“A picture of great desolation presented itself. There were plaintive litanies of woe from residents and the scene of a community under tightly restricted freedom of movement.”
-Office of the Public Defender [Earl Witter, QC], Kingston, Jamaica (April 29, 2013)[1]

“On Antiphon Island they lowered
the bar and we bent back. It

wasn’t limbo we were in albeit
we limbo’d.”
-Nathaniel Mackey, “On Antiphon Island,” Splay Anthem (2006)[2]


There is something affronting about the way in which black subjects embody the protean habits of diaspora, something affronting to those forces for whom rigid singularity appears to secure power. Militaristic incursion into complicated black cities, in the guise of post-disaster relief, or law and order imperatives, mimics this vision of singular, invasive force. Yet the violent impinging upon spaces that are by their nature diffuse, multi-sited, and complex, is matched by forms of music and dance that elude and rebuke repressive power. For in west Kingston and also in New Orleans, people’s practices of their bodies and the space around them enact forms of ritual enhancement—principles of multiplicity, of spatial and temporal expansion—that bear witness to the circumscriptions that gave rise to diaspora, as well as to diaspora’s ability to survive in movement.

For Nathaniel Mackey, who has theorized and has written poems about diaspora as sound and as kinesis, antiphony (in the form of call and response) and dance (in the form, paradigmatically, of the limbo) are signifiers of the elusive movements of the black body when placed in situations of apparently impossible restriction. Inspired by Mackey to think diaspora through sound and movement at once, to be interested, in particular, in diasporic articulations that evince “a rickety fit of parts,” and to see contemporary black aesthetic practices in spatial-temporal relations with longer histories of violence, I cite his collection of poems Splay Anthem in the title of this essay.[3] That work, including the poem “On Antiphon Island” to which I gesture in my epigraph, converses with ideas Mackey has been articulating over decades. I will indicate some of these articulations, though this essay covers ground more in tight, invaded urban spaces than in the vast spatialities of Mackey’s imaginary. The limbo dancer on Antiphon Island, however, is a powerful type for me. Her physical abilities, exemplified here in the movements of the bounce twerker or the dancehall street reveler, suggest how a subject might be fractured, might fracture itself, and how that splitting might also be a splaying—a gangly reach of the limbs across space that makes the body wide and expansive, reaching well beyond the containments being forced upon it. Antiphon Island is a geography of circumscribed political dimensions reminiscent of the United States or of certain nations in the Caribbean (“they lowered the bar”), a place where these strictures, taking on spatial dimensions, impel black innovation. On Antiphon Island, Mackey’s dancers get low, their backs hitting the ground, so that they must then observe the sky—the imposition of a rigid limit necessitating an expansive vision. “Ambushed” by the strictures of inverted planes—“the ground a fallen/wall”—Antiphon Island’s dancers survive in negation. A geography in which blackness does not withstand does not exist: “Where we were, not-/ withstanding, wasn’t there.”[4] Read grammatically rather than rhythmically that line means something else—in apposition, not opposition: the inhabitants of Antiphon Island have also found a way not to be where they are. Their exertions place them, psychically or otherwise, elsewhere.

Mackey’s work allows me to think diaspora through sound, words, and movement at once; and to see contemporary black aesthetic practices in spatial-temporal relations with longer histories of violence. In Antiphon Island’s limbo dancer—crooked limbs, endless cramped movement, horizon view, negation as survival—I find the resources to read the contemporary diasporic subject as she dances a very particular dance.

In what follows I will describe Kingston and New Orleans as cities that share uncannily similar recent histories of curtailment, as well as uncannily similar electronic music and dance cultures produced in those very spaces of curtailment. And whilst I will spend more time describing New Orleans’ bounce music’s innovations—Kingston’s dancehall music having received far more extensive treatment already—I think that laying these cultures and these spaces alongside each other demonstrates how their aesthetics draw from, comment on, reproduce, and exceed the shared histories of circumscription to which areas of both cities have been subject.[5]

Some of the most potent examples of diasporic cultural innovation I read in Kingston and in New Orleans are performed by queer and female subjects—which is to say, by bodies that have, like the city spaces in which they reside, been read as problematically hybrid, out-of-step, and available for violent incursion. I close, therefore, by focusing on queer and trans New Orleans bounce performers whose work to indicate the spatial politics of post-Katrina black New Orleans is aligned with the queer politics of their embodied performances.


For several days in May 2010 the Tivoli Gardens neighborhood in west Kingston, Jamaica was blockaded and under siege. The U.S. government had issued extradition orders for Tivoli’s notorious drug don, or gang leader, Christopher “Dudus” Coke, to face trafficking and racketeering charges in the United States, orders which Prime Minister Bruce Golding announced he would finally be enacting after almost a year of delay. Golding, after all, was the MP for the constituency that included Tivoli Gardens. It was politically very difficult to move against the figure whom the people of Tivoli considered their leader—in fact, one of Christopher Coke’s several informal appellations was “President.” Once the extradition orders were announced, on May 17, 2010, it was clear that the community planned to support Coke. A group of women marchers, dressed in white and carrying placards (“Next to Jesus Dudus!”) marched in downtown Kingston; the borders of Tivoli Gardens were cordoned off and people battened down for police and military intervention.[6] There were attacks against two police stations. These actions were interpreted by Bruce Golding in a television address to the nation on May 23rd as “a calculated assault on the authority of the State that cannot be tolerated and will not be allowed to continue.”[7] Thereby, a State of Emergency was declared. What followed in Tivoli Gardens has been described variously as a “massacre,” (by the U.S. journalist Mattathias Schwartz, for instance) and, evocatively, as an “incursion” (by the government’s own Interim Report). In a telling throwback to Jamaican bureaucratic understatement, the Parliamentary Commission of Enquiry currently being conducted refers merely to “the events.”[8]

And so, with a U.S. airplane apparently filming proceedings, the events proceeded.[9] The Jamaican government entitled police and military to storm the blockaded area of the community and, according to news reporting and the subsequent Interim Report produced by the Government’s Public Defender Earl Witter, there were claims of civilian killings by security forces.[10] We learn several things in that Interim Report that are relevant here. For one, it seems that the armed forces were determined to take over Tivoli, perhaps to create what Witter describes, in the wake of Coke’s extradition, as “a space for renascent agents of law enforcement where previously many of them feared to tread.”[11] Tellingly, the so-called Presidential Click from which Coke ran his operation, was set up as a police outpost in the aftermath of the events.[12] The armed forces were charged with finding Dudus by all means necessary: firebombing the streets;[13] targeting all the young men who were assumed to be affiliated with Dudus’s operations;[14] rampantly destroying property.

