by Victoria Ruiz
Camae Ayewa’s lyrics and music are not meant to be comfortable, but to ignite something so deep that our melanin feels like a threat to white supremacy instead of the other way around.
The tensions, conundrums, hopes, and fears of anti-Black racism come alive through her music of a genre that she calls “slaveship punk and Afrofuturist electronics.”
Camae, of low-fi rap project Moor Mother, was born in Maryland and moved to Philadelphia in 1999. She reconnects with pain and joy outside of the status quo through political art, like her collaboration with Rasheedah Phillips called the Black Quantum Futurism Collective. Since the start of the new millennium, Camae Ayewa has been working on themes of time and space in Philly.
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/ that you must be both /dead and alive
want us to be
dead when a man wants to beat us
when they wanna rape us
dead when the police kill me
alive when the police kill you
alive when it’s time to be in they kitchens
when it’s time to push out they babies
-“reconstruction error/horror”, Camae Ayewa
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Victoria: When did you first start Moor Mother?
Camae: At the end of 2012, Moor Mother started out of wanting to express myself and continue to create. It is something I can do alone as well as in collaboration with artists. I use different iterations that fit within my means in that moment. Sometimes all I have is a synthesizer or a laptop. I will be releasing my first record this September called Fetish Bones and it will the first time people will be able to hear all the aspects of my performance.
Victoria: Who have you been collaborating with? How do your collaborations come about?
Camae: I am working on a lot of collaborations with Wizard Apprentice, DJ Haram, Mental Jewelry, Ashley of Pinkwash, Olof the Melander, Mogillah, Metropolarity and free jazz project Irreversible Entanglements. My collaborations happen very naturally.
Victoria: As much as your art and music seem to focus into the future of Black liberation and community, they are also so connected to your immediate environment. Can you say more about how you do this?
Camae: I live in North Philly, one of the poorest communities in the United States. Where I live is where I do my work. Each song that I do is also a workshop. My work is practical, meaning that my work is not limited to the stage. My work deals with healing trauma through black quantum futurism, poetry, and sound. I grew up learning to not just to care or focus on myself but that I am connected to my community and play a very important part in the future of what community means.
Victoria: You curate ROCKERS in Philly, which is a recurring show that is made up of such amazing bands with representation from so many different communities and identities. I know that there is a historical connection with ROCKERS shows and music of people of the diaspora. Can you tell BGD readers more about the “space”?
Camae: ROCKERS is special because there is nothing like it on the east coast that has made space for so many black and brown artists without any money. It’s booked by a black woman and hosted by a black man with no media support for over a decade. It was created by Rebecca and me because there was no space for diverse artists and music that wasn’t popular hip-hop and R&B. When we were creating this space we started a wave of promoters booking more diverse shows. Many people met lifelong friends, so many people are married right now because they met at ROCKERS. ROCKERS has launched so many careers and connected so many generations of Philadelphia DIY artists.
Victoria: Where do you think artists of the diaspora are headed?
Camae: I feel like this is a really important time. People are occupied with quick fixes instead of putting in the work. It’s like yoga, it’s like everyone is practicing it, but they are practicing a commercialized version of it instead of making it a way of life.
Victoria: I find that it can be hard to convey who I am and what I am doing to some of my elders or people of color who are not involved or just don’t care about the independent music scene. What has that been like for you?
Camae: I experience so much anti-blackness on the road from both people who look like me and people who don’t. It’s really hard. That is why when I play I am trying to get a message through. That is why I spend so much time on my lyrics. I am a black woman coming from the projects and I have decided to play music and that can get so isolating, but I have to understand that it is for my community. There is a history of telling empowering words or messages, but that is different than telling the truth. The reaction has to be you actually doing the work.
Victoria: What is the role of futurism in Moor Mother Goddess?
Camae: Really breaking down a lot of social constructs. My other project Black Quantum Futurism, Space-Time Collapse I: From the Congo to the Carolinas, speaks about the continual “time,” and slavery and oppression being beaten into you. It’s like we’re experiencing temporal oppression all day.
Rasheedah Phillips, creative director of The Afrofuturist Affair, deals with time travel. We facilitate workshops here in Philly and internationally as well as exhibit art and sound installations. Using the lens of Black Quantum Futurism, I am able to shape and investigate sound and to use is it as a form of protest and activism. That was the meaning behind my 14-hour performance to use sound to combat and as an act of protection against domestic and sexual violence. During my performance, a woman facing 60 years for killing her abusive husband was set free. I believe that speaks to the power of sound.
Victoria: What’s next?
Camae: Rasheedah and I just received a fellowship award from A Blade of Grass and we are opening a space in North Philadelphia called Community Futures Lab that will act as a library, gallery, workshop space and more. I have a workshop called “Anthropology of Consciences and Time Traveling With Sound” and will continue to develop more workshops and zines.
Victoria Ruiz is the front person of political punk bands Downtown Boys and Malportado Kids. She lives in Providence and truly wants to see police abolition there and everywhere. She is the product of a beautiful family lead by her grandmother.
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