Street ballets in magic cities

cultural imaginings of the modern American metropolis


  • Tadhg O'Keeffe University College Dublin



Blaxploitation, image-ability, inner city, New Urbanism, soundtracks, Urban Studies


Written from the perspective of an urban specialist rather than a musicologist, this paper is a series of three inter-linked reflections on attempts in popular and ‘semi-popular’ music to represent the modern, later twentieth-century, American metropolis. Using a number of urban soundtracks as case studies, culminating in the soundtrack to Shaft, an early 1970s Blaxploitation movie, the suggestion is made that musics purporting to represent urbanism are better understood as constructions of virtual, parallel, urbanisms, reflecting the cultural imaginations of their creators and responding to the cultural needs of their audiences. It is suggested that the value of music research in Urban Studies derives not from the potential of music to capture the nature of urban life but from its potential to illuminate subtle, but sometimes politically potent, cultural conceptualizations of the city as a concept of place.

Author Biography

Tadhg O'Keeffe, University College Dublin

Tadhg O’Keeffe is Associate Professor of Archaeology in University College Dublin. His research interests include the concept of modernity, the archaeology of contemp-oraneity, and the geography of dystopian urbanism in contemporary Ireland. School of Archaeology University College Dublin Belfield, Dublin 4


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How to Cite

O’Keeffe, T. (2010). Street ballets in magic cities: cultural imaginings of the modern American metropolis. Popular Music History, 4(2), 111–125.