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An interview with Philly artist and activist Camae Defstar / by Katy Otto

One of the most important things that happened to me when I moved from the DC metro area to Philadelphia was that I met Camae. She is exactly the kind of person I wanted to meet by journeying to a new city — a fierce musician, a passionate community activist, a curator, a poet, and an all around badass. She is a Renaissance woman, kinetic, inspiring and filled to the brim with energy in creation.

Camae is also at the helm of some of the most exciting punk, art and community projects going on in Philadelphia right now. As a musician, she records under the name Moor Mother Goddess, drawing inspiration from experimental, punk, rap, and noise to make songs she self describes as “blk girl blues, witch rap, coffee shop riot gurl songs, southern girl dittys, black ghost songs." She’s also works with the groups Black Quantum Futurism and Afrofuturist Affair, and is a driving force behind the Philly show series ROCKERS. “It’s always been a needed platform for marginalized artists," she says of the series.

I have learned from Camae and I am better through knowing her. I was happy to take some time to sit and ask her about her work, inspirations, and Philadelphia.

Why and how did you start the ROCKERS! show series?

Rebecca and I were a hip hop duo before forming [our current band], The Mighty Paradocs. A lot of the stuff we were writing was pretty political and also pretty weird. Because we were two different races and from different backgrounds, we faced a lot of B.S. So when we actually formed the band, we wanted to have a event for other artist like us that didn’t fit in. We wanted to create a space where folks could go and just be themselves. We always considered ourselves a punk band but never really fit into that for other people. We mixed hip hop with other stuff, and had two women on vox. It was new to folks. We needed to start our own thing where folks like us could network and showcase work. We at that time was surrounded by some great artists like The Baptist Preachers, the Spades, Roulette. Those bands would play the first few series. There was a venue called Tritone on South street and the owner, RIP Rick D, was an old school Philly punk. He saw us play once and gave us a opportunity to put on a show at his venue.

It sounds like it formed naturally. Did you have a clear mission of what you wanted it to be?

Yes. We wanted it to be a space where we could go and do us, and celebrate all these amazing artists we hung around that were too weird for the punk crowd, and too weird for the hip hop scene, or too political or too black. A place where we didn’t have to deal with B.S. promoters or venues.

Does ROCKERS! mean something different to you now from when you started it? How many years has it been?

It doesn’t mean anything different. It’s always been a needed platform for marginalized artists. It seems like it’s easier to get shows now for many artist of color. Back when we started, it wasn’t like that. It seems like more bands of color are getting recognized more than ever before. One thing that hasn’t changed much is the support of black punk bands - mainly black women. I know some great ones. A little over 10 years.

What about punk appealed to you - both the music and the community? What do you think some of its shortcomings are?

The anger and rage. the fast bass lines, the idea of unity and speaking out against racism and police brutality. These days, what I don’t like about it is that it feels like a weird popularity contest. Selling out is real. Also anti-blackness. I feel like punk does a lot of pretending to care these days. There is not much emphasis on unity.

Photos by Eva Wo and D1LO.

Do you feel like things have changed a bit?

Yes. The privilege is very strong with most bands. Bands are not speaking up about the injustices going on in the world as much as they use to. Everything is mad soft.

Can you talk a bit about the beginnings of Moor Mother Goddess?

Moor Mother Goddess is my solo electronic act that honors the woman and ancient traditions. It has a lot to do with awakening memories. I use ancient chants and drum rhythms to invoke that tradition. It started as something that I could do creatively alone. After I made my first song I couldn’t stop.

That’s when you started learning to program beats? Are you self-taught?

Yes. It is very addictive. Yes, with the Moor Mother Goddess project I am definitely learning as I go.

What is special to you about the punk/artistic/creative community in Philadelphia? What aspects of the community are lacking if you care to discuss? How has living in Philadelphia been significant to you developing as an artist?

The one thing that I like about Philly is that I am always surprised by who is nice to me or who offers support. It’s always from the most unlikely person or situation. It helps smack me into reality and challenge my expectation that punk bands might help me, whereas help might come from just one kid who loves music. People who have helped me haven’t always been the most popular people booking shows all the time. These days it seems like a lot of bands are trying to be a band and also a corporation. That is weird to me. It reminds me of Puff Daddy having his music and his label, as a corporation. I guess it doesn’t have to be bad, but I don’t like it when people mimic the kinds of structures they hate in our society. It seems as if it is what people are learning in the foundations at Business School or something.

