The Blaze: Territory

How might an abolitionist approach ‘territory’? At first glance, the word’s association with “governmental authority” (“Territory” n.d.) suggests that territory is that which an abolitionist democracy seeks to expose and transform, namely, the “oppressive institutions” (McLeod 2019, 1617) – the territory of the prison, the territory of the segregated, the territory of the marginalized, and so on. While this may be true, by analysing the song “Territory” by The Blaze (2017) and its music video, I wish to think differently about ‘territory’ in ways that help reimagine what role territory plays in relation to some communities.

The song’s sound is characterized by its play with space. This not only happens through its heavy use of reverb and delay, but also in the minimal instrumentation and the linear structure of the song. For instance, consider how the song starts softly with a spacious pad synthesizer, accompanied by a reverberating melodic drum, and then how it slowly brings in new sound elements. A different example is the main hook of the song, the percussive melody that kicks in at 2:53. This melody is drenched in reverb and is only joined by a kick drum and synth bass. This play with space creates an abstract, almost transcendent[1] atmosphere.

At the same time, the music video gives the song an intimate character. Much of the beginning of the video depicts the main character coming home to his family in an intense, long hug. This transitions to communal scenes of sleeping and praying, dancing and playing. In this way, the video emphasizes the intimacies of everyday community life in the wake of the main character’s homecoming. Thus, the song depicts intimate community life while presenting it sonically in a transcendent way. A dialectic between the transcendent and the intimate is also reflected by how the lyrics jump between metaphors and sensations. The metaphors carry a transcendent character, that is, I exceed beyond myself, “I’m shining like the moon, I’m feeling like a bloom in the black sun” (The Blaze 2017). The sensations depict the homecoming through the intimate sense of taste: “I remember when I was young; The flavor is so strong; I’ve missed it so long” (The Blaze 2017). These lyrics are sung by both Guillame and Jonathan Alric, the duo behind the Blaze, but their voices are barely distinguishable from one another. This has the effect of creating ‘the voice of the community’ rather than any singular, clearly distinguishable person. However, it nevertheless sounds like a voice and thus anchors the voice of the bigger community in the local. The concept of community performed here is thus intimate and localized while simultaneously opening up beyond its own intimacies. If this opening-up is interpreted as a way for concrete communities to open up to positive transformation, then it seems to resonate with McLeod and how “justice for abolitionists is grounded in lived experience and positive transformation” (McLeod 2019, 1623).

Since “Territory” is the title of the song, the concept of community outlined above emerges under the heading of and in relation to ‘territory’. This can take many forms, the territory of the community, the territory that contains the community, the territory that is denied the community, and so on. In the case of the song, the beginning of the music video shows the wakes of a ferry, a symbol of moving between territories. By depicting the territory of homecoming, it is not only a pre-existing territory that the main character comes home to, but it transforms itself and opens in a literal, communal hug. While the territory follows from a lived history, it is also a form of becoming, a becoming-home. Territory in this sense helps us imagine how home-territories might be transformed in response to homecomings.

Perhaps, this song might lead one to add an active concept of ‘becoming-territory’ to the arsenal of abolitionism’s practices of transformation. Still, although the song provides a way that the territory of the homecoming may open up and transform itself, this is only one example of the becoming-territory of the homecoming. That is, one should still be wary of not reproducing the exclusionary territoriality of the nation state. Thinking through and incorporating ‘the wakes’ of the ship in the music video’s homecoming into the territory of abolitionist homecoming could be a way of combating this exclusionary territoriality. This is something that could be combined with similar attempts such as Leanne Betasamosake Simpson’s (2017) considerations of indogeneity and territoriality. These reflections should at the very least problematize any inherent opposition between abolition democracy and the concept of territory.

Lukas Hjulmann Seidler


[1] Used here in the colloquial sense as that which is ”greater, better, more important, or going past or above all others” (“Transcendent” n.d.)

Violence and Nonviolence

Gorillaz, Fatoumata Diawara: Désolé

For the theme of nonviolence, I think with Judith Butler’s idea of “the oscillation of frameworks within which naming practices take place.” (Butler 2020, 139) This is an idea drawn from their interpretation of Walter Benjamin’s idea of non-violence, violence, and the importance of language translation. According to Butler’s interpretation, acts of translation between different frameworks can lead to forms of non-violence such as conflict resolution (Butler 2020, 127). Butler specifically focuses on racialized practices of naming certain acts violent and others non-violent. The oscillating frameworks help us in identifying these naming practices by showing how violence is circumscribed (Butler 2020, 136).

I wish to see which questions the idea of oscillating frameworks might pose to the song ‘Désolé’ by Gorillaz and Fatoumata Diawara (2020), and, in turn, which questions the song might pose Butler’s text. Hence, this contribution to the mixtape itself constitutes a form of oscillation of frameworks of sound and text. This line of reasoning is not one of resolving its oscillations. Instead, I aim to set the stage for an ongoing reciprocal problematization between the frameworks of Butler and ‘Désolé’.

