I wanna be black
I wanna be a Panther
Have a girlfriend named Samantha
This cover of the Lou Reed ironic-jab, first released on his masterwork Street Hassle (1978) is re-imagined here by the (black) singer/songwriter from Rome, Eva (Annalisa Eva Paolucci). Eva stamps it with a swampy groove, hissing the final ‘s’ on Jews and cuts it down to one minute in duration. She sharply pronounces the ‘t’ unlike Lou Reed, being so careful about her articulation; the way she pronounces the words (in a foreign language, a language not her own).
‘So, what do you write about?’
I hesitate a bit, ‘Mainly music, black music – hip-hop and jazz, dub sometimes – politics, race and um, terrorism in France, that kind of thing. Films.’
‘You write about Black Lives Matter?’
‘Ah not exactly,’ I reply and then launch into an un-needed explanation as to why. Women often talk about the imposter syndrome where they get to a point of success, or prominence in their career and feel that it’s somehow undeserved as if they are just about to be married and a voice from the back calls out some objection, some mention of their unworthiness. Without wanting to embody a ‘white person cliché’ (exhibit no. 1) explaining, explaining presence, motivations, seeking absolution from a faceless mass, making questions about identity central to what they do, sometimes I pinch myself when thinking about my presence in this hip-hop world. I have never lived it and never will.
I don’t understand much of what is being said a lot of the time – I ask my friends in the US to help out with translations - I take notes when listening to the music, read about it in libraries, and think about it a lot when I’m walking around, mapping out paragraphs, but as I said in this piece on Donny Hathaway’s ‘Giving Up’ I’m listening in here; I’m visiting.
Outside of this fish out water situation – too pale, too female, too justified & ancient - which can lead to some pretty funny situations at times, if I’m being completely honest, it feels natural to me. I mean, just thinking about genres, there is no real competition is there, in terms of what is happening now? What else is there to write about as a music writer - rock music? Folk music, oh no, please help me. Polka? Brass bands? Jazz? Dub? I’m decades too late for both of those. Electronic music, if you want to speak about patterns of male domination, well … even if there is a whole array of amazing women who DJ in the DnB scene, it’s true.
What appeals to me in all this, outside my obsession with hip-hop as an idea, as a practice is the opportunity to learn, while making connections with people different to me. My fantasy is one day for me to discover a writer-me, a fan-me in reverse, say a black American (or anyone who is noticeably different etcetera) who is intrigued by something I have lived, or know about personally: just imagine the scene, a chance encounter where they start to riff on The Australian New Wave …
(A girl, a boy, a school …)
Or sandy-as noise bands from the 70s on, someone who likes and gets the genius of The Go-Betweens or whatever it might be. Someone who doesn't talk to me about cuddly Australian animals as first subject upon meeting. Sadly, this never happens: all I get is condemnation about how backward/racist Australia is, something I’m more than happy to expand upon – though this has happened more in Paris, if I’m honest (Americans in my experience, are far too polite to raise their views about my non-kosher ethnic origins in professional contexts, see, for example, their ma’am-reflexes, something I still can’t get used to, even though I’m trying).
I remember seeing a (black) American friend comment on how in his experience, there is no community more ‘welcoming’ than the black American one; major generalisation, I know, but still. This has been my experience as a writer working on topics linked to black music and issues relating to race-based violence and has carried me along over the years. I have been deeply touched by the way people have allowed for me to find my own little niche here, and in so doing helped me find my voice again (after years in the metaphorical wilderness). These personal connections may, in fact, be the reason for much of my fretting, my concern to do the right thing.
I understand the very justified concerns about cultural appropriation and the deep pain and loss that lies behind it. This again makes me careful, being very aware of the stereotypes about ‘white women’ that are so prevalent in the U.S. On one end of the equation, ‘white women’ are superficial and far too fond of Starbucks, on the other end they are rapacious vampires, cf Get Out, or all lachrymose as a way of bringing the attention back to them, in the wake of yet another atrocity. (On a related note: my greatest fear, or one of them as cultural interloper is that in all of this I’ll come across as some kind of intello-Kardashian, even if my dominant reaction to all these rappers and their work is more mum-affectionate than anything else: they are all so young! There are so many boy-wonders in this genre it’s hard to keep track; girl-stars are there as well, but less recognised maybe. There is less oxygen allowed them).
To return to the cover at the start of this missive then of Lou Reed’s deeply ironic take on white Americans – and others too perhaps – feeling the temptation to Dolezal, chopped back here by a heavily-accented black Italian singer called Annalisa Eva Paolucci. My hope is that this work of mine, this project to connect with others, written from a distance/another continent will make space, hopefully for other women – come on, now most rap’s not that macho – and also encourage others to cross over into not so familiar worlds.
Nothing better than starting a journey without a map, or arriving at a station late at night, no hotel reservation made. (Hope that doesn’t sound like I’m trying to convert anyone here ...)