Category Archives: Music

Quoted: OC Weekly On The Latin Grammys Marginalizing Mexico

Latin Grammy nominee Aleks Syntek, via Facebook.

First, the caveat: ANY entertainment industry awards show never gets anything right and really serves as an excuse for bigwigs to have one giant, self-celebratory circle jerk honoring the biggest sellers and most influential labels. That said, here’s the Latin Grammys’ dirty little secret: the vast majority of Latin music sold in the United States is Mexican regional music: banda, mariachi, ranchera, norteño, narcocorridos — all of it. It constantly counts for more than half of all Latin music sales in el Norte, per the figures of the Recording Industry of America, and is what has driven Spanish-language radio’s rise across nearly all the United States. Its artists are the ones continually, easily selling out Madison Square Garden and performing in the Rose Bowl at the same time they’re taking a bus to perform in tiny towns across the Midwest and South. Mexican regional’s reach makes it el rey of Latin music in the United States–no contest.

Yet the Latin Grammys always insults its industry’s biggest moneymaker. Case in point: the Mexi performers I mentioned earlier count as only three of the 15 scheduled performers for the evening (and if you take out Lafourcade, who’s not technically of the Mexican regional genre, it’s only two), accounting for a pathetic 20 percent of all performances in a country where people of Mexican descent make up more than 60 percent of the total Latino pozole pot. There are only five awards categories devoted to Mexican regional music — sh-t, more than five distinct musical genres exist in Mexico City alone, from sonidero to rock urbano — while seven are given to Brazil, a beautiful, sonically rich country that nevertheless sells sells as much music combined in the States as Vicente Fernández can sell in one night from a street corner in Huntington Park.

— From “Why the Latin Grammys Remain America’s Biggest Anti-Mexican Sham,” by Gustavo Arellano

[h/t Sara Inés Calderón]

Quoted: Simon Tam of The Slants on trademarking his band’s name

The Slants courtesy of TheSlants.com

The Slants courtesy of TheSlants.com

 

According to NPR, Portland-based band,The Slants describes themselves “as one of the first Asian-American rock bands. Their music caters to an Asian-American crowd, they’ve spoken at various Asian-American events, and they’re proud of all of it.” But the group’s four-year effort to trademark its name has been bound up in discussions of what constitutes a racial slur and how derogatory words can be reclaimed. Band member Simon Tam says of The Slants’ battle with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office:

They said because of our ethnicity, people automatically think of the racial slur as opposed to any other definition of the term. In other words, if I was white, this wouldn’t be an issue at all.

The term ‘slant’ means a lot of different things. And [the lawyer from the PTO] even acknowledged that, so [we asked], ‘Why did you choose to apply the racial connotations to this application, but you’ve never done that before in the entire history of this country? Why this case?’ And they said it was because I was Asian-American.

Read more at NPR…

Five of cultural appropriation’s greatest hits

Miley Cyrus neither invented twerking nor cultural appropriation in music. What follows is a crowd-sourced list of some “great” moments in musical cultural appropriation.

“Vogue,” Madonna

Said one contributor to this list, “[Madonna] owes her whole career to appropriation, POC props and GLBT props, too…The idea that people associate her with vogueing is pretty much the textbook definition of appropriation of marginalized cultures, gay and black.”

 

“Waiting on a Friend,” The Rolling Stones

You know what makes New York City look extra gritty? Black people. You know you’ve hit the big time when you can get reggae legend Peter Tosh to serve as a random black extra hanging on a stoop.

 

“Luxurious,” Gwen Stefani

Gwen Stefani is the patron saint of icky cultural appropriation since that time she tried to keep a posse of Japanese women as pets. Here she kicks it Cali-style with her best Latino friends.

This fuckery committed with her bandmates in No Doubt cannot go unmentioned.

 

“Save a Prayer,” Duran Duran

I was a “Nick girl” back in the mid-80s when every self-respecting teenage girl was a Duranie. It failed to occur to me then how often the band illustrating their jet set coolness by frolicking in front of exotic flora, fauna and, y’know, brown people.

 

“We Can’t Stop,” Miley Cyrus

Would that we could stop this hot mess. If you haven’t read Tressie McMillan Cottom’s piece on the black female bodies Cyrus chose to foreground her whiteness. Do it. Now.

