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Black Music: What’s Going On?

To make a masterpiece you need raw talent, terrific songs, musicians who can create soulful grooves and producers who experiment . SWP asks of Black Music : Where are they?

Duke Elington and John Coltrane

[dropcap style=”font-size:100px; color:#992211;”]W[/dropcap]hat is wrong with black music?

The answer of course, is everything. This important strand of popular music has been moribund for over 30 years.

Here is an off-the-top-of-the-head list from the days when the Afro-Atlantean tradition radiated natural elegance, creative imagination and deep soul power. There was no need to consult Google – these swirls of pure black magic are engraved on my heart.

1 A Love Supreme – John Coltrane
2 Ball of Confusion – The Temptations
3 Reet Petite – Jackie Wilson
4 Say a Little Prayer – Aretha Franklin
5 Smokestack Lightning – Howling Wolf
6 My baby just cares for me – Nina Simone
7 Funky Kingston – Toots and the Maytals
8 Take the A Train – Duke Ellington and his Orchestra
9 Trouble Man – Marvin Gaye
10 Strange Fruit – Billie Holiday

The tracks cover three decades from the mid 1940s to the 1970s. Their range of expression is simply staggering and I could have picked hundreds more from the golden age of blues, soul, funk and jazz.

[quote]Random mouse clicks by bedroom mixologists have not produced anything to match the power of Electric Ladyland[/quote]



Certainly there were intense cultural and social pressures in these decades that spawned distinctive artists/producers such as: Sly Stone, Allen Toussaint, Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, Martha Reeves, Bob Marley, Sun Ra, Sam Cooke, Gil Scott Heron, Etta James, Muddy Waters and Coleman Hawkins but that’s no excuse for a complete abandonment of a profound creative principle.

These uninhibited performers created a multi-faceted Soul Temple and left a blazing torch for the next generation of priests/priestesses.

The flame went out abruptly sometime in the 1980s and there have been few brief flickers since: Chic, NWA, Grace Jones, Prince, Arrested Development, Massive Attack, The Fugees and a young headstrong Whitney come to mind.

Jazz died with Miles Davis, and Rap has been a complete non-starter since the innovative days of Grandmaster Flash and Bambaataa. Any fool can make ‘conversational’ observations over a great piece of music, and unfortunately they do. In fact the last great rap record (‘8 Mile’) was made by a white guy using a sample originally recorded by Chas and Dave’s rhythm section.

[quote]changing a few processed beats from time to time and then claiming it is something new is frankly pathetic[/quote]



‘Dance music’ is largely un-danceable and based on my observation of travelling headphone users should be re-named ‘semi-comatose Twitch music’. Duke Elington and John ColtraneThe so-called genres of Grime, Dubstep, Jungle, House etc. are all exactly the same. Simply changing a few processed beats from time to time and then claiming it is something new is frankly pathetic. Random mouse clicks by bedroom mixologists have not produced anything to match the power of Electric Ladyland, Shaft or Otis Blue.

To make an audio masterpiece you need raw talent, terrific songs, musicians who can create soulful grooves and producers that dare to experiment with the form.

Where are they?

As for the abortion that is R and B (no decent rhythm and certainly no blues) I did catch ‘hot new talent’ Emeli Sande’s performance at the Olympics opening ceremony. The girl looked ill at ease, sang a forgettable tune (flat) and completely failed to project sincere emotion. I presumed it was a career killing performance.

Not so.

The exposure gained from this event has propelled the girl to world-wide superstardom yet she is not fit to kiss the hem of Gladys Knight’s ball gown.

Contemporary black artists such as NE-YO and Tinie Tempah are more famous for their sponsorship deals than their music. The new ‘Young, Gifted and Black’ generation is currently satisfied with ‘Ain’t nothing goin’ on but the rent.’

If you want to see ‘it’ in action check out James Brown’s 1967 performance of ‘Papa’s got a brand new bag’ live at the Paris Olympia on U Tube. For over 15 minutes he takes the tune to its utter limit, carving out (as he did night after night after night) a monumental slice of irresistible funk with an inspired sense of theatre. There is never a dull moment. It’s what used to be called ‘entertainment’.

Come on kids: prove me wrong! Make a decent record – just one, and I will gladly purchase it with real money. There have been many excuses for the collapse of the record industry but no one ever mentions the utter decline in the quality of black music.

It may seem an oversight that I have not given an honourable mention to the talented Miss Alicia Keys. However, her latest publicity shots reveal that she has now turned white and thus fails to qualify.


9 Replies to “Black Music: What’s Going On?”

  1. j.a.p says:

    what about Prince? and stevie wonder?

    • Sean says:

      Well, Prince is mentioned in the list of exceptions. Stevie Wonder hasn’t done anything good lately, and the article does mention that it’s referring to the last 30 years or so.

  2. Mike Burnett says:

    It sounds like you need to update your tactics for discovering new music.


    • Snoop Dog says:

      Good Music should come to you, not the other way around!WTF.

  3. Mike Burnett says:

    Snoop Dog, perhaps you enjoy being spoon fed culture. Less and less people do.

    Back to the subject at hand, it’s a mistake to discuss “black music” as a monolith in the first place.

    • Tom Hardly says:

      But is it.

      Surely Race as a unifying concept has a place in contemporary society and music & black culture has had a strong association over the years, no?

    • Snoop Dog says:

      I dont think it is a mistake at all to ask “what is wrong with black music? “. Black people were good at entertaining and black music has been a great influence in the Western Culture and has had a great ascension until the 1980’s.
      19th: blackface minstrelsy shows
      1900-1930: Bert Williams/George Walker; blues; jazz; ragtime; swing music etc
      1940-1960: modal jazz; free jazz; bebop; rockabilly;doo-wop; Motown;Aretha Franklin, the Supremes etc; Hendrix (psychedelia and heavy music trends); Marvin Gaye etc
      1970: Smokey Robinson, Dj Kool Herc; Jackson 5 etc
      1980: Tina Turner, W Houston, etc etc etc.

      Nowadays people’s taste has gone down. That is a FACT and THE REAL ISSUE here. People think Neneh Cherry is great when she is just ok. Emeli Sande is (and looks) rubbish and yet she gets to sing for the Olympics and is invited for free drinks in Soho House. Ne-Yo? Rita Ora? Rihanna? Solange? Tinie Tempah? WTF are they? what do they do? Can you actually sing or hum any of their songs? NOOOO because it is completely rubbish: It has NO SOUL.

      I will repeat what I said earlier:”Good Music should come to you, not the other way around!”
      What do you think happen with the Beatles and Elvis?

      Black people have given up on music. They have traded their soul for some KFC chicken nuggets.

      Let’s hope the Muslims have not killed all the musicians in Mali.

  4. Sean says:

    Other than the vocal, on how many pieces of music do you think you could identify the race of the musician just by listening?

    But that’s an oversimplification, and ignores the cultural forces that shape race-specific subcultures. Most of us know what we mean when we talk about black music, and it’s usually a subset of music that’s understood by others, otherwise the term would be useless.

    That’s why Massive Attack is mentioned in the article, even though one of the band (now half of the band) is white.

  5. Snoop Dog says:

    P.S: Bravo S.W.P !!!
    At last someone with balls! Someone who asks the correct questions and gives a glimpse of the truth.

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