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Music and Globalization
By Bob W. White
Indiana University Press Copyright © 2012 Indiana University Press
All rights reserved.
The Musical Heritage of Slavery: From Creolization to "World Music"
Most forms of music described today as "popular" or "mass" music (Martin 2006) are derived, in one way or another, from practices that appeared within societies organized around slavery in territories conquered by Europeans: from the French odes of Georges Brassens to the Chinese rock of Cui Jan, from Japanese reggae to the Spanish ska of Ska-P, from the vagabond rovings of Emir Kusturica to the inventions of Yothu Yindi, from the songs of Björk to the modernized rebetiko of Manolis Hiotis, beginning with the countless genres invented in North and South America and the Caribbean. These musics are the product of cultural contacts (Turgeon 1996) that occurred in peculiar conditions of inequality and absolute violence, all based on the denial of the humanity of people removed from their homelands.
The first forms of musical expression by slaves, of which all these contemporary forms to a greater or lesser degree bear the stamp, were harbingers of what is now called globalization. Understanding the processes of cross-fertilization and creation that led to the invention of original genres in the slave societies and their successor societies should help us analyze the mechanisms of current globalization. This history of cross-fertilization and innovation, of creolization in Édouard Glissant's sense (Glissant 1990, 1997), indicates at the very least that the spread of certain phenomena, including musical phenomena, throughout the planet is linked to systems of oppression and the inextricable strategies of resistance, accommodation, and power they have brought into being and continue to produce. The study of the modalities of the emergence of new musics in slave societies—or at least the attempt to reconstruct them from fragmentary data—should enable us to understand the functions of musical creation in the face of slavery, and hence to reevaluate the meaning of "world music" in today's world. Given that it is impossible, in the limited scope of this chapter, to cover all the musical forms that emerged from slavery, I simply base my argument on two examples: the musics of North America and of South Africa.
Cross-Fertilization and Innovation
A great number of the musics widely listened to today are the product of the blending and innovation that has occurred in North America. Two strands have been particularly fertile: a secular strand leading from blackface minstrels to an infinite range of light musical forms but also to the blues, country and western, jazz, rock, and all their offshoots; and a second, initially sacred strand beginning with spirituals and leading, after many twists and turns, to soul, reggae and rap.
Despite the inequality and violence that characterized them, slave societies were also universes of contact, exchange, and blending. Slavery was also a cause of cultural cross-fertilization in which all took part, masters and slaves alike. It is difficult, however, for Western social sciences to think in terms of cross-fertilization in view of the long habit within that discipline to classify events and seek out a supposed purity or "authenticity" (Amselle 1990). To achieve this, we must abandon the idea that blending and cross-fertilization necessarily produce mongrelization and impoverishment, and recognize instead that they are sources of "fundamental dynamics" (Gruzinski 1999, 54) that unfold in "strange zones" and bring into play previously unknown procedures (ibid., 241) capable of engendering creative activity.
In the beginning comes the encounter: people move of their own free will or are moved by some force and come up against others: they are all human beings (even if some argue otherwise), and therefore they are similar, yet different. What differentiates them frightens them at times but, inevitably, also fascinates them. This ambivalence underlies the contact they establish and frames the exchanges that ensue. Those exchanges may be, and often have been, violent, by dint of the fears that seize human beings or by their will to dominate or their ambitions of conquest. But brutality never prevents objects from circulating (Turgeon 2003), bodies from rubbing up against one another, words from mingling (Alleyne 1980; Valkhoff 1972), or musical forms from becoming entangled with one another (Dubois 1997; Pacquier 1996). Meetings between human groups are thus almost always opportunities to establish a relationship, though, admittedly, one of domination. For example, when the meeting occurs at the end of a voyage on land which some people wish to settle and control, and when people are brought from other continents to exploit those lands, the exchanges between natives, conquering settlers, and slaves or indentured servants shape a new world. Though asymmetrical, those exchanges are based on a degree of reciprocity (Turgeon 1996, 16). All are transformed by them. Against a background of incomprehension, cruelty, collusion, and solidarity, and through misunderstandings and approximations (Gruzinski 1996, 144), all parties forge markers for themselves in which the Other necessarily plays a part, and these markers—on both sides—together delimit the mixed universe they now share.