Though Witter notes for the record that he believes the State of Emergency was justified by the situation surrounding the Coke extradition order, he seems exercised in particular by one provision of the law: its restrictions on freedom of movement.[15] Indeed, the very first thing he notes upon visiting Tivoli Gardens on May 25, 2010, reflects this concern: “There were plaintive litanies of woe from residents,” Witter writes, “and the scene of a community under tightly restricted freedom of movement.”[16] Witter also notes that detainees—eventually numbering over a thousand according to the Report—were being “processed” first in the complex of the former Seprod soap company, and then in the National Arena: “detainees (mainly men of mature years) were found housed in a large old zinc-roofed warehouse. Younger detainees were tightly bunched up behind a fence of razor wire, many kneeling in gravel…There were no sanitary conveniences.”[17] In a section on the outside area of Tivoli Gardens proper, a section he identifies as “Rasta City,” people who had not been able to venture out for the three days since the lockdown were granted leave for some limited movement upon his request.[18]

Witter’s descriptions of Tivoli Gardens during that tour three days after the State of Emergency declaration are like war reporting:

There were burnt-out houses and apartments and unmistakable signs of the explosion of incendiary devices, described by residents as “bombs.” There were many blood-spattered interior concrete walls and floors and aluminium windows shot out or riddled with bullet holes indicating inward heavy weapon fire. Exterior walls of buildings also, bore physical indicia of high-powered weapon fire. Frightened and traumatized residents (children, women and aging men but mainly women) cowered in fear. Dwellings had been thoroughly ransacked. Furniture, electric and electronic appliances and equipment had been dismantled, destroyed or damaged. Members of the Security Forces (closely deployed everywhere) kept guard at the ground floor entrances or lobbies of tower blocks. Residents were confined to the interior of apartments or houses.[19]

One Tivoli footballer—the footballers, famous and elegant movers, apparently had privileged warning to leave the area for unspecified places of refuge—reported evacuating to safety with his sister in St. Catherine, only to return to his home and find his belongings ransacked and carelessly strewn outdoors: “the whole of my clothes thrown down on the ground, my door mash up and the glass them break out.”[20] There were several striking details like this—a washing machine shot through with gunfire, for instance; or hair products smashed and mixed with grout—indicating that the security forces were after something more than the strict recovery of weapons and the apprehension of a drug don.[21]

In the end Coke was caught and extradited, and he is currently serving two decades in a U.S. federal prison on racketeering charges. But the Incursion of May 2010 has defined the community of Tivoli Gardens in this era, adding another layer to its varied histories of improvisation, complicity, and survival, and describing a space of radical circumscription and state intervention.

There are several ways to read the violence to which the residents of Tivoli Gardens have been subject in this most recent incursion, and, indeed, in the fifty years since its official founding. I want to be careful to establish the reading I am doing here is specific and one of several. For in suggesting that the Incursion of 2010 is one example, in a history of examples, in which state violence sets itself against cultures of diasporic multifariousness, I do not want to forget that residents of Tivoli have also been subject to violence from within. Coke ruled Tivoli without question. And whatever complicity functioned between his cartel and the Jamaican government, residents of Tivoli were subject to centralized power in the figure of their don, in a way that is different from the subjection they faced when the government took over, but which was just as problematic. This is not an uncomplicated situation of state versus community: the drug cartel committed its share of extra-judicial killing and terror, too. But the 2010 events provide an occasion to think about the symbolic register of state power when it opposes itself to people habituated to improvising. And it provides a moment for me think through the continued afterlives of diasporic survival and cultural thriving in the midst of sustained injustice and violence.

The neighborhood of Tivoli Gardens had itself been forged out of the destruction of an improvised urban community, Back-a-Wall. Massive influx from rural areas of Jamaica to the city center defined the first half of the twentieth century. When, in the wake of this migration, the need for more housing arose, communities like Back-a-Wall, on the western edge of Kingston, were improvised in the absence of government help. Back-a-Wall was a community with its own standing, even if it did exist outside of the boundaries of city infrastructures, and literally on top of a garbage dump. When “government intervention” came, with all its glorious ambivalence, Back-a-Wall was razed, the community displaced, and a new neighborhood, Tivoli Gardens, erected under the leadership of then-MP (and soon to be Prime Minister) Edward Seaga.[22] The eradication of one community in order to create another was only one of the grim ironies of this putative space-making gesture. Another was that the neighborhood erected on principles of modernist urban planning—mixed-use self-sufficiency—created the conditions for the cloistered, autonomous, and gang-directed enclave, the so-called “garrison,” it would become.[23] The rationalist postcolonial dream promised by Seaga readjusted itself rather quickly, once all the complicity had been brokered, so that Tivoli was soon in effect governed by a drug don, tightly controlled and also, strangely, spacious in ways that were paradoxical and painful in that residents of Tivoli had access to certain amenities, so long as they confined their allegiance to the don.

It was under the leadership of Coke Junior—Dudus—during the early- to mid-2000s, that Tivoli became world-famous in a reggae context. For it was then, in the middle of a swathe of Spanish Town Road that cut through Tivoli Gardens, that the dancehall “street party” known as Passa Passa thrived. At Passa Passa, the black body’s intersection with the urban landscape was one of enormous wit and agency. Women danced on cornershop rafters; extremely fabulous men made a stage of the streets. The Passa Passa street dance was an extravagant instance of spatial reclamation, of subaltern subjects in the city transforming its infrastructure for their own purposes—a road becomes theater, a sidewalk a parking lot. The party’s temporality—occurring in the middle of the week, beginning in the wee hours and ending when the sun was high and work commutes had begun—was a rebuke to capitalist time.[24] Passa Passa was only one of a number of street parties that thrived during the early 2000s, but it was arguably the most famous.[25] And it was part of a trend during this period that returned dancehall culture to its origins precisely in spaces, in a context, geared towards movement. The dancers were going to decide what it meant to be “productive,” in defiance of post-IMF, post-structural adjustment, indeed post-Emancipation imperatives on the laboring body.[26]

Critics have long theorized popular Caribbean cultures in light of ideas about ritual, a consideration which, in the context of former plantation societies, also become reflections on cultural practices as embodied social memory. Wilson Harris’s classic essay “History, Fable, and Myth” (1970), for instance, argues that the rupture of the Middle Passage might be read as “an opportune deprivation or dispossession.”[27] The limbo dance, Harris writes, which was created by slaves on the Middle Passage ship decks, becomes an embodied symbol of the first practice of diaspora art. The dance movement signals the cruelty of the cramped quarters below deck in the slave holds and signals as well slaves’ survival: the mental, affective, and bodily practices by which unimaginable cruelty is survived through creative circumvention, dynamic invention, and subterfuge. The slave body’s enactment of the liminal passage from Old to New World is also an enactment of dismemberment. Harris writes: “The limbo dance becomes the human gateway which dislocates (and therefore begins to free itself from) a uniform chain of miles across the Atlantic. . . . [It] therefore implies, I believe, a profound art of compensation which seeks to re-play a dismemberment of tribes . . . and at the same time a curious psychic re-assembly of the parts of the dead god or gods.”[28] Those dead gods—not dead really, but reborn (see, for instance, Wole Soyinka’s erudite reading of the remaking of the orisha in the western hemisphere in his essay “The Fourth Stage”)—inspire the creative imagination in which history’s losses are transformed into “resourceful acts of bricolage.”[29]

