Originally Interviewed by Omi Muhammad for Hip Hop Forum Digital Magazine
Boston University Professor of Music, André de Quadros is a conductor, ethnomusicologist, music educator, and human rights activist has conducted and undertaken research in over forty countries. Professor de Quadros also holds affiliated faculty appointments in other BU departments: the African Studies Center, the Center for the Study of Asia, and the Institute for the Study of Muslim Societies and Civilizations.
In this interview with HHF digital magazine Professor de Quadros talks about his political work in the realm of music education, asking questions about how musicians and music educators can use their work to challenge existing power structures, with a particular focus on his Music in Prisons program and Empowering Song project.
HHF: Thank you so much for agreeing to speak with us at Hip Hop Forum digital magazine, Professor de Quadros. To begin, I saw you have been working with refugees in Sweden, was it a part of one of your programs?
André de Quadros: With Afghan refugees, yes. I teach a conducting course over in Stockholm. As a part of the project, the people I was working with, we went to three different locations; a young women’s prison, the second was a high school with lots of issues of demographics and so on, and the third place was where they would send Afghan teenage boys who were refugees.
HHF: When I had looked at your bio, I’d seen some of the other work that you’re doing so I was actually pretty interested in that, it’s very diverse.
André de Quadros : Well my background is in conflict in different places, my bio is very out of date, I haven’t updated that in over two years but I’ve been doing a lot of work in the Middle East and other places dealing with displaced peoples and incarceration.
HHF: So it sounds like you do a lot of work across the board dealing with people in conflict situations. Can you give us a little bit of a background on your Music in Prisons program and your Empowering Song approach?
André de Quadros : Sure, well we’ve been working, I and three other people that I work most closely with, in two prisons in Boston; one is a men’s prison which is a medium security prison, and the other is the only women’s prison in the state. In both prisons we work as part of a University program that allows students to take a course in music while they are incarcerated. It is offered as a college course.
There is no selection process to be a part of this course, we don’t audition. Some programs only work with people who are going back into the community, we work with a lot of people who are never leaving the prison. In the women’s prison we’ve had relatively smaller groups of ten and twelve and in the men’s groups we work with about twenty-six or so.
With the Empowering Song approach, we believe fundamentally in creating conditions for personal power, personal expression, community transformation; a lot of experimentation and improvisation. I also use Empowering Song approach in the Middle East with refugees, teaching and performing in my own ensembles and so on.
There is no high ground for any particular style of music; in the prisons for example, a lot of the men rap and that becomes part of the work, there’s classical music in there or pop or music of the Muslim World. It’s pretty inclusive, it’s about potentially reconnecting music to the body. We not only reconnect the music as in moving in time with something but we use the body to get inside the text and to portray the text.
Say there is a rap that might have a text about being in prison or missing one’s family, so we might create a series of body pictures that relate to that. So I don’t like calling it theater, I don’t like calling it drama because it’s actually much deeper than that. But it is essentially theater school exercises.
How can the body tell the story, how can the body be part of the story. So there is a lot of story work that we do in the prisons, in other words they write narratives to rapping to writing poetry to writing song text to writing about genres. We have an unrivaled unequaled archive of papers that they’ve produced. There is also a lot of visual art that is produced, we take into the prisons a lot of people that practice visual art to work alongside us.
HHF: So you have found this connection between music and social change; what sparked your desire to do this? What made you think to connect the two in your programs?
André de Quadros : I guess when I was in college in India, I became very influenced by text and books and other writings that talked about asymmetrical relationships of power within societies, within communities, within countries. Oppression is so systemic all over the world; from within a country like the oppression of black people in the United States, to the oppression of whites to the third world through colonization and so on.
So I fell under the spell, if you like, of important writings such as the Pedagogy of the Oppressed (by Paulo Freire) and other associated authors. So I was motivated by that, how can we overturn the existing power dynamic? How can we displace them? How can we interrogate them? And to what extent can I as a musician contribute to displacing power as existed and as it exists? How can we speak truth to power? How can we use this as protest, how can we move the world forward?
