Photo: Andrew Matson
In what may well have been the most well-lit hip hop concert of all time, local music/visual art collective Black Constellation brought cosmic sounds to the Frye Saturday night, and about 250 people danced lightly. Is that what was supposed to happen? God knows. What’s “supposed” to happen in an art museum? Silence?
It was a presentation of space-art for earth people. In that zone, there are no hard rules.
Musically, Catherine Harris-White (from THEESatisfaction) stole the show, singing trancelike repetitions in her alto voice. The new jams/gems felt like science fiction mixed with religious ceremony, with back-up from Ishmael Butler and Tendai Maraire (Shabazz Palaces) on hand-drums and digital samplers. The Constellation has kept a prayerful room since October in the Frye’s Mw [Moment Magnitude] exhibition—Ode to Octavia, after the late sci-fi writer Octavia Butler, includes jewelry by THEESatisfaction, a music video featuring Shabazz Palaces and directed by Maikoiyo Alley-Barnes, and a headdress by Alley-Barnes. The concert wrapped that in fine style, as the exhibition nears its close at the end of this week.
The show began with Funkadelic’s “Eulogy & Light” from someone’s laptop. Then Butler led the musical service, rapping with a loopy delivery, pulling songs from Shabazz Palaces’ album Black Up and THEESatisfaction’s awE naturalE, aka the best local albums of 2011 and 2012, if you ask this writer.
As the Constellation pumped its fists, chanted “Get black!” and jammed freely on instruments and microphones, the crowd shuffled its feet twenty feet away. Between the performers and the audience was THROUGH HOLLOW LANDS, a blinding-white electric-light sculpture by LILIENTHAL | ZAMORA, dominating all viewpoints with radiant fluorescent tubes. Sunglasses were a good idea.
Did the lights make any kind of artistic connection with the music? I kept thinking of Butler’s Shabazz lyric, “I’ma be a bright light / on the dark side of town.” Is the Frye on the dark side of Seattle? It’s on First Hill, a neighborhood known for hospitals and halfway houses. To me, those places are light and dark at the same time.
The lights also made me think about black music in a white city, where everything goes through a white lens before becoming widely known. The formal barrier of the lights brought up the tension of hip hop in an art museum. Ecstatic communion was hindered, somewhat.
I thought about these things while closing my eyes and letting the musicians be my physicians—and came to no real conclusions. Except one: After seeing a few musical performances in Mw [Moment Magnitude], Black Constellation was the best. Honorable mentions go to the orchestral pop of Jherek Bischoff and Zola Jesus, and the Ethio-jazz of Samantha Boshnack. Seattle is in a good place with music right now.
A special shout-out is due to the wonderful and always-free Frye for recognizing that, by giving not only its walls to art, but its floors and empty spaces, too. They have cleared out some space, that you might space out.
Andrew Matson writes about music for The Seattle Times and NPR. Follow him at twitter.com/andrewmatson.