While you probably won't spot our forty-fifth president in the crowd at this year's festival, Donald J. Trump's small-handed shadow still looms over Moogfest 2017. Accordingly, a significant chunk of this weekend's programming focuses on music-related forms of protest. The opening night's firestorm on the Protest Stage pushes back against the president's travel-ban attempts as well as North Carolina's HB2, with performances from Talib Kweli, Omar Souleyman, Mykki Blanco, and more. Workshops on grassroots musical activism and sonic strategies against mass incarceration are further indications that the festival is aiming to cultivate a spirit of resistance.
- Photo by Florian Cramer
- Moor Mother's Camae Ayewa, right, with Afrofuturist Affair's Rasheedah Phillips
Camae Ayewa, a Philadelphia-based musician, poet, and community organizer who records noise-laden epics as Moor Mother, is on the front lines of this battle. She's armed to the teeth with blistering prose, abrasive effects, and most important, empathy. In addition to her musical endeavors, Ayewa operates the Community Futures Lab, a community center in Philly that provides a space for marginalized communities to come together through art as well as a refuge from the rampant gentrification that frequently endangers them as both creators and citizens.
This year, Ayewa will make her Moogfest debut with a four-hour live set as one of the festival's Durationals. She'll also lead an intersectional protest workshop titled "Future Memories with Sound." On Saturday, she'll sit down with P. Michael, of the noise gospel band ONO, and King Britt, who records avant-garde electronica as Fhloston Paradigm, for a panel called "Prisms, Mirrors, Lenses: Tricks of Light, Time, and Sound in Afrofuturism." We caught up with Ayewa ahead of her journey to Moogfest to discuss her plans for using her platform to inspire action.
INDY: In addition to your performance at Moogfest, you'll be doing a workshop on how to use sound as a means of fighting back against oppression. In an interview with The Guardian, you discussed how design breeds violence, and how the architecture of the public housing system factors into that process. To that end, do you think that the subjugation of marginalized people manifests in the architecture of music itself?
CAMAE AYEWA: Yeah, I feel like we continue to follow archaic modes of production and creativity that have just been there for us. You're taking a chance if you go outside this box. One example is Bob Dylan switching from acoustic to electric. When you're in the folk world, there's this set of rules you need to follow, and it takes a while for people to step outside of that mold. I had the pleasure of not being taught this structure as a child. I speak a lot about this with regards to business. We don't realize sometimes that most of us follow these roles that other corporate giants are following also: ways to market yourself, ways to do this or that. We're trying to realize now that different music needs different forms of support, especially when that music speaks out against atrocities.
Afrofuturism plays a critical role in your art. You, King Britt, P. Michael Grego, and Travis from ONO will be conducting a panel on atemporality and spatial distortion as they pertain to the black experience. Can you give us an overview of some of the topics you'll be discussing?
I don't really know! I have yet to speak with the moderator. He sent me one question about surrealism, and how that corresponds with my work. I think we'll talk a lot about the imagination, about the future.
I'm just in awe of all of these artists, and treating this more as a learning experience. I've been in conversations with ONO and King Britt. I just think everything I've seen live from ONO is magnificent, and everything I've seen from King Britt as far as electronics and hardware—I just want to hang out with these people. I guess I'll just be speaking about my creation techniques—what I do to write a poem, what I'm thinking about with sounds as far as sampling goes—but I'm more excited to learn.
This June, you'll be releasing Crime Waves, a joint EP with Mental Jewelry. Some of the material on the release was originally intended for last year's full-length, Fetish Bones, but you couldn't get them to sound just right. What did Mental Jewelry bring to the table to make those songs more complete?
Well, one of the songs ["Hardware"] was just released. There's one more on the album that sounds much different than the original. I guess I had time to elaborate on it and really think about how it needed to sound. We recorded it at a studio—not my home studio, but a real studio that had a really nice mic from the fifties, all of these different soundboards, all sorts of things.
We were able to experiment with the vocals, which was something that I was unable to do with Fetish Bones, but [Crime Waves] is on a whole different planet than from what I'd do on a solo record. I have another one coming out in July, with DJ Haram. It's me doing vocals, but it's definitely a true collaboration. I'm listening to the beats and thinking, "What words can fit on top of this? What energy do I want?" With my solo project, I'm completely in my own hole, with no other influence or person. What I want the beat to do, I make it; what I want the words to say, I say them.
Even though there were tracks on this project that were intended for Fetish Bones, it's a very different take production-wise. It's cleaner, it's dancier, it's less poetic—people say that the way that I rap is kind of like poetry. I wanted these projects to show that I can rap and showcase different sides of me, so that people can understand that I'm not just this.
What else can you tell us about this DJ Haram split? Do you have any other projects planned for this year?
It's called 700 Bliss. It's more dancey, it's got Middle Eastern and Jersey club vibes. Lyrically, I'm more aggressive on this stuff; [there's] a little more vulgar language. With this project, I'm also more dubby: playing with flow and words. It's hard to explain–sonically, it's clean, but also grimy.
I had originally planned to put out a solo album this year. I'm in a jazz band called Irreversible Entanglement, and we're dropping that record, so that would be four albums from me this year, even though they're all collaborations. I feel like that's a lot, but I also have stuff to say for this year. I have stuff to say, but with these projects, I'm not the only one speaking.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Not Just Noise"Correction: This article originally referred to DJ Haram as DJ Halal.