Books

Pichon: Race and Revolution in Castro's Cuba

Olly Zanetti

Moore’s first awareness of his body was an awareness of its difference, of the racialised signs it carried.


Pichon: Race and Revolution in Castro's Cuba

Publisher: Chicago Review Press
Subtitle: A Memoir
Author: Carlos Moore
Price: $26.95
Length: 416
Formats: Hardcover
ISBN: 9781556527678
US publication date: 2008-11
Amazon

Fifty years ago, on 1 January 1959, the three month offensive by the Castro led rebel forces against Cuba’s dictatorial president, General Fulgencio Batista, succeeded. Deposed, Batista fled the island for the Dominican Republic ending Cuba’s flirtation with international capitalism, which, though it had brought wealth had vastly widened the gap between rich and poor. Reflecting on events three years later, activist, academic, and author of Pichón: Race and Revolution in Castro’s Cuba, Carlos Moore, observed, “I loved the revolution, but I had lost faith in the regime.”

And well he might. Clashing for the second time with the revolutionary authorities, he faced an indefinite stretch of hard labour on the sugar plantations, punishment for his condemnation of the racism embedded in the new government. But we are jumping ahead of ourselves. As much travelogue and socio-political observation as it is memoir, Carlos Moore’s Pichón tells, in grippingly erudite text, how a boy who grew up in the Cuban backwater town of Central Lugareño became one of the leading theorists and commentators on race in Cuba and internationally; and unashamedly stuck his neck out to do so.

We start, then, in the late 1940s Central Lugareño of Moore’s infancy. An unremarkable town which, in the book’s first sentence, Moore dryly notes that he “hated.” From a poor family of Jamaican decent, it was only his father’s standing in the community which prevented Carlos’ particularly dark skin and African features from becoming a source of overt prejudice in the predominantly Hispanic society. Set apart from his siblings by skin tone and hair type, schoolmates and adults alike would remark upon his status as the family’s “negrito.” When compounded with the Jamaican roots, however, and Carlos became to some, in the words of his young next door neighbour, the lowest of the low, a “pichón.” The term was first used by poor Hispanics toward the Haitians who arrived, starving, on the island in the late 1920s fleeing economic destitution at home. The Haitians, so impoverished they could barely afford food, were said to eat their own people. Thus, the insult alluded to the supposed cannibalism and savagery which could be distinguished in a marked racial group. Moore’s first awareness of his body was, then, an awareness of its difference, of the racialised signs it carried.

In the turmoil preceding the revolution, Moore and his family escaped to the United States. A teenager, now living in a Brooklyn ghetto, Moore attended the local high school where he attracted the attention of his English teacher. Invited to a meeting of black intellectuals, he was pointed in the direction of Harlem’s National Memorial African Bookstore. He also happened upon the bohemian hangouts of New York’s Lower East Side, where sex, communism, and Cuban solidarity, became uneasily entwined. Unafraid of voicing his opinions, and with a determined ability to make connections with the people who mattered, Moore soon found himself at the front line of black left wing politics, working for the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s UN mission, and speaking on a soapbox on Harlem street corners. He soon caught the attention of the FBI. Moore’s memories of events are illuminated by clippings from the file held on him by the American security agencies who had, it seemed, been keeping tabs on almost everything he was doing. Astonishingly, though Moore notes this only in passing, these events were taking place while he was still enrolled, and attending classes at, high school. Moore achieved more before his 18th birthday, than many fit into a lifetime.

By the age of 19 he was resolute. “I no longer had any illusions about American imperialism,” he notes, “I deemed myself to be at war with the United States on several fronts.” Meeting Castro, if only for a few brief seconds on his visit to the New York City following Cuba’s Bay of Pigs invasion, Moore decided he would abandon the United States, rife with racism and imperialism, for the social and racial equality he expected to find in the country of his birth. The reality was rather different. Cuba might have a socialist leadership, but this did not necessarily equate to the effacing of racial inequalities. Questioning this with the upper echelons of the leadership, nearly cost him his life. “To most, the Revolution was Fidel,” Moore remarks, “but I had lost that unquestioning conviction in his politics and his ideology. I had been too close to the top and it smelled rank.”

Moore’s text is refreshing. Fifty years after the revolution, Cuban politics is something about which most people have an opinion, but with little empirical grounding. Thus, Cuba has become in discussion little more than a metonym for pro- and anti-socialist dogma. Through Moore’s writing, we are offered a personal context through which to interpret the ins and outs of the island’s politics. Moore’s memoir shows him to be an exemplar of a relevant academic. His theorisations on race come, not from pipe-and-slippers ruminations in a plush university common room, but from a lived experience of injustice. Finally, his text makes thrilling reading. As a scholar, Moore’s work has received great acclaim, and as an activist his influence has been similarly widespread. With the Cuban revolution’s 50th anniversary eliciting a huge range of books, this offers a little more than most.

7

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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