Posts Tagged ‘women’

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Frank Ocean – channel ORANGE (album review)

July 17, 2012

The first I time I took notice of Frank Ocean was when I found out that he was the writer of one of my favourite songs, “I Miss You” from Beyoncé’s 4. By this point, he was already gaining some buzz as a member of the Odd Future collective, and so I downloaded his mixtape Nostalgia, Ultra. I fell in love with songs such as “Novocane” and “American Wedding” immediately, while others such as “Swim Good” and “Strawberry Swing” grew on me after a couple of listens. I was convinced that Ocean was indeed skilled at creating R&B that was a bit more grown than the electro-dance recycling going on in the charts, and that focused on exploring human emotions. In this way, he set himself apart in my mind, and I was excited to see what he would do next.

Enter channel Orange. If anything, it’s less accessible than Nostalgia, Ultra. or than many of the songs that make up Ocean’s mammoth The Lonny Breaux Collection. For the most part, songs don’t announce themselves (and certainly not with typical verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus structures) as much as their melodies seep into your head with repeated listens. However, between the lush instrumentation (and there is definitely genuine instrumentation going on here; these are more than just pre-paid beats) and resonating lyrics, after each listen one takes away something more from the experience. channel ORANGE is a meticulously crafted piece of work, and there is much to discuss. It’s at times difficult to penetrate the chilled, hazy vibe of the album to find a meaty hook of the type that we’re used to – and I feel it would have been nice to have had more of these sprinkled through the album – but there’s nevertheless plenty of sustenance here.

Opening track “Thinkin Bout You” is possibly the most immediate song on the record, and it’s utterly beautiful: the way Ocean uses his falsetto is reminiscent of Prince, and evokes the feelings of at once being totally in love and feeling totally alone in that love, desolate and desperate. While not a technical vocalist to rival R. Kelly or Usher, Frank Ocean knows how to use his voice to maximum effect. The lyrics in the song evoke the unrequited first love that we all knew, and that Ocean wrote about so eloquently in his open letter posted on tumblr. The bravery of an R&B star, of a black man with ties to and props from the largely chauvinist hip hop community, to come out as bisexual two weeks before his album was released has not gone unnoticed, and should not be ignored; rightly so, it appears that Ocean’s success – and I personally believe that even without the announcement / confirmation of his sexuality, channel ORANGE would have been a hit – has been bolstered. Support has been largely overflowing, and it would appear that at last, times might be changing – and not just because Obama and Jay-Z gave black men permission to support their fellow man if that man happened to be gay or bisexual. But in terms of the music and in terms of Ocean’s letter, the focus pulls away from the object of his affections being male or female to the beauty and the intricacy of the sentiment. Sometimes Ocean sings to a boy, sometimes to a girl – but 100% of the time, it sounds beautiful, the lyrics are deep and honest, and the songs as a whole don’t simplify but rather reflect the complexity of the subject matter of being infatuated, in love and lost in love. “Bad Religion”, another standout on the album, begins with a howling organ which Ocean’s plaintive vocal joins to express his loneliness and despair. Lines like “I can’t tell you the truth about my disguise” and “It’s a bad religion to be in love with someone who could never love you” are at once more detailed than what one finds in a typical R&B song for the radio, and yet the emotions of someone in love can’t be put much more simply, or laid bare any more.

Subject matter on channel ORANGE doesn’t just limit itself to romance found and lost, but tackles other topics too. “Super Rich Kids” explores precisely that, but the lyrics could apply equally to the inhabitants of Ladera Heights and to the wealthy-yet-jaded entertainers in the music industry: “Too many bottles of this wine we can’t pronounce…too many white lies and white lines…nothing but fake friends.” The coda which robs the hook from Mary J. Blige’s “Real Love” lends the track an air of nostalgia while giving the listener something recognisable to grab onto. “Crack Rock” likens loneliness to drug addiction, and fastens to these emotions details of being ostracised by family and society. In some ways “Pyramids” is the centrepiece of the album – an epic 10 minutes that starts out evoking Egyptian deserts, before seguing into a sexier exploration of making love to a stripper called Cleopatra. While lyrically drawing parallels between how women were and are at once worshipped and subjugated by men, the production starts off bouncy, transitions through seductive into sleazy, and fades out with a howling guitar Pink Floyd or Jimi Hendrix would be proud of.

