Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Rock N Roll for little black girls...

I wish there had been a Girls Rock camp when I was a kid. I was at a conference recently where a female artist on a panel asked why more women and girls weren't involved in technology. Artist/writer/scholar Mendi Obadike, also a panelist along with her husband and artistic collaborator Keith, responded that girls need not just access to technology, but also the opportunity to play with it.

The question of play is really central to all sorts of learning. I often find that women and girl's opportunities to learn something within a so-called "non-traditional field" come with prior restrictions, such as prohibitions against failing or asking "silly questions" because both are deemed a poor reflection on the rest of the gender. Be a non-white girl and deal with another collection of weights concerning projected expectations and representations.

Another restriction is time. Even if there are opportunities to learn in more supportive environments, or all-female ones, sometimes those come so far and few in-between that the learning is a quite serious undertaking. No fun and games for those involved, 'we're here to work, baby.' Because this chance may never come again.

Of course there's also the question of socialization. What girl hasn't tried to get through a circle of boys crowded around some gadget or toy, or a demo of the same. It makes me think of the documentary Scratch (2001) where you see numerous images and hear reminiscences of boys (now men) in bedrooms and basements working out their turntable technique among a group of their peers both challenging and cheering them on. It is rare that there are any women present or remembered in these groups, not even girlfriends. Looking at the cast listing under the documentary credits evidences a list solely comprised of males (e.g. "Afrika Bambaataa [as]... Himself"). Girls often need permission to play with these tools of technology, to just go in and mess around and fuck up, flail, fail, learn from the mistakes, destroy a speaker cone and then learn how to replace/rebuild it.

So I posted these clips below from the upcoming documentary (forthcoming in 2008) about the popular Rock 'N' Roll Camp for Girls started in Portland, Oregon in 2000. There are now girls rock camps in New York, Tennessee's Southern Girls Rock & Roll Camp, now in its fourth year, as well as Peterborough, Ontario's one year old Rock Camp for Girls in Canada. The Portland and NYC camps also offer a Ladies Rock Camp, for grown women (18/19 years old and up). New York's Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls, founded in 2004, is named after Willie Mae "Big Mama" Thorton who re-wrote music history with "Hound Dog," though the Elvis version is better known. In 2005 the New York camp had a number of African American girls in attendance. 2006 had fewer documenting images and what's there looks rather more monochromatic (read: white). The above photo (Eboni.jpg) from the New York website was so beautiful I had to put it up here. The below YouTube clips are rather monochromatic as well, except for the prominently featured Asian American participant.

I hope someone is also teaching these girls and women about auditory health. I remember setting levels for a 20-something woman guitarist who kept wanting a more distorted and high, screechy frequency because she couldn't hear how bad it sounded; the upper range of her hearing was already shot.

Nevertheless, I still love the beginning of the first clip (Girls Rock! Trailer) when one little girl half-intones "are you ready to rock?" Her equally young bandmate calmly looks at her and says, "OK." This decorous seeming bandmate, rhubarb-pie innocent, and pencil and paper in hand, smoothly steps to the mic, brings it around to face her, and then screams into it at the top of her lungs, "ARE YOU READY TO ROCK???!!!" so intensely that the startled original singer suddenly moves out of the camera's frame. Really, what's not to love about that?

So of course I want that experience for every little black, latina, pacific islander, native american, middle eastern, asian american girl who needs to rock. Or who needs permission to play, and break something, and learn it's not the end of the world; it's just the beginning.


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