Harris’s emphasis is on the broken line of the limbo dancer—not the smooth, snake-like rhythm we associate with the touristic version of the dance, but a far more uncanny and fractured thing. For the fragmented lines of the dancehall dancer, or the quick-fire isolations of the New Orleans twerker, may ultimately achieve a state of grace—but it is that sense of rapture achieved not through the coalescing of movement into uniformity, but something exactly its opposite. This is the diffusion of different polarities of energy into splayed outworking, suggesting a body that retains integrity by stretching far beyond what seems possible. Indeed, making the connection from Wilson Harris’s reading of the slave limbo dance to the contemporary situation in Kingston quite specific, the Jamaican geographer and cultural critic Sonjah Stanley-Niaah points out that there was a popular dancehall dance move in the 1990s called, precisely, the limbo. With its undulating, thrown back shoulder movement, Stanley-Niaah argues, the 90’s limbo called back to slave history and reflected upon the new confinements of dense and neglected neighborhoods in which dancehall cultures were continuing to be remade.[30]

Another way in which ritual has emerged as a mode through which to analyze black popular forms is through spirit possession. Spirit possession in black diasporic religious and cultural practices is, amongst many things, a powerful mode of embodiment. It involves radically intimate and paradoxically freeing experiences of the body; sometimes agonistic relationships to powerful and unpredictable spirits; an extremely untethered relationship to normative time; and gendered expressions that can be incorporated into expansive discourses of queerness.[31] Under a spirit’s possession, a person belongs neither to oneself strictly, nor to any one particular moment or place in time. Rather, for an eternal moment, a moment during which nothing but paradox reigns, a subject may be both here and there; may be, or rather will of necessity be, at once in the current moment, wherein she can be perceived by others, and in another time altogether, perceived only minimally. She will be in place—perhaps spinning—but another part of her will float above that place in a way that enables a perception of expansiveness and reach.

If the diasporic subject is an uneasy fit within a nation, then to be diasporic is at least also to have access to this other way of being—at large in the world, possessed of its enchantments and alive to its temporal creases; audacious about the possibilities for attachments to multiple, far-flung sources of inspiration. To watch subjects performing this mode of being in the world, to read writers such as Nathaniel Mackey enact it in prose and poetry, is not to believe that this way of being is easy. But it is to begin to imagine that this way of being is possible. It is to know, indeed, that this is already happening. When Mackey takes up the trope of diasporic possession it is through the Yoruba orisha Legba, a deity who is often figured as limping. Mackey fixates on the idea of Legba’s limp as a sign of diasporic fragmentation. But he presses into this idea, to move through the notion of an unevenness or disjuncture that produces a haunted “step,” toward something like the splitting or division that occurs when a figure is pierced through. Legba is enormously important in Yoruba-based religions, and it is not happenstance that Mackey holds on to him. It is Legba, of all the gods, whom we find at every turn in New World African spirituality—in vodou, Candomble, Santeria.[32] But in Mackey’s reading, Legba is dizzyingly portable, almost to the point of becoming unrecognizable. His name like a wishbone that can be cleanly split, easily cast in one direction and another. He is, Mackey writes in his essay “Sound and Sentiment, Sound and Symbol,” “The master of polyrhythmicity and heterogeneity, [suffering] not from deformity but multiformity, [which is] a ‘defective’ capacity in a homogeneous order given over to uniform rule.”[33] Re-invisioning Legba’s limp, from ungraceful to syncopated, the broken line of the splayed limb offers “anomalous, unpredictable support.”[34]

The anthropologist Judy Rosenthal has noted of ecstatic rituals in the Gorovodu religion of West Africa that the initiate in possession is considered a “wife” of the spirit, and that this language of eros and partnership is in harmony with the lavish qualities of the dance the spirit instills.[35] (Parenthetically I would note that the practice of spirit “mounting” in Haitian vodou is similarly sexual, whilst also confounding normative ideas of gender by placing the possessed vodouisant in an open, receptive relation to the spirit, regardless of his or her embodiment and identity in the “real world.”) In Gorovodu, the possessed celebrant is granted superlative subjectivity—endowed with features not his or her own, with expansive physical characteristics, thought to house in his or her own body an entirely separate consciousness. And then again, she or he has, in a very profound sense, diminished subjectivity, since his or her agency is radically in flux, if not almost entirely relinquished. The spirit decides when to come; the spirit guides the dance. This combination of surplus and loss Rosenthal reads in light of jouissance: the empowerment and diminishment of erotic ecstasy. Though the dance in Gorovudo, as Rosenthal describes it, has more graceful lines than the splay of Mackey’s Legba, these accounts of diasporic spirituality both describe conjoined endowment and lack. For Mackey, the phantom limb generating Legba’s syncopated step across the diaspora is the result of the severed kinship. In Gorovudo, people defined by denigration and deprivation return bearing gifts.

The forms of black embodiment and spatial claim I read in Passa Passa align with Mackey’s investment in the broken or syncopated kinetic line as a signal of diasporic accommodation and expansion. What I find there in Passa Passa, too, in the body’s ungainly reach for car tops and around bus middles is a will, fueled by sometimes unspecified sources, to expand far beyond any locatable place where anything other than the spirit can catch you.


Several of the features of the immediate post-Katrina landscape of New Orleans have a chilling similarity to the landscape of Tivoli in May 2010. Certainly, the use of the state mechanism of the “State of Emergency,” which in both the Jamaican and the Louisiana cases implied the abrogation of human rights. The chilling cordoning off of people into places “for their safety”—the “processing” of men and women from Tivoli in Jamaica’s National Arena echoes the horror of Superdome and the Convention Center in New Orleans. Extra-judicial killings by security forces have also been investigated in the post-Katrina landscape of New Orleans, most prominently the case of the Danzinger Bridge Shootings and the murder of Henry Glover. Both cases were investigated by journalists, most prominently the ProPublica writer A. C. Thompson, well before they were looked into by New Orleans or Federal authorities. In the former case, four police officers were convicted of shooting six unarmed residents as they walked across the bridge to find groceries. Two were killed. A fifth officer was convicted of covering up evidence.[36] And it was Thompson who uncovered the macabre events surrounding the Henry Glover case: Glover and his friends were targeted by police as they “looted”—which is to say, searched for baby clothes—in the parking lot of a mall. Glover was killed and his friends were beaten as they attempted to get him help.[37] One New Orleans police officer was convicted of shooting Glover, one of burning his body (the charred remains of which were discovered in an immolated car), and a third of covering up evidence. Two other officers were charged, but not convicted, of assaulting Glover’s friends. (Most of these convictions have now been overturned on various procedural grounds. As we have seen in recent grand jury cases involving police officers and black victims, charges and convictions against officers are not often upheld.)[38]

Katrina survivors reported sniper fire—whether from vigilantes or security forces, it was often not clear.[39] There were narratives about citizens too wed to their cities, and too under-resourced to leave; there was the descent of the national forces into a zone perceived on all sides to have a striking hyper-localism and autonomy—for all these reasons and more, there are terrifying echoes between Kingston and New Orleans under state duress.

