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Black Music, American Music: From the Slave Ship to the World

Black Music, American Music: From the Slave Ship to the World

Black Music: A Special Part
April 18, 1979

From the Slave Ship to the World

The music of the true American majority is rhythm n’ blues. Whether or not it’s referred to as rock, soul, funk, blues, salsa, gos­pel, jazz, or reggae, it’s all about the identical thing. Black mu­sic. This continuum which embraces such a rich variety of types has come to us from throughout the generations bounded only by one widespread reality: it came from the slave ship.

It took root in several soils — that ship made a number of stops, notably within the Caribbean and South America — however wherever it landed, that musical kernel grew in such a approach that it took on attributes of the local cultures while remaining emphatically African. A “new” music was thus created within the western hemisphere, obviously a toddler of Africa, but in addition startlingly totally different from anything the Mother Continent had ever seen. Radically totally different.

The blues means more than only a music of sorrow — each­one has recognized sorrow. It’s not a music however a whole musical faculty of thought; not just about sorrow, however about the complete scope of emotions from the deep, from society’s depths. Made into an Art, by the youngsters of the slave ships. And rhythm, also a musical faculty of thought, primitive and professional­present in its grasp of the chances of the drums, of the beats and the spaces between them.

The music of the Africans within the western hemisphere has made the world dance; it has inspired tens of millions, notably in very real battles for human liberty; and it has given america its solely “indigenous” (i.e., submit–Native Ameri­can) classical music. That this music has additionally been a supply of nice wealth for some, Black individuals last of all, is well known. It is a level to remember when you consider a second area of exploitation about which much much less has been stated.

That’s the area of the rip-off which la familia has been dis­cussing for generations. Not the financial rip-off; that’s a given. The cultural rip-off, which psychically cuts deeper. That’s the rip-off which tries to extract the sacred funk essence of the music and then passes the sickly distillation off as primo. Not simply as a road hustle, thoughts you; as a lifestyle. Not simply, “Hey, I received some great things right here,” but “I obtained the stuff here.” This racist angle, this fawning over one’s ex­cretion as though it have been platinum, permeates all points of life having to do with common music in the States.

Think about it. Take into consideration the historical past of radio; a minimum of a whole lot of movie plots; music criticism, together with at the moment’s rock writing; dance criticism; cultural subsidization; musical theatre; university help; document company financing; con­cert reserving selections; all that stuff. All reinforcing and jus­tifying the institutional and private dogma that “white mu­sic just isn’t solely good; it is higher” (than Black music).

So Fred Astaire becomes the epitome of tap, whereas Bojan­gles is an also-ran. Crosby scores however Eckstine can’t get the play. Sophie Tucker wows ’em until the top but Bessie Smith nostalgia follows the grave. Benny Goodman the King of Swing? Appears the Duke and the Rely had extra on the ball. Mick Jagger’s received soul. Only if you’ve never seen James Brown. Or even Mitch Ryder. The brand new disco trick is to be white and sound black. Rod Stewart meeting Cher at Dan Hartman’s home to see if Peter Brown continues to be in with KC. Momento! That was the original disco trick!

R&b is jungle music but rock n’ roll, after a quick interval of resistance, is accepted in white society as an increasingly less wild youngsters’ music. But what’s rock n’ roll? A pal says, “Rock n’ roll is what whites created to promote Black music, r&b. Elvis Presley was real, however Elvis Presley was created. And the thrust of white rock criticism has been to seek out, hype, and crown a stream of successors to that throne.”

Which brings us to a central query: What is white rock? For that matter (and more exactly), what’s any Euro-American pop music? That is, without the African “parts”? A fairly close approximation of what real “white rock” would appear to be is afforded by one of the best Punk/New Wave outfits. As Bob Christgau stated, “It doesn’t swing with a vengeance.” What drives one again to the barricades is that this is held aloft as some type of charming quality or worse, an aesthetic aim value pursuing. It’s, if one is into perversions, and there are enough of that ilk to have established an entire faculty of thought. Imagine, digging something that don’t swing…

And that’s the music beneath dialogue: that which swings. It might swing in types as numerous as a Santana guitar solo, an Ellington symphony, a Bob Marley groove, or a foggy mountain breakdown, however so long as you and I can discover a widespread ground of funk, we’re in business. It was a perversion to boost rock n’ roll as one thing distinct from rhythm n’ blues when it was but an extraction; nothing was “added.”

