Draw me a song, mother asked kindly on her day off. The little girl and the little boy took to their pencils and began to, well, draw.
Storied L.A. record label, Stones Throw, purveyor of fine Hip Hop and other “street culture music,” has published a book of illustrations by Munguni, Stones Throw. What’s incredible about Stones Throw, a book 100 pages, is that Munguni’s art is far from being the run of the mill figurative painting of, for example, Notorious B.I.G. on a city wall. Munguni’s drawings are brilliant at conveying perspective on music.
From St. Cecilia by Abraham van Diepenbeeck at the Metropolitan Museum of Art to Andy Warhol’s portrait of Diana Ross that was the cover of her album Silk Electric, plenty of artists have painted music into art history. The most popular are Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s Belle Epoque posters that sell musical festivity; posters of them are still purchased by the millions and can be seen in many college dorm rooms. The Belle Epoque was brought on by the coming to power of Emperor Napoleon III to the throne of France by plebiscite and his modernizing the country in many ways, including the construction of a brand-new Paris. The Baron Haussmann was tasked with producing a city great enough for an Emperor’s conception of self and place. He responded with demolition and, in the end, a city that is today considered a marvel of human possibility. Still today, Napoleon III’s Paris is the stuff of heightened living and heightened sensibility when friends sit and discuss.
We condemn extravagance that is wasteful or tasteless and yet we tout monuments of past extravagance, such as the Forbidden City in Beijing or the palace at Versailles, as highly admirable. The truth is that much of what we call ‘culture’ is fuelled by forms of extravagance.
- Emrys Westacott
The first department stores came into existence during the Belle Epoque. It was also when Charles Worth invented Haute Couture, or when a designer proposes luxurious finished garment as opposed to being told what to sow together. By outfitting the Princess of Metternich, a Viennese socialite, he caught the attention of Empress Eugenie, wife of Napoleon III.
Eugènie les larmes aux yeux
Nous venons te dire adieu
Nous partons de bon main
Pour un ciel des plus sereins
Nous partons pour le Mexique
Nous partons la voile au vent
Adieu donc belle Eugènie
Nous reviendrons dans un an
Ce n’est pas commode du tout
Que de penser à l’amour
Surtout quand il fait grand vent
Par dessus l’gaillard d’avant
The song above, entitled Eugenie, was one that French soldiers sang while at a war in Mexico to impose a government onto Mexico that Napoleon III wanted. Napoleon III also ruled as ruthless imperialist. It was war that led to his downfall.
Many Americans are today in love with the still thriving culture, said civilization, that the Belle Epoque brought about. The waltz, very popular during Napoleon III, was very popular in the US for a long time and it was certainly the same spirit of jovial extravagance that led to music like Cole Porter’s songs, who by the way lived in Paris for a long time.
Some are not, or are much less. The kids hit the streets hard in the 1960’s and on, even harder than when communism was gaining in popularity in the early 20th century. Some convened in forgotten rooms, around forgotten tables, planning a country that “will harbor present sensibility!” If they failed at completely changing the country, they succeeded at handing out down sensibility, which has evolved into all sorts of behavior and commitments.
- Kathleen Ossip
From it came the idea that one could be publically different and produce both life and enterprise out of it. The communists in earnest had loved classical music: this was Eros replacing the classical Athena or Minerva of the Greeks and the Romans respectively, goddess of wisdom, craft, and war, if one wanted to. The kids wanted to, and from it came independent Jazz, Rock, Folk, and anything else produced to mean everything.
Spectacle consumerist society also came into being with the invention of management science and other ways of produce very sellable goods with a 35-40% profit margin. It dominates today, to the point where it claims that it is also Eros, and political at that: Rihanna, the bard in Versace, or whatever other brand, speaking for the idea that feminism would produce both a new man and a new woman and thus a new world.
On the contrary, Sartre argues, if one insists that all consciousness is intentional in nature, one must conclude that even so-called “images” are not objects “in the mind” but are ways of relating to items “in the world” in a properly imaginative manner, namely, by what he calls “de-realizing” them or rendering them “present-absent.”
- Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Munguni art conveys this traditional eros. There is a tenderness to Munguni’s drawings that suggest that Munguni’s images want to arrange the order of things by not focusing on spectacle that this music intends to produce, but instead on how music in consumed and interpreted by its patron. Munguni’s drawing speak to individuality, and foster it. They are a traveler’s, forever fascinating but philosophical in not what they suggest about music but about the world and its beings.
Munguni’s drawings are rightfully bizarre; there is nothing normal about listening to beat loop repeatedly. There is nothing normal about the world. There is nothing normal about the term normal. If Napoleon III asked and continues to ask us to stand upright and to waltz through his Paris, her drawings ask us to fold ourselves into the inevitability of modern life being a bizarre though thrilling experience. Munguni asks us to stay, but also to leave and follow our own perspectives, is what Mungini’s drawings, some in black in white, some in color, seem to come down to it in the end.