Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The United States of the Blues

I have a long-standing interest in African-American music and a not quite so long-standing belief culture is a driving force in history. Back in the mid-1990s I decided to conjoin that interest and that belief in an article where I argue that African-American music has been a driving force in 20th Century American culture. The result was a very long article, The United States of the Blues: On the Crossing of African and European Cultures in the Twentieth Century.

Starting about two-thirds of the way through (section 4.5) I start alluding to cultural evolution, because that’s what I had in mind. Though it would have been easy enough for me to talk about memes moving along cultural gradients from African- to European-American, such talk would have been gratuitous, the mere use of a fashionable term that adds only the appearance of insight, but not the substance.

I published that article in the Journal of Social and Evolutionary Systems, 16(4), 401-438, 1993. I subsequently revised the piece and published the revision in Nikongo Ba'Nikongo, ed., Leading Issues in Afro-American Studies, Durham, North Carolina: Carolina Academic Press, 1997, pp. 189-233.

That’s the version I’ve placed on my SSRN page. Here’s the abstract and the table of contents.

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Music Making History: Africa Meets Europe in the United States of the Blues

Abstract: European-American racism has used African America as a screen on which to project repressed emotion, particularly sex and aggression. One aspect of this projection is that whites are attracted to black music as a means of expressing aspects of themselves they cannot adequately express through music from European roots. Thus twentieth century expressive culture in the United States has been dominated by an evolving socio-cultural system in which blacks create musical forms and whites imitate them. It happened first with jazz, and then with rock and roll. The sexual revolution and the recent floresence of blacks in television and movies suggests that white America has had some success in using black American expressive forms to cure its affective ills. The emergence of rap, from African America, and minimalism, from European America, indicates that this system is at a point where it is ready to leave Western expressive culture behind as history moves to the next millenium.

1. Introduction: Music in Society and Culture
2. Improvisation and Composition in Cultural Style
3. Society, Psyche, and Culture in North America
3.1 The Cultural Psychodynamics of Racism
3.2 Tertium Quid: The Artist and Negative European Identity
3.3 Africa in America
4. Music in the Making of History: Blues Train to the Future
4.1 The Blues: "Trouble In Mind"
4.2 Jazz: "It Don't Mean a Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing"
4.3 Rock: "Roll Over Beethoven"
4.4 Rap: "U Can't Touch This"
4.5 The Pattern So Far: "Freedom Over Me"
5. Conclusion: Stepping Out on a New Savanna

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