Dancing is Freedom

For the late-night dancers in ‘Lunched Out Lizards’ & ‘Molly’s Bar’, WOMAD UK, July 2017.

I have always loved music
and
when I was younger
I loved it so much I wanted
To possess it
Drink it in
Own it and know it was mine.

I’d always ask
‘What’s that tune?’
‘Who is it by?’
And rush out and purchase it.
Owned
Or so I thought.

I’d watch the boys and girls
Who could effortlessly create
Music
With something like
An envious rage

I would try to emulate or replicate
Musicians, singers, DJs
But my efforts would be a pale fail

Hell.

I’m older now
And have learned
That possession was a false path
My role was never to own
Or to create music

I love it just as much as I did then
But I now know that my role is
To let it wash over me
To caress me with its beauty and power
Until I reach a point where it
Releases my singular purpose.
My talent.
My destiny.

I dance.
I shimmer. I reflect in movement
What music says in sound
I open my love organ
And breathe in music
Then breathe out motion sheathed
In blissful affection for the world
And all alive in it

Touch me while I move
And I will show you
The kaleidescopic possibilities of love

And joy

So no.
Me, you –
We’re not creators, curators
Beatmerchants or such.

But we dance

And dancing is freedom –
Dancing is love.

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Love. Supremely.

Hey kids.

I’m writing this in Brighton station. I’m making the long journey back north after a very inspiring time at the Love Supreme Festival.

Initially, I was wary. It was my first time at this particular festival and I didn’t know what to expect. The demographic was different to WOMAD or How The Light Gets In (my usual festi hangouts). I was struck by the number of aging soul boys and girls – no longer fleet of foot, and now wide of girth – until I realised that I was amongst that number. I also felt a distinct London/southern air to the proceedings. On one occasion, I even heard a teenager comment to his friend, matter of fact like, that his parents had chosen an excellent weekend to go sailing. Sailing! You don’t hear that kind of talk in the mean streets of Sheffield, S.Y.

So let’s get to the performances, for it was they which melted my soul. Mr Gregory Porter. Take a bow. He was deep like his voice. The air seemed to shimmer in the space between his notes and his humanity. He sang to a beautiful Sussex sunset, all orange skies and seagulls soaring on the thermals. I can safely say that I’d not been touched in this way by a live musical performance.

Ever.

Kamasi Washington. Heir apparent to Coltrane and Pharaoh Saunders. It was utterly wonderful to watch musicians at the very top of their game. In decades to come folk will surely discuss performances such as this one in the similar tones to the twentieth century outings of Bird, Diz and Miles. I noted the particular intensity in the eyes of Kamasi when he was playing. Something was burning bright; soul, life force, cosmic wisdom? At times you have to breathe inwards and acknowledge that black folks run very, very deep.

I was also taken by Kamasi’s astral maiden-cum-singer (Patrice Quinn). She was quite something to behold, and functioned as spiritual conductor for the band. That is, her purpose was to draw down all manner of wonder and love onto the stage for the purpose of enchanting us all. There was a point during improvising where the sound went awry. An electrical buzzing noise burst through the PA. Patrice simply lifted her arms skyward, performed some kind of Egypto-nubian-vedic realignment of her neck and face, and embraced the chaos. She channelled the electrical fault into the improviation! My mind was blown.

The Nightmares on Wax DJ set. Now I thought this was going to be a bit passé. I mean, I’m a fan. I own his Carboot Soul and Passion albums, but I’ve been grooving on his output since the late 1990s. I was thinking is he going to say anything new to me?

Well he did. In spades. However today, I’m finding it very difficult to put into words exactly what he did. I am reminded of the phenomena of dream forgetting. While grooving on Friday night, I could speak the language. I resonated deeply with the meaning of the message. He was stretching time with beats. A weird quantum elongation. His artistic messages extended across tens of minutes. Let me rephrase – you know when speaking to a friend, you might say “it’s a beautiful day today”? Well the messages in that performance, for instance “life is epic”, seemed to resonate for ages – an extended, beat-driven meditation on a simple idea. I of course was dancefloor shaman – shaking those bones for all who were able to hear. Magical.

