NYC hardcore act MAAFA are releasing their debut full length album Because We Are this coming Juneteenth on Fuzz Therapy Records and to get you hyped for that impending release, the bad-ass Brooklynites sent over a track-by-track breakdown, giving insight into their writing process and the inspiration for each song. Read through this exclusive ‘peek behind the curtain’ provided by lead vocalist and lyricist Flora Lucini whilst enjoying their latest Single ‘Welfare’ and remember to snag the LP on Tuesday!
1. “Origém (Intro)
The word “origém” translates to “Origin” in Portuguese and it is also the name of my father, Leonardo Lucini’s (Bassist/Composer) Brazilian Jazz band which he shares with my Uncle Alejandro Lucini (Drums/Composer.) For their album, they used their grandmother, Dora Muniz’s, painting (she was a painter) as their album cover. She thankfully lived long enough for me to spend time and live with her before her passing when I was a kid. Every morning before school I would sit next to her while she painted at our breakfast table. So, the artwork in the album for the page dedicated to this song is of one of her original paintings.
When I started MAAFA, I knew that I wanted to incorporate/reference these influences on the record and tribute my paternal family, but I also wanted to tribute my maternal family as well which leads to the music.
Originally the song had a sample of this style of music called “Tambor De Crioula” from my mother’s hometown in the northeast of Brazil São Luis, Maranhão. Which both myself and all the women in my family grew up dancing and participating in. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get permissions for that sample in time for this release. It was going to start with that sample from Brazil into the intro with Batá that you hear on the track now, to showcase the similarities and connection of the traditions through its African origins.
The Batá drums and rhythm on this track reminds me of the instrumentation and even some of the drum patterns found in Tambor de crioula. It’s very similar in the sense that both traditions use 3 double headed drums, “small, medium and large” that are all assigned different functions and both traditions are African Traditions brought through “THE MAAFA” to Brazil and Cuba (then to other parts of the diaspora later) and used traditionally in African traditional religious ceremonies. This was one of the ways to incorporate a tribute to my mother’s hometown as well. All the references from the album art to the actual musical styles point to my “Origins” in some way.
I also split playing the bass on this track with my Bassist Ray Russell. He plays the majority of the bass lines on the intro and I play the Tumbão Groove in the second half of the “Batá” section in the intro.
This was the first song I ever wrote specifically for MAAFA. The lyrics really embodied where I was/still am politically and in terms of what I wanted the message of this first record to convey.
I wrote all the songs on this album on classical/acoustic guitar because I couldn’t afford an electric one at the time. I also just write everything on acoustic LOL.
Welfare was not intended to be an “anthem” like song but it has definitely grown to that. I was trying moreso to mash up some of the more traditional styles of Hardcore and Punk into one song while the lyrics ushered in a perspective that called out a lot of the more problematic ideologies that plagued/continue to plague both our scene and our society, seeing as how music is a reflection of culture.
The intro to Deficit was written before the song was. I had this idea for the intro after being inspired by a call and response pattern I had heard in an African Drum and Dance class in 2008. I slowed it waaaay down and translated the inspo from it into a heavier style. I had always heard Kora in the intro too and am so glad it worked out where the professor of the class, Amadou Kouyaté, who is also my friend of almost 20 years and is one of the original members of MAAFA is playing Kora in the intro. He is also playing a series of drums such as 2 Djembes, Dudunba, Sangban, Segesege and more. This same Djembe pattern repeats in the outro and slows down even more as it transitions to a more typical “beatdown hardcore” feel which is when the gang vocals start screaming “Reclaiming my time.”
I wrote the lyrics after a frustrating experience with a former colleague who kept abusing their access to me by constantly bombarding me with requests to correct their problematic behavior, specifically around racism and homophobia. They never asked me, they demanded, they never offered to pay me for my intellectual labor, they never gave me credit for said labor and the entire interaction was transactional and unwarranted. Just kind of kept messaging me over and over again until finally I had to block them.
This led me to reflect on the history of QTBIPOC interactions with folks like that, especially sense this happned during the height of social unrest around the murdering of unarmed Black folk. It remonded me of how often we all are constantly being put in positions like this to do all this labor and are expected to do it for free.
This song was written in 2017/2018, around the time that U.S. Representative Maxine Waters (a Black Woman) went viral for standing up to her problematic colleagues in government by “Reclaiming Her Time” during a house committee meeting. She was coined #AuntieMaxine shortly after. The visual of a Black Woman in power stating “I’m Reclaiming My Time” from problematic “colleagues” fit perfectly with the messaging of this song. It’s really about paying BIPOC for their labor, self-advocacy, boundaries and self-care.
