I’ve taught courses at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill since 2009, but until this semester all of my courses have been in the Department of African and African American Studies. This semester I have the privilege of developing a new class just a few buildings down from Battle Hall in the Music Department. The course is a Beat Making Lab founded by music professor and budding DJ Dr. Mark Katz and internationally renown beat battle champion Apple Juice Kid. The curriculum covers three areas: practical beat making, a history of beat making, and entrepreneurship in the music industry. Students will learn how to use the open-source software Audacity, Reason 6 and Abelton Live, as well as engage career producers, beat makers and music industry professionals. If you’re interested in keeping up with the class, “like” us on facebook and follow me on twitter (@durhamite). Should be an interesting semester.
For those of you who tweet I highly recommend you follow Dr. Mark Anthony Neal (@newblackman) and Dr. Sandy Darity (@sandydarity). You’ll learn things like this: “@NewBlackMan: Unemployment Rises For Blacks As It Falls For Everyone Else @SandyDarity”. Dr. Neal linked a News One article, but I found another article via CNN, which doesn’t force you to click through an advertisement first.
Oh yeah, and don’t forget to follow me – @durhamite!
I wrote the title track to MK Asante Jr’s award-winning documentary narrated by Maya Angelou, The Black Candle. Produced by Derrick Hodge with Robert Glasper on piano and Chris Dave on drums. HAPPY KWANZAA YALL!
[Blackademics founder Pierce Freelon writes from West Africa]
Greetings from Accra, Ghana – my home for the next two weeks.
I’ve decided to submit “My View” from West Africa, to give you a glimpse into my experience on the road. I’m here shooting a documentary about black cultural production and migration throughout the African diaspora. I hope to premiere the film for several Hillside High School students at Movement of Youth’s sixth annual Hip Hop Symposium during Black History Month.
Movement of Youth (MOY) is an awesome Durham-based nonprofit, founded by UNC graduate Atrayus Goode. We collaborate every Black History month on a Hip Hop Symposium, and this year’s event promises to be exciting for Durham teens. I am privileged to be able to travel for my work, and feel a responsibility to bring my experience back to Durham.
I left town a few days ago and it’s been fun re-adjusting to Ghanaian cuisine. I had a belly full of Banh’s Cuisine’s spicy chicken wings, fried tofu and sticky rice when I hit the road. Now I’m getting used to Waakye (rice and black-eyed-peas), Red Red, plantains, Fufu (pounded cassava and yam) and fish. Not “fish,” as in a nicely-cut, seasoned tilapia filet from Whole Foods – I’m talking about a whole fish with 10,000 little bones that was swimming in the Atlantic ocean yesterday, now looking up at me with crusty fried eyeballs in a bowl of stew. Pure deliciousness.
Have you seen this advertisement from the skin care company Nivea?
The ad depicts a young clean cut brother chucking his curly counterpart – a beheaded doppelganger with full-blown afro and beard – into the distance. The caption reads, “LOOK like you GIVE a damn: RE-CIVILIZE YOURSELF.” Nivea is a German global skin and body care brand, whose name is derived from the Latin word niveus/nivea/niveum, meaning “snow-white”. Perfect.
Amid tremendous criticism and backlash about the ad, Nivea quickly issued a reconciliatory statement:
“We are deeply sorry to anyone who may take offense to this specific local advertisement. After realizing that this ad is misleading, it was immediately withdrawn.”
But is the advertisement misleading?
Efforts to “civilize” Africans through enslavement and colonization were justified by the likes of Englishman Rudyard Kipling (in his poem White Man’s Burden) as a necessary obligation. Several European nations, Germany included, embarked on campaigns to forcefully assimilate African people into what they professed to be advanced stages of social, cultural and moral development. This included coercing people into adopting and worshiping European religious beliefs, governmental structures and aspirations, while attempting to obliterate indigenous social, cultural and political mores. “Civilizing” missions also involved launching the decapitated heads of those who did not wish to assimilate into oblivion, as is depicted in this ad.
Beyond this historical correlation, the advertisement depicts a modern example of how an African man can go about civilizing himself. Nivea takes Kipling’s role by providing specific guidelines ushering black folk towards assimilation and modernization. Looking “like you give a damn,” presumably about your image, career or life is actually great advice, which is reinforced and institutionalized in schools, offices and police stations across America.
After all, 11-year-olds still get kicked out of school for wearing their hair in cornrows. Having a black-sounding name (or, indeed, being black) makes it harder to get a job and easier to get arrested. This is not Nivea’s doing. Their advertisement, simply provides a reality check – that looking, sounding, acting, or being black is a liability in the civilized world.
