All Articles Tagged "african american music"
by R. Asmerom
The Black soul. It’s a wonder, isn’t it? That the most oppressed people and hated people on earth can create the most powerful music and influential art in the world. It’s a paradox that is not lost on Dr. Pascal Bokar Thiam, a professor of Music and African studies at University of San Francisco, who just released the book “From Timbuktu to the Mississippi Delta: How West African Standards Shaped the Music of the Delta Blues.” In his insightful and rare book, the Senagelese-French historian illustratates just how under-rated African ancestry and culture is when it comes to assessing the musical history of the United States.
“What I’ve noticed in teaching jazz history courses was that there was a significant amount of academic amnesia when it came to the contribution of the populations that migrated from West Africa to the southern plantations of the United States between the 16th Century and the 19th Century,” he said.
Thiam contends that jazz is essentially a fusion of blues and gospel, a music that conveyed the sorrow and hopes of a population marginalized and dehumanized. In general, the evolution of jazz follows the theme of other popular music forms which emerged from the experience of hardship.
“In order to understand the way creativity happens you have to understand what is called rhythmic creative intuition,” said Thiam. “And that’s a mechanism by which oppressed communities, in this case the African American community, have to dig deep inside their collective soul to project onto the arts something that is fundamental to their identity in order to survive the social political conditions in which they are living.”
The saxophone, the main symbolic instrument of jazz, may have been created in Europe, but the style and form of jazz was molded by the Black experience and didn’t “crystallize” until the early 20th century. One of the main points that Thiam makes is that New Orleans was not the birthplace of jazz, as the New Orleans tourist board may want you to believe. Instead, the birthplace of jazz is the collective of African-American communities where slaves and their descendants were concentrated.
(DC Centric) — Go-go has a tenuous place within the District’s borders. It’s the city’s homegrown music which came out of the black community, but many clubs and venues have been shut down over the past few decades because of liability and violence concerns. Police and local officials have linked the music to violence.
As the fader slides toward silence and Black Music Month nears its end, The Atlanta Post has decided to turn up the volume. Instead of celebrating typical artists and albums we’ve reached out to several music experts to compile a list of seven of the most misunderstood, underrated and unsung albums of all time. Whether it was bold sexuality, fearless experimentation or the scandal of troubled personal lives, each of the following compilations faced challenges in securing respect and acclaim. Some of the entries are now considered underground or mainstream classics, while a few of them are still waiting to be understood and appreciated by the masses.
Common may enjoy his status today, as one of black music’s most acclaimed and visible talents, but in 2002 no one knew quite what to make of his hip-hop fusion album, “Electric Circus”. “It was a complete musical departure from not only anything Common had ever recorded, but from anything mainstream rappers were doing. It’s arguably one of the most musically eclectic hip-hop albums ever. There’s electronic, R&B, boom bap, jazz, big band and African beats all mixed in without any clear order,” said Yahoo! Music’s senior editor, Billy Johnson.
In addition to stepping outside of musical limits, Common lyrically pushed the envelope by tackling weighty subject matter such as homophobia, sexual abuse and mortality. While such experimentation failed to deliver commercial success, Johnson believes that there is still value to this overlooked entry in the rapper’s catalogue. “It is still relevant today because it’s no longer uncommon to hear raps over such diverse beats. Many hip-hop fans might still shy away from this album, but fans of electronic, rock, and underground rap music would absolutely embrace it.”
Listen to: “Star 69 (PS With Love)”
(Philadelphia Inquirer) — Rejoice & Shout, filmmaker Don McGlynn’s raucous new documentary about gospel music in America, reaches all the way back to 1902, when Virginia’s Dinwiddie Colored Quartet made the first African American religious recordings, almost two decades before the first jazz and blues records. Listening in on the music that came out of black Baptist and Pentecostal churches in the century since, Rejoice & Shout focuses attention on big-name and not-so-big-name gospel greats, from Mahalia Jackson and the Staple Singers to the Golden Gate Quartet and Swan Silvertones.
(TheWrap) — In a music industry long dependent on black performers, the expected appointment of two African-Americans to top executive roles at the major labels is unlikely to be viewed as much progress. The appointments will follow back-to-back exits by the industry’s most visible black executives. They’re also occurring in tandem with a decline in black music itself. Most likely, they will only spotlight the continuing disconnect between African Americans’ meager power in the industry’s management hierarchy and their sweeping artistic influence. By month’s end, “Gee” Roberson (left) will be announced as chairman of Geffen Records, according to two persons close to the matter. Having co-managed hip-hop newcomers Kanye West, Lil Wayne and Drake to pop stardom, Roberson now will turn to rebuilding a stagnant brand that once reigned in rock.
