Category Archives: Workshops and Events

From Hip Life to Real Life: Hip Hop and the Performative Inscription of New Social Relations in Nigeria

On February 28, 2018, third-year PhD student Gabriel Bámgbóṣé organized a talk on Nigerian hip hop for his class.  This is a review of the event by one of his students, John O’Meara.


As a mathematics student born and raised in New Jersey and of almost entirely Irish descent, I walked into this discussion with virtually no knowledge of Nigerian music and/or culture. However, aided by the exploration of African myth and the study of duality and synthesis of humankind and the world, it became evident that music is a universal language and that, despite geographical boundaries, there are many subtle connections between what I have grown up with and the topics discussed in the lecture by Michael Tosin Gbogi, a PhD candidate in the Interdisciplinary Program in Linguistics at Tulane University, New Orleans. The distinctiveness of Nigerian hip-hop notwithstanding, cultural markings, emceeing, deejaying, and breakdancing remain global markers of the genre. Gbogi’s main argument is that Nigerian rap/hip-hop is a reappropriation of the musical form that was originally domiciled in the Africa and became globalized after transplantation through the Middle Passage. In a thorough exploration of the social and cultural signatures of Nigerian hip-hop through cultural, literary, and linguistic lenses, I was able to see both the vast divergences and the many similarities that exist between both Nigerian and American styles of music and the visual stimuli that they present.

Nigeria hosts the second-largest hip-hop scene in the world, both in the mainstream and in the underground counterculture. The genre was first heard in Nigeria in 1981. However, by 1985 with the military regime and the economic crises of the structural adjustment regime, art suffered greatly because of the continuous violence that lasted until 1998. Many artists left the country to seek greater opportunities and found their own success elsewhere while paying homage to their homeland. The hip-hop scene reemerged with the first mainstream song “Shako Mo” by the Remedies. In this piece, the rappers feign an American accent, which might be an effort to gain a larger audience through relatable features to American English.

Gbogi questions the idea that Nigerian hip-hop music is very vapid and almost completely limited to “dance music” that partygoers may enjoy while in the club. He argues that the art goes much deeper in terms of context and meaning; Nigerian artists adopt hip-hop as a sonic instrument of agency, featuring mostly artists from poor or working-class backgrounds. Additionally, Nigeria is a heavily stratified society with respect to class relations. The youths therefore take inspiration from hip-hop in their yearning for an escape from the trying times of poverty. In Reminisce’s (feat. Olamide and Phyno) “Local Rappers,” the term “local” means poor. Thus, there is a sense of duality existing in the word, defined as both of lower socioeconomic status and grafted at the same time with a sense of belonging to the artists’ community. This demonstrates the highly effective reaction of hip-hop music (as a cultural binder and a means for success) to social problems.

However, the counter to this point of view is that globalization reduces one’s authenticity: the ability to “keep it real.” Gbogi introduces this second dimension as the use of language by one group to achieve hegemony over other groups. This suggests that language as a concept incorporates into its focus such issues as language norms and general cultural beliefs. For example, the Nigerian rapper Ruggedman incorporates Nigerian slang (pidgin) without imitating an American accent in order to maintain the sense of national belonging. In a similar manner, the song “Ehen” introduces themes of pushing back against the music of previous artists through a fusion of language and grammar of the “mother tongue” with languages often representative of the lower class.

Slang is generally described as an oppositional language that members of a minority group use to mark their difference from both established order and a more established diction. Onomastics, ethnic “shout-outs” to ghettos/neighborhoods, furthers this theme of relating to the audience. This is defined as “ghetto naming,” which exists as a method of class crossing as displayed in Wizkid’s “Ojuelegba,” named after the low-class neighborhood in Nigeria. Wizkid creates a narrative that states that he is a part of his people, though he finds a way out of poverty and achieves success despite his initial condition. Although there exists some narrative that consigns the past to the past and presents current events in the immediate present, it still follows that leading principle best outlined by Lord of Ajasa: “You can’t be doing hip hop if you’re not true to yourself, if you are not real.” With the synthesis of all these exploratory findings, I was able to leave the lecture far more enlightened and worldly, understanding that we are all truly one on this planet through the scope of intercultural traversing by music.

