Panel, “Revenge or Recovery?,” on Black oral histories and archives

I’m already impressed by Mashadi Matabane and Laina Dawes, the two presenters. They’ve attested to the exscription of Black performers from the history of rock and metal, and how often people think Jimi Hendrix was an anomaly.

They’re sharing some of their interviews with Black woman performers (video and audio). One interviewee describes how she walks into a room with an electric guitar, and people don’t believe she can play it… or think it should be an acoustic guitar! Mashadie has great historical photos of Black women with electric guitars, going back to the 1940s. She says, “There is a legacy of Black women and the electric guitar!”

Laina is describing her focus on Black fans of rock, in Toronto and the U.S. She’s interviewed 40-50 fans, icluding an online survey that she did by first using social media to find people. She confesses to chasing a Black woman with a mohawk she saw on the bus, guessing that she might be a potential interviewee! But she also found that socio-political issues came up quite constantly—some interviewees were embarassed or even ashamed by their love for rock, punk, or metal. Mashadi describes using Facebook and Twitter to find people.

Mashadi also talks about how essential archives are. She describes how some Black woman musicians—including young ones—disappear from the scene, the picture, and history, and she wants to push back against absence and amnesia. Yet some Black women don’t want to be interviewed, don’t want to go on the record with their challenges, their sacrifices, and their choices.

This is making me value the oral history component of Women Who Rock even more!

Laina describes some of the dangers that go with the scene—hate speech, physical violence—and the special vulnerabilities that Black women have as participants. She’s talking about how Beyonce, “at the height of her power and influence,” created an all-woman band—an incredibly progressive move—but that very few of the musicians have been willing to be interviewed about their experiences or motivations. Some don’t want to be categorized as Black. Laina said she made a research decision to only interview musicians “who knew they were Black. They were proud of being Black and wanted to talk about it.” Mashadi notes how the powerful sense of connection, rapport, and recognition that she oftem has with interviewees is significant. For many interviewees, being heard and understood was very meaningful.

Laina notes that she’s had to remind herself to think about class in addition to focusing on race and gender. Black mationalist rejections of “all things White” is another kind of blindness.

An Asian American man in the circle (who says he teaches hip hop in his classes) asks about producers, race, and gatekeeping. Laina said lots of Black woman musicians have stories about outrageously racist things agents and producers said to them. She describes how Ike helped construct Tina Turner as a wildly hypersexualized Black woman.

This panel was terrific. I’ve read much of Maureen Mahon’s work on Black rock, but Mashadi’s and Laina’s research, along with Shirley’s documentary Nice and Rough, is opening up a whole new way to understand popular music history!

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