Tuesday, May 12, 2009
Deploying A Little Negro Spirit: When Black Artists Flip the Script
In the third installment of of my series exploring music and cultural appropriation - and abandonment - we will focus on Black artists who aren't necessarily doing what some consider "Black" music. That assessment in and of itself is problematic because of the ramifications of an audience that has acquiesced its legacy to others. The dictionary explanation for acquiesce is: to accept, comply, or submit tacitly or passively.
I believe this is a problem particular to African-Americans (as I'm defining those descendants from the enslaved/indentured people who built the United States and is still owed a debt that has yet to be paid). Far too many AAs are stuck on a very narrow road of "Blackness" whereby you must comply with an extremely limited expression lest you have your Black card revoked. Again it goes back to not knowing who you are and letting others define your identity, being afraid to step outside parameters, being closed-off and xenophobic or being filled with so much shame that you don't want to be around anyone who looks like or reminds you of....you. It's a mess isn't it?
It can also manifest itself by following a strict rigidity surrounding gender roles, sexual orientation, dating choices and trying to overcompensate whenever someone is critical. Confident people can withstand scrutiny and handle opposing viewpoints. People who own their values and belief systems have studied numerous options and settled on what works best for them, accepting the legitimacy of others who do the same but choose differently. One's self-esteem is not based on designer....anything. I'll get back to the subject at hand but this was a necessary intro to continuing this conversation.
There's been a shift in music - and all media - where things of substance have given way to the foolish. It's actually worse than that. The norm has become what was once the fringe and it was allowed to occur in part because so many ran away from their Blackness. Now we don't recognize it unless it comes to us as a mask, a shell of our former selves passed along like a prize won at the fair but owned by no one.
So we'll exclusively celebrate a white or Latino or any other artist for doing an imitation instead of one of us being ourselves. Added to that the dysfunction we sold as our authentic selves that feeds into the racism and sexism of those that will continue to support the efforts (filth) of our betrayers. What I refer to as WEEDS. We validate and somebody else benefits financially.
It was never a coincidence to me that R&B stations of the day refused to play Tracy Chapman and Lenny Kravitz or Joan Armatrading and others that put out an excellent body of work but had to go elsewhere for acknowledgment. They were trying to police a narrow definition of "soul" music but would never hesitate to play certain white artists like George Michael and others. Madonna's first song broke on Black radio. Despite the racial segregation of radio eventually the formats had to be loosened due to the power of green. Even Kiss got radio airplay back in the 70's with the song "Beth" and we all know they're a rock group.
Anyway, I've highlighted posts in previous blog entries featuring Black female artists from around the world who were doing their own thing. So let's revisit them and some others.
Natalie is a San Francisco-based singer who decided to perform Korean pop songs with a soulfulness instead of trying to break into an over-saturated market where's there's a glut of (unappreciated) African-American female singers. The market can support them but will we?
You know Raphael but he's doing a "'60's theme" album right so where's all the Amy Winehouse-style media scrutiny and accolades?
Aside from my suspicions about how a female artist would fare on Def Jam I think we should support artists who aren't actively engaging in foolishness. Janelle Monae has seemed to fare well at Bad Boy so perhaps a few exceptions are possible.
More British artists on the move.
Had to throw in some flash back videos: SWV & Brownstone. Just to remember what we had and what we allowed to go away. It's what we can get back if we decide it's important enough.
There's numerous artists in music, painting, journalists, every medium that we should be looking for and supporting. This is not meant to be a definitive list by any means. Just an example of what doing a quick search can yield. Even someone signed to a major label could be easily missed. Taste is somewhat subjective but you know it's a matter of appreciating what we have before it's permanently gone.
So who are some of the creative forces that move you?