April 29, 2005



Everyone in America should have heard and seen Ned Sublette's paper at EMP. I mean heard, and I mean seen. You need to hear him sing "Congoooo....congo nation," and to hear him clap and to hear his accent dip and rise as he gets into the guts of his story. There is nobody else like him in this game. He is the music critic who could take it to the people, our Southern democrat from Louisiana, the guy who makes the theory disappear inside the gumbo. If some pointy-headed douchebag like me came out and opened a paper, as he did, by saying "Slavery. It's the central fact of American history and yet everyone thinks 'Huh, slavery, that's weird," everyone would be braced for a serving of self-righteous vegetables. (Ned, I'm paraphrasing. Please let me know if that is unfaithful or misleading.) That's New York. We can make make beats, we can make hot dogs, we can win every time, but we can't make anyone like us.

But Ned is infinitely likable. Which made me wary, because I wanted him to be angry. He was talking about sex slavery, African families being separated for commercial profit, and the river of black blood that runs under the feet of every tit-flashing moron and bead-throwing fratboy who gets to New Orleans on their parents' dime so they can get drunker than the people who founded the colony. But Ned wasn't angry. He's smarter than that. He knew he could lay out the facts and let us feel them, and deliver it all like a story of a summer vacation, complete with slides.

Six percent of the transatlantic slave trade came to the U.S., Ned said. Only six percent. In New Orleans, a chunk of that human inventory was then bred for sex slaves. But Ned wasn't doing straight sociology; his presentation was about music. He riffed on carnival krewes and Master P lyrics. After telling us that he once, as a child in Nacogdoches, he reenacted a slave auction in class, he moved to excerpts from an interview with Donald Harrison, former Marsalis band member and current krewe chief. Harrison said (paraphrasing again) that parade days are the only days black men in New Orleans are allowed to "act like men," which bounces off the walls very differently in the context of identity theft, real identity theft. Sublette closed with a sucker punch, pointing first to the synergy of krewes, hip-hop and 150 years of exploitatation, and then concluding abruptly with three sweet little A-bombs: "That's called resistance." For a second, I couldn't breathe.

Vernacular, friendly, researched up the colon, organically political, soaked in the love of the music's sound and story, Sublette could change a motherfucker's life. Viacom—get at him.

My plane as grounded in San Diego for two hours, and I missed Thursday night's opening plenary. Eric Weisbard kindly delivered my comments, which will be posted somewhere soon. I will also be posting the obligatory pictures of people soon, here.

Posted by Sasha at April 29, 2005 10:27 AM | TrackBack