whom have had their lectures published as chapbooks. An interview will also appear in Portal2016, VIU’s full-colour literary magazine, on stands in April.

For more info contact Chair of the Gustafson Committee Toni Smith at Toni.Smith@viu.ca or to buy a chapbook contact the series’ publisher Joy Gugeler at joy.gugeler@viu.ca. For more information about the lecturers visit http://www.mediastudies.viu.ca/gustafson/

See more at: http://www.mediastudies.viu.ca/gustafson/#sthash.Y6hAy6n0.dpuf

RED REVISED Gustafson Poet Poster PRINT[3]

clarke Poster-final copy

#DJphoenixdailyrecord: January

Along with the complex smell of spices from my wife’s cooking, a steadfast in our home is the warm sound of vinyl records: beautiful, and at times crackly, orbs of sonic prophecy. Over the years, I’ve collected nearly a 1000 records in all genres. Last April, we were gifted with our son Phoenix who will be 10 months old this month. Given I’ve been playing records and dancing, or playing, with him every day before or after work, I thought it would be nice to document the process (for a whole year) on my Instagram account (http://instagram.com/thevinylprofessor) with the hashtag: #DJphoenixdailyrecord. I’ll post a recap of the photos for each month here, but if you have Instagram, you can follow along daily at: http://instagram.com/thevinylprofessor

January 2015:

IMG_0636 IMG_0637 IMG_0638 IMG_0639 IMG_0640 IMG_0647 IMG_0645 IMG_0646

Jan. 3: Beastie Boys, Licensed to Ill
Jan. 4: Wu-Tang Clan, 36 Chambers 
Jan. 5: Sufjan Stevens, Seven Swans
Jan. 6: Ramin Djawadi, Game of Thrones Soundtrack
Jan. 7: Caribou, Our Love
Jan. 8: Black Star, Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star 
Jan. 9: Fela Kuti, Gentleman
Jan. 10: Sex Pistols, Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols
Jan. 11: Vampire Weekend, “Diane Young” and “Step” (45)
Jan. 12: Bob Marley and The Wailers, Legend
Jan. 13: Tom Waits, Blue Valentine
Jan. 14: Esmerine, Aurora
Jan. 15: Charlie Parker, Boss Bird!
Jan. 16: The Smiths, Hatful of Hollow
Jan. 17: Flying Lotus, Los Angeles
Jan. 18: Boards of Canada, The Campfire Headphase
Jan. 19: Blue Swede, “Hooked on a Feeling” (45)
Jan. 20: Nirvana, Nevermind
Jan. 21: The Delfonics, “Ready or Not Here I Come (Can’t Hide from Love)” (45) paired with The Fugees, “Ready or Not”
Jan. 22: Thelonious Monk, Monk’s Dream
Jan. 23: Johnny Cash, At Folsom Prison 
Jan. 24: Max Roach Quintet, Conversation 
Jan. 25: Fleet Foxes, Fleet Foxes
Jan. 26: Krafwerk, TransEurope Express
Jan. 27: Afrika Bambaataa and The Soul Sonic Force, “Planet Rock” (RSD glow-in-the-dark vinyl)
Jan. 28: Bob Dylan, Greatest Hits
Jan. 29:  Snoop Doggy Dogg, Doggystyle
Jan. 30: Freddie Hubbard, Sky Dive
Jan 31: Paul McCartney, Ram

Featured Image is of Phoenix, the day after he was born. 

Soundin’ Canaan in 3 Minutes

Next week I am competing in an event where you have to deliver your thesis in 3 minutes with no more than one basic slide. This is quite a daunting task, and given that my 300+ page thesis (in a draft version currently) covers so much, and given that I don’t really have time to discuss any of the specific poetry in detail, I thought I’d primarily touch on some of the larger themes around music and citizenship. I often get asked, so what’s the gist of your thesis? In 3 minutes it sounds  roughly like this:

I will briefly outline how music and citizenship relate to my thesis project, Soundin’ Canaan: Music, Resistance, and Citizenship in African Canadian Poetry, which is about historical recovery and imagining Canada’s future. Like the image of a needle touching down on the historical record, the past tells us much about where we can go, for as Amiri Baraka states, “The future is always here in the past.” Most Canadians don’t even know slavery existed in Canada, and few are aware of the historical black communities in Canada such as Hogan’s Alley in Vancouver and Africville in Nova Soctia, which thanks to the work of the poets in this thesis hasn’t gone unnoticed: Canada Post, as part of Black history month (2014) commemorated Hogan’s Alley and Africville on a stamp. Soundin’ Canaan (Canada was often referred to as Canaan in spirituals during the black migration to Canada), draws from a cross-fertilization of communicative techniques to examine how citizenship is reexamined by African Canadian poets’ resistive soundings.

Centered on the poetry of M. NourbeSe Philip, George Elliott Clarke, Wayde Compton, Dionne Brand, and rapper K’naan, my dissertation builds on the work of scholars who have admirably mapped and written about African Canadian literature. Uniquely it examines how many African Canadian poets draw from African American and pan-African musical forms (including blues, jazz, hip-hop, reggae, dub, and so on) in order to remap the concept of identity and citizenship. Soundin’ Canaan, addresses the politics and ethics of Canadian multicultural policy and citizenship—focusing on intersections between music and text as a border-crossing praxis. I ask: what does Canadian citizenship sound like, particularly as voiced by African Canadian poets interested in a fluid citizenship that moves, like music, between local and global spaces?

