Beat Diaspora: Beats, Buses, Bricks

an omnivorous take on music of the beat-based variety and the urban spaces that nurture it

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Crescent Ltd.

* * *

One milestone past, this hefty block of writing and thinking has been put behind me. Hardly a step on the academic ladder, of course, if indeed that's even where I want to go. But significant enough that it now affords me some much-needed free time. Not to mention that it's the culmination of the principle interest I've been blogging about all these couple years, Rio--urban space--culture--music. As a fitting capstone, it's also landed me a seat at the Brazilian Studies Association (BRASA) conference in New Orleans.

As part of this new-found free time, I took the scenic route.

They've been running the Crescent for nearly a century, daily trips from New York City down to New Orleans. I picked it up at Union Station in Washington, D.C., same as my grandmother used to.

The Crescent ran through some of the poorest parts of the country, still does I would imagine. In the pre-Amtrak days, it was painted a bright kelly green, a Gatsbyian green light at the end of the dock, designed to bring hope twice daily -- once northbound, once southbound -- to the communities it passed through. Better times were on the way, it supposedly declared, although I doubt if those too truly arrived.

As we went through Alabama, I had breakfast with an 80-year-old community organizer from D.C. who knew Dr. King from the days when he delivered sermons at local churches, before "I Have a Dream" (which she attended). She got off in Meridian, Mississippi.

26 hour later, I was here. Continuing service to Chicago on the City of New Orleans and Los Angeles on the Sunset Ltd, but not today, not this trip.

* * *

"Where is the corridor? To find it one must drive far from the interstate highway cloverlead, away from Main Street and Second Street; one drives downhill, for the corridor follows the gentle gradients of river valleys, or to the rundown part of town, for the corridor no longer enriches the structures struggled along it. In the city, one drives away from tall glass-skinned office towers to the grimy factories still watched by thrusting red-brick smoke stacks. In the suburb, one drives along the old parkway, along the former streetcar route leading to the commuter station. In the small town, one drives toward the grain elevator, the coal trestle, the creek bed. In the country one drives toward the line of telegraph poles. Always one drives toward the railroad right-of-way, the energizing spine of the corridor."

--John R. Stilgoe, Metropolitan Corridor

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Thursday, March 13, 2008

Harvardia Africana

I'm approaching the 36-hour-till-deadline mark and don't think I'll be out in full force for the conference, but it's been the culmination of the African Hip-Hop Research Project's hard work, especially Lidet Tilahun, a one-woman rallying cry for the importance of African hip-hop. I'm nominally the research and collections coordinator, although the funding for that never did come through. We did get one of the guys from X-Plastaz on campus last year, and in fact MC Gsan's buddy Mohammed Yunus from the Aang Serian Peace Village, who was also there, will be back for this weekend's conference.

Other highlights include Emmanuel Jal (Sudanese ex-child soldier turned rapper, with some serious marketing muscle behind him these days) and Youssou N'Dour (Senegalese mbalax extraordinaire). The latter makes me scratch my head: If you're going to bring someone over from Dakar, undisputed capital of West African hip-hop (where even the election can get a hip-hop tinge!), why not Awadi or Alif or Pee Froiss?

He's a very world music choice too, and the conference seems short on the nu whirld music: no mention of kwaito or kuduro.

But maybe he'll perform at the as yet unannounced concert, which I believe is free. N'Dour and Jal on the same bill would be a steal -- I'm sure they're quite expensive elsewhere!

Back to work, clock is ticking and Rio isn't getting any easier to figure out . . .

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Tuesday, March 04, 2008

South South Bronx [ed. Northwest South]*

Buried in a thesis avalanche and will come up for air sometime after the magic date of March 14. Made it home from Carnaval in one piece, sem passaporte (another story), and Beija-Flor took the win.

Closer to home, some curious real estate wheelings&dealings -- over an affordable housing rec room. Mitchell-Lama, the unsung hero of hip-hop? The comments, if anything, are as interesting as the story. New York bias, Chicago inferiority complex, Bronx vs. Jamaica, it's all the Republicans fault . . . a classic NYC soapbox.

Not something you see everyday on a prominent NYT page.

P.S. See where the 1520 Sedgwick "rec room" led -- support artists in Rio and deepen your funk crates with some vinyl that can only be described as sinĂ­stro, mano: Funkeiros e Progresso EP

Massive CD with knowledge jewels galore dropping soon, more info when it arrives.

*Thanks to commenter Richard S. for correcting my geography.

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