Monday, May 30, 2011
A guest review from the pen of Crooklynite artist Y. Misdaq aka Yoshi!! (photos by Eric Phipps):
This gig was an insult to anyone who wanted to hear something familiar. It was a slap in the face for anyone who wanted to be comforted with warm boredom. Ish’s lyrics may not have completely burst through the heavy bass of the speakers that line the walls of Santos Party House, but enough shiny nuggets passed through the void to assure familiar fans that the inspirational-heart, beating deep inside the million-styles-per-hour is still thriving-vibrant on the new LP. What more to say? It was an onslaught, with pleasure (pleasure, pleasure, pleasure).
It’s difficult to describe how impressive it is to see a man in such control of his throne. Ish stands behind a desk that was not there during the warm up acts moments before; a desk packed to the brim with electronic devices that are somehow all linked together. And this is not impressive in its own right. I have played a gig at Santos before with a troupe of electronica musicians who had almost as much gear. But to hear such finely crafted vocals linked up with those machines, those beats, those trillion-styles-per-hour, and to hear those beats and those flows linked up so nicely with the percussion, and to have ALL those elements the subject of momentary filters and effects that seem to rise from the kinetic of the moment, of the second... It is in line and fitting with what the 11th century philosopher Al-Ghazali said
In the [spiritual] worlds of Power & Royalty, things do not have the fixity we associate with rocks, mountains, tables etc. Rather, reality moves rapidly, shifting from moment to moment. Each single moment brings a new order of being on whose face is written an entirely new meaning... "Every moment He manifests himself in yet another (wondrous) way." [Qur'an, 55:29]
At the start of the show Ish would place his hand over a glowing red-light that created effects in relation to where he moved it. The sound was incredible, and embedded perfectly within the beat, both in terms of its timbre, texture and even its volume. And of course, it made him look like Ryu from Street Fighter 2 with a thunderball of sound emanating from within the palm of his hand. The vicious, merciless snares ripped through the air like jets, and yet they were kept under the control of the man behind the desk, like wild dogs at the total command of a master. It makes one respect the concept of hard work, the kind of work I know it must have taken to craft and polish such near-flawless execution. In this respect, gig is such a pathetic word, I have never much cared for it before. but here it seems even more insulting. Perhaps for some tired ageing rockers, gig is okay, but this performance should not be called a gig. It should be called Ice Ageless. Fire changes. A Returning. A Performance.
Such mastery makes one inspired and at the same time, completely intimidated (this is speaking as a musician with some basic understanding of shows, venues, electronic setups etc. I should like to think for other listeners, perhaps there exists only sheer escapism, with zero intimidation. This would make sense). All in all, between the two performers and the audience, it was a tri-symbiotic relationship of wild osmosis bordering on telepathy and resulting in black’d up manhood, in breathing bodies that are made to feel refreshed. Ready to run back out into the world with their own idea, fuel’d.
The beautifully choreographed moves of Ish and Tendai served as one such informant of that aforementioned heart beneath the music, they seemed to say, ‘if the music is too much for you, which we understand it might be, then we still want you to be involved on as many other levels as possible’. And so, periodically, despite their distance from each other, they would spin in perfect harmony, or clap hands on a snare slap, always repeated three or four times, because the beat always saves, and these beats are all about repetition of thunder, and power. Being saved by thunder feels great; and the hand-claps set to rhythm did indeed keep the audience involved. Everybody was feeling it, despite the multitudinous ways in which they showed it. There were numerous hip-hop heads, hoodied and all, who seemed too inhibited to do anything other than cooly bop from left to right (reacting as if this were a grimy Wu-Tang production from ’93!) and yet the very fact that they were bopping, and doing so non-stop throughout the entire show spoke of something very significant. Countless young (incredibly young) and curious people were there. Many young African-Americans. One could sense from their hip-clothes and earnest expressions that they were expecting something special, awaiting something to believe in. It sounds incredibly corny, and who knows if they found it, but for absolute sure, everybody was as blown away as I. Indeed, halfway through the set, some people, including myself, were no longer dancing like maniacs, but stunned and standing still, mouths hanging open. This happens when you are beaten over the head with the future.
