“Most of my songs are about bugs, but this one is about a lizard,” announced local artist Guayaba (FKA Aeon Fux) earlier this year to an audience at the Crocodile. While she probably intended this comment to be jokingly self-deprecating, it was also a fair summary of her set. Taking the stage dressed as an alien baby doll, while plowing through a set of sometimes-haunting, downtempo songs about insects and broken relationships, Guayaba was easy to be intrigued by. But though her set was solid, and her voice remarkable, she seemed nervous and her music at times veered towards monochromatic.
I say all of that not to critique what was essentially a solid set by a young artist in a major venue, but to contextualize her latest release, the six-song Black Trash/White House, which is the most impressive local release I’ve heard this year. BT/WH is a fully-realized, brilliant release that explores the pain and also the power of existing on the margins. Though, it’s Guayaba herself who offers the most astute summary of the theme of BT/WH. In the final lines of the first track, “Basura Negra,” she intones, “I’m fucked up in the head and I am fat and I am queer/ and I am poor and black and maybe even ugly but I’m here.”
Across the record, Guayaba explores the dual nature of existing on the margins. On the one hand, as a woman of color she deals with racist microaggressions (“eres tu mulatta?” trans. “are you mixed?”) the agony of institutionalized violence (“cuz I cry a river every time I watch the news”), and the tumult of racist desire (“but in the end you wanted a Becky/ y soy una Maria”). Multiple times she refers to herself as an insect, using the demonization of ecologically necessary organisms as a sophisticated metaphor the oppression of people of color.
But then there’s the power. Anyone who exists at society’s hazy edge can testify that there is reward for being different, a sort of mental quarter-turn that allows you to slip outside of the cultural jet stream and forge a singular path. Guayaba understands this power, particularly its spiritual aspect. She is Anansi, the mischievous spider god of Ghana and the African Diaspora. She is an initiate of Santeria, calling on the Oricha Elegua to assist her in a mystic journey. She is rich soil, beautiful and nourishing, capable of producing rare tropical blooms if only she could free herself of a toxic relationship.
Album opener “Basura Negra” features atmospheric chimes and hard-hitting drum programming, establishing Guayaba as a complex artist who slips between rapture, humor and pain. “Santa Sangre” is a layered invocation that invokes Santeria and the surrealist films of Alejandro Jodorowsky. “Sante Sangre” also sharply defines how brilliantly referential BT/WH will continue to be. “Brown Recluse” explores the intersection of toxic relationships (via the metaphor of parasitic insects) and the openly political. Though perhaps the weakest track in terms of production, the middle section, in which Guayaba proclaims herself both beautiful and divine, more than makes up for it. “Casa Blanca” is the strongest track on the album, as Guayaba sinuously twines herself though the backdrop of skittering drums, handclaps, and spirited brass, and eviscerates an ex-lover while simultaneously flaunting her spiritual prowess. “Uh Oh” is a sweltering, downtempo track complemented perfectly by cold, sparse production. The final song on the album, the delicate Flamenco ballad “Paloma” is a lovelorn invocation to a lost lover/ insect, that finds Guayaba torn between blaming herself for the destruction of the relationship, and wishing the titular Paloma happiness. It’s striking both for its stylistic departure from the rest of the album and its display of Guayaba’s ethereal vocals, which slowly lift off into the stratosphere as the song progresses.
Though all too often female artists are defined in terms of their proximity to men, it is worth noting that the album’s production, courtesy of ascendant, local producer Luna God is polished and measured. As he showed on this year’s LGEP 2: Day and Night–which featured an impressive lineup of Seattle hip-hop’s rising stars–Luna God possesses both the slick intellect and flexibility to craft songs that both allow the featured artist to shine, while maintaining a distinct, recognizable sound. Black Trash/White House is no exception, and takes it’s place as one of LG’s most impressive pieces of work to date. Grounding the album’s production heavily in the folk and pop music of the African Diaspora, Luna God paints a dazzling sonic backdrop that sly forces listeners to confront the pain of colonialism.
Given the current political climate, it is more important than ever to uplift and support the voices of the marginalized. Monetarily supporting Seattle’s black and brown, queer, Native, and femme artists by coming to their shows or paying for their music is imperative, particularly if, as is the case with Black Trash/White House, it’s luminous party record that’s deeply sophisticated of identity. With this album, Guayaba has announced herself as a local artist to listen to, watch, and learn from.
In short, put your money where you political action is. That’s how we’re going to get through this thing.