Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Wu Ming 1: The Old New Thing is Newer than Ever

1. "Black music" -- i.e. the musical chain reaction triggered by the African Diaspora -- is a landscape of the mind, a whole continent which is neither Africa nor America, nor Europe. It's a continent drifting out on an ocean of stories, a colossal barge transporting forests, deserts, uplands, isles at the centre of vast lakes, snow-covered mountain ranges.
We Europeans know "well enough" -- actually we think we know - - African North-American music (including tiny bits of the Caribbean), but that is a small province, and we explored it only partially. Meanwhile, the great African Brazil takes you by surprise when new rhytms burst out of the modern quilombos, sharp beats swoop down and you find yourself defenseless, they cut like razors, deep bass drones take you from behind, deviant funk melts the soles of your boots. Not to mention what happens when the music of the Diaspora lands back on the old motherland, only to take off again: Afro-beat, Afro-soul, James Brown drawing inspiration from Fela Kuti drawing inspiration from James Brown, Hip-Hop made by Senegalese B-Boys in Paris or Dakar, jazz tunes played with koras on the edge of the desert.
Yeah, "jazz". A word meaning everything and nothing, both loved and rejected, a polisemic storm, micro-explosions under your nails while you're digging the earth to find your roots. Nowadays jazz is "unidentified musical energy". I'm going to use the term in this text 'cause it's practical. By "jazz" I mean all music sharing Afro-American origins and partially or totally based on improvisation.
How many people think they know jazz, and they're wrong? How many guys, among the fans of Black music, associate the word "jazz" with a bourgeois milieu and a set of cozy images? In many cities, jazz is the nostalgic rehash you pretend to listen to in posh clubs. The most important experiment in the past few years was taking jazz into squats and social centres.
In this year of the Lord 2006, a B-Boy or B-Gal from the 'hood (in Bologna or Manila, in La Paz or Nairobi) is unaware of how much the music she loves owes to jazz. She only knows some backwoods, streams and meadows, the mental map of a limited area of music. She'd get so excited if she could feel the rolling of the continental barge under her feet, sail the great seas, cruise the Cape of Good Hope. She would see everything with new eyes, like Bartolomeo Diaz or Vasco de Gama...
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