Moor Mother Goddess mixes artful Afrofuturism with a heavy dose of the here and now
I'd heard it was next-level, but this is a whole other world.
On a cold night in December, Moor Mother Goddess spat out a fiery sermon from the stage of the Vox Populi art space in Chinatown. Her half-sung, half-spoken vocals cut through the dark room and dense, palpitating music as she paced the stage: “Families lost/ and are digging up the earth/ so many bodies/ so many graves/ 800,000 dead in Rwanda/ 400,000 dead in Darfur/ 110,000 dead in Namibia/ 500,000 dead in Ethiopia/ 5.4 million dead in the Congo/ did you feel it/ did you see it?”
DJ Haram provided the backdrop, spinning chaotic, sunburnt beats that twisted and scratched their way out of the speakers. Although I’d known Camae Defstar for years — as co-founder of ROCKERS!, a regular showcase for punk and heavy rock bands featuring people of color — this appearance at queer/Afrofuturist art party Chrome City was the first time I had seen her perform as Moor Mother Goddess. I’d heard it was next-level, but this was a whole other world.
Defstar first started this project in late 2012, when her band, Philly punk legends Mighty Paradocs, went on hiatus. Since then, Moor Mother Goddess, aka MMGz, has released nearly a dozen self-produced EPs and albums, most of which are available on bandcamp.com. “I wanted to make music that I could do alone,” she says. “The name is me honoring the mother, particularly the Black/Moor mother. …The sound aesthetic is something that is based on memory, ancestral memory.”
MMGz songs are often named for and exalting the memory of influential Black women: Marian Anderson, Ruby Dee, Maya Angelou and more. MMGz’s lo-fi/homemade sound pulls equally from hip-hop, punk, noise, blues and free jazz. Ragged, clattering beats rub up against spiraling samples that thrust in and out of the mix.
An indigenous African understanding of time and space is central to the MMGz aesthetic. The past is presented as a living thing, the future is a place where death is transcended and our ancestors possess the spiritual power to affect contemporary events. “We all need a more African outlook,” she says. “In Bantu tribes, they view time different, in other African tribes they don’t have a word for death. Ways of thinking/moving have definitely been flipped around.”
Day-to-day, Defstar works as a substitute teacher and basketball coach at a Philadelphia school and as an advocate for marginalized women. When she’s not organizing fundraisers for non-profit programs, she’s leading workshops aimed at educating Black women about housing laws, “healing trauma through writing” and other grassroots causes. “I’m doing two writing workshops this month at a women’s shelter here in Philly. I also do a freestyle workshop for women and girls,” she says. “Workshops allow me to work directly with folks who need support and my performances are all emotion.”
It was this desire to create practical methods of empowering marginalized people that led Defstar to co-found the Black Quantum Futurism (aka BQF) art collective with author Rasheedah Phillips. BQF fuses the pair’s heady, futuristic aesthetic with grassroots community work.
“BQF started off as a theory, as a manifesto on exploring other modes of time consciousness that would be more beneficial to marginalized peoples’ survival in a world currently dominated by oppressive linear-time consciousness,” says Phillips. “With the help of MMGz, it has since expanded into a project of artistic and literary collaboration which explores the intersections of imagination, futurism, literature, art, D.I.Y. aesthetics and activism in marginalized communities.” Holding true to this mission, MMGz and BQF have hosted events throughout the city, including fundraisers for nonprofits, benefits for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault, an open community discussion on state violence against Black women and more.
It’s this marriage of art and activism that energizes MMGz’s work. “[There’s] something about knowing that as Black women we have the power to create own platforms, to showcase ourselves and share our stories,” she says.
Moor Mother Goddess plays Sun., June 28, 8 p.m., $5-$7, with Mawn, Heller Wahn and Plattenbrau, W/N W/N Coffee Bar, 931 Spring Garden St., worldeventer.com.