Archive for the ‘All Things Ethnomusicological’ Category

We may gaze at what we desire, but we stare at what astonishes us.

Garland-Thomson 2009: 13

The body may be different, strange, even unusual, but it is the mechanism of representation that renders this body a “freak.”

Hevey 1992

Today is July 14th. My exam is August 13th. I have less than one month left to prepare. If I had a month for other things in life that would seem long, but holy moly I am not ready!

Remembering Amiri Baraka | Special Collections Blog

A few posts ago I wrote about Amiri Baraka’s 1963 book Blues People and got caught up in his description of Benny Goodman (a white bandleader) hiring Black musicians like Lionel Hampton as a “spectacle” to draw a crowd. I’m still not convinced by Baraka’s perspective; I align more with Stanley Crouch’s interpretation of the situation.

Regardless, the idea of people being showcased because of physical difference (in this case, skin color) is common in disability studies. I’ve only read 1/4 of the sources on my Music and Disability Studies exam list so far and out of those twenty sources, nine directly mention “enfreakment,” “freakery,” “spectacle,” staring, and/or freak shows. In disability studies the differences explored extend far beyond skin color, but I see an overlap between what authors on this list and my Black Atlantic list are concerned with.

Freaks, Freak Shows

Freak show - Wikipedia
A freak show in Rutland, VT, 1941
(photo source)

“Freak” is a social construction, not a person but “the enactment of a tradition, the performance of a stylized presentation” (Bogdan 1988). Normalcy is likewise a social construction, one which is fluid and non-absolute (Davis 1995: 23). The rise and fall of freak shows (aka sideshows) parallels the 19th/early 20th century timeline for when disability was used as an argument for/against equality, as described in my last entry (re:disability’s role in the women’s suffrage movement, African American freedom and civil rights, and immigration in the the 19th/early 20th centuries). People with disabilities were perceived as inferior, unable to handle the rights and freedoms afforded to “normate” individuals. Thus, disability could be used to garner pity or contempt depending whether someone was arguing for or against equality for women, African Americans, immigrants, etc. One side argued that those groups were worthy of more rights than disabled people, the other argued that, like disabled people, women/immigrants/African Americans could not handle the same responsibilities as “normate” white men.

Along the same timeline, in the 1840s P.T. Barnum took over the American Museum in New York City and began displaying “human curiosities,” strongly contributing to the growing popularity of “freak shows” in the US. Freak shows remained popular until 1940, when they began to be viewed as distasteful (though they continued to exist with some regularity until the 1950s/60s). At that time, the concept of eugenics was gaining traction and people with disabilities were beginning to be seen as “sick.”

Before that period, people with disabilities were seen as somewhat inhuman, exotic, odd, or even superhuman, able to do things that “normal” people couldn’t because of their differences and simultaneously unable to do what normates could do, hence not being considered worthy of equal rights. They were not presented as handicapped, but different in a divisive way. As the concept of sickness gained traction, disability began to garner pity; people with disabilities were still not equal, but now it was distasteful to highlight their differences. As Robert Bogdan notes, “presentations are artifacts of changing social institutions, organizational formations, and world views” (Bogdan 1988: 35).

“General Tom Thumb” was one of the “attractions” at Barnum’s museum. He is an example of intentional misrepresentation; 11-y/o English-born Tom Thumb was actually 5-y/o, Connecticut-born Charles Sherwood Stratton when Barnum began exhibiting him. Later in life when he married, he and his wife were presented with a baby that was not theirs in the hopes that a third “Thumb” would attract a larger audience (Bogdan 1988: 25).


Spectacle?

In this blog series we’ve reviewed many events happening in the same period (19th/early 20th century): Freak shows were popular, disability was not yet seen as a sickness but rather as a dividing difference, and white bandleaders such as Benny Goodman were hiring Black musicians for their groups. Other events I won’t cover in depth can also can be added to the timeline. In 1893 for instance, Fanwood, New York School for the Deaf (previously known as New York Institution for the Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb until 1856 and now called the New York School for the Deaf) established a military curriculum, adding what is likely the world’s first deaf marching band to the school in the early 1900s.

The Fanwood Band
(photo taken by Carolyn Stallard at the New York School for the Deaf, 2017)

The marching band, consisting entirely of deaf students, drew large crowds not only for competitions but also for practices and drills. One report states: “Every Sunday afternoon in good weather dress parade is held on the lawn in front of the Institution, and the fence is always lined with interested spectators who have heard of the fame of these ‘silent cadets’” (Dobyns 1908:19). Was it the cadets’ musical prowess that drew crowds, or the spectacle of deaf people playing instruments? It is interesting to note that the military school and its marching ensemble existed from 1893-1952, disbanding just as attitudes toward freak shows and disabilities were changing in the United States.

So what does this mean? Does it make sense to link Baraka’s idea of spectacle in regards to race with the concept of spectacle in regards to disability? Both refer to marginalized groups perceived by/through an identity-defining characteristic that does not match societal norms. I’m linking these ideas to help myself prepare for this exam but I do feel as if there is overlap in a broader context.

Many Terms

A number of terms related to the concept of individuals defined by difference have been coined within disability studies. Here are some that relate to performing arts that can possibly be reinterpreted with race in mind instead of disability. These terms could also be applied to gender. For instance, female bands in the late 19th/early 20th centuries were often viewed as entertainment rather than as groups of competent musicians. I have not included all terms related to this concept, just the ones I’ve been reading about in my studies so far:

  • Freak: A social construction, not a person but “the enactment of a tradition, the performance of a stylized presentation” (Bogdan 1988).
    • Social attitudes toward anatomical difference inform the creation of the “freak.”
  • Enfreakment: The societal creation of the freak; the marginalization and “othering” of a non-normative body.
    • “Enfreakment emerges from cultural rituals that stylize, silence, differentiate, and distance the persons whose bodies [are deemed different through repeated public spectacle]” (Garland-Thomson 1996: 10).
    • Enfreakment is a “process of stylizing and, most importantly, marketing the non-normative body” (Hevey).
  • Engulfment: Process where a person is reduced to their disability; “stripped of normalizing contexts and engulfed by a single stigmatizing trait” (Garland-Thomson 1997: 11).
  • Staring: The dominant mode of looking at disability in American culture; “the normative stare constructs the disabled” (Garland-Thomson 2005).
    • Four elemental qualities of staring: It is a physiological response; it is monitored by social rules, with culture determining its meaning and practice; it is a natural human response that establishes a social relationship between starer and staree; it is a conduit to knowledge, an urgent response to make the unknown known.
  • Disability as masquerade: Embracing disability rather than hiding it to “pass.” This embrace marks someone as a target but also exposes and resists prejudices of society (Siebers 2008).

Enfreaking Popular Culture

Freak shows still exist today but are nowhere near as common as they were in the 19th/early 20th centuries. Today they are not seen so much as distasteful as “fringe,” outside the realm of popular culture. However, some artists work to bring the freak show concept into normate spaces. Perhaps most notable is Lady Gaga, who reappropriates the freak show and uses terms such as “freak” and “monster” to refer to her fan base. She says she wants her fans to have a “freak in me to hang out with” so “they don’t feel alone” (Ellis 2015). She focuses on transgression, identity politics, and otherness, which Ellis says position her as a key figure in popular social change discourse.

Hot Shots: Lady GaGa Performs At Elton John's White Tie ...
Lady Gaga’s performances in wheelchairs are a point of debate in disability forums, according to scholar Katie Ellis (2015).
(photo source)

Her focus on otherness makes me think of Kevin Gaines’ description of artistic othering, a response to social othering. In his examples, Black artists create spaces for music outside of the realm of “normal” popular culture, producing sounds free of influence from white, dominant culture. Could a form of artistic othering be applied to disability and music? I don’t think we can say that Lady Gaga herself practices artistic othering, since she is not disabled, but when someone with a disability creates music in a unique way through their disability that enhances and celebrates their difference, is that artistic othering? Similarly, Lady Gaga’s song “Born This Way” has become an anthem for the disability rights agenda. Does that make it an example of artistic othering?

Conclusion

There is a lot more to process about all these ideas. What do you think? Through the frame of 19th/early 20th century perspectives and societal norms, can terms like artistic othering, enfreakment, staring, etc. be used for multiple marginalized groups, or are they unique to the group they were originally intended for? Am I performing a form of appropriation by suggesting that they might be applicable in different contexts? Something to think about…


Works Cited

Bogdan, Robert. 1988. “The Social Construction of Freaks.” Freakery: Cultural Spectacles of the Extraordinary Body. Ed. Rosemary Garland Thomson. New York University Press. 23-37.

Davis, L. 1995. Enforcing Normalcy: Disability, Deafness, and the Body. London and New York: Verso.

Dobyns, A. Webster. 1908. American Annals of the Deaf, Volumes 52-53.

Ellis, Katie. 2015. “Enfreaking Popular Music: Making Us Think by Making Us Feel.” In Disability and Popular Culture: Focusing Passion, Creating Community, and Expressing Defiance, 101–118. Surrey, UK: Ashgate.

Garland-Thomson, Rosemarie. 2005. “Dares to Stare: Disabled Women Performance Artists and the Dynamics of Staring.” In Bodies in Commotion: Disability and Performance, edited by Carrie Sandahl and Philip Auslander, 30–41. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

—–. 1997. Extraordinary Bodies: Figuring Physical Disability in American Culture and Literature. New York: Columbia University Press.

—–, ed. 1996. Freakery: Cultural spectacles of the extraordinary body. NYU Press.

Hevey, David. 1992. The creatures time forgot: Photography and disability imagery. Taylor & Francis.

