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Merrill Garbus of Tune-Yards confronts cultural appropriation accusations

Merrill Garbus of Tune-Yards confronts the issue of cultural appropriation on the band's new album.
Merrill Garbus of Tune-Yards confronts the issue of cultural appropriation on the band's new album.
Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for Firefly Music Festival

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Singer Merrill Garbus and bassist Nate Brenner make up the band Tune-Yards. And, in case you don’t know, they’re white. That’s important to point out because the band’s sound may suggest otherwise. 

The Oakland-based duo has always used complex, African-derived rhythms as the backdrop to Garbus’s piercing voice. Their indie, Afrobeat style has earned them legions of fans — but it’s also attracted fierce criticism.

In interviews, Garbus addresses the issue of appropriation. She has also taken breaks from her career to reevaluate the group’s direction.

Since Tune-Yards’ last album in 2014, she started DJ-ing to reboot her musical perspective and she even enrolled in anti-racism workshops.

"I don't want to be making a 'statement.' It's an exploration. In fact, the way that the music interacts with the lyrics is just as much a conversation as the lyrics themselves. And that's where I love songwriting because that's that magical interaction. It's the conversation between those elements that makes it food for thought."

The band recently released its fourth album, "I can feel you creep into my private life." It’s the duo's most challenging work, musically speaking. It also shows Garbus addressing appropriation and systemic racism in the songs themselves.




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