Thursday, April 7, 2005

Revolution and sensual expression

So right now I'm kind of obsessed with honouring bodies and emotionality: longing, joy, rage, passion, despair, pleasure, exhaustion, love, boredom, hope, seduction, fear, solitude... And when I asked Rob why theories of everyday life don't deal more with the emotional he looked at me and said, matter-of-factly, "Well, they're supposed to." I was then left wondering if I had missed something crucial or if what I had come across hadn't satisfied me.

"Just as 35-millimeter film refuses to let an image pass through without unmistakably marking each picture with a trace of the materials from which it came, soul music is indelibly marked by what Roland Barthes has called 'the grain of the voice'. The singers make simultaneously throaty, growly, breathy and sweet sounds, forcing the listener to pay attention to the way bodies work to create them. Hearing a record like Aretha Franklin's rendition of 'Amazing Grace,' you can feel the vocal chords flexing, the lungs heaving, the tongue stretching, the throat pushing...

In the 50s and 60s... white outsiders to the world of soul music worried about the overt physicality lurking in the grooves of these records ... [while] urban black nationalists like Amiri Baraka denounced the music as silly and insincere, even suggesting its sensuality was a kind of corporate-funded, community-sanctioned prostitution. Baraka himself preferred avant-garde jazz, charging that the new music... was heroic, independent, and, unlike soul, resistant to commercial commodification.

[Today] R&B is always already discussed and understood in contrast to hip-hop, which is supposedly revolutionary, authentic, honest and smart... I want to focus on... reasons why people think hip-hop is political and R&B is inconsequential, reasons that have to do with who's singing and what they're singing about. In R&B songs, [female] vocalists often... focus on private, intimate situations... [Male] hip-hop, on the other hand, is paradigmatically public. Where hip-hop respects, appropriates, manipulates and remixes traditional black music, contemporary R&B reverentially updates it, preserving the genre's historical emphasis on vocal virtuosity and its elaboration of lyrical themes that deal primarily with love, often through elegant techniques of indirection... It's popular because it continues to serve as a place where singers can be sensitive, romantic, erotic and sentimental - all, believe it or not, vitally human values."

-- Steffani Jemison, Keep on Pushin', in Bitch 23: Winter 2004.

Le Révolution tranquille - Quiet Revolution - in Québéc fascinates me not primarily because of its (interesting enough) politics, but because profound social changes occurred in public and private - at the level of the everyday - without violence and only in a short time. I also read somewhere that as new identities and practices became possible, there was a sort of creative outpouring in music, theatre, literature, art, film, cuisine. I like this connection between revolution and sensual expression.

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