Having read no small # of reggaeton messageboard debates (esp over ?s of nat’l origin), I’ve developed a decent sense, I’d like to think, of when someone hits a good # of signposts. The following gem is quite solid in that respect — myths, misspellings, elisions and omissions, grammatical and historical slippage notwithstanding. Econowhimsical prose, tú sabe? (AND POLITELY S^LF-C&NS0R%D TO B00T!) I especially love how papito0724 slides from English into Spanish and back, sorta like reggaeton itself.
In some sense, I couldn’t say it better myself. But I’ll try.
It came to my attn recently that my shift in focus from reggae to reggaeton has lost me some (one?) readers. Alas. What can I say. I write about what I think about. And I’ll surely continue writing and thinking about reggae too. But if you can’t come along on whatever aesthetic adventures I’m into at the moment, yeah, this blog ain’t for you. (Or, perhaps, may I recommend the tag cloud or search bar?)
But I am glad that people like Nina, aka Salvaje Siempre, are out there and adding their 2 centavos to the discourse. Check her recent post about Ivy Queen for some palabras provocativas. Though, I’d like to point out (as demonstrated below) that Ivy used to represent mad rugged, too (and, yeah, check all those hip-hop samples and tell me that PR didn’t add their own thing to [Spanish] reggae) —
and even with the various modifications she’s made to her image, and her recent dips into bachatera-mode, Ivy still raps about as fiercely as anyone out there (for better or worse — we could use a greater range of female subjectivities offered in reggaeton, and, yeah, in pop culture more generally).
Having more and more critical interlocutors in the reggaetonosphere is a good thing, and I hope we can continue linkthinking through the genre’s key terms, hot-buttons, central issues, hopes and dreams and knameans. I sure appreciate being able to float ideas and theories out here, and I doubly appreciate getting thoughtful, stimulating feedback.
Take, for example, a recent question I’ve been puzzling w/r/t the valences of certain ethno-racial identifications as articulated over the course of reggaeton history (including the days before it was called reggaeton). The question, which I’ve raised before, has to do with whether projections of community in reggaeton have shifted radically over the last ten years — a change that I sometimes like to pose, provocatively, as audible in the shift from “musica negra” (a term of self-description employed in the mid-90s) to today’s “reggaeton latino.”
* I should note — to complicate things a bit — that the jury seems to be out on whether Blanco sings “la musica negra, hispana!” or “la musica negra, is murda!”; it sounds like the latter to me and Raquel, but others have transcribed it otherwise, which is significant in its own right, though it may reflect a more contemporary sensibility / mode of hearing; me, I’m trying to figure (out?) whether something like “raza” in PR in the mid-90s would have signified blackness or simply, a la Kid Frost, (“third race”) Latinidad.
Another Crunk Cartology: if you happened to miss Ghislain Poirier’s African hip-hop mixes, you really need to trackthose down. For another perspective on the whole back-and-forth, see Daara J’s Boomerang thesis.
Droid brings the latest blogariddimic spectacular: an hour of early 90s dancehall, an underappreciated but overwhelming (and deeply influential) era for reggae music — easy skanking gives way to bomp-bomp banging as flip-tongue DJs go to vocal and conceptual extremes (e.g., the opening Papa San cut is mindblowing; why don’t we hear more dancehall dramatizations along pantomime lines?)
shaded by live oaks and bottlebrush trees
In realms of dingy gloom and deep crevasse
with visors. Their brave recreational vehicles
Comes up with as a means to its own end.
He never even dreams, being sheer snow;
A frame of glided twilightë¾‹
to matter, for the flushed boys are muscular
III. Chronology of Northern Exploration
She stretches a hand toward the toothy sleeper
In a single floral stroke,
Where does this all end? What is the vanishing
Late February, and the air’s so balmy
Bronze the sky, with no
Would their world not remain comfortably
Calling me to you with wild gesturings
In Winter Haven, the ballplayers are stretching
Coextensive with everything? How could they know?