New Orleans was subject to a style of militarized incursion that might have been unexpected under the guises of “recovery” and “aid” in the wake of a horrifying disaster. And by “incursion” here, I don’t just mean then-Governor Kathleen Blanco’s rhetoric a week after Katrina made landfall, her chilling assertion that the National Guard “have M-16s and they are locked and loaded…These troops know how to shoot and kill, and they are more than willing to do so if necessary, and I expect they will.”[40] And I do not just mean the arrival of military subcontractors into New Orleans in the wake of the storm—Blackwater Security, Wackenhut, and an Israeli company called Instinctive Shooting International, for example—subcontractors which, as detailed by the journalist Jeremy Scahill and by scholars such as Vinceanne Adams, performed the work of the U.S. Federal government, at very high profits, to impose a show of armed force in the city, whilst doing not much else—certainly nothing to help sick, dying, and displaced residents.[41] Scahill published an article in The Nation six weeks after the storm that evoked the potent image of Blackwater forces speeding in unlicensed vehicles through the streets of the French Quarter, installing themselves in an evacuated apartment they had cleared of the absent resident’s personal belongings, and draping the American flag from the apartment’s balcony. Blackwater was here, these actions seemed to be pronouncing. And Vinceanne Adams notes in her study of the privatization of relief and post-disaster reconstruction in New Orleans, Markets of Sorrow, Labors of Faith that,

A mere two days after the hurricane made landfall, even before it actually arrived in New Orleans, Blackwater advertised that it was helping with the Gulf Coast relief effort through airlift services, security, and crowd control. And what kind of help was it, actually? Armed men had hit the streets of New Orleans in armored cars, patrolling with machine guns and no official explanation as to who they were and why they were there. Innocent people wandering the streets and trying to find food, transport, or medical assistance were met with harassment, terror, and, in some cases, incarceration instead of help.[42]

This mode of aggressive and privatized security descending into a city is, of course, a stark image of incursion. But there are other ways of fleshing that term out. The case of what has happened to public housing in the wake of Katrina is one important example, and it will get us to New Orleans music that reminds me potently of Jamaican dancehall, a resonance that first urged me to begin this essay.

It is worth explaining by way of background that over the last twenty years there had been sustained efforts by developers and legislators to do away with New Orleans public housing, which began going up in the late 1930s and expanded throughout the ‘50s and ‘60s so that at the moment right before Katrina around 5,000 families, all low-income and 99% black, lived in there.[43] Katrina became, chillingly, a context to speed up a process that had already begun. Indeed, the intentions to wed storm “recovery” to public housing demolition were often claimed unabashedly. The anthropologist George Lipsitz noted a few months after the storm, in a quote that would circulate and reverberate in scholarship for years to come, a gleeful declaration by the Republican Congressman Richard Baker that went: “We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans. We couldn't do it, but God did.”[44]

Baker’s off-hand remark elides a few basic facts—that the majority of the devastation in New Orleans occurred because of levee breaks and flooding, for instance, and not the storm itself, making the disaster largely “man-made” not natural (which is presumably what he meant when he invoked something like divine order). Baker also does not seem to recognize that public housing stock actually survived Katrina relatively well. But then, his quote is extremely illuminating, separate from its frank insult, precisely because of these elisions. It demonstrates the way Katrina could be seen as producing in the city of New Orleans a tabula rasa, conceptually at least, even in those places where the storm did not literally flatten communities.

The journalist and activist Jordan Flaherty tells this story vividly in his book Floodlines. Public housing became a key issue for progressive activism because, in the midst of almost unimaginable devastation—80% of all buildings in New Orleans had flooded; ¼ of the residences were still not habitable five years later—most of the public housing projects had actually withstood the storm and the levee breach. Often on high ground and built of sturdy concrete, New Orleans’ public housing complexes did not take on the extensive water or wind damage of many of the smaller, wooden homes in the most devastated neighborhoods. Nevertheless, a collaboration between the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and New Orleans City Council decreed them uninhabitable. The discourses supporting demolition cited storm damage, but more to the point, they cited long decades of business interest and middle-class complaint about the existence of public housing in the first place—objections to these residences as places where crime could “spill over” to more privileged parts of the city, and highly racialized and familiar imagery of the people who lived in public housing as “welfare queens” and freeloaders who would not work.[45]

The Iberville projects were the nearest to the French Quarter and so had always come in for a particularly heightened form of racial alarm, and commercial opportunism.[46] Iberville did finally come down in 2013—the last of the traditional housing projects to go. The Desire project in the 9th Ward had come down in 2003, as had the Melpomene (formally known as Guste). The St. Thomas complex was the site of a huge fight for preservation, but it was also brought down and redeveloped as a Wal-Mart and a substantially smaller “mixed-income” neighborhood called River Garden in 2001. But it was the demolition in the aftermath of Katrina of the so-called Big Four—the largest and most iconic of New Orleans public housing, that came in for the most attention. These were Lafitte, St. Bernard, B. W. Cooper (aka the Calliope), and CJ Peete (aka Magnolia). All of these projects, as Flaherty documents and as housing activists argued during the prolonged fights to save them, have unique cultural claims both for the black residents who grew up in them, and for black New Orleanians who identified with them even if they did not live there. Hip hop artists name-check the projects constantly, and a uniquely New Orleans’ refrain-question—“Where y’at?!—can be found wed to public housing geographies in any number of bounce music choruses. Referring to the Melpomene project where she was born, for instance, bounce star Katey Red has a song title with the project’s nickname: “Whey da Melph At?”—I’ll discuss this song more in a moment. The late great bounce artist Magnolia Shorty named herself after her project. Indeed, the Magnolia complex was the provenance of many hip hop artists including Soulja Slim and Jay Electronica, as well as those like Juvenile who ended up on the Cash Money label, a label strongly associated with the complex and made world-famous by New Orleans’ own Lil Wayne. Meanwhile the Calliope projects became associated with artists on the rival No Limit label: its impresario Master P was from there. And St. Bernard had been home to one of the inventors of the bounce sound itself: DJ Irv.

By way of brief summary of the origins of this sound, I will fist cite Matt Miller, the ethnomusicologist who has written a monograph called Bounce: Rap Music and Local Identity in New Orleans.[47] As Miller recounts, this spare, dance-ready form of hip hop, marked by repetitions and antiphony so intense that the music manages to be simultaneously recursive and propulsive—was created in New Orleans from a mix of two apparently inapposite sources. One line, a tinny, electro-xylophone pattern known as the Triggerman, was ripped from a failed hit by the New York rap duo The Showboys’ non-hit “Drag Rap.” New Orleans’ artists MC T Tucker and DJ Irv’s “Where Dey At?”(1992) took the Triggerman sample and mixed it with Brown’s Beat, a club sound born in San Francisco and cousin to the Latin-influenced ‘80s pop form known as freestyle. Mixing these two sources in multiple ways created a strangely spacious and flexible form—and “Where Dey At?” establishes the framework for a genre that would work within extremely restrained conventions and, from within that very sense of aesthetic confinement, create a feeling of awesome overwhelm.

DJ Irv was shot to death in 2001. In 2009 his nephew, a high school student named Kenneth Phillips, wrote a book about growing up in the St. Bernard project before and after Katrina. Part of the Neighborhood Story Project, Phillips’ book, titled Signed, the President, is a powerful mix of youth memoir, family interview, and community oral history. Despite his youth, Phillips’ narrative voice is strong and clear, and the collage effect of the piece—incorporating photographs, transcripts, and brief essays—works remarkably well to present teenage memory. Almost to the end, the young author interviews his aunt Loren, DJ Irv’s sister, who recalls:

In the St. Bernard, I remember they used to DJ from the balconies, and people would come out for block party in the courtyard. And Irvin was one of those DJs. He was one of the first to sample other kinds of music besides hip-hop. He would fuse the two. Actually, I have a picture of him right before he was killed; he was DJing in the courtyard.[48]

What Loren and Kenneth help to make clear is that the public housing that had been home to three generations of their family was also inseparable from the origins of bounce music. She goes on to remember Irv himself sampling the Showboys’ beat at DJ gigs in other parts of New Orleans:

I would drop him off on Fridays at a place called Ghost Town in Hollygrove where he DJ’d. He just started this thing where he sampled the Showboys’ beat (what they call the Triggerman now) and put it with Brown’s beat. And this guy named MC TT Tucker jumped on the stage when he heard Irvin mixing the two and started chanting. The audience went crazy and that became like a ritual….They recorded that song, “Where Dey At” in one take. Irvin was actually DJing during the recording.[49]

Kenneth and Loren provide a glimpse of the intimacy between the musical form and the physical and community space that was ultimately razed. Every space has a story and not every story can be preserved in space. But the vision of post-Katrina housing that emerged in the reporting and scholarship I have cited had no room at all even for acknowledging the cultural forms that had been created in the housing communities that were only now conveniently being labeled uninhabitable. (For when murder and mold troubled the residents and activists, very little was done to alleviate the problems.) The plan, instead, was a radical, problematically hygienic vision. The public housing buildings would be destroyed to “clear space” and re-build more “modern” and “mixed” residences—which is to say, privately owned and rented, and no longer under the aegis of public welfare.

“Mixed income” is often a code for moving a mass of poor people out and allowing more desirable middle-class tenants in to alter the class and cultural character of a neighborhood. Post-Katrina public housing did not reflect a vision for a new notion of public space. This conceptual ground clearance was not the opportunity to radically re-think the meaning and possibilities of a spatial public, one that took into mind the things that had been invented by poor people in these projects—bounce music; the radical innovation and politics of the Black Panthers, who organized health care, food, and education in projects like Desire; the barter economies that emerged in all of the projects, where people took care of themselves and each other on terms of equality and reciprocity; community policing; robust and sturdy alternative kinship structures; beauty out of the anodyne, the basic, and the unprepossessing; friendship. None of the political or commercial interests had any vision at all for a public space that could build on what poor people had already made without any help at all. Rather, the vision—if that is what it can be called—reverted to the familiar idea of the market. Instead of housing owned and operated by the city or state and guaranteed by state and federal budgets, with below-market prices for families who would pay the small amounts they could afford, what we would have is a market designation—“Section 8”—with which former public housing residents were meant to access the commercial rental market.

There are some important things, unimaginable things, to know about how the clearance of New Orleans public housing was accomplished in the aftermath of Katrina. For one, tenants who evacuated the storm were never allowed back to claim their things, to rescue meaningful or commercially valuable items. They were told whilst away that the housing was condemned and they would not be allowed back. Subcontracted security forces were paid to put steel plates and locks on doors and windows to ensure that residents did not have access to their apartments—the apartments housing furniture, photographs, school documents. When the buildings finally came down, all of those personal things that make up what we understand to be an identity, a life, a home, were buried in rubble. The other thing to know is that radically fewer housing units have been built than were taken away. There was no plan accounting for this discrepancy, which runs to several thousands of people with no place to live.

Public housing of the scale and style that existed in New Orleans for seventy-five years is now gone. I toured the new sites of several of the former public housing and the complexes have an eerily suburban feeling. The buildings appear flimsy and soulless with a feeling of pre-fabrication. And what I have not yet seen analyzed in the literature is how space works as an imposition in these new projects—a way of aerating congregation and reducing density. Spatiousness is usually a good thing when it comes to public housing: the feeling of sky, the ability to breathe, is often precisely what are lacking in housing provided for poor and racialized subjects, who are often “crammed” in “sardine style”—this jargon is familiar to us because it is so true. Yet if it is recalled that the explicit plan of the legislators and redevelopers was to reduce the number of public housing residents in these complexes, then for every square foot of sky one actually has to figure absent people, displaced to Houston or Oklahoma, or, in the most dire of circumstances, to a shelter or a sidewalk. The contrived greens and curved entryways of the new residences that sit where the Magnolia and Calliope projects used to be are vacuums; they effect a strange kind of airless spatiality.

If the mighty repetitions of bounce music were invented within the constraints of the old projects, then it seems clear that a circular suburban-style cul-de-sac is not the same as a dead-end, sound-wise, aesthetics-wise. Cramped quarters create constraint, a necessity for formal innovation. And like a sonnet or a villanelle, the bounce song—at least the classic bounce song—requires a formality that emerged from and mimicked the particular surroundings of the old projects. The New Orleans artist who will make something of the maddening circularity of a fake grassy knoll may very well exist, but she is no longer allowed to live in these residences anyway, where the average rent is much higher than a former public housing resident can afford (See figure 1).


New Orleans’ black residents are not unfamiliar with claims made on their space—with commercial incursion, with razing. The historic Treme neighborhood was curtailed first in the 1920s to build the Municipal Auditorium, and then again in the 1980s when the Louis Armstrong Park complex was finally constructed after decades of cleared lots sitting empty.[50] Also and infamously, the neighborhood was bisected to construct the I-10 overpass in 1966.[51] Again the forces of urban planning violently cut through the community, creating a gaping swathe that somehow did the opposite of creating space, if we understand that to mean enhancement rather than problematic cleansing. What the highway did instead was to open up an abyss—a dark hole that was designed to be uninhabitable. That said, people improvise. And underneath that overpass, famously on N. Claiborne Avenue, brass bands culminate second lines because the music echoes loudly under the concrete.[52] 

In the housing projects uptown most associated with bounce music—Magnolia, Calliope, Melpomene—there were also versions of space limited and space made. At block parties artists like Magnolia Shorty honed their skills, got the attention of people who would press their CDs, and found their way into gigs at clubs all over the city. A group of transgender and queer artists making what had been known as an off-shoot of New Orleans bounce (once named “sissy bounce,” now generally referred to simply as “bounce”) started to take center stage in wider U.S. culture post-Katrina, such that it was Katey Red and Big Freedia that many Americans knew as bounce artists, and not, say, 10th Ward Buck. The lingo filtered out into general pop culture—RIP “twerk”—, Big Freedia attained a popular reality TV show (Big Freedia Queen of Bounce, on the Fuse network) and fewer and fewer people knew that Lil Wayne or Mystikal or Juvenile, the whole Cash Money and No Limit enterprises, came out of New Orleans. Instead, arguably, in wider popular consciousness, New Orleans bounce was New Orleans hip hop, and the queer elaboration of Freedia and Katey and their bouncing sisters its most famous practitioners.

