linkthink re: hip-hop, reggae, the US, jamaica, and anything else wayne wants to wax on


the unbearable whiteness

what's black and white and white all over?

a couple weeks ago some friends showed me a piece in the weekly dig thinking i would find it interesting, which i did (mildly), and thinking i might sympathize with the dig's perspective, which i did not (pretty strongly).

my friends thought i might agree with the dig--if i may so venture--because the piece seemed to be assailing an irresponsible portrayal of race relations, which is a subject i tend to harp on myself. i disagreed with the dig in this case, however, because i thought the portrayal they were criticizing was, more or less, accurate--if not quite as subtle as it could have been (or as i would attempt in my own writing).

in the semi-anonymous, staff-signed piece, the dig downright skewered--indeed, practically called for the termination of--a music critic for the boston globe, one siddhartha mitter (apparently, a/k/a the illhindu). the dig appeared to take issue with mitter's black-and-white reviews of some recent, local concerts. which is to say, they found his frank discussion of race and racism (and misogyny) offensive and out-of-place. at least, that's what i gather, since the dig is pretty vague about what actually irks them in mitter's articles. they simply present mitter's writing (out of any sort of context, of course) as obvious evidence of its own bullshittiness, which, in a piece of criticism about a critic, really doesn't fly. but please, read it for yourself and tell me what you think. (seriously, i'm curious.)

you see, i think my friends' conflation of my antiracist position with what seemed like the dig's antiracist position fails to make a rather crucial distinction among us liberal-whiteys. (and know that i use such an epithet not without cringing. these slanders describe not how i self-identify, but how i might be identified by some, so, since it's germane to the present discussion, i'll take the daggers. still: would that we could shift this paradigm!) my friends think of me as a person who doesn't like to truck too easily in words like "black" and "white"--not because i'm uncomfortable with them, but because i appreciate all too well the ideological magic they work. i tend to challenge other people when they use such terms too casually, and i try to speak more carefully myself or to play with such loaded terms in a rather express manner.

for example, if one of these friends were to ask me if i liked a particular indie band that they were listening to and which i had seen reviewed at pitchfork'n'blogs but whose music i had never heard and had no intentions of ever seeking out, i'd probably reply glibly, "i'm afraid they'd sound too white--and i don't mean that in an essentialist way." and what i would mean is that, though i don't really believe in racial difference beyond the skin-deep and the enculturated, i often dislike the aesthetics of music that has been marked as "white music" (which is to say, since "white music" is--in some strange way--the norm and thus not named, music that has not been marked as "black music"). there's something about the retreat into whiteness as a cultural zone that i find really unnerving, not to mention unappealing, in an age where racism and the legacies of institutionalized racism remain so stunningly powerful and destructive.

at the same time, when i attempt to chant down whiteness by calling it out in this way, unmasking what too often masquerades as the norm and denigrating what for too long passed as the ideal, i also vigilantly avoid reifying race. to inform someone that they are exercising racial privilege is one thing (even if by teasing), to lock them into a racialized subject position is another. and it is yet another thing again to decide that since "race is a social construction" we shouldn't ever talk about it. that, in essence, seems to be where the dig positions themselves in this debate: for shame, mr.mitter, we gentlemen of the press deign to discuss such sordid matters in publick; or, you got your chocolate in our peanut butter; or something like that.

but we will not wish it away, even with the important insight that race is not, in some sense, real. because in all too many other senses, it is. that's what the anti-anti-essentialists were getting at back in the 90s (before they became anti-anti-anti-essentialists). they weren't calling for a return to essentialism in the face of constructionism, they were calling for a consideration of the way that race works in the world regardless of its made-up-ness. again, to return to taussig: "we dissimulate."

so, ultimately, that's where i differ from the dig: i'm also uneasy with facile invocations of black and white and race and racism, finding them often more unproductive than progressive; but sometimes--and really, too often--race is the elephant in the room, and not talking about it is a lot worse than talking about it. by not talking about it, we're just pretending it's not there, thus ensuring its persistence more, i'd wager, than if we just stopped talking about it altogether (which, if we're racialized as black and remain the subjects of racism or if we're racialized as white and remain the accomplices, we can't).

but don't take my words for it, or my use of michael taussig's words either. try ebog johnson's provocative prose in defense of his comrade, for example. (you could also read mitter's post on the matter or his reply to the dig.)

