Thursday, February 4, 2010

Where They At: A Multi-Media Archive of New Orleans Bounce Music at Abrons Art Center

New York City's Abrons Arts Center is proud to announce Where They At, an exhibition that portrays the founders, architects, and players in New Orleans hip-hop and the uniquely regional rap known as bounce music, a phenomenon that evolved from the communities based in the city's housing projects. Photographs, oral histories, and video footage compiled by photographer Aubrey Edwards and journalist Alison Fensterstock document the passing of seminal beats from New Orleans music traditions to a new generation in the late 1980's, and the creation of this new voice in Southern roots music.

This multi-media archive draws a line to the present-day diaspora, as Hurricane Katrina has scattered a once tight-knit bounce and hip-hop community whose music only existed at home — a home that has been redefined physically and culturally. Where They At will also be exhibited during SXSW in Austin, Texas and will launch during Jazz Fest in New Orleans at the Odgen Museum of Southern Art, where numerous events spanning several months have been planned.

New Orleans has midwifed every existing form of indigenous American music, including funk and the street music exemplified by 2nd Line bands and Mardi Gras Indians. Hip-hop is the newest manifestation of that Southern tradition. Mardi Gras Indian chants, brass band beats and call-and-response routines equally inform bounce music, which almost invariably samples the Showboys' "Drag Rap" (a.k.a. "Triggerman") and Derek B's "Rock the Beat" or Cameron Paul's "Brown Beats." Featuring lyrical patterns that focus mainly on sex, parties and dancing, it invites – even demands – audience participation by calling out dance steps or prompting replies.

This exhibition at the Abrons Arts Center features portraits culled from the larger archive of New Orleans hip-hop and bounce artists to focus on women and gay and transgendered men in early New Orleans hip-hop and bounce.
In the 90's heyday of New Orleans hip-hop, female rappers like Mia X, Ms Tee, Magnolia Shorty and Cheeky Blakk appeared in significant number with songs that were just as bawdy and aggressive as their male counterparts. Often, their tracks served as answer songs that challenged male MC's sexism in a way that created playfully ribald conversation, such as Silky Slimm's "Sista Sista" or Mia X's "Da Payback."

The prominence of queer members of the bounce community, such as such as Big Freedia, Sissy Nobby, and Vockah Redu, defies the myth of insurmountable homophobia within Hip-Hop, and speaks to a curious tradition in African-American entertainment in New Orleans, which has accepted and celebrated queer and cross-dressing entertainers for over half a century. Katey Red, a Sissy, was signed to the prominent bounce record label Take Fo'.

The full Where They At archive project will open at the Smithsonian-affiliated Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans in April 2010, on the eve of the first Jazz Fest weekend.

February 11, 2010, 6-9 pm: Opening at the Abrons Art Center/ Henry Street Settlement
466 Grand Street (on the Lower East Side), New York, NY
Trains: J/M/Z or F to Delancey/Essex; B/D to Grand St.

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