There is a theme about water here: cleansing, ritual, baptism, sacrifice, rebirth, death, legacy, tribute and worship. Libation is a reflection on the legacy of what our ancestors have left for us and what we are responsible to build moving forward as the descendants/survivors of Chattel Slavery. It’s about ancestral worship, ancestral memory, a moment to reflect on our loved ones who have passed.
It is part poem, part prayer, part ritual and of course, part call to action.
I wanted to give myself space to write a song both musically and lyrically where I can depart from the typical lyrical styles and song structures we find in Hardcore but while still pulling from influences like Spoken word, Reggae and Hip-Hop influenced-Hardcore. For example, Lyrics like “Black is the river now. So much flesh in the waters, the waters have changed.” Was inspired by a statistic I read that said so many African bodies were thrown overboard into the Atlantic Ocean during the middle passages/ The Maafa, that it changed the temperature of the water forever.
Naming the song “Libation” was inspired by the history of the Black American ritual that some of us do when one of our loved ones passes away i.e. “Pour one out for our homies” and the fact that some in the States who practice that and learned that from Hip-Hop didn’t or don’t know that pouring Libation is African Ancestral Memory, it can be traced back to many of our ancestral nations on the continent as an important ritual across many religions and cultures it is also not exclusive to Indigenous African Nations but also to Indigenous Nations in the West. It has been said that for many Africans & her descendants “Nothing important happens without Libation.”
I am of Yoruba (Nigerian) descent, and a lot of the lyrics reference ritual/aesthetics still present throughout my family and that can be found in some African Traditional Religions (ATR’s for short) such as Black American Hoodoo/Brazilian Candomblé, Cuban Lucumí/Lukumi etc. But also Black American Christianity/Southern Baptist + Pentecostal references.
I wanted the overall feel to take the listener on a journey and for it to be like spoken word meets hip hop influenced hardcore in the verses then the Reggae part allows you to meditate then finally resolving on a metal/opera like ceremonial vibe that centers hope in the end.
It was important to me to make a moment for meditation that musically centered the real, Black African tradition of Reggae. The whole song touches on the connection of the spiritual and the political being in balance for true resistance. Which we see in historical victories such as The Haitian revolution, for ex. Very rarely do I hear true stories about uprisings and revolts of enslaved Africans where we did not seek the guidance of our ancestors and the spirit world/our religions to see them through.
All the way to the civil rights movement and how a lot of organizing happened in the church, (regardless if everyone was actually Christian or not.) So many of our diasporic African religions are practiced under the guise of Abrahamic Religions because we were forced to hide our practices during enslavement. Take the saints of Catholicism for example (i.e. where “santeria” came from and that many feel should not be the appropriate term to use) in order to avoid being murdered by slave owners because our religions were considered “savage, primitive and of the white Judeo-Christian Devil.” Our political resistance and our god(s) have always and to this day remain connected for many of us (with all due respect to our very powerful atheist siblings who fight very hard on the frontlines and some even while trying to heal from religious trauma) and this song sheds light on that. Which is what “Libation” is really about: how the spiritual and political are connected when it comes to our living, our afterlife and our fight here on earth against systemic oppression and religious (ATR) prosecution.
The breakdown pays tribute to the traditional Rastafari community I grew up around in D.C that are responsible for some of my earliest exposure to Pan-Africanism and Militant Black Liberation Politics very early on in life.
The end of the song is an extension of the meditative reggae break, but the vibe changes into a more metal influenced, almost operatic style to evoke the feeling of a ceremony/ritual chant for the hope of where we are headed as a people and that the deaths of our ancestors were not in vain, instead their legacies fuel our resistance and our “big dreams” to this day. One that factors in the entirety of our history and “The Legacy They Left Here for Us” (the very last line of the song) a lot of our traditions teach us that when we die we then are promoted to “ancestor” and have to begin our duties as an ancestors over our descendants that are still here on earth. The overall feel is about hope and how we must carry on to a better world, which is a great segue into the next song “A Luta Continua.”
