“It’s been so much trauma, I don’t even know where to start … Like I don’t even know what year.” Moor Mother enters Circuit City, her latest album, on this pondering thought; it seems harmonious with what would come out of this year, but Camae Ayewa, or Moor Mother, first revealed these words in June 2019. The album comes from her debut theatrical work, one that was performed across three days at Philadelphia’s FringeArts, a performance theater. The work is a futuristic exploration, with elements of music, choreopoem and play, speaking on themes of public/private ownership, housing and technology. The original performance was set in a living room of a corporate-owned apartment complex, and the four songs that come from it look out from between the blinds of that living room’s darkest corners, which is both an oppressive cell and grim workplace.
Moor Mother is a noise-rap poet from Philadelphia, and this is not the first time she has created an indispensable and deeply pure sound that grapples with the uneasiness of our past, present and future. Who Sent You?, an explosion of a free-jazz album she released last year as part of the group Irreversible Entanglements (who are seen in collaboration on this project), utilizes the same claustrophobic, yet determined sound as we see on this project. The fact that this was originally performed in 2019 only proves that Ayewa is constantly thinking on Black America’s ongoing struggle with issues like housing inequality and lingering trauma. As Black people are being evicted from their homes, dealing with police brutality and redlining, Ayewa creates a sound that forces us to confront these issues; her voice cuts deeply into the tracks, lodging us into the mind of someone who lives with such daily injustices.
Ayewa confronts trauma and memory, or lack thereof on “Act 2 – Circuit Break.” During the track, she speaks at length about the power that gentrification and housing discrimination have to erase memory. What was once a childhood place is now taken over by your new wealthy and white neighbors. She contemplates the world “breaking” as the chaos of the soundscape grows around her, throwing us into shrieking trumpets; she sends home the message that we are living in a broken system.
“Act 3 – Time of No Time” seems to stand in contrast to its previous accompaniment, yet it still lives in conversation with the rest of the album. It is a track of beauty with the help of Elon Battle, a Baltimore based neo-soul and anime-inspired artist who lends his soulful voice to sink us into the soil we stand on, making us ponder where we stand and who has been destroyed for us to be there. Battle stands alongside evocative, glittering electronic instrumentation, dwelling on the idea of time as being the force that expedites gentrification, that we can no longer use as a tool to represent a future of optimism. Moor Mother reveals that it is no longer safe to believe that with time will come positive change, but rather than time is a tool of oppression itself. The idea of breakage echoes into the track, urging us to break the system by abandoning time itself. Moor Mother continues to prove herself as one of our era’s most urgent voices with moments like her description of gentrification as “the forever destruction of what was already here.”
Utilizing the experimental and avant-gardeness of her art, Moor Mother proves her work to be an anti-colonialist, anti-capitalist force to be reckoned with. The narrative is not lost among the many powers at play during the album: The forces of Afrofuturism, free-jazz, poetry, dance, science-fiction and temporal mechanics all work together to reinforce her vision, rather than drag it down. She leaves us to go to work on the album’s finale: “You can’t go to war without a drum.”
Daily Arts Contributor Katy Trame can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.