I guess everyone wants to be a famous rock band and those are the steps to do it, but I feel like there are other ways to be successful. Punk shows you that, but it also shows you what happens when you get used up. There are a lot of people that I absolutely love in punk who are burnt out, stressed out and undervalued, but in the virtual world they are like gods. If you went and checked on these people in real life you would see that they are living the opposite of the dream. Other people are living the dream. It’s the story of the blues stars versus the Rolling Stones. It’s sad that that continues to happen in this time.

Philadelphia brought me love and heartbreak and all that stuff, too. It turns you into something. I was a nervous little kid throwing myself on stages. I definitely have the chance now to get on stages not nervous, even if I am not certain what I am doing. I think Philly gave me self-confidence and forced me to celebrate myself in a sense. We are crabs in a barrel in Philly. You have to know your own self-worth or you can get dragged down and used here.

Can you tell me a little bit about Black Quantum Futurism and your collaboration with Rasheedah and the Afrofuturist Affair?

Rasheedah and I have similar interests especially when it comes to the future and Blackness, and what it means. We collaborate behind the scenes on a lot of things, we thought we would come up with something that used both of our skills and do a project together. We tried to think of how we could blend the work she does with the Afrofuturist Affair and what I do with ROCKERS! and Moor Mother Goddess. I made a soundtrack for her book Recurrence Plot. She thought it was great and it was very simple for me to get into the vibe of what it should sound like. We realized then that we work well together and wanted to do more stuff. So with Black Quantum Futurism it is very easy and natural for us to work together. We just recently self released a new book of scientific theory in fact and a new non-locality zine. We have many projects coming out in the near future.

I get really excited about collaborative relationships like yours. I remember getting really interested in the relationship of a musician like John Cage and reading about what he did with his partner Merce Cunningham later in life, who was a choreographer. Musicians collaborate with one another a lot, but I am really interested in cross-disciplinary collaboration.

I think that happens when collaborators share a lot of similar interest outside of their major art practice. I am into a lot of stuff that i don’t get to share as often as i would like to. Together we have so much new stuff coming out.

Can you tell me about other people you have collaborated with or done projects for? What do you think about when considering these kinds of partnerships?

Amazing artist like Scribbly Lacroix, Thomas Stanley, Joy Kmt, Warren Longmire, Flesh Prince, Dj Haram, Wino Willy, Brian Green, Latrice Branson. Joe Jordan, The entire Metropolarity crew, See through Girls split Ep with MMgz coming soon, Dan from space chumpy, Leah B, Trophy Wife, Keir and Luke, Sunny Ali just sent me a beat to rap on yesterday. When considering who to work with I usually know right away soon as I meet them.

Are there some folks over the past few years who stand out to you?

I’m so proud of artist that keep going against all odds. And that’s really all the folks that was around the Tritone era. I’m so proud of all those people. Joe Jordan, Macklin, Prof. Jazz, Sheena, Gdag, Geoff Hall, Big Attack, Calen, Wiz, Shanti. Ghetto Songbird, Govt. Cheese, Chante, Rebecca, Skrib, Rasheedah, everybody.

You are one of the most prolific and vibrant artists I have ever met, consistently having multiple projects going at a time with different roles in those projects. Can you talk about how you manage it all and how you do these different kinds of things?

I ask myself this all the time. I don’t really know. I have tried to work a lot in the past year to combine all the things I do into one thing so that I can be better understood. As it is now, the things I do live are not available online. The only thing available online are my beats that I make in my room and a few songs and a live Mighty Paradocs album on iTunes. I am trying to make the live work accessible to people too. I am also into photography and film, and I am writing a book of poetry that will also feature my first play. I was just thinking that it can be hard to manage all the things I want to do. I am very busy and I do perform a lot. I have an art residency, I do workshops, I am teaching a soccer class, I am booking a street festival…

I just want to sit and write my book for a little bit but it is hard to find the time to do that. I want the writing to be so good. I have been applying to different residencies that would take me somewhere for a week to work on the book. Having quiet time away would help, so I am working towards that. I am putting together video installations where I can present my music, my video work, and also blend it in with Black Quantum Futurism - I am discussing gravity and how much humans have to take on. Then getting into what it does to people to be weighed down in this way by all the hardships and traumas. How does that relate in Outer Space? Slowly but surely I can get this stuff done. I am working nonstop. It is hard to say no to things like shows and other projects I want to do. I constantly feel like I could be doing more than I am. It’s hard to say no, especially to yourself, and especially when you are excited and constantly inspired.

Do you have any closing thoughts?

Love n light to a comrade and friend that just recently passed away. Rest in power Vijay Mohan.

Moor Mother Goddess will perform this summer at OK Fest, Smash it Dead Fest, Fed Up Fest, Rhinestone Steel Fest, Slackgaze Fest, Black n Brown Fest, Foo Fest, and Rockers BBQ Weekend.

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