Tag Archives: Black studies

Afrofuturism and anti-anti-essentialism

In the 1990s the term Afrofuturism emerged to describe a vein of science fiction-inspired art that repositions black subjects in a purportedly race-free future that is nonetheless coded as white. While ostensibly about the future, Afrofuturism in fact works dialectically with an equally overwritten past to critique the reified distance between racialized fictions of black magic and white science.

Three successive concepts— the experimental jazz bandleader Sun Ra’s myth-science, the funk bandleader George Clinton’s P-Funk, and the hip hop artist Kool Keith’s robot voodoo power—track a historical continuity of collapsing fictions of both past and future in Afrofuturist music, reflecting strategic versions of what Paul Gilroy refers to as anti-anti-essentialism. The robot voodoo power thesis thus recognizes in Afrofuturism a dialectical third way out of the double binds and unproductive debates about racial essence and non-essence.

This according to “The robot voodoo power thesis: Afrofuturism and anti-anti-essentialism from Sun Ra to Kool Keith” by J. Griffith Rollefson (Black music research journal XXVIII/1 [spring 2008] pp. 83–109).

Above, Sun Ra in the early 1970s; below, Earth people by Kool Keith (as Dr. Octagon), one of the works discussed in the article.

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Filed under Black studies, Jazz and blues, Popular music

Afrocubanismo and art music

Afrocubanismo was an early 20th-century Cuban aesthetic movement that focused on the recognition, assimilation, and validation of the African cultural features present in Cuban society.

The new ethos found musical expression in a seminal group of composers whose works reflected neonationalistic musical concerns that emphasized the manipulation of timbral and rhythmic elements in a modern harmonic vocabulary. These experiments marked a significant juncture in the evolution of the Cuban concert repertoire, forging the representation of race and class at the intersection of art/popular and rural/urban music dichotomies and establishing a discursive site for the negotiation of national identities.

Ultimately, afrocubanismo provided a transition from nationalism to cosmopolitanism in Cuban concert music, and mediated between ethnicity and social class to articulate a Cuban national musical identity founded on the hybridity of African and Iberian-derived cultures.

This according to “The rhythmic component of afrocubanismo in the art music of Cuba” by Mario Rey (Black music research journal XXVI/2 [fall 2006] pp. 181–212).

Above, Wilfredo Lam’s La jungla, a celebrated example of afrocubanismo in painting; below, excerpts from Almadeo Roldán’s Ritmicas, one of the works discussed in the article.

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Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music, Black studies, Visual art

Lena Horne’s second act

 

“I was the first black sex symbol, the first black movie star, and the first black to integrate saloons…I had to take a lot of flak from my own people, and everybody else’s people.” Thus spoke the very forthright, five-feet, five-inches Lena Horne, a musician’s singer who overcame deep-seated prejudice to establish herself professionally. “I was always told to remember I was the first of my race to be given a chance in the movies, and I had to be careful not to step out of line, not to make a fuss. It was all a lie. The only thing that wasn’t a lie was that I did make money—if I didn’t, they wouldn’t have kept me.”

Horne’s artistry deepened over the years as she came into her own. In 1974, at peace with herself and liberated, she reckoned, “In my early days I was a sepia Hedy Lamarr. Now I’m black and a woman, singing my own way.” In 1980, shortly after she had been named one of the world’s ten most beautiful women, she announced her retirement and embarked on a farewell tour.

But she had a change of heart, and in May 1981 Horne opened on Broadway in Lena Home: The lady and her music. She performed a host of songs associated with her (Stormy weather, The lady is a tramp), interspersed with sharp talk and direct reflections on her life. Newsweek raved that she was “the most awesome performer to hit Broadway in years.” The New York times added, “The lady’s range, energy, originality, humor, anger, and intelligence are simply not to be believed.”

For her one-woman production, Horne received a special Tony Award and a Grammy (for the LP album set), and the show was taped for cable TV. Lena Home: The lady and her music ran on Broadway for 333 performances, closing on her 65th birthday. She went on tour with the production in 1984; that December she received the Kennedy Center Honors Award for Lifetime Achievement.