 

About the author
A first-generation American on his father’s side, John O’Meara will be the first in his family to graduate from college with a bachelor’s degree. This May, he will earn his BA in Mathematics, as well as minors in English, Computer Science, Music, Economics, and a certification in Recording Arts. In his spare time, he loves to read, particularly the works of medieval writers focusing on the topic of dissent; his favorite work of the genre is Piers Plowman by William Langland. Additionally, John is an avid songwriter and poet, performing in the many underground scenes throughout the city of New Brunswick. Upon graduation, he hopes to attend graduate school for Financial Mathematics and continue in his effort to become a certified Associate of the Society of Actuaries. While in school, John is a bartender at the local restaurant, The Stirling Hotel. A lover of all gin, his favorite cocktail to sip after a long day is a Tom Collins.

Decoloniality Workshop Series: “A Critical Genealogy on Mobility: From Master-Slave Dialectics to Relational Praxis”

By: Thato Magano

The Decoloniality Workshop held its second meeting of the spring semester on Thursday, March 8th, 2018, to discuss Jeong Eun Annabel We’s dissertation chapter, “A Critical Genealogy on Mobility: From Master-Slave Dialectics to Relational Praxis.” Annabel framed her discussion around the complex questions related to how a multivocal reading of Hegelian dialectics can be productive in thinking through nonalignment movement(s) of Cold War geopolitics. Reading Takeuchi Yoshimi, Ernst Bloch, Aimé Césaire, Frantz Fanon, and Ch’oe In-Hun together, Annabel’s approach is to think through questions of mobilization towards decolonization in order to examine how these thinkers conceptualized imperial mobilization in early to mid-twentieth century, and consequently, the problematics they identified in imperial conceptions of movement. Locating questions of modernity, coloniality, mobility and relationality alongside each other, Annabel worked with these thinkers’ theorization on movement to situate transpacific and indigenous sovereignty within the Afro-Asian conference at Bandung in 1955 and argued that a “new understanding of movement based on relational praxis emerges from this paradigm, challenging imperial model(s) of mobilization.”

Thinking along with Japanese thinker Takeuchi Yoshimi on mobilization and Hegel’s master-slave dialectics, Annabel proposed that a critical tracking of movement to conversion for the “slave” becomes essential to the project of decolonization in order to understand how this “movement”, which she reads as transformation, can also be seen as a “confrontation with mobility: the directionality of recognition, whether horizontal (slave-slave) or vertical (master-slave), is determined by the colonial mobilization of the slave.”

For Annabel, these forms of mobilization presented a challenge to Cold War movements that sought alignment with Cold War liberalism’s colonial roots, built as it is with colonized resources and enslaved populations of the world. In situating the Afro-Asian conference at Bandung in 1955 and nonalignment movements within this framework, productive questions can then be asked about the epistemic challenges posed to (neo)liberal democratic capitalism’s failures to deliver a real redistributive praxis.

Professor Nelson Maldonado-Torres served as the discussant for the workshop and asked Annabel to critically consider how she might mobilize mobility in the chapter as it relates to the entwinement of intellectual work and military work as the thinkers she is thinking through served in the military. The discussion afterwards centered on the topics of Pan-Asianism, decolonization, and nonalignment.

The next meeting of the Decoloniality Workshop will be held on April 11, 2018, where Professor Carlos Decena (Latino and Caribbean Studies & Women’s and Gender Studies) will present material from his current book project. For more information, visit the workshop’s website at https://decolonialityworkshop.wordpress.com.

Discussing Keywords in Sound: A look into second session of the Sound Studies Reading Group

by Coco Ke Xu

On the morning of February 22nd, the sound studies reading group held its second meeting on the sixth floor of the Academic Building. Led by Prof. Carter Mathes from the English department, Prof. Eduardo Herrera from Musicology, Prof. Andrew Parker from Comparative Literature and Prof. Xiaojue Wang from East Asian Languages and Cultures, the reading group gave graduate students from Rutgers a chance to think and discuss together key issues concerning the emerging field of sound studies from a multidisciplinary perspective.

Following the initial meeting held on January 25, the second meeting of the reading group continues the discussion on a recent edition of the anthology Keywords in Sound (Duke, 2015). The book covers twenty key words in sound studies, including: acoustemology, acoustics, body, deafness, echo, hearing, image, language, listening, music, noise, phonography, radio, religion, resonance, silence, space, synthesis, transduction and voice.

During the discussion, professors and graduate students from different disciplines contributed their unique perspectives and offered up new ways in thinking about sound related subjects. When discussing the wireless nature of radio, Prof. Wang pointed out that during the early years of Chinese diaspora radio served as a means to unite different dialect-speaking Chinese communities through broadcasting the same material in different Chinese dialects at different timeslots during the day. Prof. Parker brought up the nostalgic tone of Walter Benjamin’s “The Storyteller” and proposed a none-logocentric reading of broadcasted sound. As a nice segue into the next key word “religion”, Comparative Literature PhD candidate Virginia Conn noticed that church services in foreign languages sometimes bring up similar feelings in people and noted the difference between “religious” and “spiritual” reactions towards sounds. Connections are also made between different keyword entries. When looking at the word “silence”, Prof. Herrera reminded us to think back at other entries like “deafness” and “echo”. The new sound projecting as well as active noise cancellation technologies open new possibilities for us to reflect on the critical relationships between silence, sound and noise.