‘Désolé’ is trilingual and is sung in Bambara, English, and French. Thus, three linguistic-cultural frameworks are brought together through the song’s oscillations. In researching this song, I was trying to find a good translation of the non-English parts, and I stumbled across a post on Reddit titled ”MYSTERY: What is Fatoumata is saying in Désolé??? (Can help with Bambara translation?)” (anon4913 2021). The post’s author expressed many of my frustrations in finding a proper translation for the parts sung in Bambara. It is significantly harder to find translations of Bambara than French and English. This is despite it being spoken by an estimated 15,9 million people worldwide (“Bambara – Worldwide Distribution” n.d.). Though not the official language, it is the most widespread language of Mali. French is the official language which is only spoken by 6,4 percent of Mali’s population (“Mali: Country Data and Statistics” n.d.).

While this is only a brief demographic sketch, it speaks to Butler’s etymological considerations of ’demographics’ as the graphic means of rendering populations grievable or not (Butler 2020, 104). The Bambara-speaking population might be rendered ungrievable relative to the French-speaking population of Mali. In this regard, the song poses the question and the problem of what a ’sorry’, a ’désolé’, means in the context of the (un)grievable. How do sorries traverse across multiple frameworks and how is this traversal impacted by a lack of grievability? How do sorries traverse the boundary between the grievable and the ungrievable and help destabilize that barrier? Low practically, it is harder for me to find the translations for the phrases in Bambara than those in French. Hence, the context implied by the song’s trilinguality announces an oscillation that is not just a problem of conveying an understanding from one language to another. It is also an oscillation that may very well be densely layered with colonialism.

However, I also believe the song hints at a way of approaching the conflicts generated and revealed by oscillating frameworks. As the Reddit post shows, the very act of listening and trying to navigate the oscillations of the song’s frameworks can create a drive to go beyond your framework and actively engage in processes of translation. The song simultaneously places you in and pushes you into these oscillations. One might speculate that the song’s multilinguality carries with it a tension that helps enable this drive in the listener. That tension is both an asset to the song and an integral part of what makes the song work. Perhaps the fact that it is experiencable as a piece of music gives the song an added potential for containing the oscillations without resolving them. If the frameworks were to be completely translated into Bambara, English or French, the song stops being the same. Just like how the synthesizer that is no longer oscillating produces no sound.

Consequently, another question posed by ”Désolé” is whether oscillations of frameworks are inherently valuable by virtue of the oscillations’ potential to open one up to other frameworks. That is, whether the oscillations have an inherent value besides Butler’s analytic and ethical motivation to use them in figuring out how violence is circumscribed. In Butler’s interpretation of Walter Benjamin, they are making arguments that might fit such a line of reasoning. And, understood as translations, then the oscillations always run the risk of appropriating each other’s frameworks (Butler 2000, 36). How is this avoidable? Perhaps through the act of translation’s “counter-colonialist possibility” as Butler phrases it in their dialogue with Ernesto Laclau and Slavoj Zizek (Butler 2000, 37). While these reflections indicate future oscillations between Butler and the song ‘Désolé’, the scope of this mixtape contribution prevents and dampens, for now, the oscillations of any such further dialogue from continuing.

Lukas Hjulmann Seidler

Racial Violence and Representation

Sons of Kemet ft. Joshua Idehen: Field Negus

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

Gendered Violence

Charlotte Adigéry, Bolis Pupul: It Hit Me

For the theme of gender violence, I intend to analyse and explore Veronica Gago’s “Violence: Is There a War on and against Women’s Bodies?” (2020) through a live performance by Charlotte Adigéry & Bolis Pupul. I will be speculating about the musicians’ experiences, but I neither have the lived experience of their pasts, nor the lived experience of making and performing their songs. Hence, the following will be speculative and explorative. It is not about them but about an interpretation of their performance that makes possible an engagement with Gago, specifically her reflections on war and traversing fear.

The song I have chosen is Charlotte Adigéry & Bolis Pupul’s ’It Hit Me’ (2022) played live. Hence, this contribution constitutes part of a mixtape, but at the same time I ask the reader to use their imagination and hear the song as a live performance. To aid the reader in this, I will provide some context. The themes of the song, roughly, revolve around (trans)gendered violence. The live setting of the specific performance I am referring to is the OFF Festival (2022) in Katowice, Poland. Poland is currently a place of regressive politics, with anti-women’s and anti-LGBTQ legislation being rolled in many parts of the country. This to the extent that some have even created an Atlas of Hate to map out the policies of hate that are being enacted throughout Poland (“Atlas Nienawiści (Atlas of Hate)” n.d.). It is not hard to imagine one feeling fear, when going on stage in Poland to perform a live set about the themes mentioned earlier. Fortunately, Charlotte Adigéry & Bolis Pupul were met with an attentive, listening audience, full of movement and responsiveness.

