HARLEM IS NOWHERE


I just finished a new hour-long mixtape, made with writer Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts and inspired by the sounds of Harlem. The project is the second edition of the Cities Mixtape series by Milan-based DOMUS, a magazine focusing on design, architecture and urbanism. This mix is titled “Harlem Is Nowhere”, after Sharifa’s new book which, in turn, borrows the phrase from a 1948 essay by Ralph Ellison. You can stream or download the mix here, and read our write-up, which begins:

Once, a group of tourists were asked what came to mind when they heard the word “Harlem”: some said “music” and the others said “riots.” The connection between the two is a story for another time. This Harlem mixtape is born of our own free associations: For Rupture, Francophone songs sold by scowling Africans along 116th, or old soul and R&B memories being hawked alongside the now-thing bootlegs across 125th; for Sharifa, church sounds tumbling onto the streets and distorted strains of jazz heard from a boombox carted around by a wandering neighbor.

4 thoughts on “HARLEM IS NOWHERE”

  1. i used to work in harlem. you could say i lived there because i often worked so late i had to sleep in the office sometimes as there was no point going home after working past a certain hour. i remember this place that sold poultry – run by latinos – the stench of caged chickens used to fill the entire street – it almost put me off eating chicken at the popeyes around the corner, the same place i sat and watched a woman threaten to hit my girlfriend in the snot box if she couldn’t spare $2 to help her get some gross chicken too. i remember my boss telling me to research gentrification so that he could expand his business, conscience clear – we hired locally to make the harlem development zone feel better about columbia university’s aggressive eminent domain expansion plans. one lady turned into a success – while the guy i hired turned out to be a sexual deviant who harassed the other female staff. the police got involved. they caught him, but not first without scarring the lives of other black women employed. i found myself in oakland years later working with “at-risk” folks and logging my observations from a chart adapted from police codes. 51-50 means you’re crazy. my work jacket was in a bag i had at my feet on the bus ride home. some kids decided to steal my bag as they got off the bus. i chased them down despite protestations from other bus riders that i would get killed. i confronted them and the guy sucker punched me. scrreeeching around the corner, one of the bus riders had seen my plight and was pulling up to my assault scene with her car. “do you need any help?” she asked, demurred in the presence of a mugging. surprisingly they took off and i jumped in her car. we gave chase, my cell phone unable to get reception to call 911. they jumped over fences and disappeared into a labyrinth of run down houses. she said she didn’t know why she was helping me, she could’ve got killed. we saw a police woman on the way home – she wouldn’t help, said i had to call it in. my heroine dropped me off at my apartment and to this day i do not know her name, can’t really remember her face. i do, however, clearly remember the way she held on to my hand just a little bit longer than was necessary before i left her car. unspoken acknowledgment between strangers that even if life is shit sometimes, we are our own angels rising above the mess. we stand up not-quite fearless in the face of what we’ve become, and that inspires others to give us more strength to survive. yes i remember harlem, and harlem is everywhere. as i sit here, jobless, far away from any physical adversity – the same battle rages just in my mind – though who will help me now? thanks for tunes jace … your work is more art these days than the gold teeth dance i first knew about you.

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