Lipenga, KJ. 2019. “The New Normal: Enfreakment in Saga.”
The Comics Grid: Journal of Comics Scholarship, 9(1): 2, pp. 1–17.
https://doi.org/10.16995/cg.161.

Siebers, Tobin. 2008. Disability Theory. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

36 days until my exam. This week I’m switching from my “Music of the Black Atlantic” list to the other hundred sources I need to know, from my “Music and Disability Studies” list. I started this blog series to motivate myself to study while simultaneously providing content for friends interested in learning about racism, so this will continue to be a “Music of the Black Atlantic” blog. There are plenty of sources on my disability list that focus on race, so I will write about those in this series as well as others that don’t make race their cornerstone but tie to concepts I’ve covered.

The Disability Studies Reader: Davis, Lennard J.: 9781138930230 ...

Today’s entry will be the first to feature a chapter from The Disability Studies Reader (Davis 2013), a seminal text in the field of Disability Studies which I will return to in future entries. The Disability Studies Reader is interdisciplinary, with works by authors from many fields. None of the authors I’m reading about from this book are music researchers, but their work is nonetheless relevant, hence being included on my exam list. Douglas Baynton’s piece, featured today, is written from an historical perspective. It was originally published in The New Disability History: American Perspectives (2001).

Disability and the Justification of Inequality in American History

Marchers with signs at the 1963 March on Washington
Marchers with signs at the March on Washington, 1963
Image: Library of Congress LC-U9- 10344-16
Marion S. Trikosko, photographer
(photo source)

Douglas Baynton’s work is featured as chapter one in The New Disability History and chapter two in The Disability Studies Reader – preceded only by an introduction from researcher/editor Lennard Davis. There is a reason for its prominent position in both books. Baynton steps back through American history to demonstrate how race, ethnicity, gender, and disability have been tied together in struggles for equality and how disability has been central to each of “the three great citizenship debates” of the 19th and early 20th century. Not only was disability used to justify inequality for disabled people themselves (“they can’t do X so they are not equal”), but also the concept of disability was used to justify inequality for other marginalized groups. In debates over women’s suffrage, African American freedom and civil rights, and the restrictions of immigrants, disability was brought to the table in arguments both for and against inequality.

1904 World’s Fair, St. Louis, MO
(photo source)

In each situation, “normalcy,” a western notion of progress, is highlighted in the case against equality; if someone is not “normal” they are not fully functional and cannot handle the rights given to normate [white male] Americans. By the mid-19th century this notion had grown in popularity, with anyone non-white or disabled considered to be evolutionary laggard, pulling humanity back toward its animal origins. The 1904 World’s Fair featured “defectives” and “primitives” side by side on display for [mostly white, “normal”] fairgoers to stare at, as did other events such as the freak shows of the 19th century.

GUYOT’S GEOGRAPHICAL SERIES. PHYSICAL GEOGRAPHY | Arnold Guyot

Social science textbooks were no better; in his 1873 textbook Physical Geography, under the heading “The White Race the Normal, or Typical Race,” Arnold Guyot compared the “harmony in all the proportions of the figure” of the white race with those who had “gradually deviated” from normalcy.

Disability and Slavery

The concept of disability was cited frequently in the justification of slavery. One common argument: African Americans are less intelligent than white people and therefore cannot compete on an equal basis in society. This argument prevailed even after emancipation, with quotes such as this one from the New Orleans Medical and Surgical Journal:

It is this defective hematosis, or atmospherization of the blood, conjoined with a deficiency of cerebral matter in the cranium, and an excess of nervous matter distributed to the organs of sensation and assimilation, that is the true cause of that debasement of mind, which has rendered the people of Africa unable to take care of themselves.

Mixed race children were said to have a deterioration of “moral and intellectual endowments,” and “mulattos” were referenced by medical practitioners as having greater intelligence than “pure” blacks. African Americans were also “prone to become disabled under conditions of freedom and equality” because of supposed physical and mental weakness. One New York medical journal reported that deafness was three times as common and blindness twice as common in free African Americans in the North than slaves in the South. Thus, slavery was best for their health (21).

Scientific Racism: The Drapetomania Diagnosis
Drapetomania was invented by Dr. Samuel A. Cartwright
(photo source)

There were also debilitating “diseases” and “conditions” supposedly affecting mental health. Drapetomania, a so-called disease of the mind that caused slaves to run away, was diagnosed when masters “made themselves too familiar with them, treating them as equals.” Dysaesthesia Aechiopis was another supposed mental disease, causing slaves to become mischievous and avoid work. Freed slaves commonly carried these “conditions,” resulting in “a beautiful harvest of mental and physical degeneration” (21). Through the white perspective of the 19th and early 20th centuries, freedom was disabling for Black people.

Damage Imagery

Daryl Michael Scott’s book on damage imagery

Even after the Emancipation Proclamation of 1862, the concept of disability featured prominently in arguments for and against equality. Liberals and conservatives both used what Daryl Michael Scott calls “damage imagery” in their arguments regarding African American freedom and equality. Conservatives used a biological framework (citing “diseases” such as those described above) to defend their position on social and political exclusion, while liberals argued that social conditions were responsible for racial inferiority, using damage imagery to defend inclusion and rehabilitation. As Scott and Baynton demonstrate, damage imagery is dangerous, reinforcing “the belief system that made whites feel superior in the first place” (Baynton 2013: 22-23). Whether through contempt or through pity (two perspectives commonly applied to people with disabilities as well), intentionally or not, both sides reinforced notions of racial defectivity and white supremacy.

Women’s Suffrage and Immigration

Antifeminism - Wikipedia
Headquarters of the National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage
(photo source)

African Americans were framed as defective in order to defend inequality. Similar arguments were made regarding women’s suffrage and immigration. Opponents of gender equality cited women’s “frail” physicality and “feeble-mindedness” as reasons why political participation could be harmful; women wouldn’t be able to handle all that responsibility and could become disabled because of it. Proponents of equality likewise used disability in their arguments, stating that women were not disabled and therefore deserved to vote. Many believed that women were erroneously classed with disabled people, who at that time were considered unfit for voting (and unworthy of many other rights). Women were not naturally disabled but were made disabled by inequality; suffrage could cure their disabilities. In 1920, it finally did (at least for white women).

Immigrants Arriving at Ellis Island 1911 | Chris | Flickr
Immigrants arriving at Ellis Island, 1911
(photo source)

Disability was likewise connected with immigration in the 19th/early 20th century. Any immigrant with a “normal” appearance was allowed quick entry into the United States, while anyone with an “abnormal” appearance was stamped with a letter on their back (for lameness, hernia, goiter, mental illness, etc.) and subject to in-depth examination before consideration for entry. An able-bodied immigrant would not have the same rights as a white American in the United States but would be granted access of entry, while anyone showing signs of physical or mental disability could be sent back to their country of origin.

“All Lives Matter?”

In the past month there have been some outlandish arguments for why “all lives matter” and why we don’t need to say “Black Lives Matter.” I find those arguments absurd, but learning about the narratives of disability in this country’s history does give a sense of how such ignorances develop. In the late 19th and early 20th century even well-meaning proponents of equality for Black people, women, and immigrants wound up “othering” people with disabilities while fighting for civil rights. I’d like to think that those activists may not have realized how their words and actions for one group marginalized another, but it’s more likely it didn’t occur to them that people with disabilities should be included in the fight for equal rights, given societal norms (it wasn’t until 1990 that the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed to prohibit discrimination based on disability. 1990!).

With that in mind, I can see how seeds of discrimination can be planted for any group, intentionally or not. Even something as simple as a well-meaning grandparent sharing memories of attending a World’s Fair can sow seeds of difference. Exhibits such as the “primitives” and “defectives” from 1904 were minimal or removed completely from future fairs, but showcases still enforced ideas of “normalcy” through exhibit choice and presentation. The 1939 “World of Tomorrow” World’s Fair in New York was divided into seven regional and thematic zones featuring mainly European and American innovations and cultural traditions, with a few displays thrown in from other parts of the world. The minimal inclusion of innovations from non-Western regions and the lack of African countries present in the “pavilion” section of the fair speak loudly through absence.

Finally, it’s important to note the ways in which both conservatives and liberals argued their cases for equality/inequality in the 19th and early 20th centuries, with disability as the common factor. We must learn from the past to ensure that our own activism for marginalized groups is not framed with a perspective of pity that “others” anyone but rather from a stance of empowerment; we must be inclusive rather than exclusionary.


Works Cited

Baynton, Douglas C. “Disability and the justification of inequality in American history.” The disability studies reader 17, no. 33 (2013): 57-59.

Meldon, Perri. “Disability History: The Disability Rights Movement.” National Park Service. https://www.nps.gov/articles/disabilityhistoryrightsmovement.htm.

Wikipedia. “1939 New York World’s Fair.” Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1939_New_York_World%27s_Fair.

Amazon.com: The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double-Consciousness ...

Five weeks until my exam…better speed up on studying and unpacking ideas in this blog!

Today’s post dives into “the Black Atlantic” – the very source of the name of my reading list! I know I need to understand this term inside and out but have been avoiding it because it feels so large. But…with only five weeks to go, it’s time to dive in.


What is the Black Atlantic?

