goldlink drops the subtly pan-africanist ‘diaspora’
June 12, 2019
If you’re like me, you’ve had an “Afrocentric” phase at some point in your life. It’s a period marked by the discovery of the richness and depth of African history, and the cultural retention of people of African descent the world over. For me, it was a period when I immersed myself in the work of scholars like John Henrik Clarke and Ivan Van Sertima for historical context, and the writings and speeches of thinkers like Marcus Garvey, Kwame Ture, Marimba Ani, and Malcolm X for political and ideological cues. This knowledge led to questions about society and my place in it; but it also led to an affirmation of my own Black being — reinforced by the connection to all the African-derived expressions of culture in my everyday life. Suddenly, I tasted Africa in my mother’s cooking, I saw it in the faces of my friends — be they from Brooklyn, Nigeria, or Trinidad — and, of course, I heard it in the sounds of the R&B, hip-hop, and reggae music I grew up on. I couldn’t have predicted it then, but the dream of Pan-Africanism and a collective, transnational Black identity in the 21st Century would be realized in music — through the cross-pollination of Black music genres across the world. GoldLink’s new album, the aptly named Diaspora, is an example of this global Black cultural exchange.
GoldLink isn’t the first African-American artist to title a project “Diaspora”recently: Baltimore singer-songwriter Joy Postell released her LP, Diaspora, in late 2018, and jazz trumpeter/composer Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah released an album of the same name in 2017. And while there’s some Twitter controversy surrounding GoldLink and Postell’s album titles, I prefer to attribute the similarities to the affirmation of Blackness in the ether, one that’s informing the work of a wide range of Black artists, from pop stars like Beyonce and Solange, to new jazz icons like Shabaka Hutchings and Kamasi Washington.
If GoldLink’s previous album, At What Cost — with its Shy Glizzy, Kokayi and Wale features — was a representation of the sound of Washington, D.C. filtered through GoldLink’s signature “future bounce,” then the new one represents his further immersion in the diasporic sounds of Black cultural hubs, from his native DMV to Jamaica to Nigeria to the United Kingdom. There’s an updated take on a classic dancehall riddim on “Yard,” and Afrobeats inflections on “Zulu Screams,” “U Say,” and “No Lie.” There’s more straightforward DMV-style flexin’ on “Rumble” and on the Pusha-T featurem “Coke White/Moscow.” What’s especially interesting is where GoldLink went to get this flavor and who he collaborated with. London, a center of African and Caribbean immigrant culture, is heavily represented on Diaspora — there are collaborations with Jay Prince and the trio WSTRN, while the producer/songwriter Ari Pensmith has credits throughout the album. The end result is an album which reminds us that musical representations of the African diaspora are as varied as the experiences and cultures of the people who create them.
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