Guest post by Rebecca Dirksen, Assistant Professor, Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology.
In New Orleans, there are jazz funerals to dance someone into the next realm after they pass away. Hearty brass bands with trumpets, trombones, and sousaphones accompany mourners as they process from the church down the street alongside the coffin of a deceased community member. The fancy footwork, fashion, and swag are as integral to the experience as the notes played by the musicians. The funeral parade is often described as a percussive, sacred, celebratory expression of liberation. The film Buckjumping offers viewers an intimate portrait of such second-lining, while zooming out to a larger view of the Crescent City’s many exuberant street dancing communities, including those tied to the social aid and pleasure clubs, high school marching bands with color guards, the Mardi Gras Indians, and the bounce music scene.
Meanwhile in Chocó, Colombia, musical street performance both dances children into life and people into stronger understandings of who they are. The film Velo que Bonito (Look How Pretty) shows how Chocoan women—who gather in community in both public and private domestic spaces—use songs, healing practices, and belief systems to help babies and children learn about their social and cultural worlds. Los sonidos invisibles (The Invisible Sounds) in turn reflects on how, in the same region of western Colombia, the classical music instruction of Spanish missionaries has been set against the “traditional” practices of Chocoan community brass bands. As these brass bands explore their African roots through musical performance in the streets, they act against the colonizing forces that would deny their identity.
What can such films tell us about how people use, participate in, and enjoy music? How can they help us observe, sense, and experience? Why should we watch documentaries—or ethnographic films? What meanings and introspections do they allow for? And what exactly is it about making music in the streets that compels people to dance, that keeps them—as one man featured in Buckjumping noted—“partying?”
The Honking Horns and Jazzy Feet: Music and Dance in the Streets film series will allow us the space to consider just that. Open to the public, this series is being held in conjunction with the Society for Ethnomusicology’s 64th Annual Meeting, which will draw roughly 1,000 ethnomusicology scholars from around the world to the IUB campus this week. It is envisioned as a way to bring into conversation two concurrent pre-conference symposia: “Film as Ethnography, Activism, and Public Work in Ethnomusicology” and “Heritage and the Politics of Inclusion in Latin American Brass Bands.” With films about street music and dance traditions in the Americas, we introduce two filmmakers whose explorations of documentary forms have made meaningful contributions to understandings of music. Extending the IU Cinema’s emphasis this semester on the creative work of women in filmmaking, we present to you Lily Keber from New Orleans and Ana María Arango from Colombia.
Our first invitee, Lily Keber, made her directorial debut with Bayou Maharajah, which premiered at SXSW in 2013 and has since won many awards, including the Oxford American Award for Best Southern Film and Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities’ Documentary of the Year. Her second feature documentary, Buckjumping, premiered in October 2018 to the largest audience ever assembled at the New Orleans Film Festival. She is a co-founder of New Orleans Video Voices, a women-led collective dedicated to increasing media literacy across the Gulf South, and is a founding member of the All-Y’all Film Collective of Southern filmmakers. Her work has appeared on ARTE, HBO, MTV News, Time, Al-Jazeera English, Democracy Now!, Sundance DocClub, Hulu, Netflix, iTunes, Electronic Intifada, and PBS.
Our second featured filmmaker is Ana María Arango, an anthropologist affiliated with the Universidad de los Andes and a PhD candidate in social anthropology at the University of Barcelona. She is currently a researcher with ASINCH and an instructor at the Technological University of Chocó. From 2016-17, Arango served as President of the National Music Council in Colombia and in 2010 she founded La Corporaloteca, from where she directs various research and extension projects comprising radio programs, publications, art works, performances, seminars, and diplomas. In addition to publishing anthropological studies, she is the director of several short films and documentaries, including Raíces, Tierra y alas, Los Hijos del okendo, Velo qué bonito, Los sonidos invisibles, and Unos zapatos para Cassinda.
Both filmmakers will offer Q&As after their screenings.
Buckjumping will be screened at the IU Cinema on November 6 as part of the series Honking Horns and Jazzy Feet: Music and Dance in the Streets and the International Arthouse Series. Director Lily Keber is scheduled to be present.
Los sonidos invisibles and Velo qué bonito will be screened on November 7. Director Ana María Arango is scheduled to be present as well.
Rebecca Dirksen is Assistant Professor of Ethnomusicology at Indiana University and is a founding member of the Diverse Environmentalisms Research Team (DERT). Working across the spectrum of musical genres in Haiti and its diaspora, her research concerns cultural approaches to crisis, disaster, and development; sustainability, traditional ecological knowledge, and ecomusicology; and applied/activist/engaged scholarship. Dr. Dirksen is the author of numerous journal articles and the book After the Dance, the Drums Are Heavy: Carnival, Politics, and Musical Engagement in Haiti (Oxford 2020). She has introduced a new graduate seminar on Filmmaking as Ethnography to the IU Folklore and Ethnomusicology curriculum, and will add an undergraduate course on film in folklore and ethnomusicology during Spring 2020.