Afterwards Ish came straight back out and we spoke for a very few nice moments. He sent a whatsup to brother O of this very blog. Most memorable however was the sheer enthusiasm. It had been 5 years since Ish had graciously invited brother O and I backstage at the Jazz Café in London where we spoke for a good hour or so about all new things under the sun. At that time, the digables were doing a reunion tour, and Ish still looked like very much like Butterfly. Things were awaiting then, time was building. This year, especially with his shaved-Palaceer head, Ish definitely looked much less Butterfly and much more the seasoned music veteran. And this year, along with last, when the world seems to be imploding, this music feels to be absolutely on point. Ish’s age, however, is the counterpoint of what so many remarked on after the show, to see someone in their 40s with such a commanding presence, radiating such pure youthful energy and power. It was part of what made the performance so surreal. What other words can one use but Hip-Hop? And Elemental? And Spirit? And indeed, this was what I found most remarkable about my brief exchange after the show.
At the side of the stage, which as I said, I know well, the audience are basically standing at eye-level with the feet of the performers. And there are black bars separating you. When he had come back out, Ish asked me, with the smile and enthusiasm that I recognize from an artist who knows he has just done a really good gig, ‘what did you think?’ And as I tried to convey, in blunted words that probably made no sense, what I felt, I saw a radiating smiling face, full of sweat, that was right next to my own, through the black bars. I do not know if he was literally lying down on the floor of the stage, or kneeling down, either way it seemed so very child-like. I was facing a pure, radiant smile of happiness and enthusiasm. And this face is the answer to the chorus of the song ‘Find out’. When an artist is expressing his art, and doing it to his perfection, the answer is this kind of happiness. This look of Life.
Ish’s grin, as I stumbled to get the right words out, was that of pure youth, belying age, experience, and belying what we think of as time. It finally spoke, in a categorical way, without words, of the need for us all to do what we love. Evoking, or kindling in all of us willing to listen, our natural ability to remain ageless. I frequent art modern exhibits in Chelsea from time to time, and I don’t know why I do because it is all so affected compared to this. There is no contemporary art I have come across as powerful and inspirational as this music. Find out what you are and free it.
This week's sounds come from an as yet-unsigned, spectral presence in music over the past few years. The artist calling himself "Y. Misdaq aka Yoshi" has released some startlingly original LPs over the past few years, not to mention a hilarious and touching novel and some fresh short films including this classic. He even went to Libya recently in his guise a videographer for Democracy Now! and sent back two choice reports on the Libyan resistance's shoestring media effort and the plight of African & South Asian migrant workers stuck at the borders unable to escape respectively. It's safe to say that due by mixing of his sensitive artistic style with factual reportage, he's created a whole new style of his own as the reports illustrate. He's also the guest Ishmaelite who reviewed the Shabazz Palaces NYC gig above. His new LP is entitled Maghreb Isha and Space and sounds like nothing else out there. Below is his self-produced video for the first single, and also a link to a 3 part piece (Dream Suite) of which the last third is my favourite. It was at the Shabazz Palaces gig that he had a chance to say whatsup to Palaceer Lazaro, and give him a copy of his new album. Ish later wrote back with the thumbs up, saying how much he was digging it.
Y.Misdaq aka Yoshi - Dawn Song (off the LP Maghreb Isha and Space, 2010, Nefisa UK)
Y.Misdaq aka Yoshi - Dream Suite: i) Toki / The Untangling ii) Song of Delicious Affirmation iii) Returning Dream about Eternity / The Stars in Space (off the LP Maghreb Isha and Space, 2010, Nefisa UK)
Wednesday, May 25, 2011
A new track is on GvB but listen to this if you think the closing chant's genealogy is to be traced baclk no further than reachin:
and this which you'll find familiar if you've heard barksdale corners or been to the shows:
From a recent interview:
THEE: Describe your first experience with the Last Poets?
PL: Jalil is my favorite rapper of all time. I was with my pops in Philly driving in the Duster when WPFW played "E Pluribus Unum" and my little mind was blown. Jalil remains the pinnacle of wordsmanship. The last poet.
this here blog gives more away about the link:
but there are many more. remember in "3 slims dynamite" when butter rapped "i peel with omar, jalil, and sulaiman"
also check the excellent writing of kalamu ya salaam on the breath of life blog (which did that excellent cherrywine piece years ago) introducing them here.
the moral of the blog entry is listen to the last poets if it's the last thing you do.
Saturday, May 21, 2011
Thanks to Stacia for reminding me of the sunrising brilliance of Ish's classic collab with Seattle's Hardison (pictured above) from the Cherrywine era. Check out Hardison's smashing new album Alphanus Rolandri, available as a free download on their website. If you're feeling Slower Than Love, why not pick it up for like a dollar (79 pence in the UK) on itunes.
Hardison & Ish - Slower Than Love (off the LP Time and Cash, Dig Records, 2006)
Sunday, May 15, 2011
Nice new interview thanks to Passion of the Weiss. The answer to the last question blew my socks off, as the Palaceer drops some gold dust about the new album's packaging.