Quoted: The Blurred Lines of Blue-Eyed Soul

Is Robin Thicke the next great soul singer or a pretender to the throne? Michael A. Gonzales holds forth:

WPB-Radio disc jockey and soul music aficionado Jammer Daniels explains, “Historically, when you look at early pop history and see how much Elvis Presley stole from Little Richard or Pat Boone from Chuck Berry, of course people are suspect whenever White artists start tinkering with ‘our’ music. Whether it’s Eminem in with rap or David Sanborn in jazz, it is easy see why Black people sometimes don’t want to share our culture. Because we’re afraid people might steal it.”

While the less said about corny Pat Boone the better, the myth that Elvis Presl

19-rosen-robin-thickeey stole the soul from Black musicians has been publicized by critics and other recording artists (Public Enemy, Living Colour) for decades. But did he really? Does it maybe make more sense that Elvis, himself a Memphis boy attuned to ways of country culture, was simply inspired by the same gutbucket blues and screeching gospel as his Black contemporaries?

According to New York Times writer Mel Watkins, who penned the late Black cultural critic Albert Murray’s obituary this week in the New York Times, Murray was adamant that “the currents of the Black experience—expressed in language and music and rooted in slavery—run through American culture, blending with European and American Indian traditions and helping to give the nation’s culture its very shape and sound.” Read more…

Muslimahs Want Their MTV

By Guest Contributor Shireen, cross-posted from Muslimah Media Watch

A shot from Outlandish’s video for their cover of “Aicha.”

Last year, I got a call from a young cousin who informed me, with sheer glee, that the new One Direction music video featured a young Muslim in hijab. Those few seconds in the video that highlighted a giddy, veiled teenager were a breakthrough for young identifiable Muslimahs in the world.

I think this meant that I was supposed to embrace the boy band that I had successfully been trying to avoid. I must admit I checked out the video. OK, I can’t lie. I watched it on repeat about ten times. (It’s a catchy song). And yes, from 1:20 to 1:23 in the video may seem like young eager Muslimah pop fans have been well represented. No inferences of weakness, oppression and need of immediate liberation. There isn’t race. There isn’t creed. There isn’t blatant stereotyping of women; there is just 1D fangirling – which unites us all.

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Black Punks

 

A Band Called Death, a film by Drafthouse Films, debuted Friday in select cities and is also available via digital download and on iTunes.

Punk before punk existed, three teenage brothers in the early ’70s formed a band in their spare bedroom, began playing a few local gigs and even pressed a single in the hopes of getting signed. But this was the era of Motown and emerging disco. Record companies found Death’s music— and band name—too intimidating, and the group were never given a fair shot, disbanding before they even completed one album. Equal parts electrifying rockumentary and epic family love story, A Band Called Death chronicles the incredible fairy-tale journey of what happened almost three decades later, when a dusty 1974 demo tape made its way out of the attic and found an audience several generations younger. Playing music impossibly ahead of its time, Death is now being credited as the first black punk band (hell…the first punk band!), and are finally receiving their long overdue recognition as true rock pioneers. More at Drafthouse Films…

Also, Death members, Bobby and Dannis Hackney, spoke to Huffington Post about race, punk, 70s-era Detroit and their move from the Motor City to Vermont.

(H/T Shadow and Act)

Walking on the “Wild Side”: 20 Feet From Stardom and the Black Female Gaze

By Guest Contributor Sikivu Hutchinson; originally published on BlackFemLens

In the 1972 song “Take a Walk on the Wild Side” Lou Reed evokes the paternalistic image of “colored girls” cooing in the background to a hipster tale of New York debauchery. Using Reed’s homage as its introduction, white director Morgan Neville’s bittersweet documentary 20 Feet from Stardom attempts to bring black female back-up singers into the foreground with both moving and problematic effect.

From the 1950’s to the present, white America “walked on the wild side” via the dulcet tones and searing power of black women’s voices. Then as now, black R& B music was often the “colorful” backdrop to lily white pop culture scenes of “all-American” revelry, romance, and heroism. For the white consumer of the postwar Jim Crow era, the commercial rise of rock and R&B transformed racial otherness into a more mainstream adventure; a resort vacation to unexplored vistas of self-discovery that anyone with a radio or a few cents for a 45 record could take. As the world’s most rabid consumers of black culture, white folks’ imperialist yearnings to be “black” (from Jack Kerouac to Norman Mailer to Sandra Bernhard) emerge from this grand obsession with the supposed wild, raw, unfettered, close-to-the-bone emotion and physicality of the Black woman belting out soulful paeans to life and love. Minus the racial terrorism, segregation and ghettoization, blackness has always been a sexy place for whites “eating the other”.

