Moor Mother- The Great Bailout


“The Great Bailout,” is a horrifying, nightmare evoking album that addresses and criticizes the way the British Empire abolished slavery in 1833. Over the course of 45-minutes, Moor Mother delves into the subjects of reparations, the epidemic of amnesia in political institutions, and the erasure of atrocities in the collective consciousness.

Artist: Moor Mother
Album: The Great Bailout
Label: ANTI- Records
Release Date: March 8, 2024
Socials: @moormother

Written by Tony Le Calvez

“We in the present are constantly injecting ourselves into the past. The gaze of history shapes it, crystalizes it, collapses it upon the linear timeline. How do we tie ourselves to the narrative? When and where do the ancestors speak for themselves?”

These lyrics, pulled from “SOUTH SEA,” embody the thesis statement of Moor Mother’s newest record, “The Great Bailout,” a horrifying, nightmare evoking album that addresses and criticizes the way the British Empire abolished slavery in 1833. Over the course of 45-minutes, Moor Mother delves into the subjects of reparations, the epidemic of amnesia in political institutions, and the erasure of atrocities in the collective consciousness; she asks the questions that popular culture is either unaware of or afraid to challenge: “Where did they get the money? Did you pay off the trauma? Who helped build the country?”

The album opens with “GUILTY” a nine-minute track that introduces the album’s sonic aesthetic as well as its thematic focus: Britain’s Slavery Abolition Act of 1833. This event is popularly praised for being the first instance of a European colonial power making slavery illegal across their holdings, but after Moor Mother’s research, the picture isn’t as pretty as popularly believed. What seems to be omitted is that the act did not apply to any territories owned by the East India Trading Company, which included many islands operating sugar and tobacco plantations, “Did you pay off the trauma? The whip of the sugarcane, the poison of the tobacco?” It’s reported that these territories had approximately 8 to 10 million enslaved workers and that’s not counting the territory of India, which doubles or triples that figure according to Howard Malcolm, an English Reverend that documented these figures in his 1840 publication, “Travels in Hindustan and China.”

To make matters worse, the British Government agreed to pay, “20 million pounds in sterling silver” to businesses and slave-owners who were “losing property” with the emancipation of their slave labor forces. This 20 million pounds was covered by a loan, but had to be paid back by British taxpayers and wasn’t paid off until 2015. Meaning that for almost 200 years the tax and its interest was being paid by the descendants of former enslaved people who had become British citizens.

On the track, Moor Mother isn’t explaining all this in detail, she’s translating the anger, the injustice, and the trauma of this and other events through the music. The instrumentals do a lot of the work and it allows for the words, which Moor Mother keeps short and succinct, to dig deeper into the listener. This is no historical crash course or passing glance, she is forcing her listener to confront the horrors head-on. The instrumentation is eerily similar to Bjork’s album “Vespertine,” there’s a lot of harp, digital percussion, orchestral strings, and erratic vocal lines, but it molds those voices into something dark, twisted, and heavy.

On track two, “ALL THE MONEY,” Moor Mother introduces a little more musical scaffolding with a steadier beat and stronger focus on the piano. The lyrics form a timeline marked by the construction of famous British political landmarks such as the inaugurations of Saint Paul’s Cathedral and the Victoria and Albert museum as well as examples of cultural extravagance such as the Royal Crown Jewels and the Diamond Jubilee celebrations. While she lists these events, another version of her voice whispers pointedly, “Where did they get all the money? Who helped build the country? Who’s getting deported?” Through repetition, Moor Mother is able to emphasize every word to a greater degree and she employs it brilliantly thanks to how emotively she delivers the same line over and over again. She closes the track with the non-sequitur, “storm keeps raging” and the music suddenly cuts off; the sound is gone, but the echoes of anger and sorrow remain.

“GOD SAVE THE QUEEN” is a biting mockery of the phrase, with Moor Mother asking why the Queen’s life seems to be so much more valuable than those of the people her empire destroyed. It features an excellent trumpet accompaniment that reminds me of the cacophonous playing Miles Davis did on “Pharaoh’s Dance” from the first side of his 1970 record, “Bitches Brew.” The next song, “COMPENSATED EMANCIPATION” opens with these grueling walls of synth that rub on my ears like skin rubs on cinder blocks. It introduces the first of several features by Kyle Kidd who delivers vocals across the entire record. Kyle’s evocative and ghoulish wails are always playing call and response with themselves, usually panning between both sides of the mix. On this song, Moor Mother steers her attention away from just European political institutions and onto the infrastructure that unites them all: unbridled capitalism. She opens with, “Why am I here?” and answers it by waywardly explaining that her state of existence, massacres, injustice, and the reaping of natural resources, all stem from the callousness of business, innocently boiled down to “handshakes and IOUs.”

This is followed by, “DEATH BY LONGITUDE” which opens with a rhythm of heavy breathing cradling a collection of diegetic sounds: clinking, clanking, random clattering of objects, until Moor Mother violently disturbs it with the question, “What do we say of Barbados?” Her voice is echoed by a demonic shadow, as if Mephistopheles is behind her, mocking the ambitious European powers who, like Faustus, are ignorant of the impending consequences that coming generations will inflict on their institutions. When she invokes the devil, the music goes off the rails with an overwhelming force of sounds that I imagine to be the digital manipulation of 1,000 geese being strangled. This is when she finally reveals what “The Great Bailout” is: the 20 million pounds that was paid to 46,000 British slave owners in recompense for “losing property.” She denounces the action, the feelings of victim hood appropriated by the business owners, and the fact that they were compensated for the dehumanization of millions and their denigrating of blackness.

This is one of the heaviest of nine heavy tracks and she follows it with a much-needed interlude called, “MY SOULS BEEN ANCHORED,” but it’s only a minute long and she dives right back in with track seven, “LIVERPOOL WINS.” In this track she starts to travel forward in time looking at how the loss of slave labor was replaced with intense industrialization that, while considered a period of success for the British elite, only created another oppressed working class, destroyed the environment, and funded the continued exploitation of populations overseas. Kyle Kidd returns on this track in tandem with loud phone rings and the hammering sounds of steel on steel.

The second to last track, “SOUTH SEA” presents over the course of nine minutes a culmination of Moor Mother’s critique, providing a well wrapped thesis and sense of didacticism. The music is stripped down to a few voices, humming and shushing like the start of a hymnal elegy, and the inclusion of what sounds like hyperventilating or choking reminds me of the poetry of Sonia Sanchez or Kristin Hayter’s Lingua Ignota albums. Moor Mother paints terrible images of babies stolen from mother’s wombs, staring death and torture in the face, and the bowels of transatlantic slave ships. That’s paired with a whining sound, like a human dog-whistle, that is literally painful to listen to, but juxtaposed with a warm clarinet harmony beneath it. Eventually, the clarinet is left alone to duel with the electric organ for who can play the most discordant Albert Ayler tribute.

The album ends with a musical and thematic bookend, “SPEM IN ALIUM” which feels like closing the top flap of a letter, bringing back a lot of the sounds from across the record into a slowly receding silence. When the silence takes over and the album ends, I am left with only echoes of “GUILTY GUILTY GUILTY.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *