Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Gender According to GaGa

Modern pop music has been littered with a variety of teen friendly genres featuring flared jeaned buxom blonds projecting their broken hearts to all the distressed 14 year old girls around the globe, but none have taken an active stance to challenge hetero-normative gender ideology as that of Lady GaGa. While partaking in her show on September 28th, I was able to witness her varying transgressions as it pertains to challenging gender norms. While this is nothing new (the women’s liberation movement, bra burnings, and women’s slacks) Lady GaGa takes a particularly interesting approach to challenge gender through her art, music, and adherence to the queer community.

During the concert I was able to witness all of these in a dizzying array of technological gender empowerment that often left me in complete amazement. First I will take her art and physical appearance from the show to demonstrate her disrupting refusal of hetero-normative gender ideals. After a masterful introduction that was quite reminiscent of a Warhol-esque installation piece, she violently appears, encased in what could be described as no less than a “disco volcano” contraption that hid the majority of her body. Once she made her exit from this prop, she appears in a meticulously constructed dress that presents her bosom in such a fashion that begs your eye to wonder, and a hemline that follows suit. Herein lies the interesting form in which her personal gender identification takes its shape. While she celebrates her female form with ever lowering necklines, she also seeks a refusal of gender through the shape these outfits take. The aforementioned introductory dress also distorted the shape of her body in such a manner that left her exposed bosoms the only indicator of her physical sex. While she may draw your eye to a pantless form, she also toys with your perception of the female figure through a number of the outfits she dawns throughout the show. Another example of this would be her bubble bodysuit that she wears for the acousitic performance later in the show. Again, while her female genitalia rests in clear sight, she toys with the feminine figure by enveloping and contorting her shape with the appearance of bubbles escaping her human form.

The next avenue in which our Lady GaGa takes in order to alter our perception of gender is through the lyrics of her songs. During the concert she performed her countless number one hits such as Pokerface, Just Dance, and Paparazzi, each of which delivered its own prescribed level of sexual innuendo…directed at men…AND women. During much of her performance she would gesticulate in a masturbatory fashion to her countless fans, which elicited quite a rousing response (from me, as well). This is what I find most surprising about her lyrics/music. While most songs refer to “showing HIM what I got” and delivering her signature “pokerface” to that of a male counterpart, she is still able to incorporate a sizeable amount of gender-preference ambiguity into her performance. Thus inviting all onlookers (male and female) to be inside her…and her music in a sense that is quite sexual but not offensively so.

Lastly, it is her allegiance to the queer community that serves as the final blow to the conventionally accepted notion of gender. This community has historically found itself blurring gender roles, gender titles, and gender performances. Lady GaGa openly speaks about the role of the queer community as the driving force behind most, if not all of her work. Her strength to defy our gendered logic is in part derived from the community’s own refusal of western ideologies on this matter. Throughout the show she would continually reach out to her queer fans by asking, “WHERE ARE MY GAY BOYS?” and thanking the queer community for coming to her performance. This is quite common during her performances because it is usually those who identify with the queer community that deliver the highest levels of dedication to their appearances for her concerts.

With all of these parts, it is the entirety of the GaGa experience that seeks to challenge, intrigue, poke fun at, and inspire all to share in this greater perspective of gender, sexuality, and the human experience

through some great tunes, and a whole lot of glitter.

(all images were from the concert I attended. We had amazing seats)

Concert Report :Tamir Mengesha

September 11th or 12th is the Ethiopian New Year. This year was the beginning of the year 2002 for us. I went back home to the DC,MD, VA area where there is a very high population of Ethiopians and other West and East Africans who tend to celebrate with us. I went out with my siblings to a club called Republic Gardens in Washington DC. It wasn’t the only place to celebrate, but it was the most diverse. There was a live Dj for part of the night and towards the end there was a live Ethiopian Band.

Ethiopian dance music is generally loud and upbeat. As the band was playing Ethiopians from different tribes were dancing their traditional dances. However, even if one is not from that particular tribe, he/she could try and do the dances with them. I am half “Amara” and half “Oromo” so those dances come easy to me as well as “Guragegna” and “Tigrigna” Which are the main tribes of the country, Since Ethiopia has over 82 tribes and languages it is impossible to know all of them since some live in seclusion and isolation. Recently a small tribe called “Hamur” emerged in the media. They were foreign to the rest of us but were welcomed.

The band was comprised of six people playing popular, or well known, instruments such as the electric guitar, bass, keyboard, and drums. As well as traditional Ethiopian instruments such as the “Masinko”, a one-string bowed lute; and the “Kirar”, a six-string lyre. The band began playing Hamur music and their dancers demonstrated their cultural dance. They wore thick, heavy bracelets on each wrist and rubbed them together while circling their hips and jumping from side to side. There were two vocalists, one male and one female, with the male singing the verses and the female joining him for the chorus.

Ethiopian songs are very long; they can last up to seven minutes per song, giving the band time to play the melody without vocals on top of it. This also gives people more time to enjoy all elements of the song while dancing and singing along. There was a lot of call and response as the artists usually call out lyrics, make jokes, and even jump of stage to dance with the crowd as the band plays, Similar to the artist-audience interaction of “Black Music” in the early 20th century. Also, like “Black Music”, the reggae songs speak about: the hate for the current government in the country, the love for the country and culture, an end to famine & poverty, and also the relationships between family members and significant others. They bring social issues into the music so that the audience can feel a personal connection with them and also have a form of release for their frustrations on issues.

The reggae songs, sung in Amharic the national language of Ethiopia, were musically based on a rhythmic style that has accents on the “off-beat” accenting the second and fourth beat in each bar. This gives the songs a bounce and a steady flow which allows slow and relaxed dancing, alone or with other people, by moving side to side. In this relaxed state we were able to zone into the lyrics of the song and really feel the power of the message. Some people were hopping around and screaming the lyrics, I guess they were really feeling it, because the environment allowed us to freely use our bodies in expression. They served traditional bread and coffee for the club goers to take breaks, sit down and have conversations in the back. At the end of the night everyone walked out of the club drenched in sweat and with their hearts racing.

Overall it was a very peaceful night because sometimes certain disputing tribes tend to get into arguments fueled by their pride. The ending with uppity dance music put everyone in a good mood. That night just reminded all of us that no matter what tribe we are in, we are all Ethiopians. After all, we were sharing one New Year.

Chinese Arts found in Texas

Upon arriving at Houston’s Chinese performing arts festival on Saturday September 26th, I had little preconceptions of what to expect. Being my first time in Texas, I was unsure what the projected demographic would be, and also, the authenticity of the performance. The performance began at noon in heat and humidity that would make any outdoor event uncomfortable to say the least. But braving the harsh conditions we arrived at Miller Park, an outdoor theatre situated on the edge of an expansive park in downtown Houston. The theatre was configured in a traditional “sea shell” fashion, where the audience radiated around the stage underneath a fabric canopy. Additional seating lay behind the boundaries of the theatre on a grassy hill where families were more inclined to sit and allow their children to run around and play. Interactions between audience members seemed restless and many people were talking amongst one another, encouraging a much more informal environment than if the event had been cast indoors. The restlessness of the crowd was exacerbated by the overwhelming presence of small children. It had seemed that the predominantly Asian audience had brought their families to this event as if to educate their children on the culture from which they originated. Although so many children were present, the majority of the families sat in the rear or on the field altogether to avoid having their children cause a distraction from the performance. Successful in keeping the children from visually distracting the performance, the acoustics they provided did not help the poor acoustics of the theatre itself. Being outside, sound was lost easily and the theatre built from softer materials than it probably should have been allowed for small reverberation times. This caused the opera and other less amplified performances extremely hard to focus on as there were literally outside distractions. I believe that the poor acoustics encouraged more talking and thus, less of the audience gave their full and undivided attention to a single performance and even less so to the entire event. Another hindrance to maintaining the audience’s full attention may have been the language barrier. All performances were conducted in Chinese and it was interesting to note that if the performance was more visually based, the audience paid stronger attention to what was occurring on stage. The performances that were acoustically performed tended to be translations of traditional opera songs, songs easily recognized to have been sung by the three tenors. Chinese Pop songs were also integrated into the mix to attract the attention of the younger crowd. Both types though polar opposites were beautifully sung but were unfortunately the performances that were most disrespected. In contrast, the performances that conducted the most attention were Kung Fu and Tai Chi. Both presentations were accompanied by more traditional Chinese music than what was sang in other performances, and provided a rhythmic meter for the performers to display their act.