File:PaulGilroy2.jpg - Wikipedia
Paul Gilroy
(photo source)

The Black Atlantic is a term coined by British historian/writer Paul Gilroy, made famous in his book The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness (1993). This book is crucial to cultural studies and helped push forward studies of diasporas. Some considerations:

  • Black Diasporic Identity:
    • The Black Diaspora is transnational, and before this there was no term to consider the politics of this diaspora beyond national borders.
    • Relying on nationalism to consider the experiences of Black people in the Caribbean, the Americas, Europe, or Africa is limiting; blackness goes beyond national borders
    • Gilroy uses the image of the slave ship to explain why Black identities are transnational: Black bodies are historically and socially positioned between two (or more) lands, identities, cultures, etc. and are unable to be defined by borders because of the Atlantic slave trade, which often stifled the possibility of connections to a homeland.
      • Quote: “Historians of ideas and movements have generally preferred to stay within the boundaries of nationality and ethnicity and have shown little enthusiasm for connecting the life of one movement with that of another” (186).
  • Double Consciousness
    • Black identities are unstable, unfinished, mutable, and always responding to a double consciousness (W.E.B. DuBois’ term) regarding race and nationalism.
    • Double consciousness is the internal conflict that oppressed groups experience in societies; “always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity” (Du Bois).
    • There are many marginalized groups who experience double consciousness, but Gilroy’s use relates to the experiences of Black people in white-dominated societies, such as African Americans experiencing racial oppression in the United States (both historically and presently). Black people experience double consciousness constantly. Some examples:
      1. President Obama having to choose how to respond about his birth certificate (his blackness was at odds with his American-ness according to the white, public gaze).
      2. A Black kindergartener figuring out how to approach a family history project when there are few or no records of family lineage because of the Atlantic slave trade.
      3. Black men who enjoy birdwatching worrying about their binoculars being mistaken for guns and taking extra precautions such as creating signs to assure fellow park-goers that they are not dangerous and are just birders.
      4. If that article linked above isn’t enough, let me emphasize the “birding while black” perspective with this episode of the podcast Short Wave.
      5. Parents worrying about what toys their Black children play with, the snacks their teens carry, and whether they’ll wind up as the next Tamir Rice or Trayvon Martin for playing with a toy gun or holding a pack of Skittles.
black, range finder, top, book, binoculars, birdwatching, spy ...
(photo source)

Sure, people of all races have things they worry about, but when skin color or another aspect of marginalized identity is the reason for worrying, for choosing to act a certain way, wear certain clothing, etc. in order to appease members of the dominant culture, it becomes an example of double consciousness. In many cases in the United States, double consciousness happens when “blackness” is at odds with what is expected for “American-ness.” Only white people are birdwatchers, right?

  • Artistic Expression
    • Music of Black diasporic communities is a means of exploring the transient nature of Blackness
    • Gilroy mentions the song “Keep On Movin'” by the British R&B band Soul II Soul as an example of “the restlessness of spirit which makes that diaspora culture vital.”
      • Quote: “Black music is so often the principal symbol of racial authenticity” (34). Why is that? Maybe because music is a safe space (for the most part) to express identity that matches cultural expectations; as seen in a previous post, the modern music industry was built out of Black artistic expression (even if that expression was coming partially through imitation and blackface in minstrel shows), so it was acceptable for Black people to also express themselves musically. Music performance is not a norm-defying physical action in the same way that holding binoculars to view birds is; it’s difficult for song to be interpreted as physically threatening (although music is used as a torture device in war, but that’s another story…). Even during slavery, slaves were not allowed to have instruments but they could usually sing in the fields. American society has underestimated the power music can have right from the start.
      • “Keep on Movin” is a truly transnational song; it was produced in England by the children of Caribbean settlers, includes samples of Jamaican and American records, and was re-mixed in a Jamaican dub format in the United States by Teddy Riley, who is African American.
Soul II Soul - Keep On Movin (1989, Dolby, Cassette) | Discogs
  • Modernity
    • Gilroy believes that a new definition of modernism is needed and that the Atlantic is part of that.
    • Historians’ lack of focus on the subordination of Blacks and other non-Europeans thwarts a full understanding of modernism. Simultaneously, need to avoid the possibility of achieving “tidy, holistic conception of modernity.”
    • New “center” of modernism are constructs such as master and slave. Gilroy stresses that we need to revisit modernism with the existence of racism in mind, both historically and presently (even twenty-seven years later, we still need to work on that…).

The term “Black Atlantic” opened the door for a new way of exploring ideas about race, culture, and how location and human identity are related beyond just Africa and the “New World.” It expanded the limitations of thinking within national borders and challenged scholars to consider how Black experiences resulting from racism, slavery, etc. affect modernity.

Responses

Gilroy’s ideas were impactful; his concept is referenced extremely frequently in the sources I’m reading. Here are some stand-out responses:

Where are the women?
In a review of the book, Renée R. Curry mentions that Gilroy analyzes masculinity in his writing but seems to only minimally consider feminist theory. Curry considers this to be an erasure of Black women from modern culture.

Eurocentric?
In a 1996 article, Ntongela Masilela argues that Gilroy has decentered Africa from the Black Atlantic, creating a Eurocentric vision of modernity, cultural and national identities.

Too focused on African Americans?
There are six chapters in Gilroy’s book, and despite his effort to focus on transatlantic Black experiences, four of those chapters focus on African American authors. A few reviews I read considered this to be a flaw that limits the book to African American experiences.

Limited by the term “black?”
One author on my list, Nolan Warden, feels that using the terms “African Diaspora” and “black” are limiting in his personal area of study, Afro-Cuban religious music, especially for studies of Afro-Cuban religious music practiced in the United States (outside of the music’s region of origin). Gilroy states that “black music is so often the principal symbol of racial authenticity” (1993:34). Warden responds: “This is particularly troublesome in that the use of terms such as black, white, and even the word Africa, shows how difficult it is to avoid using a lexicon ingrained during the height of European imperialism and the era of Atlantic slavery…it seems we are nearly incapable of speaking about such cultural phenomena with anything other than terms developed with divisive intent” (Warden 2010). I understand Warden’s angle, but he doesn’t offer a solution.

Privileging the Atlantic?
Paul Tiyembe Zeleza recognizes the importance of Gilroy’s work but also finds it limiting, giving preference to the Atlantic and not to other parts of the African diaspora. Rather than transatlantic, Zeleza wants African diaspora studies to have a global framework.

Do away with Diaspora?
Kamari Maxine Clarke and Deborah A. Thomas think that Gilroy’s use of the term diaspora is limiting. They appreciate his work but choose to approach their own without the term diaspora, creating what they call “a critical, historical, and place-specific approach to globalization in order to foreground an analysis of the circulations and hierarchies contextualizing black communities at particular times in particular locations and in particular relations of power vis-à-vis one another.” (2006)

Respect and Appreciation
Many scholars respect Gilroy for his concept and have expanded on his work. For instance, Shana Redmond, whose work I wrote about in my first entry in this series, follows Gilroy’s idea of Black identities being defined more by “routes” than “roots.” There are too many authors to name who use Gilroy’s work as a jumping off point; his name comes up more than any other as inspiration in the things I’ve been reading for this exam.

I could go on with this post but for the sake of time and studying, I’ll stop here. If anyone reading this thinks I’ve missed anything crucial about Gilroy’s work or his term, please leave a comment. I’ve been reading so much for this exam that a lot of it just goes right out of my head!


Works Cited

Clarke, Kamari Maxine and Deborah A. Thomas. 2006. Globalization and Race: Transformations in the Cultural Production of Blackness. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Du Bois, W. E. B. 1994. The Souls of Black Folk. New York, Avenel, NJ: Gramercy Books.

Gilroy, Paul. 1993. The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Masilela, Ntongela. 1996. “The ‘Black Atlantic’ and African Modernity in South Africa.” Research in African Literatures 27 (4): 88–96.

Warden, Nolan. 2010. “Crossing Diaspora’s Borders: Musical Roots Experiences and the Euro-American Presence in Afro-Cuban Music.” African Music 8 (4): 101–9.

Zeleza, Paul Tiyambe. 2005. “Rewriting the African Diaspora: Beyond the Black Atlantic.” African Affairs 104 (414): 35–68.

Poet-playwright Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones) published a book in 1963 entitled Blues People: Negro Music in White America. It’s an important text, the first book on the blues written by an African American, and is widely considered a major influencer for future studies on relations between African American music and culture.

It is important to note when this book was written. In 1963 Baraka was a young intellectual discovering his voice as Citizen-Poet in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement. To Baraka, the fight for equality did not mean assimilation and sameness, but rather the celebration of culture, creativity, etc. It is no surprise then, that he focused on music as the critical factor for African American cultural identity formation in the US. Baraka’s work was popular with leaders of the Black Power Generation, including Malcolm X who Baraka met in January 1965, one month before Malcom X was assassinated. That experience and meetings with similar changemakers had an influence on Baraka, who dedicated his energy to the Black Arts Movement.

BLUES PEOPLE: Negro Music in White America: L Jones ...

As I read all these sources (I’m up to 56/107 on the Music of the Black Atlantic list), Baraka’s work is mentioned many times. Ethnomusicologist Travis Jackson considers it to be “perhaps the first booklength study to attempt sustained theoretical argument about the relations between African American culture and African American musical forms” (Jackson 2000). Ethnomusicologist Ingrid Monson has a similar stance: “Baraka ought to be recognized for his contributions to theorizing the relationship between music and race…it is a mistake to view Blues People as simply an artifact of cultural nationalism” (Monson 2007). Other scholars agree, though it is important to note criticisms as well. In 1964, Writer and jazz performer Ralph Ellison published a now-famous review of the book, taking issue with a statement from the introduction – “Blues is the parent of all legitimate jazz” – which he believes puts “the tremendous burden of sociology” on the blues. He also thinks there is too heavy a link placed between social status, racial purity, and musical expression: “One would get the impression that there was a rigid correlation between color, education, income and the Negro’s preference in music” (Ellison 1964). Other critics have mentioned Baraka’s lack of experience as a musician, a possible reason for errors in his explanation of the elements of varieties of African music that were key ingredients for early blues and jazz.

