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Remixing: Decolonial Strategies in Cultural Production

March 10, 2015

by SCZ

Hip Hop has always been more than the narrow space of the boom bap; it’s reach extends past the designs of coloniality; its power lies in its unpredictability. As scholar, cultural producer and emcee, Bocafloja argues, “At root, we must recognize Hip Hop as a consequence of connected historical processes that transcended the official transcript.” What then becomes the role of the deejay or producer in disorienting this “official transcript”; how, in fact, are we “flippin’ the script” and positioning our narratives at the front of these cultural productions?

As a deejay, i become that sonic archivist, a reclaimer of histories and transcommunicator of knowledge. Through the remix we are able to signify the past as a means of informing the present, and provide a frame for the future. The information being communicated through mixing is a complex web of signifying, coding, reclaiming histories, and remembering those who came before. As producers, we reimagine the way sounds can be redistributed to create new meaning, we resonate decolonial ways of being and knowing across waveforms, and we manipulate the cold technology created by coloniality for the purposes of resistance. The deejay is able to use technology and shape sonic space as a form of resistance and resurgence. As a participant in the production of sonic culture, i find myself reinterpreting concepts put forth by the Indigenous Nationhood Movement – of reclaim, rename and reoccupy – as sampling (reclaiming sonic pasts), remixing (renaming to create new meaning) and redistributing (reoccupying sonic spaces either digitally when i share my music on platforms like soundcloud, or when i play my music in physical spaces).

Resistance Sampling: Sonic Archives of History and Knowledge

The aesthetics of remix culture create space where the code of transcommunicating knowledge is the medium in which all media is created. New media is old media, and all media has the potential to be future media. Jarrett Martineau, Indigenous scholar and cultural producer, discusses remixing as a practice that is reflexive, recombinant, and regenerative. As individual and collective identities come into contact with cultural productions, we interact with and interpret them differently based on our own embodied social conditions of existence, and our current understanding of the historical legacies of diasporic and indigenous identities.

Hip Hop is radical movement, it is a cultural expression that bridges divides of anti-blackness and internalized colonialism that are present in the embodied experiences of colonized peoples. While we cannot deny the way coloniality has used Hip Hop to further its own goals, the very existence of Hip Hop in its varied forms and innovations refutes this essentailizing narrative.  Sheffield (p. 99) highlights the power of hip hop as a sonic archive in her writing about Hip Hop and healing; she argues, “The power of hip-hop (indeed any music) as a form of political expression is the speed with which it travels across audiences and the sheer simplicity of the medium.” This speed by which we transcommunicate knowledge is accelerated through the use of new technologies; cultural producers are engaging with one another’s content, processing it, and often times remixing it, all while transgressing spaces like established borders. The narratives told through remix culture move the violence of coloniality from the margins to center, repositioning our understanding and experiences as the foundation for knowledge and cultivating spaces of remembrance and healing.

The deejay/producer uses sampling as a tool to mobilize this process of healing and remembrance. This process takes place through the choice of sonic moments, movements, rhythms, and vocals which become a way of connecting past to present. Hip Hop at its core is sample-based; it was the blending of tracks, the simple chop created by a cross-fader, it was hacking the old to create the new. So when i, as a deejay in the present, choose to sample James Baldwin (the past) speaking about rage, i am doing so with two frames or questions guiding my choice, “how am i reflecting both on past and current social conditions, and what am i hoping to communicate to listeners  in the present and future spaces as they interpret meaning and message?”

Recombinant Strategies: Sonic Coding, Manipulations of Technology

Ingenuity is the code of black and brown creative genius, it is the nuanced ways that colonized bodies have found to communicate concepts of resistance toward colonial narratives. As cultural producers we have a responsibility to understand the connection of technology to a history of capitalist exploitation, global black insurgence, and Afrodiasporic creative energy, as well as Indigenous mobilization of technology as a decolonizing practice.

