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avatar for Christina Zanfagna

Christina Zanfagna

Christina Zanfagna is an ethnomusicologist and Associate Professor at Santa Clara University Her recent book, Holy Hip Hop in the City of Angels, explores the intersections of religion, race, and geography in gospel rap in Los Angeles. Christina has written journalistic and scholarly essays on topics such as digital DJing practices, South African jazz, hip hop’s religious history, and Harlem’s sacred and secular spaces, among others. Christina is also a regularly performing flamenco dancer.

"The Bondage of Bling: Chain Gangs in Pop Music from Black Power to Black Lives Matter"
 On his 2000 track, “Africa Dream,” Talib Kweli raps, “These cats drink champagne and toast to death and pain / Like slaves on a ship talking about who got the flyest chain.” From chains of bondage during the Middle Passage to prison chain gangs to the gold-chained bling of hip hop artists, chains have signaled both the repressive and empowering aspects of black labor from slavery to the rise of the popular music industry. Numerous black musicians have invoked the image and sound of chains: from prison works songs to Sam Cooke’s pop soliloquies on “Chain Gang,” to Isaac Hayes regally draped in a bodice of gold chains as the incarnation of Black Moses at Wattstax, to Flava Flav’s iconic oversized watch necklace, and Talib Kweli’s invocation of the “flyest chain.” More recently, J. Cole rapped about the bling that enslaves him on his 2013 track “Chaining Day,” while Kendrick Lamar began his 2016 Grammy Music Awards performance shackled in chains and donning a distinctive jailhouse blue uniform. As Lamar broke free of the chain gang and staggered across the stage, he rapped, “I’m African American; I’m African.” How do these disparate moments link histories of black labor, music, and consumption? What do these performances tell us about vicious continuities of racialized incarceration? What do they tell us about the music industry as a system of captive soundings founded on both black oppression and expression? In this presentation, I will explore the sonic specter of chain gangs as well as the symbolic and literal chains being worn, sounded, and broken by black popular musicians from Black Power to Black Lives Matter