Category Archives: music

Soulbounce Asks “How Can Justin Timberlake Still Objectify Black Women And Get Away With It?”

by Latoya Peterson

Reader Crash Happy tipped me to this provocative article published on SoulBounce, asking “How Can Justin Timberlake Still Objectify Black Women and Get Away with It?

Contributing editor Ro writes:

Someone please explain why Justin Timberlake continually gets a pass to fetishize and exploit the image of Black women. Right now. Because after watching him aggressively pulling on a chain wrapped around Ciara’s neck only to later use her bending body as a leaning post in her new video for “Love Sex Magic,” it’s getting ludicrously difficult to understand.

It been years since “Nipplegate” after which he distanced himself from Janet Jackson, cowardly allowing her to endure the overly harsh criticism alone. The outcry against his actions from those of us in the indignant minority was quickly overshadowed by an increase in album sales, multiple music awards and an increase in his Pop stardom miming Black music and culture. Instead of subjecting his next project with trepidation–let alone dismissal–nearly every “urban” club, radio station and music channel on the planet had the masses bumping to a song with a hook that’s about shackles, whipping and slavery.

From behind a wry smile and with his hair faded he actually tarnished a reigning, Black Pop star’s image arguably beyond repair by exposing her breast on national television and then built his street cred further by bringing sexy back, Middle Passage style. He’s transitioned from the post-racialist’s pop culture dream of somewhat harmlessly lusting after beautiful Black love interest in the video for “Like I Love You” into something more sinister. He uses the scapegoat of S&M edginess in which he is the aggressor, the dominant force, to subordinate his object of desire when she is Black.

Ro goes on to argue that while both Ciara and Janet Jackson chose to collaborate with Timberlake, “that just makes his ability to exploit their collaborations to the point that they are subjugated to his dominance, wittingly or not, more protestable.”

The comments over at SoulBounce were as provocative and engaging as the post. Here are a few of the choice ones:

You talk about JT “miming Black music and culture,” but until we get away from this insular view of racial ownership of culture (and a type of music) we will never be an integrated society. By making him out to be an imposter because he borrows from hip-hop and collaborates with black women (although his last popular single was with Madonna), aren’t you singling him out soley for the color of his skin and not the content of his musical product? That seems like precisely the kind of thing we are trying to get away from as a country.
Luce | March 25, 2009 5:02 PM | Permalink

Continue reading

For Art’s Sake: the Arabesque Arts Festival

by Guest Contributor Yusra Tekbali 

All week, all I and my Arab and Arab-friendly friends (fellow Near Eastern studies graduates) have been talking about is Arabesque: Arts of the Arab World, being held at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.  It is the largest congregation of Arab artists ever.

As a new Washington, D.C. resident, my status as an expatriate is two-fold: I’m not only an Arab outside ancestral terrain, but I’m far away from my niche, far away from the Arab household I was raised in and the community I grew up around. Needless to say I’m starving for some Libyan couscous (without the Parmesan) some falafel-flavored conversations (spicy) and Kunafah-esque affirmations. Give me some Arabesque!

Shukrun, Kennedy Center!

The three-week festival, presented in cooperation with The League of Arab States,   features 800 artists from around the Arab world: actors, dancers, musicians, writers, filmmakers, etc. Finally,  a diverse representation  of Arab culture! Finally, Arab women celebrating their own talent! Finally, Arabs in America as artists boasting their rich, splendid, unique traditions, the classical good stuff, not the plastic dolls and imitation pop stars, but the ‘oud, the whirling dervishes, the dabke. No western imitations and American idolizing here. No, this is purely Arab art–our own. These are our poets reciting our Diwan, our calligraphy; these are our own Arab men and women succeeding together. As this Washington Post editorial points out, this is huge!

Shayma & Amina, the Bahraini 'oud musiciansLocal Washington, D.C. papers like The Washington City Paper gave some love. Check out their very short profile of two Bahraini girls playing the ‘oud (pictured left). It’s short, but sometimes shorter is sweeter–and more effective. The headline reads, “Arabesque Festival Starts off with Grrl Power.” Without even reading the article, you’ve already connected the words Arab and Girl Power. It gets  better. Right underneath the headline is a photo of the artists, traditionally clad in headscarves and abayas, playing a traditionally male-dominated instrument.

The Examiner, another local paper, calls the art a cultural treasure, which shows that, contrary to other media accounts of death and destruction and intolerance in the Middle East, its people really do value art, and are concerned with preserving its significance in their culture.

To my surprise and disappointment, I found nothing at The New York Times. My Google search only returned a Times article from 2008, which only mentions the festival in general terms of the Kennedy Center’s upcoming season. Nothing from The LA Times, The Chicago Tribune, or the BBC. I thought for sure Al Jazeera would have a full-length preview at least, but I found no reports even mentioning the festival. Only IslamOnline did. One of the most detailed articles was a press release from The Jordan Embassy.