This is a small but telling sample of how the book was received; the work is largely considered influential and widely praised with some criticisms. Nothing like this had been published before; this was new territory, so scholars have largely forgiven the musical errors for the book’s ingenuity.

Music and Culture

At a time when scholars were not typically writing about music and race in a theoretical manner, Baraka set out to prove a hypothesis: Music can reveal much about the cultural significance of African American existence in America, and by extension the culture of American society as a whole. His aim was to explore the emergence of “African American” as a race and as a culture through music development. We’ve seen this idea supported by other scholars I’ve blogged about. Matthew D. Morrison’s work on Blacksound and the work of authors he referenced demonstrated how Black musical forms defined (and continue to define) popular music in America and abroad, which seeped (and continues to seep) over into popular (non-musical) culture in general. Assumptions are made about who makes certain musical sounds, how those sounds are perceived, what is considered “sophisticated,” “authentic,” “primal,” etc. and how those factors influence societal norms and expectations within and outside of music.

Blues and Jazz

Amiri Baraka considers jazz performance to be a blues-based, ritual activity. His focus is on the path from slavery to “citizenship” in the United States, the music of slavery, and the development of blues and later of jazz. As he explains, “it seems to me that if the Negro represents, or is symbolic of, something in and about the nature of American culture, this certainly should be revealed by his characteristic music.”

Robert Johnson - Wikipedia
Robert Johnson, Delta blues guitarist
(photo source)

Baraka believes that the musical experience of slaves in the US is different than that of African Americans. “The weight of the blues for the slave, the completely disenfranchised individual, differs radically from the weight of that same music in the psyches of most contemporary American Negroes…The one peculiar referent to the drastic change in the Negro from slavery to ‘citizenship’ is his music.”

Baraka couples the beginning of the blues with the beginning of African Americans. He uses an analogy to explain what he means:

If you are taken to Mongolia as a slave and work there seventy-five years and learn twenty words of Mongolian and live in a small house from which you leave only to work, I don’t think we can call you a Mongolian. It is only when you begin to accept the idea that you are part of that country that you can be said to be a permanent resident. I mean, that until the time when you have sufficient ideas about this new country to begin making some lasting moral generalizations about it -relating your experience, in some lasting form, in the language of that country, with whatever subtleties and obliqueness you bring to it -you are merely a transient.

The development of the blues, in Baraka’s opinion, signified that transition from visitor to permanent resident; the blues is heavily influenced by various African musical forms but fuse with the language and culture of America, making it an African American musical form.

Function of Blues Music

This notion of a difference in the function of blues music for slaves vs. African Americans is one of the reasons author Ralph Ellison, a musician himself, so heavily critiques Baraka’s book. Ellison feels that this explanation rejects blues as an art form and discounts the role of music for slaves:

“A slave was, to the extent that he was a musician, one who expressed himself in music…from the days of their introduction into the colonies, Negroes have taken, with the ruthlessness of those without articulate investments in cultural styles, whatever they could of European music, making of it that which would, when blended with the cultural tendencies inherited from Africa, express their own sense of life” (Ellison 1964: 254-255).

From Ellison’s perspective, Baraka did not recognize the role of music – and the development of the blues – as a critical part of identity formation and artistic/cultural expression for not only free African Americans but also for slaves.

Blues to Jazz

Baraka’s book moves from slavery to blues to jazz over the course of a dozen chapters. As we’ve seen from other authors featured in this blog series, jazz music has the ability to act as socio-political commentary and reflection of African American culture while simultaneously articulating actual and idealized visions of existence. Baraka too recognizes jazz as a powerful tool for communicating African American views of the world and ways of organizing and responding to experience through both performance and listening practices.

Baraka presents a detailed jazz history in his book, starting with the first jazz (or “jass”) recording, made by the Original Dixieland Jass Band in 1917. The ODJB was a group of white Italian-American musicians who were inspired by King Oliver’s band in New Orleans. As Baraka writes, “They had a profound influence upon America, and because they, rather than the actual black innovators, were heard by the great majority of Americans first, the cultural lag had won again.”

Jasbo Brown (Bálsamo de tigre) | Las píldoras del DR. BRASS
(photo source)

Freddie Keppard’s Original Creoles – a band whose members were black – was invited to record the first “jass” album a few months prior to the ODJB. Keppard supposedly turned down the offer, believing others would imitate his style. Baraka notes, “that is probably true, but it is doubtful that Keppard’s band would have caught as much national attention as the smoother O. D. J. B. anyway.” Thus, an African American art form spread across the country through a recording by white musicians.

LA MÚSICA ES MI AMANTE: La mayor forma de expresión americana
Freddie Keppard’s band (photo source)
Historias Swing – Cotton Tales
“The Four Horsemen” (L to R): Lionel Hampton, Gene Krupa, Benny Goodman, Teddy Wilson (1955)
(photo source)

As the chapters develop, Baraka demonstrates how black jazz music was appropriated by white culture time and again, and how that dynamic affected musical developments in jazz. As we’ve learned in this series, the development of bebop was a response to frustration with swing music. Baraka emphasizes the ironies of the swing era, calling out Benny Goodman for the “spectacle” of hiring Black musicians such as Teddy Wilson, Lionel Hampton, Charlie Christian, and Cootie Williams in his band in order to make them “big names” in the swing world. He finds this “fantastically amusing,” along with the fact that Black musicians hardly won polls won by jazz magazines in the late thirties and early forties. “Swing music…had very little to do with black America, though that is certainly where it had come from.”

Benny and Hamp

Jazz great made the vibraphone famous
Vibraphonist Lionel Hampton with bandleader/clarinetist Benny Goodman
(photo source)

The rest of Baraka’s book continues to go through various jazz eras and point out ways that instances of appropriation, segregation, discrimination, etc. affected music development. However, I want to pause and unpack this statement about Benny Goodman. As a vibraphonist myself, Lionel Hampton’s legacy is very important to me – I’ve played his tunes, read his books, learned about his commitment to jazz education, etc. I was taken aback when Baraka called Goodman and Hamp’s relationship a “spectacle.” I recalled reading in multiple places that Goodman hired musicians for their talent rather than skin color and that Hamp and Goodman had a good professional and personal relationship. But is this my own white ignorance talking in defense of Goodman?

Flying Home Lionel Hampton: Celebrating 100 Years of Good ...

To check, I pulled a book by jazz critic Stanley Crouch off my shelf called Flying Home: Lionel Hampton: Celebrating 100 Years of Good Vibes. I’ve read this book many times, so I immediately flipped to the section on “The Four Horsemen,” the nickname given to Benny Goodman’s quartet: Goodman, Hamp, Teddy Wilson, and Gene Krupa. In that section, Stanley Crouch writes about Goodman’s perspective on racism and segregation (11):

He viewed the color barrier as merely a pebble to kick out of his path toward the music he wanted to create. He would do what he had to do or take whatever chances he had to take in order to create the best possible music – and Hampton was integral to his quest…Goodman did as much as he could to protect Hampton and Wilson from the prongs of racism. He would insist on contracts that allowed them to stay with the band in hotels. He would even go so far as to hire men to escort them to and from their rooms. While in New York, Goodman would hire a limo to take Hampton and Wilson to Harlem since taxi drivers wouldn’t pick up black men, much less drive into Harlem at night.

Crouch positions the quartet as an important force for desegregation, calling them “the harbingers of the end of segregated jazz.” He writes that the Benny Goodman Quartet was “the first band to put both black and white musicians on the same stage as part of the regular act. Nervous promoters were warned of race riots during the inaugural tour, but those fears faded as hundreds of thousands of people came out to see the band play without incident.” (12)

Those hundreds of thousands of people…did they come for the music, or for seeing a mixed band? If the latter, Baraka’s label of “spectacle” may be correct. Perhaps even if Goodman’s intentions were mostly good ones, he understood the stir that a mixed band would cause. Baraka’s description is harsh, Crouch’s is softer. Both Baraka and Crouch are Black Americans, both are writers, both are jazz critics, both were activists in the Civil Rights Movement, and Crouch is a jazz musician himself. How to work through these differing viewpoints? As a white person I don’t have the right to decide, and thus have to believe that both perspectives are valid.

Lionel Hampton was a bandleader on the West Coast before meeting Benny Goodman but faced frustration and disappointment due to segregation and discrimination. After a stint playing a steady gig at the Paradise Nightclub in LA he joined Goodman’s group and then, propelled by his new fame and popularity, tried his hand leading again in 1940 with the Lionel Hampton Orchestra. This time he was successful, establishing a legacy that has influenced countless musicians, myself included. Would he have had the same legacy and impact if not for his time in the Benny Goodman Quartet? That’s not for me to decide.


Works Cited

Baraka, Amiri [LeRoi Jones]. 1963. Blues People: Negro Music in White America. New York: Harper Perennial.

Crouch, Stanley. 2008. Fying Home: Lionel Hampton: 100 Years of Good Vibes. Ann Arbor, MI: State Street Press.

Ellison, Ralph. 1964. Shadow and Act. New York: Random House.

Jazz Performance as Ritual: The Blues Aesthetic and the African Diaspora.Jackson, Travis. 2000. “Jazz Performance as Ritual: The Blues Aesthetic and the African Diaspora.” In The African Diaspora: A Musical Perspective, ed. Ingrid Monson. New York: Garland Publishing.

Monson, Ingrid. 2007. Freedom Sounds: Civil Rights Call Out to Jazz and Africa. New York: Oxford University Press.

