Thursday, March 24, 2011
Justice for Smiley Public Meeting
Tuesday, March 22, 2011
Loleatta Holloway (1946-2011)
Disco legend Loleatta Holloway died last night at the age of 64. For me, her best tracks were on the great Salsoul label in the 1970s, including Hit and Run, Catch me on the Rebound and my personal favourite Runaway (put out under the name Salsoul Orchestra featuring Loleatta Holloway)
Ironically her voice is probably best known to UK listeners via a track she wasn't even credited with singing on. In 1989, Ride on Time was a massive number one hit for italian piano-house producers Black Box. The track was built around vocal samples from Loleatta Holloway's Love Sensation, but Holloway was unaware of this until she heard it. She took legal action and managed to secure a share of the income.
It has been suggested that Black Box themselves were unaware of the origin of the vocal:
'It is also worth noting that Black Box were just as surprized as Holloway was to find out who actually sang the vocal. The vocal track was in all likelihood lifted from an unlabelled bootleg of a capella mixes on the album 'DJ Essentials Inc. Acappella Anonymous Volume 1' which included more than a dozen instrument-free vocals, among them Loleatta Holloway's 'Love Sensation'. A careful listen to a number of songs around the same period - including German-based duo Snap's UK Number One 'The Power' which features an ad lib from Jocelyn Brown's 1986 single 'Love's Gonna Get You', and Manchester's Happy Mondays' 'Hallelujah', which uses samples from The Southroad Connection's 'In the Mornin' - reveals that the vocals were all taken from this very same album' (Tony Bennett, Rock and popular music: politics, policies, institutions, 1993).
I do find it hard to believe that discophile producers could have been totally unaware of Loleatta Holloway, and to add insult to injury they used a model to mime the vocals in the video. But notwithstanding that, the affair raised some interesting questions in those early days of sampling. On the one hand, sampling seemed to offer a limitless horizon in which the whole of recorded culture was up for grabs. I defended the right of KLF to rip off samples from Abba and others in the same period on the basis that they were subversively detourning popular culture. On the other hand it was notable that sampling was reproducing the earlier pattern of popular musics, whereby mainly white record companies, producers and artists got rich on the backs of the unrewarded and unrecognised creativity and labour of black singers and musicians. In this respect, sampling was just the new face in the ongoing plunder of black musical cultures.
Still Loleatta Holloway made sure she (belatedly) got her dues, and did ultimately benefit from the exposure. As Matthew Collin recalls in his book Altered State: The Story of Ecstasy Culture and Acid House, she was paid to perform at some of the massive acid house raves of the late 1980s, notably in October 1989 at a Helter Skelter party attended by 4,000 people in 'a muddy, ploughed field in Oxfordshire. The incongruity was sweet, seeing these dance music icons climbing up a rickety ladder onto the back of a flat-bed lorry - in open farmland! - to sing and play. There was Loleatta Holloway, the lead singer on scores of classic Salsoul disco anthems, who seemed almost scared of the mob of brightly-coloured lunatics thrashing in front of the stage'. Ce Ce Rogers and KLF also played.
See also Ben Beaumont Thomas in The Guardian: 'Holloway's voice, however, full of strident indignation and volcanic sexuality, is always the dominant force in her songs, going toe to toe with even the most pounding pianos and lushest orchestras. But the key to her appeal is that she doesn't push herself too far to the front. The pleasure of listening to divas like Whitney or Rihanna is that it's an aspirational experience – women want to be them, men want to be with them. Holloway is a different proposition: a collective experience, of mutual understanding and shared joy. She takes the utopian ideals of clubland – sex, community, abandon – and massively amplifies them back at the dancers, singing to each one of them and the club as a whole. As her voice surges onto and fills the dancefloor, it really does feel like we're all getting stronger'.
Saturday, March 19, 2011
South London Street Art
Tuesday, March 15, 2011
Smiley Culture RIP
He will always be remembered for his two great hits of 1984/5:
'The implicit joke beneath the surface of the record was that though many of London's working class blacks were Cockney by birth and experience (technical Cockney) their 'race' denied them access to the social category established by the language which real (i.e. white) Cockneys spoke. 'Cockney Translation' transcended the 'schizophrenic' elements which composed the contradictory unity that provided the basic framework for a potential black Britishness. The record suggested that these elements could be reconciled without jeapordising affiliation to the history of the black diaspora... The record contains a veiled but none the less visible statement that the rising generation of blacks, gathering in the darkened dance-halls, were gradually finding a means to acknowledge their relationship to England and Englishness. They were beginning to discover a means to position themselves relative to this society and to create a sense of belonging which could transcend 'racial'/ethnic, local and class-based particularities and redefine England/Britain as a truly plural community. They were able to express their reluctant affiliation to it in the same breath as their ties to the African diaspora'
'Cockney say Old Bill we say dutty babylon'
Updated 16 March, see also:
- Future Next Level: 'he was the grandfather British MC. He started a lineage that can be followed through the Hip House MCs of the late 80s and early 90s, through jungle MCs, UK Hip Hop and to acts today such as The Streets and the grime-gone-pop acts that dominate today’s charts. Indeed, without Smiley, the very idea that it might be possible to be successful with lyrics about the black urban experience may never have been planted. Today the pop charts are littered with these voices'.
