Philadelphia native Camae Ayewa has inventively characterized her activist sound project Moor Mother with various self-coined, hybrid genres: “project housing bop”; “chill step”; “blk girlblues”; “witch rap”; “coffee shop riot gurl songs”; “southern girl dittys”; “black ghost songs.”
Ayewa grew up in Maryland but she moved to Philadelphia after high school and has been a musician and community activist there for over ten years. She lives around the corner from John Coltrane’s old house and is deeply influenced by Sun Ra, but her practice looks ahead both musically and conceptually.
The Mighty Paradocs, the punk duo she started with Rebecca Focus, went on to launch ROCKERS!, an event series welcoming “queer or trans people, women, playing progressive music, futuristic music…” She started Moor Mother Goddess or MMGz in 2012 and went on to make over twelve albums in three years. Together with her partner Rasheedah Phillips, a public housing lawyer, writer, and artist, she formed a community initiative called Black Quantum Futurism, which leads writing workshops at shelters and schools and examines the lasting scars of collective trauma: “We remain stuck in cycles. We don’t believe in linear time. It keeps coming around, and the more we try to disconnect ourselves from our past, the worse it gets.”
Ayewa’s latest LP, Fetish Bones (released on the Don Giovanni imprint), features 13 songs conceived and recorded in Ayewa’s home studio using a variety of machines, field recordings, and analog noisemakers. The music is often harsh and strange, projecting both the visceral anger of punk and the expansive improvisatory spirit of Sun Ra. The album attests to her belief in the importance of connecting with and processing the past. Her music serves as a vessel for confronting a history of struggle and loss and as a call for rebellion and endurance in the American black community. Via the album, she departs on an investigation and reportage of history “throughout the race riots from 1866 to the present time,” visiting specific moments, bearing angry witness, and taking on the cumulative weight of centuries of hardship. At the same time, her listeners don’t escape unnoticed—Pitchfork describes the album as “implicat[ing], reveal[ing] culpabilites, and creat[ing] a space to learn from its inherent difficulty”...it ”interrogates your complicity.”
Ayewa’s practice reflects an understanding of afrofuturism as a revisitation of the past and an acknowledgement of the present as its own sci-fi reality.