I think music has immense power but on the other hand I don’t think we have fully understood its capacity in contemporary society. We see music as something to listen to or something to make, but at its full capacity; it can mobilize a people, console a people, change lives in ways unimaginable for people who are forgotten in society. We allow the forgotten to become consumers but never the makers of music. So in the prisons we have men who have never rapped before, who’ve never sung before, who’ve never written poetry before; now they’re writing, they’re singing, they’re moving, they’re rapping, it’s incredible. Just listening is not enough to experience the power of music as a human being, its more fully realized by active participation.
HHF: If you could send a message to artists specifically or even the community at large, what would you say to them in regards to music and the work that you do?
André de Quadros : I would say it like this, What kind of world do you want to live in? I don’t think anyone is entirely satisfied with the state of the world. I think they’d say, I don’t think we are heading in the right direction. I would say to musicians for example, What kind of a world do you want to live in? How can your art making, or music making change the world and move it into the direction that you want it to go?
HHF: Wow, yea that’s a good question.
André de Quadros : Let’s say I stop someone on the street and ask them a question. If they were to say, I can’t stand all those black people protesting, what are they protesting about? I would say, how can music help you to understand their problems, and how might you seek to build a better world through music? This is not to suggest using music to give voice to your whining or complaining, but how will music help to achieve greater understanding?
And of course I’m giving an opposite example, I’d be very disappointed if someone said why are all those black people protesting. The history of black oppression in this country is not even fully understood if you read a whole lot of the texts on that.
But to someone like that I would say what kind of fair egalitarian, democratic America do you want to live in? How do blacks, whites, Latinos etc. negotiate their world of equality and democracy? And to what extent can your music making contribute to the discussion of a world in which we can all live in? What does that mean to you?
I think all music making has got to be political in the sense of engaging in these difficult discussions. We think about what it might mean to be of a different background and find ourselves the same. Some of it might be protest, nothing is wrong with protest. Music has been a part of protest since the beginning of time. Hip Hop’s origins are in political protest, social protest. You know I’m not an expert on Hip Hop but I’m certainly mindful of it.
HHF: In listening to you talk about music and the creation of it, its almost obvious that your musical journey didn’t start in college. So how far back does it go, do you come from a musical family or culture?
André de Quadros : Interesting question, first off, I’m Indian. I grew up in India, attended university in India and so on. I started learning the violin at the age of four and my mother came from a very musical family as did my father. They were not professional musicians, my mother was an elementary school teacher and my father was a physician.
I grew up before the digital world, there was no television in India, at all. There was no television even when I was a teenager. Some people say yea well we didn’t have a television at home but it’s not the same thing, we didn’t have a television in the country.
So I grew up in a world where it was an acoustic world essentially. There was very little technology in the form of radio or anything. So I grew up in an entirely different acoustic world that some can hardly imagine. People made music as they worked, as they sold things and so on.
HHF: So music was a huge part of the culture.
André de Quadros : Yea but I don’t even like calling it music, because it wasn’t necessarily music as we see it. We talk about beats, we talk about genre, about composers. I’m talking about someone is pulling a rope and they’re chanting. A lot of that wouldn’t even be called music because of vernacular etc. I mean I would call it music but the western music, whether its rap or pop or another genre; its about the piece, the beginning, middle and end, the composers. Those kinds of definitions and parameters of music do not apply in the kind of music that I’m talking about. It was a sonic landscape and an acoustic world in which I grew up in very different from that of the United States.
HHF: Wow, I love that; a sonic landscape and an acoustic world. Are there any final thoughts that you would like to share with our readers before I let you go?
André de Quadros : Nothing that comes to mind, It was a pleasure speaking with you.
HHF: You as well, thank you for taking the time out to sit down with Hip Hop Forum Digital Magazine.
To find out more about André de Quadros and his work, please visit his website at http://www.andredequadros.com/.
This interview was a part of the New Black Writers Program, managed by Hip Hop Forum Digital Magazine, to support, nurture and develop the talents of Black American journalists of the future.
Sometimes, I feel like a broken record that just keeps spinning. I wrote the post below in response to Officer Nero being acquitted in the Freddie Gray case last month. Yesterday, another officer involved in that case was acquitted. How many times must these atrocities occur? How many times must we suffer subsequent injustices? How many times, before we reclaim our humanity?
Originally published on Hip Hop Forum Digital Magazine:
Personal response Article about the Officer Nero judgement, the officer involved in the Freddie Gray trial.