The snowflakes are swirling, blotting out
i think most of web2.0 activities is lil autonomous nodes — blogs, youtube uploaders & viewers, myspace clients — people engaged in similar activities in similar spaces but not necessarily collaborating in the general sense of the term, more like people dancing in the same room. much of this is fantastic, of course! here i am, commenting on your blog; yet where i get wary is that much of this latter engagement creates enormous amount of self-mapping (flickr/delicious, etc,) and meta-data, and only big corps like Google or Murdoch have access or ability to scan this, with the possib that their use of the data we generate from blogging & tagging & uploading & linking could be employed to further bend & shape internet-citizen desires, in a weird and contemporary mingling of rhizomatic info drawn up and re-used for top-down (& viral) marketing, advertising, channeling of consumer desire, etc.
i think im saying web2.0 culture is great, but the monetization/meta-data analysis of that culture could easily be applied to uses out of step with web2.0’s XML-y emphasis on collabo, trading, datamashup, sharing, etc.
Couldn’t agree more. Which makes me wary, too. I guess I’m optimistic on the main, however, b/c despite these corporate appropriations (and, nd, shapings) of my/yr/our metamappings, I’m enjoying (immensely) even the limited degree to which we non-corporate entities get to enjoy (and re-shape) feed’n’tagland — and its fruits.
Rather than disengagement, however — not that that’s what Jace is calling for, obv (just look&listen) — these intertwined possibilities and pitfalls (& motivations and desires) seem to call for a massive practice of collabo-curatorial hacktivism (for these fruits are fleeting), fostering DIY/p2p remix/mash culture thru the civilly disobedient sharing and tweaking and linking of things. &thus making eloquent arguments, in discourse and design, against the very status quo that the corporate mining of our metamaps would seem to support. (of course, increased attn to bridging the digital divide, which is to say, the basic distribution of wealth[=wiredness] across the world would help a lot too)
w/r/t more musical matters, this post over @ hometaping is a good reminder of the woefully ephemeral nature of netmedia — archive.org notwithstanding (esp when it comes to audio, video, and other cumbersome forms). It’s an inherent impermanence which I’ve been feeling all too acutely of late. (Indeed, I was rather relieved — perverse as it may seem — to find, as I had hoped and expected, that El Perreo Chacalonero Para Niños had reappeared recently on the ol’ Tubosphere. [backstory])
& Here’s another example: I initially put Word the Cat’s Bollywood Omnibus on my World Music syllabus as a nice primer on the classic conventions and remarkable range of Indian film/song. But by the time last week came around, most of the videos embedded in the post had disappeared, rendering the page — with its informed commentary — if not useless, then rather frustrating (such unfulfilled anticipation!). Of course, those videos are probably back up already, which is good, but you never know when the Viacom of India (or Viacom in India) is going to order all curry recipes taken down. (Yes, I jest — but similarly overreaching edicts could no doubt send a chill across the world of “amateur” archivists.) And, moreover, it’s a shame that that fine post has become such a shell of itself, rather than the valuable resource it once was (as I can only imagine most of my own YouTubey posts — like this one! — will become). One can only imagine the possibilities for collective annotation/critique of media of all sorts (from blogs to wikis) if embedded audio and video could be more stably incorporated.
From the perspective of someone teaching a class on world music, something like YouTube, with its myriad examples that are either too recent, too obscure, or too unlicense-able to accompany most texts on the subject at hand (whatever it may be, increasingly), offers a treasure trove of clips (and other forms of discourse) for quick classroom showings. (And dismal, and scatalogical, as the comments can get, they are often also rather useful — at least from a pedagogical perspective — insofar as they quite readily offer up a wide range of stereotypes and other distinctive discursive markers and public debates circulating alongside the music and animating/demonstrating/performing its reception.) Considering how many of us watch YouTube (students included), it’s not a bad idea, either, to encourage each other to read more critically in our travels there, taking apart the frames around the frames to better see the picture.
