summer time in europe means music festivals!! i went to my first real european summer music festival in 2001. the hackney music festival in england was taking place on my birthday. an impossibly crowded train ride, loads of weed smoke, 6 veggie hot dogs and a pee in the woods later, i'd screamed into biz markie's microphone (i got another brother that's calm and plain/he goes by the name of the big daddy kane!), and fallen in love with french rap, after seeing mc solaar perform alongside guru from gangstarr. summer music festivals are one of the things i love most about europe. the size and scale (hundreds of bands! hundreds of thousands of people!) necessitates variety. many mash ups of many sorts. djs, dancers, singers, visual artists, kitsch, clashes, and many many drunk people from places where people should not drink. like finland. or england. or iceland. or anywhere that ends with a 'land', which is a clear indication that normal life is so staid that when they hit the bottle, well, the bottle ends up hitting them. and the results are at times disastrous, but often just really funny, for everyone involved. if you're into music, and won't cry if you end up stepping in someone's vomit, or if the smell of smoke lingers in your pores for a week after, it's all very cute boys, new music, and opportunity. my favorite time of the year here.
getting to it...
this weekend was the sonár music festival, barcelona's biggest and most electronic. by day or by night, the 3 day festival had the city buzzing, dancing, and had the rest of the world taking notes. check flavorpill's twitter feed for some really great minute-by-minute minutes on the all of the music, all of the action, albeit from a slightly annoying 'tapas are the best idea ever!' and 'what's this milky drink?', fresh off the boat perspective. for me, it was all about friday's headliners grace jones and buraka som sistema.
on mrs. jones., i learned 4 things.
1. she's not real
her high cheek bones, wide eyes, the face of a doll--it's not just photography tricks. her legs and ass are those of a 25 year old woman. and not in an overly worked out sort of way. in a, like, 'i lay around on the beach eating oysters and drinking cava and i just got good genes' way. or, rather, a 'some brilliant artists carved me out of pliable stone' kind of way. if she seems to have been objectified over the years, part of it must be that there is no way anyone's that perfect. part of it must be that she is, indeed, un-fucking-real.
2. grace jones can hula hoop...
straight through a 10-minute remix of slave to the rhythm.
i thought of the dozens of feminists and anti-racism 'activists' whose only aim in life is to point out the 'deeply problematic' nature of such things. things like singing songs about slaves or taking pics like these...
reinforcing images of black women as primitive. as animals. but then i stopped thinking about it, because the woman is, like 50, and she was hula hooping for 10 minutes straight. she walked around stage, introduced her band, all while keeping that damn hula hoop up. i think i'm going to require that anyone who wants to discuss black women's images in pop culture, first prove their worthiness to engage in such high stakes talk, by hula hooping for 10 minutes. that's control.
3. grace jones is a class act.
an act which was, technically, over. the band had left the stage. all of the light were on. stage hands had begun dismantling the stage in preparation for the next act. and grace jones reappeared. smiling, jovial, not fierce at all, to say thank you for coming out. for a full five minutes, she posed, waved, reduced grown men to blushing byatches, with a point and a 'you are too cute!'. she talked to us in english, french, spanish, italian, and a little bit of jamaican patois. which contributed greatly to thing #4...
4. i really like her. her carriage and grace. her complete control over hula hoops, language and most of all, her image. (yes, i credited her some agency.) made me proud to be one of the 5 black chicks in the audience. shit. i realize i've even channeled her on occasion.
buraka som sistema, revisited
it may be that because i live a life that's, if anything, on the atypical side, i fully expect to be able to ask grace jones, one day, about her experience of shooting the cage photo, about objectification, and how she lives and breathes her iconographic status. you know, actually giving her some say, like an actual person. i know this like i knew, when i saw buraka som sistema perform last year at sonár, that they'd become my friends. now here's me, friday night, backstage with the ever-so-clever, dj riot.
the definition of grinding: buraka sound system began as dj duo, riot and lil john. they mixed the angolan sound of kuduru with electronica, techno, house, hip hop, calypso, samba and everything else under the sun to create the most danceable hybrid you've never heard. along with producer and mc, conductor, the best hype man in the biz since flav, kalaf, and assorted mc's from africa, brazil, and portugal, they've created a sound for both the seaside clubs of europe where electronic music rules, as well as the streets of any urban ghetto anywhere. buraka released in search of the black diamond in '08, to much critical acclaim. fast forward to now, summer festival season '09. it's no longer a quick dj set between main acts. it's main act. it's hour-long sets with riot on percussion. here's a reminder of why i love them so much.
more race meets sex meets immigration shenanigans...
i was slightly disappointed to note that the darker, thicker mc saborosa who appears in the video has been replaced by a mixed-looking skinny girl, whose booty manipulation was appreciated by all. (i'm not going to lie. including me. her ass was the only thing on her that was NOT skinny.) that said, sometimes, no, most of the time, african artists have difficulties getting visas to perform in europe and america, which in turn makes consistent touring (the very source of an artist's income) impossible. this has been the case for buraka, who've had to postpone, or scale down multiple shows in the last year, due to the visa issues of their angolan collaborators. congolese band, konono nº1, were no-shows at last year's sonár, citing difficulties obtaining visas for europe. (this year, i heard they rocked the walls of the museum of contemporary art, with a searing 2 hour set.) could be the explanation for the lighter skinned (brazilian? portuguese?) female mc. never the less, it was exactly the level of hotness i expected, complete with lil jon standing on the dj table in triumph, and the audience singing the portuguese and angolan-language lyrics of songs like 'wegue' and 'sound of kuduru' phoneme-for-phoneme.
next stop: solidays festival in paris!