Heshima and Souljourn / Blog

Inhale Music Exhale Life: Music of the Afro-Latin Diaspora Part II

The fact that the majority of young people have grown up as spectators OF music versus participants involved IN music. Therefore, it is completely unrealistic to expect that a whole generation of young people is going to wake up tomorrow and want to listen to the music of Charlie Parker, or Duke Ellington, (or Marvin Gaye and Earth Wind and Fire for that matter). It is a simple fact that they have by in large not been exposed to this music. Why? i the question we need to ask. The reality is that every year, we witness deeper cuts (and in some cases the eradication of) arts programming in the public schools. Why? Parent and community involvement is the key. Those communities still demand cultural programming. A school system that knows public support is strong, understands that backlash will be even stronger if cuts are made to programs considered important to them. Urban school systems(unfairly) assume that parental/community involvement will not be as strong. Therefore, when the time comes for budget cuts, there is less resistance to cuts in "non-essential" programs such as arts programs. So it seems that a great starting point toward the preservation of cultural traditions in the afro-latin diasporic community is:

1. Parents should form strong PTO's where they do not currently exist and begin to place pressure on the school system to mandate music classes in every public school in the city. And furthermore, make music a mandatory part of the curriculum.

2. PTO's should begin to raise money and seek out grant opportunities to secure artist residencies in the schools which allow all students to enjoy the benefits of fine arts programs equal to that of other communities.

3. Become active in existing arts programs that already exist. Programs need people and do not continue to exist without constant support.

The solution lies in our hands. What will YOU do to insure that your children and grandchildren, carry on the traditions which existed for 1000's of years? Until next time.

"Inhale Music, Exhale Life"

Inhale MusicExhale Life: Music of the Afro-Latin Diaspora Part I

Music of the African Diaspora in the 21st Century Part I

It has been said, that art is a reflection of life. At least in theory that is still true. Artists have traditionally documented events that occur in the lives of their communities. From the Griots of West Africa, responsible for preserving and conveying history, to the Pleneros of Puerto Rico, who travelled on foot from town to town, delivering news that was forbidden to be printed.

These traditions emerged in African American sacred music (spirituals) as Africans transmitted messages by assigning dual meanings to religious texts. Artists carried this tradition into the secular, as the great blues men of the south, made the migration to Chicago, during the time of reconstruction. Their work spoke of the struggle to survive in a changing world and the disillusionment faced by millions who had hoped for a better life in the north.

Finally, in the late 1970’s, the uniting of two disenfranchised groups, gave birth to hip hop culture. For the first time, youth from two seemingly different worlds had found a common voice, and had begun to realize a common purpose: to tell their story. Rap music, and grafitti art provided the framework for social commentary about life for black and Latino youth in urban America from the late 70’s through the early 90’s.

For the first 20 years of this art form remained largely untainted by commercial interests. It was viewed more as the expression of a maligned sub-culture. However, in the mid nineties, something happened: Hip Hop went mainstream. Up until that moment, African Americans and Latinos had always created something new in response to the co-opting of art by white society. The music was created to give voice to the voiceless. Now, the music took on a different face, as white youth became hypnotized by the allure of urban life; much in the same way that white society became fascinated with the taboos of jazz music and hipster culture of the black ghettos across America in the 40’s and 50’s.

When large record labels started to pay attention to the affect that the mystique of urban life had on their bottom line, they rushed to package, and put a little piece of the ghetto in every suburban home across the world. MTV, and BET both made Hip Hop Culture readily available. Sub culture had become pop culture. Of course, this required record labels to change the way they approached the business of music. Record executives realized that in order to keep up with demand, supply had to be increased. Companies began to produce music like cars: assembly line quantity with very little quality. Performers with no staying power were marketed to mainstream consumers that had little or no connection to the culture which had created it. Rap music became the largest selling form of music in the world grossing 50% of the market in the early 90’s. The profits of record companies and entertainment conglomerates such as MTV came at the expense of the same black and Latino communities who were being trivialized in music videos.