The Chinese performing arts festival was a beautiful event culturally and “atmospherically”. Set outdoors in a beautiful park in Houston’s dense urban jungle, the event was appreciated by both passerby’s and dedicated audience members. Though it did not captivate the audience’s full attention, the event provided a moment of brevity for both families and onlookers to escape from the harsh sun.

Goo Goo for GaGa!

The lights dimmed. The crowd goes wild. A concert set to start at 8:00 pm pushed back to 8:45 pm at the Landmark Theater in Richmond had the patrons anxiously awaiting the arrival of the guest of honor: Lady Gaga. She came with a vengeance and had the audience under her “disco stick” until the last song. She brought her soul, her heart, her everything to Richmond, Virginia on September 28,2009.

The audience was a grab bag. Lady Gaga doesn’t bring your ‘regular’ concertgoers. Lady Gaga’s music and personality embraces individual expression beyond belief. Everyone who is into media these days can look for an example of Gaga’s fashion. The audience was no different. There were people dressed in skinny jeans, dresses, wigs; it was a regular circus. My roommates and I went all out for the concert with original outfits designed and created by Brendan Tufts ’11. The audience loved the atmosphere of the concert. Before the concert started they played upbeat techno music to get the audience pumped and there was a quite an anxious, but timid dance party that broke out to ease the desire to see Gaga herself.

I was in the second row outside of the ‘pit’ that had two rows of fold out chairs. So I was very, very close. When the lights dimmed you could feel the energy in the concert surge. The curtain fell and Gaga was on stage inside what would look like a volcano. She stormed the staged after an epic high-energy intro ready to take Richmond on.

Her musical style embraces a sound of its own. A little rock, a little pop, a little GAGA! Her vocals at the concert were SUPERB. This was no Britney Spears concert of strong ‘back up vocals.’ Gaga sang with a live mic through dance moves, picks ups, and flashing lights. Her vocals were gritty and full of energy. She had a falsetto that made my hairs on my neck stand on end. The one very important thing about this concert that made it good and kept the audience going wild was her variation. She varied her music. Gaga didn’t get on stage and sing her songs straight as you would here them on the CD. She fused techno remixes of her songs, acapella versions, and video versions of her songs.

Two songs embraced this idea: “Poker Face” and “Love Game.” These are two of Gaga’s biggest hits right now and she didn’t give the basic track from the CD she gave us so much more. During “Lovegame,” after revealing her infamous “Disco Stick” and performing a very high-energy version of the song she cut to a musical breakdown and cut to her ChewFu Ghettohouse Remix of the song. Not only is that mix one of my favorite techno mixes of the song, but also it sent the crowd wild. Then, later she flipped the high-energy song “PokerFace” on its back and performed it acapella with only a piano adding new fun, crowd-pleasing lyrics. During this song she got gritty and had hard hitting moments like Gaga standing banging some of the notes with her high-heeled foot. Awesome!

Back to the concept of fashion at the concert, as discussed in class, Ziggy Stardust broke down gender norms with a very gender-neutral ambiguity of his music sound and style. Gaga is no exception. Gaga entered the stage with a futuristic, silver, shiny dress that look liked it was straight out of the Jetsons. Then she transitioned to a jean jacket with huge pointed shoulder pads on it that would send any headmistress to the mall for a new look. Nothing was better than her entrance in a nude body suit wearing a clear jacket made out of solid bubbles. It was bold, it was new, and it was Gaga.

Last thing to note was the lighting and band. Bright strobe lights and fog added a great addition to this concert. Strobe lights would blind the audience at times for effect. The lights went right with the music. Gaga’s band was a special guest called “Kids.” Kid's awesome guitar rifts and drumming added a live and awesome effect to the concert.

She came with a vengeance! She wowed, she awed, and she is changing the future of music. She is an innovator, creator of fantastic music, and an idol. Gaga breaks down gender stereotypes of heterosexuality and normativity. Gaga loves one and all and it was apparent in this concert. MISSION ACCOMPLISHED GAGA!

Stepping Outside my Musical Box

In all of my twenty-two years I have never experienced a concert so puzzling. One that made me ponder. Even feel as though I had taken part in some eerie cult ritual. The atmosphere and audience were different. The musicians were in their own world producing interesting sounds. The choice of instruments and how they were played was even different. This was the case when I attended the concert Wendy invited the class to in Old Cabell Hall on Friday, September 18. Since I was going to the concert for a class assignment I had pen and pad ready. When I walked in I realized notes were not necessary. The concert would be something I would never forget.
The audience was not arranged in a traditional concert going style. The viewers of the concert had the ability to walk around. In a traditional concert setting the audience is stationary as the musicians perform in front of them. At this particular concert the audience was able to choose which feature of the show they wanted to enjoy. The majority of the audience was graduate students according to Wendy Hsu. They were all dressed nicely and seemed inquisitive about the music style that was being rendered. Some concert goers even sat down in the aisle and on the stairs as they soaked in the musical offering. I continued to walk around and explore each station while still being completely freaked out and confused.
The most interesting dynamic of the concert was the musicians and how they were producing sound. There was one station where our teacher Wendy Hsu produced music on a bicycle. I must say that was a first for me. She used some sort of wooden stick and made music on the bike’s spokes. She also made music using the peddles of the bike. The sounds were amplified by a tiny amp placed by her side. Interestingly, Wendy’s back was to the audience as she played her bicycle. I was blown away with the unique use of a bicycle to produce music. Another musician was strumming his acoustic guitar with a silver spoon. At first I thought he was using a very shiny, large guitar pick. I later interviewed Wendy and she informed me it was indeed a spoon he was playing with. There was also a guy who was playing the bass. Not much was strange about the way in which the bass was played. It did seem a little untraditional when the bass player picked the large instrument up and carried it across the room. I had never seen that done before. The bass is usually stationary. The bass player had a solo which was interesting. There was another guy sitting on the floor with an overhead projector, digital projector, a laptop and several different colors of paints. I could not understand the purpose until my interview with Wendy. There was another female sitting at a desk with a laptop and several household items. These items consisted of duct tape, wine glasses, coins, spoons, and bottles. She used these items to produce sounds on her computer. She frequently blew into the microphone of her computer, changing the setting on the program.
The actual sound of the music being produced was very deep. The notes were sharp and edgy. The music sounded like something from a horror movie or possibly a bad dream. None of the music was repeated the entire time. Before interviewing Wendy I wondered if the music was random and unrehearsed because it came across as such. Everything was original and completely impromptu according to Wendy. The sounds were often altered digitally with laptops at each station. There was also a guy who controlled a sound board on his computer that produced recorded sounds. Some sounds were that of nature and I even heard a car horn at one point.
After interviewing Wendy I felt a little more at ease. I was informed that I had not taken part in a cult ritual but had experienced a new wave of digital music production. These graduate students were breaking ground in the music world. The guy on the floor was not finger painting, but producing and projecting digital art. Since the performance was completely a cappella I personally could not derive a meaning from the music. The gender ratio was 3 females to 4 males which seemed normal. It was interesting to see how the males played traditional instruments (bass and guitar) whereas the females were a little more abstract in their choice of instruments (bike, coins, wine glass). All in all I am thankful I was forced outside of my musical box and experienced such an innovative form of music.

-Danielle Johnson

Rocky Hollow

As a fourth year I have seen many student bands at a variety of social events throughout my time at UVa. These bands range from the university's a cappella groups and orchestras to bands that play at fraternity parties and bars. However, I have never experienced these student bands from an ethnographic researcher's perspective. Observing the student band,"Rocky Hollow" over the weekend with this course's key concepts and ideas in mind as opposed to simply watching their live music for enjoyment was a very interesting experience.

Rocky Hollow is a band of UVa students whose musical style is a fusion of jazz and classic rock. The band members include a guitarist, bassist, drummer, keyboard player, and a member who played the flute and the saxophone. Their performance was almost all cover songs of a wide variety of groups including CCR and Pretty Lights. Since Pretty Lights is a group comprised of just a DJ and a drummer, the way this group translated their music into traditional "rock band" instrumentation was creative and demonstrated their individual talents.