No direct musical contributions, that’s. But one technological achievement endlessly modified the inventive course of those that would deal with it, and so the viewers’s perceptions of “good” and “dangerous.” Electrical energy. Machine-made sounds. The studio. Electricity was the Promethean flame of recent pop; once blacks chained it rhythm n’ blues turned soul turned funk turned… Distortion and suggestions are acquainted concepts to a individuals raised amid the concord and melody produced from polyrhythm. Electrical energy magnified and set a brand new stage. James Brown by no means really played with electricity, exploring as an alternative the elements of The Groove; apart from, it was not yet his time. Time and events coalesced with Sly and Jimi; who extended James’s vision and… electrified it. Rocked it.

Someway, in reading even probably the most “enlightened” white publications or listening to “progressive” white stations, one doesn’t get this picture. As an alternative, one will get a historical past of Elvis emerging full-blown, with a nod to some anonymous guitar­ pickin’ sharecropper and Little Chuck Diddley, followed by the Beatles and Seashore Boys with a taste of Motown, a quick journey on a Grateful Airplane, and a shove out the door by Alice Bowie.

I suppose what I’d lastly wish to see is stability restored. For every two columns on Patti Smith and Mick Jagger, Linda Ronstadt and Elvis Costello, I’d wish to see seven on P-­Funk, Muhul Richard Abrams, Celia Cruz, and Quincy Jones. What I’d actually like is three major FM stations com­peting to show to advertisers that the most important potential audience of all is the one constructed around swing in its variety. Stations that may carry you seamlessly from the Rascals to Sam & Dave to Earth, Wind & Hearth to Ellington to Miles to Cachao to Tipica Excellent to Stylish to Steely Dan to Springsteen to P-Funk (it can be accomplished). As a result of to revive the stability correctly the unique perversion have to be exorcised also: the categorization that obtained us all squared off into this nonsense within the first place. Does it swing or doesn’t it? Does it contact the spirit or doesn’t it? Does it transfer the body or doesn’t it? Punto.

However that gained’t occur till racism receives its demise blow; since whites should bury their monster (the remainder of us can battle it or reside round it but we will’t kill it), and since only token efforts in that path have been made within the music world it’s protected to imagine that the informal hatred with which white pop is recorded, hyped, performed, and bought will probably be with us for a while. As well as the continued efforts to maintain Black music in radio, stage, and print barrios.

So we’re unable to take pleasure in music with out factoring in that hatred; and we are unable to take a look at future developments with out that very same factoring. However it’s protected to say that there will nonetheless be progress. As all the time these developments begin at the soul of Black pop — its funk. In current occasions that has meant following the flame because it has handed from James Brown to Sly Stone and Jimi Hendrix up by means of the present day and Maurice White (Earth, Wind, & Hearth) and George Clinton (P-Funk). What’s coming into being for the ’80s is the fourth postwar funk era, and that group is stripping the sound to its basics after which distorting it electronically. In other words, young, small, self-contained Black rock bands. Black Rock — rock’s promise realized.

For the one overriding characteristic of this Rock is that it swings, twin guitar leads and all. This is not to exclude the inevitable parodies or antiforces that may arise within the music — however those teams will both carry that sort of improvisation into jazz or the avant-garde, or else return to pure funk. The swing of Black Rock additionally cannot be compared to that in white rock, supposedly greatest exemplified by the Stones. I’ve seen the Stones at the Garden in ’74 and just lately on the Palladium; nothin’ happenin’. A diluted r&b backbeat, some electrical energy on prime, and a jive, non-dancing, non-singing fool out entrance who nonetheless ain’t recovered from seeing James at the TAMI show in ’64. They couldn’t make my foot faucet.

Black Rock, as Jimi tried to point out and Funkadelic now teaches, maintains that primal backbeat. It’s on The One, versus the “virtually” rhythm which supports most white rock, which means it’s on time rhythmically and you may dance to it. Document company expertise scouts at a number of labels report that final yr they acquired extra demos from young Black groups bearing a P-Funk affect than the ”cleaner” EW&F affect which had prevailed earlier than. Their fast heroes are George Clinton and Bootsy Collins, in fact, but in addition such lesser recognized Mothership travelers as guitarist Mike Hampton, guitarist/composer Eddie Hazel, the late guitarist/vocalists Glen Goines, guitarist/vocalist Garry Shider, and keyboardist Bernie Worrel. These are simply a number of the individuals you’ll have to know with a view to get a fix on what’s occurring in three years.

Not that we get a transparent image of what’s occurring now. Any ballot just like the current Pazz & Jop affair in these pages which makes an attempt to report current pop crucial sentiment and manages to put only two Black artists (at numbers 27 & 30) amongst its prime 30 is invalid. Until it calls itself a “primarily white ballot.” There’s an entire other world on the market which laughs on the Conflict and Elvis Costello.

All energy to Bonnie Bramlett’s proper hand. Now, everyone out on the floor. Together with your curler skates. And keep in mind: One nation beneath a groove.

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