Tavia Nyong'o

Tavia Nyong’o writes and teaches about performance, popular music, and cultural theory at New York University. His first book, The Amalgamation Waltz, came out in 2009. He is now working on a project about black aesthetics of the untimely.


"Shame and Scandal and Zombies"

This talk begins in the first decade of the twenty first century, when the group Madness releases an album of classic ska and reggae tune to commemorate their beginnings, a quarter of a century prior, as a 2 Tone group covering songs like "Shame and Scandal." It then explores the startling variety of versions of "Shame and Scandal" released in the late 60s and early 70s — by acts ranging from Trinidad's Lord Melody to Jamaica's Wailers, Philadelphia's Stylistics to Dallas's Trini Lopez, New York's Shawn Elliott to Paris's Sacha Distel — a veritable musical itinerary of mid-century black and Caribbean inflected musical genres. The talk traces how "Shame and Scandal" had already proved a durable standard in popular live performance, where entertainers like England's Lance Percival wove topical references into its lyrics on the BBC's That Was the Week That Was.

The heart of the talk, however, is on a Hollywood backlot in the early 40s, where the original version of "Shame and Scandal" was penned and performed by the relocated Calypsonian Sir Lancelot as the theme song for Val Lewton's seminal horror film I Walked With a Zombie (1943). My talk seeks answers to three questions. How did a song about a woman driven either mad or undead resurface decades later as an amusing ditty about bastardy and infidelity in a tropical paradise? How did the fictional island of Saint Sebastian — with its homoerotic patron saint — provide the setting for the subsequent series of racialized musical soundscapes into which "Shame and Scandal" has been set? And what is the relationship between the "frozen dialectic" of black and white musical styles, subcultures, and identities emblematized by both 70s 2 Tone music and 40s cinema noir, on the one hand, and, on the other, the miscegenated brownness that zombie histories of the circum-Atlantic reanimate?

""Do You Want More?" The Time and Space of Alternative Sonic Blackness"

In 1961’s “Your Mama: 12 Moods for Jazz,” Langston Hughes sprawled and stretched his blues across space and time, using the poem as a portal to move from “the quarter of the Negroes” to Leontyne Price on the concert hall stage, from rural blues cultures to bebop cosmopolitan enclaves, from Cuban dance halls to jazz funeral marching bands. Hughes traced an electrifying cartography of diverse black sounds that shaped global cities in distinct and varying ways.

“Do You Want More?” takes up Hughes charge to explore the diversity of black sonic forms emerging from diverse cultural regions. In this roundtable, participants will explore music at a moment when regions are becoming nodes in a global network. The migration of sounds and ideas across time and place encourages synthesis; giving rise to avant garde, radical, and futurist voices. What (other) worlds open up and what (outer)spaces are formed? How do regional sites remix global flows? What factors/forces enable or prohibit certain voices from finding an audience in the national, global or cyber scene? In our celebration of the global reach and range of music today, what ways do we need to recognize the specificity and histories of place? Has globalization rendered urban exchanges subsidiary? How do we reconcile organicism of sound, as musicians produce out of particular worlds, with the reckless and restless ways music circulates?

The roundtable will be moderated by Kyle Dargan, and will begin with paired discussions, taking up these topics for 5-7 minutes each, followed by an open conversation among the panel, and audience participation. Participants will