Romancing Blackness

Originally posted at Consuming Blackness Diasporically alpha site on July 23 2008

As an African American woman (who is also bi-racial) with an estranged family network, house has provided me with a sense of belonging, rootedness in place, a spot to grow away from but from which I always come back to.

Chicago’s spots – Warehouse, Music Box, Bismarck and so on (I haven’t even mentioned the S.Side’s contribution…Still learning enuf to be able to tell it with clarity) provide mapping points in a genealogy of regional culture specific to Chicago’s own dynamic black community.

House’s origins in the late 70’s/early 80’s from disco to house proper (bridged through the NYC connection of F. Knuckles and R. Williams) unfolds as a narrative of alterity, the mythic creation of club culture as a welcoming alternative community catalyzed by gay men of color.

DJ Elbert gives historical tour of Chicago house scene

A “classic” track: Can You Feel It (The House that Jack Built)

And, She, who I call the unnamed disco diva, is like a mother goddess of Chicago house, a black feminist priestess embodying strength, persistence, survival, and style.

Loleatta Holloway – “Hit and Run”

First Choice – “Love Thang”

But , what I find most edifying about Chicago house as a deeply personal experience is what I am also unsettled by: its nostalgia.

House creates a story about communal politics, a story about freedom and tolerance, a story about love and hope. YET when stories about house are told, often they fail (and I too am subject to this critique) to open discussion about the reality of tensions within Chicago’s black community. Even as house exercises a potent ideology to imagine “brighter days,” it also existed and exists in an uneven gendered politics wherein the majority of DJs are male, the founders of house are typically espoused as male to the exclusion of the massive vocal presence of house’s songstresses who have as much to do with getting bodies on the dance floor and promoting house’s love politics as the figure of the DJ.

Likewise, those who tell the story of house often fail to give enough credit to its origins in the black gay community – indeed, part of house’s transgressive potential lies in its approach to sexuality, its candid voicing and raw performance of sexuality and sensuality as integral parts of human experience.

And, as Frankie Knuckles asserts in the first video clip posted above, Chicago house often seems to be “stuck” in time. As a tradition, it carries certain anthems, songs, rhythms, etc. that Househedz know and love. Perhaps we hold on too tight, thus losing house’s early characteristic of pulling on the pastiche – from soul and funk and gospel to American disco and Italo disco to Euro-pop to Chicago’s own acid house sound; from punk to bohemian to preppie fashion, etc. Yet again, part of Chicago house’s difference is in the particular story the city and black community has to tell AND in its archive of sounds and places and dances and icons. It defines a particular kind of local-regional belonging. So, how do we negotiate back and forth? Between a rooted beginning practiced through repetition as a rite of homage and belonging while simultaneously continuing to forge Chicago house’s spirit of play and bricolage, its unorthodox predilection for global appropriation remixed and spun back to home base in a distinctly Chicago style.

So, this romance is troubling but it is liberating and empowering too…

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