Decolonization, Queerness, and Ancestral Nurturance in Xango/Suave’s “Hooks And Stones”

“Hooks and Stones” embroidery piece by Mazzie 

Interview by Marina Murayama Nir

Last Winter, the Culturework team featured Hartford, Connecticut-raised, Oberlin-based, Puerto Rican experimental pop band, Xango/Suave, and their song, “Rituals,” on our Matriarchy Playlist. Their 2017 album, Equis, rich in varying musical styles, examines “colonial resistance in Puerto Rico and explores personal negotiations of queerness.”

After a few conversations with Mobey Irizarry, the person behind Xango/Suave, we decided to reach out to gender-queer artist friend, Mazzie, to see if they would be interested in creating artwork that would accompany Xango/Suave’s new song, “Hooks and Stones.” Mazzie is a Philly-based multi-media artist and musician who performs under the name Identity Thief. Follow Mazzie on Instagram or on Facebook.

From one queer islander to another – cheers, and may we use our ancestral blessings to challenge hetero-colonial-patriarchal forces and continue to honor ourselves and each other.

a musician plays an electric guitar with a colorful light show

Xango/Suave – Hooks and Stones
A secret travels through the holes in my ears.
It whistles, whispers,
calls my bluff.
Knowingly tutting, “ay chice, chicx, deja la o.”
My metaphorical sister, queerricua,
gave me stones so that I could stand.
Or nails for the holes in my ears
so that I could adorn a wall
like a piece of art.

Se vaciaron una noche precaria,
ahumada, nublada.
Metaphorical tear droplets,
water condensed on metaphorical glass
line / inch up.

The whistling, whispering
grows faint.
Hooks and stones plug up,
hug my lobes,

“ay chice, chicx

Welcome home.”

Marina: Is there a reason why you decided to use autotune for the first section of “Hooks and Stones”? The beginning reminds me of Imogen Heap’s “Hide and Seek.” You probably weren’t channeling her, but maybe there’s something in the digitalism and computerization that you were interested in.

Mobey: I’m not super sure what the intention was behind the autotune/vocoder element of it. Definitely inspired by collaborative work with some of my peers, especially my best friend (who works under the name Little Bear), as well as the diverse ways many contemporary Reggaeton and Trap artists, like Bad Bunny or Young Thug or Tomasa del Real, are using autotune. While I use it pretty differently (this section is also heavily slowed down/pitched down from the original recording), my ventures into that realm should definitely be attributed to those artists, as well as T-Pain, Laurie Anderson, and others that first explored the possibilities of autotune/vocoding in music. The Imogen Heap connection is funny to me; you’re not the first person to bring her up in reference to this song. Actually I had never really sat down and listened to her work until just now! I totally see the connection.

There is a really powerful metaphor about the artificialization of the human voice in music, about playing in an ambiguous space between acoustic and electronic. It’s super queer, that fluidity and ambiguity. Whenever I inhabit a space like that, one that is in between acoustic and electronic, whether it be the granular synthesis with cello on “Rituals” and “Secret Silence” on “Equis”, or this autotune, I’m always channeling that metaphor.

Marina: Are you recording all of this in ITunes? What’s your drum/drum machine technique?

Mobey: I record mostly in Logic, and do some processing in Max MSP! In the past I mostly did drum stuff on my drum machine (I have a Korg Volca Beats), but for this piece I used one of Logic’s samplers. My drum arranging is definitely improving, it’s not something I’m used to. I took drum lessons last year focusing particularly on Hip Hop and Salsa and Latin Jazz drumming, and those are definitely the biggest genre influences on my drum parts these days.

I started off playing violin when I was three, and since then I’ve picked up viola, guitar, drum (kit and I’m learning more about congas, bongos, and other percussion popular in Puerto Rican/Cuban/Carribbean music), and I can kind of (Barely) play keys.

This piece is the first of a series of pieces I’ve been working on that start out with poetry. The lyrics for this one were written in a workshop I participated in facilitated by the poet Safia Elhillo. This starting point comes with the intention of complicating normative melodic structure and phrasing, as well as the broader form of the piece (you’ll notice that nothing really repeats aside from specific lyrical motifs, and the verses are phrased in atypical ways.)

