Writing about World Music

Davidson College, Spring 2016

“Eeeeeeeeeeeeeep” v. “1906”

Imagine two hundred women squealing out the highest possible pitch all at the same time. This was my reality when I stumbled upon a Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Incorporated conference.

My fraternity brothers asked us to attend a performance at the Great Wolf Lodge in Concord, but we didn’t expect to be welcomed by some many Sigma Gamma Rho sorority sisters. However, I was able to experience for the first time a “call off.”

Each historically black fraternity and sorority has a set of distinct calls. This allows for brothers and sisters nation wide to audibly detect who is from which organization. All the sororities have eardrum-rupturing calls, while the fraternities utilize ground-shaking bass in theirs. A “call off” has a similar structure of rap battle. One organization starts off a call and another organization responds with one of their own.

The constant back and forth between the two hundred Rhos and the fifteen Alphas eventually lead to a concoction of noise. The roar of the room could be heard from across the whole campus. High-pitched calls were ringing my ears, but our call still made the air shake. It ended with both organizations holding their ground until the MC of the night abruptly stopped it. Partaking in something like this was amazing because it showed the unity amongst the each Greek lettered organization. Even though the Rhos and Alphas were from all over we still where able to unify with our calls.

1 Comment

  1. This is a really interesting post. What a cool experience – to be part of a culturally significant event sounds like it would be so memorable. It also just goes to show you how common these unique and important ethnographic experiences are in our local world. If we weren’t active ethnographers, we likely wouldn’t see these as they are – we might not even see them at all.

    Being in this class, among other things, has really allowed me to appreciate the various cultural events that occur within my sphere of influence. As I talked about in my last post, the Ripe concert brought up some ethnographic sentiments, and in reflection, I considered the concert through the eyes of an active ethnographer – I have never done that for a concert or performance before, but it just goes to show you how much the class has rubbed off on me.

    In a sense, thinking about our local and accessible culture in this mindset is potentially not the best mindset. I’m thinking of Father John Misty, a popular indie rock artist, and his bright neon sign in the back of his stage setup at concerts that says “No Photography”. Meant to stand as a reminder for the concert attendees to simply be there and enjoy the concert, the concept of photography, in the context of events like concerts or impromptu gatherings, compromises the unrepeatability and authenticity of the concert.

    With an ethnographer, the same idea stands – this show at Great Wolf was not something you wanted to sit down and study through such a scrutinized lens. The idea was to sit back and reflect later on, in order to fully enjoy the experience as it is. However, this doesn’t always work – it’s rather difficult to, for instance, sit back and not actively make observations for later use, when you’re examining a cultural event that cannot be so readily repeated for future. You have to do your fieldwork when you can, and when the event is put on, so you can see it.

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