With the release of Fetish Bones, her first recording for Don Giovanni Records, Moor Mother, the music stage name for multidisciplinary artist Camae Ayewa, has announced herself as a musical force to be reckoned with. Not only do her songs push the envelope musically, lyrically she takes no prisoners. If Beyonce upset you with her tribute to Malcolm X at the Super Bowl, this album will give you nightmares.
Harsh, at times atonal and discordant, musically her songs reflects the anger and pain expressed by the lyrics – ones which deal with the African-American experience in North America in the past and the present. The disc’s opening song, “Creation Myth”, let’s you know what you’re in for as it traces African-American history from the so-called emancipation of 1866 to the recent events in Ferguson, Missouri. “The first time you heard the whisper of death/The death that has always been lingering here with you since the day you were born/Heard it telling you, you must be both dead and alive/One has to be dead when a man wants to beat us/When they want to rape us/Dead when the police kill me/Alive when the police kill you”.
This is harsh and brutal stuff. It is stuff most of us don’t want to know about or want to hear – the things we so blithely ignore when we skirt the inner city neighbourhoods with their cracked sidewalks and run-down housing. It’s the poverty and desperation we, who don’t live it, can pretend doesn’t exist. It’s all here – 13 songs filled with things no amount of media is ever going to report and no mainstream, so-called urban music video is ever going to show.
Moor Mother creates sound collages of spoken word, found recordings, electronics, and instruments which crash against the ear and echo throughout your chest cavity. You’ll flinch at some of the sounds, you’ll be scared and repulsed by some of what she says, but above all she will make you think and feel in ways most modern music can only dream of doing.
While comparing one musician with another in an attempt to define that person is somewhat unfair, for those wishing to have some frame of reference for Moor Mother think of the late great Gil Scott Heron, Laurie Anderson, and the Art Ensemble of Chicago mixed together in one package. However, she is far more than just the sum of those parts. She has her own ineffable artistry which allows her to combine those seemingly disparate elements to create soundscapes which bring her ideas to life emotionally and intellectually.
Moor Mother continues the legacy of the great African-American female music artists who have chosen to express the agony of their people through music. Hers is the same anger, sorrow, and disgust expressed by Billie Holiday in “Strange Fruit” and Nina Simone in “Mississippi Goddamn”. Fetish Bones is a tough, difficult recording by an incredibly gifted and honest artist. Some people aren’t going to like what she has to say and some are going to be offended by the album, but like other great works of art, it will force you to have an opinion.