Black women’s back-up singing was crucial to the evolution of modern rock and R&B, buttressing songs as disparate as the Crystal’s “He’s a Rebel” and the Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” by turning them into richly textured classics. 20 Feet captures the deep travesty of obscurity, marginalization and, often, poverty, that these pioneering artists faced. Spotlighting multi-generational artists such as Merry Clayton (who did the powerhouse vocal on Gimme Shelter), Darlene Love, the Waters family, Tata Vega, Lisa Fisher and Judith Hill, the film’s broad historical sweep shows both how much and how little has changed. Women of color back-up singers are still treated like expendable objects, eye candy and soulful exotics while fighting tooth and nail for recognition and a shot at center stage.

The trajectory of the fiercely talented Darlene Love is the movie’s template and touchstone. Royally swindled by famed producer and (now) incarcerated killer Phil Spector, Love was the voice of many of the 60s most hummable R&B classics. While her vocals on the smash hit “He’s a Rebel” made her a sought after studio singer, she was cheated out of the opportunity to appear in public singing her own work. Love describes the indignity of seeing the Crystals become the public face of her song; lip synching to a number one record while she battled Spector for her just due. As has been well-documented, exploitation of black artists was institutionalized in the music industry. Elvis Presley and scores of “trailblazing” white artists and producers built their careers, empires and international stardom on the backs of uncompensated and un-credited black artists. Nonetheless, the film is largely silent about the mammoth battles black artists waged for recognition and royalties. Love’s decades-long fight with Spector is its only nod to the insidious racial and gender politics that drove capitalist exploitation in the industry.

Similarly, there is only fleeting critical commentary on the sexist objectification of black women vocalists and the way in which this ultimately stunted their careers. Footage of the Ike and Tina Turner revue is used to highlight stereotypes of feral black female hypersexuality, underscoring the bind that women who wanted to be successful in the industry faced. Singer Claudia Lennear, a former “Ikette” and Rolling Stones back-up, comments on the requirement that the Turners’ back-up vocalists be scantily clad. She then limply deflects questions about her own decision to pose for Playboy. Unfortunately, the film never deepens its appraisal of sexism (especially its implications for the modern day “video ho” phenomenon, an image of black women that is one of rap and hip hop’s most enduring and degrading global exports). Reflecting on Turner and her rise to fame in her piece “Selling Hot Pussy,” bell hooks wrote “The black female body gains attention only when it is synonymous with accessibility, availability; when it is sexually deviant…Turner’s singing career has been based on the construction of the image of black female sexuality that is made synonymous with wild animalistic lust…Ike’s decision to create the wild black woman was perfectly compatible with prevailing representations of black female sexuality in a white supremacist society .” Hooks’ perspective would have been a welcome antidote to the ribald lip-smacking ignorance of USC professor Todd Boyd who comments that Ike played the role of the “pimp” to his stable of “hos” (i.e., Tina and the Ikettes). As if to confirm this, the camera cuts to a shot of Turner, Lennear and the Ikettes gyrating and bending over suggestively in micro minis and high heels at a raucous outdoor concert.

Hooks notes that Tina Turner’s image was shaped by Ike’s “pornographic misogynist imagination” and his obsession with jungle films. The subtext of the film is black women’s resistance to this brand of sexualization and the regime of the male gaze (corporate, white, ageist, mainstream). It is a narrative that develops despite the political limitations of the white director who is clearly enthralled with the “mystique” of black soul. This tension is reflected early on in the dichotomy the film constructs between mainstream cultural norms of white feminine respectability and “authentic” black femininity. Commenting on the origins of the back-up singer tradition, the narrator contrasts the restrained primness of white female vocalists with the “raw” abandon of the mostly gospel trained black female vocalists. “We called them ‘readers,’’ Darlene Love says, referencing the white mainstream method of simply singing the notes on the page without injecting passion and spontaneity into the delivery. Reinforcing the stereotype of “natural” “God-given” black soul singing talent, the film does not explore the musical training and vocal instruction some of these black women artists undoubtedly received. Nonetheless, the sheer discipline and tenacity of the back-up singers is conveyed by their testimony about marathon all-night recording sessions, demanding concert tours and exploitative conditions.

