For the theme of racialised violence, I chose the song ‘Field Negus’ by Sons of Kemet (ft. Joshua Idehen). I must admit that I found it very difficult to write this contribution for the mixtape. Not only because the readings were difficult, but because the song I have chosen screams difficulty. It screams at the position of me, the specific author of this text, who has chosen this song. What is my position? My position is that of a white man writing about ”Blackness – the extended movement of a specific upheaval, an ongoing irruption that anarranges every line” (Moten 2003, 1). As I am writing this text, I am in a city built on slavery, doing my readings in one of the former buildings of the Dutch East India Company. This is the company that was one of the main actors in the Dutch slave trade. Given that the song concerns slavery and racism, in many ways, I am occupying the position of the ’you’ addressed in this song. Joshua Idehen sings with distorted affect accompanied by noisy horns and percussion that have no clear structure, no clear rhythm:
Thank you for refusing me that inch
Because now I do now recognise your yardstick
The scales have toppled
The curtains have collapsed
The blonde baboon’s arse is bare in the open
And I am a field n* now
I do not want your equality
It was never yours to give me
And even then it was too minor, too little, too late (Sons of Kemet and Idehen 2021)
This song does not only concern an abolishment of slavery, it also concerns an abolishment of that against which freedom and slavery is measured and defined in the first place. This is the ‘yardstick’ and the ‘scales’ that Idehen sings about. The lyrics also concern the positionality of the ‘you’ that defines an ‘equality’ that ‘was never yours to give me’. Thus, the song critiques both the measurement of freedom and the position of the ‘you’ who sets the conditions for emancipation. These critiques resonate with Saidiya Hartman’s problematization of any clear, simple annulment of slavery. Any actual freedoms after the 13th amendment did not neatly follow from an increase in legal (white Western man’s) freedoms. Slavery instead transformed and took on new forms (Hartman 1997, 10). As Hartman also contends, the very meaning of emancipation must thus be reconsidered, the “yardstick” of this freedom recognised, and its “curtains” collapsed.
The tension between the instrumentation and Idehen’s singing/shouting/chanting screams the difficulty of the process of ’writing about’ from a specific perspective before I even started typing these words. It thus functions as the sort of irruption that Fred Moten writes about, that is “an irruption of phonic substance that cuts and augments meaning with a phonographic, rematerializing inscription.” (Moten 2003, 14) It irrupts the meaning of ’itself as analyzable’ by virtue of how it unsettles the non-innocent position of the analyser. This makes this analysis of what the song might be about necessarily parenthetic to the forceful, tense unsettling of the song (this to such an extent that I had initially written half this part of the mixtape in parentheses, something I only altered when I realized how difficult it makes the reading experience).
The ‘Negus’ in the song’s title is an Ethiopian term for a monarch. The song could then be seen as a process of recontextualizing the Negus’ ’Field’ as that which is no longer defined on the terms of the ’you’ addressed in the song, but instead ruled over by the regent ’we’ of the song. However, this position that is being rematerialized upon hearing the audio of the song, is not a position that is mine to define. I believe that the song performs a scream to us as academics and makes analysis parenthetic to the act of stepping away, an act that questions our positions. This is what Moten means by the appositional encounter; that the sound questions positionality by forcing us to step away from our positions (Moten 2003, 21). Where does this encounter take us? I will end this part of the mixtape with a quote from Moten. The appositional encountering is
a nondetermining invitation to the new and continually unprecedented performative, historical, philosophical, democratic, communist arrangements that are the only authentic ones. (Moten 2003, 22)
Lukas Hjulmann Seidler