- Lee Jasper asks critical questions about his mysterious death.
- Dotun Adebayo in the The Guardian: If Smiley hadn't made it cool for black Brits to chat "British" on record UK rappers would probably still be chatting "yankee" and there would have been no UK vocal flava to drum and bass, two step, dub step or grime. There would be no Dizzie or Tinie Tempah'.
- John Eden at Uncarved.
- Transpontine on his South London roots.
Jackie Wilson's Melisma - 20 notes for the word 'for'
Check out the closing bars of this song for the example given - 20 notes for the word 'for':
Monday, March 14, 2011
'The news took a minute or two to reach the street - but when it did there was an explosion of noise that sent the pigeons fluttering away in a panic. Some 500 campaigners and friends were wild with joy; there was dancing in the street. They quickly pushed police barriers aside to swarm the Old Bailey's entrance, hugging any relative of the Six they could spot' (Independent, 15 March 1991).
Their's was just one of a number of high profile 'miscarriage of justice' cases from that era in which Irish (Birmingham 6, Guildford 4, Maguire 7) and black people (Tottenham 3) were framed by police and courts. Sure those were different times - with the Irish conflict leading to terrible events on all sides, not least the IRA bombings of the Mulberry Bush and Tavern in the Town pubs in Birmingham in November 1974, in which 21 people died (for which the B6 were wrongly convicted). But in the last couple of years we have seen a man killed by the police and nobody charged (Ian Tomlinson on the G20 protests) and today comes news that 'The policing watchdog is investigating claims that officers colluded in the false arrest of a protester during last year's student demonstrations in London. The Independent Police Complaints Commission confirmed today that it is looking into the circumstances in which a man, who has not been named, suffered a facial injury and was arrested last December'. So keep on your guard.
The Pogues famously released a song Streets of Sorrow/Birmingham 6 that was banned from the airwaves in 1988 under the Conservative government's recently introduced Broadcasting Ban. Home secretary Douglas Hurd used powers under the BBC's Licence and Agreement and the 1981 Broadcasting Act which governs ITV companies, to forbid TV and radio from carrying interviews or direct statements from the IRA, Sinn Féin, and those who 'support or invite support for these organisations'. The Pogues were judged to fall into the latter category and the 'Independent Broadcasting Authority' ruled that the song alleged that "convicted terrorists are not guilty, the Irish people were put at a disadvantage in the courts of the United Kingdom and that it may have invited support for a terrorist organisation such as the IRA".
There were six men in Birmingham
In Guildford there's four
That were picked up and tortured
And framed by the law
And the filth got promotion
But they're still doing time
For being Irish in the wrong place
And at the wrong time
In Ireland they'll put you away in the Maze
In England they'll keep you for seven long days
God help you if ever you're caught on these shores
The coppers need someone
And they walk through that door
You'll be counting years
First five, then ten
Growing old in a lonely hell
Round the yard and the stinking cell
From wall to wall, and back again
A curse on the judges, the coppers and screws
Who tortured the innocent, wrongly accused
For the price of promotion
And justice to sell
May the judged by their judges when they rot down in hell
May the whores of the empire lie awake in their beds
And sweat as they count out the sins on their heads
While over in Ireland eight more men lie dead
Kicked down and shot in the back of the head
(the final two lines refer to the Loughall ambush of 1987 in which seven IRA members and a civilian were executed by the SAS)
Wednesday, March 09, 2011
Gaddafi Occupations 1986 and 2011
Put me in mind of an earlier occupation, the squatting of the abandoned Libyan People's Bureau(an Embassy building), initiated by people around anarcho-punk prankster band God Told Me To Do It in 1986. There's a nice account of the squatting of the place - and expropriation of its contents - by Anna Marrian at Animal Farm:
'We secure the door and explore the building, staying away from the windows. It’s four floors of 30-foot ceilings, ballroom sized rooms with plush carpeting and heavy velvet curtains, mahogany desks, button-backed leather sofas and office equipment stacked up in the end of each room. A shroud of dust everywhere... I get everyone from the St. John’s Street squat and drive back to the Libyan People’s Bureau intact. It’s dark and the side street is deserted. Andy and the others disappear inside and reappear thirty minutes later carrying one of the green leather sofas out the back door. This is followed by several photocopiers, curtains, fax machines, telex machines, leather executive office chairs, handfuls of books written in Arabic. The van is stuffed to the ceiling'.