There has emerged in the post-Katrina moment a convergence of this prominence of queer performativity with radical spatial commentary. Such a convergence speaks to the relationship between principles of multitudinousness embodied by queer subjectivity—where the body speaks multivocally and rejects binaristic or uniform assumptions regarding gender—and the historic racial, linguistic, and cultural multifariousness of the city of New Orleans. In songs and videos produced by bounce artists in wake of Katrina, the emphasis on New Orleans as a site of multiple locales with specific cultural meanings remains prominent (Where ya at?!?), but it is coupled in many cases by sonic, visual, thematic, or spatial gestures that critique monolithic urban planning and that promote bounce subjectivities—the singers, the dancers—at large in the city.

The video for trans bounce artist Katey Red’s track “Where da Melph At?” (2011)—a call out to the now-demolished Melpomene project—begins with her in her car. Head still wrapped in a protective silk scarf from her night’s sleep, Katey’s plan is to wake her dancers from their own over-rest; to bring them out of the interior spaces of their shotgun homes and outside to work—which is to say, to physically impress themselves upon the exterior spaces of the city and at the heart of its touristic center, the French Quarter. Bounce CD inserted into the booming car stereo, the clarion call is sounded and a phalanx of dancers spills out of the doors—sartorially unprepared, perhaps, in their own headscarves and PJ’s, but impressively energetic (see Figure 2).

A key feature of the video for “Where da Melph At?,” one that is to be found in many other bounce music videos, is the tracking of movement throughout the city by the main artist and by her crew. Singer and dancer linger pointedly in front of urban artifacts of singular meaning to New Orleans residents—a chicken wing shop, say, or a school’s sports ground—in order to render significant the architectural habitus of the denizens of the genre. What makes Katey Red’s video particularly significant in the wake of what has happened to public housing since Katrina are two things. First, the trajectory from the site of downtown-style shotgun houses at the beginning of the video to the club stage show at the end. The club is identified in the video credits and on the YouTube information screen as being One Eyed Jacks, a prominent performance space and nightclub in the Quarter. Now located in the hub of tourist and bourgeois entertainment spaces, Katey brings herself and her dancers into the limelight of commercialized New Orleans (indeed, there is even a pointed red carpet moment before entering the club in which Katey, now donning couture-style fuchsia trench coat and smoldering blonde hair, greets adoring fans and camera flashes). No longer sidelined, then, the movement of Katey’s video describes the trajectory of bounce music from the margins of the city to its consuming center. This movement is in large part an act of will. Katey and her bouncing crew must t/werk across whole swathes of the city, marking spaces with their inimitable dance, before they can culminate their exertions in the Quarter. In the interplay between the video direction, Katey’s performance, and that of her dancers, the multiple text(s) of “Where da Melph At?” centers bounce music culture at the heart of complex spatial practices by working-class black women and queer subjects in New Orleans.

Big Freedia’s song and video “Y’all Get Back now,” also registers with diasporic and urban insurgent meaning. [53] Only, for Freedia—who names Katey as her best friend, the two came up together as queer artists in the bounce scene and Katey was Freedia’s mentor—the spatial movement in the video is not lateral, it is vertical. The directors of the video, Bob Weisz and Josh Ente, conceptualized Freedia as a figure of epic proportions, superimposing her image over a cityscape brought down to miniature. Freedia looms large over fancy downtown buildings as well as, significantly, over the highway overpass and the Superdome (see Figure 3). Like Katey, she calls her dancers to dance to her beat. But Freedia also insists that white office workers come outside and learn to twerk (she and Katey are both aware of and ironic about their middle-class and hipster white fans). Freedia’s court of expert twerkers are, like her, super-sized. It is the white-collar workers who stay little, and awkward, as they attempt to cope with the dominating commands of Freedia’s call and response. Thus, the song’s refrain, y’all get back, now is a chorus both of repulsion and beckoning. A call to the one hundred thousand NOLA residents, mostly black, who are still displaced after the storm. And it is also is a gesture of refusal, of pushing back against, urban development. If in reality, residents like Freedia and her dancers are excluded from these shiny new projects then here, in the space of the music, they claim all the space. Freedia stomps her way through New Orleans, and embodies in this gesture a re-possessing of space that has systematically been stripped from the diasporic subjects she represents.

When I interviewed Bob Weisz, one of the video’s directors, about his ideas for the video, he said that far from wanting to reference post-Katrina tropes of spatial incursion and development, he and his collaborators hoped explicitly to stir other images of the city—to show New Orleans from the traditional skyline view that it is often denied, in favor of more touristic images of close-up fretwork and fleur-de-lis. What the directors did wish to convey was the idea of Freedia as a trope of the 50 foot woman—an image that came from Freedia’s own imperative that the video work to make people dance.[54] For Weisz, his visual analogue to the implacable charisma of Freedia’s performances was to expand her frame beyond regular human confines. That the video also signals the place-making poetics of bounce music I have been describing has everything to do with how it coordinates with the doubled-edge of Freedia’s lyrics (y’all get back) and the musical aesthetics—spare electronic repetition—that are its central mode.

Weisz was the editor of another fascinating video, by the bounce artist Nicky Da B, which ends with a shot of Nicky dancing superimposed over an ever-proliferating still image of a twerker’s ass, multiplied exactly one million times (see Figure 4).[55] It was Weisz’s idea to multiply the asses in this way, a gesture to his reckoning with what I call the sublime of the bounce ass. For what Katey does, what Nicky da B and Magnolia Shorty did, and what Freedia does, when she calls her court of bouncers to take over streets, walls, and buses, is to embody a kind of space-making and elusive embodied aesthetics that I name, after a Freedia song, “azz everywhere.”[56] If the critique that has been leveled at the deployment of so-called video girls in hip hop music cultures has pointed to the apparent objectification of feminine embodiment through the fetishization of the ass, bounce confounds this. For the heightened emphasis on the female and the queer ass in bounce, the prodigious repetition of its movement, and the overwhelming multitudinousness of its representations in live shows and videos, evokes the sublime expansiveness of the feminine body at large. This is not the slow grind of ‘90s hip hop hey day. These bodies are not available for consumption in that way. They don’t stop long enough to be held. Their herky-jerky movements—something ecstatic and seized like the body possessed—are uncanny in their reference to sex, and, pushed in a different direction take us back to Legba’s limp: a surplus of movement that emerges from the short, uneven steps required of constraint.

For in New Orleans, as in an earlier moment in west Kingston, black subjects’ abilities to simultaneously comment on their circumscription and to surpass it is extraordinary. The ability to perceive this commenting and surpassing at work requires a perspective that reads gloriousness in gestures that can look, at first glance, like very little (or like the very little of too much).



Acknowledgement: An earlier and much briefer version of this essay appears in the Journal of Popular Music Studies 27. 4 (2015) 1533-1598 as “New Orleans and Kingston: A Beginning, A Recurrence.”


[1] Interim Report to Parliament Concerning Investigations Into the Conduct of the Security Forces During the Sate of Emergency Declared May 2010–West Kingston/Tivoli Gardens ‘Incursion’ (April 29, 2013).

[2] Nathaniel Mackey, “On Antiphon Island,” Splay Anthem (New York: New Directions Publishing, 2006) 64.

[3] “Introduction,” Paracritical Hinge: Essays, Talks, Notes, Interviews (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2005) 18

[4] Mackey, “On Antiphon Island,” 64.