/// an aside: the dig's response to mitter--"but we didn't want to exchange views"--is more or less the equivalent to mitter's characterization of the paper as "the mediocre alternative weekly to the other mediocre alternative weekly in Boston." neither response is what i would expect, or hope for, from among a community of local journalists who really should be--and, duh, clearly are--engaged in conversation. and, moreover, mitter's dismissal really isn't fair to the dig or to the phoenix, both of which, in my opinion, add quite a bit to local life here. and, seriously, you know what they say about people who live in glass globes houses... ///

although--full disclosure!--i occasionally write for their long-established local alternative and i side with illhindu on this issue, i actually like the dig. they've carved out a voice for themselves in boston's lil' mediascape and i think the reading public is enriched for it, usually. more important, the dig's been nice to me (at least to date): so rather than, say, a snarky caption of some sort, i get cute, sweet compliments. still, i certainly don't like everthing they write. their recent defense of larry summers, for example, is classic bawstin in its anti-PC slant and totally misses the boat on why summers was so strenuously opposed by the faculty. but i understand. i grew up in cambridge, yes, but in a part of cambridge where, for many, liberal was a four-letter word (though these were hard-working dems at heart, and not necessarily "conservative"), whites were whites, and blacks were blacks (or sometimes worse). indeed, insofar as it is a reaction against the hypocritical discourse of the boston/cambridge "liberal" elite--those so-called limousine liberals, lefty in lipservice only, upholding various political pieties but rarely acting on principle--the dig's position kicks a little too much like a knee-jerk.

and, now, since i've so humbly placed myself on the enlightened side of the whiteboyus urbanus divide--what was it ebog said about smugness in these matters?--allow me to clarify my position on the whole matter just a little further. if you will, allow me to do so once again by referring to another's words--in this case, those of anthropologist peter wade. i find wade's perspective and position here instructive, and i wonder whether mr.mitter or those mystery dig writers would agree. (not sure they are interested in exchanging views with me, though, at any rate.) at least recently, this has been the conception that i too have attempted to follow when writing or talking or thinking about race. the following excerpt, explaining wade's particular approach to discussing race in his scholarship, appears in the introduction to his book, music, race, and nation: musica tropical in colombia (chicago 2000) (pardon, or please mind, the context):
Let me be clear about what I mean by "race." I am referring to the changing categories and concepts created primarily by Europeans as a result of their contact with, and subordination of, non-European peoples through colonialism and imperialism. These categories focused on aspects of physical difference deemed salient (primarily skin color, but also hair texture and certain facial features) and worked them into "racial" signfiers which came to bear a vast load of social and cultural meanings organized primarily by hierarchies of labor exploitation, power, and value. Meanings have varied over space and time, influenced by many factors, such as economic and demographic structures, the development of scientific understanding of human difference, and political and cultural struggle over the categories and meanings themselves. Partly because of their construction of heritable phenotypical variance, racial categories have, to a greater or lesser extent, been naturalized: the cultural differences that physical difference is taken to indicate are held to be rooted in a natural essence which is heritable through sexual reproduction; this naturalization has varied according to historically changing conceptions of human nature as well as changing structures of social relations, particularly those involving inequality.

This approach to race emphasizes the process of racializing, naturalizing identifications and derives from my experience of Latin America, where racial identities are more often ambiguous, changeable, and context dependent than in other regions, but I think the approach is widely applicable and helps avoid reifying racial categories. In this sense, rather than studying "races" or "blacks" or "whites"--even as socially constructed groups--one studies processes of racialized identifications and the racialized social relations that go with them.
so, that, in a nutshell (or not), is why i disagree with the dig, support siddhartha mitter, and wouldn't have written what he wrote.

except for the part about williamsburg. and wu-tang. money's on the mark there.


