Miyamoto is Black Enough Releases Debut Album on National Sawdust Tracks
Miyamoto released its powerful debut album today on National Sawdust Tracks. “[Burn / Build] is a meditation on our racial present and our past, of course; we burn and build with every successive generation, knowing that destruction—that is, abolition—is sometimes the only way to mount the futures that we need. Today we yell and sing and play through our ancestor’s means and methods as well as those we invent because we know we’re close. We can hear it.” –Dr. Shana L. Redmond, Burn / Build liner notes
Featured Track: "Burn / Build” Juneteenth version
About the Album
In lamenting the ways in which cities are lost to us, the ways in which gentrification and other kinds of real estate race violence undermines who we are, we must not forget to lift up the first people on this land so displaced. The Lenape of what is now Brooklyn, who have been scattered to New Jersey, Delaware, Oklahoma etc, are the original spirit keepers of this place and the trees and plants they cultivated are still the oldest medicine here.
Miyamoto is Black Enough lives in part because the Lenape lived, and continue to survive. We affirm that Black Lives Matter as Indigenous Lives Matter and we lock arms with their memories and struggles as well.
“Pan is ours.” Three-words. Three-syllables. A trinity revealed in sound that dares to declare that we are in possession of a world treasure. Brought to you via Trinidad & Tobago, the steelpan is the air of Burn Build. It is the sometimes subtle, sometimes confrontational presence on an album that from the very beginning spirits you away from what you know. “Pan is ours” is not the first line of the album but it’s surely the leitmotif, for its assurances and certitudes harden the other claims, requests, rights, and passages of which poet Roger Bonair-Agard speaks. Like the piano, it is melody and rhythm in the hands of pannist and composer Andy Akiho and therefore exists under and alongside Sean Dixon’s sharp, bracing hip hop beats and Jeffrey Zeigler’s cello, which oscillates over the course of the eight tracks between lithe bowing, rock-inspired sautillé, and string scratches. The musicians converge in order to record and refuse the knowledges that would keep them from each other—the drum, the word, the string, the pan; the races, the cities, the beliefs, the cultures. None of these were intended to be close or sound beautiful together and yet, thankfully, here they are: Miyamoto is Black Enough.
Roger tells tall tales; tall for their scope and power, not because they’re untrue. The detail is too fine to not believe him. “Nina” represents for any lover of city who has seen it going, going, gone to the plague of gentrification. Each line is a lesson. “The bike shop used to be a bodega” he begins, explaining to his daughter what once was. He carefully reveals his unique awareness of and longing for a neighborhood and city that, like the drum and pan that punctuate his lines, both hits and loves its residents. “This subway stop used to be dangerous,” is a postcard greeting from a city that, in its haste to lose itself, convinced the country that broken windows have nothing to do with glass. “Coffee used to be 50 cents, Nina” is a math problem and a turn away from nostalgia toward the new normal that his daughter has inherited: “Brooklyn used to be Black, Nina.”
Each song has its own time and emphasis but together sound like a continuing story, thanks to clever narrative transitions and an enduring symbiosis between the musicians. Languages of affection (“Nigga and God both mean love coming from our mouths”) and close rhythmic structures pace the march of “Blackboy Shapeshift,” while “Revolver” holds in tension offense and care, deprivation and desire, loss and triumph. Akiho’s steelpan is a form of transport that opens at 3:56 into a murmuration of synchronized notes moving as a whale or tornado or soundwave. The flock pulses against Dixon’s rolling cymbal and Zeigler’s plucking, all the while carrying the heavy, hot confessions of knowledge and loss and memory that are found on each track.
The dedication to Indian pannist and arranger Jit Samaroo (“21 4Jit”) is a biomythography of which the poet is not only chronicler but also subject. The music is a cinematic journey of what’s hidden in plain sight that intensifies, incrementally but explosively, toward “Panifesto, Pt. 2.” Yes, “Pan is Black.” Another return to the forgotten islands, to the defiled cultures, tongues, sounds that nonetheless sustain and inspire new declarations, still: “We are sacred and Black. And we hold this to be true.” And if all else was not sufficient, “Burn Build” too begins with steelpan, which blossoms, patiently, and then sparks duets with drum and cello. Listeners are obliged to run from the fires set to Black churches, from the lies of empire and colonialism, from the violence that too many of us know as life. It is a meditation on our racial present and our past, of course; we burn and build with every successive generation, knowing that destruction—that is, abolition—is sometimes the only way to mount the futures that we need. Today we yell and sing and play through our ancestor’s means and methods as well as those we invent because we know we’re close. We can hear it.