Woodard, Komozi. “Amiri Baraka and the music of life: blues people fifty years later.” Transition: An International Review, July 2013. Gale Academic OneFile (accessed July 2, 2020). https://link-gale-com.ezproxy.gc.cuny.edu/apps/doc/A379090639/AONE?u=cuny_gradctr&sid=AONE&xid=5e71ee11.

Today’s blog post is jargon-y, but these seem like worthy terms to know for my exam. Here are quick definitions for the concepts I will cover:

  • Blackface: A performance tradition of non-blacks in American theater to display Blackness for white audiences, mostly through theatrical make-up. Originating in the 1820s and remaining popular for a century, blackface is highly offensive but is recognized historically as perhaps the first “original” form of US popular music and helped to establish the modern music industry.
  • Blacksound: The sonic complement of blackface; the embodiment of blackface performance as the origin of all popular music, entertainment, and culture in the United States.
32nd Annual Sojourner Truth Lecture: Saidiya Hartman ...
Saidiya Hartman, English and Comparative Literature professor at Columbia University.
(photo credit here)
  • “Terror and Enjoyment:” A concept created by Saidiya Hartman to describe the racial subjugation and commodification of cultural practices of black people in the US during and after slavery, and to explore forms of terror and enjoyment that shaped black identity.
  • Sonic color line: Describes the process of racializing sound (making assumptions about who makes and prefers certain sounds) and the result of that process (creating division between “whiteness” and “blackness”). Coined by sound-studies scholar Jennifer Lynn Stoever (2016).
  • Authenticity/sincerity: Used here as cultural concepts. Authenticity is the primary way race is understood in the US, sincerity relates to how race actually functions in society.
  • Sonic blue(s)face: The embodiment of sounds from the African Diaspora by non-black performers to achieve stardom (ie: bluesy elements of the music of Amy Winehouse). Coined by Daphne Brooks.
Matthew Morrison
Matthew D. Morrison
(photo credit)

These terms are central to two articles by musicologist Matthew D. Morrison, Assistant Professor in the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. The first is called “The Sound(s) of Subjection: Constructing American Popular Music and Racial Identity through Blacksound” (2017) and the second is “Race, Blacksound, and the (Re)Making of Musicological Discourse” (2019).

Morrison uses the term Blacksound to bring attention to “how performance, (racial) identity, and (intellectual) property relations have been tethered to the making of popular music and its commercialization since the early nineteenth century” (2019). As has hopefully been apparent from these blog posts, the culture of music has always been exclusionary in one way or another. Shana Redmond demonstrated how societal and musical exclusion led Black individuals like Nina Simone, Paul Robeson, and the women of the 1945 Charleston tobacco industry strike to become activists through the creation and amplification of Black anthems. Kevin Gaines and Nathaniel Mackey introduced the concept of artistic othering, explaining how Black jazz artists like Sun Ra and Dizzy Gillespie highlighted their cultural identity through music in ways that didn’t conform to white-established norms and expectations.

Matthew D. Morrison’s term Blacksound (which he calls a “race-based epistemology”1) helps strengthen the tie between these other works. If I’m understanding this correctly, Black anthems are forms of artistic othering that amplify Black cultural practices through music, while Blacksound is a way to analyze the political (racial) implications connected to popular music in the US. Black anthems are Black-owned, while Blacksound is tied to blackface…not so great.


Blackface and Blacksound

Blackface - Wikipedia
The blackface Wikipedia page (where this image is from) is a good starting point if you are unfamiliar with blackface minstrelsy. History.com also has a good introductory article.

I won’t go deep into the history of blackface since it has been covered so often (even a quick Google search can teach you a bit about it). I will mention that blackface does not only exist in terms of black/white; blackface performance can also include burlesquing ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, class, etc. (sidenote: This relates to what I’m reading for my Music and Disability Studies list for this exam. Maybe I’ll write a a future post on “disability drag” in music to link these concepts). Morrison explains in his writing: “Blacksound seeks not to erase other ethnic and racial groups from the process of popular music making in the United States, but rather to put blackness—as the aesthetic basis of American popular music since its founding in blackface—at the center of considering what is at stake as varied communities engage in popular music making on their own terms and in relation to one another within society’s complex and often unequal structures.” The “Black Lives Matter” movement’s goal is not to suggest that *only* Black lives matter, and similarly, the concept of Blacksound does not suggest that *only* the black/white paradigm should be considered in music studies. The purpose of the Blacksound concept is to challenge general notions of racial authenticity in music and to analyze the ways that the US contemporary music industry is built with blackface as its foundation.

Sounding the Color Line

The Sonic Color Line: Race and the Cultural Politics of ...

What sounds are certain bodies “supposed” to produce, and what makes music “authentically” black, white, or something else? Societal expectations establish assumptions: If a singer adds “blue” notes, interjections, hollers, moans, groans, hand clapping, etc. into a performance, these aspects are usually considered “black.” This “sonic color line,” as Jennifer Lynn Stoever calls it, originated in blackface, when artists tried to “sound black” in performance, enacting what Erich Nunn describes as “sounding the color line.” Racial sounds, norms, and expectations were scripted through blackface performance, and those scripts carried over into popular music culture.

But so what? Why does the sonic color line matter? If the music is good, people will listen, right? Who cares if someone is sounding the color line? One reason is that listeners may racialize sounds they hear, enforcing dominant culture by deciding which sounds are primitive, sophisticated, authentic, etc. and possibly reinforcing pre-existing stereotypes. Some assumptions may be real – a listener who studies West African music may be able to say with certainty when a sound has West African characteristics – and others imaginary – someone may decide that a sound is “tribal” or “unsophisticated” because of stereotypes they’ve heard and reinforce.

Scholars have coined many terms to explain the sounds of the sonic color line (I did warn this entry would be jargony!). These terms help to break down the sounds that make up the sonic color line. Here are some that Morrison mentions:

  • Jayna Brown’s “racial mimicry” (forms of racial delineation with and without cork make-up)
  • Mendi Obadike’s “acousmatic blackness” (a “sonic skin” that enables stereotypes of blackness to be articulated and understood when no blackness is visualized)
  • Nina Eidsheim’s “sonic blackness” (the perceptual phantom of a vocal timbre, projected by the listener, which happens to match current expectations about blackness, or the shaping of a vocal timbre to match ideas about blackness)
  • Barbara Savage’s “aural blackface” (“sounding” black by performing what might be recognized as black dialect)
  • Kristin Moriah’s “sounding blackness” (black performance, singing, and listening as a political act)
  • Daphne A. Brooks’s “sonic blue(s)face” (“a palimpsest of spectacular aural racial and gendered iterations” developed out of minstrelsy by black and white women performers).

So…what is Blacksound?

In his 2017 piece, Morrison defines Blacksound in two ways. It is “the legacies, sounds, and movements of African American bodies – both real and imagined – on which blackface performance and popular entertainment was based.” Simultaneously, “the concept suggests the scripting, commodification, and embodiment of these sonic performances by both black and non-black bodies as a vehicle for self-imagination and the construction of race.” It’s easy enough to consider appropriation in music, but as Morrison explains, considerations of blackness in popular culture often assume that the sounds being appropriated are “an ‘authentic’ racialized sonic self” (2017). Morrison coined the term Blacksound to amplify the less perceptible ways that a “racially audible past” informs contemporary popular culture and its development.

[ Okeh Race Records Form No. 2566] | Library of Congress
“Race records” were popular in the 1920s
(image credit)

Morrison mentions many styles of music that emerged out of blackface performance, forming the base of popular music culture in the US. Those styles include Tin Pan Alley pop, vaudeville, “hillbilly”/bluegrass/country, jazz, race music/blues, gospel, rhythm and blues, rock, and hip-hop. As he explains, the diversity of these styles and their histories “continue to reflect the social, economic, political, and geographic relationships that inform how these genres have been created, commodified, and experienced through Blacksound.”

Conclusion

This was a hard concept to unpack and I’m not sure I have completely succeeded. What I do understand is that race and other forms of identity are “imagined, constructed, and negotiated through the embodiment and performance of popular music in and beyond the United States” and that societal structures and assumptions affect individual and collective identities through music. We can only move past stereotypes and deconstruct white-dominant cultural norms if we acknowledge the effect they have on musical identity formation. Blacksound is a concept designed to help do just that.

1 Shana Almeida has a definition to help understand race-based epistemology. In her words, it “challenge[s] the epistemological practices and activities that naturalize western ways of thinking. Race-based epistemologies serve to de-center and contextualize western ways of thinking and knowing, to define their limits” (Almeida 2015:83).


Works Cited

Almeida, Shana. “Race-Based Epistemologies: The Role of Race and Dominance in Knowledge Production.” Wagadu: A Journal of Transnational Women and Gender Studies 13 (Summer 2015): 79–105.
Google Scholar

Brown, Jayna. Babylon Girls: Black Women Performers and the Shaping of the Modern. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2008.

Brooks, Daphne A. Bodies in Dissent: Spectacular Performances of Race and Freedom: 1850–1910. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2006.

Brooks, Daphne A. “‘This Voice Which Is Not One’: Amy Winehouse Sings the Ballad of Sonic Blue(s)face Culture.” Women and Performance: A Journal of Feminist Theory 20, no. 1 (March 2010): 37–60.
Google Scholar Crossref

Eidsheim, Nina Sun. “Marian Anderson and ‘Sonic Blackness’ in American Opera.” American Quarterly 63, no. 3 (September 2011): 641–71.
Google ScholarCrossref

Hartman, Saidiya. 1997. Scenes of Subjection: Terror, Slavery, and Self-Making in Nineteenth Century America. New York: Oxford University Press. 

Morrison, Matthew D. “Race, Blacksound, and the (Re)Making of Musicological Discourse.” Journal of the American Musicological Society 1 December 2019; 72 (3): 781–823.

