Live music review: Saul Williams at Cyprus Avenue, Cork

4/5

No more than any artist Saul Williams values communication. But with a background in performance poetry, Williams places an extra emphasis on the words he chooses.

In his hands they are instruments.

Having emerged from the New York slam poetry scene in the mid-1990s, Williams was portrayed as part of that group in the 1998 documentary Slam Nation. A published poet and writer, musician, occasional guest lecturer, and an actor, Williams is something of a polymath, but his astute management of the digital distribution of his music and the model he uses to get his music to the audience suggests he is both inveterate communicator and savvy business man.

Inspired by visits to Haiti and Senegal, where he witnessed the inventive retooling and repurposing of electronic waste, Williams conceived the character behind the title of his recent album MartyrLoserKing, an African hacker who causes havoc among the intelligence agencies of the US.

On the video projection behind him are a range of collaged images accompanied by various names and situationist style slogans.

“God of the internet, hack us,” beseeches one. We are invited to hack into dreams, subtext and the subconscious, hack into morality.

Accompanied by a musician offstage who generates an undulating bed of pneumatic and throbbing basslines, righteous and insistent beats, and pulsating synth lines, Williams surfs the soundscape with ease. Tracks are interspersed with a-capella recitations. He enters the middle of the audience to deliver ‘Coltan as Cotton’, where he implores us to hack into violence, fear, and ignorance. It’s a dramatic moment that highlights his true intent — to hack into us and rechannel our thinking.

“I’ll never give up on you,” he declares. “Don’t ever give up on me.”


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