[5] To note only some of the important scholarly treatments: there is Carolyn Cooper’s Sound Clash: Jamaican Dancehall Culture from Lady Saw to Dancehall Queen (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004); Norman Stolzoff, Wake the Town and Tell the People: Dancehall Culture in Jamaica (Durham: Duke University Press, 2000); Dick Hebidge, Cut ‘n’ Mix: Culture, Identity and Caribbean Music (London: Methuen & Co., 1987) especially chapter 10 “Dub and Talk Over”; Donna Hope, Inna di Dancehall: Popular Culture and the Politics of Identity in Jamaica (Kingston: University of the West Indies Press, 2006); and Sonjah Stanley Niaah, DanceHall: From Slave Ship to Ghetto (Ottawa: University of Ottawa Press, 2010).

[6] Witter, Interim Report, 20.

[7] Qtd. in Witter, Interim Report, 21.

[8] Previous moments in Jamaican history reflect this practice of understatement: the weeks in 1963 for instance, when police forces were authorized to detain, torture, and kill members of the Rastafari community in the northwest of the island, during the course of the investigation of a murder, became known as “the Coral Gardens Incident.” See Deborah Thomas, Exceptional Violence: Embodied Citizenship in Transnational Jamaica (Durham: Duke University Press, 2011).

[9] Mattathias Schwartz, “A Massacre in Jamaica,” The New Yorker 12 December 2011. Several sources in Schwartz’s piece recall aircraft circling overhead during the storming of Tivoli Gardens. http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2011/12/12/a-massacre-in-jamaica

[10] Witter, Interim Report, 1. Whilst researching and writing this piece the Commission of Enquiry was still ongoing, so I have limited myself to the details in Witter’s Interim Report, which records seventy-six civilian deaths with forty-four requiring investigation as extra-judicial killings by military and police forces. The Report notes that 688 complainants gave official testimony of losses or violence, and that there were a total of over 1200 grievances.

[11] Witter, Interim Report, 8.

[12] “The Tivoli office or shopfront of his set-up called the ‘Presidential Click’ now houses a police post. His removal has also created a vacuum in social and economic life and ‘governance’ affairs, an aftermath which attracted spontaneous State responses, since much diminished, save as regards law enforcement.” Witter, Interim Report, 8-9.

[13] References to bomb detonation and smoke are found in witness reports in Witter, Interim Report, 36; 59.

[14] Witter summarizes the cases of Kevin Gordon, a young porridge vendor, shot inside his house while his uncle was ordered to wait outside (58-59); Bojon Rochester, a twenty-one-year-old vendor, who died when a pathway he was on with his mother and others was firebombed (59-60); Errol Spence, a twenty-two-year-old barber, who was shot to death by security forces when he was pulled away from his mother and seventeen other family members hiding in his home (60-61); Orlando Brown, thirty-one, who was summarily shot on the sidewalk in view of his seventeen-year-old brother (61-62); brothers Fabian and Fernando Grant were each shot in the same spot, on the same occasion, and in view of that same window (62).

[15] “For the record, the Public Defender formally accepts that the situation which confronted sovereign Jamaica at the material time showed that…the circumstances justified the Government’s resort to the Constitution, S.26(4)(b), (5)(b) and (6)(b) as well as the Emergency Powers Act, 1938, SS.2(b) and 3.” Witter, Interim Report, 29-30.

[16] Witter, Interim Report, 34.

[17] Witter, Interim Report, 37.

[18] Witter, Interim Report, 36.

[19] Witter, Interim Report, 34-35.

[20] Witter, Interim Report, 88.

[21] Witter, Interim Report, 90; 91; 98.

[22] Many scholars have written about the creation of Tivoli Gardens as it has become an exemplar of modern day political patronage and violence in Jamaica. See for example, Obika Grey, Radicalism and Social Change in Jamaica, 1960-1972 (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1991) and Amanda Sives, “Changing Patrons, from Politician to Drug Don: Clientelism in Downtown Kingston, Jamaica,” Latin American Perspectives 29.5 (Sep. 2002) 66-89. Writing about the particular Rasta character of Back-a-Wall, Clinton Hutton quotes Rasta elder Mortimo Planno: “Back-o-Wall, Ackee Walk, Dungle, was Rastafari community. Dem call it squatta land. We buil' up shacks an' live in dem an' tings.” Hutton, “Oh Rudie: Jamaican Popular Music and the Narrative of Urban Badness in the Making of Postcolonial Society,” Caribbean Quarterly 56.4 (December 2010) 33.

[23] “Tivoli was built on what Seaga called ‘the self-containted-community principle,’ with a pre-natal clinic, a pre-school, and a vocational-training center….But Seaga’s invention soon degenerated into a new kind of slum.” Schwartz, “A Massacre in Jamaica.”

[24] For more on Passa Passa as a ritual space where time, but also where gender and sexuality, function differently than they do in “everyday” Kingston space, see my article “Out and Bad: Toward a Queer Performance Hermeneutic in Jamaican Dancehall,” Small Axe 20.3-4 (2014) 79-112.

[25] See Donna Hope, “Passa Passa: Interrogating Cultural Hybridities in Jamaican Dancehall,” Small Axe 21 (October 2006) 119–133.

[26] For a crucial intervention on the relationship amongst contemporary dancehall music, rhetorics of sexual pleasure, and discourses of “productivity” in the context of the late-1990’s economy of Jamaica, see Patricia Saunders, “Is Not Everything Good to Eat, Good to Talk: Sexual Economy and Dancehall Music in the Global Marketplace,” Small Axe 13 (Mar 2003) 95-115. The entire article is revelatory, but I will quote a crucial moment in which Saunders articulates the connection between anxieties about male unemployment and female sexual pleasure through Spragga Benz’s song “Cyan Get No Gyal”: “[A] DJ’s ability to put in ‘overtime’ makes him a ‘stallion’, ‘thoroughbred’, or a ‘productive’, ambitious citizen. Oral sex, however, is not part of the discourse of ‘wuk,’ and is, as this song suggests, a sure sign of a man’s lack of ambition…” (107).

[27] Quoted in Nathaniel Mackey, “Limbo, Dislocation, Phantom Limb: Wilson Harris and the Caribbean Occasion,” in Discrepant Engagement: Dissonance, Cross-Culturality and Experimental Writing (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009) 165. Italics in the original.

[28] Quoted in Mackey, “Limbo, Dislocation, Phantom Limb,” 169–170.

[29] Wole Soyinka, “The Fourth Stage,” in Art, Dialogue, and Outrage: Essays on Literature and Culture (New York: Pantheon, 1994); Mackey, “Limbo, Dislocation, Phantom Limb,” 170.

[30] Sonjah Stanley-Niaah, “Kingston’s Dancehall: A Story of Space and Celebration,” Space and Culture 7.1 (2004) 102-118.

[31] I have explored the confluence of queer and diaspora in my book Territories of the Soul: Queered Belonging in the Black Diaspora (Durham: Duke University Press, 2015).

[32] He is known in vodou as Papa Legba. In Cuban Santeria and other Hispanophone orisha traditions, he is Ellegua. In Brazil, Exu.

[33] Mackey, “Sound and Sentiment: Sound and Symbol,” Callaloo 30 (Winter, 1987) 40. Italics in the original.

