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Matt Sakakeeny: “’Music Saves Lives’: Implausible Wager/Social Fact”

Free and open to the public.

The cliché "music saved my life" seems readymade for critique and dismissal, but this presentation takes it seriously as a commentary on perilousness and insecurity. After all, if someone pins their hopes on music to provide a livable future, their prospects must be very bad and their faith in music very strong. At an afterschool program in New Orleans, Black students discuss their musical pursuits as a kind of wager: perhaps playing in band can mitigate the hazards of poverty, violence, policing, incarceration, and "apartheid schools" that reinforce racial hierarchies. Because the stakes of the wager are very high, a matter of life and death, this micro-level study of musical activity (rehearsals, performances, etc.) becomes an entry point for evaluating macro-level structures of inequality. Music is not presented as the primary "object" of study within secondary social, cultural, or political settings ("contexts"), but as a symptom that can assist in diagnosing the causes of social ills ("conditions").

Matt Sakakeeny is Associate Professor of Music/Ethnomusicology at Tulane University. His work relates music and sound to structures of inequality, especially anti-Black racism in New Orleans. In his book, "Roll With It: Brass Bands in the Streets of New Orleans," Sakakeeny follows brass band musicians as they march off the streets and into nightclubs, festival grounds, and recording studios. Most recently, he received a grant from the Spencer Foundation for his next book on marching band education in the New Orleans school system.

Sakakeeny's research brings an ethnomusicological perspective to sound studies. Along with David Novak, he edited the reference work "Keywords in Sound," a collection of twenty entries on sound written by leading scholars in the field of sound studies.

Co-sponsored by the Department of Cultural Anthropology.

Contact: Duke Music