May 4: North Carolina to Neukölln
Photo by Phillip Primus of Tainted Lenses Photography
Ammons performs in Berlin as a part of the Purple Velvet International Female Hip-Hop Tour.
sookee sent along a well-detailed itinerary. I rummage through it as one of many projects designed to outlive an 8 hour layover at EWR. Purple Velvet International Female Hip Hop Tour (featuring 17 stops in 30 days will be the first of its kind to descend upon Germany and surrounding countries. It features three female emcees reppin three different continents supported by local (predominately) female opening acts. sookee, our host, hails from Germany and has visited the U.S. twice to tour with me on what we’ve deemed Pretty Precious Cargo Tour (Vols. 1 & 2). She has a loyal fan base throughout Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, mostly comprised of antifascist activist and organizers who need a soundtrack to accompany their work against neo-Nazis, homophobes, racists, sexists, and anti-immigrants. sook in no manner dismisses this role. She is as loyal to them as they are to her. Beyond that, her stage presence, much like her lyrical cadence, is simply mesmerizing.
Lex La Foy and DJ Doowap, Johannesburg, South Africa derivatives, make up the third faction of Purple Velvet. They will arrive in Berlin about 6 hours after Tom and me. I know little about their music beyond what I’ve researched on YouTube. They seem to be high energy, vacillating between hip-hop and dancehall with a serious pop infusion. Anna, our tour manager, will scoop us from Berlin Tegel Airport a day and a half from now and take us to our flat in Friedrichshain, formerly part of East Berlin, now a trendy, gentrified area in the heart of the city.
In the Newark Airport there’s a boy, approximately 7 years old, on a leash. A harness shaped like a stuffed monkey is strapped at his torso and shoulders with a tail extending back to his mother’s hands. This boy is literally walking around with a monkey on his back. There’s also a real live pigeon cocking between rows of sectional seating. This sight prompts Tom, my bassist, to share a story about why he’s deathly afraid of birds. Once on a school field trip, a bird swooped down and stole his hat directly from his head. Both the leashed boy and the pigeon are walking between the aisles on dingy carpet. Tom is filming the bird from a safe distance with his iPhone. Life, in little bits, is a mini-zoo of imposed cages.
May 5: Breaking Bread
Tonight, after the last of the crew lands in Berlin, we all meet for dinner at sookee’s flat in the city’s Neukölln borough. Rainer (marketing and merch curator for Springstoff Records), Tom, and I are the first to arrive. We drive along a central street, passing remnants of the Berlin Wall that have been preserved for posterity, and like much of the city, tagged with graffiti. Earlier in the day, Anna hipped us to the fact that the area immediately against the wall was known as the “death strip,” with guards positioned in towers authorized to shoot anyone who tried to escape. About 200 people were killed in their efforts to get west. I’m never underwhelmed by places where history is constantly constructed and desconstructed. The Berlin wall fell in 1989. Not too far removed from the present day, manmade borders so many of us are aiming to tear down.
This tour makes the third time sookee and I have come together to share our music on new and native stages. With Purple Velvet, sook is returning the hosting duties. We arrive at sookee’s where she and I embrace with an energy that has been cultivated over a year and two tours, notwithstanding the immeasurable amounts of life we’ve each lived between — a mix of fresh and familiar giddiness. There is something special about this relationship born of dismantled miles, relative belief systems, and quite centrally, our own interpretations of feminist hip hop music.