Interludes give the album a sense of constant flow, and the overarching feel is nostalgia-soaked classic quality. channel ORANGE isn’t immediately accessible to non-R&B heads, and rewards repeated listens. If I could improve anything about the album, while I commend its artistry and sense of originality and self, it would be nice for some of the songs to have some more standout hooks. But overall, Frank Ocean has done himself and the world of R&B proud with this album – it’s deep, intelligent, textured and heartfelt.

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racism in a modern age.

June 20, 2010

I just got home from my nan’s.  For the second part of my journey, I took the number 6 from town to Kingswood, and while I was on the bus, a group of Somali women were having a conversation.  Suddenly, an English woman (I’m guessing about 55 years old; she was certainly older than my mother, who is 50) turns around and yells at them “Would you please shut up?!?!” After everyone looks up, shocked, she continues her diatribe: “Natter natter (with hand gesture), shut the fuck up or get off the bus.”  The women began to protest, but the woman just got angrier and nastier, and the Somali women ended up getting off the bus at that stop.  The English woman yelled after them “Fucking go home to your own country!” After a beat of shocked silence from all the passengers, the driver (who was mixed race himself) got up and challenged the woman.  “They are allowed to chat if they want, everyone here is just trying to get home, there is no reason to disrupt anyone else’s journey or otherwise YOU will have to get off the bus.” At this point, the woman went to get off the bus, and the bus driver said “Ma’am, you can take your seat, but please respect other customers because we all paid to use this bus, and please enjoy your journey.”  The woman sat back down, but then got off at the next stop (I wonder if she was not too bothered about getting off the bus if she was only getting off at the next stop anyway?), and the rest of the bus breathed a sigh of relief.

I was shocked that in 2010, such blatant racism still exists.  Well, I am shocked and I am not; I’m not naive and I know very well that racism is very much alive and well, but I was shocked to be present at such an outrageous and blatant display of it.  I was tempted to say something myself, but at the same time it was not my place to get involved; these women are old enough and strong enough to defend themselves, and quite rightly the driver made a stand for his bus and for the passengers on it; he is running the service, not me or any of the other passengers.  I wonder however, if the driver had not said anything, whether I would have been brave enough to say something? Plenty of things sprang to my mind; to challenge her and say that if her problem was with the volume at which these women were speaking, then instead of yelling at them and thus making herself a hypocrite, she should just ask them politely if they could talk more quietly.  If this wasn’t the case, it would have exposed her own racism without saying any more (racism she already exposed with her parting comment to them as they got off the bus).  I felt like saying that if her problem was with the fact that these women were not English (I know this woman was English just by coincidence, as I saw her loudly supporting England at Rewind when I was out watching the game with my friends from uni on Friday night – she had memorable cuts and grazes on her elbow that proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that this was the same woman), then should I get off the bus too as I am half-Italian, and I would not be here if my family had not come from another country to live here?  Until she knows the story of these Somali woman, who is she to judge whether they have (on a journey which they paid for, just like the rest of the passengers) less of a right to be on the bus and talk on the bus than her?  If I were speaking to my friends in Spanish, French or Italian, would I be less entitled to talk on the bus than if I were speaking in English? Does the fact that my skin barely looks any different to an English person’s (I am a tiny tiny bit more tanned, but it’s negligible) mean that I am not as mixed-race, or as ethnically diverse, as someone with a different skin colour? Am I entitled to the same rights as an English person simply because I speak native English, have an English surname and my skin is light; in return for these rights do I have to sacrifice my own ethnic background in the process just to fit in?

When I lived in Spain, if someone had spoken to me in that way because I was speaking English on the phone or to my family, I would have been utterly outraged.  Are we literally rewinding back to the story of Rosa Parks on the bus in the USA, before Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement? It felt like it.  Another thing I wanted to point out was that, as a result of my colleague Clare’s presentation on breaking down cultural barriers in guidance, I know that Bristol is considered a popular (if that is the right word) destination for asylum seekers and refugees coming from all over the world, because it is considered a racially-tolerant city in England. This is my hometown, my city, and I am proud of that fact.  By demonstrating such a racially-intolerant attitude, this woman is not only giving a bad example of herself, but of Bristol as a city and of England as a country; in actual fact, she is making herself look stupid and only propagating bad feeling for foreign people, whatever their reason or length of stay in England, which in turn only reinforces cultural barriers rather than breaking them down.  We’re in 2010; this should never have been happening, but it should certainly not be happening in this day and age.  And so I felt that if I didn’t speak up on the bus at the time (and it turned out that it wasn’t my place, nor did I have to – quite rightly, the driver did so), the least I could do was recount the event on here and spread more awareness that these attitudes still exist in our country and are very much alive in everyday life and situations.  This needs to change, and this entry is my little contribution; in my forthcoming job as a Personal Tutor at Cirencester College, one of the things I may well have to do in both interviews and group sessions is work on challenging racial stereotypes and breaking down cultural barriers and misconceptions.