—–. 2017. “The sound(s) of subjection: Constructing American popular music and racial identity through Blacksound.” Women & Performance: a journal of feminist theory. 27:1. 13-24.

Obadike, Mendi. “Low Fidelity: Stereotyped Blackness in the Field of Sound.” PhD diss., Duke University, 2005.
Google Scholar

Savage, Barbara Dianne. Broadcasting Freedom: Radio, War, and the Politics of Race, 1938–1948. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1999.

Stoever, Jennifer Lynn. 2016. The Sonic Color Line: Race and the Cultural Politics of Listening. New York: NYU Press. 

Goodness gracious time is FLYING. How I am going to not just read but also become an expert on 200+ academic sources for this exam is beyond me. Seven weeks to go…


The College Welcomes New Faculty | Cornell University ...
Kevin Gaines
(photo credit here)

Today I’m writing about artistic othering in jazz music. My focus is a chapter by Kevin Gaines, W.E.B. Du Bois professor of Africana Studies and History at Cornell University, from the book Uptown Conversation: The New Jazz Studies (O’Meally et al 2004). Gaines’ chapter is entitled “Artistic Othering in Black Diaspora Musics: Preliminary Thoughts on Time, Culture, and Politics.” His chapter is sixteen years old yet still relevant.

The purpose of Gaines’ chapter is to explore the relationship between cultural practice and historical consciousness in jazz music. In other words, rhythm and history; the connection between what jazz artists play and the history and memories linked to that playing. By this definition, jazz music is art intended for universal(?) consumption that also acts as political commentary rebelling against systems of racial oppression; an “artistic act of othering.”

The artistic act of othering

The Archive's Poetry Salon, November 2014 | Nathaniel ...
Nathaniel Mackey
(photo credit here)

Coined by literary scholar-poet Nathaniel Mackey, this term transforms “other” from a noun/adjective into a verb – something people do.1 It is a response to social othering. In Mackey’s words, “artistic othering has to do with innovation, invention, and change, upon which cultural health and diversity depend and thrive. Social othering has to do with power, exclusion, and privilege, the centralizing of a norm against which otherness is measured, meted out, marginalized” (Mackey 1992:51). Social othering creates an “us vs. them” mentality while artistic othering says “Okay, groups are marginalized and excluded in mainstream society, let’s highlight their culture and history through artistic endeavors.”

Artistic othering is a response to social othering and disempowerment within the music industry, an antidote to “the oppressive commodification and objectification of African Americans within a U.S. society shaped by institutionalized racism” (Gaines 2004:205). Artistic othering is rebellion; it’s a way for Black artists to express cultural identity through music without adhering to the norms and expectations of a system established by dominant, white culture.

Gaines defines artistic othering in two ways:
1. As an “affirmative othering,” a dialogue that takes places between black artists and audiences and creates a “musically-enacted community.” (208)
2. As a form of othering that provides refuge from the white world for Black artists and audiences, offering creative spaces where white-enacted boundaries can’t reach.

Artistic Othering in Practice

Gaines explores the careers of Black diaspora musicians2 to unpack the idea of artistic othering, demonstrating how Black artists’ music practices “oppose racist attempts to circumscribe black bodies and beings.” (206) A few examples are described below and, as Gaines notes, “the musicians discussed here are just a few of numerous possible examples…they embody the apparent tension between music as universal expression and as historically situated practice that, in its aesthetics and performance, claims and constitutes an autonomous refusal of the dynamics of racial domination.” (206)

1. The Birth of Bebop

What brought about the emergence of bebop in 1940s New York City? My understanding of jazz history allows me to provide a few answers:
-Musicians were tired of the structured arrangements of big band music, designed for swing dancers over individual musical expression.
-After playing swing gigs, musicians met after hours at clubs like Minton’s Playhouse in Harlem (where bebop is said to have been born) to hone their individual skills and try things musically that they couldn’t in big bands.
-WWII drafts meant that there were less musicians to play with, leading to smaller combos than the typical swing band needed.

 Thelonious Monk, Howard McGhee, Roy Eldridge, Teddy Hill at Minton’s Playhouse, New York, September 1947
(photo credit here)
Dizzy Gillespie on Spotify
Dizzy Gillespie
(photo credit here)

Those are some of the reasons for bebop’s formation, but Gaines encourages a more critical examination. Who were the pioneers of bebop? Although not all, the majority were African Americans: Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, Mary Lou Williams, Bud Powell, Max Roach, etc. Why? As we’ll see later in this blog, big bands were some of the more racially inclusive spaces of the 1920s and 1930s (with exceptions, of course), but Black musicians still experienced some exclusion. Bandleaders like Benny Goodman had Black artists in their bands and/or hired them as arrangers, but they were rarely bandleaders (with exceptions), didn’t fully profit from arrangements and compositions they wrote, and often played for all-white audiences (again, with exceptions). Having Black musicians in a band could also complicate a band’s ability to procure gigs. I don’t remember the source, but a book I once read described the experience of an entire swing band sleeping in a bus because the hotel they were staying at wouldn’t allow their African American band member – I think it was Melba Liston? – entry. There are many instances of clubs, hotels, etc. not letting a group enter with a Black band member. For musicians making a living through gigs, what to do? Cancel the gig? Play without that band member? Avoid hiring Black musicians when possible? Gaines also references Dizzy Gillespie, who freelanced as a big band arranger for white bandleaders but was rarely hired. As bandleader Woody Herman confessed, “he would have loved to have hired Gillespie in his band if he weren’t so dark.” (211)

Experiences like this give new perspective to the late night jam sessions of the 1940s that led to bebop’s formation. Jam sessions were spaces of shared cultural values and mutual encouragement where (mostly) Black artists could express themselves musically without adhering to norms and expectations of white-established society. Thus, the birth of bebop is politically charged; it is a form of artistic othering responding to social othering of the time.

Let’s go, Revolution: Jazz poet Langston Hughes ...
Langston Hughes
(photo credit here)

Langston Hughes had his own politically charged explanation of the birth of bebop, shared by his character Jesse B. Simple:

“Every time a cop hits a Negro with his billy club, that old club say, ‘BOP! BOP! . . . BE-BOP! . . . MOP! . . . BOP!’
That Negro hollers, ‘Ooool-ya-koo! Ou-o-o!’
Old cop just keeps on, ‘MOP! MOP! . . . BE-BOP! MOP!’ That’s where Be-Bop came from, beaten right out of some Negro’s head into them horns and saxophones and piano keys that plays it. . . . That’s why so many white folks don’t dig Bop,” said Simple. “White folks do not get their heads beat just for being white. But me–a cop is liable to grab me almost any time and beat my head–just for being colored.
In some part of this American country as soon as the polices see me, they say, ‘Boy, what are you doing in this neighborhood?’
I say, ‘coming from work, sir.’ . . .
Then I have to go into my whole pedigree because I am a black man in a white neighborhood. And if my answers do not satisfy them, BOP! MOP! . . . BE-BOP! . . . If they do not hit me, they have already hurt my soul. A dark man shall see dark days. Bop comes out of them dark days.”

Langston Hughes, “Bop,” in Abraham Chapman, ed., Black Voices: An Anthology of
Afro-American Literature (New York: New American Library, 1968), pp. 104–5.

2. Space Is The Place

Jazz musician, composer, and bandleader Sun Ra (1914-1993), born Herman Poole Blount (nicknamed “Sonny”) in Birmingham, AL, insisted that he came to Earth by way of Saturn. In his lyrics and in statements throughout his later life, Sun Ra described outer space as a realm of freedom. When asked about his lyrics, Sun Ra replied:

It’s all about space. . . . I didn’t find being black in America a very pleasant experience, but I had to have something, and where was that something? It was being creative. Something that nobody owned but us….Now I [have] a treasure house of music that no one has…..I have music from the creator which is more valuable than anything.

Taken from a 1987 interview with Sun Ra conducted by Phil Schaap, rebroadcast in March 1993 on 89.9 mhz, WKCR-FM, New York.

Sun Ra experienced segregation, racism, and poverty throughout his life, first while growing up in the Jim Crow South and later while living and working in Chicago and Philadelphia. In 1952 he legally changed his name to Le Sony’r Ra, claiming that Blount was a slave name. As a black man he was socially othered regularly, and he responded by recording over 100 full-length albums, producing one of the largest discographies in music history, and becoming one of the pioneers of Afrofuturism.

One example of Sun Ra’s artistic othering is his musical collective, The Arkestra (which still exists today). Established in the mid-1950s, The Arkestra features musicians and dancers dressed in elaborate costumes inspired by ancient Egypt and the “Space Age.” In addition to the content of his music, Ra’s costumes allowed him and his band to demonstrate black nationalism visually as a counter-narrative to mainstream American culture.

The Sun Ra Arkestra
(photo credit here)

As stated earlier, despite some exclusion, big bands were valuable spaces for cultural aspiration and freedom for Black musicians. Sun Ra agreed, citing the culture of big bands as “the nearest temporal approximation of the utopian possibilities of outer space” (Gaines 2004: 216). At a time when procuring employment was difficult for Black Americans, big bands simultaneously offered income, expression of cultural heritage, and “collective ideals and aspirations to dignity, organization, and power” (ibid). It is no surprise then, that the Arkestra was formed as and remains a big band rather than a smaller combo. As Gaines writes, “the band was not unlike a church for its members, and Sun Ra was no less than a spiritual leader for his musicians, who lived and rehearsed with total commitment
in a communal situation.” Further, the focus on space is important: “Outer space functioned symbolically as a pastoral refuge from the dangers of urban poverty and alienation facing African American migrants from the South” (ibid).