The song has two verses that each tell stories of intimately detailed pasts. These pasts are made manifest to the audience in the chorus with a pounding kick drum and them singing ‘It hit me’, a powerful, performative version of realizing that they have been violated. In the moment of the chorus, Gago’s notion of war is declared, understood as a move that makes violence visible (Gago 2020, 80). Furthermore, Gago states that this way of declaring war means ”taking on an array of forces […] finding another way of living in our bodies.” (Gago 2020, 80). Their performance could be seen as a vital instantiation of this ‘taking on’. To name a few examples, ‘forces’ could here be both the audience, the context that the audience experiences the performance in, the performers’ own lived experience and various recombinations of these. Hence, the declaration of war is clearly not only something that happens on the personal, but in this case also on the community level. In that sense, the audience could be seen as embodying the role of compañeras (Gago 2020, 67), as those who actually help you out, as opposed to the transphobic and misogynist Polish authorities. The process of naming ‘war’ thus happens along an axis of performer-audience, situated between the stories of the verses and the intensity of the choruses. The performance calls attention to and makes violence visible through the ‘it hit me’ of the chorus, while founding itself on the familiarity of lived experience.

This emancipatory act of familiarization could help disarm the fear, as Gago might put it (Gago 2020, 83), of playing and listening to music that centres on themes being violated by the country they play out in. To Gago, one way forward is to “traverse” and “coexist with” fear (Gago 2020, 83). A live performance of a song is a traversal in a very physical (through sound waves extending themselves across distance, enveloping the ear membranes they touch) and historical way (through the multiple becomings told by the embodied lyrics). At the same time, “It Hit Me” never claims that ‘everything will be alright’. It ends with a distorted, intense beat, and a sampled catcall. It does not eliminate but rather co-exists with fear.

By shouting ‘It Hit Me’, Charlotte Adigéry and Bolis Pupul carve out a space in an Atlas of Hate. They enable multiple ways of co-existing with, moving bodies along to and traversing ‘fear’, potentially taking away the fear’s pacifying power. The live performance of ‘It Hit Me’ also asks us as listeners how we might approach and engage with live concerts as a type of social practice that makes violence visible.

Lukas Hjulmann Seidler

Border Violence

Obongjayar: Message in a Hammer

‘Message in a Hammer’ by Obongjayar starts off with a beat that drives the listener forward, with a kick to it that gives the composition an insisting ‘HEAR ME NOW’. The pace of the beat persists through most of the song. It embodies the title. The beat strikes constantly, hammering a message through. I interpret the sender of this message as the migrant trying to get to Europe. From this starting point, I sketch out two aspects of the migrant’s lived experience that are part of ‘the message’ in a hammer.

After the beat gets going, synths kick in and Obongjayar starts singing with a deep, growling, and torn voice: “Born in troubled water, every stroke is war, they drowned the ones before us, but we’ll make it to the shore” (Obongjayar 2021). These initial words set the stage for the song. At stake is the severity of the violence that is being wrought upon migrants traversing the Mediterranean Sea. The migrants are being drowned. And in the song, this drowning does not happen passively. It is done by ‘them’. Who are ‘they’? In this song, they are the figures of authority, as is repeatedly shouted in the middle section of the song: “President (THIEF), governor (THIEF), senator (THIEF), commissioner (THIEF), ambassador (THIEF), minister (THIEF) (…) All of dem murderers” (Obongjayar 2021). This active perpetration of violence is also attested to by Harsha Walia in ‘Fortress Europe’ (2021). Here, Walia writes about how Fortress Europe’s “doctrine of deterrence requires mass border deaths”, in contrast to the passive, statistical way ‘border deaths’ is usually used (Walia 2021).

The beginning sentence of the song is also about a drive ‘to get there’, about making it to the shore. However, this drive is not one that consists of dreams or hopes, at least not of the naïve kind. It is a drive to get out of the conditions that the authorities have placed the migrant in. The migrant is from the onset ‘born in troubled waters’, thus defining the existential conditions of the migrant. The drive ‘to get there’ is about keeping your head above water while pushing towards the shore – not being born on one shore, feet on the ground, and then from the safety of this, choosing to embark across the sea. The existence of the migrant is not merely circumscribed by a general Heideggerian sense of ‘thrownness’, but more specifically by being thrown into the sea, often with lethal consequences. As SA Smythe points out, this Black Mediterranean is not limited by land (Smythe 2018, 7). Consequently, the lethality of the Sea does not stop there either.  Donatella Di Cesare writes that the “migrant is atopos – without a place, out-of place” (Di Cesare 2020, 16). In this context, atopos means that the migrant is always already ‘born in troubled waters’ and the lack of place is a lack of ground, caused by Fortress Europe.

To me, the song embodies a sense of fury that is instigated through border violence. While the cause of this fury is horrible, the way the song embodies it can also be seen as a move towards a solution. The fury is not only reactive. It is also a song, full of power to change the listener’s perspective and move them along to its rhythm. Since it takes the shape of a song, one might speculate that the song’s ‘hammering of a message’ is a form of violence without any lethality. While it is directed at authoritarian violence, it does not point to any new beginning, any new set of laws or authorities. It points to “a new day, new dawn” (Obongjayar 2021). Thereby, this could provide a sketch for a form of divine violence, a violence that “is law-annihilating” and non-lethal (Benjamin 2021, 57). The space left open by this annihilation might then provide a new beginning for defining where the Sea stops and land starts; for unsettling the space in which ‘they’ are migrants and in which ‘we’ take it for granted to hold the power to define ‘them’ as such.

Lukas Hjulmann Seidler