This Associated Press article was circulated in a couple papers. It’s good, but I was expecting more articles previewing the individual artists. Afterall, this is the largest congregation of Arab artists the world has ever seen, ever. There are 800 of them, instead of lumping their work together under the scope of the festival, I would have preferred to see a few individual profile pieces. Like the piece with the female Bahraini ‘oud musicians, only longer.

Like this detailed interview with Kennedy Center President Michael Kaiser from The Online News Hour at PBS. Mr. Kaiser says it’s not just about the art:

“I believe that this festival is going to help people to understand Arab people, to understand their aesthetic tastes, to understand their hospitality and their generosity and their passion, and we’ll start to understand them not just as political beings, but as human beings.”

Amen to that!

Tricia Rose on The Hip-Hop Wars, Race, and Culture – Part 2

by Latoya Peterson

(Continued from Part 1)

LP: [We should] think some more about this formula, because it seems to me that with every year that passes, the formula gets whittled down into the need to find the next hit. Catchy hooks, lyrics, whatever – they just want a hit. And it appears that some of these [truths about life and culture] are becoming diluted. So before, the hits came because in some ways, we can relate to this pain, and relate to this anguish. But the people who are in charge of these [networks] are making decisions about what gets played but they don’t hear those things. Instead, the only hear violence, they only hear anger, they only hear rage and they decide to promote that. Is that a pattern you saw in your research?

TR: Yes. It shares the history of transition into the “mainstream” market. Just as the dances and dance steps and styles of singing that minstrelsy was based on was something quite different than what minstrelsy turned into, right? So there were origins of minstrelsy [rooted] in black cultural expression, but minstrelsy became a grotesque exaggeration that was basically seen through dominant eyes. So black women, in hip-hop, become, you know, big booty bitches and hos, gold diggers, divas, sex kittens, whatever else you want them to be because dominate society perceives black women that way. They’re baby mammas, they’re basically male appendages who are also hypersexual and sexually irresponsible. These are all part of dominant stereotypes! Now does that mean that sexually explicit material is bad? No! But it means that sexually explicit material that is destructive and self destroying is problematic! So this is directly related to the process underway. And also our normalization, our comfort with it. The fact that their isn’t much public critique inside the community for this kind of problem.

If you study the blues, or if you study any other black music, this is one of the things that happens. These forces are at play every single time. So this idea that music should be a revenue stream is fundamentally destructive.

Until we change the racial structures and gendered structures of society, then the larger dominant fantasies are going to rule the dominant marketplace. And that’s going to be problematic. It will be profitable, but it will be really problematic.

LP:
I recently attended an exhibit put on by the National Portrait Gallery here in Washington D.C. called “Recognize,” and you know, it’s kind of a history of hip-hop through portraiture and other forms of artistic expression. One of the things they mentioned in the introduction to the exhibit is that hip-hop has become part of the dominant youth culture around the globe. In almost every other country in the world, their youth scene involves a heavy element of hip-hop culture, and each country has put their own unique spin on the genre.

So I know, a lot of times in the United States – and in particular in your book – you focus on how things are seen through a black and white lens. That’s how our country started and it has been the defining conflict for us here. But did you think about hip-hop as a global culture when writing? How did it spread so much and why does it resonate with so many different types of people around the globe?

Continue reading

LiveBlogging The Neighborhood Inaugural Ball

By Special Correspondent Arturo R. García, also Published At The Instant Callback

I admit, I spent most of Inauguration Day taking it all in quietly. Even my cynical heart warmed a little during the day. I didn’t have a thing to make fun of. Thank the stars ABC gave me the Neighborhood Inaugural Ball.

8:10 — Delayed start, but: Mary J. looked GREAT, and Will.i.am struck a good note — addition by subtraction of Fergie, perhaps?
8:19 — W. had Ricky Martin. O has Maroon 5. This is progress?!
8:20 — Robin Roberts! Yay! I remember when she was a SportsCenter rookie …
8:21 — Nick Cannon is as much a DJ as George Bush was a Decider.
8:22 — Mariah has a blinged-out mic stand. Take that, Mary J.!
8:25 — Oh shit, Denzel is there?
8:30 — Denzel arrives! PLYMOUTH ROCK, GET THE F-K OFF!
8:31 — Mariah can’t lend the President her mic stand?
8:32 — “How good-looking is my wife?” Epic.
8:34 — Is that Faith Hill next to Denzel?
8:34 — Beyonce nails the first note …

8:35 — Beyonce’s mic also had some bedazzle to it. Is this the next arms race? Continue reading

Disability & Music

by Guest Contributor Bianca I. Laureano

I can’t remember where I was or whom I was with when I heard and realized that we are all temporarily able-bodied. I’m sure it was this decade, perhaps 2003, because I really had not thought about my privilege as an able-bodied person until I began my graduate work and met Angel, a woman in my cohort who was focusing on women of Color with disabilities. I also didn’t think about it until I lost one of my abilities.

