Category Archives: black music

David Blandy, From the Underground (2001)

This film by David Blandy is to my mind haunted by the suspicion culture changes nothing. You can sing all the songs in the world, but you may never be a different cast of singer.

From the Underground is nevertheless a well rehearsed feat, a perfect lip-synced rendition of one of the Wu Tang Clan’s most hectic and profane tracks.

And it is an act of daring. Most of us would shrink from the prospect of filming a journey into the depths of the underground, all the while performing an aggravated rap.

But Blandy is deep in character and maybe this is what carries him through the potential risk of humiliation which seems to come with all performance art.

Had he filmed this in his bedroom or with less conviction, it would not be half so interesting. You get instead a clash between its North London setting and its soundtrack from a US ghetto.

And of course, the artist is white, the music black. You might say Blandy is very white, in a nerdish sort of way. While gangsta rappers are, for better or worse, another racial stereotype.

But the artist’s youth is important too. This is a very early work by a performer and filmmaker whose latest work Anjin is a many layered and more deeply resounding piece of anime.

In the intervening years Blandy has fully assumed a wide range of personae. Yet the man who introduced his own show on Friday appeared to be neither rapper, nor samurai.

It brings us back to the suspicion that what we love leaves us just as we were. Our occupation of other people’s creative spaces is, sadly, temporary. I was reminded of this:

“You’re the sort of person who, on principle, no longer expects anything of anything,” writes Italo Calvino in his remarkable book If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller.

“There are plenty . . . who live in the expectation of extraordinary experiences: from books, from people, from journeys, from events, from what tomorrow has in store, But not you.”

From the Underground can be seen at Blandy’s solo show Odysseys, at Phoenix(as part of the Brighton Digital Festival) until 23 September 2012. See gallery website for more details.

South London Black Music Archive @ Peckham Space

If we accept the hypothesis that Africa was the cradle of the human race, it follows that black music predates the invention of the archive.

Yet one of the most compelling aspects of the show at Peckham space is the newness of the exhibits: a Fugees t-shirt, a Cookie Crew album, an Amy Winehouse doll.

The past few decades are the blink of an eye compared with the estimated 50,000 to 100,000 years which have passed since the emergence of homo sapiens.

And not even the ancient Greek origins of archiving seem very ancient compared with that. The word comes from arkheion, which was a house of public records.

One learns from Archive Fever by Jacques Derrida that the arkheion was inhabited by a caste of lawgivers known as the archons. So archives have their roots in law and order.

Ever one for a spot of wordplay, the French writer goes on to flag up the derived Latin word arca, which would be a chest containing stone tablets.

Although not quite bearing the weight of chiselled stone, Barby Asante’s show in Peckham does boast a meticulous and fairly gravitational cataloguing system.

It’s best not to explore much further here the differential meanings of arca, which comes to stand for a cupboard, a coffin, a prison cell, a cistern or reservoir.

But aside from the dusty world of entymology, the title of this show surely resonates with the legendary studios of dub producer Lee Scratch Perry, the Black Ark.

Perry’s Ark was certainly in some senses arcane. And if anyone can clue me up any further about the origins of the name of this studio, I’d be grateful.

A Google search reveals dozens of black history archives, only not so many devoted to music. The art form is not an easy one to seal up via folder, file card, or box.

South London Black Music Archive can be found at Peckham Space until March 24. See gallery website for more details. I have also reviewed this show for Culture24.