As the band was warming up I paid close attention to the member's mannerisms, conversations, and body language and immediately recalled Carey Sargent's lecture on "doing gender." Throughout the night I noticed several of the trends she observed in her research on the role of gender in people's interactions is a musical atmosphere; the most prominent interactions were deliberate attempts to "do masculinity."

First this group fit the social norm of the guitar centered rock group composed of all males. Their interactions amongst each other did show signs of "doing gender," but it was mostly their interactions with the audience, or the audience's responses that struck me as most related to Carey's research. As Rocky Hollow warmed up for their performance, an older couple approached the band's keyboard player and began inquiring about the group. Immediately I noticed that the man in the couple started asking questions about the instruments and the sound, while the woman stood quietly next to him. When she spoke to the key board player, her questions were not related to any of the instruments or the music, but were more personal questions focusing on the band members themselves.

Furthermore, I went with a group of four or five of my male friends to watch this concert, and their response to Rocky Hollow was so accurately related to Carey's findings of males trying to use a "technicalized" language that is was almost comical. Out of my friends, only one has a strong musical background which includes playing in his high school band, but each of them had strong opinions on Rocky Hollow's performance and talent. While my musical jargon is very limited, their conversations seemed like an attempt to "do masculinity" and show off their musical knowledge, even if it was inaccurate. Such comments included, "he could kick it out a little more," when referring to the drummer, or "their vibe is good but they could be a little tighter," when talking about the group as a whole. Meanwhile, each time one of them commentated on the band, the others nodded enthusiastically in agreement and as a sign that they were up to par in their knowledge on the topic of conversation.

In conclusion, Rocky Hollow's performance was entertaining and showed their talent as musicians. However, the aspect of this concert I found most relevant in my research was the interactions and reactions among the audience members. The people I sat with attempted to "do masculinity" by trying to assert their musical "knowledge." The audience members who interacted with the band also appeared to be "doing gender" when their specific questions and mannerisms reflected the patterns Carey observed in her research on men and women's interactions in instrument stores. This was a great way to experience ideas we are covering in class, and I look forward to the next concert report.

Femininity of Quirky Folk Pop

Self-described “quirky folk pop” artist Ingrid Michaelson stopped by Charlottesville last week on her “Everybody” Tour. Along with the densely packed crowd of Ingrid’s passionate fan base, I fought to secure my spot to not only view, but also experience, this live performance. Quite notable was the strong female stage presence on the verge of overt stage dominance. The band was composed of three women and three men. While the gender ratio was equal, the situation of genders on the stage was not. All three women, with Ingrid on center stage, stood downstage (in front of) from their male band mates. This may have been partly attributable to the instruments and vocal contributions (or lack thereof) of each band member. If the audience had any doubt about the strict gender differences illustrated on stage, they need only watch the musicians quench their thirst. All men drank from bright blue plastic cups while the women had neon pink cups.

Ingrid took lead vocals in all songs while playing either the acoustic guitar or the ukulele. On either side of her, a female band member stood contributing harmonizing vocals and guitar accompaniment (one acoustic, one electric). Upstage, the men played more stationary instruments: one man on drums, one on the keyboards (and several other instruments including tambourine, guitar, and accordion), and the final member playing bass guitar. The male band members made few vocal contributions to the music and did so only in songs which reflected positively on romantic relationships. One notable male vocal contribution was made by Greg Laswell, a fellow folk musician and friend of Ingrid Michaelson. He joined her on stage to sing a duet the two had written together, performing with the accompaniment of Ingrid’s acoustic guitar and sharing one microphone. The couple sang cheek to cheek at points throughout the song, leaving time to discuss the lyrics on stage during the headliner’s memory lapse.
The feminine vocal quality of the Ingrid Michaleson’s music was showcased throughout the show. Her use of female vocal harmonizing was especially notable in songs like “The Chain,” which is a canon performed by the three women of the band. She often sang quietly (especially while seated alone on the stage) and with a breathy voice, especially notable in her cover of Radiohead’s “Creep.” Other songs highlighted a more playful musicality and stronger, more upbeat vocal qualities. One noteworthy example was “You and I,” a song performed by all the musicians on tour. Each musician sang one line of verse then all sang the chorus together accompanied by Michaelson on the ukulele.

The intimate setting and Ingrid’s style of performance allowed for a great deal of audience interaction. The performers would tell jokes and short stories during interludes. Audience members sang along to every song, especially when requested by the performer. Ingrid Michaelson would instruct the audience which lyrics to sing prior to beginning the song. Several songs include a clapping or stomping beat, which the audience performed along with the band members. One particular instance of audience interaction elicited what I refer to as the “crouching encore.” During a lull between songs, one mother shouted out “Far Away. I have three nine-girls whose favorite song is Far Away but they are getting sleepy and need to go home.” From the stage Ingrid replied, “That’s the encore song, but we’re almost there. Hang in there.” After the last and currently most popular song, “Maybe,” the band members crouched down on the stage, mimicking an exit from the show and noting that the green room was too far away. After several seconds of vigorous clapping and cheering, the band popped back up to resume with the encore set, first making sure the nine-year olds were still there. The show closed with “Far Away” and an original song paying homage to Mexican food while on the road, set to the tune of “Maybe.” Ingrid Michaelson as a live performer showcased her musically and vocally unique songs while displaying a playful and interactive personality.

Concert in Old Cabell Hall

Concert in Old Cabell Hall

As someone who has never really been to a concert, I didn’t have very high expectations upon entering Old Cabell Hall on Friday, September 18, 2009. Guaranteed, I know the difference between a full out concert in Madison Square Garden and an intimate concert like this one, it’s just that I didn’t really have any expectations for the performance other than to simply hear music. I will admit that I did expect to hear music from a band in the conventional way that is so dominant in society—a guitar, drums, bass, singer, keyboards, and maybe a few other instruments thrown in. The ensemble that performed, which included Wendy Hsu, was not at conventional in my mind and I was pleasantly surprised by their performance.

Upon entering the lobby of Old Cabell, I noticed that there were very few people there. I could see common instruments such as a guitar and a cello, but then I also noticed amps by a bicycle and plenty of laptops around with amps beside them as well. I was a little early so I waited outside until the start time. After I went back inside for the performance to begin, I was surprised by what I saw. Where five minutes ago, there had been no audience, a group of people had appeared. Where there had been no musicians, there now appeared several, and where there had been no music, there was an abundance of sound. The audience all appeared to be graduate level students who were there for a class or lecture of some type. The audience was predominantly Caucasian and the male to female ratio was pretty much balanced. Each individual was dressed professionally and majority wore name tags that stated they were students at other colleges and universities. Because the concert was held in the lobby of Old Cabell, there were no chairs or anything, so the audience either stood and walked around or sat on the floor. This further enhanced the intimate feeling of the concert and also allowed the audience to focus more on the music and the individual performances.

The concert was in some ways split up into different sections for each instrument. When I first walked back into the lobby, all of the artists were playing in one cohesive harmony. However, after a while, they broke down the main performance into mini performances. The first mini performance was of a guy using sounds on his laptop to create music. This was very interesting because he seemed to use snippets of sounds that were common and mixed them together with actual musical notes and this created a completely different and intriguing sound together. Even with this juxtaposition of common sounds with musical notes, the music flowed much like any other musical instrument. After his mini performance, another artist who played the guitar began to play. The thing I noticed the most about his guitar playing was that instead of using a pick, he used a spoon to strum the chords of the guitar. I thought this was very peculiar, but it definitely added to the eccentricity of the overall performance of the group. The sound he produced was a very soft, acoustic, calming sound that was nicely contrasted by the swelling and blunt sounds of the other instruments. One of the main instruments that produced this blunt sound was the cello, which the artist played standing up. The notes this artist produced were very strong and blunt, with quick and sharp movements across the chords. And to further add to the distinct sound this artist was making, he only added snippets of sounds while the other artists were playing which made these sounds stand out. One of the other stand-out artists of the group was Wendy. Her instrument was the bicycle and it was, in my opinion, the most interesting instrument. She used the bicycle wheels and pedals to create sort of everyday noises that were actually very rhythmic and created a very unique sound. Overall, the music produced by the group was sort of like a roller coaster in that the audience heard vastly different sounds and tones all in one performance.

After talking with Wendy about the performance, she informed me that the group had actually never practice together or performed this piece together before. I think that the fact that the performance was basically completely improvisational only adds to the intrigue of the performance. I was blown away by the ways that these artists were able to make music and the talent that it takes to recognize the music in these objects. I enjoyed the performance and am really glad that I experienced something this unconventional form of music.

