Moor Mother plus Orphy Robinson and Pat Thomas at Cafe Oto

“An intense backwash of alarm.” Moor Mother at Cafe Oto
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2017. All Rights Reserved

Moor Mother plus Orphy Robinson and Pat Thomas
(Cafe Oto, 18th April 2016; review and drawing by Geoff Winston)

Moor Mother is a voice for today and for the future. An angry, comprehending, uncomprehending voice. Reportage from the front line. Poet, artist, musician, sound collagist, and active Afrofuturist – raising questions of pre- and re-packaged historical propositions – Camae Aweya was raised in the projects in Maryland and is now based in Philadelphia. As Moor Mother, she articulates the rage and suffering experienced not only within the black diaspora but also by those without the means to resist or defend themselves against those with the tools and power of aggression. A voice also for women, and for those who are the disenfranchised victims – a voice for humanity in the face of inhumanity.

At a packed Cafe Oto she combined the power of music, words and technology to up the ante. Heavy drones, rib-shaking bass lines, judiciously chosen spoken word samples from historical events and community recollections created an intense backwash of alarm, conjuring the immediacy of violence, death and life which comprises the fabric of existence for so many in today’s world.

A vital, energetic performer onstage, with command of theatrical tension, Moor Mother manipulated the electronic sound backdrop in front of projected abstract film sequences which threw her scrawled stage name across the screen while she recited and rapped to get the essence of her message across. She dubbed layer over layer, hitting the industrial noise zone with flashes of torrential disturbance, driving dance beats and raw drones. As she veered from static to hyperactive the sounds were as much the substance as was the poetry. And she avoided the easy pitfalls of cliche in articulating a demonstrably singular standpoint.

Pulling no punches, her focus was on inhumanity, injustice, on pointless barbarity, racism, political and domestic brutality. ‘The count is up – not enough dead bodies.’ And on recent events with global coverage: ‘Did you see it? Did you see it? They call it the mother of all bombs.’ On the misappropriation of history. ‘We want our reality back.’ ‘We want our future back.’ The hope is for the regaining of dignity and direction.

From the projects via art school Aweya found her multi-disclipinary voice and has gained recognition with arts awards including a 2015 Leeway Transformation Award and is a 2016 Blade of Grass Fellow for Socially Engaged Art. She has has worked with major arts institutions as well as being engaged in community and education programs and in Princeton’s Ferguson is the Future conference. She has – under the radar – released over a dozen recordings since 2012, intriguing and dynamically layered and constructed, including a tribute to Sun Ra whom she admires. Given time, Moor Mother may well prove to be one of the most significant artists around.

First onstage in the evening Orphy Robinson and Pat Thomas delivered a powerful, imaginatively improvised set, pushing the envelope of electronics meets analogue, corralling crushing rhythms, deviant calypso beats, Sun Ra zone electronic extremes with intensely accelerated acoustic piano from Thomas and streaks of out-at-the edge vibes playing from Robinson.

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