This according to “Lena Horne” by James Robert Parish and Michael R. Pitts (Hollywood songsters: Singers who act and actors who sing—A biographical dictionary [New York: Routledge, 2003] p. 380–90); this resource is one of many included in RILM music encyclopedias, an ever-expanding full-text compilation of reference works.

Today is Horne’s 100th birthday! Above, the lead publicity shot for her 1981 show; below, an excerpt.

BONUS: Your wish is our command—here’s the whole show.

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Filed under Black studies, Performers, Popular music

Reginald Foresythe’s triple consciousness

The pianist, composer, and bandleader Reginald Foresythe occupied a critical location as a black British musician within Anglo-American jazz culture and the African diaspora. Foresythe warrants attention for his highly influential yet neglected contribution to 1930s jazz during a crucial period in which the rapid proliferation and commodification of recorded jazz meant that it increasingly became the focus of searching critique.

In this respect, he stands at a fascinating conjunction of three intersecting critical discourses. First, Foresythe offers an opportunity to reconsider modernist concerns about the form and functions of jazz in social relations as expounded by Theodor Adorno. Second, Foresythe offers an opportunity to develop broader transnational perspectives of jazz’s modernity, derived from his position within the spaces of movement that Paul Gilroy called the Black Atlantic. Third, the double consciousness suggested by such a figuring is further complicated by Foresythe’s sexualized performance as a decidedly camp figure in this arena.

The resulting interplay of such triple consciousness in the person of Foresythe offers an illuminating new way to reflect on how Adorno and Gilroy understood jazz’s role in modernity.

This according to “Camping it up: Jazz’s modernity, Reginald Foresythe, Theodor Adorno and the Black Atlantic” by George Burrows, an essay included in Black British jazz: Routes, ownership and performance (Farnham: Ashgate, 2014, pp. 173-198).

Today is Foresythe’s 110th birthday! Above, entertaining members of No. 325 Wing RAF in Setif, Algeria, ca. 1941; below, The Duke insists from 1934.

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HipHop Academy Hamburg

HipHop Academy Hamburg’s rappers, dancers, and beatboxers use hip hop as a platform of integration, shaping feelings of belonging and perceptions of dual identities.

The Academy’s 2013 production DISTORTION examined migrant descendants’ places in Germany and provoked audiences to contemplate the new faces of the nation. This symbiosis of hip-hop and contemporary dance performed macro- and micro-political integration, illuminating how the boundaries of German national identity are disrupted by the presence of interculturality.

This according to “Ich fühle mich Deutsche: Migrant descendants’ performance of integration through the Hamburg HipHop Academy” by Emily Joy Rothchild, an essay included in Transglobal sounds: Music, youth and migration (New York: Bloomsbury, 2016, pp. 155–76).

Above and below, excerpts from DISTORTION.

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Filed under Black studies, Curiosities, Dance, Pedagogy, Popular music

T-Pain and “Can’t believe it”

T-Pain’s Can’t believe it music video resonates with the ways that black bodies are represented as inhuman, superhuman, and subhuman in visual media, enacting strategic resistance to these discursive formations.

T-Pain’s transformation of Auto-Tune into a subversive technology represents the radical black imagination, and signifiers in the video deploy constructions of race, class, gender, and sexuality as they relate to notions of blackness. The semiotics of T-Pain’s trademark sound raise questions about what is at stake in the music through the generative force of sonic propulsion and the simultaneously old and novel articulation of a freedom drive propelling black performance.

This according to “Crossing cinematic and sonic bar lines: T-Pain’s Can’t believe it”by James Gordon Williams (Ethnomusicology review XIX [fall 2004] pp. 49–76). This journal, along with many others, is covered in our new RILM Abstracts of Music Literature with Full Text collection.

Above and below, the video in question.

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Osibisa and the British melting pot

osibisa

During the 1950s and early 1960s, as the British economy recovered from World War II, increasing numbers of people from the Caribbean came to work in Britain. At the same time, many West Africans came to Britain to study.

Musicians from both diasporas played with each other in predominantly white bands and in sessions for Melodisc, a recording company that released material appealing to West African and Afro-Caribbean audiences, and soon they began forming groups based on their own common musical features. By the early 1970s Osibisa, which included both West African and West Indian members, had become a mainstream success.

