talking racism, sexism and appropriation with the afrofuturist funk stars, theesatisfaction
Signed to legendary Seattle label Sub Pop, THEESatisfaction's take on hip hop and neo-soul is a radical take on being black, gay and proud.
"Read a book about the subject and not the Wikipedia, you know what I'm saying? Like, do some actual research." Cat Harris-White of THEESatisfaction is talking about online search engines, how they're used and the resulting lack of historical context that results. She may be laughing, but what she's saying is serious.
It's a point that's serious because Harris-White is one half of a US music project that loudly and proudly identifies as queer and black. They're releasing their second album, EarthEE through Sub Pop on February 23. Along with band mate Stasia Irons the duo have built a career out of paying respect to their musical forebears, as well as artists, writers, thinkers, who have played a role in shaping their experience as African-Americans in the United States.
"Your faithfulness, your dedication, But no work goes without recognition" they sing in the trembling rhythm of Recognition, where Harris-White and Irons repeat its title like a mantra. It's a song of few words but boundless optimism as THEESatisfaction and long time friends and collaborators Shabazz Palaces pay homage to their inspiration, past and present. From John Coltrane, Sun Ra and Marian Anderson, to Xenobia Bailey, Columbia Nightsand Mursi Layne, the video for Recognition presents these faces and spaces in an almost cosmic stream of portraits that draws on the rich historical and spiritual heritage of the African diaspora.
In honouring these traditions of RnB, hip hop, soul and jazz in their sound, pre-Egyptian mythology, Afrofuturism and the aesthetics of Funk in their ideas, THEESatisfaction are a powerful one that is rooted in struggle and has flourished in spite of it, with a potential that extends well beyond borders.
In what way has travel changed your perspective?
S: Picking up on things that are happening everywhere on the planet, like gentrification, like black queer people still feeling alienated. I feel like everyone's kind of watching America and when you step outside, you don't really know what's going on in these other countries. We're very focussed on ourselves, whereas everyone else is kind of in tune with what's happening here in America.
There's been so much going on socially in the past couple of years, but there's also this looming threat of environmental catastrophe, and the effect of globalisation; all these interrelated elements colliding. Is this something you've been thinking about when you've been putting the record together?
C: Yeah we've been thinking about it all the time. Even being from Seattle and watching the weather change so drastically. Knowing folks in Alaska where it's normally snowing this time, but it's snowing a lot here in New York; just knowing that it's colder here than it is in Alaska. Different things like that plays a lot into how we're thinking and how we're literally feeling. It literally, physically affects us, and everything we're doing.
Blandland is fairly explicit in its themes of appropriation in music particularly. I could take a guess, but what are the events that inspired it?
S: Just living in a community and watching the old crack houses being turned into coffee shops and bars and shit like that. Changes in music too, the new faces of black music are Sam Smith, Macklemore and Iggy Azalea. Everything is just constantly changing, which is mimicking things that have happened in the past, but it's also frustrating for people who have been contributing to the art and trying to honour it.
So does the song Post Black, Anyway have anything to do with these ideas?
S: I was thinking a lot about Twitter and how short the responses were. I thought about putting on a chant, a sort of rhyming tweet. I was also in love with Black Twitter and how it was a bunch of people getting together and sharing these pieces of information via hashtags, where we're all in accord, making jokes and memes and things like that. I kind of wrote mine like it was a tweet. Like posting black, posting about black things. Instead of this false idea that racism is over. Like, 'no, fuck that, we're going to talk about it all the time'.
Who did the album artwork?
C: Our friend Rajni Perera, she's really amazing. She does these intense feminine re-workings of warriors, very prehistoric but futuristic, and we were like, 'hey, we want to do something super-spacey with you dude'. Then we did this nude photo shoot We crack up every time because I don't think we realised how weird it would be for everyone to see us naked on the cover of our record.
S: My family were so weird about it. They were like, 'argh, why would you do this!"
C: I tried to show my dad the picture and he threw my phone across the room! People were really shocked but people were also feeling liberated, I guess. We didn't even think about it. We were like, 'dude, let's get naked'.
I imagine that the things you're thinking about would have developed a bit since awE naturalE.Is there anything that has changed on EarthEE thematically, or even sonically?
C: I feel like Sun Ra has been really inspirational for us on this record and a lot of other free jazz musicians. Herbie Hancock and other artists like that have been really inspirational because they're just very free in the way that they express themselves, from straight jazz to this crazy futuristic stuff. I feel like I got really caught up in that feeling and vibe for this record. Also, just getting really into my sci-fi roots. I started watching a lot of Cosmos with Neil deGrasse Tyson and I feel really small and really big at the same time.
S: It's crazy just to see how vast the universe is and how very small we are. And there could be other earths, other beings, and we will never have any idea about them because we're in a huge galaxy that just goes on forever and ever. Yeah, Cosmos,we fucked with that a lot and you'll probably hear some words or sounds that were inspired by that.
C: It's just a mind-fuck!
S: Yeah, we got really stoned and watched Cosmos. That's the essence of that.
Text Steph Kretowicz