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  • That There Might Be BlackThought Nothing Music and the Hammond B-3
  • Ashon Crawley (bio)


Having been said to be nothing, this is a love letter written to we who have been, and are today still, said to have nothing. And to a tradition of such nothingness. This is a love letter to a love tradition, a tradition that emerges from within, carries and promises nothingness as the simultaneously centrifugal and centripetal—the centrifugitive—force released against, and thus is a critical intervention into, the known world, the perniciously fictive worlds made through political economy, through racial capitalism, through settler colonialism and enslavement. This fictive world—with resonances of real effects felt all over the place—is the project of Western civilization, complete with its brutally violent capacity for rapacious captivity. This is a love letter to a tradition of the ever-overflowing, excessive nothingness that protects itself, that with the breaking of families, of flesh, makes known and felt [End Page 123] the refusal of being destroyed. There is something in such nothingness that is not but still ever excessively was, is, and is yet to come. This is a love letter written against notions of ascendancy, written in favor of the social rather than modern liberal subject’s development. What emerges from the zone of nothingness, from the calculus of the discarded? If something makes itself felt, known, from the zone of those of us said to be and have nothing, then the interrogation of what nothingness means is our urgent task. This is a love letter and explication of queer relationality, what I have otherwise considered Blackqueer aesthesis (Crawley 2013), an otherwise mode of relationality not predicated upon blood quantum nor juridical declarations of law and land. This love letter will listen in on that, listen in to such nothingness. The chord changes and arpeggios of musicianship, of Hammond B-3 organists, will en-flesh such love.


If you had been standing on the white sands of this island (Sapelo Island, Georgia) at dayclean in 1803, or a little later, you might have seen a tall, dark-skinned man with narrow features, his head covered with a cap resembling a Turkish fez, unfold his prayer mat, kneel and pray to the east while the sun rose. This was Bilali, the most famous and powerful of all the Africans who lived on this island during slavery days, and the first of my ancestors I can name.

(Bailey and Bledsoe 2000, 1)

Born approximately 1760 in Timbo, Futa Jallon, Bilali was stolen into laborious conditions as a teenager and taken to Middle Caicos before being sold to Thomas Spalding of Sapelo Island in 1802. A collection of writings, known as Ben Ali’s Diary, was at least partially written by Bilali in Arabic script.1 Bilali’s writing is meditative speech and script, a mode of enfleshment on the page in both easily accessible and incoherent markings. A 13-page manuscript—5 of which cannot be translated to any linguistic rhetoric or grammar, thus remaining opaque and impenetrable for any reader—written in the nineteenth century, it was given to Francis Goulding in 1859. Though [End Page 124] discussed under the rubric of “autobiography,” the document contains no formal identifying information about its author, is not a collection of dates and life occurrences, does not have in it information about ancestry or progeny. It contains what I call a “choreosonic itinerary and protocol” for prayer and ablution, for praise to Allah. “Choreosonic” is a portmanteau underscoring that choreography and sonicity, movement and sound, are inextricably linked and have to be thought together. The choreosonic itinerary and protocol is a series of placements and arrangements for how blackness, life from within the zone of nothingness, through performance resisted the theological–philosophical modes of thought that created the concept of racial difference.

Bilali’s writing begins with the opening benediction: “In the name of Allah, The Most Merciful The Most beneficent. Allah’s blessings upon our lord Muhammad, and upon his family and companions, blessings and salutations” (Judy 1993, 240). It includes: “Using both the right and left hands, one puts water into the mouth at least...


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