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Moor Mother

LIVE REVIEW: Moor Mother, Alice, 21.02.2020

in Blog/Live Reviews by
moor mother live at alice in copenhagen

Photos by Amanda Farah

It’s been close to a whole three years since the last time we caught up with Moor Mother, Camae Ayewa’s solo noise and spoken word project. In the meantime Ayewa has been keeping busy, releasing records with Irreversible Entanglements, ZONAL, and last year’s Moor Mother release, Analog Fluids of Sonic Black Holes. One thing that has very noticeably changed in the intervening years is the size of the crowd, which has doubled since that night in 2017.

The sonic pallet is still dark, twisted and pained, opening on a distorted, bassy synth drone, and accompanied a lonely, skittish violin. Ayewa’s vocals are low and urgent, more declamatory than rhythmic. “After Images” breaks into a martial kick drum, and marks the tension point between the punk confrontational part of Moor Mother and the gothic, reflective part.

Samples are also an integral part of Ayewa’s music, but they aren’t used in the looping manner of hiphop or techno. Instead the voices of the likes of Paul Robeson appear as ghostly presences that sit uncomfortably next to the noise. They could appear almost nostalgic next to the apocalyptic cacophony, if it weren’t for the obvious histories from which they speak.

The emphasis on time having stopped, of time being “held captive”, is embodied in those clips from spirituals and blues, and appears to situate Moor Mother very much in the Afro-goth tradition outlined by Leila Taylor in Darkly: Black History and America’s Gothic Soul.

But as mentioned above, there’s also a great physicality to Ayewa’s performance. Towards the end of the set she disappears into the crowd, purposefully stumbling into people, tying the crowd up in her mic cables. But that confrontational side is also tempered by empathy, a quick “are you ok?” as soon as the track draws to an end.

As if to disprove any assertions of bleak pessimism, Ayewa ends the evening by completely turning face, with a very short impromptu DJ set. Something like an exorcism at the end of this industrial séance.

LIVE REVIEW: Moor Mother, Jazzhouse, 06.04.17

in Live Reviews by

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.

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