Other honourable mentions go to Blue Lab Beats. I only heard the last two tracks of their set, but I was mightily impressed. Luckily, both they and I will be at WOMAD in a few weeks so I’ll give them a full listen then. Cameron James – pianist for Max Mosely who also guested on one of the Kamasi Washington numbers. If Nightmares on Wax stretched time, Cameron compressed it. In a single short musical phrase I heard Coltrane, springtime, train tracks; beautiful things. Cosmic things. He’s another artist I look forward to exploring.

Well, now the return to work and things mundane stretch out before me, and will dissipate the wealth of soulful spirituality that the festival has inspired. Redemption comes again in the shape of WOMAD at the end of the month. And, more than likely Love Supreme again next year.

Peace, love and music everyone!

 

We Give

We give
Merrily
Happily
Carelessly.
We give like the rose
Gives scent
And the tree gives shade
Freely
Unconsciously
Generously.

You take.
Take and regurgitate.
Take and claim
As your own.
Profit and analyse
Reduction
And materialise
And say it was yours
All along.

You create
Too.
But you also hoarde
Create barriers of exclusivity.
Accents, breeding, wealth.
Social structures and
Byzantine cultural norms
To prevent
The appropriation on which
You otherwise thrive.

You burn with rage
When you see us playing with
That which has fallen from your bough.

We gave: jazz, blues, soul, reggae, bossa nova, mambo
You created: opera, ballet, classical

The End Of The Groove

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In The Groove. Photo by A. Nowell

James Brown famously recorded a track entitled Doing It To Death. I discovered this tune as a young man in my twenties (via my younger brother who was a huge JB fan). I loved the attitude that this record suggested, and I felt that it reflected my then hedonistic sentiments entirely. In the midst of sweaty, 1980s dancefloors – and while surrounded by my peers who were also creating intricate physical interpretations of a 4/4 rhythm – I vowed that, like Mr Brown, I too would being doing it until death. The it which I was pledging to do was to dance, to dig music, to be funky. How, I thought then, could life be worth living without the appreciation of funky and soulful music. I reasoned that even if septuagenarian dancing became painful and difficult, I was still going to attempt it – just to show the world that I was still alive.

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Freedom Lost

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Wood For Trees – Photo by Montag.

I was lucky.

I was born in the nineteen-sixties.

I grew from babe to child in the second half of that decade, and matured into a teenager during the colourful and spectacular nineteen-seventies. I consider this timing to be fortunate because it seemed to me then – and still does – to be a time in which the populace were not afraid to experiment. My impression is that the middle years of the twentieth century were alive with new ideas as well as the motivation to live them. Most importantly (and especially so from the perspective of today), denizens of that time seemed prepared, if the ideas they wished to live required it, to go against the accepted grain.

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Jazz. Rooms.

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Original Jazz Rooms poster from 1995

It is nineteen ninety-three perhaps, or maybe ninety four.

Whatever the year, it is certainly late. It is nearly one o’clock in the morning.

We are in a dark roughhouse basement room. The walls are carelessly painted in a matt black emulsion as are the wooden benches that occupy various spaces around the perimeter. However, it is far too dark to make out any of these features clearly. There is also the odd cluster of more comfortable seating – little wooden stools with upholstered seats, and maybe a low table amongst them. That is as good as it gets here.

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Pop Goes The Freedom

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Hackney Hipster Party (2007) – Photo by Montag

The creation event of twentieth century popular music – its big bang if you like – can, to my mind, be traced back to a singular event in January 1865. That moment could be characterised as a dark black explosion, the shock waves of which reverberated for the following one hundred and fifty years. Despite the myriad creative ways in which this basic story has been retold by the powerful and the political, it is, to me, a tale of slavery, of freedom and of novelty.

In this piece I’m going to ask you to suspend the accepted narratives and to think hard about the origins of what we now call pop music. Through this I hope to arrive at some conclusions about the trajectory of music – and society – in this the second decade of the twenty-first century.

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