The meeting concluded with a catered lunch from Delhi Garden, during which discussions continued in a casual atmosphere. The remaining two meetings of the group for this semester will take place on March 22 and April 26 respectively, with more focus on how scholarship on sound studies informs and inspires individual works of group members. Anyone who is interested in the topic and would like to join the conversation should reach out to Prof. Carter Mathes, who will be arranging individual presentations for the next meeting.

Decoloniality Workshop Series: “’What Is Past Is Prologue’: Shakespeare’s The Tempest and Empire Building(s) at the U.S. National Archives.

By Josué Rodriguez

On Wednesday, January 31, 2018, the Decoloniality Workshop Series continued with a discussion around Enmanuel Martinez’s dissertation chapter draft, “’What Is Past Is Prologue’: Shakespeare’s The Tempest and Empire Building(s) at the U.S. National Archives.” Enmanuel’s presentation examined the quote chiseled at the base of a statue named “Future” located at the entrance to the National Archives Building in Washington D.C., stating “WHAT IS PAST IS PROLOGUE.” In highlighting the archival space as a central node for concepts of empire, war, national identity, Cold War politics, and coloniality, Enmanuel’s paper asked us to consider several questions: “what is the context, [what] is the reason, for which Antonio’s fraught words are inscribed onto the physical surface of the National Archives Building; and conversely what content, which is to say resonance, does Antonio’s statement project onto our understanding of the history (and future) of the National Archives Building?”

As Enmanuel described effectively through the help of photos and videos, the enshrinement of the Charters of Freedom in the National Archives Building on December 15, 1952 through military escort exemplifies the crossing of colonial and archival powers in an expression of Cold War political theater. As he argues, “the space of the National Archives Building emerges as a national stage over which the U.S. American government rehearses and projects its global-imperial aspirations and anxieties, respectively. We must thus recognize the U.S. National Archives as a domestic archive whose arrangement is shaped no less by imperialism abroad than it is by nationalism at home.” Symbolic performativity and architectural place coalesce to reveal the archive as a key component in the construction of the same global project that allowed the US to solidify its continuing hold on several insular territories in the Pacific and Atlantic during 20th century, island territories such as the Philippines, Hawaii, Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands.

Comparative Literature PhD candidate Annabel We served as respondent. She considered the temporal resonances of the US’s pre-1952 imperial history as further ways of thinking through the Shakespearean quote and noted the difficulty of historians relying on the very archives they critique and examine, such as that of the US National Archives and Record Administration (NARA). Other attendees offered helpful suggestions on the paper’s structure. For example, one student asked that Enmanuel to further develop his analysis of Antonio, the power-usurping villain of Shakespeare’s play, through Rutgers University Professor Nelson Maldonado-Torres’ work on the “paradigm of war.”

In his responses to questions from the group of attendees, Enmanuel reminded us of the need to distinguish carefully between archive studies and library and information science. Enmanuel also helped us understand his own plans for the dissertation chapter moving forward. As he continues to develop his comparative analysis of the inscription on the statue “Future” and Shakespeare’s The Tempest, he hopes to draw upon Edward Said’s work on misreading, as well as Walter Benjamin’s writing on quotations as interruptions.

The Decoloniality Worshop (organized by Rafael Vizcaíno [Comparative Literature, Rutgers University]) is a space for junior scholars at Rutgers University to receive constructive feedback  in an intimate community setting. This workshop series builds upon recent graduate student–organized events at Rutgers University and is focused on decolonial thought and criticism. Most recently, the inaugural Decoloniality Roundtable took place in May 2017. In March 2016, the Urban (De)Coloniality and Literature conference was held as the Program in Comparative Literature Biennial Graduate Student Conference.

The Decoloniality Workshop has a complete lineup for the Spring 2018 semester and is in the plan of continuing through the 2018-19 academic year. For more information, visit the workshop’s website at https://decolonialityworkshop.wordpress.com

Relational Undercurrents: Contemporary Art of the Caribbean Archipelago

A report on the Brown Bag Lunch by: Yuanqiu Jiang

On January 17, 2018, the Program of Comparative Literature hosted its first Brown Bag Lunch of the spring semester. Professor Michelle A. Stephens, Dean of Humanities, also an affiliate faculty member of the program, gave a talk on the book she newly coedited with Professor Tatiana Flores (Art History and Latino and Caribbean Studies), Relational Undercurrents: Contemporary Art of the Caribbean Archipelago. Along with the book, an exhibition was curated by Professor Flores for the Museum of Latin American Art (Long Beach, CA).