Contacts between settlers, slaves, and natives give rise to cultural transfers (Turgeon 1996) that produce the cross-fertilization from which creative activity emerges. At stake for all parties to the mix is nothing less than the invention of a society in which all must live—by choice, chance, or force. That society not only has to be built but also has to be given meanings, which will vary according to the groups devising them but cannot be impermeably isolated from one another. The cross-fertilization that is the launching pad for creolization must be understood then, first, as a creative activity with the goal of mastering the environment and understanding—and then often changing—the respective positions occupied by its various inhabitants. In the Americas, languages and religions have provided many confirmations of this. It is no different for musics.
Conquest and Slavery: A New World
In North America, in the areas where the United States was to form, there were, of course, indigenous peoples, but Europeans from various countries settled there and gradually took control of the lands stretching between the Atlantic and the Pacific. The colonialists of the Eastern seaboard, and then of the Southeast, imported African slaves. From 1619 to 1865 between four hundred thousand and six hundred thousand persons, depending on the estimates one accepts, were removed from their homelands in this way. American Indian populations were varied, whereas the European invaders were not as diverse and, in the early years, usually came from England, Scotland, and Ireland. Meanwhile, Africans belonged to a great many societies established between present-day Senegal and Angola, and sometimes in the interior quite far from the coasts, if not indeed in Mozambique or Madagascar (Curtin 1969; Davidson 1980). The social systems, religions, languages, food customs, and music of their areas of origin were therefore extremely diverse. Moreover, slaves were systematically dispersed on arrival so that those from the same original locality could not reestablish their group (Genovese 1974). They lived, particularly in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, in intimate contact with the settlers, most often on small farms where a small number of slaves lived alongside a European family. Until the late nineteenth century, the poor found themselves mingled together in the northern cities with no distinctions of origin. From these contacts came new musics.
The natives certainly contributed to the new musical mixes, although their decimation probably restricted their influence. In any case, the Amerindian contribution to the creole musics of North America has received little scholarly attention (Conway 1995, 315; Nash 1974). Though I postulate its existence, I am unable to take account of it here. Historians generally recognize the existence of an Anglo-Celtic core among the Europeans around which new musical practices aggregated (Cockrell 1997; Conway 1995). As far as the Africans were concerned, having been dispersed and with no great way to communicate among themselves, they had to invent the means by which they could collectively make sense of their condition and their physical and social environment They therefore had to overcome their differences in order to reconstitute tools for thinking, communicating, and acting in concert. Language, religion, and music were some of the main areas in which they exerted their will to create in order to survive.
The most realistic hypothesis is that, having been cast into a state of social death (Patterson 1982) and denied their humanity, they reacted by striving to restore their sense of humanity, the better to proclaim it against those who refused to accept it. In pursuing this aim, the captives employed two strategies for creating shared musics, proclaiming their humanity while providing bonds indispensable to social life. The first was to use whatever similar or compatible elements might exist within the musical systems of the areas from which the slaves originated, to elaborate, so to speak, a "pan-Africanism of exile" (Martin 1991). The second was to appropriate elements of the musical practices of the masters—but, again, especially practices that were compatible with "pan-African" forms (Nettl 1978; Storm Roberts 1972)—and reinterpret and transform those elements. These two strategies were probably governed by the need to give meaning to the absurdity of life as a slave and to regain hope (Depestre 1980).
Minstrels and Saints
The dearth of sources on the musical practices of slaves in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries prevents us from precisely reconstructing the emergence of North American creole musics. The writings or reproductions studied by Dena Epstein (1977) and reassessed by Ronald Radano (2003) point to some general features. In settlers' memoirs and travelers' accounts, the slaves' liking for music is stressed. Such writings show them playing instruments of African origin, including drums, musical bows, flutes, and xylophones, all of which will almost disappear by the nineteenth century, as well as the fiddle, which they particularly liked, and various lutes that prefigured the banjo. As the general evangelization of the slaves began only with the religious "Awakenings" in 1734 and, more emphatically, in 1801, this first generation of creole music was almost certainly secular. The slaves played this music at work but also played for their own pleasure, dancing to its sounds, although we cannot know what those sounds were. Domestic slaves were organized into musical bands which performed the then fashionable European dances for the entertainment of their masters.
From Blackface Minstrels to Musical Revue
Even before Northern scholars began collecting religious songs during the Civil War (Allen, Ware, and Garrison 1951), white entertainers were struck by what the black slaves of the South and the free African American proletarians of the North played, sang, and danced to. From the eighteenth century on, the English theater had staged "Negro songs" during intervals, and blackened faces were common in certain carnavalesque or charivari rituals. These practices were transposed to North America (Cockrell 1997, 32–33), where the presence of a large number of black people could not fail to change the nature of these first blackface comedians.