The manipulation or reappropriation of technology by black and brown cultural producers is ubiquitous with Hip Hop as a form of cultural expression. From its historical beginnings to the present moment, Hip Hop has as been a space for implementing recombinant strategies. As Jarrett Martineau claims, “recombinant strategies, refigured what is possible by virtue of what we’ve been left with.” Through reconstructing of sonic narratives, Hip Hop deejays and producers have reimagined relationships with technology out of the necessity to communicate social conditions.

As deejays and producers, we exist in a position of being able to employ recombinant strategies that seek to heal the fragmentation created by colonial encounters. Ironically, one way in which the deejay participates in this act of collective healing is by chopping, slicing, and fragmenting existent pieces of cultural production to create a new forms and expressions. Diasporic and Indigenous cultural producers are using new media and the interconnectedness of technology to transcommunicate and translocate coded knowledge through both physical and digital networks. It is through these technologies that we are able to practice self-determination and present our own narratives. These manipulations and reappropriations of technology become seeds that begin to grow new ways for knowing and being.

Redistribution of Sounds, Regenerative Practices in Remixing

Sonic redistribution is an important practice in regeneration. When we remix existing oral and aural elements of culture, we are able to remove decolonizing relationships from the realm of discourse and theory and put them into practice. Redistributing sound through our social and digital networks is a space where we can simultaneously practice deconstructing and reoccupying spaces in ways that address the apparatus of coloniality.

Sonic redistribution disrupts the colonial understanding of “space” and it removes sounds from a specific locale – whether that be geographic, temporal, or spatial – and repositions it with new meaning. As a deejay, i may choose to incorporate the sounds of helicopters, sirens, or political protest chants overtop of the beat to signify to the listener my understanding of imperialism and state-sanctioned violence, which are omnipresent conditions of existence for black and brown people.

On the other side of this practice of regeneration, the deejay is able to create space through sonic redistribution. Through the selection of tracks, blending of sounds, and resonance of rhythms we construct spaces where bodies move. The dancefloor becomes a space of growth as bodies come together to exorcise the experiences of colonial conditions. These spaces can become healing spaces, as individual and collective traumas are expressed and as music is heard, felt, and experienced.

Creating Disorienting/Reorienting Rhythms: Strategies in Resistance and Resurgence, sonics and space

We disorient the logic of coloniality and the sonic narratives disrupt and deconstruct, as dancefloors become diatribes where biopolitics collide, reforming understandings of relationships of bodies in space. This idea of reorienting rhythm as a practice in self-determination is central to strategies of decolonization. The tension between resistance and resurgence can be understood as the deejay uses remixing to resist the dominant currents of colonial narratives – i.e. white supremacy, heteropatriarchy, settler colonialism, cultural imperialism/erasure, ableism, capitalism and so forth – while putting forward sounds, samples, and code that have meaning for Indigenous and diasporic peoples.

Our current social conditions connect us to hypermediated spaces, and these spaces become places where we can see acts of resurgency in action. Technology is allowing (dis)placed bodies to find connection to our diasporic identities and understandings as we share our stories in our own voices, and for many this voice comes in the form of Hip Hop. The concept of reorienting the rhythm of a space relies heavily on acts of creativity and imagination. In order to understand the role of cultural production in shifting consciousness, we need need productions that can not only see a better way forward, but that can actively, through their creative capacity, try to put those acts into practice in the present moment.

SCZ (pronounced seize) is part of a North African and Jewish diaspora. They are an educator, scholar, cultural producer and mixed media artist whose work focuses on decolonization, Hip Hop, migration, identity and belonging. As a deejay, SCZ practices sonic weaving to create audio narratives, focusing on the sonics of space, the way sound migrates, the distance between sounds, and how sound is coded and blended to communicate knowledge to bodies in space. They often describes themself as young, angry and brown. As a poet, their poetics reflect themes of (dis)placement, brownness, queer love, and transgression. They believe that as queer, diasporic persons of color, cultural production is the space where we can resist the violence of marginalization and begin to not only imagine decolonial relationships but actively put them into practice. SCZ can be followed on twitter @decolonizedmind and samples of their writing can be found at
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