Mapping Black American Auralities

Conveners: Susana Friedmann and Michael Birenbaum

The black Americas are characterized by both historical commonalities and a variety of local racial formations. Accordingly, the distinctive constellation of sonic cultures created by the New World descendants of Africans reflect both the shared aspects of these historical experiences and particular divergences shaped by local soundscapes. The history of these sonic cultures, however, has also been marked by the interaction of differently-located black musical practitioners with sonic tropes of blackness present on a global level, not only such as varied forms as jazz, son, reggae, and hip hop circulated in the 20th century recording industry, but as early as the 17th century interchange between African, European, and New World musical practices produced musical forms like cumbé, sarabanda, and others.

What has emerged, then, is a global set of sonic tropes of blackness, variously shaped by local processes, which exhibit both differences and commonalities, and a second level of mutual borrowings and appropriations. This working group will aim to map out this black aurality on a hemispheric level. What are its nodes, margins, and interstices? What are the circuits that link them? To what degree is this map structured or interrupted by different forms of inclusion in the nation, by the economic imperatives of the global culture industry, or by local systems of distribution and new digital media? How can/are local black enunciations of modernities be achieved in settings like Colombia, where blackness is conflated with rural tradition, and modernity with either whitening or with transnational models of blackness absorbed from the media? How does the increasing pervasiveness of audio-visual media disturb or reinforce tropes of black orality/aurality? Above all, how can monolithic conceptions of black musicality be complicated, and local sonorities recognized without torpedoing cultural commonalities or potential trans-diasporic political and cultural alliances?

Areas of inquiry:

  • • Mapping Black American aurality: A diachronic cartography of the local nodes and hemispheric circuits of Black American sonic production, dissemination, and consumption
  • • Inscribing Black American aurality: A history of the technologies of preservation of Black American sonorities (recorded music, cinema, print, notation) and their dissemination through Black American circuits
  • • Re-encountering Black American aurality: An examination of contexts of intra-diasporic aural encounter (migration, exile, consumption) and the experiences of commonality and/or “schizophonia” they engender

Applicants who would like to be considered for the work group should submit a brief description of their current research with an abstract of the paper that they would like to share in preparation for the Encuentro. Our long-term objective is the conformation of a long-term research group and the possible publication of a joint volume. The group will be limited to a maximum of 20 participants.

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