The surviving sheet music from the period enables us to discern that a form of musical Americanization asserted itself onstage as early as 1827, with "Long Tail Blue," a song describing a smart, clever black dandy—a character which was, overall, rather positive (Lewis 1996). Jim Crow, produced by Thomas D. Rice at the Bowery Theater in New York in 1832, changes this character's style: the Negro played by a white man becomes a parody of the aspirational (black) American portrayed in "Long Tail Blue," yet he remains highly ambiguous. Jim Crow is a black man who is animalized and dressed in rags, but he is a skillful dancer and the exploits related in the lyrics of his song incline at times toward abolitionism (Cockrell 1997). The year 1834 sees the birth of Zip Coon, where the animalization continues with the term "coon" (derived from racoon), a term which, as a description of African Americans, remains extremely insulting. This time the black man is ridiculed and his claim to be well educated and cultivated harshly mocked. Yet the man who actually played Zip Coon, George Washington Dixon, a singer, journalist, moral campaigner, and frequent visitor to the courtroom who was suspected of being a mulatto, no doubt gave the character a more complex image, underscoring by its grotesque nature the injustices done to the common people in the days when Andrew Jackson was president of the United States (Cockrell 1997).
Until the late 1830s blackface minstrels performed individual numbers in shows not exclusively devoted to them. Some of these famous solo performers were, in fact, black, such as the most famous of the dancers, William Henry Lane, known as "Juba" (ca. 1825–1852), whose virtuosity was acclaimed by Charles Dickens (1997, 100). An important change occurred at the beginning of the 1840s with the appearance of minstrel troupes, initially a quartet combining violin, banjo, tambourine, and bones (pieces of bone, metal, or wood that were struck together), whose members sang, danced, and told jokes. The model of the genre, Dan Emmett's Virginia Minstrels, appeared in New York and Boston in 1843 and were to have many emulators (Nathan 1977). From this point on, the minstrels presented the black man as grotesque; the blackface minstrel, born of cross-fertilization with the aspirations of a motley youth ill used by the beginnings of American industrialization (Bean, Hatch, and McNamara 1996; Cockrell 1997; Lhamon 1998), was turned into a racist caricature. The music, on which lyrics, supposedly funny stories, and brief scenes were superimposed, does, however, retain its characteristics as a cross-bred production, evincing—particularly after songs such as "Jim Crow" and "Zip Coon"— a rhythmic sense that is distinct from that of European song and dance tunes (Winans 1998 ).
In these conditions, it was to African American artists that the ambivalence and paradoxicality were to devolve. William Henry Lee was a lone star who in 1848 chose to move overseas to Great Britain. After 1865 troupes of blackface minstrels increased in number. The conventions of the genre remained: the performers were dark-skinned, but still they blackened their faces. Their repertoire was expanded, however, to include, among other things, spirituals and operatic arias, and though we lack precise data in this area, it seems reasonable to believe that their interpretation of the "plantation songs" necessarily stood out from that of the white performers. Moreover, these troupes afforded black composers an opportunity to showcase their talents. Even when, like Will Marion Cook (1869–1944), they had a solid, Western-style training, gleaned from American schools and European conservatories, being black was an obstacle to any "legitimate" musical career, and the only outlet for creative ambition was the entertainment scene that came out of blackface minstrelsy. Thus we can only cursorily follow the development of African American performing arts, beginning with the Georgia Colored Minstrels, created as early as 1865 at Indianapolis, to dancers Bert Williams (1874–1922) and George Walker (1873–1911), inventors of the musical revue (Riis 1989; Winter 1996), to the composers and band leaders Ford Dabney (1883–1958) and James Reese Europe (1881–1919), who played a notable role in the development of jazz. Revues and musical comedies were to take the place of the minstrel shows, but it was a blackened face, belonging to a white man, Al Jolson, that would sing "Dirty Hands, Dirty Face" in the first "talkie" in the history of cinema, Alan Crossland's The Jazz Singer (1927). In the fields of secular music, song, dance, and performance in general, the minstrels exemplify all the contradictions and cruelties that marked the invention of a profoundly creole form of entertainment in North America. The originality of this kind of show was the root of its success, both in the United States and throughout the world, as it was exported to Europe, Asia, the West Indies, and to West and South Africa.
Excerpted from Music and Globalization by Bob W. White. Copyright © 2012 Indiana University Press. Excerpted by permission of Indiana University Press.
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