Who Stole the Soul? Race and Rhythm in the Digital Age

  1. 1. Martin Munro

    Florida State University

Work text
This plain text was ingested for the purpose of full-text search, not to preserve original formatting or readability. For the most complete copy, refer to the original conference program.

In the earliest days of European settlement in the Caribbean, Spanish and French settlers brought with them their rhythmic folk music, which in form, structure, and function bore comparison to the animist rhythms of the Africans, who arrived later and who made the colonies a place of rhythmic encounter a conflict. This provoked in turn what Jacqueline Rosemain terms an “anti-rhythmic crusade” on behalf of colonists and planters, ever wary of the close connection between rhythm and revolt. Gradually, and with the mass expansion of the slave trade, the putative dangers of rhythm and dance were attributed to uniquely African sources (Rosemain, La Danse 34). Rhythm thus became a racialized concept, attached to notions of blackness, and an important element in racist, white ideas of black inferiority. In the twentieth century, many of the diverse anticolonial, pan-African cultural movements reappropriated rhythm in their attempts to revalorize blackness and overturn centuries of negative racist stereotyping. In the poems, novels, essays, and songs of Haitian Indigenism, Négritude, the Harlem Renaissance, Afrocubanismo, and the U.S. Civil Rights movement, rhythm became a marker of black resistance and identity, associated still with blackness but now in an apparently positive, liberating, politicized way. This paper asks the following basic questions: what happens to the relationship between rhythm and race in the digital age? What happens when mastery of rhythm is no longer necessarily tied to ritual, to manual drumming, and to the physical, bodily re-creation of rhythm? When electronic and digital media allow virtually anyone the ability to “drum” and to create rhythmic music, what happens to the longstanding association between blackness and rhythm? Referring to David Scott’s recent arguments on a stalled, tragic time in the Caribbean in particular, I draw connections between the apparent redundancy of revolutionary, anticolonial thinking in the present and the perhaps less apparent decoupling of rhythm and race in contemporary musical styles. If, as Scott says, the teleologies of anticolonial politics no longer hold true, has rhythm as a marker of time, and an integral element in the poetics of resistance, lost its association with radical blackness, and become a deracialized, dehistoricized commodity?

If this content appears in violation of your intellectual property rights, or you see errors or omissions, please reach out to Scott B. Weingart to discuss removing or amending the materials.

Conference Info

In review

Caribbean Digital - 2014

Hosted at Barnard College, Columbia University

New York, New York, United States

Dec. 4, 2014 - Dec. 5, 2014

31 works by 38 authors indexed

Series: Caribbean Digital (1)

Organizers: Caribbean Digital

  • Keywords: None
  • Language: English
  • Topics: None