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"Contesting Culture: Battling Genres in the African Diaspora" Conference on Fri., May 2

New York, NY – April 28, 2008 – West African religious rituals and hip-hop dance as practiced in the 21st century North America may seem to have little in common. In fact, they are linked by a tradition of aesthetic and spiritual dueling, exported by enslaved people to the African Diaspora and disseminated and revised in black communities from Haiti to Los Angeles and the Bronx. Scholars from a variety of disciplines, including history, anthropology, music, and literature, will gather at Baruch College on Friday, May 2 to explore the origins and contemporary forms of these aesthetic contests, including verbal competitions, challenge dances, spiritual confrontations, and martial arts, at Contesting Culture: Battling Genres in the African Diaspora.

The event will begin at 10 AM in Baruch College’s Newman Conference Center, 151 East 25th Street, Room 750, and is free and open to the public. Visitors are encouraged to RSVP by sending a message to

Organized by Professor T.J. Desch-Obi of Baruch's History department, the participants include luminaries in African diaspora studies. Yale University art historian Robert F. Thompson, a pioneer in the study of music and religion in the Atlantic world, will give a keynote presentation on the martial arts of Africa and the Americas.

Other speakers include Ken Bilby, research associate at the Smithsonian Institute and author of True-Born Maroons (University Press of Florida, 2006), a study of the independent communities established in Jamaica by African runaways in the 17th and 18th centuries; Elizabeth McAllister, professor of religion at Wesleyan University and co-editor of Race, Nation, and Religion in the Americas (Oxford University Press, 2004); and April Masten, associate professor of history at Stony Brook University and author of Art Work: Women Artists and Democracy in Mid-Nineteenth-Century New York (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008).

Other presenters explore the extension of these challenge genres into contemporary popular culture, including the mock confrontations of hip-hop dance and the lyrical challenges in dancehall reggae. For more information on the conference, call 646-312-4333.

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