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Amalia Mallard

Amalia Mallard is the founder of The Laughing Archive, a repository and critical analysis of laughter in recorded music. With degrees in Political Science and Africana Studies, Ms. Mallard has sought meaningful ways to synthesize her interests in public policy and the arts. Her Master’s thesis, “Locating and Retracing the Modern Black Aesthetic in Hip-Hop,” explores the intergenerational commonalities between hip-hop, the Black Arts Movement and the Harlem Renaissance.

"The Laugh of the Black Medusa"
When Desiree Fairooz was removed from an Attorney General confirmation hearing in D.C., it wasn’t the first time a woman was persecuted for laughing out loud. Just two years earlier, eleven women were kicked off a Napa Valley wine train in 2015 for “offensive laughter,” sparking the Twitter hashtag: “LaughingWhileBlack. Laughter in recorded music reveals how women have attempted to circumvent patriarchy, point out false truths, create space for unhindered expression, and to reconcile a divided mind: Rose Mae Moore’s “Ha Ha Blues” (1928); Aretha Franklin’s “The Masquerade Is Over” (1974); Janet Jackson’s “When I Think of You” (1986); Lauryn Hill’s “Ha Ha Ha Ha” quatrain on “Fu-Gee-La” (1996). Maya Angelou called black laughter a “survival apparatus.” Yet, black women’s laughter was unheard until nearly 40 years after the inception of the recording industry – revealing feminist attitudes in a hidden second narrative signaled by the laugh. Although recorded music became protected air space in 1890 despite “Jim Crow etiquette,” the subversive semantics of laughter in recorded music was still muted for black women. Of course, the “Ha!” (“holy laugh”) was a staple in the vocal idiom across genders, genres and ubiquitous off the record in the black church. However, the use of laughter as a deliberate musical and literary device by women on record begins to rise in the 1960s – in tandem with the women’s rights movement. While Helene Cixous challenges the myth of Medusa in “The Laugh of the Medusa” (1976), Zora Neale Hurston revives the pre-Brer Rabbit/ trickster myth of High John De Conquer in 1943, “the source and soul of our laughter and song.” Both of which help us to consider how the “female trickster” has been constructed, revealed and reviled in recorded music.