Idealistically, citizenship—like music—is not confined to any single space. While in prison, Nelson Mandela listened to Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On,” an act Paul Gilroy describes as “The global dimension of diaspora dialogue [made] momentarily visible.” Essentially, music travels across borders, and through such sonic imagining, the value of a global (yet still often regional) citizenship is avowed. My methodology itself is closest to the practice of DJing, which provides a malleable guide to my murky topology: DJs mix multiple records by using various constituent elements of rhythm, timbre, texture, and overall sonic experience. In essence, I ask what happens when you put a mixer and crossfader between several diverse cultural realities?

By looking at citizenship through the lens of music as an often dissonant site (or text) of struggle and identity formation, Soundin’ Canaan demonstrates how music in African Canadian poetry is not solely aesthetic, but a form of social, ethical, and political expression. What happens when those not normally seen as citizens with full rights—the disposable—are brought more into the picture and seen as co-performers of the Canadian remix project? No longer for the elite alone, citizenship is to be universally confirmed for all Canadians.

Canada signified as Canaan represents faith and contradiction for the poets explored in this thesis. Isolation can only create more of the same, and so multiculturalism, reimagings of citizenship and Martin Luther King, Jr. and Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s notions of The Just Society present an opportunity to moderate disorder and fragmentation by embracing difference through fraternity. Much of this thesis is an idealization of what Canadian multiculturalism can aspire to be: a gesturing towards a more equal and free society for all its members.

we’re new h/ear (poem, draft)

I wrote this poem after listening to my baby’s heartbeat on the Doppler fetal monitor. Below the poem is audio of the heartbeat mixed vis-à-vis  my music production, voice, and lyrics.

we’re new h/ear

i heard your heartbeat today, baby.
a fast 180bpm slowed to a steady 160
as you listened to us listening to you
nestled in your echo chamber.

i play buddy holly’s “everyday”
headphones wrapped round mommy’s round belly,
you kick a little more, {your little foot}
everyday it’s a-gettin’ closer.

i wonder what you look like?
can you feel my warm, loving, yet anxious hand
against the walls of your mini-universe,
come what may.

on the news: another war, another shooting, more corruption,
pollution. I question bringing you here.
but then I hear your mommy singing, gently touching her belly
& feel the world—at least ours—is perfect.

besides: we’re all new here.

Photo copyright, Paul Watkins. 

DJ Techné, Dedications

I say, play your own way. Don’t play what the public wants. You play what you want and let the public pick up on what you’re doing, even if it does take them fifteen, twenty years.
-Thelonious Monk

Techne Banner

Lots going around on pauldbwatkins.com (Riffings) these days. You might have noticed the new look to my website. It’s still a work in progress, but take a look around. The other big news is that I’ve finally finished my DJ project, DedicationsDedications is an experimental jazzy hip-hop remix project born out of a love of listening to records. 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. There is a lot of poetry on the album because, as a literary scholar, I have also always understood that poetry is musical, and that music is poetical.

Dedications takes various phonogrooves (from jazz, hip-hop, and spoken word, to unusual recontextualized samples) and mélanges them together to create polyvalent dedications to a host of musicians and poets. If you listen closely you will hear William Blake (with Archie Shepp), Sun Ra, Glenn Gould, Pharoah Sanders, Ravi Shankar, Inspectah Deck, Jack Kerouac, Ella Fitzgerald, The Last Poets, Gil Scott-Heron, Charlie “Bird” Parker (with Ontario songbirds), Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane (with Michael S. Harper), Louis Armstrong (with Gwendolyn Brooks), Fats Waller, Earl Birney, the poetry of The Four Horseman, Tom Waits, John G. Diefenbaker, Ginsberg reading Howl over Horace Parlan’s keys, A Japan Airlines record chopped up, Thelonious Monk accompanied by Amiri Baraka, MF Doom, and Mutabaruka dubbing over The Zombies, among a myriad of other sounds, samples, echoes, and cuts. At times I add a live-recorded layer of chant, singing bowl, or beatbox. I played almost all the drums on an MPC, and most of the samples are recorded live from vinyl. If I made a mistake in a recording, I usually embraced it as part of the process.

In short, I hope you enjoy the album. It is available for streaming below, or for free download (name your price), here.

 

Rutherford Chang’s The White Album

Front cover.
Front cover.
Back cover.
Back cover.

I own my share of peculiar records: The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on The Tibetan Book of the Dead (read by Timothy Leary); Natural Childbirth (an early 1950s record that documents the live birth of a baby); a record that is only frog sounds; a yodeling record; and to my growing vinyl oddities, I can now add Rutherford Chang’s The White Album. Rutherford Chang has been getting a lot of press for his art project, “We Buy White Albums,” where he only purchases copies of The Beatles’ White Album, displayed at a gallery (set up like a record shop) that only carries the iconic double album. All of the albums are first-pressings and Rutherford Chang’s website now lists the total number of copies at 918. At some point during the exhibit (here’s an interview on the process), Rutherford thought, “I wonder what it sounds like if you play 100 copies of The White Album at once?” And that’s exactly what Chang’s The White Album does: 100 (45 year-old) first-pressings of The White Album are synced up in a bizarre sound collage that moves in and out of the familiar and into the choral and cacophonous. Each copy of the record is unique, and given the slight sound variations in pressings, and the natural and scratched wear of vinyl, the listening experience captures the distinct history of each record. We start off with a familiar, but muddier version of “Back in the U.S.S.R,” and then move into uncontrollably new territory as the records slowly coast out of sync over the course of each side. Chang even layered the gatefold cover and disc labels with the worn and hand-drawn originals to create a visual collage that reworks the featureless original and highlights the individual history of each copy.

Poster of the 100 albums.
The poster of the 100 albums.

Pressed in a very limited run—which sold out quick—I am happy to add Chang’s The White Album to my vinyl collection. Of course, some purists might disavow the album, while others will welcome this innovative project as being in line with the experimental spirit of late-period Beatles. Have a listen for yourself.