Matana Roberts: COIN COIN Chapter One: Gens de Couleur Libres

Roberts gives eloquent voice to the fractured nature of identity, the way conflicting identifications jostle for prominence in our psyches, the multiple consciousness of modern hybridity.

Matana Roberts

COIN COIN Chapter One: Gens de Couleur Libres

Label: Constellation
US Release Date: 2011-05-10
UK Release Date: 2011-05-23
Artist website

This album by New York-based alto saxophonist Matana Roberts is the first of a projected series, entitled COIN COIN, dealing with issues of history, memory, identity, conflict and freedom as lived by generations of African Americans. Roberts recorded the first “chapter” live in Montreal’s Hotel2Tango studio with a large cast of musicians. The 90-minute concert has been edited down to an hour’s worth of visceral, engaging material, a mixture of poetry, free jazz, and folk forms that recall the revolutionary spirit of the 1960s. Ancestry is clearly important to Roberts and a list of musical precursors would have to include the civil rights music of Max Roach and Abbey Lincoln, the free blowing of Coltrane, Sanders, and Shepp, and the ritual music theater of Art Ensemble of Chicago (like the Ensemble, the Chicago-born Roberts is a member of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians).

In the way the album moves between musical styles and in Roberts’s lyrical themes, COIN COIN gives eloquent voice to the fractured nature of identity, the way conflicting identifications jostle for prominence in our psyches, the multiple consciousness of modern hybridity. This is emphasized in the competing voices speaking over each other in “Kersaia” and in that track’s evolution from poem to a swirling carnival of brass and rhythm. Identity of a more essentialist, brutally physical kind is essayed on “Libation for Mr Brown: Bid Em In”, which recalls the work of Lincoln and Roach on the albums We Insist! Freedom Now and Straight Ahead (Roberts’s screams on “I Am” also conjure memories of Lincoln delivering the “Protest” section of the Freedom Now suite). But again the performance itself is hybrid and playfully subversive, alternating between Brechtian reconstruction of a slave auction and cabaret singalong.

Roberts’s radical approach to jazz styles, her instrumental virtuosity, and her fascination with identity and multiple consciousness recalls Nina Simone, especially Simone’s changing improvisations around her classic song “Four Women”. Another point of reference might be “Kaddish”, Allen Ginsberg’s free verse eulogy to his mother and to madness. Roberts declares that the entire work is for her mother and explicitly dedicates the closing “How Much Would You Cost?” to her. History, trauma, identity, and (r)evolution: these are major themes for an artist to take on. However, it’s clear that not only is Roberts more than capable of doing them justice, but also that COIN COIN is only hinting at what else she has in store. It’s a work that looks back to radical ancestors while also asserting its place in the world of contemporary noise/improv, a link in the chain and a statement of artistic intent.


So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.