(The Guardian) — The Def Jam label holds an almost mythical status within hip-hop. How come? After all, it was far from the first to put out rap music and, though it released numerous seminal records (Run DMC, Public Enemy, EPMD), there are perhaps not so many as you might think. Still, there is no label whose fortunes seem so intertwined with hip-hop’s own, tracing the genre’s growth from cottage industry in the 80s via blue-chip market leader in the early noughties to today’s clumsy and somewhat grotesque behemoth (last year Def Jam even signed execrable tweeny rappers N-Dubz). Maybe it’s simply because Def Jam has outlived its peers, or maybe there’s something particularly iconic about that logo – the D that looks like a halved 12-inch vinyl and the J resembling the arm of a turntable.
(TheLoop21) — “With all my heart I love you baby/Stay with me and you will see/My arms will hold you baby/Never leave cause baby I believe I’m in love…”
It’s impossible not to close your eyes and sing along when you hear Anita Baker’s hit song, “Sweet Love.” Those lyrics, like many classic songs, speak to your heart whether you’re in love, out of love or wishing you had a love. We often ask our favorite artists how do they know exactly what I’m thinking? And with artists belting out the words to their songs so convincingly, it’s hard to believe that the artist didn’t pen the ballad themselves. We often give an artist praise without even realizing that someone else actually wrote the lyrics to our favorite tune. Many women may not realize that some of their favorite female anthems including “Irreplaceable,” “Sweet Love,” and “Single Ladies,” were written by men.
(The Wrap) — Pioneering music executive Sylvia Rhone is in talks with bosses at Universal Music Group to exit as president of Universal Motown, a major label arm of the world’s largest music company. Under one scenario, according to two persons familiar with the situation, Rhone — perhaps the industry highest-ranking female and African-American executive — would be head a new production entity fully or partly financed by Universal. “It’s just too early” to know the outcome of the talks, a confidante of Rhone told The Wrap. Rhone — whose list of new and hit artists ranges from hip hop’s Busta Rhyme to Motown legend Stevie Wonder to R&B star Brandy and Erykah Badu — wasn’t immediately available for comment. Nor could a spokesman for Universal Music be reached.
Whether they were the object of our celebrity crushes, the crooners of our first slow dance, or the composers of the song we worked our slow wind and grind to boy bands have contributed majorly to our musical libraries and our lives. And just when we started to love them unconditionally, attitudes start clashing, drugs come into the picture, the industry does them dirty and they do something unthinkable like disband. Or come back with only two members. Or fall into R&B obscurity, leaving us confused, betrayed and dejected. It’s a story we know too well.
The rapidly changing state of the music industry has been well documented, and African American music has certainly not been immune to the transformation. It’s almost hard to imagine how different things were 40 or 50 years ago – without music videos, Auto Tune or mp3 files. But, with so much discussion about advances in technology that have revolutionized the marketing and distribution processes, there has been very little said about its effect on the true essence of the music, particularly within the Black community.
Dr. Portia Maultsby, Indiana University Professor of Folklore and Ethnomusicology, is exploring some of those issues in her forthcoming book From the Margins to the Mainstream. She recently spoke with TAP about her work, as well as the history of African American music and how it has altered the pop culture landscape in the U.S. and beyond.
How did you become interested in the field of ethnomusicology?
I was studying musicology as a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin, and my advisor was very interested in Black music. We would engage in discussions about certain artists and performers like Billie Holiday or he would ask me about jazz, and that’s when I realized how open and interactive the faculty was. A lot of them had interests in Black music and were doing research on the subject.
Around the time that I was working on my thesis, I told my advisor that I was getting bored with studying the same things – Bach, Beethoven, etc. and that I knew there was a lot more to music. He said that I would probably be interested in ethnomusicology and referred me to another faculty member who was over that department. When I met with her, and she explained the field in more detail, I said ‘Wow, this is it!’ It was all about the study of world music and culture. I explained to her that my background had been in an environment with an African-American musical tradition, and that I really wanted to pursue that in my studies.
Let’s talk about the book that you’re working on – From the Margins to the Mainstream. Can you explain the title?
From the Margins to the Mainstream explores the music as it is created on the margins, meaning outside of the mainstream and within the marginalized African American community.
My theory is that Black popular music exists within two contexts and is created within those contexts. One being on the margins of society, and the other being within the mainstream of society as a mass disseminated commodity.
Thus, part of my thesis here is that when music is taken out of its original context, it is given a new meaning, a new function and it is assigned a new aesthetic. So the criticism or the critiques of popular music over the years have been through the lens of the mainstream, or its positioning in the mainstream as a mass disseminated commodity.
Give an example of some of those criticisms.
Ok, take hip-hop, for example. Hip-hop was never an issue when it remained on the margins. It only became an issue when it moved into the mainstream and was taken out of its context, put in a new context and used for another purpose without the understanding of its true meaning, how it was used and why it was significant to the African-American community.
And this is what I want to do with this book. I want to trace the movement of the music; I want to look at how the music evolves on the margins – how it is rolled in Black community life, how it reflects Black culture, traditions and practices. I want to talk about it as culture, not as this commodity that is negotiated and mediated for mass dissemination and completely changed.