#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.

The 7th Annual Manifesto Festival (2013)

“Manifesto’s point of origin lies in hip hop culture – in its spirit of ingenuity, raw creativity, and people power, but we strive to stay out of boxes and create a platform with the potential to act as a catalyst for cross-pollination, collaboration, and the growth of new forms in this city of wildly talented people.” -Manifesto website.

7th Annual Manifesto Festival
7th Annual Manifesto Festival

The annual Manifesto Festival of Community & Culture is one of the reasons I love living right beside the Yonge-Dundas Sq.

Manifesto is a non-for-profit grassroots organization with a focus on youth and hip-hop culture, with the aims to educate, unify, and provide amazing music to the masses. The local and the global combine for four days of live events featuring musicians, producers, visual artists, and dancers, to panels with industry experts and even mentor sessions, and this year’s festival had even more in store than previous iterations.  Another great thing about Manifesto is that it brings hip-hop legends to Toronto – for free! In 2011, I saw Rakim rock the stage, and in 2012 Pharoahe Monch killed it live with hip-hop and local jazz upstarts, BadBadNotGood.

Rakim, 2011 at Manifesto.
Rakim at Manifesto, 2011.
Mharoahe Monch at Manifesto, 2012.
Pharoahe Monch at Manifesto, 2012.

This year’s festival featured amazing headliners, including soon to be big Jhené Aiko,
 and the legendary Souls of Mischief crew, 
celebrating their 20-year Anniversary of their classic, 93 ‘til Infinity! Souls of Mischief is a hip-hop group from Oakland, California, part of the hip-hop collective Hieroglyphics and consists of emcees A-Plus, Opio, Phesto, and Tajai. I remember seeing them back in 2003, and I can say with assurance, they are still every bit as dope 10 years later.

For those unacquainted with 90s hip-hop, here’s the video for “93 ‘til Infinity.”

…and here’s a recent remix of 93 ‘til Infinity aptly titled 93 Still by Gummy Soul.

…and here are some pictures I snapped of this year’s headliners.

Shad rolled through as a surprise guest, playing "Rose Garden" and some new material.
Shad rolled through as a surprise guest, playing “Rose Garden” and some new material.
The talented (and sexy) Jhené Aiko
.
The talented (and sexy) Jhené Aiko
.
Souls of Mischief take the stage.
Souls of Mischief take the stage.

DSC_0795 DSC_0794 DSC_0841 DSC_0839 DSC_0831 DSC_0808

From 93 ’til 2013 ’til infinity.

Photos by Paul Watkins.

Towards a definition of dub poetics: d’bi.young’s Sorplusi Principles

“This poet is a griot in search of a village.”
-Kwame Dawes, “Holy Dub,” Midland 18.

Dub poetry is a form of performance poetry with a West Indian aesthetic and origin. It evolved out of dub music comprised of spoken word pieces over reggae rhythms and Nyabinghi traditions[i] in Jamaica beginning in the 1970s. Rather than the Jamaican form of “toasting” (a significant stylistic influence on hip-hop), which also featured (often improvised) spoken word, sometimes as chant, to the music of the dancehall DJ, a dub poet’s performance is usually pre-written and prepared. Spoken or chanted with the background of reggae rhythms, or a capella or ital, and using Jamaican Creole/Patois, dub poetry effectively blends African and Caribbean oral and griot traditions with more standard approaches to poetry and performance. Basically, dub performances were created by removing vocals from side A of a record with a dub machine to create a B side containing a rhythm/instrumental track, often amplifying the bass and drums. Traditionally dub poets are closely aligned with DJs—yes DJing is both traditional and tradition—as they reanimate and (re)sound the past in the present through a musico-poetic performance atop a tentative original.

Conventionally, “Jamaican Creole is the natural language of dub poetry” (Afua Cooper, Utterances 1) and while dub poets often privilege reggae music, nearly all forms of African American and Afro-diasporic musics, and others, can be used in the performance of a dub poem as the mode continues to evade a single homogenizing definition or approach. Nevertheless, dub “began as, and remains, rebel poetry” (2). This is not to say that dub poetry eludes the possibility of definition. d’bi.young.antifrika—one of Canada’s most renowned dub poets and dub monodramatists—thinks through dub vis-à-vis her own mother’s manuscript on dub, which identifies the four major elements of the then emerging form: music, language, politics, and performance (“r/evolution” 27). Dub as such bridges the personal and the political, and as d’bi developed her own understanding of dub she added four more elements for a total of eight principles to form the acronym s.o.r.p.l.u.s.i: “urgency, sacredness, integrity, and self-knowledge. I then renamed the earlier elements of music, politics, and performance to rhythm, political content and context, and orality” (27).

In the following video d’bi outlines how these eight principles can empower artists, particularly African artists across the diaspora.

 

For d’bi, the principles of dub poetry—consisting of self-knowledge, orality, rhythm, political content and context, language, urgency, sacredness, and integrity—combine to comprise “a comprehensive eco-system of accountability and responsibility between my audiences and me. each principle in the methodology challenges me to not only be self-invested but to (re)position to the centre of my micro and macro communities, being both accountable and responsible (able to account for and respond to these communities)” (“r/evolution” 27). As such, dub poetry has the power to connect disparate communities together through lines of solidarity. Two days from now, on August 8th, I will have the privilege of interviewing d’bi.young about her practice as a pioneer in the art of dub poetry and theatre. I hope to see you there for what promises to be an exciting and engaging evening of “Word! / Sound! / Powah!”

Here’s the poster for the event, d’bi’s personal page and youtube page, as well as the facebook event page.

Works Cited

Anitafrika, d’bi.young. “r/evolution begins within.” Canadian Theatre Review. Vol. 150. (Spring 2012): 26-29. Print.

Cooper, Afua (Ed.). Utterance and Incantations: Women, Poetry and Dub. Toronto: Sister Vision, 1999. Print.


[i] The Nyahbinghi Order is the oldest of all the Rastafari mansions and the term translates as “black victory” (niya = black, binghi = victory). The Niyabinghi resistance inspired a number of Jamaican Rastafarians, who incorporated niyabinghi chants into their celebrations (Wikipedia). The rhythms of these chants—full of improvised syncopation— greatly influenced popular ska, rocksteady and reggae music.