Written by: Omi Muhammad
May 23, 2016 11:13 AM
CBS Alert reads “Baltimore Officer Acquitted in Freddie Gray Case”.
My phone screen goes from red to blue and back to red again. I knew that it was due to a glitch in my filter app but all I saw was the symbolism. I stared at the screen, numb, not shocked just numb; I realized that in the back of my mind I expected this. I absent-mindedly logged onto Facebook where I saw all sorts of different reactions to the verdict. People were outraged and calling for blood. Parents were pleading for possible rioters to be mindful of their children’s safety. Some people agreed with the verdict. I know how I wanted to feel but in all honesty, the pain was too much for me to allow myself to feel at all.
Freddie Gray was another life lost at the hands of justice; and yet, no justice.
Over the years, countless minorities have been abused and even killed by police hands; and yet so few are mentioned. The numbers dwindle even further when asked about justice. The problem isn’t just police brutality or that this one officer was acquitted; the problem is the system that allows it. The system that enacted and later amended the Three Fifths Compromise. Over 150 years later, why are we still fighting to be considered human?
Minorities are taught as children how to survive before we even begin to learn how to live. Imagine being told that you and anyone who looks like you is a target, for anything from a mean look to death. Imagine being told to talk, dress and behave a certain way just so that you don’t arouse any more unwarranted suspicion. Think of the worried glances at the clock when you are late coming home. Tears dripping onto clasped hands as someone prays fervently that you’re one of the ones who makes it. We need a paradigm shift in this country; one that doesn’t create an ideology of selective humanity.
We need to reclaim our humanity. As a human being, I have choice words for the officers and the judge; but that doesn’t bring anyone back or prevent these situations from occurring. It doesn’t help us cope or build for the future. This is why I’m especially proud of the Baltimore youth. They have yet to lose their ability to feel, that was made evident by the explosion of art following the riots. From murals to national slam poems, our youth have been re-establishing their power. To Freddie Gray and all other lives lost, we honor you and will continue to reclaim our humanity.
This article was written as a part of the New Black Writers Program, managed by Hip Hop Forum Digital Magazine, to support, nurture and develop the talents of Black American journalists of the future.
Once upon a time, there was this magically perfect looking woman who would go on to become the standard of beauty. Who died and made her my nana? How the bloody hell is every woman in the world supposed to look the same? That's no fun. As women, although I'm sure some men suffer with this as well, we have a hard time finding things that accentuate us perfectly. Sometimes it's the right shade of makeup and other times it's a good fitting pair of jeans. The point is, it sucks. The weird part is that every woman has this problem. Ummm so the question is, who the hell are they making the clothes for?
The struggle for perfect leads to a lot of societal body shaming. Photo-shopped models are paraded in front of us; as if to look different from them is to be ugly. Don't hate them, trust me, they don't have it any better. Women have a hard enough time being objectified in society without being torn down for the parts that don't appeal to preferences. I know from personal experience that not finding clothes that fit takes a toll on a person's confidence. Let me walk you through pants shopping. I am 5'5 (and ¾ thank you very much), have muscular thighs and calves, and a waist-hip measurement of 26-40. They don't make jeans for me. I'm thoroughly convinced. I always rip the jeans in the thigh, or have to wear spanx, or have that horrid back gap. All this providing I can get them over my calves, skinny jeans are clearly a no go. I tend to wear loose “mom” jeans or stretchy pants and I have THE deepest disdain for shopping. This is just one example, imagine all the stories out there. This societal body shaming is having an even bigger impact on the younger generation and their self-esteem. Where is our perfect fit? Ain't I a woman?
I don't know about you guys but I'm sick of trying to conform to what someone else says a woman looks like. I personally applaud Alicia Keys for publicly going without makeup but this is bigger than that. Now to clarify, especially for the men, make up doesn't necessarily mean a lack of self confidence; most women wear it when they want to, because they want to. So ladies, wear that vibrant shade of green lipstick, contour your face, or rock your blistex. Shop for your personal style and fit; be it trendy or practical. Slay honey, the way only you can. Fellas, this goes for you too; be your own beauty standard.
Until next week,
I love you!! Don't forget to Spread Your Awesomeness!!