5. A Luta Continua (Interlude)
“A Luta Continua” translates to “The fight goes on” in Portuguese. This interlude was an instrumental bass and percussion duet I wrote and am performing on. It is a duet featuring me playing the bass (everything you hear on this track that is not vocals or percussion is the bass. There are no guitars) and me singing/harmonizing with myself. The only other musical instruments are Traditional Brazilian percussion played by my friend Everton Isidoro who is also from Brasil. The style of music is a mix of Traditional Capoeira percussion & rhythm and the lead Bass lines were inspired by a style called Baião .
Overlayed is a sample of Councilwoman Marielle Franco’s speech (SPEECH HERE) at a hearing on violence against women in the Favelas, given about a week before she was assassinated. This interlude is to usher in the song “Filha Da Luta” that also features Afro-Brazilian Musical elements.
6. Filha Da Luta
“Filha da luta” translates to “Daughter of the fight” in Portuguese and is a saying I saw become popular on protest signs during uprising against Bolsonaro’s election and when Marielle was assassinated. “Filha da luta” is a play on words for the insult “Filha da puta” (which translates to what in the U.S. we would say “son (Filho) of a bitch” but in this case it’s daughter(filha) of a bitch lol) activists changed it from the cuss word “Puta” to “Luta” which means fight. “Puta” is also a misogynistic slur in Portuguese for Slut/Whore.
The song’s intro features a rhythm called “Samba-Reggae” that is very popular in Brazil during carnival especially in the northeast of Brazil so places like my mommy’s hometown and Bahia, considered the “Black state of Brazil” which has similarities we can find in some Afro-Caribbean cultures.
My friend Everton recorded the Brazilian percussion for this song as well, he played a bunch of the traditional instruments that go along with this style like the surdo, agogo, pandeiro, atabaque and more.
The choruses and the breakdown at the end features a rhythm that is very dear to my heart called “Afoxé” (Here’s a video of my cover of that Afoxé song I arranged, choreographed and sang for Harry Belafonte at my Almer Mater, Berklee College of Music) which is an African-Brazilian Rhythm that my dad uses a lot in his songwriting and which has a long history with Black resistance and enslaved African uprising during the Maafa. It is also a rhythm that primarily is used in religious ceremonies and rituals in the ATR- candomblé. (Video of my uncle and friends back home in DC playing Afoxé)
I dedicate this song to Marielle every time we play it live and to all Black/Brown, Non-Cishet male activists globally that we’ve lost and whom are still here fighting and organizing.
7. Not Your Exotic (CW: Sexual Assault)
The inspiration for this song’s title and for some of its lyrics is the poem “Not your erotic, Not your exotic” by Palestenian-New Yorker poet, Suheir Hammad. She and I have become really good friends after I wrote this song when one of her homies happened to come to one of our shows and connected us. This poem changed my life and finally made me feel “seen” and most importantly she found the words I had such a hard time formulating over the years. It unlocked my voice about this issue, and I owe it all to her.
The song is simple, straight to the point heavy punk rock. I wanted to write a groovy, still “Maafa” style punk song, that emphasized the lyrics more than anything else.
The lyrics are about the violence that Women/Femme identified and presenting Black and Brown people like me face from being hypersexualized/fetishized/Other’ed etc.
Hypersexualized for being a Black Woman, A Brazilian woman, lightskinned/mixed race presenting Woman/ for my body type etc. You name it! We’ve heard all the gross and highly offensive things “Spicy, Sassy, pretty for a Black girl, Pretty for a fat girl etc.” my darkskinned siblings have to then add colorism on top of that like “Pretty for a Darkskinned girl” or fetishized statements like “You’re the Only/first Black/Fat/Brazilian etc. Girl I’ve ever been with/liked” etc. or “why are you so Angry/Emotional/Hysterical/Crazy/Irrational/Sensitive/Moody” etc…AND the FAVORITE one they use for Black Women: “You have an attitude.”
The album art for this song features the song title super imposed over a picture of one of the signs used to announce the auction/arrival of an enslaved Black Woman named Sarah Baartman aka Venus Hottentot who was enslaved and treated by her capturers as like a zoo animal they paraded around the world naked, on display like a circus freak show/side show so that white people can come and stare and violate at her “exotic” body. (This is a gross over simplification of her life and legacy, due to the sake of time.)
It’s wild to think this actually happened and that a body type that is extremely common amongst Black and some Brown folk (and that she and I both share similarities with) is somehow “exotic” and “freak-ish” “abnormal” or a “deformation/illness” that it needed to be literally caged and put on display.