Also came across this account: 'It had been vacant after someone inside the embassy fired on a group of demonstrators and killed a policewoman. After that, the whole staff refused to cooperate in any investigation and returned to Libya, leaving the building vacant. Enter squatters. I went to one of their parties. I remember one skinhead girl trying to balance as many copies as possible of Quadaffi's Little Green Book on her head'.
Of course in those days, Libya was a pariah state following the shooting dead of PC Yvonne Fletcher in 1984, as Embassy staff opened fire on anti-Gaddafi demonstrators in London. Since then, without any change in regime, Gaddafi has acquired quite a fan club - shaking hands with Tony Blair and his son Saif feted at the London School of Economics and by the British Royal Family. Everybody from Anthony Giddens (social democratic theorist of the Third Way), the National Front (current BNP leader Nick Griffin travelled to Tripoli in 1986), the Workers Revolutionary Party and the Nation of Islam have sung his praises. Was there ever a dictator with such a disparate group of supporters from far right to far left via every shade of mainstream governmental opinion?No part of the political spectrum seems to have been immune from this nonsense. In the early 1990s I took part in the International Infoshop gathering in London, bringing together people involved in radical social centres and book shops from across Europe. The event was hosted by two London infoshops, the 56a Infoshop at Elephant and Castle (which still exists) and the 121 Centre in Brixton's Railton Road (which was evicited in 1999).
Those of us at the London end were mostly from a broadly anarchist background of hostility to all states. We seemed to have plenty in common with the comrades from Germany and Scandinavia with their focus on housing struggles (squatting), militant anti-fascism and autonomous movements. However when it came to talking about stuff outside of Europe it was a different story. We were horrified when the proposal was put forward that we should take part in an 'anti-imperialist solidarity camp' in Libya to show our support for the Gadaffi regime's stand against the US and Europe!
Amongst parts of the 'anti-impi' autonomist left this kind of support for all kinds of dubious regimes and stalinist 'liberation movement' rackets was commonplace - seemingly in Europe, autonomy and new forms of emancipatory politics was on the agenda, the rest of the world could make do with personality cults and militarist dictatorships.
Manchester Street Art
Sunday, March 06, 2011
Foucault on Tunisia
But of course this image of 'Arab' politics could only ever have been sustained by a wilful ignorance of history. The radical, secular movements of the past in that part of the world have been airbrushed away, not only from mainstream narratives but from some leftist accounts in which recent North African and Middle Eastern history begins and ends with Israel/Palestine and the Gulf Wars. Everyone knows about Paris '68 but what about Tunisia?
Tunisia too had its 1968, and among those involved was Michel Foucault, who was teaching at the University of Tunis and living in Sidi Bou Said. Shortly after his arrival in Tunis in 1966 there had been a student strike and clashes with the authorities, sparked initially by a student's refusal to pay a bus fare. Student agitation reached a peak between March and June 1968, with a visit from the US Secretary of State Hubert Humphrey prompting riots with attacks on the British and US Embassies. The president levied a tax on every household in Tunis to pay for the riot damage.
Foucault recalled: 'there were student agitations of an incredible violence there... Strikes, boycotting of classes and arrests were to take place one after another for the entire year. The police entered the university and attacked many students, injuring them and throwing them into jail'. Foucault's support for the rebels included hiding a printing machine used for anti-government leaflets in his garden. At one point he was badly beaten up in an attack presumed to have been launched by plain-clothes cops. The whole experience had a radicalising effect on Foucault who said that he 'was profoundly struck and amazed by those young men and women who exposed themselves to serious risks for the simple fact of having written or distributed a leaflet, or for having incited others to go on strike. Such actions were enough to place at risk one's life, one's freedom and one's body'.
Foucault saw the global cycle of late 1960s struggles through the lens of his Tunisian experience, from which he drew wider conclusions:
'What was the meaning of that outburst of radical revolt that the Tunisian students had attempted? What was it that was being questioned everywhere? I think my answer is that the dissatisfaction came from the way in which a kind of permanent oppression in daily life was being put into effect by the state and by other institutions and oppressive groups. That which was ill-tolerated and continually questioned, which produced that sort of discomfort, was "power". And not only state power but also that which was exercised within the social body through extremely different channels, forms and institutions. It was no longer acceptable to be "governed" in a certain way. I mean "governed" in an extended sense; I'm not just referring to the government of the state and the men who represent it, but also to those men who organize our daily lives by means of rules, by way of direct or indirect influences, as for instance the mass media'.
