Words can be heard, but they also can hit, break, disenchant and stay true to their former art. Art may be delicate and beautiful like in the renaissance, but it’s also finding beauty in the cruel world. To craft words to describe the harshness of life, especially the life of black people in a supposed-to-be post white supremacy society, only a skillful wordsmith can accomplish the mission. This figure is called Tenesha: Tenesha the Wordsmith.
She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, a place that moves to artistic creation. Frequently attending the public book readings at the local book stores, she developed her own voice with delicate spoken-word poetry and afro-futuristic soundscape. After her first full record Body of Work in 2016, now she released Peacocks and Other Savage Beasts, music produced by Dj Khalab in jazzy electronic territories. Let’s find out what a contemporary poet in music wants to express.
- Dangerous Women
- Why White Folks Can’t call Me N*gg*
- The Collection
- Corny Ass Poem
- Peacocks and Other Savage Beasts
- Dream So Loud
Dangerous Women opens the gates in a world of mystery. Why mystery? Because there’s no certain key in the song. A note is missing from the key and makes both sound and lyrics misty, a misty letter to all the dangerous women to be brave and bold. The melody is set by percussions and a synthetic hand pan combined by a litany produced by a high female voice.
Why White Folks Can’t Call Me N*gg* is the anthem of the album in all senses. It even contains the American Anthem sung by T. in an ironic way. Like the most minimal blues, the poem enlists all the things regarding the cultural appropriation of America perpetrated against black people in order to forget a past that cannot be forgotten and must not be forgotten. When the poem ends, the song doesn’t and instead it changes key from the classic E of the blues to D minor right after T. states that after the appropriation, white folks simply are not invited to the conversation, just like testifying with the change key a social decision.
Bastard is the dismemberment of tonality. Electronic notes confound the psyche over an electronic club percussion section with bubbling bass pitches while describing the uncomfortable feelings in living in a place that doesn’t feel like home. The trauma of being born as the daughter of a casual father reverberates with a pad arpeggiating chromatically.
The Collection promises what the title says: a long list of traumas collected by T. in a box since she was seven, to unfold them later in order to understand. Should stories like these be told again? While asking the question, lounge jazzy music is going on, a minor scale fragmented among the instruments, a carillon-like lullaby descending until the chromatic synth note that makes the lullaby unsettling, a monkey screaming in the distance to put a sign on the main passages.
In the sixth track, T. expresses the will to write a simple, Corny Ass Poem, imagining to be a fairy tale or a black Cinderella, with dancing bears dancing around her like in patriarchal Disney movies. Instead, the reality is harsh and emergency sirens remind her of the practical side of things that modern life requires, with all the stress running the world. The song is practically made out of percussions and that’s it, syncopate rhythms making you move while thinking about all the stressful things.
Madea is the single extracted from the record and published in 2018 together with the above-quoted Dangerous Women. Actually, the two songs share identical music. Same patterns, same rhythm section, same uncanny tonality…but different lyrics. Madea is a tragic story of systematic persecution. If you have the courage to ask for help well, but whose authority? This is not a poem…it’s a call to arms.
It’s the turn of the title track: Peacocks & Other Savage Beasts tells the story of childhood trauma through the metaphor of the showy birds. The subject of the trauma isn’t told but strongly felt. The nightmare is narrated through a slow jazz intro with double bass and an electric piano like in a smoky club, then it becomes a sad samba-ish tune where the seventh major makes the song uncomfortable.
Again is a reflection about human relationships and why they almost seem doomed to repeat the same mistakes, due to human frailty or egoism. It’s curious that this song is put right after the title track because both share many samba elements like rhythm and the same melodic syncopation, like being an upgrade in layers respect to the previous tune. The second one even imitates the sound of a peacock with a descending pattern from F# to B.
You could say this album is full of hopelessness, but it leaves space to hope for a better future, a future of communion. In Dream So Loud, T. duets with Daniel B Summerhill, an assistant professor of poetry and social studies at California State University, probably a colleague of hers, enlisting all the reasons that keep them strong and living for a purpose. They alternate verses until the very end, where instead of repeating I dream so loud, they say We dream so loud, paving the way for hope in an egoless society. The song is an electronic, deconstructed blues where the rhythm section almost resembles a storm of cicadas, like a plague coming to sweep away the modern cornfield of selfishness.
Peacock & Other Savage Beasts is a harsh album describing a harsh society but it keeps a little flame of hope in the great darkness. Tenesha crafted an audible book of poetry as her personal call to arms: watch the women.
Written for you by Music Pills
Previous call-to-arms review: Neneh Cherry and her Broken Politics
Previous modern age poet: Milo alias Rory Ferreira and his Budding Ornithologists Are Weary Of Tired Analogies
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