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Baker's Dozen

Music For The Lizard Brain: Ty Bulmer Of NYPC's Favourite Albums
Ben Hewitt , October 8th, 2013 06:41

With their new album out yesterday, the band's singer-songwriter picks out her own top long-players


Fela Kuti - Yellow Fever
Another political one! But it’s an important record for me because it’s about something I’ve seen, which is the practice of African women lightening their skin with products to be more white. It’s the great secret about black culture that no-one talks about, that people from other cultures aren’t privy to: this sort of shadeism, which I suppose is a hangover from slavery and the fact that Western culture is so predominant in terms of creating meaning for people. I was in a school where, in my year, there were 94 girls and about four or five of them were white. The rest were Asian or black, and there were about three mixed race girls including me, of different ‘shades’, of whom I was the lightest. And I definitely got the most abuse as a general rule. Because my family on my mother’s side is so mixed, it’s really reductive to talk about yourself as black or white: you’ve got an Asian great-grandmother or a Venezuelan great-grandfather. And then my Dad is English-Irish, and my mother’s first language was French, so it really wasn’t cut and dry. From an early age I’d been proud of that, so to go to school where battle lines were drawn – "What are you?" – when I liked what I liked; I wanted to enjoy the elements of my cultural heritage but also other things like listening to Suede. So that shadeism is at the heart of this album: he’s this big guy who was obviously known for having a good time with the ladies and he’s a complete cad and a massive bounder, so it’s amazing for him to be having this conversation, if you like – extorting them very firmly but respectfully to say, "You are beautiful as you are, this is unnecessary, men don’t even like it when you do this, you have to live in your own skin and be happy with it". The exultation and finger-wagging goes on for quite some time and, being a Fela Kuti album, the record is basically this whole song. The harmonies on the call-and-response stuff between him and the backing vocalists are really lovely, and they have that element the Bulgarian album has of being slightly weird and off-kilter at times. And then, once he’s finished with his polemic, he really lets the musicians let rip.

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