Flash Review: Eli Fola presents 'Soundscapes'
By Jordan W. Carter
Thursday, April 13, 2023
As I entered National Sawdust to attend a performance by Chicago poet Cyrus Aaron and Nigerian-born multi-instrumentalist and DJ Eli Fola, my eardrums were prepared to be flooded with the sounds of Black liberation and culture. The pairing of these artists definitely struck my fancy as a believer of Pan-Africanism, which is a cultural movement based on the idea that peoples of African descent have common interests and should be unified. Cyrus brilliantly touched upon these common interests and other issues that trouble the Black community, like police brutality and economic disenfranchisement, in spoken word form over the sounds of upright bassist Max Jacob, vocalist Lynda Starr, and tap dancer Khalid Hill.
Aaron began and ended his first piece with the phrase “I will not live my life in a f*cking blur,” explaining that time is what we attend to rather than something that flies, contrary to our imagination. Starr’s low hums combined with Jacob’s quick walking bass line created the perfect springboard for Cyrus to bounce from topic to topic, addressing everything from grind culture being the new plague to the Black woman’s ongoing plight in American society. Instead of settling for just saying the names of Black women (as the popular social media hashtag #sayhername suggests), Aaron asserted that we have to first put some respect on their names. With Hill adding a percussive backbeat, Cyrus turned National Sawdust into AfroPunk Festival. He led the audience in a chant— “It’s time to turn up the Blackness!”—as he transitioned into Fola’s Soundscapes performance.
"Playing techno track after techno track, Fola improvised on various instruments with the groove in the background, fusing his love for modern electronic music with his Nigerian roots. As founder of the genre “Yoruba Tech Soul,” Fola wants us to know that techno music is not just a white thing, but is Black music too, and a sound that can be used as a healing frequency!"
Adorned in a steel mask with two eye openings and a mouth opening just large enough to comfortably fit a saxophone mouthpiece, Fola walked out on stage and situated himself behind a DJ controller, multiple saxophones of varying sizes, an electronic drum pad, and a talking drum, which is an instrument the Yoruba people of Nigeria play at ceremonial functions. Across the stage, he was joined by upright bassist Matthew Jamal. When Soundscapes began, I was instantly entranced by the deep techno grooves paired with the trippy, ever-changing 3D pixels projected onto the screen behind the stage. Playing techno track after techno track, Fola improvised on various instruments with the groove in the background, fusing his love for modern electronic music with his Nigerian roots. As founder of the genre “Yoruba Tech Soul,” Fola wants us to know that techno music is not just a white thing, but is Black music too, and a sound that can be used as a healing frequency!
Though techno music is not as popular in African-American culture as other genres like R&B, hip-hop, and gospel, Fola’s jazzy soprano saxophone and syncopated rhythms on the talking drum were like voices of protest forcing listeners to reimagine what sounds we typically deemed as Black and non-Black. If there is one takeaway to gain from this evening’s performances, it is that Black is not a monolith—and especially not Black music.
About Jordan Carter
Jordan W. Carter is a revolutionary emcee, multi-percussionist, and music educator hailing from Southwest Atlanta. He is the son of Valerie and Derrick Carter as well as the brother of Nia Carter, Derrick Carter Jr., and the late Sherita Carter. Jordan makes music to express himself creatively, put on for his hometown, and to help others find God in their own uniqueness. His musical production often incorporates 808s, electric piano, and vibraphone as homage to his jazz, southern marching band, and classical background. Jordan’s majestic blend of these styles inspire an uninhibited love for all people. He currently lives in Brooklyn, NY with his longtime partner, Priya, and their two dogs BiBi and Cheeni.