FREE/PHASE: The Artists

The CBMR is honored to have the talents of Mendi + Keith Obadike as part of the celebration of our 30 plus years of engagement with the community

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The Center for Black Music Research is honored to have the talents of Mendi + Keith Obadike as part of the celebration of our 30 plus years of engagement with the community. The new suite that has been commissioned by the CBMR is meant to celebrate our 30th anniversary, as well as the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, and the 50th anniversary of the historic Selma/Montgomery march.

The work of artists-composers Mendi + Keith Obadike is impossible to summarize. In their own words, they make “art works with sound, reshaping place and reframing time.” They have worked–consistently commissioned and broadly lauded–across media art, music, and literature for the past 17 years. Their work explores notions of black diasporic identity and representation through a thoughtful and rigorous, but often playful, methodology that moves across technology and media platforms and disciplinary lines to tease out cultural connections, pose questions, and engage their audiences. For example, 2001’s internet work, Blackness for Sale auctioned off Keith’s blackness on eBay and The Sour Thunder, An Internet Opera (2002) made use of dual locations and live video streaming, with online narrative components.

More recent work extends their approach to physical spaces. In 2010 for example, they produced 4EG: Sonic Mbari, a sound installation using locally recorded interviews and field recordings while in residence at Project Row Houses in Houston, TX. Their solo show American Cypher, including an installation of sound, video and letterpress prints, was exhibited at the Studio Museum in Harlem. In March of 2015, Mendi + Keith’s exhibition Blues Speaker for James Baldwin opened at the New School in New York City, and their work was featured in Come As You Are: the art of the 1990s at the Montclaire Art Museum where they participated in an online panel discussion about art in the age of the internet.

Their honors include a Rockefeller New Media Arts Fellowship, a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship in Fiction, and a nomination for the Alpert Award in Music. Their work has been commissioned by The Kitchen (NY), Rhizome / The New Museum, The NY African Film Festival with Electronic Arts Intermix, Northwestern University, Bucknell University, the Yale Cabaret, Whitechapel Art Gallery (London), and The Whitney Museum of American Art. They have released two albums on Bridge Records, a book of poetry with Lotus Press, and have two artists’ books to be released this year on 1913 Press. They have developed a new series of sound installations entitled African Metropole: Sonic City, and toured their opera-masquerade Four Electric Ghosts.

To further investigate their remarkable history as artists, you can click here to access their website. On their press page you can see links to their interviews and essays. You can also find links to their books, including Armor and FleshFour Electric Ghosts, and Big House/Disclosure.

Click here to be connected directly with them on Facebook and Twitter.

Recent Articles


  • CrossTalk: Cross Talk is a student-driven, multimedia destination dedicated to original student work that explores the sound-music continuum of the African Diaspora.
  • Depth Sounding: A platform for short-form scholarship intended for a wide audience, Depth Sounding is a space for up-to-the-minute thought in which authors can experiment with format, media, content, argument construction, and more, in ways that privilege or more fully integrate sound.
  • Free/Phase: Follow the FREE/PHASE suite of sound-based art works by artists Mendi+Keith Obadike, commissioned by the CBMR.
  • From the Stacks: Reviews and reactions to lucky “finds” and new additions within the CBMR Library and Archives–updated as serendipity leads. Contributors: staff, student workers, students, interns, patrons.
  • News: Events, notices, reviews–things that are timely.
  • Publications: All the in-house publications of the CBMR, past and present plus planned, except for the monographs and the BMRJ, which are available elsewhere. Ask us!