Funnily enough, only earlier my nan and I were discussing the nature of football fans (topical considering that it is currently the World Cup).  English fans, deservedly or undeservedly, have a reputation for being violent, thuggish and neanderthal-like throughout Europe and possibly worldwide.  At the bar on Friday night, there was a fair amount of brainless chanting, stomping and cursing; but then, England did play poorly and I suppose that if so many people are passionate about this, it amasses a certain amount of volume.  I personally don’t like that kind of behaviour, but in itself it’s not racist; it’s only when it either causes damage or turns nasty against other ethnicities, races or against people of other countries that it’s inexcusable.  Nevertheless, I believe in conducting myself in a dignified way at all times whenever and wherever possible; by living up to hooligan stereotypes, England fans only propagate this image of themselves nationally and internationally; it’s not vogue and it doesn’t do the country or the sport any favours.  What’s more, my nan made a very good point that why do many England fans only support England during the football; if they really liked football, why do they not watch or show any interest in the matches involving other countries? Is it about the sport, or is it about the country? If it is about the country, why act so intimidating when watching the football (as opposed to other sports)? Surely this only sends out the wrong kind of message, a bad example to everyone – that this is how England fans behave, and that this country accepts that behaviour as tolerable and normal for football fans towards each other, and towards other people both from this country and from outside it?  I know that there are plenty of people who support England in the World Cup who don’t act this way – a lot of my friends fall under this category – and if I were them I would be somewhat embarrassed and angry that this reputation precedes me.  Everyone is entitled to behave in their own way, but I really wish we considered the feelings and cultures of others more than we do.

A final anecdote, in case I sound holier than thou – I’m not perfect.  When I was 12 years old, I once used a racial slur – I am ashamed to say.  Even more stupidly, it was towards a friend of mine whom I had known for 7 or 8 years by that time; he was acting in a very irritating way during a DT lesson, and out of sheer frustration and for pure shock value, I told him to “shut up you Paki”. Now, I am not racist nor have I ever been – so why portray myself in that way? Even though I was a child, I knew better before and after that event, and yet I did it. It had the desired effect, but I belittled myself by doing it, and my friend (to his credit) handled it very classily by laughing and saying in response to my immediate apology: “Um, no offence taken because I am Indian so that’s not what I am”.  His response made me feel all the more ashamed because not only had I attempted to use a racist expression in order to shut him up, I had used it in an incorrect context; it showed up my foolish behaviour for what it was.  Our friendship did not suffer for it; in fact I believe that the event was all but forgotten by breaktime, but it taught me a valuable lesson: that kind of behaviour is never acceptable, never appropriate, and never necessary.  I apologised profusely and he forgave me, but even recalling that incident makes me feel ashamed 12 years on; I was old enough to know better, and the lessons I learned as a result of that event are the redeeming factor; I have never thought or acted in that way since, and I am now in a position of responsibility to challenge others who do so. During a practice day, I successfully challenged one young person’s attitude to immigrants and the labour market; during my job at Cirencester, I anticipate doing this kind of thing more.  In this blog entry, I have also tried to challenge this behaviour.  Thankyou for reading.

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dream – Louboutins, teen soldiers & cinema screens.

January 23, 2010

I was with my school friends including Liam and Nick White, as well as my mother.  I remember seeing a pair of Louboutin stilettos on my mother’s bed which were black suede / velvet with red soles, and angled awkwardly at the heels.  It turned out that I was in some sort of travelling military troop, who had to attack evil teenage girls and women who looked innocent but had deathly fighting skills.

