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Kyle DeCoste

Kyle DeCoste is a PhD student in ethnomusicology at Columbia University. He holds an MA from Tulane University where he worked with the Original Pinettes Brass Band to apply an intersectional, black feminist lens to brass band performance in New Orleans. His articles appear in Ethnomusicology and SEM Student News and he is an associate editor for Current Musicology. He is currently working on a book-length collaborative ethnography with the Stooges Brass Band.

"Sounding #BlackGirlMagic: Popular Music and the Politics of Black Girlhood"
In Kyra Gaunt’s path-breaking book, The Games Black Girls Play: Learning the Ropes from Double Dutch to Hip-Hop, she outlined a complex dialectic between the games black girls play and popular music, identifying the peculiar fact that only male artists directly quoted the songs from these games. As of the book’s publishing in 2006, Gaunt “[had] yet to find an example in any performance… where a female artist samples from a black girls’ musical chant or beat” (184). Over a decade later, at a time when CaShawn Thompson’s #blackgirlmagic hashtag has shaped an international discursive space to celebrate black women and girls, this can no longer be claimed. In recent years, black women have musically addressed topics of black girlhood not only through quotations of handclapping game-songs and chants, but also in lyrics and vocal performance. NPR Tiny Desk Contest-winning band Tank and the Bangas provide one example of this increased affirmation of black girlhood in popular music, emphasizing the importance of black childhood in their musical vision by assigning their music the label “soulful Disney.” The group’s lead singer, Tarriona “Tank” Ball, not only quotes from children’s games, but also performs different character voices, one of which embodies—and makes audible—childhood playfulness and wide-eyed wonder. Looking to Tank and the Bangas as exemplary, this paper explores the politics of these often-joyful representations of black girlhood cast against a history in which intersecting vectors of oppression (Collins 1999) have attempted to stifle or shorten its existence (Morris 2016). Situating an ontology of childhood within a “racial politics of time” (Cooper 2017) and drawing from black feminist and intersectional scholarship, this paper connects Tank and the Bangas to a broad-based network of artists, pointing to the existence of an emergent, multi-genre trend in popular music that sonically highlights #blackgirlmagic.