Reviews

Our Land Before We Die: The Proud Story of the Seminole Negro by Jeff Guinn

Bernadette Adams Davis

Records the tale of a people who are at the intersection of the two groups most terrorized and abused during American's colonial and post-colonial history.


Our Land Before We Die

Publisher: Penguin Putnam
Length: 320
Subtitle: The Proud Story of the Seminole Negro
Price: $26.95 (U.S.)
Author: Jeff Guinn
US publication date: 2002-09
Amazon
"Life does not include a promise that you get what you earn and deserve. But at least we have ourselves, the things our people said and did and believed in. All I want, right now, is each day for one more person to learn our history."
— Miss Charles Emily Watson (interviewed by Jeff Guinn)

As the United States observes African American History Month each February, the things that black Americans said and did are honored in schools, community centers, and churches. Their tales are told by storytellers, human and electronic, and it is the one time each year, that no matter if you're in the largest cities or small towns, you can count on finding some explicitly African American cultural celebration. In most of those ceremonies, the focus is on slavery and the civil rights actions of the '50s and '60s, which leaves amazing gaps in our knowledge of Africans and their descendants in the U.S., who arguably were part of every aspect of the nation's history.

The part of that history that Miss Charles wants one more person to know is that of her people, the Seminole Negro (pronounced NAY-gro, not NEE-gro). In Our Land Before We Die, Jeff Guinn records the tale of a people who are at the intersection of the two groups most terrorized and abused during American's colonial and post-colonial history, the indigenous people of North America and African slaves. And though in our politically correct lingua franca all of the original North Americans are known as Native Americans, they were really many tribes with their own territories, customs and languages. Guinn's text deals with the Seminoles, who were once part of the Creek Tribe, but broke away and inhabited Florida. They owned slaves, though by all accounts their slave system was more benign than the white man's "peculiar institution." Which helps explain why runaway black slaves ended up seeking and receiving refuge from the Seminoles. Basically, they were moving up to a lesser evil and an opportunity for a better life.

And for some of the years that the refugees were with the Seminoles, they did indeed have a better life: more autonomy, land to farm and family. They were even encouraged, by the Seminoles and later other groups who needed warriors, to bear arms and fight. This combination of pseudo-free, armed, runaway slaves didn't sit well with plantation owners in the South. Their ire at the situation, along with whites' desire to rid Florida of the 'savages' led to the Seminoles and their Seminole Negroes being relocated, first to south Florida, then to Indian Territory in Oklahoma. Again and again the Seminole Negro were promised their own land and sometimes their freedom in return for relocating. Yet every turn in their history held the threat of being re-captured or re-sold into slavery, since they were considered stolen property. And the Seminoles really thought of them as property as well.

Throughout all the battles, negotiations and betrayals, the Seminole Negro had one desire: "We want our land before we die. Our land. Not the right to live on yours," said John Horse, who led the Seminole Negro during their time as fighters for hire in Mexico.

As the United States continues to avoid serious discussions of slave reparations and the current administration works to dismantle affirmative action, it is striking to read the documented betrayals of promises to the Seminole Negro. Even in the face of such evidence, race clouds thought on the issue. The current spectrum of race relations in the U.S. is enerally good when it comes to buying, selling and emulating black popular culture, but very bad when talk turns to concrete ways to address continuing disparities in access to employment and education. That's why when Guinn writes about Seminole Negro descendants' hopes for monetary reparations, land, a museum or a miniseries, it's easy to see that a television movie is the more likely outcome.

Guinn, books editor at the Fort Worth (Texas) Star-Telegram, frames his book with the tale of his search for the Seminole Negro, which included the usual interviews and archival finds as well as losses when he spends too much time away from the project. This device effectively shows how Miss Charles' and other descendants stories were found and how history is lost as people die before researchers reach them. When Guinn began his research Miss Charles, a griot for the remaining Seminole Negro, was still sharp and able to tell the tales she'd heard from her parents. By the time he finished the book, she had "the Alzheimers" and was unable to relate more stories. Yet she held on long enough to tell it to one more person and fortunately he wrote it down, filling in one of those gaps in Black history.

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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