Negros Tou Moria

Pagrati, Athens, 2014. “Γκάνα, Φιλότιµο και στο Αµέρικα το πρώτυπο” (Ghana, “Filotimo” and the role model in America), courtesy Silia Niassou (Sally Ly)

The concert hall is dark. A rebetiko song from the 1930s flows through the loudspeakers:

last night in the dark
two black men cornered me
to search me
and take the hash away
from me

As the song concludes, Negros Tou Moria appears on stage to greet his audience: “Good evening, I am your white friend, Negros Tou Moria.”

Born in Athens, Negros Tou Moria introduces himself as an archaeologist on a mission to unearth and reassemble the Afro-Asiatic fragments of contemporary global configurations, to make sense of the present, and to challenge the narcissistic alignments of race, identity, and music. His name is a homophonic paronomasia of a celebrated Greek army general’s moniker during the Ottoman Empire. The experience of his performance is also one of paradox, disorientation, and confusion of customary cultural classifications. From the outset a great contradiction emerges: How can Negros Tou Moria thrive as an Afro-Greek in a language and culture in which blackness is either a figure of disparagement or a synonym for exoticism? Music provides the answer. The sounds emanating from his performance constitute a lyrical and spatial assemblage in which the modal explorations and reveries of Smyrna, Athens, and Accra come into contact with the textures and vibrancy of trap, rap, and R&B. Authenticity gives its place to ambiguity. Hip-Hop ceases to exist as a music genre. A space is made to accommodate the multiple positions from which the Afro-Greek can speak.

And speak he does. Negros Tou Moria raps in Greek. It might be said that he becomes more Greek than his fellow citizens due to his mastery of the language and for his deep appreciation of subcultures often overlooked by the nation’s institutions and by his own industry. His music communicates the irony of forcing Greek folklore to confront the long neglected history of the black man in Greece. Such a confrontation leads to a contemplation of life on the margins, of a society whose character is being shaped by nationalist politics, discriminatory citizenship and immigration policies, and a financial crisis. His is an approach that both incorporates traditions and collective memory, and expands beyond these cultural and racial conventions and expectations.

Neither a stranger nor a native, Negros Tou Moria embodies the strength and significance of what is all too often seen as a residual category: “It is a stage name that does not translate into English.”

—Kostas Maronitis

Posted in Public Exhibition
Excerpted from the documenta 14: Daybook
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