Both the book and the exhibition focus on contemporary visual arts produced in the Caribbean islands, around which a conceptual framework is built. This framework, Professor Stephens suggests, challenges traditional area studies such as American Studies and Caribbean Studies. In addition to posing “a critique to the continental,” Relational Undercurrents also pushes Caribbean Studies to reconceptualize the Caribbean itself: it is more than ex-colonies; and compared with only taking the relations between ex-colonies and the respective metropoles into consideration, the assemblage of seas, continents, and islands enables us to investigate ties and associations that look beyond those defined by colonialism. Through its internal complexity and inexhaustible particularity, the Caribbean, as an assemblage, makes possible a variety of new perspectives. In turn, new understanding of places beyond the Caribbean would also emerge.

Professor Stephens further introduced the four main sections of the book. The first is conceptual mapping. A personalized mapping of landscapes articulates a Caribbean that modifies, counters, and challenges the cartography imposed by colonial powers. The second is perpetual horizons, the horizon being a shared theme and trope among many of the artists. Different artists mobilize the horizon differently: some may view it as a symbol of freedom, others may focus on its function of bridging the islands. The third is landscape ecologies. Rather than (re)presenting a romanticized or exoticized landscape, what emerges in artists’ visualizations are wild, messy, sometimes even uncanny. In a move that de-familiarizes paradise and beach tropes often ascribed to the Caribbean, harsh realities such as oil drilling and garbage in the sea are shown. The last section, on representational acts, addresses the figuration of the human body, including race and gender. The political and interactive staging of the impacted body is an essential component in the visualizing and theorizing of contemporaneity.

The talk was followed by an extremely lively discussion. Scholars from different disciplines shared their experiences and critical understandings of the term “archipelagic.” Professor Stephens pointed out that oceanic studies share a similar conceptual framework with continental studies, which is why the assemblage mentioned before is important: it disrupts these studies materially and metaphorically. The discussion also demonstrated that “archipelago” does not designate a locale-fixed notion, nor is it a term solely used in Euro-American academic discourses, suggesting its far-range applicability.

The book, the talk, and the discussion all gave manifestation to the comparative and collaborative (frame)works Professor Stephens presented on. Thank you to all participants, and congratulations to Professor Stephens and Professor Flores!

Decoloniality Workshop Series: “Decolonizing Nation-State Narratives in Angola and Mozambique”

By: Jeong Eun Annabel We

On December 4th, 2017, the Decoloniality Workshop series kicked off with Dionisio da Silva Pimenta’s (Sociology, Federal University of São Carlos) work in progress. Entitled “Decolonizing Nation-State Narratives in Angola and Mozambique,” the paper engaged the concept of coloniality and works of Frantz Fanon to think through the post-independence nation-state building struggles of Mozambique and Angola.

Pimenta posed the question of how cold war geopolitics materially shaped the long civil wars of party oppositions in Angola and Mozambique, and what examples of decolonizing practices can be found in people’s cultural resistance to the party focused nation-state projects. During the workshop discussion, participants proposed different approaches to thinking about how temporality and spatiality were crucial features of coloniality and nation border-drawing in Angola and Mozambique. By connecting the scramble for Africa with the economic hegemony of Cold War interventions, the discussion took a turn to probe colonial spatialization and ethnicization of nation-state politics that is emphasized in Pimenta’s engagement with coloniality and geopolitics. 

The workshop’s soundtrack was set to the work of rappers that Pimenta examined, MCK (Angola) and Azagaia (Mozambique).

The Decoloniality Worshop (organized by Rafael Vizcaíno [Comparative Literature, Rutgers University]) is a space for junior scholars to receive constructive feedback in a relaxed community setting. It builds upon recent graduate-student-organized events at Rutgers University around the project of the critique of modernity/coloniality. Most recently, the inaugural Decoloniality Roundtable took place in May 2017. In March 2016, the Urban (De)Coloniality and Literature conference was held as the Program in Comparative Literature Biennial Graduate Student Conference.

 The workshop has a complete lineup for the Spring 2018 semester and is in the plan of continuing in 2018-19. For more information, visit the workshop’s website at https://decolonialityworkshop.wordpress.com