DISGUSTED is the first word that should come to mind, which is exactly how I feel and how many folks like me feel regularly. Sexual harassment is part of my everyday life. My safety is something I have to factor in when I get dressed, what time I leave my house, what kind of clothes I want to wear or go shopping for etc. Shopping is a lot of “Damn, I shouldn’t wear that, I COULD GET HURT.” I have been assaulted more times than I can count, I haven’t taken the subway alone in 6 years because I was sexually assaulted on the train 3 times in broad daylight.
I, like many BIPOC femmes, have survived sexual assault, being followed to my house, to my car, to public bathrooms, physically sexually assaulted at shows, cat-called on the street, etc. My friends have to literally make sure I make it home all the way in the door when dropping me off in an Uber. I’m required to check in via messages with my homies as soon as I’m in the house just so they know I’m ok and they are also required to do the same. None of us drive off until everyone is inside their homes with the doors locked and accounted for in the group chat. If one of us forgets to check in, we can absolutely expect several missed calls the next morning.
In fact some of my girlfriends and I have a group chat that we all send “I’m home” or “I’m on so and so street, with so and so, his/her/their license is…and I’m wearing…. etc.” even though we all live in different states. We all have access to our parent’s/spouses’ information, address, emergency contacts etc. and we all carry emergency contact and information cards with info like “I’m allergic to penicillin.”
Having to live like this since I was little which was taught to us by our mothers/sisters/elders/community and theirs to them and so on for survival, is absolutely normalized. And this song feels like a collective “exhale” for 2 minutes and some change that we can all take and scream all the pain and frustration we feel that is constantly being dismissed.
NOTE: Most CisHet masculine Men and Boys NOT having to ever think about stuff like this is a type of privilege I speak about in “Welfare”: “To Inhabit your skin without fear (white privilege) / To inhabit your body without shame (Fatphobia/skinny privilege/Masculine body privilege) / To love who you want (Hetereosexual Privilege) / TO WALK AT NIGHT ALONE (that part) / To be standing on the outside looking in / THAT’S PRIVILEGE!”
8. For The Culture
My hometown here in the states is Washington, DC. And D.C. has its own original style of music called GO-GO that I grew up on. Go-Go and D.C. Hardcore have a lot of history together and sometimes , many many moons ago traditional Go-Go bands would play Hardcore shows.
So this song musically is a love letter to my hometown. Go-Go, like Hardcore, has also evolved tremendously; for example, THIS is one example of what modern Go-Go can sound like with more rock influences. I love everything about Go-Go, especially all the obvious ancestral memory you see in every element, down to its own dance called “BEAT YA FEET.”
The artwork on the album for this song depicts the Bucket drummers that perform at the metro stations in DC that I also grew up listening and dancing to – also another example of ancestral memory.
“For The Culture” is a phrase some Black folks use when we are acknowledging something that is being done strictly for the sake and the betterment of Black culture and Black people.
The lyrics are calling out gentrification, posers and people that want to exploit how “trendy” being Black and “punk” or “alternative” is now a days all of a sudden. When most of us grew up getting beat up or harassed for listening to “White people music” and it was actually dangerous for us to “dress punk” back in the day. Oftentimes the violence came from our own people as well as racists that we faced at shows, so we caught it from both ends. But now a lot of those same people want to dress like us and study what we’re doing in our scenes cuz they think it’s “cool and trendy.”
The song was inspired from my rage against corporate “alternative music” festivals that exploit the word PUNK and the people in the community in order to chase “clout” and be trendy, when their festivals have absolutely nothing to do with our communities and do nothing but erase actual Black punks and Hardcore kids like Maafa and our sibling bands.
This is my break up song, but you know I can’t do a break up song without making it political lol. Relationships bring out things in you in a way that only they can, because of the unique things it forces us to face when having to deal with other people in a romantic way, like during talks about the future, children, expectations etc. It will bring up your own traumas and sometimes your partner can treat you so badly that they become a trauma themselves that you’re forced to heal from. Which is in part what happened here as well: this was written after I got out of an abusive relationship.
Things like infidelity & betrayal trauma are also experiences that inspired this song. It’s my most vulnerable song & most personal.
Basically, the inspo for this song is how a break up was the catalyst to my journey with mental health that saved my life and how during that journey the issue of mental health in the Black community came up i.e. still not having a therapist or the right meds because they’re low income; how HR from Bad Brains is/was treated/talked about during his battle with mental health; and the stigma in the Black community around mental illness and seeking help, especially amongst Black men.