Question in the Form of an Answer: Ishmael Butler of Shabazz Palaces - interview by Douglas Martin
Gonjasufi - Duet (off the LP A Sufi and a Killer, Warp Records, 2010)
This is I think a fan-made video for one of my favourite Gonjasufi tracks. Gonjasufi is actually Ish's younger cousin and in this interview he mentions how Ish gave him advice and books when he was was growing up. There's a more substantial interview here thanks to The Quietus where he talks more about Sufism, living in America, and how he approaches his art.
watch out for a write-up by a mystery guest ishmaelite on the recent shabazz palaces show in NYC. coming soon...
Thursday, May 5, 2011
Monday, May 2, 2011
Reading the City Arts article got me thinking about the early origins of Digable so I checked out this book called Check the Technique: Liner notes for hip-hop junkies by Brian Coleman (Villard, 2007) which is the best document so far of this subject. As well as an unparalelled interview on the subject with Butterfly and Doodlebug, there's a song by song commentary on the debut album. Here's what they had to say about their breakthrough song "Rebirth of Slick (Cool like dat)":
Doodlebug: The original beat for that was off an old demo by my original group from Philly, Dread Poets Society, called “Skin Treatment.” It had that Art Blakely sample, the horns, the bass. Once I started to become more involved with Digable, then it worked its way in that direction. With Dread Poets, we never went to a studio- it was all homemade demos. Recording in studios costs money and we didn’t have any. I remember that the group didn’t think “Rebirth of Slick” was going to be the hit. I think the label chose it as the first single and we went along with it. Any of the songs would have been fine with us. The single came out in September or October of 1992, and then Giant Step [a popular, jazz-informed dance club in New York, which later became a record label as well] got behind the single and that helped a lot. Maurice Bernstein [of Giant Step] was very helpful. Right before the end of the year, Ruben Rodriguez called us to the label to meet somebody, and that person was Rosie Perez. She chose the groups who would appear on In Living Color and we were like: “Oh, hell yeah!” So after Christmas break, we flew to L.A. and filmed that episode. When it aired [on January 3, 1993], [sales of the single] just went crazy. The album was released early in 1993 [February 9] and we started touring, and it was over after that. That song got to the point were it was just everywhere, on the radio every five seconds.
Butterfly: We actually thought the song “Brown Baby Funk” would be the hit, and that one didn’t even make the album! We were definitely shocked when that song started blowing up. In Living Color is what pushed it over the edge.
I'd love to hear the old demo tapes that got Digable signed... hmm maybe one day as their legend grows more and more, the demand will be there. But then I remembered that there was footage of that very performance from 1992 on In Living Colour uploaded on to youtube (thanks to jackyabody0091) and here I present it to you. Also noteworthy for is that a young Jennifer Lopez dancing behind Ladybug at 1:38?? Digable always had great energy and positivity live, but this performance is on another level... they just seem so.. happy, hyped. Ladybug raps some new lines, everyone is just so energised, shame they cut off Doodle's verse; he must've been pissed off at that, but anyway here's the one that set it all off:
Sunday, May 1, 2011
A while ago I was contacted by one of the followers of this web log, thus 'an Ishmaelite', a writer named Jonathan Zwickel who wanted to interview me as part of the background research he was doing for a feature on Shabazz for City Arts magazine. The feature has just been published and it's probably set a new benchmark in terms of writing on Shabazz, and is one of the best things I've read on Ish generally. Nuff respect due JZ. The fact that he went the extra mile by talking to his high-school basketball coach, checking out the yearbook, talking to about twenty people, these are all things one would normally expect for a biography as opposed to a magazine article. But it's right here in the new issue of City Arts. Now don't be put off by the uninspired cover design - the article is a gem. The quote chosen from myself was included unaltered as I think were all of the quotes, letting everyone speak for themselves which I'm a big fan of. I wouldn't have included all the personal info about myself but that's a minor quibble. Reading that I'm 31 reminds me that the next time I read about myself it has to be for my own artistic accomplishments (as self-important as that phrase sounds). Anyway, it's just a joy to read and nice to see someone really giving the respect SP deserves. When I was 14 I knew that Ish's music came from a place unparallelled in specialness. Like Doug Collins said of Michael Jordan: "He's so good he's literally embarrassing the league", that's exactly how I felt about Digable and all his subsequent projects. But people are slow to catch on and it's only now almost twenty years later that I have the satisfaction of seeing the wider public waking up to one of the most under-appreciated voices in art. This article will contribute to that.
Shabazz Palaces by Jonathan Zwickel (City Arts Magazine)