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In defense of loud, black summers

Fredara Mareva Hadley

 // Jul 30, 2016

The grills are out. The parks are crowded. The skin is showing and glowing.

Oh yes! We are in the middle of another glorious summer season. One of the best things about this time of year is how loud musical summer can be. There’s no other time of the year where public spaces bloom with activity and music. I see this blooming as an act of community service.

Sure, when kids are blasting Desiigner’s “Panda” at 4 a.m., I’m not happy. But for the most part, I take blasting loud music as a sign of life. It’s a sign that people are feeling good about life and are comfortable in their environment.

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REVOLT Music

I grew up in West Palm Beach, Florida — it was the land where people rode around in cars blasting window-rattling booty bass like Luther Campbell’s “I Wanna Rock.” My parents hated it, but even then, I appreciated the brashness of someone riding around and literally disturbing, what I saw as, the quietly boring days of summer.

That was the 1980s and 1990s.

We were just a decade removed from the birth of hip-hop in the Bronx where innovative DJs played music in the parks and the streets, thus giving kids a nonviolent way to release energy. Everybody wanted to be up on this new music craze and so kids walked the block with their “ghettoblaster” boomboxes, putting the neighborhood up on the latest hip-hop jams or providing the music for the breakdancers and rollerskaters.

The loud music gathers us.

In recent years, organized summer music concerts thrive in northern cities where people look for any reason to stay outside. For we northern dwellers know that winter is coming and will soon have us all back on house arrest.

But even in the steamy South, cities like Houston partner with longstanding local traditions like “slabs and screw music.” Slabs. Those candy-painted, fully tricked-out, shiny cars that look like they were made for summer. Then the slowed down tempo of hip-hop & R&B music made popular by the late DJ Screw is the perfect soundtrack for moving cool through the humid Houston heat.

In these tense times of an uncertain political future, traumatic killings of unarmed Black citizens, and deliberate attacks on law enforcement, we need safe and fun gathering spaces more than ever.

But not everyone understands the positive power of blasting music.

Recently Alex Votaw wrote an article in the New York Daily News complaining about the constant and rowdy sounds of fun in her New York neighborhood. She complained that a young kid was blasting his radio on the street:

"You’re a dck!” I yelled at the kid blasting his portable dancehall speaker on the sidewalk. Meanwhile, the elevated train roared. Two cars bounced with bass. “Dck!”…

Stereo Kid laughed. My middle finger emerged, a gesture I assiduously avoid in my work as a yogi and health educator. But as I walked home with my face on fire, I decided I was done being a noise victim in Inwood…"

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For some of us, living in these lively and music-filled neighborhoods doesn’t make us a “noise victim.” It’s the opposite. Much of what Votaw labels as nuisance is how people audibly mark public space as “theirs.” And to many of us these are the sounds of life and community.

While it’s tempting to dismiss her rant as another newcomer just not understanding the rhythm of her “hood,” her way of thinking is more sinister when we remember that in 2012 a man shot and killed 17-year-old Jordan Davis in the parking lot of a Jacksonville gas station because Davis’ music was “too loud.”

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Revolt

So for all those who believe in the power of music and sunshine to gather and conjure fun, crank that music. And to those who may be newer neighbors, I hope you understand how the following music moments are so necessary for a proper summer:

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REVOLT Music

We need family reunion BBQs where the DJ blasts a predictable, but always enjoyable, set of the Commodores “Brickhouse,” “The Wobble,” and yes, Frankie Beverly and Maze’s “Before I Let Go.”

We need protesters using songs like Janelle Monae’s “Hell You Talmbout” to confront police violence against unarmed citizens while also chanting Kendrick Lamar’s “We gon’ be alright” as an affirmation that we actually will be okay.

We need DJs in the park spinning house like Louie Vega’s “Children of the World” or soul music anthems like Loleatta Holloway’s “Love Sensation” for anyone who feels like they need a dance break.

We need “cars riding by with their boomin’ systems” to give us a snatch of a new summer jam like Anderson.Paak’s “Am I Wrong” or old school Bad Boy hits like Notorious B.I.G.’s “Hypnotize.”

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We need the musicians, especially the drumming circles, to show up in Leimert Park in Los Angeles or Marcus Garvey Park in Harlem to remind us of the African roots of all of these rhythms.

This is my personal sound of summer, which all are welcome to enjoy!

Listen to Fredara's sounds of summer playlist here:

Fredara Mareva Hadley is visiting assistant professor of ethnomusicology at Oberlin College. She specializes in African-American music and popular music.

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