“We’re Dancing in the Streets”: This Revolution Will Be Heard

Shana Redmond. Anthem: Social Movements and the Sound of Solidarity in the African Diaspora, New York: New York University Press, 2013. 




      Anthem is a solid example of interdisciplinarity done well. Redmond utilizes archival materials, literary analysis, ethnomusicology, social movement theories, and textual analysis. Music is at the center of the book “because it creates collective engagement in performance and contributes to a dense black performance history that continually configures Black citizenship through shared ambitions and intersectional identities” (13). Not only Redmond provides analysis of the wide range of anthems, she offers engaging discussions of the lyrical content as well as the sonic. For example, the black national anthem “Life Ev’ry Voice and Sing” written by brothers James Weldon and John Rosamond Johnson, she writes:

“The first measure of the vocal line is a half measure and offers a running start to the A-flat major key signature, with the text ‘lift ev’-ry’ notated by three eight notes in the 6/8 time signature. While the song was written in 6/8, its performance follows a 12/8 phrasing, placing it alongside the Black gospel tradition, which…was growing in dynamic ways at this very moment. This quick introduction leads the vocalist to a strong tonic chord on the downbeat of measure 2. The melodic emphasis lands on the word ‘voice’ with ‘and sing’ (measures 10 and 11) following as long notes” (72-73).           
       
      For Redmond to break down the sonic in this song and many other examples she uses, she demonstrates that she is interested in the ways in which songs are constructed. She also focuses on the story in the music and the representation in the lyrics. Nina Simone’s “Four Women,” she states, “Simone confronts the flattening of Black women into one-dimensional objects by addressing intersectional identities of four distinct Black women, all of them representations of women who are at one and the same teal and imagined” (185). Music is the foundation in which Redmond argues that throughout the African Diaspora, “music functions as a method of rebellion, revolution, and future visions that disrupt and challenge the manufactured differences used to dismiss, detain, and destroy communities” (1).
      An anthem to Redmond is a song that organizes and mobilizes people as well as “symbolize and call into being a system of sociopolitical ideas or positions” (2). The meaning of anthems may change in different contexts. For the LGBT community, many songs are representative of having pride, overcoming, defiance/resistance, courage/coming out, etc. While many songs were not written specifically for this purpose, they have been adopted as “gay anthems” as they have become popular within the community. The message of empowerment in Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” resonated throughout the community, making it one of the most important anthems especially during the 1990s when AIDS took the lives of many men. Diana Ross’s “I’m Coming Out” has also been an important anthem for the community as it empowers those to come out with courage and pride knowing that the backlash associated with it may come with isolation from family and friends and even violence. In my research, music and performance is a major part of the lives of the transgendered black women especially as performers whether in nightclubs or as activists in the streets of New York and Los Angeles.  

      Anthem fits in with works that argue for a long civil rights movement. Emphasizing music of the movements outlined in the book, Redmond demonstrates the Long Civil Rights Movement’s connections to Pan-Africanism and other revolutionary movements specifically South Africa and the African National Congress. In the article, “The "Long Movement” as Vampire: Temporal and Spatial Fallacies in Recent Black Freedom Studies,” Cha-Jua and Lang are critical of long civil rights movement scholarship. They argue that scholars need to appreciate the “intellectual and cultural dimensions” of the black freedom movement. Redmond demonstrates through her discussions and analysis of figures and lyrical content that she is appreciative of these dimensions within the black freedom movement. 

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