, December 8th, 2016 14:02
In the introduction to Black Quantum Futurism, Theory and Practice, compiled by her close colleague Rasheedah Phillips, Moor Mother (aka Camae Ayewa) quotes the opening lines from Sonia Sanchez’s poem, ‘Middle Passage’: “Whatever i forget, i remember, Whatever i don’t want to remember, i forget.”
I kept returning to this quote. It’s a keynote for her piece in the book, one that suggests that the manipulation of time can be a source of psychic and creative power, as well as a buffer against enormous hurts. Camae Ayewa sees “hope in a dystopian reality” where “the hopes and dreams of our ancestors, act as important metaphysical tools that serve as agents to help one discover hidden information in the present time.”
This choice of quote, and Ayewa’s subsequent essay are also - to this reviewer at least - keys, or outliers to her album, Fetish Bones. This Moor Mother record is a complicated, sometimes savage act of memory using seemingly infinite aspects of manipulated sound. The noises on this record collapse into each other like lost ideas, mnemonic twitches on the thread, or guilty afterthoughts. We also become aware that, with tracks like ‘Parallel Nightmares’, or ‘Çabrini Green x Natasah Mkenna’, we are dragged into a newly coded reality, where the sounds mirror the conceptions of warped histories. Or reflections on brutal realities in an alternative time. Consequently, the sounds feel dirty sometimes, used or reused; crumpled by an infinite number of agencies of time, or memory matter, or sonic repositioning. The sounds make you feel that you are wading through debris, their presence rustling against your shins.
Make no mistake, this is an outstanding record, but a tough one. And one whose space dust is not bent on creating a Clintonesque, cosmic sweetener. You can see it as a sharp, and understandably sarcastic Black American take on the Ulysses template; with similarly striking mind-maps and moments of searing clarity. It’s also chock-full of violence, of memory (‘Chain Gang Quantum Blues’), or apprehension of violences to come, of the playing of violence in an artistic sense (‘Valley of Dry Bones’ or ‘Tell Me About It’). Arid and dry texturally, and immensely mercurial in its sonic make-up, Fetish Bones has a searing ability to hit you sideways, from nowhere. The bit when the thin, sneering lyrics come in on ‘Creation Myth Melody’, or the queasy preacher voice on in ‘By The Light’ are those of ghosts, with Ayewa channelling both these spectres and maybe your own realisation that you have to row through all of this stuff with her.
I have to draw a parallel with Matana Roberts’s COIN COIN project which, on the face of it, is a similar exploration of African-American memory, albeit from what feels a resolutely personal and what could be described at times as a holistic, or Proustian standpoint. But - outside of ‘Timefloat’ which shares a similarly dreamy sonic quality - Moor Mother’s work feels more impersonal, or more journalistic in its application and appropriation. And this somehow makes the points she raises in tracks blunter, more hard hitting. The rasping screams, such as “I see my dead body at the protest”, issued in ‘Deadbeat Protest’ or the mock space-rap in ‘KBGK’ are stark, and give the listener no place to theorise, or indeed, relax.
It’s safe to say that the continual investigations into a sort of multifaceted cacophony is the ultimate weapon of choice on Fetish Bones. The highest level to be reached in this sonic virtual reality game. And the grand jumble of sounds and textures that Moor Mother has conjured up gnaw at you long after the record is finished, prompting you to find new ways of dislodging intellectual debris in your head. To end on a slightly flippant note, forget all your academic noise pieces, this is a truly, really “brutal” record to mutter “brutal” to. Brilliant, affecting, and exhausting.