Krishna knows what a better couple of classes we had last week w/ the ability to conjure up such classic clips as “Yeh Dosti Ham Nahi,” from Sholay, the ComedyOfErrorsCurryWesternBuddyFlick par excellence, which, moreover — the song, that is — mashes Bwood strings with Bwhite strings, adds vintage synths and honky-tonk harmonica and does the oddest lil shuffle thru the country:
Or the psychedelic-rockin’, hippie-krishna sendup, “Dum Maro Dum” (translation), as featured in R.D.Burman‘s Hare Krishna Hare Rama and sung by the great playback divadevi, who also happens to be the sister of Lata Mangeshkar (in case you didn’t know), Asha Bosle (between the two of em, they’ve recorded 40,000+ songs [!!]):
which makes a fine juxtaposition, I should note, to the reception and representation of Ravi Shankar at the Monterey Pop festival —
I mean, sure, I could no doubt find these films up @ Devon’s Desi corridor, and perhaps I will soon, but there’s something invaluable all the same about having a giant, unruly public repository of individual clips available at a mouseclick, &complete with more commentary than one might care to read. [I mean, I’m sayin, shouldn’t our libraries be archiving this stuff?]
But never mind commercial releases such as those ^^, which could likely (if not so easily) be located in “physical” form (but not necessarily non-piratical) in nuff cities worldwide. How bout vintage (or up-to-the-time) Indonesian dangdut vids? E.g., the following, as shot on super8 (nice touch!) — featuring plenty pictures of everyday (and extraordinary) Jakarta, w/ some oldschool boombox stylee, a lil Latin sabor, and an early90s-obligatory electro-rap to top it off —
or, whynot? — undie Indonesian (Undonesian?) hip-hop:
or p’raps a totally badass Balinese gamelan orch in the heat of competition:
& don’t get me started on Wayang Kulit clips, such as this comical-topical interlude performed by the late Bu Hami, a masterful dhalang who distinguished herself in a field dominated by men:
I’m quite grateful to have access to these. They’re wonderful teaching tools and wonderful things in themselves. Providing examples beyond the std textbook variety, they allow instructors of whirl music® to represent any given “music culture” (the textbook term, tho I dislike the implied borders) with greater range, &as a lively, living, contested thing, &in deeper context — especially as constituted by self-archived/annotated, or even as, if you will, ethnographically-embedded entries. In this sense, never mind the old bottles, YouTube (et al.) = the people’s rough guides, folkways, and sublime frequencies.
So here’s hoping the inherent promiscuity of the digital copy means that such things as the videos above, which could as easily have perished on media several feet underwater, will always be accessible, especially to future generations of Indonesian (and, sure, Indonesianist) interpreters, remixers, & ethnomusibloggers. We certainly can’t count on Google or Murdoch to handle the responsibility.
To wit/bit: Kevin Driscoll made a convincing argument recently (and pointed to some useful tools) w/r/t our stake in making sure all this amazing stuff remains around and available: “As the crackdown on YouTube begins to accelerate,” he warned,
we need to start thinking about creating distributed archives and mirrors. We jeopardize the tremendous library of video being amassed by relying on a single commercial provider. Letâ€™s not repeat the mistakes we made with Napster.
But beyond simply archiving these things ourselves, especially if we want to share with the world as we go, what we need to do to protect ourselves against corporate interests is to make our “uses” of such things incontestably “fair,” i.e., to creatively (and aggressively, decidedly, compellingly) remix, reframe, comment on, and parody other people’s “property” such that we ourselves challenge and change the status quo (at least w/r/t ownership of media/data/info, which is a damn good start).
Not long ago, Mike Langlie (aka, Twink), one of Boston’s foremost toypiano musicians and remixers of weird kid rekkids (as smashed here), invited me to contribute a remix to a project he’s releasing on CD later this year. It’s a collection of, you guessed it, toypiano music remixes, and it’s called Ice Cream Truckin’. Although not due until late spring or so, it’s got a itspace to whet appetites in the meantime.
