Black Music Month Pt. 4 of 4: Hip Hop

In much the same way as Jazz, Hip Hop was formed in the Black ghettos of America, led by a youth culture, and today has a critical global presence and influence. Citing the boroughs of New York as its birthplace in the late 70s, Hip Hop extended its influence across the U.S. with a quickness unlike any other music genre.

Graffiti in Rome

Adopting its musical reference from the well styled, rhythmic, and groove oriented R&B and Funk songs of the 1970s, Hip Hop spread the message of a converging youth culture.  Hip Hop’s formation was about the here and now of the Black community and how the youth fit into that sometimes turbulent process of growing up and survival in the inner cities of America.  In a short period of time, Hip Hop developed a unique culture of graffiti, dance, turntables and microphones.

Bronx DJ making history

Today, Hip Hop utilizes cutting edge musical technology and individual character “swag” that drives a crucial portion of American and global commerce (much more can be said about this).

Hip Hop, with its ability to give voice to youth culture, has extended beyond the Black ghettos and inner cities to reside in places such as affluent American suburbs, Koreatown, the Barrio, to locales such as London, Paris, Rome, Accra, Johannesburg, Moscow, New Delhi, Sydney, and Tokyo.

In terms of Hip Hop’s introduction to the world, I think Wonder Mike of the Sugar Hill Gang expressed it

Sugar Hill Gang (from corbis)

most prophetically: “I am Wonder Mike and I’d like to say hello, to the black, to the white, the red and the brown, the purple and yellow . . .

As we conclude BMM 2012, lets remember that Black music is deeply woven into the American fabric.  A group of people, who needed to audibly express the sentiments of oppression and the battle for freedom, forged this music to soothe their soul in the midst of their struggle.  Black music has a transcending power of triumph.  Ultimately, Black music has become one of the defining factors of the American identity and is embraced world wide like no other music.

Hip Hop is Black music and Authentically American.
(Jay Z and Kanye West)

So don’t let the end of June be the end of the appreciation of Black music.  Indulge yourself!

Hip Hop first spoke to the world from the boroughs of New York. Take a listen as the world hollers back:

Black Music Month Pt. 3 of 4: Jazz

Jazz is by far the most influential music ever created.  I know this is a bold statement, but it is true.  Jazz music has a critical global influence.  I would wager there is no place in the world anyone can travel and not hear some form of Jazz.  There are no pages left in Jazz’s passport.  The genre has never had any problems making its way through customs.  Jazz music, once known as jungle music, and music of the savage, capable of corrupting minds of the most pure soul, and inherently evil, ascended out of the brothels of Storyville, danced its way through the mean streets of St. Louis and Chicago, learned to swing in Harlem, and took flight across The Pond with all the sensibilities of the Black American struggle, was ultimately embraced by the world.

Jay McNeely corrupting the minds of the pure

Jazz, also known as American Classical Music, carries with it the entire narrative of the Black presence on American soil.  It is truth, it is emotion, it is literate, it is pompous, it is fresh, it is uncontainable, and it is love all at the same time.  Jazz is universally appealing and has the ability to change lives.

As the Jazz genre emerged out of the turn of the century, it shifted and transformed its style, rhythm, and movement to accommodate the changing cultural and social tides in America.  Today, moreover, through it all it has been sincere in its production and its message to the masses.

Continue to celebrate this BMM and listen to as much Jazz as you possibly can.  Check out the origins of Jazz in the recordings of Scott Joplin and Buddy Bolden.  Listen to the role of the Blues in the formation of Jazz with W. C. Handy, and Jelly Roll Morton.  Dive deep in to the era that placed Jazz on the map and check out the work of Louis Armstrong.  Learn about swing through the bands of Count Basie, Cab Calloway, and Duke Ellington.  Listen to amazing and classic voices (singers struggle to emulate today) of Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn, and Johnny Hartman.

Unmatchable voice

Find out what all the fuss is about Bebop by listening to Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, and Bud Powell.  Listen to the magic of Jazz through Miles Davis and John Coltrane.  Groove to the descargas of Afro-Cuban Jazz y escuchan a Chano Pozo, Tito Puente, Cal Tjader, Dizzy Gillespie (yes him again), Eddie Palmieri.  Then be reminded Jazz is still hot today and check out the new lions such as Joshua Redman, Roy Hargrove, Gregory Porter, Esperanza Spalding, Ambrose Akinmusire, and Robert Glasper.

