Big House/Disclosure

Sounding Out! Blog recently “amplified” Mendi+Keith Obadike. The feature included this project which is a gem worth revisiting:

“Big House / Disclosure is an intermedia suite exploring the architecture of slavery and Chicago’s role as the first US city to adopt a Slavery-Era Disclosure Ordinance. We conceived and developed this project in conjunction with the two hundredth anniversary of the abolition of the British slave trade and Northwestern University’s conference Out of Sight: New World Slavery and the Visual Imagination. Chicago’s Slavery-Era Disclosure Ordinance requires institutions doing business with the city to reveal whether they have profited from slavery. To date, organizations such as Wachovia and Lehman Brothers have divulged their ties to the slave trade in compliance with this policy. The ordinance not only implies that the institutions carry a responsibility for slavery, it also draws attention to the fact that this legacy is often hidden from public view.

The interplay of slavery, disclosure, and the city of Chicago led to house music –- a vital black genre from Chicago linked to the Middle West’s industrial histories. These industries have often been powered by the migrant descendants of the old southern plantation labor force. Braided through our house song are voices from the Chicago-area community considering the impact of slavery. The project includes 200 interviews with Chicago-area citizens about the ordinance, 200 performances inspired by rooms and relations in the Big House, and a 200-hour long house song. This project is at once a celebration of Chicago and a meditation on the long road to justice.”

Visit: Big House/Disclosure | Home.

The Obadikes created a ringtone for the project. Their choice transported me to a time (in digital years, many moons ago but really was just yesterday) when the right ringtone signified collectivity, subversion, age, class status (the right tone needed the right phone or phone speakers, the best tones required a purchase) and something about technical skill (sound quality was key).

But the “new wave abolitionist ringtone,” is also a powerful artifact. With a cyborg croon, a feminine sounding chorus sings the famous abolitionist screed, “Am I Not a Man? Am I Not a Brother?” to a ghostly trance-house beat. Then, with a “ring, ring” declares this “your wake up call” since “it’s your own soul that’s at stake.”

The Big House / Disclosure Ring Tone

Read more about Mendi + Keith Obadike at Sound Studies Blog SO! Amplifies: Mendi+Keith Obadike and Sounding Race in America | Sounding Out!.


[Edit: Updated the Big House/Disclosure video to more recent version. Thank you Mendi+Keith for the link]


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