The 2021 Pop Convergence: A Virtual Pop Conference, April 22-25th
Artwork by Alex Nero; Design by The Art Dictator
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Jonathan Leal

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Jonathan Leal is an experimentalist, composer, author, and multi-instrumentalist based in Los Angeles. Originally from the Rio Grande Valley, a South Texas region located at the border of the United States and Mexico, Jonathan works as an artist-scholar to create collaborative arts projects that grapple with issues of place and belonging, technology and aesthetics, and creative and political practices. He's the co-creator of Wild Tongue (2018) and Futuro Conjunto (2020), two acclaimed borderlands-focused music projects, as well as the co-creator of After Now (2022), a six-part jazz suite exploring post-utopian futures. His first book, Dreams in Double Time, will be published by Duke University Press in 2023. Jonathan holds a PhD in Modern Thought & Literature from Stanford University and teaches arts and humanities at the University of Southern California.

Jonathan Leal, “Ballads of the Beat: On the Rhythms of Border Living” In the twenty-first century, the U.S.–Mexico border stands apart as one of the most politically contentious and culturally rich zones in the world. And often, scholarly and journalistic narratives produced about this region either overlook or mischaracterize the creative and intellectual contributions of people who reside in border space; a quick look at border-focused headlines in major U.S. news outlets over the last few years, for instance, reveals a narrative tendency to focus on what happens to people living and traveling along the border, as opposed to what people who live there think, do, and build. As a scholar and an artist who was raised by this very border space, I have seen how this narrative tendency negatively affects the production of scholarly knowledge, artistic discourse, and government policy. With “Ballads of the Beat,” I join others in offering a response.

“Ballads of the Beat” listens alongside contemporary U.S.–Mexico borderlands producers and musicians, following their incorporations of classic regional folk records into contemporary works. Fundamentally, "Ballads of the Beat" considers a set of linked questions: what work does the flip, the local sample, the beat tape do in contemporary spaces of exception? How can thinking alongside the artists producing them help us understand anew the issues laid out by prior generations of borderlands intellectuals, including luminaries like Gloria Anzaldúa and Américo Paredes? How does something like the MPC, or the Digital Audio Workstation, change the ways we think about how border history is animated? And ultimately: what happens when beat makers are heard as border theorists?

Already, border militarization, surveillance, political non-representation, and climate migration are among at least two nations’ most pressing issues; with “Ballads of the Beat,” I offer an embodied cultural and spatial examination through musical dialogue and storytelling, focusing less on narrative sensationalism than what’s actually happening on the ground.

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Thursday, April 22

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Friday, April 23

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Saturday, April 24

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Sunday, April 25

11:00am PDT

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