For now, listen to 4 of my favorites.

Black Music Month Pt. 2 of 4: Spirituals & Gospel Music

Emerging out of the rich tradition of work and prison songs were the spirituals and gospel music.

The choir sings its praises

To begin, spirituals expanded the role of song beyond the plantation grounds and prison walls.  It expressed the newly embraced tenants of Christianity of the enslaved.  In short, the spirituals articulated the sureness of a paradise after a long life of bondage.  The songs narrated the promise of God through individuals of the Old Testament and ultimately reinforced salvation, as they were hymn lined through call and response in churches and prayer houses [Negro Spirituals].

Gospel music expanded the role of song further for the enslaved and free black bodies.  It encompassed the promise of the spirituals but also added the lyrical account of a personal relationship with Jesus.  Gospel music was first testimonial in that it relayed to the listener the fruits of faith through the many trials of life.  In this way, gospel also reinforced salvation, but on a more personal level.  Furthermore, gospel’s music signified the genre like no other form of black music. Its choir and instrumentation: organ, piano, drums, bass, guitar (a contemporary musical element), are used in unique ways to achieve and maintain a heighten level of Christian worship.  You know it when you hear it.  When spirituals and gospel are expressed sincerely they do indeed invite the Holy Spirit into worship.

Spirituals and gospel, music according to scholars, are the purest form of black music in terms of how the genre parallels and revolves around the black presence in the U.S.  They are heavily and undeniably embedded in black culture.  Spirituals and gospel has continually allowed the black soul to experience freedom, and great joy in the midst of hardship.

Continue to enjoy and embrace Black Music Month and take a listen to some spirituals and gospel music:

A classic spiritual:

Gospel by Sam Cook.  Contemporary R&B has its roots firmly planted in Gospel.

Contemporary Gospel is powerful.

Gospel is very personal.

Black Music Month Pt. 1 of 4: Work Songs

Isn’t it amazing we have celebrated Black Music Month for the past 33 years.  Yes, 33 years!  On June 7, 1979, after some convincing talks between music legend Kenny Gamble and Ed Wright and President Jimmy Carter, the first month long celebration began its 33 year reign with a White House concert.

Kenny Gamble

Every year since then America has set aside time and space to “recognizing and celebrating the economic and cultural power of Black music and those who made and promoted it.”  The lasting legacy of Black Music Month is it serves as a stage to honor the most beautiful art form in America.  But more succinctly it shines a light on a musical and rhythmic narrative of dispersed black bodies and an unyielding spirit in search of freedom in the throes of horrific tragedy.

Black music’s origins in America imbued it with a certain peculiarity, which allowed songs to be sung from enslaved bodies while simultaneously allowing their spirit to be free.  Songs had the power to comfort the spirit in turmoil and ease the bounded body.  This power of black music to ease the spirit is found in all genres of black music that ranged from work songs, spirituals, gospel, blues, to jazz, soul, rhythm and blues, funk, disco, and rap.

Black music not only served to release the spirit of black bound bodies but any bound body as well.  By the early 20th century black music in the form of jazz served to release the spirit of economically challenged whites and Jews who felt constrained by the labor and social disparities of the day.  Similarly, the mid 20th century witnessed the cross over appeal of “race music” to America’s youth who felt constrained and limited by their parents’ cultural and social expectations.  Black music had the power to bring together cultures and create a dialogue of freedom amid the common embrace of rhythm.  Sweet!

Having said all that, let’s take this and the next 3 weeks to critically listen to and examine black music from its earliest moments to today.

Some of the earliest forms of black music were formed in the workspace of the rice, cotton and tobacco fields of the South.  Known as “work songs,” they helped to ease the physical rigors of labor on a plantation.

The chain gain ready to work in unison to reset a train track.

Over time, through Emancipation and Southern Reconstruction, work songs found their way into the prison complex at the turn of the 20th century.  In the same way as field work songs did, prison work songs served to ease the intense physical and mental workload of the bound prisoner.  More importantly prison work songs served to create verse and rhythm, which facilitated a concerted effort of labor.  Prison work songs were most common and effective in the “chain gang” (a group of prisoners chained/shackled together to thwart off a running escape).  Take a listen to the following samples of prison work songs and consider the power in their ability to ease labor and free ones spirit.

To be continued . . .