FREE/PHASE: The Origins of the Project

CBMR Executive Director, Monica Hairston O’Connell discusses the need for a reanimation and reactivation of CBMR's archives

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The origins of FREE/PHASE are based in the scholarship of the Center for Black Music Research. CBMR Executive Director, Monica Hairston O’Connell, wrote about the need for a reanimation and reactivation of the archives of the CBMR on her personal blog in 2012:

“Especially in light of the digital revolution and the so-called crises in the humanities and higher education generally, calls to re/animate and or re/activate the archive have recently come forth from a broadly interdisciplinary range of scholars and theorists. This project, which comes out of my experience as executive director of the Center for Black Music Research, would explore realities and specificities involved with the re/animation and re/activation of a culturally specific music archive. If, for example, as archives theorist Antoinette Burton notes, “all archives come into being in and as history as a result of specific political, cultural, and socioeconomic pressures—pressures which leave traces and which render archives themselves artifacts of history,*” then how might differently situated publics, constituencies, and communities acknowledge, promote, and steward the counter-histories in and of the culturally-specific archive while simultaneously amplifying and innovating around the archive’s connection to contemporary (political and creative) conversations?”

The result of this exploration was the emergence of the commission for Mendi + Keith Obadike to create the soundwork that is FREE/PHASE. You can read more about the final suite and the events and performances here. It is the hope of the CBMR that the original purpose of the project rings out during the live events of April 2015. Our hope is that through the public exposure of the remarkable songs from the CBMR archives, the archives themselves are both activated and strengthened.

The timing of FREE/PHASE is key to its relevance. It is being commissioned in honor of the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, the 50th anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery march and in recognition of the Center for Black Music Research’s 30th anniversary. The CBMR was founded at Columbia College in large part because of energy generated by the Black Arts Movement. The seventies and early eighties were a time of activism by black composers, scholars, educators, practicing artists across disciplines, and their allies, all of whom sought articulation and achievement of freedom dreams with and through the arts—specifically music.

Since 1983 the CBMR has been an institutional manifestation of the intimate connection between freedom, social change, diasporic identity and music. Thirty-plus years later, FREE/PHASE will celebrate and promote that fact, continue to serve as a steward of cultural records of local, national, and international importance, and strive to be an engine of innovative scholarly and artistic work. FREE/PHASE promotes long-standing CBMR values and its mission but rearticulates (or remixes) them for a new generation by powerfully connecting them to contemporary black practice.

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