Searching For Sycorax: Black Girl Magic In The Blues & Conjure

"Folkloric Horror: A New Way of Reading Black Women's Creative Horror" (Music/Performance)
"Sycorax's Power of Revision: Reconstructing Black Women's Counternarratives"

Statement: Folkloric horror also extends to black women who make music. The blueswoman can be read as a conjure woman who brings the supernatural into the ordinary. Yet, conjure women are often labeled as marginalized outcasts. Brooks asserts that this status extends to the blueswoman and notes the "relationship between the blues and conjure".


conjure - a spiritual practice where power is invoked from a different dimension usually for protection and/or healing, doubling as a belief system commonly held by those of African descent. Usually an amalgam of African religions due to the dispersement of different ethnic groups from the slavetrade in the United States.

sonic folkloric horror - grounded "in traditional West African religious practices," the blueswoman and conjure woman are both one, who intentionally "conjure through their musical performances"

Discussion Topics:

The conjure woman is someone who lives amongst the community but possesses abilities to mediate between the spirit world and material world, usually to counsel others, has knowledge of healing herbs and other ways to use natural medicines (ex: midwifery). But she also has an elevated status that often keeps her in isolation.

The blues and conjure connect by the spiritual motivations of each; the blues was formed from Negro spirituals. When those spirituals evolved into gospel, blues picked up the scraps as a genre of expression that privileges individual desire.

Blues music as "a tool of conjure" - songs may lay out ingredients for spells, descriptions of conjure in lyrics and song titles, celebration of "Hoodoo doctors and conjure women" in songs

Black women musical artists "manifest" folkloric horror by merging the blueswoman motif with the conjure woman. They reject "the values of the mainstream African American culture and beliefs," more specifically, the social borders surrounding the Black Christian Church. Conjure women favor spirituality through "traditional West African religious practices" that oppose the established, narrow Christian doctrine. Blueswomen, by nature of the individualistic, flesh-driven nature of the music, were outcasted from this social circle due to the oppositional ideals. Both are healers; through physical, emotional, and spiritual ailments by way of counseling (particularly with blueswomen, song lyrics that asserted that women have choices - self love and all of its manifestations). Ultimately, this merger unravels the "limited constructions of black femininity."


Memphis Minnie

"conjures with her guitar"

Song: "Hoodoo Lady"

- focuses on her Black cultural position as an Other that has supernatural qualities
- her guitar skills harken to "the West African conjuring tradition"

Nina Simone

"conjures with her piano"

Song: "I'll Put a Spell On You" (Jalacy Hawkins cover)

Live performance: never makes direct eye contact with the audience as a demonstration of control, the growl inflections in the delivery of lyrics marks an experimental use of singing and rage. Assessing from Simone's legacy, her performances were her protest to injustice, a way to find her own healing (and maybe touch others), intentionally making people uncomfortable, making her an outcast of sorts. These observations align perfectly with the blueswoman and the conjure woman.



-presents visuals of African deities along with narration that invokes supernatural female figures in African American folklore
-"Beyonce uses the grotesque and the terrifying to ultimately alleviate her fears--a coping mechanism denied black women for far too long."

Discussion Questions:

In what ways can we describe and explain the result of conjure in ways in which we and others relate to music?

Brooks cleverly lays out the ways in which we can assess how enslaved Africans brought to America developed spiritual practices  that are grounded in African cosmology. What does she insist about the way the blues is positioned and how we can view the blues as a spiritually rooted musical genre?

With the merger of the blueswoman and conjure woman, how were they early manifestations of black feminism?

How are Black women horror creators continuing to create a more holistic space within the horror genre? How does Brooks describe Sycorax and her position in the present and future?

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