Blogger i said...

pretty epic post here. hits home in a way. going to have to take the headphones off for a sec and digest it.

thanks for taking the time to write like this man... its appreciated.

i really dig your blog.

8:34 PM  
Blogger wayne&wax said...

thanks for the affirmation, i. sometimes i think i'm crazy for spending so much time on this blog. but knowing that people will engage with my thoughts--and even take off their headphones to do so!--is enough to keep me going.

keep the blackmagicplastik coming...

5:32 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

the problem with the dig article is not (necessarily) that they don't have valid criticisms of mitter. they might. but they don't state them in the article. they give practically no well-thought out argument at all for their problem with mitter. their criticism floats on the surface and doesn't take any of the issues seriously. as critics themselves, they should know better.

but having read mitter's article on matisyahu, i think the dig could have taken him apart on it and it is too bad they missed the opportunity. in that article mitter draws the race lines as black and white lines making the following argument:

1. matisyahu's reggae is mediocre music at best and doesn't compare well to other dancehall
2. lots of white kids listen to matisyahu instead of listening to other dancehall artists (who are black)
3. therefore, he concludes, these people listen to matisyahu because he is white. that is, if they didn't choose their music based on the race of the artist, they would clearly be choosing the much better (black) reggae artists.

i can't disagree with mitter on either of the first two points, but the conclusion isn't quite so simple. i learned about matisyahu from an observant jewish friend who otherwise does not listen to reggae. he heard about matisyahu because matisyahu is jewish (and, presumably, because he is publicly performing jewishness). [note: he did not learn about matisyahu because he was interested in reggae and decided to select the hasidic reggae dj from his many dancehall reggae options.] he then did what i gather has been common with matisyahu, he thought about who he knows who likes reggae, and wrote me an email about it.

assuming my friend is typical of the white audience for matisyahu (that is, jewish and likely to have become interested in matisyahu for jewish-related reasons rather than music-related reasons), mitter is not particularly off-base in one sense. this audience for matisyahu is unlikely to prefer the better music of black dancehall artists because that is not why they are listening to matisyahu in the first place. so we can actually conclude that the audience is valuing a non-musical, arguably constructed racial/ethnic/religious characteristic of the artist. they like him because he is jewish.

so here's my problems with mitter:
- first, if he's going to make a claim that people are selecting their music on the basis of constructed categories rather than some supposedly purer sense of musical quality, he should make a better effort to see through the eyes of the audience and correctly identify the category. speaking only from personal experience, the people i know who listen to matisyahu make a BIG (possibly subconcious, but i doubt it) distinction between listening to someone because he is jewish and listening to someone because he is white. trying to conflate whiteness with jewishness in this case really misses what is happening.
- second, he needs to make a better or at least explicit argument about whether this is a bad thing. white preference for whiteness is an elephant in the room. we don't like it. we don't know what to do about it. and it is easy for mitter to fall back on it here because it is hard for anyone to take the position that it is an appropriate way to choose favorite artists. [note: maybe the dig's ineptitude in this regard is because they really can't figure out how to write an article that says it is ok to choose your music based on the artist being white.] but here he actually has people willing to take the other side. many jews would be willing to own up to preferring (or at least being interested in) matisyahu on the basis of his jewishness. does mitter think this is bad? if so, does it apply to black people too? actually, i'd like to hear what w&w thinks about this...

9:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

yeah, that dig piece is hella random, esp 'the most boring sentence written about wu tang' or whatever. I don't really get it. maybe his writing seemed more problematic in context, but I doubt it, and doubt that it'd make it 'bad' enough compared to most music 'journalism' or whatever to call the dude out like that. the most obvious explanation is that mitter's assessment hit some one(s) at the dig way too close to home. but I'm guessing it's got a lot to do with the intra-Boston politicking you allude to

9:59 AM  
Blogger wayne&wax said...

great points, anonymous. i was actually hoping to get around to addressing "the matisyahu question" (to update marx), but then my post turned out long enough, so i thought i'd save it for another day or see if anyone brought it up here in the comments.