Fall Extravaganza of the Arts

On September 18, I attended the Fall Extravaganza of the Arts Benefit Show at the Student Activities Building on the University of Virginia campus. The program featured performances by the following student performing arts groups: REMIX, Academical Village People, Oluponya Records, Step It Up, Mahogany Dance Troupe, Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Black Expression and Thought Society (BEATS) and Amuse-Bouche. REMIX, Academical Village, and Oluponya Records are three of the many singing groups at UVa, the first two being acapella groups and the last being the only student record label on grounds.

Academical Village was the first acapella group to perform. This group was all male. The majority were Caucasian, so it surprised me when they performed hip hop selections. Their energy was very high. While performing each song, every member of the group connected with the audience by swaying from side to side and initiating periods of clapping during fast selections. At times it was hard to hear the soloist because this group chose not to use a microphone; however the background harmony was clear. They sang their selections with straight tones, or without the use of vibrato. Their voices were surprisingly light for males, but the resulting sound was amazing and bone-chilling.

The second acappella group to perform was REMIX. REMIX is known as the only “hip-hopcapella” group on grounds. This group is racially and gender-wise more diverse than the Academical Village. REMIX performed two songs. The first selection was “Love In This Club” by Usher. Traditionally a man sings the solo, but in this case a female took over. The soloist used the microphone to help project her voice. Her tone was strong with the use of a lot of vibrato. The background harmony was just as strong as the soloist, but without the use of microphones. During the verses the background remained steady and quiet. As the soloist transitioned from the verse to the chorus, the background harmony swelled. The second selection was the traditional REMIX medley which consists of R&B songs from the 1990s. Once again, a female soloist performed a song that was originally performed by a male.

The last musical group to perform that night was the Oluponya Record Label. There were three separate performances from students from the record label; however the selection I particularly enjoyed was a diverse group of young men (Asian and African-American) who fused hip hop with rock. Two of the young men rapped lyrics about being the best and “alpha dogs” of their group (a theme often seen in rap lyrics) while the other young men accompanied them with the keyboard and the electric guitar. It reminded me of the current trend in music fusion that has been developing over the past few years. An example of a similar fusion of hip hop and rock are Jay-Z and Linkin Park’s song “Encore/Numb”. The group of four young men kept the audiences attention by waving their hands in the air and “working” the stage. They made sure their lyrics were clear and appropriate for the audience.

All three musical groups were diverse and different in their performances. Each group tended to break the status quo and perform in their own manner. Some small cases of gender bending, or gender equality in Remix, music fusion in Oluponya, and Academical village went against the stereotypical “white boy band” approach and performed Hip Hop selections. Overall, the entire show was an excellent way of learning about the diverse performing arts groups on the university grounds. Did I mention it was free?

Indie Reggae: The Greg Ward Project

The local indie reggae band, entitled The Greg Ward Project, played a show during a college party located on University Court in Charlottesville on September 11, 2009. Though some friends were hosting the party, I was additionally interested in attending, as I saw the band play at a bar called Coupe Deville on the Corner on Tuesday evenings this past summer. The GWP is especially intriguing because the band is a good illustration of crossing the racial divide within music.

The Greg Ward Project consists of three or four members at a time. The band is unique in its construction, as Greg Ward is the one constant member. He performs guitar and vocals. As the leader and creator of the group, he chooses other musicians to perform with him from time to time. Having seen the bad four or five times, it is accurate to note that band never consists of less than three members or more than four members. In addition to Greg’s guitar and vocals, there is usually a drummer, a bassist, and/or a more non-common instrument, such as a cowbell, or even a washboard-like instrument played with a stick. Such instrumentation is canonical for Reggae style music. Additionally, it is significant to note that though the Greg Ward Project plays covers at local bars and parties, they may not only play covers. At the party I attended, however, they did solely cover songs by Bob Marley and other recognizable Reggae musicians.

Reggae is frequently associated with black performers, as reggae music originated in Jamaica in the 1960s. But Greg Ward, along with all the other members of the band that I have observed, are of Caucasian descent. The musicality and lyrics of the sound that the Greg Ward Project exhibits are associated with the “musical encoding of blackness” (Shank, 262). In his article, “From Rice to Ice,” Barry Shank deciphers the characteristics of African –American musical elements – “cries…polyrhythms…blue notes…hums, moans, grunts…” (Shank, 262). In general, the genre of Reggae music displays many of the musical elements that Shank associates with African-American music.

Since black individuals typically sing the lyrics of the covers that the Greg Ward Project performed, so it is a little different to hear a Caucasian person singing them. This seems like a social construction within itself, and brings to mind Eminem breaking into the typically African-American rapping scene. Some of the Bob Marley lyrics that the Greg Ward Project sang included, “I shot the sheriff, but I didn't shoot no deputy, ooh, ooh, oo-ooh. Yeah! All around in my home town, they're tryin' to track me down; they say they want to bring me in guilty for the killing of a deputy” (http://www.elyrics.net/read/b/bob-marley-lyrics/i-shot-the-sheriff-lyrics.html). These lyrics are similar to the themes that are sung in “Cop Killer” surrounding the controversy of the Los Angeles riots (Shank, 269).

The instrumentation, musicality, and lyrics that the Greg Ward Project performs in their Reggae music covers directly relates to historic blackface minstrelsy. Firstly, the concept of white men performing the songs of the culture of black men is similar to the performance of blackface minstrelsy. Even the demographics of the concert support this similarity, as almost the entire audience at the concert was white, and mostly male, just like the audience of blackface minstrelsy performances. Finally, the idea of both love and theft discussed in class are present in the Greg Ward Project’s music, as the band lovingly performed the music “stolen” from black reggae artists. The performance by the Greg Ward Project brought up a great deal of complex ideas about music and racialization.

Symphony under the Stars (Concert Report 1)

(I apologize for the picture quality)
On September 19, 2009 the Charlottesville and University Symphony Orchestra performed outdoors at UVA’s McIntire Amphitheatre. The pops concert entitled “Symphony under the Stars” brought together both university students and members of the local community in order to enjoy an evening of music. The lack of words and gestures both work together to mask the expression of race and gender in pops orchestra performance. However, even though gender and race may not be as overtly expressed in pops music as it is in pop music, these themes are still present. Gender and race are simply expressed in more subtle ways in pops orchestra music than in the music of Eminem, Britney Spears, and Kanye West. By examining the “Symphony under the Stars” performance of the Charlottesville and University Symphony Orchestra, one can see the expression of gender and race through the demographic composition and piece selection of the orchestra.

By examining, the demographic composition of the orchestra, one can gain insight into the roles that gender and race play in pops music. First, according to my observation, the orchestra did not contain any African American musicians. The majority of the performers were white with a fair amount of Asians. Granted, these observations were from a distance, so I cannot guarantee their accuracy; however, I am confident to say that the orchestra was comprised mainly of white musicians. Second, the demographic composition regarding gender suggests that musical instruments may be gendered. For example, all of the clarinet players were female. There was only one female trumpet player, and the strings seemed to be more evenly dispersed between the genders. Although these observations are interesting, I believe that in order to make larger conclusions regarding the demographic make-up of the orchestra, an in-depth study is needed to examine the demographics of the population of Charlottesville in relation to the demographic composition of the orchestra. It is difficult to make generalizations about race and gender in pops music from one performance by one orchestra.

Perhaps the greatest expression of race and gender in the performance was the orchestra’s piece selection. In addition to the theme song from ET, “Somewhere Out There” from An American Tale, and John Philip Sousa’s “The Stars and Stripes Forever,” the orchestra performed a suite from Carmen and a selection from South Pacific. In her introduction of the suite from Carmen, Music Director Kate Tamarkin presented a brief history of the opera. She revealed that the composer had difficulty locating someone to play the lead role of Carmen, a promiscuous gypsy, due to the social taboos she embodied as a heroine. However, once the role was filled, the play was not only socially accepted, but it also became one of the most famous operas of all time. By choosing to perform the selection from Carmen, Tamarkin also chose to address the tensions regarding gender that were present in the nineteenth century. As a character, Carmen was a contradictory representation of a woman as compared to traditional Victorian ideals. By performing the selection from Carmen and praising the opera in her introduction, Tamarkin not only displays her respect for the musical genius of the opera but also her support for the opera’s themes. Kate Tamarkin also chose to address racial prejudice in her piece selection by performing a number from South Pacific, a 1949 musical about love, war and racial prejudice. Tamarkin does not shy away from themes of race and gender; rather, she chooses to address these themes through music.

