We are proud to announce Music and Social Justice, a new series from University of Michigan Press. As the series coeditors, we welcome projects that shine new light on familiar subjects such as protest songs, humanitarian artists, war and peace, community formation, cultural diplomacy, globalization, and political resistance. Simultaneously, the series invites authors to critique and expand on what qualifies as justice—or, for that matter, music—in the first place. Music and Social Justice lends a platform for writers who wish to submit traditional scholarly monographs. But we’re equally enthusiastic to work with authors and artists who prefer to unsettle the discursive norms of conventional academic prose in the name of rhetorical experimentalism, anti-capitalism, neurodiversity, alt-textuality, and radical collaboration. We urge people within and beyond academic institutions to build inclusive dialogues about how and why music matters.
|An evolving word cloud of potential (by no means comprehensive) themes for the series.|
|[top row, left to right] Cheng, Dell’Antonio, André, Cusick, Hisama |
[bottom row, left to right] Madrid, Katz, McDaniels, Oja, Redmond
We recently spoke with these board members about music and justice. Here are their takes on issues such as Black Lives Matter, the endangerment of DACA, foster care advocacy, composer John Zorn, contralto Marian Anderson, musical nuns of early modern Florence, a South African opera about Winnie Mandela, and the son jarocho songs performed by activists on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border.
EDITORS (Cheng and Dell'Antonio): Please introduce yourselves—who you are, what you teach, and what you research.
OJA: Living through an era of political, racial, and economic instability, I feel an increasing drive to read and produce scholarship that connects with the turbulent world around us. The question is how to do so. My current response to that question involves a project exploring institutional racism and racial segregation in the history of classical-music performance, with the career of the famed African American singer Marian Anderson as a centerpiece.
CUSICK: [I study] music's relationships to gender, sexuality, and other categories of politicized embodiment [in] early modern Italy, contemporary North America, and the global archipelago of prisons operated by the United States’ security services during the “global war on terror.” My most recent research focuses on the economic and erotic interests that informed the figure of the musical nun in early modern Florence—an era (resonant with our own) that was characterized by the mass incarceration of one kind of politicized body (women) for the unjust economic benefit of other bodies.
REDMOND: I am a thinker, a creator, and an accomplice. I study the musical and political worlds that are imagined and made by people of African descent. I teach that history, present, and future through text, sound, and practice. My work centers the ideas and musics of the forgotten, the vulnerable, and the rebels. As such, it works against neat typologies and prevailing wisdom, highlighting how people imagine and create freedom throughout the twentieth century and beyond.
EDITORS: Why launch a series on music and social justice? Why now?
MADRID: The current political climate in the United States has forced disciplinary fields in the humanities to become more aware of their social relevance. At a moment when decades of social gains in areas like gender, race, and immigration are being continually threatened while white supremacy is systematically normalized in media and politics, it is urgent that music studies engage questions of social justice and take a stance against intolerance, bigotry, and anti-democratic practices. It is time for musicologists not only to focus on deconstructing how musical discourse and practice may have performatively helped in the reproduction of oppressive social structures and behaviors, but also to consider how musical activism may challenge these systems and the ideologies that keep them in place.
KATZ: For centuries, musicians have used their art to call for justice and call out injustice. Music has the power to amplify these messages, to spread them, and to embed them in our memories and psyches. This series, in turn, will amplify the voices of those who study the intersection of music and justice. Given the role of music in recent social justice movements, whether Occupy Wall Street or Black Lives Matter, now would seem to be the right moment to launch this series. History, however, offers centuries worth of precedent, so this series may also be seen as long overdue. Either way, it will serve as an essential vehicle for understanding a crucial and underexamined facet of music in human life.
EDITORS: Can you describe how your own work has dealt with matters of social justice, even—especially—if the words social justice don’t always come up?
