Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Deploying A Little Negro Spirit: Gotta Have Soul

Ok, I wasn't trying to make this post a full-on charge of cultural appropriation. Though the question begs to be asked: When non-Black artists use Black gospel choirs in popular music does it convey levity to their songs? Or as Dave Chapelle would say, "When Keeping It Real Goes Wrong." Is it blatant swiping of "Black cred" or something else? I also think we should consider the borrowing of "spirituality" by employing a choir. 

I want to specify that's it's African-Americans who are descendants of slaves that created this music. That's why listening to other Black artists of different ethnicities and cultures and who hail from other countries aren't quite able to capture that sound unless they're trying to imitate it. Why isn't it considered "cool" and "different" i.e. as VALID when Blacks of different ethnicities collaborate on projects? We're not all coming from the same place or perspective even if our skin shade is similar. 

So I'm going to post some videos because examples are sometimes more effective in conveying a point than mere words. I also thought Paul Simon's and Peter Gabriel's use of African musicians on their biggest hit albums as well as Sting adding Cheb Mami for that "exotic" flavor are applicable examples. Actually we can look at Sting's earlier solo work with his use of Black jazz musicians as if a Marsalis could be considered a mere "sideman". This conversation should continue as we deconstruct the history of Black musicians not being paid for their work and having copyrights stolen. 

What we're really talking about is an imbalance in power, tilted toward the "white musical genius". Who's aiding and abetting these artists? It's not all racism but also a refusal by many Blacks (in the US) to expand their musical repertoire. The formatting of R&B stations typically excluded numerous Black artists like Lenny Kravitz, Tracy Chapman, Joan Armatrading and others. Why was this tolerated by listeners when they had artists like Teena Marie, Hall & Oates, Queen and others on heavy rotation?

Now there's one cultural exchange I would not put in this category. There was a genuine collaboration between Shakira and Wyclef for the song "Hips Don't Lie", but I wonder if that's because it was a "woman's" project and not the other way around? 

What say you on this? What songs can be added to this list?

Our primer will be contrasting/comparing Alvin Ailey's seminal piece Revelations which uses three songs for each section: Fix Me Jesus, Rock-A-My-Soul and Wade In the Water. 

Then we move into the use of that energy/spirit into these songs. Which are good by the way.
Then things start to get a little questionable. Skip to 2:25 for the Bedingfield track.                       
Now he's giving credit here but I seem to recall some legal action by the musicians against Paul Simon. I am also aware of the extensive charity work of Gabriel. I also would love to be a fly on the wall at Rosanna Arquette's house to have two songs that are considered classics written about her! The other being by the group Toto, fyi.
I was almost done but had to add Madonna. We could deconstruct her trip through the rainbow tribe as an entirely separate post. Including her African Baby Rescue Plan. But do we really want to go there? Nothing says post-racial like a white woman dancing in front of burning crosses and catching the Holy Spirit!
I think this might be a good idea for a series of conversations. This is all coming to me via stream of consciousness right now. Stay Tuned for Part 2: When White Artists Go Black and Part 3: When Black Artists Flip the Script Part 4: Black Female Artists of Substance Being Ignored Part 5: The Responsibility of the (Sometimes) Buying Public. Ok, I think the well needs replenishing now.
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Usiku said...

"It's not all racism but also a refusal by many Blacks (in the US) to expand their musical repertoire."Blacks in the US have a long way to go in terms of their awareness. Blacks in other parts of the world must be careful not to become polarized against US Blacks and each other and seek to find commonality.

Faith at Acts of Faith Blog said...

Welcome Usiku: I agree and as long as they are willing to acknowledge the path that was paved for them by those Blacks who actually built this country, fought for Civil Rights and created a means for them to immigrate here then I don't think that would happen.

Unknown said...

I think the problem is that we as consumers in the U.S. refuse to acknowledge artists from around teh world.

There are folks like Susana Baca, Gilberto Gil, Fela Kuti, the Orishas, and others who are in the Diaspora who make great quality music but we tend to ignore.

we also allow OTHER so dictate to us what is considered "black music" and what isn't. What about groups like Bad Brains and fishbone and artists such as Michael Franti and Tracy Chapman? we don't even put them in the category of black music.

Anonymous said...

"Nothing says post-racial like a white woman dancing in front of burning crosses and catching the Holy Spirit!"


victoria said...

U2 brought in a gospel choir for the song "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" on their live album Rattle and Hum. Granted, it's a "spiritual" song, but still.

Also, I don't have the original liner notes, but I would wager that the male and female soloists from the choir aren't credited by name (even though they put Bono's singing to shame).

Faith at Acts of Faith Blog said...

Possumstew: Haha! I like to throw in a little quip or two.
Victoria: Thanks for mentioning that song and I actually like U2 but again Bono seems to start jumping on the white savior of Africa brigade and starts to lose me....

supersoygrrrl said...

to reply to brother omi, i think its better when we break music down into genres based on SOUND rather than by race of the artist. when you do that, it seems like we're going backwards, with breaking music by black artists automatically into the 'race' music section, music by poor southern whites into the 'hillbilly' music section and music from middle-upper class northern whites into popular music, the classifications of old.
it actually seems more racist to me and i believe there's a reason we've grown past this.

Faith at Acts of Faith Blog said...

Supersoygrrrl: Welcome and thanks for tour input but you're missing the point. One, Black radio does NOT play every Black artist. Two, race does matter. Three, some have a vested interest in showing Blacks as the lowest common denominator to keep white supremacy intact. Of course genre matters but if you know your history then you already know rock was created Blacks as well, specifically African Americans. There's no "getting past" race. There's either an acknowledgment or an attempt at belittling it. Neither is acceptable.