Sound Assumptions: The Given of New Orleans and Havana

Critical Race Studies Lecture

This talk will listen to how musicians compress place–actual corners, stages, live performances, and the social worlds that developed them–into song. In addition to the pressing of these grounds into sound, we will listen together to how musicians also offer new spatial imaginaries that invite a different relationship to place, one that does not presume possession, but a temporary stewardship of who and what was there before. The talk will cede its time and room to New Orleans and Havana and the shared spatial imaginaries they activate in music. To enter into this crossroads is to abandon the hidden pictures ethos that believes place waits (and wants) to be clearly identified and circled by some expert individual. Instead, this talk wonders what kind of work might be possible when place is assumed? To wade into this question, I will reverse the analytic flow and move from music itself, and with a collective eye and ear, assume New Orleans and Havana together as a given in popular music/música popular. To proceed with this given opens up portals past the fixed endings required by representation or comparative studies and into music’s more transformative qualities. Built sound by sound over centuries, holding migrations forced and chosen, the given of New Orleans and Havana and their histories and happenings shared in music, can enliven and greatly expand how we sense place in our listening, reading, and writing.



Alexandra T. Vazquez

Alexandra T. Vazquez

Alexandra T. Vazquez is Associate Professor in the Department of Performance Studies at New York University. She is the author of The Florida Room (Duke 2022) and Listening in Detail: Performances of Cuban Music (Duke 2013, winner of the American Studies Association’s Lora Romero First Book Prize). Vazquez’s work has been featured in NPR’s “Turning the Tables” series, American Quarterly, small axe, Social Text, women and performance, the JPMS, and in the edited volumes Keywords in Latina/o Studies, The Tide Was Always High, Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas, Reggaeton, and Pop When the World Falls Apart. She is a proud graduate of the New World School of the Arts high school in Miami, Florida.