In conclusion, although all of the musicians in the Charlottesville and University Symphony Orchestra dressed identically and performed as a cohesive unit, the themes of race and gender do not disappear. Gender and race are more than overt, outward expressions through appearance and behavior. These themes can be also expressed subtly in musical performance such as though demographic composition and piece selection. However, in order to make greater generalizations about race and gender in pops music, further study is necessary.

Square Pizza and a Double Guitar

Watching “Consider the Source” at Joe Squared was quite an experience. Joe Squared is no different from the other little eclectic restaurants nestled into hidden corners of the city of Baltimore, other than the fact that it serves square pizza, and doubles as a concert venue by night. Joe Squared is located on one of the most dangerous streets in Baltimore and probably the country. I was very surprised to find this restaurant playing rock music where boarded up row houses, stray bullets and hard core rap blasting through car stereos dominates.
It was quite interesting demographically the wait staff was all White except for a Hispanic buser. The clientele was slightly more racially diverse, about 50/50 men and women and ranging in age from about 19-65. The demographics of the restaurant really stuck out to me because it is so different from the rest of the city especially the area in which the restaurant is located which is predominately African-American.

The atmosphere of the restaurant was really laid back. One guy walked in the door, spun on his back( break-dancing move) and then walked over to the bar and ordered a beer and no one seemed to notice his mini performance nor care. It was just a relaxed anything goes vibe. The restaurant has a bar and dance floor/stage in the front and about fifteen tables in the back. I was lucky to get the table closest to the stage which happened to be only 12 feet away.

“Consider the Source” just so happened to be one of the three bands performing that night. A performance was scheduled for 8pm on their website, but when I arrived at the restaurant I was told they would not start until 9pm, but it turns out they didn’t start setting up until 9pm and then didn’t start performing until 10:45pm. Through my proximity to the stage and time spent waiting for the performance (which was aided by delicious square pizza) I learned that setting up a stage takes a long time and is quite complicated. I assume that this delay was common because no one else was complaining.

The band “Consider the Source” is from New York and is on tour with another band. The band is made up of three white men in their 20s, which is I see as the stereotypical makeup of a rock band. The band included a bass electric guitar, drums and a surprising twin-necked double electric guitar. The actual music the band played was really catchy. Even though I do not consider myself an avid fan of the genre of rock I found myself bobbing my head with the rest of the crowd. What stood out to me the most was that they did not have a vocalist, I am so used to hip hop and R&B which is centered around vocals and lyrics it was interesting, and different to hear something that was not. The music had almost an eerie sound, but it was upbeat with strong bass lines and drum beats with plenty of solos. Their songs also included a catchy melody that was important because I think that it was the first time most of the people in the crowd had heard the band and having a catchy a melody makes it easier for the crowd to follow and enjoy the music. The band created a lot of different sounds that I found surprising, the twin-neck sounded like a cello at times and the band sounded like they had a Middle Eastern influence at times. The guitarist would switch between necks continually demonstrating his skill. The guitar player who appeared to be the lead had a switch by his foot that he seemed to be using to change to tones and timbre of this instrument. The drummer also used what sounded like chimes, but appeared to be little crude bells attached to a rope which gave for an interesting effect. I wasn’t excepting this “rock” group to be so influenced by outside cultures and was impressed how they incorporated it into their music.

The band reinforced their masculine gender by their song titles and through their performance. One of the song titles was “Keep Your Pimp Hand Strong” and another was “Whacking Off”. Now male sexuality wasn’t explicit to me in the music, but it sure was in the songs. While playing the lead guitarist made faces that seemed very sexual and he appeared to be moaning in a sexual way, and because the band wasn’t making large movements other than rocking back and forth it forced the audience to pay close attention to their facial expressions and expert playing skills. But it is important to note that this did not deter female fans.

As time passed the crowd grew and surrounded the stage and people started to dance. The band drank beer between songs and alcohol flowed from the bar. Everyone was having a great time including myself and I left with a copy of their CD in my hand excited to hear their music again! This was a great laid back experience for anyone who likes good music, a relaxed environment and square pizza.

The Fustics

I made my way to Miller’s (a restaurant on the Downtown Mall) on a Saturday night to hear some live music. According to my waitress, Miller’s have live performances every night. On this particular night the Fustics (pronounced few-tics) were performing. I actually got a chance to speak with Ronn (the drummer) to get some quick facts about the group. The Fustics is an Americana band from Wilmington, North Carolina. It consists of four musicians: Ronn on drums, Brad on vocals and acoustic guitar, Paul “The Professor” on bass, and Calloway on lead guitar. The band consists of three White males and one Prussian male. Ronn stated that the band was constantly changing and went through four bass players, 3 guitarists, and a keyboard player that recently quit. This present group of four is the most solid line-up the band has ever had.

When I first heard the music I could not define the genre. I heard a mixture of jazz, rock, and blues, but did not know what to call it. After talking to Ronn, he told me that they fall under the genre known as Americana and that their music tends to be a mixture of country blues, folk, jazz, and funk. The music had a collaborative, yet distinctive sound. The music was very upbeat and the beat of the drums was usually dragged out at the end of a few songs. The tapping of the cymbals emphasized the sound of the drums. Some of the songs also feature guitar solos where you really got to hear the power of the instrument. It was at this time that the music reminded me of rock. And there were times when a guitar was played to convey the “folk” aspect of the music. Although the genre was new to me, one song I did recognize was “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” which was originally sung by the Rolling Stones. What is weird is that the lyrics, more so than the music allowed me to identify with the song. The music was a little different than the original because they added their special touch.

The band did not seem to have much interaction with the audience. I believe this was due to the confined area in which they were performing. The stage area was very small and was only big enough for their equipment; they could hardly move around. However, the band did give a birthday tribute to a woman in the audience. Also, during intermission, Ronn was very inviting when I asked him questions about the band; in fact he was glad to contribute to my concert report. So in all, the band had little interaction with the audience as a whole, but through conversation Ronn came across as was very laid back and funny guy.

One of the first things I noticed when I walked into the restaurant was the audience’s interaction to the music being performed. There were three women who stood near the stage area dancing freely to the music. Others either stood by the bar or were sitting down at tables enjoying the music. As far as the demographics of the audience, I would have to say the audience was predominantly White men and women and the ages ranged from 20’s to 40’s. Also, those living in the Charlottesville community (townies) and/or graduates students seem to make up the bulk of the audience. Everyone (including the band) was casually dressed for the most part except for a group that arrived later in suits and dresses as if they had just came from a special occasion. The audience was very courteous. At the end of each song the audience would applaud and others would even shout out a “WOOOOOO!” indicating the song was a hit.

Members of the audience were organized into cliques for the most part while others would mingle. The restaurant’s atmosphere set a clam/laid back tone. Therefore, the audience was not that intense or in close proximity as they would have been at a “big” concert. They clearly went to the restaurant to socialize while listening to some good music. People did converse with one another, but nothing more. The most interaction within the audience was the three women dancing among each other, who I might add had three different rhythms.

In all, this was a unique experience on the Downtown Mall and the music was not bad at all. This genre has broadened my horizon on music.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Musical Postcards: Ciao Bella Charlottesville & University Symphony Orchestra

Musical Postcards: CIAO BELLA
Charlottesville & University Symphony Orchestra

Packed into the auditorium of Old Cabell Hall of the University of Virginia, many people are probably not aware of this wonderful treasure which is offered free to students and for around $20-30 for guests to attend this concert. Ciao Bella (Italian for “Hello Beautiful”) is the first piece to the orchestra’s take on a series of concerts which bring the audience through the landscapes of different countries or regions through music. This initial concert did so with Italy, which was characterized by the orchestra as operatic and outgoing. This music was surely among some of the most beautiful and classical art at its best and included the instruments such as: the violin, viola, cello, bass, flute, piccolo, organ, piano and a handful of others. This music brought observers closer to the sounds of classical pieces which included the works of Giuseppe Verdi, Tomaso Albinoni, Nino Rota and Felix Mendelssohn. This series of concerts will also cover music by France- which puts emphasis on the harp, Central Europe- featuring Polish composers, the British and will end well with “Jefferson, In His Own Words” – which will provide a musical take on selections by the University of Virginia’s founding father, Thomas Jefferson.

