Friday, March 30, 2012

My Sojourn to New York

Episode 2:
After three days in Harlem I feel like I am getting a sense of the place eve though I have only been to a few locations. My highlight has to be having brunch at the Red Rooster restaurant in Harlem (picture on left) which is owned by chef Marcus Samuelsonn ( who my family and I have watched and rooted for in a competition on food channel. The place was jam packed at 10:30AM and I was lucky to get a place to sit because I was alone; I was squeezed between two parties which made me feel a little awkward because I had no one to talk to and I did not wan to eavesdrop on other people's conversations. I decided to read world news from Al Jazeera on my iphone.
The other highlight was being part of an advisory group for the Museum for African Art that is planning an exhibit on African hip hop and the biggest challenge was how to plan and execute a show that tries to capture something as elusive (or is it called ephemeral) as music that changes every day (our meeting was on Saturday March 31, 2012). Do we include the debates over the origins of hip hop or the notion of African hip hop copying US artists? Do we have live music or music piped through speakers? Should we have still pictures or videos or both? Should we have images of certain objects associated with hip hop and what would those be? It is in thinking through these challenges that I think the museum staff will be able to put together a show that honors all these issues while giving audience members a slice of African hip hop as contemporary urban art form. I look forward to future conversations and to finally see the show itself. I have not been in such a meeting where the majority of the invited people were anthropologists--out of eight people invited excluding museum staff there were five anthropologists! What a delight!!!
Tonight (4.2.12) I am at the Shomburg Center for Research in Black Culture talking about African hip hop along with fellow anthropologist Jesse Shipley of Haveford. Should be an interesting episode tring to gauge what the audience may be like. The education director for the museum summed it this way: "We can anticipate a range of people in attendance, from those people who have a general interest in Africa to those who are from specific African countries and know about the political climate there; and from those people who like music but may not be familiar with highlife or the current hiphop scene, to musicians who have been actively involved in the New York hip hop scene." The best way to prepare for this kind of event is to NOT prepare at all and pray that the knowledge you have accumulated over the years of studying African music and hip hop will be enough to share and not look like a fool.

Episode 1:

It's Friday March 30th 2012 and I am on a trip to New York to be part of a consultation team for the Museum for African Art's project on African hip hop. My flight was scheduled to leave Grand Rapids at 6:02PM but was delayed till 6:30PM. We arrived in Cincinnati at 7:15PM and had to wait for a crew that was coming from Chicago. Our flight that was scheduled to leave Cincinnati at 7:55PM left at 10:10PM so I arrived in New York at 12:10AM (Saturday). Since I did not have any meetings scheduled on Friday I was not worried about the delays and catching a few naps in the airplane was not so bad. Arrival at the LaGuardia airport I went for a taxi and i was one of those famous yellow cabs where the driver does not open the door for you (I guess leaving in the small cities of the midwest I can get a little spoiled). Gave the driver my directions and sat back as I watched some potpourri of NBC shows on the small television screen in the cab. A commercial for Betty White's new show of senior citizens pulling pranks on younger people was the only interesting thing I saw.
Upon arrival at my hotel (Aloft Harlem on Frederick Douglas Blvd) I walked into a reception area adjacent to a pub where loud music was playing and the revelers enjoying their drinks as the danced and sung with abandon. What a nice welcome into the city. Thankfully my room is six floors above the club and so far I cannot hear the noise. I am looking forward to a few hours of sleep and then onto our consultation meetings in the morning (oh wait it is technically morning already).