[34] Ibid.

[35] Judy Rosenthal, Possession, Ecstasy, and Law in Ewe Voodoo (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1998).

[36] Campbell Robertson, “Officers Guilty of Shooting Six in New Orleans,” The New York Times, 5 August 2011, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/06/us/06danziger.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0.

[37] A. C. Thompson, “Body of Evidence,” ProPublica and The Nation 19 December 2008; http://www.propublica.org/article/body-of-evidence; Thompson, “Jury Convicts Three, Acquits Two in Post-Katrina Police Shooting,” 9 December 2010, ProPublica http://www.propublica.org/nola/story/jury-convicts-three-acquits-two-in-....”

[38] A. C. Thompson, “Danzinger Bridge Convictions Overturned,” 17 September 2013, ProPublica; http://www.propublica.org/nola/story/danziger-bridge-convictions-overtur... A. C. Thompson, “Key Convictions Overturned in Killing by New Orleans Police,” 17 December 2012; ProPublica; http://www.propublica.org/nola/story/key-convictions-overturned-in-killi....

[39] Indeed, cases of white vigilantism in New Orleans during and after the storm were reported. See for instance A. C. Thompson, “Post-Katrina, White Vigilantes Shot African-Americans With Impunity,” 19 December 2008, ProPublica and The Nation; http://www.propublica.org/article/post-katrina-white-vigilantes-shot-afr....

[40] Amy Goodman, Democracy Now! 2 Sep 2005; quoted in Jordan Flaherty, Floodlines: Community and Resistance from Katrina to the Jena Six (Chicago: Haymarket Press, 2010) 158. The New Orleans Times-Picayune, in collaboration with the investigative journalism organization ProPublica, has also reported that New Orleans police were given orders to shoot “looters” in the aftermath of the Storm. See Sabrina Shankman, Tom Jennings, Brendan McCarthy, et. al., “After Katrina, New Orleans Cops Were Told They Could Shoot Looters,” 24 August 2010, Times-Picayune and ProPublica; http://www.propublica.org/nola/story/nopd-order-to-shoot-looters-hurrica....

[41] Jeremy Scahill, “Blackwater Down,” The Nation 10 October 2005, http://www.thenation.com/article/blackwater-down. Vinceanne Adams’s research on the marketization of security in post-Katrina New Orleans describes similar scenes: “Many of the troops identified as National Guard by locals were in fact hired security personnel working for the private-sector subcontractors. Blackwater Security, or what is now called Xe Services, was one such company. Despite the fact that this private-sector military company…had already been made infamous by its killing of innocent civilians while on duty in Fallujah, Iraq, it was hired, along with fifty other private security groups, including an Israeli company called Instinctive Shooting International (ISI), to help with rescue and relief.” Adams, Markets of Sorrow, Labors of Faith: New Orleans in the Wake of Katrina (Durham: Duke University Press, 2013) 30.

[42] Adams, Markets of Sorrow, 31.

[43] Flaherty, Floodlines, 187. There were actually 7,700 public housing units available: the discrepancy in occupancy is accounted for by closures of units which were taken down “for repairs” but often kept closed and never re-offered to residents. A further 9,000 families were being housed through Section 8 vouchers on the private market.

[44] George Lipsitz, “Learning from New Orleans: The Social Warrant of Hostile Privatism and Competitive Consumer Citizenship,” Cultural Anthropology 21.3 (453). The quote appears to have been first reported in the Wall Street Journal, on September 9, 2005, when a reporter overheard Baker speaking with lobbyists. Charles Babington reproduced the quote the next day in the Washington Post, in an article focused on various Republican lawmakers’ callous attitudes towards evacuees and the issue of housing clearance in New Orleans. Babington cites there Baker’s official statement in response to the printing of his statement, a clarification, so-called, which takes the key words of the original quote and spins them: “What I remember expressing, in a private conversation with a housing advocate and member of my staff, was that ‘We have been trying for decades to clean up New Orleans public housing to provide decent housing for residents, and now it looks like God is finally making us do it.’” Quoted in Babington, “Some GOP Lawmakers Hit Jarring Notes in Addressing Katrina,” The Washington Post 10 September 2005; http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/09/09/AR200509....

[45] NOLA City Council President Oliver Thomas: “There’s just been a lot of pampering, and at some point you have to say ‘No, no, no, no, no.… We don’t need soap opera watchers right now.” Quoted in Flaherty, Floodlines, 186.

[46] For details of development projects that targeted Iberville for its proximity to business and tourist interests, see Christine Cook and Mickey Lauria, “Urban Regeneration and Public Housing in New Orleans,” Urban Affairs Review 30.4 (1995). The few original Iberville buildings that remain now have, ironically, been put on the Federal National Register of Historic Places.

[47] For a full account of these origins of the bounce rhythm and its earliest practitioners, see Matt Miller’s Bounce: Rap Music and Local Identity in New Orleans (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2012).

[48] Kenneth Phillips, Signed, the President (New Orleans: Neighborhood Story Project, 2009) 83.

[49] Ibid. 83-84.

[50] See Michael Crutcher, Treme: Race and Place in a New Orleans Neighborhood (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2010) chapter 3 “Clearance for High Culture,” and chapter 5 “A Park for Louis.”

[51] Crutcher, Treme, chapter 4 “Killing Claiborne’s Avenue.”

[52] Ethnomusicologist Matt Sakakeeny has written about the compelling draw of this space under the overpass for current residents of the Treme during funerals and second lines; “[M]ost of the jazz funerals and parades I have attended in the Downtown district of New Orleans have wound their way there. The ‘bridge’ creates intimacy, enclosing parade participants, maximizing a sense of unity, and the concrete makes for spectacular acoustics, amplifying and multiplying the participatory sound, creating a sort of “unplugged” feedback loop; acoustic, but shockingly loud, and made louder by the musicians playing at peak volume to compete with the sound of cars and trucks whizzing by above. Ideally, the sounds of the music, the crowd, and the environment work together to orient individuals as a collective occupying a shared space.” Sakakeeny, “‘Under the Bridge’: An Orientation to Soundscapes in New Orleans,” Ethnomusicology 54.1 (Winter 2010) 2-3.

[53] Big Freedia, “Y’all Get Back Now,” Big Freedia Hitz Vol. 1 (Big Freedia Records, 2010).

[54] I asked Weisz about the relationship between his creative process and Freedia’s, and he confirmed that they created their pieces separately—which is to say, Freedia’s track had been recorded well before she knew that she would make a video for it, and with whom. However, as to the ways in which the vocal performance, video performance, and video direction coordinate, Weisz said of his and his collaborators’ practice: “We try to make stuff where we’re extracting the meaning or the purpose or the vibe [of the song].” This emerged at the moment when we were discussing the spatial implications of bounce music repetitions, with Weisz confirming that part of his interest in the genre is to do with its ability to overwhelm the listener. Bob Weisz, interview with author, New Orleans, LA, 28 April 2015.

[55] Bob Weisz, interview with author, 28 April 2015.

[56] Big Freedia, “Azz Everywhere,” Big Freedia Hitz Vol. 1 (Big Freedia Records, 2010).


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