This according to “Melting pot: The making of black British music in the 1950s and 1960s” by Jon Stratton, an essay included in Black popular music in Britain since 1945 (Farnham: Ashgate, 2014, pp. 27–45).

Below, performing in 2014.

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P-funk tears the roof off

george-clinton-mothership

In the 1970s George Clinton took funk to a new level when he formulated the P-funk concept, which was defined by a philosophy, attitude, culture, and musical style.

Grounded in the ideology of Black Power, P-funk advocated self-liberation from the social and cultural restrictions of society, creating new social spaces for African Americans to redefine themselves and celebrate their blackness.

P-funk had its own language, fashion, dances, and mythical heroes and villains, who Clinton presented as black science-fiction characters. The mastermind and producer of five P-funk groups, Clinton combined these cultural components to create stories about black people and black life from a black perspective.

This according to “Funk” by Portia K. Maultsby (The Garland encyclopedia of world music III [New York: Routledge, 2013] pp. 680–86); this encyclopedia is one of many resources included in RILM music encyclopedias, an ever-expanding full-text compilation of reference works.

Today is the 40th anniversary of the opening of the P-Funk Earth Tour, whose production budget was the largest amount ever allocated for a black music act to tour at that time. Above, Clinton emerges from the Mothership, a highlight of the evening; below, an excerpt from the tour’s performance in Houston shortly after it opened in New Orleans.

BONUS: Wishing for more? Here’s the whole concert.

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Rumba and racial politics

rumba

The Afro-Cuban music and dance genre rumba has historically been considered una cosa de negros (a black thing) and reviled due to racialized stereotypes that link the practice with el bajo mundo (the low life), excessive alcohol use, and violence. Nevertheless, the socialist government has sought to elevate rumba’s status during the past half century as part of a larger goal of foregrounding and valorizing the African contributions to Cuban identity and culture.

Rumba is the most significant and popular black-identified tradition in Cuba; in addition to its association with blackness, it is often portrayed as a particularly potent symbol of the masses and working-class identity, another reason why the government has aimed to harness rumba to its cultural nationalist discourse.

Despite the discursive valorization of the practice found in much Cuban scholarship and political rhetoric, rumba continues to be identified with a particular and marginalized sector of the population. In many ways, the complex situation of rumba performance conforms to the more general trend of contemporary racial politics on the island.

This according to “National symbol or ‘a black thing’? Rumba and racial politics in Cuba in the era of cultural tourism” by Rebecca Bodenheimer (Black music research journal XXXIII/2 [fall 2013] pp. 177–205). This issue of Black music research journal, along with many others, is covered in our new RILM Abstracts of Music Literature with Full Text collection.

Above and below, street performances of rumba.

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Filed under Black studies, Central America, Dance, Politics, Popular music

Electro hop and Afrofuturism

Uncle Jamm's Army

Most narratives on Los Angeles hip hop begin with gangsta rap, but recordings, videos, news articles, photographs, interviews, fliers, and memories detail a different story.

Electro hop, or techno hop, was the direct precursor to gangsta rap. This multifaceted and complex period emerged in the early 1980s and was developed on the streets of Los Angeles by adolescent black males. Expanding from mobile disk jockey crews, electro hop artists produced a musical soundscape and cultivated a cultural landscape that drew from both electro funk and hip hop, demonstrating both how intramusical components are linked to extramusical factors and how Afrofuturist concepts (re)envision (sur)realities. Electro hop sounds off on other/outer ways of reconsidering and reinvigorating planet rock.

This according to “Something 2 dance 2: Electro hop in 1980s Los Angeles and its Afrofuturist link” by Gabriela Jiménez (Black music research journal XXXI/1 [Spring 2011] pp. 131–144). This issue of Black music research journal, along with many others, is covered in our new RILM Abstracts of Music Literature with Full Text collection.

Above, Uncle Jamm’s Army, a seminal electro hop group, in the 1980s; below, UJA’s signature hit Dial-a-freak.

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Filed under Black studies, Curiosities, Popular music