“I utilize the image of my earrings / piercings as the starting point for this theme, and from there I discuss the ways in which my friends/mentors/ancestors have given me the knowledge and vocabulary to understand my own queerness”

Thematically, “Hooks and Stones” is a negotiation of the signs of my queerness that I identified as such years later, and the ways in which I have been given a vocabulary to understand things that I could not name when I was younger. I utilize the image of my
earrings / piercings as the starting point for this theme, “A secret travels through the holes in my ears”, and from there I discuss the ways in which my friends/mentors/ancestors have given me the knowledge and vocabulary to understand my own queerness:

” My metaphorical sister, queerricua, / gave me stones so that I could stand. / Or nails for the holes in my ears / so that I could adorn a wall, / like a piece of art. “

Three musicians play in dim green lighting, with a Wendy's logo on the wall behind them

Marina: Do you feel like you are constantly fighting outside forces that deny you of your identity? Despite this struggle you seem grounded in your vision of who you are. Where do you draw your strength? 

Mobey: Slowly, I think I have disinvested in the power of pronouns and other typical forms of validations of queerness / transness, seeing them more and more as a way to accommodate queerness within a patriarchal, heteronormative, and ultimately capitalist, white supremacist and colonialist framework of gender. Hegemonic notions of gender were imposed by European colonizers onto Black and Brown people, they don’t belong to us. The ways in which we reduce queerness and transness to pronouns and clothing/aesthetic choices is merely a way for queerness and transness to be coopted into an optically distinct but ultimately identical manifestation of cis/hetero/patriarchy.

For me, my queerness lies in my rituals and ancestry. That is what grounds me. I draw on practices that have been taught to me by my queer and trans siblings (specifically “my metaphorical sister, queerricua”), and that I have learned from my ancestors. From altar making and prayer, to art making and eating good food with loved ones, these are all things that ground me in myself.

“For me, my queerness lies in my rituals and ancestry. That is what grounds me. I draw on practices that have been taught to me by my queer and trans siblings.”

Marina: What do you look for in art? Who is inspiring you right now?

Mobey: I look for love, and I look for truth! I really feel that any time anyone is presenting a piece of art, they are offering a piece of their heart to whatever audience/participants might experience it. I am so inspired every day by my friends. I mentioned Little Bear above, but I’ll also always rep Hypno, Ko Takasugi-Czernowin (drummer in the live band!), Mid Atlantic Rift. I am continually inspired by the poetry, theatre, and dance work of Fernie Borges (who is on the track “Rituals” in my debut album “Equis”), and the poetry and visual art of Sarah Ridley. I’m also incredibly inspired by Alex Chuang and Dani Miriti-Pacheco, the cellist and bass players in our live set up. Truly there is nothing like being surrounded by artists that love you and that you love. I am so fortunate to be in a community that is constantly pushing each other to grow. Beyond that, these days I’ve had Joe Bataan, Luiz Bonfá, J Dilla, Balún, Roberta Flack, and Pink Navel on rotation.

Marina: In Equis, you bring up dreaming, and you bring up ancestry. Do you ever feel a timelessness in the trajectory of your life? Are you trying to shape a particular kind of world with your music?

Mobey: In my music, I am constantly trying to create a space for and by queer and trans people of color (QTPOC). For that reason, I mostly collaborate with QTPOC, and hope that my art becomes a source of healing for them and others. I have inherited a vast history of music as resistance, from early Afro-Puerto Rican genres of Bomba y Plena, to Salsa and Hip Hop developed in the diaspora in collaboration with African American musicians and artists, to Reggaeton developed in conversation with Hip Hop, Reggae, Dancehall, and other Afro-diasporic genres of music. All of this music has been integral to resistance to US colonialism in Puerto Rico, white supremacy, and so many other systems of violence. I consider myself part of this centuries-old trajectory, and especially now in the wake of Hurricane Maria and the disaster fabricated by the US, must dedicate my music and life to the liberation of the people of Puerto Rico, as well as the liberation of colonized peoples around the world, from those living under the US prison-industrial complex, to those living under Israeli occupation in Palestine.

Image credits: Dan Healy


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Marina Murayama Nir is an Okinawan, Egyptian, Israeli, first generation-American, third culture individual.  Their writing explores mixedness and tries to decolonize by acknowledging the truths behind all aspects of her identity and history. Marina is a facilitator at Girls Rock Philly and writes and performs under Murayama.