Black People, Occupy Your Music!
(ThyBlackMan.com) Stop and listen for a minute … have you ever noticed that the whole world is listening to our music?
Then take a minute to wonder … how is it, if our music is being bought and sold across the whole world, that we as a community of Black people remain impoverished?
A little history is in order. Every form of popular music where music was bought and sold in the 20th century, in the United States, in Western Europe, and even as far distant as Russia, has been influenced by or descends directly from the music of our West African ancestors brought to the Americas as slaves. From the time the students at Fisk and Hampton Universities went out singing the Negro Spirituals to the time hip-hop hit the scene about a hundred years later, we have provided the music the world wants to hear – and that’s not even counting the impact of African music on the whole “Latin” genre!
I ask again: why are we so impoverished as a people if Black people have generated the backbone of value in all music bought and sold in large scale for the last 140 years?
Let’s consider this from another angle, limiting the descent of popular music to our ancestors who arrived in North America. From the Negro Spiritual and its more secular counterparts, the field work songs and shouts, blues, jazz, and gospel were derived shortly thereafter. And I defy anyone to find any popular music anywhere in the English-speaking world in the 1900s, 1910s, 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, 1970s – well, ever since – that is not in those genres or derived from them.
And lest there are any devotees of European classical music reading, don’t think I am leaving that so-called bastion of pure European expression out – the Spirituals and work songs are contemporary with and had a dramatic effect on classical music. I am a classically trained pianist, and I know what I say: I defy anyone with an unbiased ear to listen to Beethoven and not hear the effects of Africa on several of his works. I will give you three big hints: go listen to a spiritual, and then a torch blues, and then check out the second and third movements of Beethoven’s famed “Hammerklavier” Sonata in B flat. Go find out for whom his famous “Kreutzer” sonata for violin and piano was actually written. Go listen to the SECOND movement of the “Moonlight” Sonata, after you have enjoyed the “12/8 Texas blues” feeling of the famous first movement. If you refuse to be convinced by Beethoven, then go research the outright testimony of Satie and Dvorak, who admitted what they were doing…
While I’m at it, that other great bastion of European hymnody needs to be addressed – even there, we have left our mark. It is no accident whatsoever that the most popular hymn in the whole world has a melody that is an exact match for the pentatonic scale of West Africa as used in Spirituals. John Newton could not get the music of the slaves he used to trade out of his ears, and there is something fitting about the fact that a slave trader, when he experienced the amazing grace of God, would choose one of our people’s melodies to set his hymn of testimony. “Amazing Grace” – indeed, how sweet the sound! And of course, we have made the hymns of Dr. Isaac Watts known around the world!
I ask yet again: why are we as Black people poor, when we have been dominating the best of all music bought and sold in the world for so long? It is DEFINTELY time for us to occupy our music – really!
First and foremost, we need to realize the value of what we have created. When you as a musician create a new song, you have created something that, owing to the laws of the United States (and similarly around much of the world), could be generating wealth for three, four, five, or even ten generations (with the help of some well-trained grandchildren, of course). The only question we need to ask is this: are we going to continue to pass over our music to provide for ten generations of SOMEBODY ELSE’S family, or are we going to provide for our own?
Second, we need to know how to protect our own works from theft and position . The first thing anybody who comes up with a track, lyric, or melody that has potential should do is get on over to the Web site of the U.S. Copyright Office, at http://www.copyright.gov, and register his or her works, so that in nearly every court in the world, the rightful ownership of our music can be acknowledged.
Third, we need to stop giving our talent away – we need to STOP going to record and publishing companies and talent agencies that want to buy and sell our talent and our music and give us only a loan with bad terms and contracts that are the worst thing since the era of sharecropping – slavery in all but name!
Fourth and finally, we need to STOP trading our birthright for a few dimes – since we have written and influenced the best music in the world, why would we ever stoop to put our music to content that degrades us as a people, music that plays up the worst, death-affirming values we have been taught by our enemies? Don’t tell me that putting a snappy beat to calling your brothas and sistas the names we were called by those who slaughtered and enslaved our people is “keeping it real” unless you are prepared to concede the reality that you are still being occupied – co-opted into assisting in the destruction of our people like all the other traitors to the race down through the centuries. How’s that for keeping it real?
Black people, it is time that we occupy our own music. We need to learn the true history of our music through the last three centuries for starters; then we need how to take up the vast legacy of spiritual, emotional, and material wealth our ancestors have left us, take it up in a skilled, honorable way, in order to bring that energy and money back to our communities. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said there is a check out there that needs to be cashed to our people; I say that we musicians should get up and go get it, starting NOW.
Staff Writer; Deeann D. Mathews
You may connect with this talented sister via twitter; Deeann D. Mathews.
She is also author of The Freedom Guide for Music Creators which can be purchased at the following website; http://marcusfillmore.wordpress.com/2011/07/01/c8/