Seattle, WA has long been the home of a number of beloved indie rock acts but over the last couple of years, Seattle has become the home of arguably one of the most unique and progressive movements in “black” music to date, starting with Shabazz Palaces, the collaborative, experimental hip-hop project between Ishmael “Butterfly” Butler, formerly of Grammy Award-wnning act Digable Planets and multi-instrumentalist Tendai “Baba” Maraire, the son of renowned Mbira master Dumisani Maraire; and THEESatisfaction, the experimental R&B, hip-hop neo-soul collaboration between emcee Stasia “Stas” Irons and Catherine “Cat” Harris-White. Interestingly, Maraire’s side project, Chimurenga Renaissance, which features Maraire collaborating with Hussein Kaloji continues Shabazz Palaces’ incredibly intelligent, surrealistic hip-hop – while being remarkably accessible. Of course, sadly, your corporate conglomerate “hip-hop” station won’t play this in their rotation because they think you’re too stupid to actually understand or recognize that hip-hop has long had a reputation for glorifying the uniquely weird.
“Pop Killer,” the latest single off the duo’s Defenders of the Crusades EP effortlessly meshes contemporary hip-hop with traditional Zimbabwean instrumentation and percussion. Obviously, the song suggests that the African Diaspora is a vibrant, living thing that morphs, changes and is in constant dialogue with itself, proving that hip-hop is indeed, the lingua franca of the 21st century world. Interestingly, it makes the connection between the emcee and the griot, by saying that they are almost of the same breed. Also, it suggests something that hip-hop fans have seen over the course of the past decade – that what hip-hop sounds like and even looks like has been changing to accommodate more individual artistic visions – albeit, very, very slowly. Sonically speaking, the Zimbabwean instrumentation and percussion give the song a breezy yet ancient feel.
The video, which was directed by Kyle Seago was shot in Maraire’s homeland of Zimbabwe. According to press notes, Maraire describes the video as “a]n artistic presentation to our ancestors as we continue to spread our culture with innovative compositions, connecting the future and the past.” Maraire then asked his friend and fellow Zimbabwean Charles Mudede, an editor at the Seattle alt-weekly The Stranger to write a description of the video’s unique locale, the Great Zimbabwe Ruins, and to explain its significant to Zimbabweans. As Mudede explains:
“The question one must ask is: Why Great Zimbabwe? Why is it so important to us? Why does Tendai Maraire of Chimurenga Renaissance, roam these ruins? We can get lazy and simply say that it’s an expression of national pride. Go to the Wikipedia and you can read that this 10th-century city, made principally of carefully considered and positioned stones, provides proof that Africans were capable of doing amazing things, capable of even civilization. Africans were not, as many Europeans desperately wanted (and still want) to believe, somewhere between humans and animals–a belief that only functioned to justify the raw exploitation of African resources and people. No. This video is not about reaffirming African humanness, not about making a case for the greatness of one of many black cultures that flourished in the past. It is now old news to most that blacks are very human and very capable of great achievements and culture. So, why make this video? Why revisit these ruins? Because it is not about proving our humanness and greatness to the West. Watch the video closely and you will see it is about returning to the past to seek and seriously consider other cultural and economic directions, possibilities. Maraire is not pleading that you accept his and his races humanness. He is making the much more radical case that the European future is not and never was the only one available to humankind. Zimbabwe, the house of stones, presents a gateway to a future path that was never fully explored.”