Recommended Listening: Yvette Janine Jackson - Freedom
As a longtime educator, it is truly difficult to convey the horrors of historical enslavement to groups of predominately white students. This is not a judgement on the students themselves, but simply an observation seen across years of teaching middle school. I am also white, and our intersecting layers of identity and individual experiences affect the way we each perceive the world and contextualize information new to us. No matter the diversity of educational input, and intentionality put into lesson planning (while also emphasizing resistance, resilience, and joy), this history can still be hard for many to fathom.
This is why I became so interested in Yvette Janine Jackson's Freedom. Jackson is an accomplished composer, sound installation artist, and assistant professor in Harvard's music department. She chose radio drama as the vehicle for her most recent work, entitled Freedom - a project for the Fridman Gallery. Split into two distinct pieces, Destination Freedom and Invisible People, Jackson captures the raw textures of the transatlantic slave trade on side A, then documents historical exclusion of women and queer people from community leadership roles on side B. Using electroacoustic instrumentation, field recordings, and spoken word, Jackson guides the listener through each drama, immersing us in unsettling, patchwork histories while simultaneously asking us to fully engage.
Destination Freedom was what first drew me to Jackson's work. This 22-minute drama is broken into three movements, itself: the cargo hold, transit, and space. The opening minutes are characterized by the movement of water and muffled whispers, the bulk of the middle by sharp, disorienting noise, and then end by spare organ tones and singing. So while the narrative begins in a linear way - from West African shores into forced, claustrophobic transport across the sea, it eventually rises onto an Afrofuturistic plane, shedding earthly shackles below. Jackson's radio dramas are meant to be experienced in complete darkness to focus listening and give space to sensory and emotional reaction. On Freedom, the listener must decide if they wish to take such a journey.
Invisible History, then, tackles another issue, but this one inspired by a more recent event and its aftermath. In 2015, President Barak Obama publicly approved marriage equality - an announcement celebrated by many. But a hard reality was that some groups within Black communities were not happy with this change in policy. On Invisible People, Jackson weaves together both spoken-word snippets and published text excerpts from this amplified population with solo drumming, free jazz, and church music. Through this drama, Jackson asks the listener to consider which voices were left out of this equal rights conversation, and to reflect on who holds the power of voice and influence in our various social spheres.
Freedom is an incredibly powerful listen, and is out on January 29th through the Fridman Gallery, linked here. A sample is found below, but again, for the most immersive experience, note the artist's listening request.