The interaction of the audience and the orchestra were very much correlated. The orchestra was very uniform in appearance and in their performance. Almost in a militia influenced manner, the band members were color coordinated, dressed professionally in only black and white attire with serious and determined facial expressions. There were no smiles and there was almost a sense of an omnipotent and well-respected aura that was given off by them. In correlation to that, the audience too was dressed mainly in semi-formal attire and made it a point to not make any noise unless it was clapping at the end of a piece. This shows that different types of music have different expectations in audience interaction. While in other types of music, the band is offended if the audience is not participatory in response, however in this case the ushers made it a point to be seated on time and to minimize any extra action caused by the audience.

In terms of the sound, usually the music was very uniform as well. Often times every member was playing the same melody. Melody is described as the sequence of notes that compose basic structure of the tune; it is horizontal and can be thought of as playing one note at a time. Other times the music was played in layers, such as the violins playing one set of tunes, and the bass playing another, etc. Furthermore what makes this music interesting and a secret treasure of the University is the talents and prestige behind the orchestra’s music director, Kate Tamarkin. Tamarkin has received distinguished national and international recognition as a conductor at many levels. She has conducted some of the world’s leadings orchestras and has even been a part of CNN and the Today Show of NBC. She has received her DMA, Masters of Music and Bachelor of Music Education from Peabody Conservatory, Northwestern University and Chapman University respectively. It’s a shame that a lot of this talent from both the conductor, Charlottesville and University Symphony Orchestra goes unheard of and aware to many students, who have access to it for free. Hopefully this essay has helped others of the University and Charlottesville community alike become more aware of the divine talents that are taking place right in their own backyards.

-Mersedes Sweeney

Jackmove: Gender and Race in Ska Music

Caitlin Reed

This past weekend, I went home to Virginia Beach, where the annual Neptune Festival was taking place. A local 7-piece ska band named Jackmove performed a free public show on the 31st street stage (an outside venue). I have been to many Jackmove concerts and know several of the band members personally, so I know the general demographic of the audience of their shows: the crowd usually consists of mostly Caucasian males between eighteen to thirty years of age. I think this trend is a result of the kind of music they play (ska and punk), as well as the fact they themselves fall under this demographic. Their usual venues also explain this demographic, as they usually play at bars or other local venues near the beach and in predominately “white” areas with predominately white customers.

At this particular show, however, I immediately noticed a much greater amount of diversity in the crowd than I expected. There were higher numbers of African Americans and Filipinos, as well as more variety in the age groups represented by the audience. There was a general positive reaction to Jackmove when they started to play, but the people who were more familiar with the music (singing along, “skanking” or dancing, etc.) were more energetic and passionate about the performance. They were also mostly male, white young adults. I think the fact that this show was held in a public venue, outside, and during a popular festival explains the diversity of this audience.

I still think it is interesting that there is not more diversity in their general audiences since many of their songs are about and refer to reggae and hip hop influences. The inspiration of these genres and artists are also evident in the music Jackmove plays, as they incorporate reggae themes and sounds in some songs, as well as hip hop rhymes and beats. Rap, hip hop, and reggae (genres of the African American community) are clearly represented in Jackmove’s music, yet African Americans make up only a small part of their fan base.

My favorite part of every Jackmove performance is the brass section. They tend to be the more energetic and bold aspect of the band. Sean Patrick, the trombonist, tends to be responsible for hyping up the crowd and connects with the audience more than any other member of the band. One way of doing this that I noticed in particular is the way in which he moves from one side of the stage to the other, and varies the way he plays the song on his trombone. He also used his trombone to excite the audience members by playing towards certain people in the front (pointing at them with the trombone while playing). For the songs that he was singing instead of playing, he held the microphone out to fans who were singing along to the lyrics of their songs near the front of the stage.

Sean Patrick’s interaction with the crowd definitely lied in a balance between his interactions with males and females. He constantly and blatantly flirted strongly with females, extracting many enamored smiles and shout outs from the females in the audience. He also directed a lot of his attention to the males in the crowd, touching on topics that generally appeal to men and playing trombone towards enthusiastic males in the crowd. In this way, he was able to interact with everyone in the show, including his own band mates.

The audience called for an encore, and Jackmove, usually willing to oblige, could not because another band was scheduled for the next for the next time slot on the public stage. I enjoyed the show, though not as much as I enjoy Jackmove’s shows at their usual venues. I tend to feel more accepted and have more in common with their usual audience in that I enjoy the same kind of music as other members of the audience.

Jay-Z More Than a RockStar

  On September 11, 2009, eight years after the attack on the World Trade Center, Jay-Z returned to New York for his 9/11 Answer the Call benefit concert. Among the artists who joined him are: Kid Cudi, Pharell, Kanye West, Rihanna, Swizz Beatz, Beyonce, Mary J. Blige, John Mayer, and Sean ‘P.Diddy’ Combs. All of these artists came together to show how the genre of hip-hop has evolved over the decades, and is now staking a claim in the genre of rock music. It is also very much evident that the there are distinct gender roles are the genre of hip-hop.

            The concert begins with the Pledge of Allegiance and an electrifying guitar instrumental of the Star Spangled Banner. Then Jay-Z comes from backstage and greets the audience, and through the reminiscing of 9/11 and reaffirming with the audience that New Yorker’s are still alive and that they “Run This Town”, a play on one of his songs that he would sing later on in the night, they form a comradery. Jay-Z begins the concert by first forming a bond with his audience, both being New Yorker’s and survivors of  9/11, and from this moment until the end of the concert, there is not an instance when the entire arena is not involved in the music and the experience, the audience is never watching the performance, but are performers as well.

            Jay-Z begins his concert with an electric guitar instrumental, but it is only a taste of the crossover that he and his peers of the hip-hop artists have made into the genre of rock music. Jay- Z begins and ends his concert in the same ensemble, a black leather jacket, a classic accessory of rock music, black sunglasses, and an all black shirt, pants, and sneakers, typical of rock artists. This common trend is also seen in the ensembles of the other male hip-hop performers of the night, such as Kanye West. The costumes of the female performers on the other hand are not as conservative, what is consistent however is the black leather; all the female performers don a black leather jacket, and black boots. The crossover from hip-hip music toward rock influences is also seen through the rock band that accompanies Jay-Z and his peers on all of the songs performed that night. Even John Mayer, an acoustic rock performer, joins Jay-Z onstage for a five-song set; by first performing solo instrumentals of a compilation of Jay-Z hit records. The interaction between Jay-Z and John Mayer, along with the drummer, resembles that of a rockband. As John Mayer plays the guitar, it’s a give and take between him and the rhymes of Jay- Z, as they both begin to play off of one another, and fit perfectly together, as they complement one another.

            Another aspect of the benefit concert that deserves further examination is that of the female performers of the evening. Although blending in with their male counterparts in the portrayal of rock influence within hip-hop, through their black attire and leather accessories, artists such as Beyonce and Rihanna approach the stage in scandalous outfits, that are black and sheer, which call great attention to their sexuality. It is also worth noting that Rihanna performs with Jay-Z bra-less. The objectification of women within the genre of hip-hop is still prevalent because of the popular demand for this women to be as clothes-less as possible. In all of the songs performed that night, the male performers referred to their female counterparts as their “bad bitch”, or their “ho”, never addressing them in a positive or respectable light. The women performers of the night although dressed in the most provocative outfits onstage, do their best to be musical powerhouses in their performances. Beyonce shows her vocal strength her song ‘Diva’, as she belts out with domination, ‘ A diva is a female version of a hustla’”, stating that she is nothing less than her male counterpart, just a different version. This is also seen in Rihanna’s chorus in “Run This Town”, as she states, “She’s gonna run this town tonight”. Through their musical delivery, these female performers reclaim their sexuality and do their best to distract the audience from viewing them as objects by showing strength, control, and the power they possess through their voice.

            The ‘Answer the Call’ benefit concert is an excellent source for the examination of the genre of hip-hop, as it begins its crossover into the rock genre, and as it continues to shape separate gender roles for its male and female performers. Jay-Z states his own claim to the crossover hip-hop is making with rock in his lyrics to his song “Jocking Jay-Z”, stating: “That Bloke from Oasis said I couldn’t play guitar/ Somebody shoulda told him I’m a fuckin rock star”.