My own offering is currently in rotation under the name “Sprinkles.” Over the toypiano lines Mike sent me, I’ve added some sprinkles of Dutch bubblin beats, Boston bounce, and, towards the end, perhaps even an inkling of D. Aside from the hopped-up drums, looped and juxtaposed piano lines, and liberal use of echo, the rest of the work is all Twink’s: from the original toypiano melodies to the (“post-” production) synth skank & bassline. I definitely dig the way it turned out, halftime swing pulling against fulltime drive. There’s a sweet messiness to it, I think — like a good, drippy cone on a hot day.
Perhaps expectedly, in contrast to the MSM coverage, which tends to focus on the novelty, the MVM — well beyond the novelty stage with SL — focuses on the substance of what the Nessons have been up to on Berkman Island. Download the pdf for the full coverage!
Far from being purposeless, the way that I move is an ongoing response to what is going around me. Ironically, the way that I move when responding to everything around me is described as “being in a world of my own.” Whereas if I interact with a much more limited set of responses and only react to a much more limited part of my surroundings, people claim that I am “opening up to true interaction with the world.”
Watch it the whole way through.
Deeply moving, deeply persuasive — for many anyhow — and yet, some people still miss the point. I find that dismaying. But then, I’m encouraged that so many others respond with empathy,wonder,&respect.
&the guy who says the first half is Sigur Ros, the second Radiohead, is — aside from callously clever — rather unfair to the spirit of Radiohead. Tho I do appreciate the distinction. Sigur Ros always seem pretty sensual,capacious&capricious to me. In a good way. And moreover, not unaware of what they’re doing. And then there’s that whole Hopelandic thing, of course. (Not to cast myself in the whole — hey, that’s not a language in the Chomskian sense — crowd. [wtf?] It’s pretty clear those guys’re missing something.)
But while we’re on the subject, have u seen this one?
So, I suppose if this has become another one of those “YouTube posts” (tho I think the term has already passed into redundancy), I may as well share another lovely (video) mix of form and content, of message and music (and by music, I mean poetry [and music]). This one from India, a photopoetic “Sufi fusion” Punjabi treatise on the mystery of, well, g0d or something, but I’m not much concerned with whatever it is he might actually mean. It’s more the way he means it.
Ignore the Deep Forest-y / Enigma-tic aspects and attend to its filmic qualities, its effective edits. Boring breakbeat and mild treacle aside, it’s a strong statement, expressly expressively expressed, knamean. (&yet, still wildly interpreted! So it goes. C’est la vie, c’est parole, c’est musique.) [merci, jbj]
Saw this @ SavageMinds before it turned up ‘pon BoingBoing, but I was glad it appeared @ the latter too b/c I think it should be seen widely: not only is it interesting and inspiring, it’s cool and well-executed (& I’m pretty sure the music was made on friggin FruityLoops!). It might be hyperbolic, it might be hype, but I’m into it. Props to Mike Wesch. More arguments like these please —
As you may know, today is Bob Marley’s birthday (or “earthday” in Rasta parlance).
As you may have noticed, I write very rarely about Bob Marley for a guy who writes about reggae. Not because I don’t find him worthy of consideration, celebration, and critique, but b/c he so thoroughly dominates the reggae literature (perhaps for good reason), at the expense of other important narratives.
At any rate, given this auspicious day and the resonance of one of my favorites from Bob’s oeuvre with my New Wine, Old Bottles post of a couple days ago, I couldn’t resist sharing this powerful chantdown of, as he calls it, “Babylon System” —
Bob Marley & the Wailers, “Babylon System” (from Survival) Bob_BabylonSystem.mp3
On top of that binghi bounce & bright band backative, Bob brings the fire, full of vivid images:
We refuse to be
What you wanted us to be —
We are what we are
That’s the way (that’s the way) it’s going to be, if you don’t know…
You can’t educate I
For no equal opportunity —
(Talkin bout my freedom) Talk-in bout my freedom,
People freedom (freedom) and liberty!
Yeah, we been troddin on the winepress much too long —
Yes, we been troddin on the winepress much too long —
Babylon system is the vampire, yeah (vampire)
Suckin the children day by day, yeah
Me say, the Babylon system is the vampire, falling empire,
Suckin the blood of the sufferahs, yea-ea-ea-ea-e-ah!