Being trained as a scholar specializing in intersectional theory and thought, disability was a “difference” rarely mentioned and discussed unless Angel brought it up. We can see the continued absence and exclusion of people with disabilities in popular culture. Yet, if they are present, we mostly see how people with disabilities are considered anything but “normal,” and usually there is a level of wanting to find a “cure” to become “normal.”

What would images that view disability as a social construction look like? How can those of us who are educators incorporate discussions of disability into our teaching? Where are resources for us? How can we use popular culture when we teach about disability? Continue reading

Cadillac Records

by Guest Contributor SLB, originally posted at Postbougie

I think if we’re all quite honest with ourselves, we’ll admit that the methods to approaching big-screen biopics are finite—especially biopics about musicians. In order for people’s lives to warrant the silver screen treatment in the first place, those lives have to possess extremes—a series of extenuating events that can be exploited for the highest dramatic impact the actors can generate. And face it: biopics are only as good as their actors. Sure, the writing has to be passable. If you’re lucky, the writing makes the actors’ jobs easy, but to our main point: the lives themselves provide the pathos. The writers need only heighten it. Yes, there are glaring historical omissions. Yes, there are all kinds of melodramatic liberties taken—especially in the film’s second to last scene of this film. But that, too, comes with the predictable territory of biopics, and good actors mine that melodrama for all its worth. That’s what makes a decent biopic so watchable.

Everyone involved in Darnell Martin’s Cadillac Records understands the pecking order of the biopic genre—which is precisely why this one works so well. Fortunately, the casting directors brought their A-game, tapping Adrien Brody as Leonard Chess, the Jewish-Polish immigrant who founded the most successful Blues and R&B label in Chicago history, Chess Records, and the incomparable Jeffrey Wright as Muddy Waters, Chess’s flagship artist.

With Brody and Wright anchoring the film, the substantial supporting cast had no choice but to tow the Oscar-caliber line and, with very few exceptions, they did. Granted, Cedric the Entertainer was probably miscast as songwriter Willie Dixon. He always sounds like he’s faking an accent, rather than playing a role. It’s as though his acting ability doesn’t extend beyond varying the tenor of his voice. But since he was only in a few scenes, total (even his role as the narrator didn’t yield him that many lines), he wasn’t distracting at all. Continue reading

Music, Perceptions of Muslims and the Little Big Planet Delay

by Guest Contributor Shawna, originally published at Islam On My Side

Recently, the Little Big Planet PS3 release was delayed. This peeved many, including my husband, who had pre-ordered it and eagerly anticipated its arrival. The next day, it came out that the delay was due to the presence of Qur’an verses within one of the songs in the game. The song was written by an Emmy winning Muslim musician who explains that it’s normal in his home country (Mali) to include Qur’an or words of the Prophet (pbuh) in music in order to show the inspiration of Islam. Sony decided to strip the song from the game instead of risking offense. They’ve been through this before with the Catholic church. No need to reenter the arena.

What surprised many was the response by the American Islamic Forum for Democracy. On their behalf, M. Zuhdi Jaffer, M.D. released the following in a statement:

“Muslims cannot benefit from freedom of expression and religion and then turn around and ask that anytime their sensibilities are offended that the freedom of others be restricted. The free market allows for expression of disfavor by simply not purchasing a game that may be offensive. But to demand that it be withdrawn is predicated on a society which gives theocrats who wish to control speech far more value than the central principle of freedom of expression upon which the very practice and freedom of religion is based.

“…We [the AIFD] do not endorse any restriction whatsoever on the release of this videogame but would only ask those with concerns to simply choose not to buy it. We would hope that the producer?s decision not be made in any way out of fear but rather simply based upon freedom of expression and the free market.”

Continue reading

Retro Flashback: Ruminations on a Song and on a Word

by Latoya Peterson


Warning – Explicit Language

While I was researching a piece for Feministe, I stumbled across an old video.

The video is of a TV appearance for John Lennon and Yoko Ono, performing their song “Woman is the Nigger of the World” on the Dick Cavett show.

John Lennon goes into great detail as to how the record was made. He mentions that most of the people who have an issue with the title are white and male. Also in his explanation, he notes “All my black friends feel I have quite a right to say it.”

He also reads a statement from the then-chairman of the Black Caucus:

“If you define nigger as someone whose lifestyle is defined by others, whose opportunities are defined by others, whose role in society is defined by others, then good news! – you don’t have to be black to be a nigger in this society. Most of the people in America are niggers.”

Lennon goes on to say “I think the word nigger has changed, and it does not have the same meaning that it used to.”

They then go into the song.

Thoughts?