Out on the Downtown Mall

Anika Holloway

Having a rather dull Saturday night, I decided then was a better time than any to hear some tunes and chat with friends. Following the crowd of people and the flow of the music, we soon found ourselves approaching Miller’s restaurant/ bar. The place was packed, just as expected for a Saturday night, forcing us to take a seat at a table right outside the door where we were still in plain sight of the band and audience members closest to the front. The band, known as The Fustics, played an assortment of songs within a genre they call Americana, named for its combination of traditional American music (jazz, folk, country, rock, blues, and funk).

Before exiting, I was able to skim the area and locate the general characteristics of audience members inside as they enjoyed the tunes. Overall, the people on the inside seated at tables and at the bar were mostly middle aged and white, with a pretty good proportion of men and women. There were however, a few ethnic minorities sprinkled across the restaurant. Taking our seats outside, I was able to also scope out other people seated within range of the restaurant and able to hear the music. I noticed that the younger customers tended to congregate outside and while some were attentive to the music, others cared less about it. Some were engaged in deep conversation, while others just mellowed out (looked buzzed) and enjoyed their cocktails in the night air. There were also those in clear view through the restaurant front window who appeared to be having the “time of their lives”, as they danced with a drink in one hand and the other in the air along with releasing loud screams and hollers as each song came to an end.

The band’s response to the audience was a bit different. This may have been due to the limited amount of space provided by the small staging area, but the lead guitarist/ vocalist was the only one who made any type of connections with the audience. As the band played, each musician appeared to be in “their own worlds”. No time was spent with them acknowledging each other, other than during intermission when my friends and I were able to meet the band and were given hilarious, informal introductions of each by the drummer Ron with two N’s (he insisted that I note his name had two N’s in it). There were 4 band members: Ronn on the drums, Brad on vocals and acoustic guitar, Calloway on guitar, and Paul aka. “The Professor” on the bass (named from position as director of theatre at UNC). Not a local band, originally from Wilmington, NC., they have spent the past 4 years filtering different instrumentalist in and out, playing with 4 other guitarist and bassist, yet ending up with their current arrangement. Despite the lack of diversity in the audience, the group had a nice twist. Their Peruvian guitarist Calloway and the authentically Italian Professor Paul, with his fluid accent, as well as American vocalist/guitarist and drummer Brad and Ronn with their free spirited personalities, added a little flavor to band’s makeup.

Still able to recall the sounds freely flowing from the band, I recall the howl of the guitars, the crashes of the drums and the accented melodies of the vocalist, as they bumped out a funk/jazz mix. Breaking it down on the bass, The Professor closed his eyes (sometimes he turned his back to the others and played facing the store front) and caressed his instrument, playing a bass line in sync with Ronn on the drums. As Ronn held down the tempo, stomping his bass drum, tapping his snare, and wailing away on his cymbals, Calloway swung his hair and danced with his guitar. Finally, Lead guitar/vocalist Brad occasionally let go of his guitar to do a few gestures as the women danced there in front of him. Over the two hours I spent there, we were able to hear the best of their jazz/funk/rock mixes, meet the band and enjoy a nice cocktail 

In closing, I would like to say that I consciously witnessed a few of the associations between gender and music that we often discuss in class. Having an all male band that plays music from a variety of genres, coincidently creating their own genre, Americana, only solidifies the observation of men dominating the music/entertainment industry. They were able to come to Charlottesville and be widely accepted by the townspeople, as the majority of them jammed to their tunes. Furthermore, women appeared to gravitate toward them more then the men as their confirmation that they were playing exceptionally well, as they (the women) danced and hollered to them craving their sounds and attention and the men observed from their seats. This was a very realistic rendition of what happens in musical performances where male artist/ musicians have dancers and actors dressy in rags and fabric pieces prancing about or straggling themselves all over them as though the men are walls and they are picture frames . I also was able to draw this conclusion from the fact that Ronn approached OUR table (we did not start conversation with him) and asked us how we were enjoying the music and commented on our physical appearances (politely), while I did not see any of them approach any men. So, I think this serves as evidence of and supports beliefs that ideals of male domination and female subordination/ objectification is still alive and well in music.

Girltalk Mashes PG with XXX dance music

DJ Girltalk, famous for his mashup remixes and live shows, recently graced the stage at John Paul Jones Arena with a highly anticipated performance. The show was free for all U.Va. undergraduate students and was relatively well attended even though the 16,000 seat arena was far from packed. Girltalk performed on stage and largely relegated his movements to remain behind his equipment table. Nonetheless, the show was high energy, particularly for the several hundred concert goers who were lucky enough to receive wrist bands granting them admission to the dance floor. The rest of the guests had to watch the dance floor party from stadium seats. I got to experience the show from both perspectives. On the dance floor, I was in the front row where I could see the performer’s expressions and reactions to the crowd. Girltalk invited students up on stage and tossed them rolls of crepe paper while dancing around behind his DJ table. The floor certainly felt much more connected and intimate to the performance compared with the isolated seats a hundred feet away.

The crowd was made up entirely of U.Va. undergraduates who were, from my observations, mostly white. The guests were relatively well acquainted with each other--many people came with friends and bumped into people they knew throughout the show, giving the performance an unusual atmosphere of camaraderie. Males and females made it up on stage to dance with the DJ in equal numbers, which surprised me. I was expecting females to be preferred over males, especially considering the sexually explicit lyrics prevalent in many of the songs Girltalk played.

Even though Girltalk is a mashup artist, he did very little live “mashing” or creating new songs by mixing several old songs together. Girltalk performed live versions of a lot of his songs from his most recent album, Feed the Animal. Most of the songs mixed familiar melodies from Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith and Radiohead with sexually explicit rap songs. For example “No Pause” got the crowd excited with the catchy tune from Andrea True Connection’s “More, More, More” leading into Missy Elliott’s explicit “Work It” and Spank Rock’s “Put that Pussy on Me.” One of the most exhilarating songs I watched him mix from the dance floor was “In Step.” The song’s backbone began with Roy Orbison’s “You Got It” before launching into Salt-n-Pepa’s “Push It” and Nirvana’s “Lithium.” Throughout the night, Girltalk’s music seemed to explore the tension created in juxtaposing “PG” pop and classic rock with rough, indecent rap and hip-hop.

Although his music is difficult to not dance to, Girltalk’s stage presence was not the most electrifying. He seemed entranced with his computer equipment and did not spend much time connecting with the crowd. He did interact with fans by gesturing or making brief eye contact every so often. Girltalk was certainly high energy—he never stopped moving throughout the entire night, but his energy did not always translate into relating with the crowd.

Students’ impressions of Girltalk’s performance were mixed and largely dependent on where they were standing for the show. Guests on the floor or the stage left the concert on a high, soaked from sweating in the writhing dance crowd for several hours, raving about Girltalk’s crazy dance moves that incorporated his mixing equipment. Those who were not lucky enough to get a wristband felt isolated from the show. The arena’s floor looked far from full but due to safety restrictions only a limited number of people were allowed on the floor at one time. As a result, those who were stuck in the seats bolted to the floor felt cramped and disconnected, unable to see Girltalk’s moves or interact with him on stage. One such concert-goer said she felt like she was watching the party, not part of the party. Many others commented that they felt like they could have had the same experience by just playing Girltalk’s new album, which is available for free download online.

Even though his live performance was hit-or-miss, Girltalk’s music still represents an interesting intersection between music genres. His mashups push the boundaries of genre and challenge social comfort zones between “clean” and “dirty” dance music.

Concert Report 1 - Priscilla Quaye

Priscilla Quaye

Concert Report 1

Merriam-Webster Dictionary gives the description of a concert as “a public performance (as of music or dancing)” (Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary). However, a concert is not simply a concert; there are many surrounding social issues connected to the music and performer that makes the attendee’s experience more than simply just watching a performer display his or her craft. When a concert is meticulously analyzed, the several underlying issues connecting with music and society are exemplified. This concept held true when viewing and further analyzing the “Fall Extravaganza of the Arts” presented by the Black Student Alliance (BSA) on the Grounds of the University of Virginia. The relation and connection of the ideas of authenticity and gender roles to the performances within the “Fall Extravaganza” were illuminated after further analyzing the audience, the atmosphere, and the individuals within each group of performers.

