|Tamar-Kali, a rising "star" of NYC's BlackPunk rock-n-roll genre|
By Sekou OSEI
and William PLEASANT
In relation to Tamar-Kali, the sad thing is that she is portrayed as a new and great independent artist. The sad thing is that her performance is just loud, self-involved mediocrity based upon our observations in the Brooklyn Navy Yard and elsewhere. We (Black folks and others) are in trouble, because new Black artists and performers have no aesthetic standard and, as a consequence, the form and content of their works rarely evolve beyond a sort of pop minstrelsy today. In a sort of blackface, they sling narcissistic emotionalism, the artist's personal rebellion against poverty and social irrelevance. Thusly, we are treated to revolving minstrel versions of MEIN KAMPF under de-evolving monopoly capitalism, perfumed with the stench of that special brand of fascism driven by negrophobia in AMERIKKKA. The contemporary Black artist, when asked what is the MEANING of her/his work, almost invariably answers with one telling pronoun: "ME!"
What would happen if the Black artists of today actually had something to say? What would the cultural landscape look like if is was possible for the contemporary artist to project beyond her/his inability to confront reality outside of the personal alienation and betrayal lawfully generated by romantic relations, or beyond the compulsion to stroke his/her adolescent sentimentality? The cop, the priest, mommy/daddy, the teacher and the bourgeois politician have all failed to deliver us to the enchanted kingdom of our childhood longings. That is the historical and social reality of 2015. Why weep over the our frayed wings? Like Icarus, we chose to soar to the sun, we chose rebellion. The consequences were inevitable and predicted by SCIENCE.
But rebellion should never be confused with style. And vulgarity as style, implied or explicit, should never be taken as a social or political challenge to the unpleasant status quo. We live in an epoch where stylization has subsumed artistic creativity. Style is viewed by most artists as a form of terrorism, executed by the singular petit-bourgeois strivers, in the name of provoking titillation (political or sexual) in the face of the banality of living in America. They break the boredom and provide necessary entertainment. But some even go farther and assert that they and their works are engines of revolutionary social transformation.
V.I. Lenin once remarked (WHAT IS TO BE DONE--1901), concerning petit-bourgeois substitutionalism, a.k.a. terrorism, that the prevalent philosophical defense of suicide bombing--even artistic in nature--"[S]tresses its excitative significance. . . . .It is difficult to imagine an argument that disproves itself more than this one does! Are there not enough outrages committed in Russian life that a special 'stimulant' has to be invented?" In other words, if the horror show visited upon the poor and oppressed peoples of this country by racism, economic exploitation and social degradation does not produce mass fits of social fury, then what can the most vile and outrageous act of an "artist" do?
"Come to my gallery show, muthafukah!"
Artistry is not a vocation today, stylization is a career, with its primary object being the provocation of massified embarrassment and dis-ease. This exhibitionism through other means is as socially and politically relevant to what humanity needs to do to save itself from annihilation at the hands of the global bourgeoisie and its thuggish state as flashing one's genitals on a Times Square subway platform is to a sure ticket to a romantic encounter.
We now return to the case of Tamar-Kali. She, as an artist, is not unique today. In fact, her work is illustrative of the style-as-terrorism movement. On the quality of her music, she lacks the skills of a musicians. She is an amateur guitar strummer and singer. Put simply, she is no Wes Montgomery or Billie Holiday--not even a passable wannabe. What she lacks in polish she compensates with style. Artistic accomplishment, especially musical sophistication, has long gone the way of the dinosaurs relative to US popular culture.
Here is literally all that Tamar-Kali has to say about her art in the biographical section of her web site: "A Tamar-Kali performance is a study in a soul yearning to break free of its earthly bounds. There are moments when her voice soars amidst a flurry of hardcore guitar riffs, earth shaking shimmies and gyrations that you believe you may just witness its escape. Her independent artistry, eclectic sound and versatility have allowed her to perform on variety of domestic and international stages with a diverse list of artists from Paramore and Fishbone to Jean Grae and The Roots." What are "earthly bounds" her "soul" yearns to escape? Why does her voice soar? Why does she engage in "earth shaking shimmies and gyrations?" What makes her "artistry" "independent?" What is the substance of her "versatility?" And finally, what is she trying to say to whom through soaring song and versatile shimmies and gyrations? From her performances and documentation, these simple questions go unanswered. That is because, like most contemporary artists--and especially Black artists--they never ask these questions of themselves. In fact the line of query is irrelevant to the retailing of style. One need only prance across the fashion runway to sell style, and that is what she does on the stage.
Devoid of musical facility and content, a Tamir-Kali performance amounts to little more than a retro-rock show of sorts, a museum piece. Her style is merely a recapitulation of the white anarcho-punk rock subculture, but this time in Black. That is what makes it new and improved bullshit in Bb for the benefit of the corporate marketeers.
Wrapped in 12-bar blues, bar chord percussion and accompanied by a chorus of howls, her work doesn't even add anything new to the genre. True to the style, she is obliged to destroy music to make music. In Tamar-Kali's shows, she accomplishes that task quite well. But this culture-cidal act is disheartening to other artists and audiences alike, particularly Black people, who are aware of the social abuse and cultural ostracism that Black instrumental musicians, singers and composers historically endured to give the world an art form that has electrified the world for a century and more.
Of course, the social extension of Tamar-Kali's style-as-terrorism is the notion that to live life as art requires that the subject must painfully extinguish his life. Music and the musician must die 'a la Cid Vicious of the Sex Pistols.
|Sid Vicious killed his girlfriend and then himself in 1979|
It is highly unlikely that Tamar-Kali's rock-n-roll nihilism even approaches one millimeter to the social absurdity of Sid Vicious and his ilk. But that absurdity, that self-mutilation has retail potential, hence Tamir-Kali gets invited to perform and make recordings. Yet, when all is said and done we can bet our bottom dollar that she won't drink hemlock or slit her wrists to break free of "earthly bounds" because, you see, dead people don't get to spend the money they have made.