Notes from Dr. Isaac Kalumbu (aka King Isaac)'s "Africa Calling: The African Roots of R&B, Hip-Hop, and Reggae"
Last night I attended a really inspiring presentation put on Michigan State’s African Studies Center, International Studies & Programs, Officer for International Students & Scholars, MSU Neighborhoods Intercultural Pillar, and Office of Cultural & Academic Transitions. Dr. Kalumbu is an ethnomusicologist (basically the sociology/anthropology of music) focused on how music came from Africa to the U.S. via the slave trade, which later led to Spirituals -> Jubilees -> Doowop / Quartets -> Motown / Soul -> R&B / Funk / Reggae -> Hip-Hop. Obviously my flowchart here is a bit oversimplified but the main tenants are there. Here are some of my notes, most of which are direct quotes or conservative paraphrases from King Isaac himself.
African culture is all about community, which is why African Americans refer to each other as brother/sister or ‘cuz. In King Isaac’s home of Zimbabwe his language does not actually have words for “cousin,” “uncle,” or “aunt” because that’s too alienating. Cousins are brothers/sisters, aunts are older or younger mothers, and uncles are older or younger fathers.
“Africans are adept at improvising” and this doesn’t just apply to music. He claims that they don’t throw anything away in Africa. In slave-trade U.S. slaves were given crappy food (gizzards of chickens, etc.) and African Americans made it a delicacy (which is true to this day.)
In African music the main expression is rhythmic and percussive. But not necessarily drums, normally it’s vocal.
In African/African American music there’s no movements or anything like classical music because that’s too complicated for the whole community to participate in. The culture of community is reflected in the structure of music.
As the flow-chart progressed above (until soul more or less) music became more and more “polished” and white*. The dancing and raw emotion was toned back to sell to a white audience. Think about how Motown was all choreographed while Soul music was raw. Motown had a larger revenue than Soul music generally speaking. *my words
“African Americans make instruments talk” by using plungers/hats/other mutes with horns. I’ll take this further and bring up the use of vocoders and talk boxes in African American Electrofunk in the 70’s and 80’s.
African music influenced African American music first without a doubt. But in the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s, African American music ended up influencing African culture because of the similarities between the Civil Rights Movement in the U.S. with the anti-colonial movement in various African states. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Marcus Garvey (Jamaican but living in the U.S.), W.E.B. DuBois, and Booker T. Washington were instrumental in the anti-colonial movement. And later Bob Marley.
Soul was more than just music; it was a cultural revolution. You’d see it in peoples’ hair, walk, dress, dance.
The improvisational spirit of Africans/African Americans can be found in all sorts of soul music (think Curtis Mayfield) lyrics when things are said like “we’ll get there someway somehow.”
Some ethnomusicologists call Funk “the most Africanized genre of American music.”
Go-Go music split off from Funk as “the anti-Disco” in Washington D.C. Dr. Kalumbu claims that Disco was boring and repetitive and Go-Go kept the rawness. I disagree but that’s another talk for another day.
Funk breaks allowed American M.C.’s to start Rapping and Dub music allowed Jamaican M.C.’s to start toasting.
Want to discuss any of this? Let’s make this a conversation. Otherwise I hope this inspires you! It certainly inspired me to get back into academica and education as well as making my D.J. sets even stronger.
1973 - Wattstax, the concert seen by some as “the Afro-American answer to Woodstock” that was organized by Memphis’s Stax Records and held at the Los Angeles Coliseum to commemorate the seventh anniversary of the Watts riots is released in theaters as a documentary, distributed by Columbia Pictures. The Reverend Jesse Jackson gave the invocation, which included his “I Am Somebody” poem, which was recited in a call and response with the assembled stadium crowd. The show featured the Bar-Kays, The Staple Singers, Kim Weston, Johnnie, Taylor, Rufus Thomas, Albert King and Isaac Hayes.
- “The King of the Jukebox”, “The Father of Rhythm & Blues” and “The Grandfather of Rock ‘n’ Roll” Louis Jordan dies from a heart attack at the age of 66
- Beverly Lee, one of the original members of the Shirelles, is born in Passaic, New Jersey
- Prince performs at the Super Bowl XLI halftime show in Miami, Florida. The performance consists of three Purple Rain tracks (“Let’s Go Crazy”, “Baby I’m a Star” and the title track), along with cover versions of “We Will Rock You” by Queen, “All Along the Watchtower” by Bob Dylan, the Foo Fighters song “Best of You” and “Proud Mary” by Creedence Clearwater Revival.
- Billboard.com ranks Prince’s halftime performance at SuperBowl XLI as the greatest Super Bowl performance ever.
In just two short months HBO’s Game of Thrones will premiere its 6th season based on George RR Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” novels. Some of the returning cast are Emmy® and Golden Globe winner Peter Dinklage, Lena Headey, Emilia Clarke, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Alfie Allen, Iwan Rheon, Diana Rigg, Natalie Dormer, Sophie Turner, Maisie Williams, John Bradley, Isaac Hempstead-Wright, Conleth…
Hi, sorry to bother, but I was watching that robin hood post that you reblogged (the one with the dude and the knife) and I got curious about that movie, it's seems quite nice, but then I saw you tag, so, I would be great to have an opinion, is worth to see? or can I save my time with that one?
No bother at all! Personally, I didn’t like the film. I’m not the biggest fan of Russell Crowe (no real reason in particular, I’ve just never been very impressed with him). Aside from Russell I thought it had a great cast - Cate Blanchett, Oscar Isaac, Lea Seydoux - but that this didn’t save the film from bad writing. It was your basic period drama action film, nothing special. But I really really enjoyed Oscar Isaac as King John - I thought he and Seydoux gave really nice performances with their limited screen time. It had the same feel as Gladiator (also Russell Crowe and director, Ridley Scott) but it wasn’t nearly as compelling (and I’m not even that big of a fan of Gladiator - ironically my favorite part of that film is the villain as well!) So I’d say it’s worth seeing but I wouldn’t have too high of expectations. Hope that helps!
NEW ARRIVALS: Sex Pistols, Kinks, Metallica, Arctic Monkeys, Lana Del Rey, Amy Winehouse, a ton of rad reggae records (King Tubby, Gregory Isaacs, Lee Perry, Abyssinians, etc), a ton more Sub Pop LPs, and hundreds of used LPs (everything from Ennio Morricone to ELO to Brand New and Bright Eyes. Come and get ‘em! (at Endless Records)