The “Fall Extravaganza” was presented by a student organization designed to stimulate cultural and educational awareness among the black student body at UVA and establish a better union among other groups in the community. Most of the students that attend BSA events are black students; the concert did not deviate from this normality. The majority of the audience was black (an estimate of around 80%) and the minority of the audience included whites, Asians, and very few other races. The “Extravaganza” was held in the Student Activities Building, about the size of a small auditorium; a stage was brought in. There was a total of eight different performing groups including singing groups, dancers, steppers, improvisation groups, and more.

One of the performance groups that the audience seemed excited to view was Remix; they are advertized as a hip-hop a capella singing group. The group consisted of 3 men and 5 women. The most noticeable aspect about Remix is that the group contained a white male; he was the only white performer within the all black group. Remix’s performance consisted of a medley of current and old hip-hop/pop songs. The performance reached a rap segment during which the white, male member was chosen to perform this solo. Immediately, there were hushed whispers and slight snickering and chuckling noticeably heard around the room. When deliberately scanning the room to study people’s faces, actual looks of doubt and small smirks were observed. All these distractions brought on by the audience in the end took away from the performer’s solo rap performance. When investigating the cause of the audience’s behavior, the theme of authenticity is the theme that I believe relates to the situation. I believe the audience’s laughter and doubt arose from the fact that they did not believe the rapper’s performance was “authentic” enough. The term authentic has an ambiguous meaning and can be different for each person that comes across the term. The way in which it will be used here is to address the question of whether the performer’s act is thought of as being “believable” and “convincing” by the audience. Considering the audience’s reactions, facial expressions of doubt, and audible whispers, they did not view the white male performer rapping as authentic. However, if any of the other black males in Remix had pursued the rap solo, the doubt of authenticity would most likely have not existed; in fact, the audience may have even enjoyed the performance. Another fact to consider is if the solo performer was a woman; she may have received the same stigmatized reactions the white male received. The ever-present existing stereotypes that exist between race, gender, and music and the fact that different races and genders do not always get treated equally can be assumed the cause of the phenomenon observed at the “Extravaganza.”

SWAG Asia Johnson

Concert Report

A couple of weeks ago The Black Student Alliance at the University of Virginia put together a benefit concert for the local youth in Charlottesville. I decided to attend the concert and too my surprise the audience was more diverse than I thought. I expected the audience to be almost 100% black but the audience was unexpectedly diverse even though the majority of it was black.

The first group to perform was the all male acapella group AVP. They started out with the smooth soft-rock stylings of The Fray’s “Never Say Never”. This was a good performance but it did not get a big reaction from the crowd because it was not geared to the right demographic of students. I don’t think the audience was very familiar with The Fray. The next song they preformed was John Legend’s “Green Light”. This song was a hit and the audience instantly began to sing along. The crowd began to scream when one of the white members of AVP came to the forefront and began to thrust his pelvis in front of the black girls in the front row. The girls were embarrassed but they realized it was all in fun and they couldn’t resist laughing. The fact that the “white boy” had a little bit of rhythm was fascinating to them. The group finally climaxed with their last performance of “Ignition” by R. Kelly. Once again, the crowd went crazy and the “white boy” began to gyrate again.

The next group to perform was Remix. Their group was a mixture of races and genders. They continued to build on the momentum that AVP had built with a performance of “ Love in this Club” They mixed it up by having a female solo artist instead of a male artist perform it. The higher vocal range almost gave the song a different meaning. It didn’t seem as sexual in this rendition. All of the songs they preformed were from the Hip-Hop or R&B genre.

In between, the other singing groups were dance troupes and step teams. There was an all black fraternity that stepped, a mixed gender and race step team, and a mixed gender Hip- Hop group. A common thread that I noticed in all the performances was that the minority members in each group garnered the most applause. Since the showcase was geared toward black students the minority members were usually white and sometimes Asian. For example, the hip-hop dance group that preformed had one white male in it. Although he was doing the same movements as the other members of the group he was the minority of the group so he stood out. I could hear people yelling, “get it,” from the audience. Yet, no one was yelling at the black girl in the front row who was obviously the captain of the team.

Week 4 of our syllabus focused on blackface minstrelsy and “ love and theft”. I was surprised that the same concepts of love and theft were portrayed at the concert. Whenever a white person preformed a song or dance that was traditionally black they received a huge applause. Why are we so enthralled by white entertainers that perform traditionally black acts? For example, when one of the white performers of remix did a solo performance of a black R&B song the crowd went crazy. He even tried to engage the audience by acting in a seductive manor. These same principles of “Love and Theft” also applied to the dance performances. All of the non-black performers in the step show received rave reviews. I could her people in the audience shouting their names. Are the non-black members of the audience infatuated with black culture? It’s so interesting that when a white artist can sing or dance like a black person it means they can really dance or sing, but if a black person does the same thing it is not received in quite the same manor. Different aspects of the black culture have been stolen so many times throughout history, and black artists rarely get credit for being the originators of these performances. I’m curious to see if this trend will ever change.

Concert Report 1

Fuse Presents: JAY-Z from Madison Square Garden, Answer the Call

Jay-Z’s concert at Madison Square Garden was a benefit concert in remembrance of the lives lost in the tragedy of September 11, 2001. All the proceeds from the concert went to the New York Police and Fire Widows’ & Children’s Benefit. The main topics at the forefront of this concert were gender and race; gender pertaining more to the performers and race with respect to the audience.

The most obvious display and performance of gender comes into play when comparing the male performers to the female performers. Jay-Z had many guest performers at the concert such as Santigold, Kanye West, Beyonce, Rihanna, Mary J. Blige, Pharrell, John Mayer, others. Comparing clothes, just about all the performers displayed their genders. The guys wore dark jeans, black or white shirts, and sometimes a jacket. The women, well Rihanna and Beyonce, performed their feminine gender wearing skin tight black leotard-type of outfits. While the men were understated, calm and cool, the ladies on the other hand showed off their curves and the sexiness that is associated with women, especially Beyonce and Rihanna. Mary J. Blige is the one to stand out as she challenged the gender norms in terms of clothing. She did not follow the norms of what feminine R&B artists usually wear in concert such as the leotards or skin tight dresses or anything that looks “feminine”. Instead she wore jeans, black leather jacket, and boots. She challenged and pushed the gender boundaries and what society is used to but she does not push too far as her clothes still show her curves, displaying that she is still a woman.

Taking the gender issue beyond the clothes, Jay-Z’s interaction with his guests on stage were a bit gender-typed. Though he did not share the stage with Beyonce, he does interact with Rihanna and Mary J. Blige. When his guests leave the stage, he gives each one a hug. When hugging the guys, he used what could be called a man-style hug where they slap or shake hands first before the “half-body” hug. When Jay-Z hugged Rihanna on the other hand, he gives her a full, immediate hug which most guys typically use for women. But interestingly, when he hugs Mary J. Blige, he did not hug like he did Rihanna, instead he hugged her like she was a guy, with the hand-slap first. It makes one wonder if he did that because she did not perform the feminine gender that night and would he have done the same thing if she had been wearing a leotard or a dress. It also makes you wonder how he would have hugged another woman, such as Alicia Keys, who does not always perform to the feminine gender but also does not challenge it by dressing in a masculine manner.

Looking into the audience at the concert, majority were African Americans, though there were some other races there such as White, Hispanic, Asian, etc. It boils down to the fact that many people can relate to Jay-Z music. With songs such as “Empire State of Mind” and “Dirt Off Your Shoulders” to “D.O.A. Death of Auto-Tune” that most people can understand and share in, it is not hard to understand why the audience has people of colors and all ages and everyone sings along. But with songs like “99 Problems” or “Hard Knock Life” in which Jay-Z addresses social issues only certain people in the audience can relate to that. For example, “99 Problems” addresses the issue of racial profiling which only minorities, mostly blacks, have experienced before and really feel the lyrics though others may just simply sing along. Jay-Z’s music appeals to people from many walks of life because his music touches on issues from the most serious to the most inconsequential.

Jay-Z is a rapper and while you can analyze some artists on their techniques, vocals, etc. That cannot be done easily with rap. But what you can talk about is body language. When Jay-Z raps he looks like he is battling. He uses hand motions and acts as though his opponent is in front of him or his audience is only a couple feet away as opposed to spanning a massive room. Jay-Z’s concert is personal from the very beginning, right through his musical selections, and up to the end where he addresses his audience personally. With all this, it might be safe to say that a Jay-Z concert is a personal experience.