Conclusion

I’ll end this blog post here because, frankly, I just spent half a day writing it and still need to study other sources. This concept of artistic othering is one that I will keep in mind as I learn about the music of other Black artists. I don’t think it’s a stretch to conclude that all the music discussed in my last blog post on Shana Redmond’s book are also examples of artistic othering. One question I am left with: Can artistic othering only be accomplished by members of a socially othered group? If a white musician plays politically charged Black jazz music knowing the history and cultural memory that it carries, can that performance also function as artistic othering? I don’t think I need to know the answer for my exam, but just something to think about. Thanks for reading!

1 Mackey credits this noun-to-verb othering concept to Amiri Baraka, who transforms the word “swing” to describe white appropriation of black musical innovation in his book Blues People. He also mentions Zora Neale Hurston who, thirty years earlier, was a pioneering practitioner of “resistant othering” in black vernacular culture.

2 Gaines uses this term because “to call them African American would obscure the broader, black diaspora identities they claimed for themselves” (206). He uses a lowercase b, but as of June 2020 “Black” as an identity is now written with a capital B, recognized by the Associated Press.

Alright. I said I’d blog about what I’m reading, time to start.

I’m beginning today with an extremely relevant book by Dr. Shana L. Redmond called Anthem: Social Movements and the Sound of Solidarity in the African Diaspora. Now is an especially important time to amplify black voices, so I’ll have Dr. Redmond start us off in her own words:

Music is a method. Beyond its many pleasures, music allows us to do and imagine things that may otherwise be unimaginable or seem impossible. It is more than sound; it is a complex system of mean(ing)s and ends that mediate our relationships to one another, to space, to our histories and historical moment…Within the African diaspora, music functions as a method of rebellion, revolution, and future visions that disrupt and challenge the manufactured differences used to dismiss, detain, and destroy communities. The anthems developed and deployed by these communities served as articulations of defense and were so powerful that they took flight and were adopted by others…Listening to Black anthems is a political act in performance because it mobilizes communal engagements that speak to misrecognition, false histories, violence, and radical exclusion.

Redmond, Shana L. 2013. “Introduction.” Anthem: Social Movements and the Sound of Solidarity in the African Diaspora. New York: NYU Press. 1.

Note: In this book, “diaspora” refers to Africans no longer in their country of birth. One reviewer, Mareli Stolp, thinks “pan-Africanist” is a more appropriate term than “diasporic” but agrees that these songs are anthems (Stolp 2016).


Dr. Redmond’s book focuses primarily on six Black anthems, each of which she describes as a transnational text with a set of musical forms and a set of organizing strategies. She pins the starting point for Black anthems as 1920, when Mamie Smith became the first black artist featured on a “race record,” creating commercial investment in Black music.1, 2 Race records were driven by financial gain, and Black movement anthems emerged as a sort of counterpoint built not on commercialism but on what Robin Kelley calls “freedom dreams.” Black anthems “publicly grappled with how the ‘race’ of ‘race records’ was (and should be) constituted” (Redmond 8). They aimed to liberate what Redmond calls the collapsed Black identity through race (“a different way of living”) and sound (“a different way of hearing”).

Mamie Smith & Her Jazz Hounds "Crazy Blues" LYRICS (song ...

1 Okeh Records, the studio that recorded Mamie Smith, also had a line of “foreign” records for immigrant communities prior to the “race records” produced from the 1920s-1940s. (source)
2 Mamie Smith’s recording was extremely popular among black audiences despite the fact that it cost the equivalent of roughly two hours of work at an average black person’s salary. Her “Crazy Blues” record sold over 100,000 copies! (source)


When someone sings an anthem they become part of a collective, amplifying a message and its associated struggles and refusing the limitations of an “audience,” choosing instead to merge into a “public.” Singing an anthem is an act of what Christopher Small calls “musicking,” an active engagement with music rather than a passive one (9).

Anthems cross borders, carrying musical traditions, performance techniques, history, politics, and associated struggles across the world. More than just casual songs, anthems construct what Redmond terms sound franchises.

Sound franchise: An organized melodic challenge utilized by the African descended to announce their collectivity and to what political ends they would be mobilized (4-5).

Here are six anthems mentioned in Redmond’s book and the sound franchises they construct:

  1. “Ethiopia (Thou Land of Our Fathers):” Composed in 1918 by E. Burrell (coauthor of lyrics) and Arnold J. Ford (composer, coauthor of lyrics).
    • Anthem of the UNIA (Universal Negro Improvement Association).
    • 1920: In a manifesto titled Declaration of Rights of the Negro Peoples of the World, UNIA president Marcus Garvey announced a human rights platform for the protection of the Black race. Members of the UNIA sang this anthem after the manifesto was read, marking ” their moment of exultation and collective advance, signaling the introductory chapter of their ascent into the world corps of nations” (21).
    • “Ethiopia” set the stage for the use of anthems for global community building and mobilization.
    • 1927: Marcus Garvey’s deportation led to the rapid decline of the UNIA and its anthem.
    • “Ethiopia” enforces notions of male superiority and power but is nonetheless historically important as what might be the first example of a Black anthem.
  2. “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing:” Composed by James W. Johnson and James R. Johnson. Based on a poem by James Weldon.
    • Anthem of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People).
    • 1933: Request to translate it into Japanese. Example of the global reach of a tool of representation for blackness.
    • Widely considered to be one of the most important Black anthems of all time, though it is not as popular today due to non-performance (276).
  3. “Ol’ Man River:” Composed by Jerome Kern (melody) and Oscar Hammerstein II (lyrics) for the 1927 musical Show Boat.
    • Singer/actor/activist Paul Robeson rewrote the words and transformed the song into a personal anthem for his work in Civil Rights Movement, the Spanish Civil War, movements against fascism, movements for social justice, etc.
    • 1950-58: Robeson’s passport was revoked under McCarthyism, but his message spread across the globe through his performances.
    • “Ol’ Man River” became Robeson’s signature performance in crusade for civil and human rights, creating an association with freedom struggles in US and abroad.
    • According to historian Mark Naison, Robeson is the “most complex and challenging African-American cultural figure of the twentieth century,” yet “within a span of ten years, 1947–1957, [he] was virtually erased from historic memory.” (278)
    • 2004: The American Film Institute named “Ol’ Man River” one of the “top movie songs of all time.” (276)
  4. “We Shall Overcome:” Known by many previous names and versions. One possible origin is Charles Albert Tindley’s gospel hymn “I’ll Overcome Some Day,” published in 1900. Melodically, “We Shall Overcome” is similar to the spiritual “I’ll Be Alright.” Although I don’t have a source to back this up, I learned from Rev. Robert B. Jones that “I’ll Be Alright” was a code song used by slaves to signify who was staying behind when an escape was planned.
    • 1938: Under the leadership of the Congress of Industrial Organizations, African American tobacco workers in Richmond, VA went on strike and sang the spiritual “We Shall Not Be Moved.”
    • 1945-1946: First documented singing of the “modern” version of Tindley’s hymn. Became the anthem of Black women industrial workers in Charleston in the CIO (Congress of Industrial Organization) who lead strike action against the tobacco industry.
      • Regarding the song’s importance for the Charleston strike, Local 15 member Isiah Bennett said: “Everytime [sic] we opened up a meeting we would sing a song. ‘We Shall Overcome,’ ‘We Shall Not Be Moved.’. . . The song ‘We Shall Overcome’ originated on the picket lines, in the union halls and in the churches where we would meet” (164).
    • 1947: Zilphia Horton (music director of the Highlander Folk School) taught the song to Pete Seeger and it was published as “We Will Overcome” in the People’s Songs Bulletin (directed by Seeger). Seeger began singing the song in performances.
    • 1959: Guy Carawan became song leader at Highlander and spread his and Seeger’s version. Other folk singers picked it up and started singing it at rallies, protests, etc.
    • The song grew from a locally-situated protest song to become the rallying cry and unofficial anthem for the Civil Rights Movement and a universally recognized protest anthem.
    • Malcolm X didn’t share the general enthusiasm for this anthem. In his speech “The Ballot or the Bullet” he stated: “Uncle Sam’s hands are dripping with blood, dripping with the blood of the black man in this country. He’s the earth’s number-one hypocrite. He has the audacity—yes, he has—imagine him posing as the leader of the free world. The free world!—and you over here singing ‘We Shall Overcome.’ Expand the civil-rights struggle to the level of human rights, take it to the United Nations.” (280). Similarly, he said: “Revolution is never based on begging someone for an integrated cup of coffee. Revolutions are never fought by turning the other cheek. Revolutions are never based upon love-your-enemy and pray-for-those-who-spitefully-use-you. And revolutions are never waged singing ‘We Shall Overcome.’” (ibid). Nonetheless, “We Shall Overcome” remains a universal anthem for social change.
  5. “To Be Young, Gifted and Black” by Nina Simone (1969), lyrics by Weldon Irvine.
    • Written in memory of Simone’s mentor, writer Lorraine Hansberry (author of A Raisin in the Sun) who passed away in 1965.
    • Written as “a defiant celebration of and for the young people who through sit-ins, marches, and community organizing continued the fight of the many leaders gone.” (Redmond)
    • 1971: Became the anthem of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), which then led to its popularity as an unofficial civil rights anthem.
    • Nina’s voice drew people together. As Redmond writes, “it is necessary to note that often it literally was her voice that put them in the same place at the same time. The power of these acts, then, is not simply as sonic art—as important as that is; it is also pedagogical and organizational in that these performances compelled reactive and proactive engagements and debate, all of which contributed to political alternatives in the present” (14).
  6. “Nkosi Sikilel’ iAfrika” (“God Bless Africa”): Hymn by Xhosa choral music composer Enoch Sontonga
    • 1897: Adopted by African National Congress (ANC), considered to be the most significant political force in the resistance struggle against apartheid in South Africa.
    • Best known version sung by Miriam Makeba
    • Multilingual composition made it an easy choice for a resistance anthem across Africa in the 1960s and 1970s.
    • 1994: Nelson Mandela installed as president of South Africa, gets to choose symbols of post-apartheid. Replaced “Die Stem” with “Nkosi Sikilel’ iAfrika” as South Africa’s national anthem.
  7. Bonus: “Fight the Power” by Public Enemy (1989)
    • Featured in Spike Lee’s film Do The Right Thing
    • Redmond presents “Fight the Power” as possibly the last Black anthem of the 20th century, adopted by various urban communities and uprisings.
    • Its relevance goes beyond Brooklyn to other locations, conditions, and political mobilizations: “The song’s growth from and response to collective Black struggle went beyond reporting to build discourse and debate; it was not simply narrative but was instructive” (261).
    • Long but very relevant quote: “’Fight the Power’ joined in the lexicon of anthemic sound bites like ‘We Shall Overcome,’ becoming an oft-repeated way to signal the Black response to the acquittal of the four white LAPD officers who in 1991 brutally beat Black motorist Rodney King within a few inches of his life. The anthem played in the streets of the Palms neighborhood of west L.A. during the events, becoming a critical voice and strategy within the Black rebellion. ‘Fight the Power’ was the song that marked this last decade of the Black century—the violence of its turning and the innovation of its future. Through their Brooklyn performances, the members of Public Enemy were organizers whose sonic manifesto moved bodies and reconstituted the multiple centers of Black diasporic existence.” (269)