The refusal to be 'governed in a certain way' has certainly been a feature of the current movements in Tunisia and elsewhere, just as it was forty years ago. Of course underneath there has also been the ongoing reality of poverty and dispossession, but the indignity of living under dictatorship and the attendant petty humiliations of daily life has been a key driver of rebellion. It is notable that the spark that lit the Tunisian revolt was the death of Mohamed Bouazizi, a Tunisian street vendor who set himself on fire on December 17 2010 in protest at the confiscation of his wares and harassment by officials.
So as in 1968 there has been a desire for freedom from oppressive regulations at a micro and macro level. But there has also been a desire, as Hardt and Negri put it, for 'a different life in which they can put their capacities to use', for freedom to realize human potential. As H&N put in Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire (2004): 'When we propose the poor as the paradigmatic subjective figure of labour today, it is not because the poor are empty and excluded from wealth but because they are included in the circuits of production and full of potential, which always exceeds what capital and the global political body can expropriate and control. This common surplus is the first pillar on which are built struggles against the global political body and for the multitude'. Today this 'surplus' and 'potential' are increasingly concrete as millions worldwide are consigned to the scrap heap by economic crisis, but 'power' is still what confronts those pushing for a better life.
A voice from today's Tunisia
Here's Head of State by Hamada Ben Amor (aka El General), a track that played a part in recent events in Tunisia. It directly addresses (now-ex) President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, with lyrics like:
Mr President, you told me to speak without fear
But I know that eventually I will take just slaps
I see too much injustice and so I decided to send this message even though the people told me that my end is death
But until when the Tunisian will leave in dreams, where is the right of expression?
They are just words ..
Tunis was defined the “green”, but there is only desert divided into 2,
it is a direct robbery by force that dominated a country
without naming already everybody knows who they are
much money was pledged for projects and infrastructure
schools, hospitals, buildings, houses
But the sons of dogs have already fattened
They stole, robbed, kidnapped and were unwilling to leave the chair.
He was arrested for his troubles in the early days of the rebellion, but is now out of jail and performing again (more background information and full lyrics at Hip Hop Diplomacy).
All Foucault quotes from Remarks on Marx: conversations with Duccio Trombadori (1991); additional information from David Macey, The Many Lives of Michel Foucault
Friday, March 04, 2011
Gadhafi, Dancing and the Communism of Movement
'Do as you please. You are free to dance, sing, and celebrate in all squares throughout the night. Muammar Gadhafi is one of you. Dance, sing, rejoice' (Gadhafi, February 2011)
The festive character of the uprisings sweeping across North Africa and the Middle East has been widely noted (see previous post on Egypt). Just as Hobsbawn wrote of earlier revolutions, everything seems possible as the old regimes crumble and people have literally been dancing, as well as fighting, in the streets. In Libya at the moment it is the fighting that is dominant, hopefully victory and further celebrations won't be too far behind.
Strangely it was Gadhafi last week who called for dancing in the streets, just as his death squads were going into action across Libya. A desparate atempt to redirect the youthful energy of the uprising into a party for a murderous regime.
The festivities in Benghazi (Libya's second city, taken by the rebels), Cairo and elsewhere have had an entirely different character: not just dancing and singing together, but creating new social relations - what Alain Badiou has called 'a communism of movement':
“Communism” here means: a common creation of a collective destiny. This “common” has two specific traits. First, it is generic, representing, in a place, humanity as a whole. There we find all sorts of people who make up a People, every word is heard, every suggestion examined, any difficulty treated for what it is. Next, it overcomes all the substantial contradictions that the state claims to be its exclusive province since it alone is able to manage them, without ever surpassing them: between intellectuals and manual workers, between men and women, between poor and rich, between Muslims and Copts, between peasants and Cairo residents. Thousands of new possibilities, concerning these contradictions, arise at any given moment, to which the state — any state— remains completely blind.
Badiou's article also includes a great quote from Jean-Marie Gleize: “The dissemination of a revolutionary movement is not carried by contamination. But by resonance. Something that surfaces here resounds with the shock wave emitted by something that happened over there.” I like the notion of revolution as a sonic event, something that is heard and felt and sets bodies in motion, dancing and fighting.
All images of celebrations in Benghazi following the overthrow of Gadhafi's rule there.
Thursday, March 03, 2011
Tamara Karsavina of the Ballet Russes as the Firebird
Laura Knight (1887-1970) was a prolific painter of dancers and other performers in the ballet, circus and theatre. Lots more of her work here and here. Before the First World War, Knight was part of the artists' 'colony' that gathered in Lamorna, Cornwall - others included Samuel John "Lamorna" Birch, Alfred Munnings and Aleister Crowley.