Holly Hobbs 2015-04-01 11:07:05
Since its founding in 2012, the NOLA Hip-Hop Archive has conducted more than fifty hour-long videotaped oral history interviews with legends and pioneering figures in New Orleans rap and bounce. The videos went live online (free and accessible to all) in December 2014. Themes covered in the interviews include geographic and cultural landmarks (many lost to Hurricane Katrina) and musicians on their families, instrument performance, brass bands and second lines of their youth, their first public performances, and creating songs. Story Telling There are stories that are familiar to fans of hip-hop: why Mannie Fresh left Cash Money Records, Mystikal losing his sister to violence, and how KLC created songs with Snoop Dogg. Others are largely unknown: the producer Death’s struggle with dark spirits, Allie Baby’s difficulties as a female musician in a male-dominated industry, and Nesby Phips’s memories of his great-aunt Mahalia Jackson. And there are stories yet to be told. New Orleans rap and bounce is traditional music and performance directly tied to the city’s long tradition of public street performance. Rap and bounce are the most popular and lucrative music of New Orleans, yet they are largely ignored by the city’s tourism industry. The strange everywhere/invisible duality of New Orleans rap—coupled with the immense devastation and loss caused by Hurricane Katrina—instilled in many the importance of preserving stories. This mission was first tackled by local New Orleans ethnographers and photographers like Polo Silk in the 1990s and continued in the late 2000s with the work of Alison Fensterstock and Aubrey Edwards’s Where They At project (http://www.wheretheyatnola.com/). These documentary efforts helped pave the way for the successful creation of the NOLA Hip-Hop Archive. Planning and Funding the Archive My passion has long been ethnography. The common thread running through the work I’ve done around the world has been collaborating with people to tell their stories. So when I began a doctoral program at Tulane University in New Orleans in 2010, I knew ethnographic research would be the heart of my dissertation. I decided to interview individuals who could focus on New Orleans rap music and community rebuilding post-Katrina. My background in documentary film spurred my decision to record these interviews, in hopes that they would reach a wider audience than a written dissertation. After gauging interest from both artists and community members, I decided to create a videotaped oral history database—the NOLA Hip-Hop Archive. How to make this vision a reality was, of course, where the difficulties lay. I began by contacting the Amistad Research Center, the nation’s oldest and largest independent African American history archive. The center’s staff understood the traditionality of New Orleans rap and were receptive to early discussions about housing the archive. Once we agreed on the basic terms, what followed was nearly two years of planning: -Obtaining professional equipment with the help of the Tulane University Summer Merit Award Program -Acquiring IRB Human Subjects clearance for the project -Gaining support of artists, community members, staff, and board members -Creating a clear mission for the archive and circulating its message -Working to create a partnership with the Tulane University Digital Library, which ultimately agreed to host the NOLA Hip-Hop Archive website and take over editing duties -Setting up social media accounts for the archives and creating relevant, informative posts -Finding a production assistant and videographer who would be willing to work largely on donated time -Countless other tasks, both small and large Along with a small team of volunteers, I conducted the first twenty or so interviews without funding—costs were minimal, and Amistad and Tulane University Digital Library were covering the costs for their end of the work. A limited but successful Kickstarter funding campaign in December 2013 allowed us to pay the start-up costs associated with the work, and we received support from the New Orleans Center for the Gulf South, Music Rising, and the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation Community Partnership grant. What Next At its core, the NOLA Hip-Hop Archive seeks to provide a place for stories to be preserved, told, and retold to ever wider circles. While long-term plans include the creation of a permanent museum space, we are excited to announce that we have officially opened the archive to donations of ephemera, photographs, recordings, and other interviews. When asked for advice about beginning an archival project, I can say only this: engage the community. Employ community consultants to work in equal partnership and ensure there is an apparatus to provide direct community assistance, whether via social media, promotion of artists, or sharing of resources. The NOLA community has a deep appreciation for the work that we do and the passion to share the musicians’ stories with the world.
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