-Omi M the Urban Gypsy
Everyone that “makes it" has to have a recipe for success right? To further the recipe analogy; the majority of the time, the ingredients for your personal success are already in your cupboard.
I found mine while cooking and getting swarmed by termites. I was preparing dinner when I saw a something fly by out of the corner of my eye. Now it was mid- March and I didn't have any fruit or anything out on the counters, so fruit flies didn't make sense. Something tells me to look up, so I did. There were these flying things all over my darn kitchen and into my hallways! Chile, I ain't know what to do, but I knew it had to be something and fast! The first thing I did was secure the food. I'd been standing over this stove for a minute, there was no way I was letting those things ruin my food. I was truly grateful for the people around me, because amidst a bit of colorful language they sprang into action. I immediately asked one to run downstairs to my studio, grab a spray bottle and make a bleach and water solution to kill them. Meanwhile my other friend picks up the thickest envelope he could find, you know those unsolicited credit card offers, and starts whacking the termites. So amidst the spraying and whacking, I was trying to figure out where they were coming from. I was 99.9% sure that I wasn't crazy and that these things were termites. Initially we thought they came from the kitchen door, but their swarm was denser by the kitchen window. After we managed to fight off the first wave, I knew I didn't want to see a second. I knew for damn sure I didn't want to deal with them all weekend so I needed to buy some time until the exterminator could come out. Now I knew I had to notify my landlord and all that but he lives in Jersey; so clearly he wasn't my first priority. I remember thinking, I have got to plug these holes but for the life of me couldn't figure out where my caulk was. It turns out I had run out. At that point, the guy in charge of spraying is finally catching his breath,spray bottle in hand. The one in charge of whacking is guarding me, envelope raised and ready to go. I was standing there looking like somebody's grandma, apron and all, inspecting and investigating the window frame when I got a brilliant idea. I decided to use my hot glue gun instead of caulk! My friends, of course found it hilarious. My landlord and the exterminator found it innovative. My mother and my sisters, found it practical but lacking a certain sparkle. They thought I should have added glitter but I was out of that too. I simply found that it worked.
So far, 2016 has been a very unpredictable, rewarding, trying and productive time for me. The more conscious we are of our growth, the more we tend to hesitate and question ourselves. I didn't have time to hesitate when being swarmed by termites while cooking. I had to follow my intuition which ended up leading me right to what I needed when I needed it. What's in your cupboard?
Until next week,
I love you!! Don't forget to Spread Your Awesomeness!!
-Omi M the Urban Gypsy
I've been talking about getting back into blogging for a while now, and I'm constantly being asked why? With everything that you are doing right now, why add something else? There are millions of people blogging, what do you think you will get out of it? The list of questions goes on and on, here's to answering a few of them. I'm starting, or rather re-starting, this blog for my artistic sanity.
I'm a full- time Artisan; this means that I spend more than forty hours a week, my average is around sixty, creating. I paint, dance, write, sew, build, make jewelry, garden... you get the picture. I live art. Seems like the perfect life right? I promise you I feel like I'm always on the verge of going insane yet I wouldn't trade it for the world. Most people turn to art as their outlet and stress reliever from the real world; but what do you do if the art life is your real world?
There is a stigma that artists are super beings; let me be the first to tell you that I identify as human, thank you very much. I worry about bills, friendships, relationships, and my next splurge purchase just as much as the next person. I also worry about maintaining my mental health as I navigate my path in life. I just want to be happy. Although I'm living my purpose, I still have my good days and my bad days. What can I do to make the bad days at least a tad a bit better?
Hey guys, guess what? Omi's starting a blog called A Day in the Life of an Urban Gypsy!! This blog will read like a journal however I'll leave it public; one of my biggest personal struggles is vulnerability. Life has taught me however, that our struggles are not ours alone; hopefully someone, even if its one person, benefits from hearing about my experiences. May you draw reassurance and encouragement as needed. I personally hope to grow into a better writer and a better person from this experience. This blog will mirror my life, hence the name, and be a combination of all of my loves; art, community, comics, anime, food, travel, spirituality etc. Climb aboard the caravan or grab a broomstick if you prefer, let's take a little trip together; where we end up, Creator alone knows!!
Until next week,
I love you!! Don't forget to Spread Your Awesomeness!!
-Omi M the Urban Gypsy