On a night off, we’d ended up going to Liam’s house for dinner.  For some reason, I wasn’t quite confident of my friendships with Liam and Nick, and I felt suspicious of them.  Liam was upstairs getting changed, while Nick was sat next to me in the foyer of his house waiting so that we could then go and have dinner. Nick was suspicious of me, and things that I kept saying to make fun of how long Liam was taking were taken the wrong way, and I’d text Liam to hurry up as I wasn’t happy.  Eventually he came downstairs and we went for dinner in a neighbouring room in Liam’s house, with soft blue chairs.  My mother was there, as was another boy from my school called Adam (whom I didn’t much like either).  We ate food, and luckily my mum was really nice to me whereas most of the others annoyed me, and we kept stealing each others’ seats.  At odd moments, Liam pretended to be asleep, and then there was a giant cinema screen in the corner of his house, and he pretended to believe that it wasn’t a screen but a window looking through to the scene being displayed (a sort of tropical paradise scenery with changing, vibrant colours for a sky).  I wasn’t 100% sure he was pretending, as his acting was so convincing, but Nick told me not to be so stupid and insult Liam’s intelligence.

After that, as part of our troop there were some of the nurses with whom I work in real life at the hospital. We were doing a training exercise on how to stalk, fight and kill some of the evil fighting women, in the setting of somewhere which was a cross between a castle and a garden.  At first, there were just dark grey brick walls, from behind which women and teenage girls would approach me.  At first I didn’t believe they could be deadly, but that was my mistake and suddenly they would lunge for me, their teeth and faces would twist and contort and become all jagged, and I would have to punch them, attack them and kill them with my machine gun.  I was dressed in camouflage military uniform, and at the side of my vision, suddenly there was a screen with different icons.  Every time I killed one of these women, an icon with a tough-looking dark-skinned male face with a tough expression would spin from the side of the icons screen and i would acquire more points – in other words, my quest had become a video game!  After a few kills, the settings became a little more elaborate: I approached two glass doors on the outside of a patio, from which two teenage girls placidly appeared; there was a grey brick turret which looked as if it were going to shoot something straight up, when a woman lunged from behind it.  One of the nurses helping train me, whose name is Sally in real life, gave me some good hints for not falling for the evil women’s traps and keeping my mind solely on killing them.  I racked up a lot of points and a lot of soldier-icons, and that was, as far as I can remember, the end of the dream!

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translation.

July 20, 2009

As you may or may not know, a year ago I graduated from Oxford University with a BA Hons degree in French and Spanish.  I’m still waiting for that to deliver the promised kick-start to my professional career while I flounder between perfume shops, hospitals and careers guidance diplomas, but one of the more interesting aspects of that degree was the idea of translation.  It relies on two not-so-basic conceits – that you understand what the words mean in the passage you are translating, and that you understand what the author of the passage is trying to say.  These two ideas have to be grasped before you even attempt to replicate what you’re translating in your chosen language, and these two ideas are much more disparate than they may first appear.  Let me break it down for you, because I have a point to make 😉

You can see the word “tree”, for example, and it conjures a certain image in your head.  That image represents what “tree” means to you.  The Spanish word for “tree” is “árbol”.  So you can put “árbol” down.  That’s done… but by doing that, you’re having faith in the fact that the image you see when you think of “tree” / “árbol” is the same as what the author’s conception is.  If for example, the author has a completely different idea in his head, then your translation may be distancing yourself from his/her original intentions.  And that’s just one word; what happens when you have sentences, paragraphs?  Translation takes a lot of confidence and a lot of people-studying and effort to grasp what people mean when they speak; all the nuances behind their choices of vocabulary, their syntax.  At the heart of it: can we really trust that people mean what we think they mean when they say what they say?