frankly, i think you put your finger on it pretty well, so i'm not sure what to add right now (plus, i'm prepping for class, so maybe later).

i will, however, bring a couple more exhibits into the discussion, for those who want to engage with this--namely, two of kelefa sanneh's pieces in last week's NYT: the first, a critical piece on matisyahu that harps on the 'white' issue but seems not to note the points you raise with regard to his audience's jewishness; and, second, a piece that ran the next day and essentially serves as a promotional piece for vybz kartel.

some other friends of mine--i know, pretty soon people are going to be asking about these so-called "friends"--were pretty irked with sanneh's heavy-handed approach here. again, he's talking about an elephant in the room, but did he miss other, more important elephants?

10:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

what i meant about wanting to hear what you think is that i would really like to see you write a blog about whether there is a difference between liking someone because they are jewish or black and liking them because they are white. of course it is rarely the only reason we like someone, but we sometimes are very happy to be explicit about including a category like that in our reason for liking something. when a person is white, that is never one of the explicit reasons for liking something that they do.

maybe it is a boring question, because we can just reduce it to saying that we are happy to see black people transcending the bias against them (or more properly, we are happy to see everyone else overcome their bias in evaluating whatever that particular black person is doing). but in the case of jewish pride or any kind of national or city pride it seems a little trickier. i can hardly say (though some surely would) that jews are the subject of much bias any more (though maybe in the arena of popular music they are) or even that jews are necessarily concerned with the evaluation they get from non jews (i'm speaking very loosely here of a particular set of jews that i take to make up a bit of matisyahu's audience). they just are proud of jews the way they are proud of family members and take particular interest in them. i don't feel that this should be in the same category as liking someone because they are white (or failing to like other people because they are not white) but it really seems to be the same thing. why is it accepted? should it be accepted? i don't feel particularly qualified to have anything but a naive opinion about this, but i think you might have thought more deeply about it.

2:34 PM  
Blogger droid said...

Regardless of the wider questrions raced about race relations, the piece in question is utter shit. Quotes taken out of context, unfair suppositions and assumptions all over the place, sanctimonius in tone, and illogical and badly reasoned. It should be dismissed out of hand IMO - it reads as if the authour has a personal animus against Mitter.

Still - good post...

5:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have been touching on the 'Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings' issue a bit in postings I have done on a Sharon Jones thread and a Chitlin Circuit Soul thread on the I Love Music chatboard for quite awhile. I noted that the Sharon Jones cd is marketed to an indie-rock crowd and that publicists have sent the cd to critics in touch with that audience. But I noted that cds on Malaco and Ecko and other Southern African-American labels are not being reviewed by such critics, as such labels do not send promos to them. I posted the top 25 from soulandbluesreport.com , that lists soul marketed to African-Americans,in an effort to encourage such Sharon Jones fans to also embrace Souterhn soul that is marketed to the African-American community. I hear such Southern soul on my Pacifica station in DC, WPFW, that has djs who play this stuff. This is part of the equation as well. Simply ragging on poor white dancers who may have been invited up onstage by African-American singer Sharon Jones does not seem that productive no matter whether there is the whiff of exploitation in the air. Sharon Jones and band are down at South by Southwest playing now to more White people. Should the South by Southwest folks have sought out African-American Southern soul labels to do showcases as well, yea maybe, but the labels should also try to reach out as well. Are people who go to Sharon Jones shows but do not know about the Southern soul labels I have mentioned engaging in exploitation. Maybe some, maybe not others.

I have gone to soul oldies shows over the years in a variety of places in the Washington D.C. area. Sometimes I am the only white person there (a recent Bobby Womack gig), sometimes I am one of a majority of white folks(last night's Mavis Staples show). Am I slumming in one case and exploiting in one or both cases? I do not think so. But on the other hand it does bother me that more critics are not reaching out and trying to give ink to cds that are not provided to them by the labels in the mail. But I know that such critics get so much stuff it is hard to keep up with everything.

