Chicagoist Mix #14: The Black Madonna
By Jake Guidry in Arts & Entertainment on Mar 28, 2012 7:20PM
[Artwork by Adam Rowe.]
For Marea Stamper, a.k.a. The Black Madonna, it came down to pushing the reset button. Born in Kentucky and steeped in its rich dance music culture, Stamper had years of experience in the scene, including middle school raves, vending mixtapes and DJing the Southeast party circuit. Along the way she met the owner of Chicago's Dust Traxx label, which eventually brought her to Chicago when she began working for him. She also spent time under the moniker of Lady Foursquare and worked in a couple of groups and further cultivated a rich and varied background. But, at some point, something happened. "Those were wonderful, critical and - above all - lucky experiences for me," she says. "I didn't deserve the time I got from the people I learned from, but when those [projects] started wrapping up, I began producing alone primarily for the first time and something changed in me."
What changed for Stamper was the fear of failure; or, specifically, the lack of it. "I decided to do what I wanted without regard for what it would do for my bookings. I stopped playing raves. I also decided to leave Dust Traxx. This is all the opposite of what you're supposed to do, by the way. But, what I found was that making unpopular decisions, disrupting yourself, permitting radical failure as an option, those were freeing, if counter-intuitive things to do." With her refreshed outlook, Stamper transformed, and a new name followed: The Black Madonna. "Allowing myself to go inside my own head has been transformative for me and if I am ever to do or be anything that is worth a crap, it will be because I am willing to make an unpopular decision and stick to my guns. I picked this name because The Black Madonna is a religious figure in a lot of traditions that I felt connected to. She is closely associated with Ezili Dantor in Haitian vodou. She is a revolutionary, powerful force who came just when I needed her."
As The Black Madonna, Stamper has continued producing, including work for Chicago's recently-launched Stripped & Chewed label. As for DJing, she ditched the digital format and went strictly vinyl. "With records, I'm a better DJ, a better selector," she says. However, it is not simply an immediate pleasure, or even a selfish one for Stamper, who is quite fond of the record shopping experience. "I believe in record stores and digging. I love buying records and the accidental miracles you get to when you're looking in a bin for nothing in particular. I can tell Michael [Serafini] at Gramaphone what sound I want and he will go get it for me. I benefit from his taste and the taste of all the people that influence buying there. I benefit from the collections people sell to make rent." But after waxing poetic, she explains a utilitarian benefit: "I have a lot of records that will never be mp3s and it is an advantage when I'm trying to do something different from my peers."
Differentiation has worked for Stamper quite well, whose mix today explores heavier, albeit exciting, housey vibes. "Total freedom was my goal [with this mix]. Thematically, I've always believed that the best music, even dance music which is so joyful, is often a reaction to difficulty. Disco and house are so often written off as this fluffy stuff, but some of those songs are unbelievably heavy. In the last few months, a number of close relationships modulated in ways that were devastating. This mix is about how hard it is to care about people and how important it is to just do it anyway and dance through the parts of life that make you want to curl up in a ball."
Have a listen to Mix No. 14, dubbed "Love Is A Hurtin' Thing", below. If you're looking for more music from The Black Madonna, she'll be releasing a split on Borrowed Identity, and she is also starting a project with the UK's Simba.