Building church and university, wo-o-ooh, yeah! —
Deceiving the people continually, yea-ea!
Me say them graduatin thieves and murderers
Look out now: they suckin the blood of the sufferahs (sufferahs)
Tell the children the truth
Tell the children the truth
Tell the children the truth right now!
Come on and tell the children the truth
Tell the children the truth
Tell the children the truth
Tell the children the truth
You got to tell the children the truth
‘Cause we been troddin on your winepress much too long:
And we been taken for granted much too long:
Rebel, rebel now!
So much to love/say about this song and its (musical) poetics: the way the I-Threes anticipate him on “talkin’ bout my freedom” (allowing him to stretch it out, syncopated stylee), the fingering of “church and university” in the vicious system (which I take to heart), the glorious gospel turn to “Tell the children,” the sincere strain of his voice, and of course, that pregnant metaphor of “troddin on the winepress” — i.e., laboring for the luxury of the vampire-class — despite that wine (save for ginger wine and Red Label wine [and Dutty Wine!!]) is not really something Jamaica is known for.
You’re still very much with us, Bob. I&I appreciate the vibes, every time.
A pair of GINORMOUS genre-busting mixes recently wiggled their way into the e-ther c/o two of my fave Riddim Methodists:
1) DJ Flack offers the latest in the still-stellar Blogariddims series. And “Beyond the Valley of the Smurfs” is srsly on some next next. Flack’s been digitizing his laaaaarge vinyl collection in an attempt to infuse more warm, wacky sounds into the Seratonin. As he details in his notes on the mix, dude decided to start the arduous process on the fun side, selecting some of his oddball, off-the-wall, genre-blend-ready favorites to string into a long, twisted journey. “As for the Smurfs,” Flack writes,
well that is from a record I used to listen to with my sister when we were kids. I thought the sped up voice thing went well with my notion of playing things on the wrong speed and when I revisited that record I was surprised to find a track that was pretty danceable and even had an electronic reggae bounce to it!- the lyrics were even more drugged out than I remember. As Droid pointed out â€œif smurfs eat smurfburgers- does that make them cannibals?â€, frankly I wouldnâ€™t put it past them. I am not really a big fan of the Smurfs and I want this mix to take you past those creepy blue humanoid beings and over to the unexplored regions of their magical valley where even stranger creatures exist.
Filled with seemingly whimsical choices so well blended you can’t believe they didnt always overlap with each other, so well tuned you can’t believe they weren’t originally at that tempo, Flack’s mix showcases a hahdcore Beat Researcher at his best.
2) DJ Ripley runs ruffshod over all sorts of styles to create what she dubs “a reggaeton flavored breakcore mentalist jammy.” Rip whipped up the hysteria for the good chaps over at Spannered, who recently launched a media-rich website full of all kinds of goodies — from audio to video to interviews. While you’re over there grabbing Rip’s mix, I’d also recommend getting an earful from the likes of Hanuman, El Kano, and Filastine — and definitely this eye&earful from DJ Scotch Egg. (To boot, I was pretty tickled to hear, in their inaugural Oddcast, myself rappin over an oldtimey country rag!?! — a valiant effort and interesting experiment, if a lil off’n’on)
&don’t miss Ripley’s riffs on her well-rounded and oddly overlapping interests — running from law to tech to “medical activism.” Sound like a stretch? Well, so do her mixes. In a good way. And as in her mixes, it all comes together.
A couple nights ago I attended the reception for an exhibition currently showing at the Glass Curtain Gallery (Columbia College) in downtown Chicago. Curated by anthropologist art historian Deborah Stokes and entitled “Africa.dot.Com: Drums to Digital,” it is billed as “an exhibition that visually and interactively explores the collision of modern culture and technology on cross-cultural communication.” The description continues —
Against the background of traditional African “talking” drums, dance and oral traditions, powering of the voice through electronic media has altered these long-established customs. New technology has strengthened and reinforced the assimilation of African expressive culture into vibrant new forms in America.
