Reflections on the work of Omar Rodriguez- Lopez (and company) Part Une

Maybe about a month ago, I asked a friend to make a mix of their treasured Omar Rodriguez Lopez (The Mars Volta, ORL, Stones Throw, filmmaker extraordinaire) songs to share. I told them I would simultaneously work on my own, and voila- they presented theirs and I had nothing to share in typical “de” fashion. I called it a “challenge”, not because of some sort of egotistical ambition for this person to show off their knowledge of ORL’s discography (although I mean this could be a challenge, the sheer depth of ORL’s catalogue is intimidating), but instead I think I wanted this person to share to me why or how ORL’s work was inspirational to them. There are many different fans of this man’s work, and until recently (I’ve been a dedicated fan for almost 13 years) have I been able to share with his enthusiasts that cherish the same moments in his music that I do.  So needless to say, this has been an interesting exercise.

In 2015, I lost profound hearing and gained tinnitus in my left ear from a debilitating sickness that I battled. I won, somewhat, and I am fine (sans hearing in one ear lol) but it proves difficult for me to listen to things without intentional manipulation of stereo sounds. When I am lazy and I just want to listen to a song off youtube, or another streaming device, this loss becomes realized- I’ll listen to a familiar song wondering where certain drumming patterns, bass lines, and chorus lines went- and then of course, usually while singing that part I’m missing aloud, I’ll remember why I can’t hear it. Sometimes, I’ll have a weird phantom experience with certain bass lines in some songs that I’ve listened to repeatedly- like I know I can’t hear certain parts but intuitively know its coming up in a song and I’ll get emotional about it and sing that missing part into existence for myself. Anyway, all of this is my starting point for this mix of songs by ORL.

Punk. Immigrant. Black. Foreign. Urgency. <<<<transverse.space>>>> is translated through the rhythm of ORL’s music. For this mix, I want to focus on the use of his constructed minor basslines that carry throughout the “genres” his music falls into and the drumming patterns that he uses to highlight those terms I shared. Generally speaking, his basslines and drums have worked for me as a chaotic, cathartic pulse- so much so that in the past it would really enhance my stream of consciousness. As a kid, at Nigerian parties, I would sit by the speakers and listen to the Afrobeat and Juju BLAST to where I would entertain myself by seeing if my heartbeat was at tempo with the songs. This peculiar hobby of mine (along with suburban teenage angst) manifested itself into my interests with (post) hardcore, powerviolence and now today doom. However, ontologically speaking, it is Omar’s ability to combine that reality with his minor, and/or funky basslines that actually spoke to my identity and how I see myself operating in the world. As complex as I am as a human, ORL is able to translate his similar complexities into those two elements I mentioned. Long story short, I am righteously apt to identify myself just as I am nihilistic about identity- and I want to believe he gets this and battles this too with his art. So, as listed below, I present some songs that I hope folks vibe with//feel power from.

at the drive in- 300hz

the mars volta- y2g//Vicarious Atonement (demo)

erykah badu- Twinkle

omar rodriguez lopez group- Lurking About In A Cold Sweat (Held Together By Venom)

at the drive in- Porfirio Diaz

the mars volta- Eunuch Provocateur

omar rodriguez lopez x ximena sariñana- Las Flores Con Limon

omar rodriguez lopez x ximena sariñana- Poincaré

the mars volta- circatriz pt. 3

the mars volta- Ouroborous

bosnian rainbows- Mother, Father Set Us Free

omar rodriguez lopez- loveless

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Revisit of “Displacement Is the Place” – A Project by Replenish and Qiana Kitt

On May 20th 2016, S. (Qiana Kitt) and I (Replenish) performed “Displacement Is the Place” at Art Sanctuary for their “Celebration of Black Arts”. In February, when I began to work on this project with S. I was gearing myself for a move to the city that this festival would take place- Philly. I figured, clearly this is a sign- we got into an arts festival in a city that was a this project’s main inspiration, Sun Ra. If a city can get down with some Sun Ra, then I need to be a member of that city.  I also took this as a sign that Philly would be open to me contributing to its infrastructure, as an artist, and as a developer. After all, I was moving to a city where as with all cities is suffering from gentrification- and I was apt toward calling this phenomenon “out”. Every place I have lived, including the DFW metroplex, is suffering from what is considered “development” which I,of course, interpret instead as colonization and underdevelopment.  Overall, I think our project had enough evidence to prove that we as society were distracted, but the project did not allow for us stretch ourselves toward deciphering what alternatives do exist. In this case, we certainly missed the mark of Sun Ra who had the alternative as “outer space”- a frontier not colonized. Nevertheless, as we are on the planet, our project should have entertained the plausibility of creating an “outer space” on colonized space.

One thing that I think is imperative to understanding Sun Ra within context of the city of Philadelphia is that Sun Ra created the majority of his work on the periphery of the city. His house was (is) in Northwest Philadelphia, in the neighborhood of Germantown. The history of Germantown follows along with other Black suburban spaces outside major cities- Black working-class folks were pushed toward the periphery of many industrial cities. Culture was seen as developed within the city, and those from the outside came into to produce culture. The tensions between the working class and the Black bougousie within these spaces historically reveals itself within how Black popular culture is consumed in the United States- and I would argue globally. See Robin DG Kelly’s text Race Rebels: Culture, Politics and the Black Working Class for what I’m getting at.  In another post, I will touch on the development of Afrikan/Black diasporic culture in the suburban space- some call this process “Black Flight”. Since my Black immigrant folks could only afford suburbs and the underdeveloped areas of urban landscapes since they came to this country – there wasn’t too much flight for me, and I know this to be true for many Black/Afrikan folks of the US South that knew Black suburban reality would be the only way to enjoy some facet of some American dream- its not necessarily a new phenomenon. Sometimes the suburbs do not discriminate against accent, police record, or educational obtainment because they need general labor- but this is a conversation for another time.

So, as a starting point, I wonder if we could use the space called the Black suburb- even with its class related tensions, as a self-preserving, somewhat segregated space, meant to serve as a refugee against displacement in the city. When we considered the tonality of displacement we thought that it could rectify itself solely in minor chord- with staccato notes meant to highlight the confusion and struggle while being forcibly removed. Words and song acted the same- as a “othered” continuous soundscape that relayed itself as the battle cry for visibility. Now, after absorbing myself in another Black space- and realizing the suburbs provide us for the social autonomy we can not enjoy in hyper gentrified space in the Urban realm, I call into contention the (re)development of the Black suburban. This project could have been an entry way to talking about how we can start to rebuild//reclaim the suburban infrastructure to best fit our needs as a liberatory praxis.  In this manner, our soundscape could have been interpreted as a decolonial *perfect* – as in not “othered”, but instead standard.

Why this? Why now?

I decided to start this blog after years of contemplation. The process of me realizing that I should archive my thoughts (such thorough- maybe somewhat obsessive thoughts) seemed very vain to me. But, I think its possible that I may have friends that will find the things I will write about interesting. I want to use this blog as a medium for me to decipher my relationship with space. I find myself thinking about space and time through music, art and politics. I think the means to the end though is to curate a space for myself online where I work through the different dimensions to which I can perform self-emancipation. My father once told me the best way to make sure I am on the right track is to emulate those who I also notice on the proper track for myself. So, I plan to also use this space to explore why certain folks take particular like trajectories by interviewing them. This all should be an interesting ride.