The African Aesthetic: Keeper of the Traditions

By Kariamu Welsh-Asante | Go to book overview

10
AESTHETICS AND AFRICAN AMERICAN MUSICAL EXPRESSION

Warren Swindell

African American music emanating from the United States is a national treasure. Personal appearances by African American popular musicians are demanded by audiences in South America, Africa, Asia and Europe. Black American music recordings are torrid sales items in Africa, Asia, Europe and the United States. The universal popularity of this music was pronounced even during the 1800s. By the early 1900s it had become so important to American life and culture that philosopher Alain Locke called black music the most basic American prototype. 1

Three of the main types of African American music are as follows: (1) folk music, including both sacred and secular; (2) academically influenced music, and (3) popular music including sacred and secular. 2 Considering black folk music, the spirituals, blues, jazz and other genres, black American music is often acknowledged as the dominant music of the twentieth century. Most of the great Western composers after the 1890s such as Igor Stravinsky, Darius Milhaud, Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein among others, both black and white, have experimented with using African American music idioms in one or more of their works. 3

Despite the foregoing, black American music generally has been treated indifferently by the academic music community. H. R. Haweis, for example, in an 1871 book entitled Music and Morals describes black music as singularly childlike, plaintive, emotional and impulsive. But he acknowledges that black culture is distinct and characteristic and is influenced by the oppression the people face. 4 He continues that if one can divest himself from prejudice the music is aesthetically powerful.

Alfred Einstein years later was less charitable. His views are probably shared by the majority of academic musicians and certainly by the conservative right when he discusses the fox trot, shimmy and ragtime being adapted as elements of "artistic" music. Jazz is described by Einstein as an orgiastic dance-music in quick-march rhythm. Jazz, he says, is the most abominable

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The African Aesthetic: Keeper of the Traditions
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Copyright Acknowledgments iv
  • Contents vii
  • Figures and Tables ix
  • Acknowledgments xi
  • Introduction xiii
  • I the Foundations *
  • 1 - The Aesthetic Conceptualization of Nzuri 1
  • Notes 18
  • Bibliography 19
  • 2 - The African American Aesthetic as Optimal Consciousness 21
  • Notes 29
  • 3 - The African Diasporan Ritual Mode 31
  • Notes 47
  • Bibliography 50
  • 4 - Location Theory and African Aesthetics 53
  • Notes 61
  • 5 - The African Aesthetic and National Consciousness 63
  • Notes 80
  • Bibliography 81
  • II Applications 83
  • 6 - Mpai: Libation Oratory 85
  • Notes 98
  • 7 - Aesthetic Practices Among African American Women 103
  • Notes 140
  • References 141
  • 8 - Jazz Literature and the African American Aesthetic 143
  • Notes 156
  • References 157
  • 9 - The Search for an Afrocentric Visual Aesthetic 159
  • Notes 172
  • 10 - Aesthetics and African American Musical Expression 175
  • Notes 190
  • III Prospects 195
  • 11 - The Aesthetics of Nommo in the Films of Spike Lee 197
  • Notes 211
  • References 215
  • 12 - Zora Neale Hurston's Transmutation and Synthesis of Nommo: Reclamation of a Legacy 219
  • Notes 232
  • References 234
  • 13 - Art for Life's Sake: African Art as a Reflection of an Afrocentric Cosmology 237
  • Notes 246
  • Bibliography 247
  • 14 - A Bibliographic Essay on African Aesthetics 249
  • Notes 254
  • Bibliography 254
  • Index 257
  • About the Contributors 261
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