Blues People: Negro Music in White America (Anglais) Broché – 20 janvier 1999
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So says Amiri Baraka in the Introduction to Blues People, his classic work on the place of jazz and blues in American social, musical, economic, and cultural history. From the music of African slaves in the United States through the music scene of the 1960's, Baraka traces the influence of what he calls "negro music" on white America -- not only in the context of music and pop culture but also in terms of the values and perspectives passed on through the music. In tracing the music, he brilliantly illuminates the influence of African Americans on American culture and history.
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Recently, I found this book in the upper shelves of my library, having completely forgotten about it in spite of my infatuation with the blues for the better part of the last two decades. It was a most welcome surprise for me, as it contained a compact but comprehensive introduction to the time period from the first Africans came to America to the 1920s when their music was first recorded, and laid the groundwork to how this music evolved in a sociological context. The rural lifestyle, the reflections of the exodus from the south on the music and subsequent refined, urban sound are discussed in this framework.
Although it would not really appeal to the casual reader and listener, "Blues People" is invaluable for the serious blues and jazz fan for setting the music into the general context of social life and external effects that made this music what it is today.
As Baraka concentrates on the process, he does not put any emphasis on names and details of the musicians. The book is not in any way a list of "who's who in Blues or Jazz".
The book is critical of American mainstream culture, describing it as shallow and un-creative. Baraka observes that Blacks who have tried to belong to the mainstream (white) society have not been able to produce any music of value. He believes that their rejection of their Blues (slavery) roots made them too as shallow and un-creative as the society they wanted to join.
Baraka is most knowledgeable of Bebop and its developments up to free Jazz, as they are the closest to his generation. He is admittedly less connected to country blues, which for him expresses the first stage in the post slavery black society.
The book is magnificent in its originality and boldness. I think it is essential reading for anyone interested in African American music and/or culture.
My main criticism, apart from the fact that history dictates that we must be left a half century behind contemporary realities, is that though Jones obviously knew and loved the blues and jazz and all the various styles ( if not swing), his approach is coldly academic, highly dispassionate. He may criticize people who tried to make money, he may downplay all those who "abandoned" their roots, but my disappointment is that there is nothing of himself in the work barring a few mentions of his family. He does not share his enthusiasm. Music is beauty after all. I am sure he wanted the book to be taken as a serious essay, which it is. But in keeping himself removed from the discussion, being so analytic and professional in the style of the day, he has robbed us "readers of the future" of many insights.
African-American experience in the USA expressed itself most particularly in the blues, only later did that musical mode become part of the general American culture, often watered down, sometimes imitated by those who didn't wish to fit in or who wished to cash in. When conditions have changed, when the black middle class has entered mainstream America, and the urban underclass is wrapped up in hip-hop, gangsta rap culture, which is relentlessly commercialized by the powerful media, talking about the blues may seem a matter for historians or ethnomusicologists. Still, BLUES PEOPLE resonates strongly if we try to understand where we have been. As for where we are going---that old line sums it up---we're goin where the Southern cross the yella dog.
Like i said I didn't like any blues until I read this book. I feel this book has caused me to appreciate music much more.
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