Unlike classical African art exhibitions, Africa.Dot.Com focuses on representing Africa as part of the modern world, with cultures that have navigated into new media alongside the global community. Since the 1960s, dramatic changes have taken place as a result of African independence, and access to new media, computers, digital technology and mobile phones is growing at a rapid rate. Anthropologists currently encounter all types of digital media in both urban and rural settings, and the charting of innovative, varied practices within a range of media has only just begun.
There were a couple things in this text that set off bells for me before even attending — in partic, the use of quotation marks around “talking” (b/c, y’know, it’s not as if the drums really talk or anything) and the use of the plural form of culture, which I tend to avoid myself due to the implication that there are various, stable, discrete cultures in this world rather than the kinds of interconnected, overlapping, porous, shifting fields of cultural practice that this exhibition actually, in spirit, seemed to want to emphasize. Even so, I recognize that we sometimes simplify our vocabularies in order to say something clearly or provocatively, so I wasn’t really too suspicious going in. Nonetheless, I did expect to encounter plenty of “ironic” examples of African uses of and riffs on technology — you know, ironic, because who would expect to find so many cellphones in Africa, never mind so many tricknological gizmos integrated into traditional art forms? To wit —
& what (post)modern African art exhibition would be complete without a bit of kitschy signage, especially if the irony is increased with references to American rappers and cities (and this city to boot!) —
& of course, rather than proto-cubist carvings of men and animals, etc., there were sculptures of cell phones —
I didn’t snap too many photos with my crappy cellphone camera, although it did occur to me that I was adding another level of irony to the preexisting layers by using a cellphone to take pictures of African cellphone art. In particular, tho, I regret that I didn’t take any pictures of the more “trad” objects on display — the kind of sculptures and drums one would expect, here placed at the entrance for contrast — so that I could better illustrate the attempt and yet, I’m afraid, the ultimate failure of the exhibition to transcend persistent, pernicious modes of representing African art.
Now, I realize I probably already sound rather snarky here (and trust me, the snark has yet to come), but don’t get me wrong — I recognize that this sort of exhibition is long overdue and perhaps even ::sigh:: still necessary. I can understand and appreciate the explicit, if simple/vague, desire to represent Africans as modern members of the “global community,” esp considering the ways that Africa (monolith a monolith) has been perennially figured in, as they say, the “Western imagination” (or, if you will, in ebog’s imagination, to take a specific case), as premodern, backwards, and primitive (or, for ebog, as “the most fucked up (and most heroic)” [and stinky?]).
It wasn’t until I started looking closer at the objects on display and their identifying information that I began to bristle a bit, wondering, especially since these pieces were all relatively recent (w/ cellphones as their subjects and such): who are the artists who assembled and sculpted and painted and threaded these wonderful things? Why did they choose to do what they did? What do such representations, such forms&contents, mean to them? (I’m guessing one or two might have something more interesting than “cross-cultural communication” as an answer.) It was at that moment, when I noticed that the artists appeared to be utterly anonymous (in contrast to, say, the curator and collectors), that I remembered a quotation which had leapt out at me last week while reading Tim Taylor’s “A Riddle Wrapped Inside a Mystery” (an essay I mentioned a couple posts back):
Anthropologist Sally Price was told by a French art dealer that “If the artist isn’t anonymous, the artist isn’t primitive.” (73)
This specious/useful formulation fresh in mind, I began to inspect more closely the info-cards accompanying the pieces on display. The cellphone sculpture above, for example, was glossed as —
Sorry about the blur — it’s there to make my own representation seem more authentic, natch cultch.
The card reads: CELL PHONE
Carved wood, Tanzania
Warren Holstberg Collection,
Yep, all the information one could want. I suppose the artist must be named “Tanzania” — how cheeky! How modern!
