Yesterday, I thought I was done talking about the EMP Pop Music Conference. I was back home, back to my routine, sweating my taxes, and even caught up on Battlestar Galactica.
And then I started reading blog posts about the conference.
Chris Estey at the KEXP blog seemed to be pleasantly surprised by the idea elaborated by the American Sabor exhibit -- that Latinos have a deeply rooted influence on American music. He writes about the keynote roundtable:
That was the surprising thing for an affectionate but under-informed neophyte like me — just how diverse these sounds, stories, and songs are that we lump under the flimsy lean-to of “Latin music.”
A newbie, but understandable, reaction. But when he goes on to cover all three and a half days of the conference, he doesn't note a single Latin-themed panel or presentation. Mostly, he covers the brand-name music writers, all of whom are amazing, I'll grant you, but wasn't part of the point to learn about things you don't already know about?
And "rock dean" Bob Christgau writes in NAJP's blog that, as far as the keynote was concerned, Jonathan Lethem "killed it" in 2007 (wasn't there, can't compare), but that the panel of musicians plus curators for American Sabor "wandered" and featured "whiny militance," and damns with faint praise the "warm heartedness" and "almost scholarly" approach of two speakers. "You know how panel discussions are."
Were we at the same event? Granted, the panel was not as full of po-mo snap crackle and pop as I imagine a Lethem presentation might be, but I saw it as an opportunity to cram in a whole new narrative (Latinos are not additive, we've been shaping American music all along) from various (albeit strictly West Coast) perspectives. Plus I get the whole multivocal, multiperspective, multigenerational thing. Even when it's not tight, there is a point to it.
My reaction is that I've heard this before, the notion that our arguments are not as sophisticated, polished, stylish as those made by whites studying brown cultures or those made by African American critic/writers, who always start with an ante of coolness points. OK, you can't beat Greg Tate or Daphne Brooks for tight presentations, but it feels like even unknown folks delving into "Black" topics get more props.
But as I mentioned to a friend yesterday, I'm trying to deal with my anger issues. I mean, I don't live in the Bay Area anymore. I'm not a cheerless PC person who strangles the English language and chokes all enjoyment out of naughty things. I'm not just an angry race warrior. Am I?
The organizers were great at encouraging people to integrate, but I didn't see as much of it as I would have expected at a conference of manageable size (3 and 4 concurrent panels in a single building). Reading these comments, I started to feel like maybe we're still at square one on the very point this year's conference was trying to make, making Latinos visible in a long-time Black-white conversation.
[pix of keynote panelists Shannon Dudley, Robert "El Vez" Lopez, Louie Perez and Michelle Habell-Pallán, and the Plugz's "La Bamba" 45 single cover taken by me at EMP]