-curmudgeon S

6:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mitter, perhaps for space reasons, never explains why the Sharon Jones audience is a white hipster one and that is what I was trying to explain in my previous comment. Mitter does at least acknowledge that there is a long history of African-American performers making a living performing in front of white audiences.

Mitter says that he did not see the Bo Diddley audience express any discomfort with the sexist comments of Bo. Does an audience member have a responsibility to openly and verbally challenge a performer that they think is being sexist? How does Mitter know that audience members didn't feel discomfort but just might not have rolled their eyes or whatever in front of him!

I do not think the Dig made a very strong case in attacking Mitter, but I also think Mitter has some explaining to do.

8:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

awesome point(s) from curmudgeon S - suddenly things seem a bit clearer to me. racial discontinuities in the music marketplace aren't necessarily due (or entirely due, at least) to exploitative social structures or latent racial prejudices distorting the preferences of listeners - they're also basic market inefficiencies caused by a lack of good information, in part due to the overwhelming volume of music coming out these days but also because of unimaginative or just plain bad marketing work from an increasingly obsolete music industry.

it's unfair to Sharon Jones & co to be tainted by the 'odor of exploitation' just because their label is smart enough to know that there's a big market in the predominantly white world of indie 'rock' (or whatever) for a (really good!) soul revivalist. playing racial 'gotcha' may be a lot of 'fun' for scoring points on musical/journalistic/political rivals, but it ignores the fact that our listening choices are determined not only by our preferences but by exogenous factors - access to information and the ready availability of the music itself. and most of the infrastructure of the music market - the labels, the radio, the record stores, the magazines, the critics, the press agents, all the hangers-on - is rotting, built for an earlier, exponentially simpler time.

internet-enabled tools (bulletin boards, file-sharing, blogs, etc) have made an insane amount of headway in clearing away some these inefficiencies in certain market segments in the past couple of years, but I don't really think we've seen anything yet. imagine file sharing networks with music-based searches, where a listener could upload a song they liked and note the elements they liked the most (the beat, the melody, the vocal, lyrics, etc) and get back a list of mp3s (and maybe blog links!) of similar music across all genres and regions of the world (instantly downloadable for pennies, which would go directly to the artist), all without having to spend tedious time dealing with PR noise, radio payola, unreliable critical narratives, insider genre jargon, hype chasing, etc. the music industry is due for some big time creative destruction, and it's gonna be a lot of fun to watch

7:50 PM  
Blogger wayne&wax said...

thanks for all the continued conversation here.

i've been posting some related thoughts to a post on matisyahu over at poplicks, for those who might be interested.

as far as anon's question about whether it's ok for jewish folk to prefer jewish performers (and, by implication, black folk to prefer black performers and white folk to prefer white performers), i guess my position would be that, as far as such feelings of allegiance or filiality are understandable, i tend to be pretty skeptical about such invocations of group identity, especially when they so easily slide into essentialisms. i think we grant jews and blacks (to paint a couple of monoliths) the right to express group pride because of the overriding historical context in which they have been, as groups, oppressed and harassed and subject to genocide. all the same, while this sort of "strategic essentialism" makes sense in certain contexts, such an atomistic sense of identity seems to me, ultimately, problematic. just too much possibility of sectarianism and not enough sense of the ways that identities are fluid, contingent on context, historically-shaped, etc.

i'm not about to police people's imagined communities, but i am wary about stark identifications that go beyond the very local (why shouldn't one identify with one's immediate neighbors?) and the universal (why shouldn't one identify with humankind?).

as far as sharon jones and co., i'd be hesitant to reduce it all to bad marketing on the part of certain record labels. the discussion about minstrelsy and exploitation over at o-dub's post and in mitter's piece is still relevant here. to the extent that a black woman fronting a white band singing to an audience full of white people calls one's attention, jarringly and painfully, to the continued structural inequalities, patterns of segregation, and legacies of minstrelsy (or, the commercial performance of blackness), it's something that we should pay attention to.

and, also, i think many a "white person" could do themselves and "their race" a great service - and that great service, btw, would be the dismantling of white privilege, white supremacy, and white identity - by learning how to dance. all it takes is practice. (some people call it "enculturation.")

and, john, i too remain hopeful that the "creative destruction" of the music industry as we know it might open up new possibilities in all sorts of realms. there's no doubt in my mind that the current establishment continues to perpetuate, almost as a business plan, nineteenth-century stereotypes and performance practices. why not? it sells. always has. right?

9:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The marketing I spoke of is related to the issues of segregation and minstrelsy that Jody Rosen mentioned in his Slate article that Odub cited. The marketing helps create the envronment that is a Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings show. This is nothing new obviously. I do have some flashbacks to the movie Animal House and the various issues at play when Otis Day & the Knights played to a largely African-American audience, and when they later played at Belushi's frat party (I heard screenwriter Harold Ramis talking about this on NPR's Fresh Air awhile back). Yea, the Sharon Jones & Dap Kings club show image you cited does bring up painful legacies. But to truly understand how it relates shouldn't Mitter have interviewed Jones and her white bandmates, and the offending white dancers? I am not denying that there are exploitative folks out there, I am not denying the existence of white privelege, I am saying that the issue is more complicated and multi-layered. That is why I brought up the issue of the southern African-American labels and their separation from the white rock critic and music industry mainstream. That is why you have to address why a white critic like Michelangelo Matos, who embraces contemporary African-American music, put a Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings song in his Village Voice critics poll. There is no one archetypal Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings fan. Sadly in history there were minstrels of all races. Again, I think you have to be careful about attributing motivation to Sharon and her band without understanding their situation. Then there's the long history of white musicians performing with African-American musicians. I think we need to go beyond merely saying this behavior is bad and is reflective of historical inequities. Cultural respect must be taught in a manner that won't cause knee-jerk conservatives to say "you're just trying to make me act pc," and it must be taught in a manner that does not discourage fair and open-minded people to say "I am not going to even bother with the culture of others if my involvement with it or my appreciation of it is going to get me categorized as an exploiter, a racist, a wannabe, etc." Jody Rosen mention Dylan and the Beastie Boys. Yes some their involvement with African-American music is/was problematic, but would we really be better off if they had never tried? I do not think you are suggesting that, nor do I think you are suggesting that only Jamaicans can play reggae, write about reggae, or go to reggae shows.

Also re the dancers, dancing takes alot of practice and alot of skill--not everyone has the time in their busy schedules to try to develop those skills. Michael Jackson was watching and imitating Jackie Wilson and James Brown when he was 5 and later watched lots of old movies with tap dancers; it's a little late for some to try to develop those techniques. I have seen bad dancers of all races get up on stages. The message should be--if you can't dance well--stay off the stage! Curmudgeon S

12:03 PM  
Blogger wayne&wax said...

thanks again for your comments, S.

a few points:

- i wouldn't necessarily "attribute motivation" to anyone involved. the trickiness with legacies of minstrelsy is how subconscious they are.

- i'm glad you don't think i'm suggesting that people grouped in one group can't engage with the cultural practices of another group. first off, these so-called groups are never so discrete. second, i think that's where the most interesting cultural stuff happens: at the borders, the crossings, the areas of overlap and transgression, exchange and mimesis. third, my own musical practice, at least recently, is all about performing jamaicanness and blackness as a so-called white dude--of course, the point is that i try to be self-reflective and savvy about such an undertaking, so fraught is it with problematic legacies.

- my own sense of music's role in mediating racial ideologies and the inherently mixed-up concept of "black music" is deeply indebted to my academic advisor, ron radano, whose lying up a nation i heartily recommend for some critical perspective on these issues. (for a work focusing specifically on minstrelsy, i recommend eric lott's love and theft).

- finally, i concede that dancing is hard, especially if one learns to do so not in everyday situations from childhood though adulthood but more consciously at a later date in life. i spent about 6 steady months in my early 20s dancing a couple times a week for several hours at a time (mostly to house and techno, though also to hip-hop, reggae, and jungle) and it was an absolute joy to learn how to move my body the way i wanted to. i'm glad i did so when i did (and spent plenty of time looking in the mirror and admiring - and emulating - other dancers), and i'd encourage anyone else in similar shoes to make the time to do so. it's well worth it.

2:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i'm cross posting this at the poplicks discussion you linked to; namely, it is important when saying "dancehall" to specify what you mean. if matisyahu is to be attacked as not being authentic enough to perform this type of music, or more appropriately, to be assailed because he is drawing away listeners from better (certainly) and more authentic (depends on what your definition of the word "is" is) dancehall, people need to be specific.

certainly it's cliche to say that some dancehall is misogynistic, homophobic, violent, etc. (boom byebye, etc.), but there is that other segment of "conscious" dancehall (the word dancehall in this sense is sort of a misnomer), namely sizzla, capleton, anthony b, etc. the audience for matisyahu is far less likely to attend the former than they are the latter. insofar as this audience perceives dancehall to be constituted primarily of the former rather than the latter, then it is unsurprising that they would not attend those more "authentic" shows, and no amount of bitching by sanneh is going to change that. and certainly it is their loss, b/c anthony b is by far the best performer i have ever seen (2 and half hours, no stopping, no breaks, just sweat and pure emotion).

9:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting review in the W. Post of Matisyahu by Christopher Porter


He says in part:

"Matisyahu's now being hammered as the latest in a long line of minstrel acts to hit the pop charts.But why such ire? He's hardly the first white artist to succeed by appropriating black music and culture -- even in reggae.

The Clash took Jamaican music and disseminated it to the punk rock masses, as did numerous second-wave ska bands. And just last year Sinead O'Connor was largely spared the stick for "Throw Down Your Arms," which featured the Irishwoman doing Rastafarian roots reggae. But perhaps O'Connor escaped critical wrath because her CD didn't beat first-week sales of every reggae album in Billboard chart history, as "Youth" did. Success has a way of making people suspicious and edgy. (Plus, O'Connor is an amazing singer, and it was hard to deny how good the bald crooner sounded even when she was belting "Curly Locks.")

But all that noise about identity obscures one question: Is Matisyahu -- or "Youth" -- any good?

Well, no, not if he's judged as a straight-up reggae artist. But this is no Vanilla Ice, either.

While Matisyahu has an appealingly nimble way of speed rapping, his voice doesn't have the resonance and fire of Jamaican toasters -- which might point to another likely reason for Matisyahu-bashing: He comes out of the jam band scene. As a high school dropout, Miller followed Phish for almost half a year; now, as Matisyahu, his audience is made up of those pesky patchouli-soaked kids, not hard-core reggae fans.

But as a jam band icon, Matisyahu's just fine . . ."

Curmudgeon S

8:12 AM  
Blogger wayne&wax said...

yeah, you know, i just saw that piece over on christopher's blog last night.

cp has clearly been listening in on the conversation, and i was glad to see him address the issue head on. i'd say i essentially agree with him here, though i'm not sure that the comparison to the clash is quite fair (they, at least, seemed more committed to - and aware of - reggae's radical vision).

people who get in a huff about cultural appropriation in this case need to see matisyahu in the greater context and need to compare him (and his record sales) to 311, sublime, gwen stefani, sinead, and even some jambands before they go comparing him to vybz kartel and richie spice. they're just not in the same market (unfortunately - for the jamaican guys), though i suspect that a number of matisyahu's fans will end up engaging more seriously - and lastingly - with the reggae tradition than perhaps even matisyahu does, perhaps leading to yet another spike in international interest for all the quality music that continues to come out of JA.

8:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am with you on the Clash comparison and the rest. Also, to come back to the marketing issue regarding getting attention for artists of color that I mentioned regarding Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings, the dancehall labels I do not believe market and push their stuff towards the American indie-rock critics and college radio djs and blogs, so that hurts with getting attention, not to mention the homophobia in the lyrics issue discussed by another poster above.
Of course, the cds are available for sale and media folks do not have to rely solely on promos before they pay attention to something.

I do not have the link handy, but I read online that Luciano and Matisyahu are gonna do a track together! Curmudgeon S

9:31 AM  

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