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What is Black Music IV: A Response

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Recently, I wrote my third post on What is Black Music? I also posted it over at Current.com and I got a very insightful response which I would like to share with you.

I really love Santogold and love the sound she takes on. I have to say that I grew up in a rock 'n roll family. I wasn't completely versed in what is supposed to be Black music or urban radio. The fam played Afrika Bambaataa, Led Zepplin, Pink Floyd, and Parliament. To my dad, music like that always had similarities to blues and the early roots of Rock which involved Black artists.

When I look at my own music collection it has M.I.A., Arctic Monkeys, White Stripes, early No Doubt and Kings of Leon. Stuff like that got me called an "Oreo" by my own black community despite the fact that these musicians throw the sounds of blues, reggae, dub, and Funk Carioca into the mix. So I feel the labeling of Black music can sometimes get the most criticism from Black people.

Although, I must say it can be hard for people like Santogold to break out into the mainstream because it seems so different when really it's just as much Pop music as it is something underground. When you see singers like Amy Winehouse, Adele, and Duffy take on soul, it's something fresh to the audiences' ears despite the fact that Jill Scott or Erykah Badu have been doing that sound for ages. The minute blue-eyed soul comes around, it becomes acceptable.

But it is not the fault of these artists. Rather the fault of the media. If a white kid loves hip-hop or soul, what's stopping him or her from embracing that and letting it influence their music? I think it's up to the Black community to embrace their own roots and let that speak through their art. I don't know a single song from Lil' Wayne and opted out of Beyonce's last album, does that make me less "black"? I don't think so and it shouldn't define me as a Black person. I know what I like and I know what's real. That works for me. -Mornrail

She makes some real good, and honest points about the state of black music in this country and how it is accepted in the mainstream.  She is also pointed me to an article in the New Yorker addressing the same issue in a different light.  Instead of race in being a factor, it is class.  The article is basically saying that rock has become stale or stagnated because it cease interacting with black culture. Maybe that is why Hip Hop is more popular than rock and why certain acts such as the White Stripes, and the Black Keys are gaining in popularity too. Here is an excerpt:

There’s no point in faulting Arcade Fire for what it doesn’t do; what’s missing from the band’s musical DNA is missing from dozens of other popular and accomplished rock bands’ as well—most of them less entertaining than Arcade Fire. I’ve spent the past decade wondering why rock and roll, the most miscegenated popular music ever to have existed, underwent a racial re-sorting in the nineteen-nineties. Why did so many white rock bands retreat from the ecstatic singing and intense, voicelike guitar tones of the blues, the heavy African downbeat, and the elaborate showmanship that characterized black music of the mid-twentieth century? These are the volatile elements that launched rock and roll, in the nineteen-fifties, when Elvis Presley stole the world away from Pat Boone and moved popular music from the head to the hips.

It’s difficult to talk about the racial pedigree of American pop music without being accused of reductionism, essentialism, or worse, and such suspicion is often warranted. In the case of many popular genres, the respective contributions of white and black musical traditions are nearly impossible to measure. In the nineteen-twenties, folk music was being recorded for the first time, and it was not always clear where the songs—passed from generation to generation and place to place—had come from. The cadence of African slave hollers shaped the rising and falling patterns of blues singing, but there is still debate about the origins of the genre’s basic chord structure—I-IV-V—and how that progression became associated with a singing style on plantations and in Southern prisons. In 1952, the record collector Harry Smith released “Anthology of American Folk Music,” a highly regarded compilation (and, later, a source for Bob Dylan), which showed that white “country” performers and black “blues” artists had recorded similar material in the nineteen-twenties and thirties, singing about common legends, such as “Stackalee,” over similar chord progressions. Even the call-and-response singing that is integral to many African-American church services may have been brought to America by illiterate Scottish immigrants who learned Scripture by singing it back to the pastor as he read it to them.

What are your thoughts?