Sunday, January 30, 2005

maya in action

can't stereotype my thing yo
The NYTimes runs a ‘Playlist’ by a critic, or ‘person of note,’ which is an unscientific ‘heavy rotation’ list for that week. Kelefa Sanneh’s lists are almost always on point but his (appropriately) wide range of musical tastes can sometimes leave me (with my relatively homogenic musical interests) saying “Huuuuhh? Nah-nah-nah-nah” like a confused Master P.
But Maya Arulpragasam, b.k.a. M.I.A. nails my excitement about new pop-songs. She continues her aboveground “Arular” buzz-build with a ‘Playlist’ today (as recorded by Joel Topcik).
It is in some ways a predictable but nonetheless fascinating and energizing list because it captures most if not all of the ‘underground’ dance musics (no typo) on the verge of replacing or, at least, redefining what hip-hop music is. Outside of her dancehall selections, all of the genres she references have not had a pop crossover success (hell, even the hipsters are scrambling to find ‘baile funk’ tracks) and are absolutely contemporary hybrids on the verge of taking over the world.
The genres she represents in her list are the prime examples of ‘World music’ as brilliantly redefined by Sasha Frere-Jones in last year’s New Yorker piece about M.I.A.

Frere-Jones exposes the culture-centrism of ‘old-World-music’ fans as he observes “Entirely disparate performers… lumped together in American record stores simply because they don’t sing exclusively in English.”

His redefinition of ‘World music’ describing pop-music as “synthetic, cheap, colorful, staticky with power” captures M.I.A.’s music perfectly and, naturally, applies to her ‘Playlist.’

A few of her comments are worth highlighting as they expose the ‘right now’ of rebellious folk music. That’s right, ‘folk music’… maybe THAT needs a redefinition in our ‘global moment’ as well… ‘Folk’ hinges on autonomy and although the new folk continues development of the ‘local’ it uses any and all sources available to the ‘global’ villager. The borders of that village are no longer mountains or rivers but a geography of dubplates, mixtapes and MP3s.

My favorite quote from M.I.A. is her description of Spice and Toi’s ‘Right There (Bad Gal Riddim)’ as “the most fun song I've heard all week.” Probably the highest praise you can give in the fast and furious dance music context.

Some excerpts and a few of my comments…
'Bad Gal Riddim'
"Dancehall producers come up with a new 'riddim,' … every week… and send it to different artists. Everybody does their own version…and it becomes a compilation. ….I heard it on pirate radio, which is where I get most of my music. The pirate D.J.'s are always six months ahead of everyone else."

(No ‘rockism’ here, Kelefa. Producers and Djs rule.)

Ivy Queen
"… the biggest reggaeton star….the sound coming out of Puerto Rico that's really huge in America now. Dancehall is much more stripped down, but reggaeton has a Caribbean sound…Ivy Queen and the dancehall rapper Sasha did a Spanish reggaeton remix of 'Dat Sexy Body'…that represents a kind of unity between dancehall and reggaeton."

(I appreciate the distinction she is drawing between genres even as she applauds the cross-pollination)

Baile Funk
"Brazilian kids in the favelas (ghettos) going crazy, screaming the dirtiest lyrics over Clash songs…Kraftwerk.… 'booty music' - and produce something so fierce and angry that reflects the absolute chaos around them.”

(Admittedly the least familiar of the genres repped here but what I have heard is so off-key and home-made that the enthusiasm you hear from the kids on vocals can’t help but inspire cathartic joy. The punk and hip-hop connection is always attempted by young global folk but the addition of a karaoke element sends chills up my spine… it sounds simultaneously awful and awesome)

Jim Jones, the Diplomats
"'Crunk Muzik' … Such a powerful beat - and you can't tell what the chorus is, it's like 32 bars long…It's the guerilla side of hip-hop."

(I love that the lack of catchy chorus is a plus for her. I’m surprised she didn’t mention the fact that this song title is an adaptation of another region of hip-hop that got hugely popular this past year. The Dips are not from that region and yet they have captured the ‘throwing bows’ attitude of that music without mimicking the style. And, yes, it is spectacularly successful, original and independent.)

Lethal Bizzle
"'Forward Riddim Remix' of 'Pow!'… reflects the London streets in the most aggressive way possible. People call grime the new punk - electronic, minimal beats and mad bass lines… There are like 20 M.C.'s from around London on this track…I live in a place with Somali refugees, Polish people, a lot of Arabic people, and this song is blaring out of every single car. It's what's empowering them now.”

(Although there’s closer to a dozen Mcs on this track, the energy sounds like twice that. Like a grime-‘Proteck Ya Neck,’ the variety of vocal texture used to express street energy is astounding. Her hood description is like some William Gibson dream... or a walk through Queens.)

"… with the producer Jacques Lu Cont on 'Na Na Na Na,' … reflects what I like in a sound. It's minimal - just vocal and beat - with a synth-y drum loop. There are almost no changes at all - when the chorus comes in, Lu Cont just brings in an extra snare and pitches it up and then back down again. It's brilliant… If something like this could get on mainstream radio, it would be so great."

(She nails my delight in the less-is-more production style. The Neptunes raised the bar with ‘Grindin’ and they may spawn a whole new genre with the out of nowhere QUIET of ‘Drop It Like It’s Hot.’ The Yin-Yang Twins whispering track follows suit. M.I.A.’s appreciation of mainstream radio is, I feel, ‘post-hipster-cool’ and a key to her appeal.)

I will be going to her Knitting Factory show in NYC on February 5th prepped for Djs Diplo and Catchdubs selections to capture the excitement that this playlist provides. See you on the dancefloor.