MCDANIELS: I work with a lot with foster kids in the foster care system here in the United States. While there are many great stories of success with youth who have been through the system, there are too many horrible situations that repeat themselves year after year! It’s always about 500,000 youth continually rotating through the system and when they are deprived of opportunities and privileges, these are the young individuals who fill our prisons and cemeteries. I don’t call them underprivileged children. I call them children of powerful potential! So my music and graphic novels are created to inspire, motivate, and educate. That’s why we created Hip Hop in the first place.
HISAMA: My 1993 article “Postcolonialism on the Make: The Music of John Mellencamp, David Bowie, and John Zorn,” published in the academic journal Popular Music, spurred responses from Asian American activists (including the Committee Against Anti-Asian Violence) to John Zorn’s representations of East Asian women. My article “John Zorn and the Postmodern Condition,” published in the volume Locating East Asia in Western Art Music, chronicles the responses from artists, musicians, and writers from the Bay Area and New York to Zorn’s work, and in the Polish journal Avant, I comment upon artists’ social responsibility in relation to Zorn’s more recent statements about his work.
ANDRÉ: I have published about teaching opera in a women’s prison that appeared in the book The Intersectional Approach: Transforming the Academy through Race, Class, & Gender. I also edited a cluster of articles in the journal African Studies about the first full-length opera by a black South African composer: Winnie—The Opera by Bongani Ndodana-Breen (premiered at the State Theatre in Pretoria, South Africa in 2011). With both of these projects—opera in prison and the South African opera on Winnie Madikizela Mandela—my first thoughts for publishing them was outside of musicology, given the lack of musicological venues for publishing on music and social justice. I have been very encouraged by the musicologists who have found these articles, and have contacted me to let me know that they have found them helpful for their own teaching and research.
EDITORS: Can you give us an example of how music or sound might embody social justice? Are there specific topics and projects you’d love to see from authors?
REDMOND: My work on the anthems of the African diaspora displays how Black activists and thinkers reinvented and performed citizenship—a citizenship that fit who they were and wanted to be rather than that which was defined for them. In that sense, the contemporary resistance to the U.S. national anthem (Kaepernick, et al.) is part of a long genealogy of Black refusal to a one-size-fits-all relationship to the nation and an important example of a social justice issue that is animated by and through music. I’d like to see work that is experimental in its approaches and that is deeply informed by community thought and practice. Collaborative projects are also welcome.
MADRID: Sound is central to protest rallies and civil disobedience. It is by conceiving and projecting a literal and metaphorical voice that individuals and communities make their anxieties and concerns known. The son jarocho songs that music activists on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border sing at the annual Fandango Fronterizo speak of the trans-border solidarity that such an event foments as well as the hurdles their communities have to overcome on an everyday basis. [I would like to see] work about music and sound in deportation centers, [and] transnational takes on sound and music in anti-globalization protests.
Rounding out the board members’ responses, Mary Francis observed: “I hope the series will include challenges to the idea that music is always and only one sort of social message-bearer. Music can and does play many roles in society, and while it often unites, sustains, and gives hope, it can also be used to signal or enact division. I hope there will be work in the series that explores just how complex music’s place truly is.”
And Shana Redmond offered these closing words on DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), under threat of repeal by the Trump administration and by Congress: “Living a life of integrity—with resources and free from fear and violence—is a human right. Policy is not the end of the struggle but is an important step into better futures. Defend DACA. Defend your communities.”
Please visit the website for Music and Social Justice for more details. We look forward to your submissions!
William Cheng (@willxcheng) is Assistant Professor of Music at Dartmouth College. He is author of Just Vibrations: The Purpose of Sounding Good, Sound Play: Video Games and the Musical Imagination, and (forthcoming from Oxford UP) Why Listening to Beethoven Makes Me Feel So Respectable (and Other Vices of Musical Judgment). His writings have appeared in Critical Inquiry, Cambridge Opera Journal, Ethnomusicology, 19th-Century Music, Journal of the American Musicological Society, Washington Post, Slate, TIME, and Huffington Post. He serves on the boards of Journal of the Society for American Music, Music & the Moving Image, Women & Music, Ethnomusicology Review, Sensate, and Sound Studies.