Photos: Morten Aagaard Krogh (mortenkrogh.com)
Already reportedly something of a fixture in the Philadelphia scene, Camae Ayewa’s Moor Mother project has lately brought her to wider attention with the release of her debut album, Fetish Bones. Even tonight, in a reduced-sized Jazzhouse, the audience is packed together and buzzing. The object of their enthusiasm is a confrontational mix of noise and politically-charged spoken word, dense with samples of old blues records and deafening, distorted synths. And, a little surprisingly, a theremin.
What ties this all together is what Ayewa would term “time-travelling”, a narrative of historical and contemporary black experiences in America. Like many, I’d be interested to read an exegesis of this record, and am honestly surprised I haven’t found one yet. I’m certainly not going to be the first to try: I don’t think anyone on Earth is clamouring for a middle class Italian dude’s hot takes on race.
But Moor Mother’s great strength as a project is Ayewa’s experience as a poet. The title alone of the album is a good example of her ability to bring different strands of meaning together: on the one hand we can read fetish bones as a reference to the talismans of West African Vodun traditions; but in the context of her references to police killings and systemic racism, this begins to sound more like a fetish for bones, an institutional reliance on violence.
Not that you have much time for these thoughts during Moor Mother’s set: her presence demands attention, her declamations scathing but also clearly witty (“It’s ok, the world has already ended”). Coming from a punk tradition, she throws herself at the audience, a moshpit of one, dragging and pushing people, mimicking violence but always with an astonishing degree of control. During “Deadbeat protest” she comes wheeling in to my corner of the venue, almost tripping over a stair and steadying herself by grabbing onto my jacket. Five seconds later the track ends, she rights herself, pats my back and strolls back.
Behind the often bleak soundscapes of Moor Mother, Camae Ayewa emanates positivity and an eagerness to engaging with people, which explains the initial enthusiasm from those in the audience who had clearly already encountered her. The good news for the rest of you is the promise that she will be back in July, expect updates from us when we get more information on that.