Resounding Afro Asia: Interracial Music and the Politics of Collaboration

Resounding Afro Asia: Interracial Music and the Politics of Collaboration

Resounding Afro Asia: Interracial Music and the Politics of Collaboration

Resounding Afro Asia: Interracial Music and the Politics of Collaboration

Synopsis

Cultural hybridity is a celebrated hallmark of U.S. American music and identity. Yet hybrid music is all too often marked -and marketed - under a single racial label. Resounding Afro Asia examines music projects that counter this convention; these projects instead foreground racial mixture in players, audiences, and sound in the very face of the ghettoizing culture industry. Giving voice to four contemporary projects, author Tamara Roberts traces black/Asian engagements that reach across the United States and beyond: Funkadesi, Yoko Noge, Fred Ho and the Afro Asian Music Ensemble, and Red Baraat. From Indian funk and reggae, to Japanese folk and blues, to jazz in various Asian and African traditions, to Indian brass band and New Orleans second line, these artists live multiracial lives in which they inhabit - and yet exceed - multicultural frameworks built on essentialism and segregation. When these musicians collaborate, they generate and perform racially marked sounds that do not conform to their individual racial identities. The Afro Asian artists discussed in this book splinter the expectations of racial determinism, and through improvisation and composition, articulate new identities and subjectivities in conversation with each other. These dynamic social, aesthetic, and sonic practices construct a forum for the negotiation of racial and cultural difference and the formation of inter-minority solidarities. Resounding Afro Asia joins a growing body of literature that is writing Asian American artists back into U.S. popular music history, while highlighting interracial engagements that have fueled U.S. music making. The book will appeal to scholars of music, ethnomusicology, race theory, and politics, as well as those interested in race and popular music.

Excerpt

Red Barock//The White House//04.02.12. A Facebook photo album is the only known
documentation of New York–based Red Baraat’s debut performance in the nation’s capital
(Red Baraat 2012b). Posted on the band’s page, the twenty images hint at what appears to have
been an electrifying performance. Blending an Indian wedding (baraat) band format, bhangra
rhythms, New Orleans jazz, funk, and hip hop, the group entertained a predominantly Asian
crowd in the Indian Treaty Room. Recounting the event, leader Sunny Jain added, “Not us, the
other kind [of Indian],” highlighting the irony of his band appearing in a room by that name.
Indeed, this event was part of redefining what “Indian” means in the White House and the United
States. The performance was staged for a philanthropic briefing as part of the White House’s
Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI). This working group—created by
Clinton, dormant under Bush, and revived by Obama—is charged with improving “the quality
of life of AAPIs through increased participation in Federal programs in which such persons may
be underserved” (Obama 2009, 3). According to the band’s website, the audience was expecting a
string quartet (Red Baraat 2012a), but the band surprised and delighted listeners with its celebra
tory and participatory vibe. Blurry photos show a swirl of motion conjured by the group’s glisten
ing horns, listeners’ smiles and outstretched hands, and Jain leaping into the air with his dhol.

Red Baraat is a perfect reflection of the commission’s goals. With members who are Indian, Japanese, Middle Eastern, and Pacific Islander—not to mention black and white—they represent the diversity of Asian America. The group also highlights a shifting conception of Asian Americanness in which South and Southeast Asians are included alongside historically represented East Asians and their descendants. While the Asian population grew faster than any other racial group in the United States between 2000 and 2010, the Asian Indian population grew the fastest among the national and cultural groups within that category (Hoeffel, Rastogi, Kim, and Shahid 2012, 1, 16). With this growth has come a larger domestic audience for South Asian folk and popular culture like bhangra and baraats, which has spilled over into mainstream U.S. culture.

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