Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Politics of Race & Bodies on a Popular Music Program Committee

I missed all last week's posts and realize I could have simply left a message about that. Lonely only child me at it again. I love people like you that keep coming back. Even though I don't get many comments until recently, I really appreciate you readers out there. Make yourself known. Tell me what you like and don't like and when I am missing for you. That keeps ME honest to. Nothing like talking into a void. Don't know if you're making any sense to anyone but yourself.
So please consider commenting at least once a week or so. Thx.

I was recently asked to participate on the program committee of a major popular music conference that happens each spring in Seattle. If you know pop music, you know I mean the EMP Conference. Seattle is home to the great Jimi Hendrix and EMP has a great exhibit happening now on Jimi. The program committee selects the upcoming topic and puts the call for papers together. Who attends the conference? A mix of music journalists and academics. And some industry folks and publishers of popular music from A to Z.The conference itself has always struck me as driven by the participation of predominately white driven set and discourse of POP music. It occurs for me as a black female scholar that EMP has been dominated by the musics that powerful groups of white folks like or white critics talk about (Kelefa Sanneh is an exception though he ain't Greg Tate). It has also been about hidden conversations by all us "minority" folk still feeling and perhaps making ourselves others but NOT taking a stand on program committees to say what is usually backroom conversation for blacks only or with a few radical white folks who we trust or who we think are like us -- have no real power in the matter.

The committee is assigned to choose a title in the next few days so the CFP (call for papers) can go out by early Sept. One of the popular titles arising has to do with the EROTICS OF POP. Committee members are talking about how bodies get left out but rarely are they talking specifically about WHOSE bodies are left out and HOW. Right now we are at the generalizing stage. I suggested this title two days ago and some liked it, others did not. For one, it's too long:

Share, Remix, Reuse : Social Media, Music & We the People in 2.0(09)

What was behind my proposition was bringing issues of diversity out without making it explicit -- race, gender, nation, class -- as well as musical and cultural diversity in approaches to music-making. Check out this great video on creativity and video remixes:

My specialty as a popular music scholar is race, gender and the body. What I have been privy to as a speaker/participant at EMP, what has driven my own concerns about participating has been that I feel white concerns about popular music run the atmosphere and the conversation. It seems inevitable with a critical mass of white journalists and scholars talking about pop.

I notice the committee's conversations seem to already use the term BODIES without politicizing what it means to different audiences and people. The politics of the people of color whose BODIES and VOICES have been consumed, always present, but often disenfranchised by the pop machine seems to always get lost when we don't privilege REAL PEOPLE in our themes and discourses not just their bodies.

So here I am on the program committee and if you've learned something about me from my previous posts -- offending the status quo excites me when I really have the courage to do it. But part of me is withholding what I always wanted to say now that I got a little power. Crazy thing.

So I said it. Black folks already got issues about the way bodies are consumed in popular culture and popular music from hip-hop to McDonald's commercials and jingles. I shared with the committee that I think we must politicize the way people MIX in whatever title we choose and use it as a metaphor about the MIX in music. It's about sounds and people mixing. Not just money and markets on some chart. I shared in my last communication, if we bring the politics of race and gender to the CFP then I'd feel more at home with my participation in EMP as a whole.

The hidden transcripts among some folks of color I've talked since EMP began several years ago, particularly some notables in journalism and academia, is that the issue of race might be a topic of some paper, but not a issue we talk about as people readin'/writing popular music. I also told my compatriots that RACE and WE THE PEOPLE and WEB 2.0 in 2009 is a national tie in for the conference this year. Which is I am considered proposing the following title: WE THE PEOPLE in 2.0(09) : FORMING A MORE PERFECT MUSIC

I also added that the keynote speaker should be someone of color to bend the ear of the conference goers in the direction of race, gender and the body in ways that people of color can and do without trivializing that WE are the ones who often get BOXED IN in conversations of BODY.

I still want Success with the Opposite Ethnicity/Sex/Gender/Nation/Age. I want to shatter the illusion but going to the place that is heard as different, other, or out of place. I want to pull our attention towards the MIX and REMIX of DIFFERENCE. Like...Agree to be Offended and Stay in the Conversation Anyhow!! Kyra


Anonymous said...

The EMP Pop music conference sends out an announcement asking for submissions to a list of music critics that was originally compiled from the Village Voice Pazz & Jop critics poll I believe. The editors of that poll (and its counterpart Idolator poll) try to get diversity in whom they request ballots from (they have been frequently quoted as saying such), but often the editors of such polls have noted that many people fail to respond (especially folks that often review genres associated with minorities). I assume that EMP also tries to get diversity in their academic ranks. So are you suggesting that the EMP Pop Conference does not accurately reflect the number of African-American and other minority critics and academic music scholars, or does not try hard enough to get representation from such folks (or that non-whites have never been featured presenters on opening night which I do not believe is true)? Also, I don't see any discussion on your part of historical and economic and societal factors, or of simple population numbers and music sales, and whether or not that latter item (sales) should even play a role. If you want more contributions about music that aren't "white" in focus (however you define that in relation to genres) or more non-white contributors, don't you think you should try to do more than throw out mostly unsupported charges, with a new title and a non-white keynote speaker as your only offered solution.

Kyra D. Gaunt, Ph.D. said...

I was calling attention to myself as one of those minorities who used to complain and almost shut my own self down for the wrong reason. I am so glad you replied AND I am not out to get the SOLUTION. I love the direction our conversations have been going and resisted them too. I'm only human and instead of shutting up and taking things personally, I am advocating the strategy of agreeing to be offended, be straight about what offends you, AND stay in the conversation. I am on the program committee and I almost opted out but it would be like all that complaining was just lip service. I am sure I and the commmittee (I am not the only committee member of color by any means) will all be richer for the frank conversations we each will bring. Even if it involves opinions and unsupported charges. HEY SEX DRUGS AND ROCK AND ROLL live in that domain. So does hip-hop. So do human beings as a whole. Thanks for your extensive comment. REallly appreciated it!