Baba does Bama

Hip hop evolutionist & playwright Baba Brinkman performed for the Bama ALLELE series last night. He got one of the best turnouts we’ve had, & I think it was one of our better efforts at promoting evolution education.

Baba being interviewed by Wendy Reed for "Discovering Alabama"

Baba being interviewed by Wendy Reed for “Discovering Alabama”

Unlike many of our speakers, Baba was in & out of town, so we had to pack in as many interactions as possible in a short time to maximize our exposure, which I think is key to the synergistic learning this program provides.  Upon arrival in town, he was interviewed on camera for Discovering Alabama, a PBS program that highlight Alabama natural history & has been documenting the ALLELE program for a planned documentary on evolution education in our state.  Having never met Baba before, I was impressed with his eloquence & ability to articulate an informed & sophisticated position on any topic related to evolution, the arts, or culture that interviewer Wendy Reed threw at him.  He is clearly well informed & been around the evolution interviewing block.  She put him on the spot to freestyle based on the theme “communication,” which I caught a snatch of on video.

On our way to dinner, my wife stopped by to retrieve my kids soccer balls that I'd driven off with on their way to practice. Apparently, Baba's mother performed in a circus at one time & he picked up some other performance skills along the way.

On our way to dinner, my wife stopped by to retrieve my kids soccer balls that I’d driven off with on their way to practice. Apparently, Baba’s mother performed in a circus at one time & he picked up some other performance skills along the way.

We then ran over the our student-run radio station 90.7 WVUA-FM for a quick interview with Rich Robinson to promote the show.  We talked about what I hoped Baba’s appearance in the ALLELE program would do to promote evolution education in the community, then Rich also put Baba on the spot to freestyle based on what he had seen on the drive across Alabama from the airport to Tuscaloosa.  I think he was busy talking to the biology doctoral student & postdoc that picked him up & didn’t take in many of the sites (note: there are no sites on that drive), but, even given this hardball (relative to the easy theme of communication), Baba transformed it into a self-conscious referent to what he was doing in the station & squeezed me into it.  I must admit, I was tickled to be referenced in a freestyle rhyme & got the whole thing on video.

All our press efforts seemed to have worked because we had a great turnout.  I’d estimate that over 3/5 of the 500 seat hall was filled, & the response to his performance was equally positive.  On the ALLELE Facebook page event, one student said,

Greg Sikes-Mitchell

This set the bar really high for further ALLELE talks. Such a stupendous show of artistry, science, and pure badassery! I literally feel enlightened from this experience. Roll Darwin Roll!!!

If you haven’t seen any of the numerous videorecordings of his performances online, I encourage you to check them out.  His full Bama performance will be available soon on ALLELE’s iTunesU page for you to check out, but what he does is combine evolutionary evidence, hip hop, & comedy for a tour de force of art-as-science-education.  This was truly our first public event with broad appeal, as evidenced by the number of children faculty members (like me) brought to the show.  Caveat: my 10-year-olds were a little bothered by the long discussion of Wilson & Daly’s “Homicide” & Baba’s cursing [ironically, despite it being a bit of a hip hop trope, Baba curses less than their parents] & left before his piece on sexual selection where he shows slides of zebras screwing & references masturbation, though their mother thinks they would have just thought hilarious–but they loved fist-pumping & shouting “I’m a African!”  You can probably hear us in this video.

Baba Brinkman performing for the ALLELE seriesAnd again, Baba allowed himself to be put on the spot during the Q&A session, challenging the audience to ask him questions that he would then integrate into a freestyle.  The best part of this is when my colleague Leslie Rissler asked him if he could explain why, relative to these graphs from The Equality Trust that show the USA as an outlier in terms of homicide rates & teenage pregnancy, there are also high rates of religiosity relative to socioeconomic disparity.  He answered by poking a little fun at her for implying that religiosity might lead to gun violence & worked it into the freestyle, bedded in his song “Performance, Feedback, Revision.”

Source: Wilkinson & Pickett, The Spirit Level (2009), The Equality Trust

teenage births, from The Equality Trust

Canadian Baba Brinkman does his Canada goose threat impression

Canadian Baba Brinkman does his Canada goose threat impression

...which, Brinkman points out, is the analog to the gangsta rap threat display

…which, Brinkman points out, is the analog to the gangsta rap threat display (Photo by Jagger Lynn)

However, perhaps the best part of any of these events is the one-on-one time between the guests & students & with me (ha!).  On the way to the airport we got to talking about future projects, & he is currently grantwriting to develop a program that measure the educational impact of his theater shows on audiences in regions with poor science education performances or high rates of religious Creationism  & in so doing to specifically engage these latter communities in dialogue as part of a documentary process–a sort of “Rap Guide to Evolution Meets Borat,” as Baba put it.  So I said, ‘Hey, Alabama is full of Creationists & outscored every other state in U.S. state in poor evolution education performance.  We’d love to help you, & our EvoS students would love to help you collect these data & set up shows.  This would be the exact type of outreach we’ve been looking to do.  The students would love it, & the NSF review committees would love it if you used the program as a training opportunity for students.’  And I think he bought it, so hopefully getting involved in that effort & planning a Baba theater tour of the South is something we will soon be getting involved in!

So, stay tuned for Baba does Bama, again, & then some!

Christopher Lynn

About Christopher Lynn

Christopher Dana Lynn is an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Alabama, where he founded the Evolutionary Studies program.  Chris teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in biological anthropology, human sexuality, evolution, biocultural medical anthropology, and neuroanthropology.  He received his Ph.D. in Biological Anthropology in 2009 from the University at Albany, SUNY, where his doctoral focus was on the influence of speaking in tongues on stress response among Pentecostals.  Chris runs a human behavioral ecology research group where the objectives include studying fun gimmicky things like trance, religious behavior, tattooing, and sex as a way of introducing students to the rigors of evolutionary science.  In all his “free” time, he breaks up fights among his triplet sons, enjoys marriage to the other Loretta Lynn, strokes his mustache, and has learned to be passionate about Alabama football (Roll Tide!).  Follow Chris on Twitter: @Chris_Ly
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