My lads and my ladies: it is time for spring. For the American Northwest and Northeast, the Appalachians, and the Great Lakes region, it means fog in the valleys, budding green on the trees, and raincoats over soft sweatshirts. Can you tell I like spring? I like spring.
The best part: we're ushering in the warmth with none other than fabi0la, a songstress of slick beats and one of my absolute favorite DJs emerging from the Midwest. Some hard facts about fabi0la, née Fabiola Belaen: (1) she's an emerging techno talent with a bibliophile's taste for hip hop, as her roots split time between a Detroit (her father's side) and Seville (her mother's side) childhood. (2) She's an herbal wizard (or, rather, an apethecarist) -- you can basically only see her indoors if the room's got at least five plants or two windows. As such, plant-based healing is default, an area where she's taught many (including myself).
"I never realized how much my mother’s heritage has played a role in my upbringing until recently," Fabiola says. Sevilla, "a city full of beautiful architecture and nature located in Andalusia, the Southern region of Spain," surrounded her with "plants flooding the windowsill and growing along the walls of our kitchen." Fabiola then danced Flamenco with her mother -- "a traditional Andalusian art form made up of dance (baile), song (cante), guitar (guitarra), and castanets (castanuelos). The music resembles the culture’s admiration of natural rhythm, for each element is equally important in order to create the overall swing of Flamenco. My favorite component of Flamenco is the cajón, which is a percussion instrument shaped as a box originally from Peru, so technically it wasn’t added on until a bit later in time. I always loved listening to Flamenco music when my mom played it, but I wouldn’t necessarily consider it a significant influence in my music taste until I started to produce it on my own. It definitely helped with my rhythm and groove, though."
Detroit's influence saw RnB and hip hip enter the stage. "I remember coming across some people discussing the release of Kanye West’s ‘Late Registration’ on MySpace, and I stayed up all night on my family’s retro big-boxed computer listening to his previous work. That’s when I started to keep up with him, gradually becoming more familiar with hip-hop influences beyond his time. I loved female artists included in my Moods mix such as Aaliyah and Missy Elliott, but I knew these artists because they were popular and were played on the radio. Around age 13-15, I started to feel a bit agitated how underrepresented women were in the music industry. That’s when I discovered some women I still look up to today: Erykah Badu, Queen Latifah, and Lauryn Hill.."
Techno then came around: "I started looking up the history of techno in Detroit and attending Detroit’s annual Electronic Music Festival at Hart Plaza (‘Movement’). I had no idea what to expect besides the very few artists I knew on the line-up the first year, but each year I grew deeper into the scene and felt it become a stronger role in my life."
It helps to explain why Fabiola takes us on such a lush journey through gold-dusted 90s and 00s records. Fantasia, Lauryn Hill, Aaliyah, Salt ‘N’ Pepa, Missy Elliott (nothing but love and respect for MY president): their tracks will have you sitting deep in a bean bag, passing a blunt, watching the rain on a Sunday morning before heading to the neighborhood diner. It's part education, it's part eulogy to American black women legends. And this is just a fraction of what she used to bump to in her youth, from high school to recent discoveries. In all, it's a seamless synthesis.
-- TO LISTEN --
-- TRACKLIST --
Just a Friend - Biz Markie
I Wish - Skee
Mr. Telephone Man - New Edition
Machine Gun Funk - The Notorious B.I.G.
Shoop - Salt ‘N’ Pepa
Woo Woo Woo Woo - Esham
Doo Wop - Lauryn Hill
Don’t Worry - Aaliyah
Still Not a Player - Big Pun
Honeydips in Gotham - Boogiemonsters
Jazzy Belle - Outkast
When I See U - Fantasia
Juicy Fruit - Mtume
Too Close - Next
Nasty Boys - Janet Jackson
Nasty Girl - Jadakiss
Kiss - Prince
Old School Joint - Missy Elliott
Suavecito - Malo
Only You - Steve Monite
I Want You - Erykah Badu
The Dream Time Machine - WZRD
-- ARTWORK + MORE --
fabi0la's work is then paired with visual artist Cameron Welch's piece Smooth Operator from 2017. Recently shown at yours mine & ours gallery in New York, Welch's work operates similarly to Fabiola's interest in mining gender, race, and the performance (and permanence) of these variables. Welch fills in European aristocratic sculptures with brown, black, and tan jagged lines like a children's drawing left out in the rain. He then creates the illusion of "peeling" paint or paper from the canvas, as if the work itself reveals layers of past thoughts, memories, and moments in time without us knowing all the details (who is the girl in the foreground? Where is the scene?). It's an ode and celebration to reimagining the past while claiming a narrative for a black voice.
To learn more about Welch, head here.
To buy a dope limited edition sweatshirt of his work, head here.
To subscribe to fabi0la, head here.