Boogaloo is a specific rhythm, derived from R&B and Latin grooves, that came into vogue through early-’60s jams like Herbie Hancock’s “Watermelon Man” and went mainstream later that decade, via Dick Clark’s American Bandstand.
The style has been embedded in pop music’s foundations ever since. As of last month, it’s grooving at Lawndale Art Center, too. A joint installation between two native Houstonians, visual artist Jamal Cyrus and musician/visual artist Jamire Williams, Boogaloo & The Midnite Hours presents several two- and three-dimensional works, some of which incorporate audio, that “approach music as a political tool, and [examine] attempts to regulate it,” Cyrus says.
It’s a ripe subject, both fruitful and fraught. Cyrus has constructed two table-size sculptures—one of clay, the other cotton and metal wire—patterned after the devices known as mutes, which suppress or otherwise alter a trumpet’s natural sound. “Rhythm and music production is an important part of American culture,” he says, “but also a thing that America tries to confine and to limit.”
Williams, an HSPVA graduate and top jazz/R&B drummer in L.A., will perform at Lawndale on March 23 as part of the center’s “Speakeasy” series. His works in the exhibition, Cyrus adds, include an easy chair surrounded by microphones (inspired by a childhood heirloom) and another based on an MPC drum machine.
As for “The Midnite Hours” in the show’s title, Cyrus says doo-wop was on his mind when he began thinking about the exhibition. He also made a flashy blazer of the type groups with similar names often wore—this one adorned with bells, “a percussion instrument that involves dancing and the body,” Cyrus says.
Two more spring from concert posters. One, touting a Rev. Al Green show circa 1965, is based on an image Cyrus found in a local newspaper. The other, Meshiak II, is a black-light image of Isaac Hayes at Wattstax, the famous 1972 concert at the Los Angeles Coliseum that commemorated the seventh anniversary of the Watts uprising. The script underneath appears to say “N.W.A.,” the famous South Central gangsta rappers, but upon closer inspection turns out to be the Hebrew word for “messiah.” One of Hayes’s most famous albums is Black Moses.
Music is seldom far from Cyrus’s art. Other recent shows include Lightnin’ Field, a series of huge Lightnin’ Hopkins concert posters Cyrus installed in Main Street Square in 2016; and Texas Fried Tenor, a 2012 performance piece wherein he breads and deep-fries a saxophone. (Check it out on YouTube.) Using music-related paraphernalia, he says, lets him think about “the different forces that still try to control music, and what people hear.”
“It just seemed to be a fertile place for me to work as an artist,” he adds.
Jamal Cyrus x Jamire Williams: Boogaloo & The Midnite Hours. Thru March 25. Free. Horton Gallery. Lawndale Art Center, 4912 Main St. 713-528-5858.