While the commentary each singer provides is illuminating, it would be inconceivable for a retrospective on white male singers to feature virtually all black women musicians, historians, technicians and producers as subject experts on their careers. However, this is the “benign” structure that 20 Feet sets up. For nearly two hours the women appear through the eyes of their mostly white male employers— rock and pop superstars like Mick Jagger, Bruce Springsteen, Sting and Chris Botti—and assorted white male subject experts. Presumably hooks, Angela Davis, Patricia Hill Collins, Michele Wallace, Joan Morgan, Tricia Rose and scores of other black feminist scholars and music historians were unavailable to critically contextualize these women’s experiences. This gross deficit makes 20 Feet From Stardom a meta-reflection of the constant struggle women of color must wage for political visibility, historical validation and culturally responsive scholarship. Attempting to evoke the social upheaval of the sixties, the film trots out stock images of the Black Panthers as well as Tommy Smith and John Carlos’ iconic raised fist salute at the 1968 Olympics to evoke black consciousness. We catch a fleeting glimpse of Kathleen Cleaver but no other black women figures or activists are evoked. It would have been powerful to hear what Cleaver, an esteemed legal scholar and feminist critic, would have had to say about Merry Clayton’s decision to sing back-up on the Lynrd Skynyrd’s 1974 song “Sweet Home Alabama,” a racist homage to Dixie. Clayton ruefully critiques “Alabama” and describes the force she put into her vocals as an act of resistance, reflecting the contradictions of an era in which black women artists felt they had to conform to visions of white supremacy in order to survive. But apparently giving this narrative a critical, scholarly black feminist voice would have been too much of a walk on the “wild side”.

Sikivu Hutchinson is the author of Moral Combat: Black Atheists, Gender Politics, and the Values Wars and the newly released Godless Americana: Race and Religious Rebels.

Quoted: Your Monday Morning Kanye

The concept of vanity is so rooted in the idea of a singular narcissist that it can be hard to catch that Kanye speaks almost from a populist perspective — a populist narcissism, if you will. Granted, the thematic focus on community vs. the personal has evolved from College Dropout to Yeezus, but take a second and remember the very first song on Kanye’s first album. He has a chorus of children singing, “We wasn’t supposed to make it past 25 / Joke’s on you, we still alive / Throw your hands up in the sky / And say we don’t care what people say.” If you chalk up his “we don’t care what people say” attitude to simply his ego, then you have missed the point entirely. This isn’t about ego; this is about boldly asserting yourself in a world that is not meant for you. This is a vanity that is rooted in bringing the community up with you. To the ire of some who are so wrapped up in the anxiety of respectability, the message he gives the kids (in front of all these white folks who are listening to his music!) is not to be modest but to unapologetically laugh in the face of a world that does not care about them. The joke’s on you, white America. We made it, and we don’t even have the decency to be grateful. We’re laughing. We dare to laugh.

This is why it’s so critical to really think about how and why folks are calling him “crazy.” There’s a great Dave Chappelle quote from his Inside the Actors Studio interview that really gets to the heart of this. In a conversation about the difficulties of black celebrity life, Chappelle explains, “The worst thing to call somebody is ‘crazy.’ It’s dismissive. ‘I don’t understand this person. So they’re crazy.’ That’s bullshit.” To continuously label what Kanye says as “crazy” is to dismiss him as not worth understanding and to flatten his deeply complex work and complex personality. Kanye told Rolling Stone in 2004, “I’m the rap version of Dave Chappelle. I’m not sayin’ I’m nearly as talented as Chappelle when it comes to political and social commentary, but like him, I’m laughing to keep from crying.” “Laughing to keep from crying” is a tone that captures so much of both of their work, but it’s also a survival mantra. Originating with Langston Hughes, this expression encapsulates a history of black artists who have used wit and satire to capture their exasperations and make light of the world’s absurdities.

— “In Defense Of Kanye’s Vanity: The Politics Of Black Self-Love,” by Heben Nigatu via Buzzfeed