The music behind “Black Lives Matter”

CPM_Langston Lecture_Oct 2018_Social2The Center for Popular Music will host an Oct. 29 lecture on the music inspiring social justice movements such as Black Lives Matter.

wilkinsDr. Langston Collin Wilkins, an ethnomusicologist and folklorist from Nashville, will speak on the music integral to the movement that took hold in the African-American community five years ago and has quickly become the mainstay campaign against systematic racism in the United States. His work was recently published in 2018’s Black Lives Matter and Music: Protest, Intervention and Reflection, a collection of essays on how music influences the public about inequality and injustice.

CPM Director Dr. Gregory Reish, who invited Wilkins to speak in the College of Education Room 160 starting at 4:10 p.m., said that Wilkins’ work is a great example of cutting edge research that examines cultural context of regional hip-hop.

“The new book in which his work appears is a good example of folklore studies and musicology intersecting with urgent and compelling events in our current world,” Reish said.

black lives bookEach chapter in Black Lives Matter and Music focuses on a particular case study, with the goal to inspire and facilitate productive dialogues among scholars, students and communities. Wilkins’ essay focuses on an African-American music genre called “chopped and screwed,” a branch of hip-hop music that has flourished in Houston, Texas. Wilkins’ research explores the role this music has played in local activism and the cultivation of a local identity within the city’s music scene.

“There’s a gap in Houston’s cultural history, and we really need to fill the void in that history,” Wilkins said. “What we’re missing from an artistic perspective alone is rich.”

This gap not only fueled Wilkins’s research, but it led to him establish the Houston SLAB Parade & Family Festival in Houston. SLAB, an acronym for “slow, low and bangin’,” is a car art culture unique to Houston’s African-American community. A true SLAB car (the most popular being the Cadillac Eldorado convertible circa 1982-1985) is painted a glossy bright color, has pointed tire rims, and a popped trunk with a flashy feature inside (like a neon sign). The driver blasts “chopped and screwed” music, a genre associated with Houston-based hip-hop artist DJ Screw.

Wilkins’ doctoral dissertation entitled “Screwston, TX: The Impact of Space, Place, and Cultural Identity on Music Making in Houston, Texas’ Hip Hop Music Scene,” was an ethnographic examination of the impact of spatial practices on music making among Houston hip-hop artists. He has presented his research at major conferences including the annual meetings of the American Folklore Society, the Society for Ethnomusicology and the International Association for the Study of Popular Music.

Wilkins holds a Ph.D. in folklore and ethnomusicology from Indiana University, where he was also the Laura Bolton Junior Fellow in the Department of Folklore & Ethnomusicology from 2012-2015. He also holds a a master’s degree in African-American and African Diaspora studies from Indiana University.

To learn more about the Center for Popular Music, click here.

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