February 2009 Interview: Dr. Georgiary Bledsoe

Listen to an Mp3 of the interview here.

Transcript

Introduction:
Dr. Georgiary Bledsoe is an ethno-musicologist who earned her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees at Stanford University and her Ph.D. at Duke where she also taught African American music history. She is the founder and president of the non-profit organization called the Boston Urban Music Project, or BUMP, which provides a variety of innovative programs designed to enrich the lives of children in the Boston area. You can check them out at bumpahead.org – Blackademics, welcome Dr. Bledsoe.

Pierce Freelon:
Could you talk about the importance of using Afrocentric sensibilities in (your) curriculum and also using music in your curriculum?

Dr. Georgiary Bledsoe:
I think there’s a few important factors that we need to consider. One is that when kids come to any curriculum, it’s important for them to see their own culture and Black background reflected in a positive way, in what they’re doing. If they’re cultural background is simply ignored, they begin to question themselves, sort of in an unconscious way. There’s a discomfort there. And I think what when we begin to reflect back to them their own culture in positive ways, it connects with a deep place within them that allows them not only to feel positive about life but begin to produce from a deep place within. And the reason I think that is, is because our cultural background, it drives who we are. Our experiences in life sort of store up for us, our latent potential. So (from the perspective of) an African American child – I’m hearing all this music and I’m not really realizing the impact on me. But what happens is, certain things become iconic to me. A beat, a strong beat becomes iconic. The presence of community becomes iconic. A certain tendency to show off becomes iconic. And when I enter in an environment where these things are not only absent, but devalued, I start to feel devalued. So in the Boston Urban Music Project, we feel it’s really important to academic achievement to start to tap into some of these cultural wellsprings and African American music, African American culture allows us to do that in a way where kids can see the positive aspects of who they are and grow from that and produce from that.

PF:
Okay that pretty much sums up everything. I wrote down a quote from your talk, you said: “harness the power of the legacy of the music and use it to empower our children.” That is the thesis behind what I’m trying to do (with my curriculum). One more question about Hip-Hop, specifically. I’ve come under a lot of pressure, scrutiny, whatever you want to call it because Hip-Hop in popular culture right now incorporates a lot of glorification of drug use and a lot of other negative things, misogyny etc. So I’ve heard from a lot of people that Hip-Hop specifically does not belong in the classroom, because of these. I counter that with, “50 Cent isn’t the only thing out there” but I was wondering what your response to the statement: “Hip-Hop does not belong in the classroom because of it’s mainstream negative qualities” (is). How would you respond to that?

DGB:
Well, you know, if Hip-Hop does not belong in the classroom, than German hymns by Bach do not belong in the church. Because many of these songs were barroom songs and composers simply borrowed the melodies and laid over new lyrics on top of them. I think that Hip-Hop is important in the classroom because historically, it’s just a new way for our kids to enter into the African American cultural stream, where signifying and all sorts of artistic expression is, sort of, legacy. So if our youth weren’t coming up with a new way to express themselves, I would worry because something’s wrong! This is what Black culture is all about. When you take something like Jazz, which used to be a music of protest, and you mainstream it so that it’s now our country’s classical music, then my goodness, kids who are still marginalized – they’ve got to create a new way to express themselves. They’ve got to create that difference there, to get that attention and this is how our kids are doing it. We have to embrace Hip-Hop because it means embracing our kids. How do you accept a kid and say: “the way you express yourself is unacceptable” – it’s ridiculous!

PF:
Right, thank you so much.

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