by carl wilson

"Before the Terrible Money Came" (Caution: May Contain MIA, as well as Grime, Rachid Taha, Jens Lekman and Arthur Russell)

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The M.I.A. interview that Mark P.'s been sitting on for ages - ever since her show at the Drake in February - is finally up at Pitchfork. It may not be super-eloquent but it's a good account of her point of view; reading it, I still don't see why some folks feel the need to go on the attack, except that they've been set up with way too many expectations by now to have them remotely satisfied. (More on this in a moment - first, some other links.)

Meanwhile, Sasha starts his grime piece in The New Yorker where I finished mine, with the scenario of the awkward phase that sets in when a "folk" or "street" form becomes a pop genre, which is unavoidable if the genre is thriving. My way of putting it was that it's when the music seems to become the very thing it resisted. His way of putting it is to fly to London and talk to grimeists about how they feel it. So a must-read, obvs. (See also The New York Times review of the NYC version of the Run the Road launch; those of us stupid enough to have gotten sleepy on it await Luca's recap of the show in Toronto.)

This brings us back to MIA: [...]

In the Dissensus thread, Simon Reynolds makes more hay than he did the first time 'round. He says that he dislikes the "pastiche" sound of Arular (a reasonable description), and argues that there's not much beyond pastiche in the music - which to me begs the reply, "No, except her voice and her songs." It's not a dance album where the newness of the beats is the main factor; the beats are a setting for her to do her thing. (Other people hate her voice, her dancing, etc., which is an ancient wobbly-expressionist versus smooth-groove issue, to which there is no answer.) What Simon calls pastiche she calls a "sketchbook" approach. Again, you are free to like or dislike "sketchbook" as an aesthetic, but it seems way skewed to need to denounce it. I think it's a concise way of accounting for the refreshing lightness of her touch. Similarly Reynolds' (and Woebot's and Slap Dee Barnes's, for instance) strong preference for a music embedded in a scene is a taste. It's purist in the sense Sasha's discussing, and it excludes too many interesting anomalies not to become an excessively ideological definition; the way certain parties to the thread discuss it as a shibboleth, a special sixth sense that makes their tastes objectively superior is distasteful.

When Mark asks her about grime, Maya says, "I've never been localized like that. It'd be untrue for me to start going, 'It's all about East London' 'cause it's so not! It's about all these mad continents that I've had to get through." I persist in feeling that rejecting that point of view, that sense of self, as a place to make art from is implicitly anti-immigrant (and the constant implicasnarktion that she is some rich girl faking her way through has a parallel unpleasant history in anti-immigrant discourse). Not to say that the writers themselves are anti-immigrant, just that the argument unwittingly services such a worldview. Also to nuance it further, the part of the interview where she discusses how Sri Lankans in Tooting, in London, end up attaching to Jamaican culture, also offers a richer account of what takes place crossculturally than glib readings of "sampling culture." (For extra credit compare and contrast Rachid Taha's engagement with the Clash, the French, fake-rai & more in another Times piece, this one by Jody Rosen.)

More provocatively, someone (I forget who, apologies) in that thread suggests that those of us defending the record on pop grounds are actually speaking from another kind of yearning for authenticity, and while I'm willing to cop to some of that sentiment, I'm not sure it sums up the conflict. Maya's backstory provides an opportunity, an occasion for thinking about what kind of music an age of mass migrancy may be producing - I've tried to use it as an interpretive lens but not as a justification for the music. The music is its own justification. But to take that opportunity to generate that discussion doesn't mean equating M.I.A. in toto with that theme. If everything we knew about her life were proved false, that wouldn't kibosh the way her work evokes and fences with these issues. The thing about identifying "shanty house" as a global genre is the recognition that certain kinds of sounds are beginning to turn up persistently around the world, as if via synchronicity; it seems to me inevitable that once a certain "tipping point" is reached, such sounds are going to pass into pop and art-pop, because as Sasha says in his piece, that is what happens when genres become codified, and it's logical that somebody with the background of M.I.A. would be the one to do it; her politics and her identity are not the reasons she has a right to do it, because that right does not need to be granted to anybody (and nobody is in a position to grant it) but those elements may end up guiding the way she goes about doing it, and obviously influence how we talk about it, talk about it, talk about it, talk about it. Now, won't you take me to Funkytown? Thanks.

Speaking of disco, I wanted to mention that at Wavelength last night, one of the last tunes in Jens Lekman's set was a cover of Arthur Russell, played on ukelele. I enjoyed the set in general, especially when the whole crowd joined in on my backup-singer handclaps for one song, tho I sometimes found it a little syrupy. But that moment almost made me mist up. It's an airy, crooked-rhythmed gem of a lust-love song: : "I'm so busy/ thinkin' 'bout/ kissin'you/ that I wanna do that/ ... without.../ ... entertaining.../ another thought!" I'm trying to recall if this song actually shares the title Another Thought with some of Russell's other pieces or if it has a different title?

Read More | The Writ | Posted by zoilus on Monday, March 14 at 11:20 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (2)

 

COMMENTS

Of course! It was late, I was slow.

Posted by zoilus on March 15, 2005 02:03 PM

 

 

"A Little Lost"

Posted by Trevor Haldenby on March 15, 2005 08:08 AM

 

 

 

Zoilus by Carl Wilson