That last quote makes me think. Redmond deemed “Fight the Power” as the last Black anthem of the 20th century. Here in the 21st century, while we wait to see what will happen with another group of four cops involved in the unnecessary murder of George Floyd (among many others), will a new Black anthem emerge? At one of the protests I attended last week, a trumpeter played “We Shall Overcome” and people laid down flowers while the names of black people killed by police was read aloud. That anthem is clearly still a part of the ongoing movements for civil rights, but others have emerged along the way. What’s waiting in the wings now?


It is only fitting to end where we began, with Dr. Redmond’s own words, shared below. I hope this blog post has been useful. I believe it is important to know the history of the songs we sing, and the same can absolutely be said for Black anthems.

The fact that some of these songs have passed the time of their utility in movement cultures does not diminish their importance to the political histories and futures of the diaspora…With every reference to these movements and musicians, with every performance, a conversation continues between the actors of the past and those of the present. The histories that these anthems have helped to build and the present efforts that they condone structure a radical movement timeline for members and actors within diaspora. Anthems, therefore, have a future, even if the nation does not. The project and practice of Black anthems represented here will, with any luck, mobilize another cohort with the talents to remake the world.

Redmond, Shana L. 2013. “Introduction.” Anthem: Social Movements and the Sound of Solidarity in the African Diaspora. New York: NYU Press. 288.
Paul Robeson photo credit here
nina simone
Nina Simone photo credit here
Fight the Power - Wikipedia
Public Enemy photo credit here
The Transatlantic Impact of civil rights anthem “We Shall ...
Photo credit here

I typically use this blog to track my travel adventures, but occasionally I co-opt my own space for other topics, such as back in 2017 when I shared information about music styles to help myself study for a giant ethnomusicology exam.

I failed at posting consistently back then, but now I have another chance. I’ll be taking my 2nd comp exam, the last step (aside from a dissertation proposal defense) before I move from being a PhD student to an ABD (All But Dissertation) PhD candidate. I have two reading lists to study, each composed of 100+ academic sources I need to know inside and out. I chose the topics for my lists last year and gathered hundreds of sources (more than the ~200 that make up the final lists, since I had to submit drafts and add/remove sources based on feedback).

My two lists are “Music and Disability Studies” and “Music of the Black Atlantic.” I chose the first list because it was directly related to my original dissertation project (which has now changed because of COVID-19) and for its relevance to my role as an educator. I chose the second because as a jazz musician and music educator it is critical for me to be familiar with Black music history and accompanying racial injustices. I don’t see this as optional and I will never finish learning.

As you might imagine, right now my focus is on my “Music of the Black Atlantic” list. Never would I have predicted that a public health crisis (COVID-19) paired with another public health crisis (racism) and the national response would motivate me to study, but the events of 2020 have lit a fire. I need to know these sources inside and out, and I intend to.

For the next 10 weeks I will post about what I learn from studying. Although the “Black Atlantic” list focuses on music traditions and experiences in many countries besides the US, I’m going to start with the sources that specifically focus on Black American music experiences. A lot of people are more motivated than usual to learn about race-related topics right now, and I have a unique opportunity to share information while simultaneously helping myself study. I am absolutely not the most important voice in the stream and I do not intend to distract from those sharing important information. This is to help myself study, and I welcome anyone who would like to come along for the ride.

Over the next few weeks I will pick out some of the most relevant and interesting parts of what I’m reading to highlight here. We will learn about protest anthems and freedom songs, “blacksound,” the appropriation of black culture through minstrelsy, what is meant by “Black Atlantic,” etc. I will not share everything I read (maybe one post per week? We’ll see…) and if something is particularly academic and jargon-filled I will do my best to break it down. The intention of this first post is keep myself accountable so that I follow through with this endeavor.

In their 2017 piece entitled “Ethnography, Sound Studies and the Black Atlantic,” Whitney J. Slaten and Michael Veal focus on humanizing aspects of black popular music studies. They write:

African Americans are probably the only culture on planet Earth in which every generation has to essentially reinvent the wheel. And while it’s great for things like artistic creativity, it’s terrible for long-term cultural stability. Only a small number of exceptional people are going to be able to prosper within that paradigm. So until we deal with that reality, we won’t be able to set the proper course into whatever the future may hold.

Slaten, Whitney Jesse, and Michael Veal. 2017. “Ethnography, Sound Studies and the Black Atlantic.” Current Musicology. 99-100 (Spring): 21-36.

Let’s deal with that reality.

2017!

Posted: January 3, 2017 in All Things Ethnomusicological

New year is here! I have five primary goals this year:

  1. Successfully complete all requirements for my en-route master’s degree (step one = pass the big exam on Jan. 23rd).
  2. Compete in the Ron Jon Triathlon and improve my bike and run times.
  3. Prioritize my musical life progression, particularly by posting more vibraphone videos and obtaining a solo gig at either the local Italian restaurant or coffee shop.
  4. Bike from Brooklyn, NY to Toronto, Canada.
  5. Goal #5 will not be posted here, but I know what it is and am already working on it.

 

Okay so…jumping right in to achieving goal number one, here is some information about a Turkish music style called Arabesque.

https://i1.wp.com/ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/5131UB32jEL._SL500_AA280_.jpgArabesque is the label for a particular kind of Arab-influenced music popular in Turkey from the 1960s-90s. Arabesque music is normally in a minor mode (usually Phrygian) and can be identified by elements including a vocal “sobbing sound” (tahrir in Persian) and string instruments. The music changed over the years, but historically most vocalists of Arabesque music have been male. Two of the most popular performers were Ferdi Tayfur, and Ibrahim Tatlises, a former film star who is is one of the most successful Arabesque singers of all time. Arabesque song lyrics usually tell stories of love, grief, and pain.

One common Arab rhythm in this music is ||: 1 + (2) + 3  4 :|| (as in Ferdi Tayfur’s “Huzurum Kalmadi“) and another is a rhythmic pattern called karsilama. Karsilama is a 9/8 pattern split into three groups of two and one group of three like this: ||: 1 2 | 1 2 | 1 2 | 1 2 3 :||

Karsilama is the name of a Turkish dance as well, and this particular rhythmic pattern was the inspiration for Dave Brubeck’s famous tune, “Blue Rondo a la Turk,” composed after Brubeck visited Turkey as a “jambassador” for the U.S. State Department’s 1958 jazz diplomacy tour and heard local musicians playing the rhythm (for more on this, check out Penny Von Eschen’s great book, Satchmo Blows Up The World).

https://i2.wp.com/images.sk-static.com/images/media/img/col6/20140318-085209-546325.jpgThough not arabesque, one extremely famous female Turkish singer is Sezen Aksu, the “Queen of Turkish Pop,” who has sold over 40 million records. Interestingly, here is her song “Hadi Bakalam,” a hit in Europe in the 1990s, and here is the song “Rhythm of the Night“, released in 2002 after Europop singer Loona rediscovered Aksu’s music. To my knowledge, no copyright issues exist related to Loona’s version. Aksu is known not only for her success as a pop singer, but also for her role as a pop culture icon for the Turkish LGBTQ community.

Heather A. Strohschein has collected some great quotes to help musicians and non-musicians alike fill in the blanks and answer the age-old question: “What is ethnomusicology?”.

SEM Student Union

What is it?! Over the past century or so, a plethora of articles and books have been written attempting to define the field of ethnomusicology. We, as students, can only pass on to the next level of our studies by satisfactorily establishing our comprehensive knowledge of this field. Yet when someone asks us what it is we do or study, we seek refuge in mumbling “Uh, world music” and avoiding eye contact.

It is both humbling and gratifying to realize that some of the founders of the field and even scholars today couldn’t/can’t agree on what “ethnomusicology” is/was/should be and that the definition and conceptualization of ethnomusicology has changed over the years. With this being our first post on our new site, we thought we’d start off by sharing some inspiring and edifying words from scholars old and new regarding music in general and ethnomusicology in particular. Here is what they’ve had…

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