Join us on Friday 30 October 2020 for The Making of "Hambone Says" Zoom Chat.

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“Hambone Says” is a time-travelling tune that uses several musical genres to detail a history of racially motivated killings in the United States. The lyrics allude to recent events such as the murders of Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery but also reference the 1967 Detroit riots and the 1923 Rosewood Massacre. 

Watch the video and read more about the project below.

"Hambone Says," Amelia Ray

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"If I had one song to recommend a listen to so far this year, this would be it." 
-Andrew Zhang, Two Story Melody

"Not since Anna Deveare Smith has an artist so accurately channeled a voice that is not their own to shed light on the insidious nature of racism."
Cheryl Derricotte, Visual Artist

 

“Hamilton” drummer Jake Wood and longtime collaborator
Amelia Ray flip the script on race relations in the U.S. 

“Hambone Says” uses contemporary past aesthetic to explore racism, rage and role reversal 


Amelia Ray never met her paternal grandfather because he was murdered by a white man in Butler, AL, after her father, who was still a boy at the time, refused to address the man as “Sir”. While under quarantine and witnessing the nation seethe with collective indignation and unrest, Ray felt her family history come bubbling to the surface. 

“I was going crazy, wanting to yell, cry, hit something, run through the streets, stay locked indoors and sleep all at the same time,” Ray explains. Amidst this confusion, Ray received a text from longtime collaborator Jake Wood stating he had “an opportunity to record a video, preferably with political commentary.” Almost immediately Ray texted Wood back. “I told him I was going to write a song in the voice of a white overseer about how dirty the Negroes were, and that I wanted him to dress up like a field hand.” Wood responded, “That sounds real bold. I’m in.”

“Hambone Says” uses several musical genres to detail a history of racially motivated killings. The lyrics allude to recent events such as the murders of Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery but also reference the 1967 Detroit riots and the 1923 Rosewood Massacre. “I wanted to transmit the exasperation, confusion and fury I saw in the streets and felt in my soul,” Ray says. 

Ray scoured the internet for references to first usage of various derogatory terms used to describe Blacks - particularly in the U.S. - and listed them in chronological order, along with a list of some of the atrocities suffered by Black Americans at the hands of White Americans in chronological order. The goal was to use the terms to reference the events in the context of popular music of their era. 

Grappling with the music industry in a coma, and with no safe means of performing with others, Wood - who was the drummer in the San Francisco “Hamilton” company until production was halted in early March - took to Bay Area rooftops in search of a safe performance space. “Small rehearsal studios with poor ventilation prevented me from making music with others. A roof, however, is far safer, minus the whole falling-to-your-death risk.” Wood adds that along with the safety of the outdoor setting, “you can’t beat the views.” 

The track for “Hambone Says” was recorded live during the filming of the video. 

Detailed lyrics may be found below.

"Hambone Says" Lyrics (with Ray's notes in parentheses)

(I scoured the internet for references to first usage of various derogatory terms used to describe Blacks - particularly in the U.S. - and listed them in chronological order. I then made a list of some of the atrocities suffered by Black Americans at the hands of White Americans in chronological order. The goal was to use the terms to reference the events in the context of popular music of their era. The song begins with a chain gang chant and transitions into gospel, Appalachian music, jazz, rock and roll, funk and rap. In the notes below I have included clarification of the references that are more than 50 years old.)

Dis Red Shirt 
Don’t eat dirt 
Do good work 
My lord 
Dis here gun 
Hunt bluegum 
Coon get some 
My Lord 

(The Red Shirts are white supremacist groups that originated in Mississippi in 1875.)

Up jump the jigaboo, dancin’ ‘round 
Singin’ “I’m gonna lay my burdens down” 
Powder burn, this keg soon will blow 
And they’ll all find justice in the down below 

The Good Book says we are the chosen race 
If it weren’t so, we wouldn’t have his face 
Some spade in Sumner didn’t know his place 
To protect what’s ours, put the boys on the case 

(The "spade in Sumner" is a reference to the Rosewood [FL] Massacre of 1923, which occurred after a white woman claimed a Black man had attacked her in her home.)

Dis Red Shirt   
Don’t eat dirt   
Do good work   
My lord

Ain’t no spook I see ever gonna be clever 
Not now, not tomorrow, not forever 
From this moment on, gonna do all I can 
No tyrant’s heel’ll fit the neck of this man 

(The verse above is a paraphrasing of parts of George Wallace's 1963 Inaugural Address following his election as Governor of Alabama.)

Motor City madness, hot summer night 
Best keep your pickaninnies hid far out of sight 

("Motor City madness" is taken from the second line of Gordon Lightfoot's "Black Day in July," which he wrote in response to the 1967 Detroit Riot. During the riot, four-year-old Tanya Blanding was killed in her living room when Michigan Army National Guardsmen opened fire on her apartment.)

Dis Red Shirt  
Don’t eat dirt  
Do good work  
My lord  
Dis here gun  
Hunt bluegum  
Coon get some  
My Lord 

Been fighting jungle bunnies for years and years 
Baby’s big blue eyes all covered with tears 
Thank Dylann and Zimmerman and Soon Ja Du 
Koreans can do the Lord’s work, too 

Yo, I can’t be a racist if I can’t see colour 
Your skin, his skin, mine’s just a bit duller 
Everybody take a ride on the P.C. bus 
Can’t pin that jail cell noose on us 
Every little conflict, y’all lookin’ my way 
People get robbed while running every day 
Squabblin’ bout statues and pancake batter 
“Knock, knock” “Who’s there?” 
All lives matter

Dis Red Shirt  
Don’t eat dirt  
Do good work  
My lord  
Dis here gun  
Hunt bluegum  
Coon get some  
My Lord