6 min read

Sour times [Ógè ụ́ká dị ụ̀tọ́]

Sweet & sour in the fruit + in the season (from autumn in Colorado to start of dry season back home). Trip-Hop. More AI-generated images.
Sour times [Ógè ụ́ká dị ụ̀tọ́]
WHITE LIGHT, receive me your sojourner; O milky way,
let me clasp you to my waist;
And may my muted tones of twilight
Break your iron gate, the burden of several centuries,
into twin tremulous cotyledons…
For I have lived the sapling sprung from the bed
of the old vegetation;
Have shouldered my way through a mass of ancient
nights to chlorophyll;

—Christopher Okigbo - Elegy of the Wind

Oh snap, look what fell out the patch
Right in this fool's lap, how uncool is that
All right jack, now you're on the wrong side of the map
With a busted GPS and on the wrong side of the snacks
They fight back, in fact they're rolling like the army
Throw bleach in laundry, unfold your origami
I like that some snacks sweeter in the end
But then again, ain't nothin' sweeter then revenge

—Method Man - World Gone Sour

This title really taxed the unevenly grown Ìgbò cortex in my brain. "Sour times"? Easy: ógè ụ́ká, but, eeh! Not really what I mean. I think the English "sour" carries more of the sense that allows pleasure. I, for one, can eat a lemon slice with relish. I love a sour tang from kombucha to ụ́dárà. That last one is a favorite, usually called African star apple in English, it's a weird, absolutely delicious fruit with a citrusy tang combined with a creamy sap. Man! I need a taste now. I think it's by no means an extravagant claim that you should travel to Nigeria (in the early rainy season) for no other reason than to experience the entirely unique flavor of ụ́dárà. But is it ụ́ká? I don't know, that word to me carries the connotation that the food has been spoiled. I'm certainly missing something, but one fix is to just add the idea of sweetness (ụ̀tọ́) explicitly. There you go! Sweet and sour times. Fixed it for ya, Portishead!

Ah! Portishead. The group with the most ụ́ká dị ụ̀tọ́ twist imaginable in Hip-Hop. From the genius composition and production of Barrow and Utley to Beth Gibbon's voice which should annoy you but instead completely enchants. I think most Golden Age Hip-Hop heads I've had a deep conversation with at some point admit to loving Portishead, and treating it like a guilty pleasure. I've never understood that. Sure it's not a group from the ghetto, and they don't spit slick slang—in fact there no rap in it, but I've never shied away from claiming them for my B-Boy soul. For some reason, every time October is rolling around, and the chill winds begin their creep across our sun-ripened faces, I find myself reaching for Portishead, and playing their albums from track 1 to track eleventy, with no skips, after which I find some of their cool asides and remixes to top things off. Then repeat the whole thing. I can't state a single favorite from the group, but I think "Sour Times" encapsulates everything about them, that deep, musical ụ́ká dị ụ̀tọ́.

Octobers are an interesting time back home as well. The harvests are done, including the signal Iríjí AKA New Yam Festival, and the rains done with them. The sun is losing none of its power, but the brains behind our sun-ripened faces are bracing themselves for the chill Ụ́gụ̀rụ̀ (Harmattan) wind which will evolve from a creep to a shriek by mid-December. The dry season has arrived, and it's certainly a case of ógè ụ́ká dị ụ̀tọ́.

Between Harvest and Harmattan

While most seeds are sent down in rains
To lie in wait through anhydrous days
The largest remains to vegetate
High over Sahara, and swell in freight.
The sun drops in its jot of modesty
Walking all waters to Bonny-side dock;
Leave your snug tops and comforters air out—
Soon to sprout, we'll have Ụ́gụ̀rụ̀ shoot for a shock.

—Uche Ogbuji, 20 Oct 2022

Ụ́gụ̀rụ̀ is the Ìgbò word for the Harmattan season and wind.

Other DALL-E-ances

Trying out DALL-E was enough of a thought-provoking exercise, from technological, cultural and phenomenological angles, that I thought I'd have a go with some of the other project with similar goals available to the public. Midjourney is similar—you send a Discord bot commands to generate the images. I tried the same prompts as in the last post. The best result from "The goons split us out from the room, Benin and Cameroon / Colonial ghouls with their pantaloons and barracoons" was already much better than what I was getting from DALL-E.

Image generated via Midjourney's AI

The failure to grasp that the intended subjects would have been European is a bit galling, and yet understandable, in part from the limited relevant content in the training corpus, and of course from how tricky it is to pick apart context from natural language. These shortcomings are of course among the many problems in AI we'll need to be solving.

I then tried the excerpt from "Mango Flesh", and here's a surprise!

Notice that the word "flesh" is banned from Midjourney AI prompts

Clearly this bot's levels of asceticism would be enough to make a Buddha blush. I'm reminded of the line from Gilbert & Sullivan's Patience.

Why, what a most particularly pure young man  
this pure young man must be!

As we saw last time, DALL-E isn't so obviously a prude, but perhaps that's why the options it offered were so pedestrian. A subtler form of control?

OK, fine. On to the final prompt from last time. "Only elephant can bloodlessly haul / Hippopotamus from the river". Midjourney struggled with this one as much as DALL-E did, rendering rather incoherent mounds of pachyderm flesh beside rivers. The former trick of prefixing "A children's drawing of…" wasn't as helpful as it was in DALL-E. Here are two of the four resulting images.

A couple of images generated via Midjourney's AI

By the way, this posts's feature image is what Midjourney's AI made of the prompt "sour times, a trip-hop song, sweet and sour flavors of autumn as african art".

Music to stream, love, and to dream of

One last thing about Sour Times—I was obsessed by the sample at the heart of the song. It was a fellow Hip-Hop head friend of mine, back in the pre whosampled.com days who clued me in that it was a Lalo Shifrin film score, and that score has tickled B-Boy ears through many other tracks over the years. The latest is The Good People – 'Drums and Bars' feat. John Jigg$, which will be this fortnight's grown-up B-Boy recommendation.

From the continent, just Sampa the Great. I've always been putting people on to her, but I just don't think ya'll understand how good her new album is, As Above So Below. It's a frenetic juxtaposition of African and diasporic music styles that coheres through the sheer heat of the fury of her messages. I won't even pick a song, just do like, y'know, we used to do and press play, Track 1.

And to wrap up, It's always a good moment when Madison McFerrin has a new track out, and she doesn't let us down with her latest, oozing soul like syrup over-scooped into the bowl.

Oh, and from music recommendation to hopeful music prognostication, could Sade really be back in the studio cooking up that sublime? Oh, if that's a dream, pass the valium!

Fọláṣadé Adu from the video of Sade's "No Ordinary Love"

The Feast of All Souls (yeah I was brought up Catholic, for my sins) is my birthday, so, until the next post, eat drink and be merry, for I see your skull beneath your skin, while breastless creatures under ground lean backward with a lipless grin (pacē Eliot). Put the distal phalanx on the record while the drumbeat goes like this!

Skeleton rave!

Please do consider sharing this newsletter with others, and subscribing, if you haven't (button in the lower right). Always something new to listen to, some new word play, a fresh take for tech's sake, with side sauce of odd juxtapositions. Dá àlụ́-nu!

❧ Égwú 🪘 Ókwú ✍🏿 Ígwè 📡 Ńdụ̀ ❣️