Nivea legitimately asserts that if you want to graduate, get a job, stay out of prison and be a productive member of this civilization – you should start by trimming your afro/braids/curls/locs into a clean-cut caesar (ladies get a perm), indicating to other civilized members of society that you give a damn about yourself. Furthermore, you should discard your former self by throwing his/her decapitated head into the snow-white abyss. To quote Charles Barkley, and to place this ridiculous ad in its proper historical context, “anything less would be uncivilized“.
I’m working on a documentary about an after-school program I’m involved with called Poetic Justice. Check out this poem from one of our students and peep an article I wrote about the program below:
North Carolina is emerging as one of the hotbeds of the international spoken word and slam poetry scene, with several nationally ranked slam poets residing right here in the Bull City.
I had the honor of conducting an after-school program with one of the area’s most talented poets, Durham native Kane “Novakane” Smego. A founding member of the Chapel Hill youth poetry organization Sacrificial Poets, Kane is simply one of the dopest poets and human beings I’ve ever met. His lyrical prowess and compelling delivery is exemplary, but it is the vulnerable authenticity of his stories that has made him one of the most respected, and feared, poets in the world.
The program we run together, Poetic Justice, combines two curricula: a series of spoken-word workshops that Kane designed for Sacrificial Poets called YouTh ink and a hip hop curriculum I developed in graduate school called Blackademics. The result is a new hybrid curriculum we’ve been conducting in the Durham Public Schools system for the past 30 weeks. The results have been stunning.
Gil Scott Heron performed at the Carolina Theatre here in Durham last year. I had the honor and privilege of sitting down with him after the show. He was one of my biggest inspirations and he will be dearly missed.
The legendary Keith Elam, also known as Guru, passed away last April. In addition to being half of the world renown Hip Hop duo Gangstarr, Guru is also known for pioneering in the fusion of jazz and Hip Hop through his Jazzmatazz franchise. In honor of the late Guru Hip Hop and jazz quartet, The Beast collaborated with progressive jazz-blog, Revivalist to release the Guru Legacy EP – a 6-song libation to Guru, featuring John Robinson, Silent Knight, Jocelyn Ellis, D. Noble (a blackademics contributor) and several others. Check it out on the front page of Okayplayer!
*UPDATE: read the Daily Tar Heel Review
Close your eyes and imagine you are sitting inside a small family-owned diner in Harlem.
It’s almost 5 o’clock in the morning. The year is 1929. A young man with a flour-dusted apron places a warm, sweet potato waffle and three seasoned fried chicken wings in front of you. It smells delicious. He leaves, then quickly returns with collard greens, maple syrup, hot sauce and flavored butter. The diner is crowded with young poets, painters and musicians unwinding after a long night.
OK, you can open your eyes now. The Harlem Renaissance poets and musicians are now frozen behind panes of glass and framed on the walls around you. There is still a steaming plate chicken and waffles at your mercy. You’re in downtown Durham about to sink your teeth into a signature dish at Dame’s (Almost) Famous Chicken and Waffles.
“There’s a connection between jazz and chicken and waffles,” owner Damion ‘Dame’ Moore explains. “[It] traces back to the Harlem Renaissance, when musicians would play after hours at venues as late as 3, 4 or 5 o’clock in the morning. Some restaurants catered to these musicians and would serve the chicken that was left over from dinner, as well as the waffles being prepared for breakfast.”
It is no surprise that chicken and waffles was born in the spirit of improvisation. Like jazz, which infuses African aesthetics of rhythm, syncopation and improvisation and with European instrumentation, chicken and waffles is also a unique and unlikely hybrid. Infusing a traditional southern African American dinner dish with a breakfast (or dessert) meal of medieval European origin, chicken and waffles has been served in black communities for nearly a century. Now, it’s available in my hometown – Durham.
I’ve been teaching a dream class at North Carolina Central University for the past two years called Hip Hop, Music and Politics (it was originally called, It’s Bigger Than Hip Hop: Music and Political Movements – I abbreviated the title this semester for simplicity’s sake). This class is the culmination of my interests as a musician and scholar. We basically look at various political movements, including the Anti-Lynching Movement, Rastafari Movement, and the Black Power Movement and explore how the music of artists such as Billie Holiday, Bob Marley and Gil Scott Heron were in revolutionary dialogue with their respective movements. Sound interesting? Read more in this Campus Echo article written by one of my students, Jorashae Graddick:
If you walk into the special topics in political science course, Hip Hop Music and Politics, you might be surprised to find a professor who looks a lot like a typical college student.
It will be Pierce Freelon, adjunct professor of political science and local hip-hop emcee, standing in front of the class bobbing his head to Bob Marley and the Wailers’ album, “Catch a Fire,” waiting for class to begin.