And here, if we do a little google archaeology, we stumble onto yet another irony — actually, perhaps one of the only truly ironic dimensions of the exhibition, albeit one that the curator might rather remain implicit: the cellphone sculpture comes from the collection of — buh-dump-bump — a Motorola veep! (You can’t make this stuff up, folks. If I were writing anthropological fiction, as the Prices sometimes do, I would have a hard time passing up such a downright structural metaphor.)
Returning to the official description of the exhibition, and another line that made me skeptical, it is perhaps unsurprising (if disappointing), that the spotlight shines where it does here. The last line indicates, not to get too personal in my critique, a self-centeredness (and lack of self-consciousness) that requires the anonymity of one’s “subjects” in order to maintain one’s own centrality to the story (and the cachet, the privilege, the power, the opportunity, the free-to-move-ity): “Anthropologists currently encounter all types of digital media in both urban and rural settings, and the charting of innovative, varied practices within a range of media has only just begun.” [update (2/8): allow me to note, again (see first para), that the curator describes herself as an art historian, rather than an anthropologist, which essentially makes this last paragraph an off-base accusation — in this case; in plenty of others, however (like this blog?), what I describe here remains all too common a dynamic.]
Indeed. Better get crackin on them charts, keep the cameras pointed in the right direction & —
In this day&age, it is hard to believe that there’s no way to bring actual individual African voices — voices with names and faces and dreams and bank accounts — into an art gallery here in Chicago. And I don’t mean literally (necessarily). As the exhibit admirably shows, the technologies of communication and connectivity are already there to a great extent. (And surely a lil Motorola money could get us the rest of the way?)
As I was describing my problems with the exhibit to a colleague last night, he recounted one of John Blacking‘s last public statements which, to paraphrase a paraphrase, went something like this: Blacking, who wrote extensively on the music of South Africa, lamented at a meeting of ethnomusicologists that when he looked at the captions in his books and saw things like, “African girls singing a puberty rite” or “African man playing a transverse flute,” he thought about how such descriptions contrasted with representations of European music; can you imagine, he asked, a picture of Bach that read, “German man at keyboard instrument”?
Just so I don’t seem totally sardonic here, I should note an exhibit like this one, for all its problems, might still prove productive for all sorts of viewers, including European-Americans and African-Americans of many, many stripes (and there were plenty of stripes in attendance Thursday night). And yet, the persistence of this old model of anthropologists // collectors // anonymous subjects seems to betray any real traction. New wine, old bottles. This is the ultimate irony of the “Drums to Digital” exhibition: it utterly fails to challenge, despite its novel surfaces, the same ol’ ways of representing, of maintaining the status quo, of reinscribing the asymmetrical power relations between the rest and the “West” (i.e., in this case, the American academy and American anthropology, if we’re gonna name names, which — as I hope I’ve argued compellingly here — we probably should).
As much as we might want to celebrate African modernity and uses of technology and all of that good stuff, the mere movement of these images and objects outside Africa to metropolitan centers such as Chicago ain’t necessarily doing all that much in the way of “cross-cultural communication.” This is still very much a one-way street we’re traversing. The others are streets with no names. Not that I’m calling for better maps or charts — far from it — but how are we supposed to navigate this chasm, & continue the conversation, without better, realer connections?
Considering this (uncritical) celebration of the sheer circulation of Other things, as if their simple presence in our midst is enough to heal the world ®, I’m reminded of what Steve Feld has written about about a similarly celebratory stance (in this case, of the circulation of “world music,” which is to say, “non-Western” music). In an essay called “From Schizophonia to Schismogenesis: On the Discourses and Commodification Practices of ‘World Music’ and ‘World Beat’,” Feld contends that such celebrations “risk confusing the flow of musical contents and musical expansion with the flow of power relations” (263).
And so I’ll finish here by (trans)posing a question that has been very much on my mind all quarter and which this exhibit brought into focus in yet another way: might we level same critique that I marshal above w/r/t anonymous African artists at various, recent, half-decent attempts to broker the sounds of the Other, of the Global (“dirty“) South, to metropolitan audiences happy to consume the next real thing?
(I’m thinking of things like —
& it’s not just about tracklists [or lack thereof], it’s about track records [or].)