My experience with depression and anxiety during this period felt like I was possessed by a demon or something really dark that had more control over me than I did so there are moments in the lyrics that reflect that down to the very last line that says, “Release Me, Please,” as if pleading with the demon to exorcise itself from my mind/body. But the song is also about healing and about taking control and responsibility for my healing which is how I reclaimed my power over the “demon.” Which is also reflected in the lyrics and in the aesthetic of the album art depicting items one would find in an apothecary to symbolize healing with medicine and healing with spiritual/religious ritual.
My parents and I are best friends and my father is my guide post in all things “life.” So to tribute him and how much he supported me during that time I made the song’s intro my interpretation of the intro and outro of my dad’s song “PEGA” – the sample is from the outro of the video in that link, so the Jazz sample at the end of the song is actually my dad and his band playing.
White boys get to make angry chugga chugga music to “bitch” about the things they hate all the time and they get praised for it, even though 99.99999% of the time the things they sing about hating are people and ideas that are different than them. They also love to gatekeep Hardcore for white straight men who are hyper masculine and violent. Well, this is MY angry chugga chugga song about the things I hate the most which are problematic white boys who make chugga chugga Hardcore and are put in a position of power to control the entire narrative of who and what Hardcore is and looks like and then, being true to their nature, they cry victim and get defensive when someone calls them out on how they protect and perpetuate harmful ideologies and behaviours in our scene. Hence: DECOLONIZE HARDCORE.
Now, I absolutely love and grew up on chugga chugga hardcore MUSIC* ( i.e. Beatdown Hardcore/ Traditional NYHC/ or my favorite as I like to call it “That Castle Heights shit” lol) so I’m not coming at the music, I’m critiquing SOME of the bands and their content, who are really the minority in the scene but because of privilege and supremacy are glamourized as not only the majority, when they’re not, but as the only “true” definition of Hardcore. As I often say, it’s “bullshiterious.” (I got that from a Black Feminist FB group)
Decolonizing Hardcore is also about reminding Black people in our scene and those who are new to our scene that they should NEVER have to negate their Blackness to be here. Manipulate their appearnce or the way they “talk” just to “assimilate.” That it’s about re-educating my own people about the Black history of Hardcore and Punk, that everything hardcore is and stands on comes from Black people who invented rock n roll, call and response, oral history keeping, communicating through dance without words, singalongs and pile-ups and spinkicks.
OUR FOOTPRINTS AND EXCELLENCE ARE EVERYWHERE and in EVERY INCH OF THIS CULTURE.
This is a house our ancestors built for us too, we are not guests here, this is part of our birthright and if anything, like any other subculture, it’s usually the descendants of our colonizers and the ones who benefit from white privilege who are the “guests.”
Decolonizing Hardcore is about centering the QTBIPOC presence visibly and loudly and unapologetically reclaiming not just our time but our rhythms, our dances, our styles, our languages, our lands, our spaces and our scene.
Batá Drums, Yoruba Tradition, Babalawo, Lucumi religion (aka Santeria, we do not Call it Santeria because that term is a colonial term and can be seen as offensive. The actual name of the tradition is called “Lucumi”or “Lukumi” Loo-koo-me)
The Batá drum is a double-headed drum shaped like an hourglass with one end larger than the other. The percussion instrument is still used for its original purpose as it is one of the most important drums in the yoruba land and used for traditional and religious activities among the Yoruba. Batá drums have been used in the religion known as Santería in Cuba since the 1800s, and in Puerto Rico and the United States since the 1950s. Today, they are also used for semi-religious musical entertainment in Nigeria and in secular, popular music. The early function of the batá was as a drum of different gods, of royalty, of ancestors and a drum of politicians, impacting all spheres of life in Yoruba land.
The drummers on Batá and Djembe for the intro song. One of them is Jabari Exum. He and our Friend Amadou Kouyate who is not only my former mentor but my former professor and one of my best friends and is an original and current member of MAAFA, he is on this album, they both were best friends with Chadwick Boseman from The Black Panther Movies (Wakanda Forever) so when it came time to make those movies Chadwick hired Jabari as choreographer, Lead Djembefola and to be his right hand man meaning every time he was on set, at a red carpet etc. Jabari, who is on this album, was playing Djembe next to Chadwick. Jabari was also in both movies in several Djembe scenes and as an extra in a few scenes in the second movie.