I started thinking about this after Saturday night, meeting with Karina and Davina at Las Iguanas for some caipirinhas and tapas (which was delicious).  Karina was talking about a lil’ dispute she was having with her boyfriend (who lives at a distance), because she had a hospital scan (I won’t go into the details on here because it’s not really my place) and was somewhat nervous.  When, after listing his (admittedly inferior) stresses in retaliation to her current stuff, he finally asked “Do you want me to come down and visit you?”, she said “No, don’t be silly, you need to save your money.” (He’s moving)  And he took that at face value, and didn’t come down to see her.  Hence Karina’s somewhat irritated diatribe against him on Saturday night. Now, I know from my knowledge of women’s minds that they often don’t mean what they say, and they can in fact often mean the opposite of what they say.  By saying “don’t visit me”, Karina was sending a message saying “I don’t want you to spend your money, but at the same time I really wish you could come here and support me because I need you right now, and you shouldn’t need me to tell you that because in addition to the fear of this scan, I don’t want to succumb to the humiliation of appearing weak to you and admitting that I want you here with me.”  Me and Davina understood this straight away, but evidently her boyfriend did not.  But who is in the wrong?  I mean, he was only listening to Karina’s words and following them.  Should he have known better?  After all, if he’d said “No” to her in the same situation, Karina said she would have scraped together whatever she could have and gone to visit him regardless (I don’t doubt that this is true).  But then, Matt might have meant “No.” He’s a guy, guys tend to be more straightforward, perhaps more two-dimensional at times.  And Karina would have gotten it wrong.  It’s almost a no-win situation if you can’t navigate the nuances of people’s thoughts behind the words they say… which is difficult when their words tell a slightly different story.  We all have to play translators at times.

I give you another example.  After seeing Davina and Karina, I went to the club to meet B and his friends for the first time (which was exciting).  The night seemed to be an unqualified success: I had a great time at a club I previously had written off, thanks to he and his friends embracing me wholeheartedly.  He and I were quite touchy-feely, we spent the whole evening talking, dancing a little bit, joking with his friends and other people we ran into (he seemed to know practically everyone).  When we got out of the club at 4am, my bus wasn’t coming for another hour, so we wandered around trying to contact another friend of his who seemed to have gone astray, eventually waiting at the bus stop, chatting / hugging / flirting.  Nothing too untoward, a brief kiss on the lips when my bus finally arrived.  So there was nothing wrong with that, right? It was flirtatious without going too far, a fun night without us exchanging wedding vows, a light-hearted night of clubbing with friends and with someone who might become more.  After my last relationship getting far too intense far too quickly (despite my lack of feelings), this should be exactly what I wanted.

Of course, I was still worried that maybe he had gone off me.  Because he didn’t jump on top of me, rip my clothes off and make love to me on the floor of the nightclub, I didn’t know if he still liked me.  I am aware that this is more than faintly ridiculous, don’t worry – and if this had happened, I would be worried in contrast that all he thought of me was that I was an easy slut.  So I was trying to read entirely too much into his actions.  Let alone the fact that mine mirrored his in any case… isn’t it easier when the other person makes the first move?  When they seem to know exactly what to say?  Which I clearly do not.  We texted briefly on Sunday:

Me: “Hey hope u got home ok this morning! I had a fun time last nite, thanx to u and ur friends for entertaining me! How ru doing today, up to much?x”

Translation: “Hi, I hope you somehow didn’t think I was an idiot last night and behaving too drunken / flirty / not flirty enough.  I think I might like you, you need to tell me that you might like me too and that you want to see me again. And preferably at a different venue with just the two of us.

His reply: “Hi  yeah good to meet u 🙂 I’m ok just been chillin all day with music and cats lol x”

My interpretation of this: “Hello, yes you were nice enough but I don’t know if I want to see you again, I have not been thinking of you too much today and I was quite drunk last night so pay it no mind.

The exchange of text messages went on a bit longer but I cut it short soon after because I wanted to maintain an air of nonchalance, as in “I’m not that easy, you don’t have me wrapped around your finger, I have other things to do!  I will talk to you when you happen to cross my mind again, maybe in a day or two, because my life is perfectly fulfilling tra la la.”  The messages and nuances hidden behind words can just as easily apply to silences/ goodbyes, and we need to interpret and translate pauses and immediate replies accordingly.  Today, when I was half-expecting him not to text me (I had resolved not to initiate conversation – air of nonchalance, nonchalance!), I was on msn and suddenly he starts talking to me (he was set to ‘invisible’ so I didn’t even know he was there) and we have a great conversation.  We flirt and joke a tiny bit and he says “ok lover” at one point.  My current interpretation: everything is in a spirit of fun, but we are still flirting with each other and there’s some affection there so this just might work well so DON’T BE A FREAK AND OVERANALYSE THINGS!!! And although I feel relieved, and I feel like I have learned sometimes that it is better to say what you mean, and other times it’s better not to say anything at all, it is obviously far too late for the restraint from over-analysis!  So I’m cooling down and determined to enjoy this flirting stage, whether it evolves or not… because after all, this is exactly what I said I wanted… and I don’t remember any hidden notion behind that when I said it!