Academic journal article Black Music Research Journal

Dedicated to the Struggle: Black Music, Transculturation, and the Aural Making and Unmaking of the Third World

Academic journal article Black Music Research Journal

Dedicated to the Struggle: Black Music, Transculturation, and the Aural Making and Unmaking of the Third World

Article excerpt

But the black musician, he picks up his horn and starts blowing some sounds that be never thought of before. He improvises, he creates, it comes from within. It's his soul, it's that soul music. ... Well, likewise he can do the same thing if given intellectual independence.... He can invent a society, a social system, an economic system, a political system that is different from anything that exists on this earth. He will improvise, he will bring it from within himself. And this is what you and I want.

--Malcolm X

On February 15, 1961, Adiai E. Stevenson Jr., Kennedy's new ambassador to the United Nations, rose to defend the Security Council's handling of the crisis in the Congo, less than forty-eight hours after the news of Patrice Lumumba's execution was made public. Since independence in 1960, ethnic strife, neocolonial machinations, and political turmoil had devastated the former Belgian Congo. Lumumba appealed to the United Nations for help; however, the world organization was unable to persuade the Belgian forces to disarm and evacuate. Lumumba then turned to the Soviets for assistance. Rebel forces, with the aid of the Central Intelligence Agency, captured Lumumba and assassinated him in January of 1961 (his death was kept secret until the following month). As Stevenson began his remarks, a group of between fifty and sixty African Americans, clad in all black in testament to the slain leader, stood in the gallery in silent protest. A fight ("riot") ensued as security personnel attempted to suppress the protestors, setting off "the most violent demonstration" in U.N. history (Walker and Gosset 1961).

The demonstration at the United Nations represented a significant shift in black activism from passive nonviolence to a more aggressive militancy, an ideological shift that demonstrated the increasing internationalization of the black liberation movement. As John Henrik Clarke (1961, 285) bluntly put it, "Lumumba became Emmett Till." The composition of the demonstrators was also significant. The protestors in the gallery included Daniel Watts, activist and publisher of the Liberator (the publication of the Committee on the Liberation of Africa), Rosa Guy of the Harlem Writers Guild, writer/ poet Maya Angelou, poet, LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka), percussionist Max Roach, and singer Abbey Lincoln: a configuration made up of activists, artists and musicians that also revealed the broadening political front of the black liberation movement of the 1960s. As James Baldwin (1961) put it, "The negroes who rioted in the United Nations are but a very small echo of the black discontent now abroad in the world." (2) In the early 1960s, the slackening pace of civil rights reform at home and the foreign policy failures and misadventures abroad coincided with the spread of anticolonial struggles in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, and marked a decisive shift in black liberation politics. Baldwin continued: "The power of the white world to control [black] identities was crumbling as these young Negroes were born; and by the time they were able to react to the world, Africa was already on the stage of history."

It was not just a matter of chance that the Negro movement caught fire in America at just that moment when the nations of Africa were gaining their freedom. Nor is it merely incidental that the world should have fastened its attention on events in the United States at a time when the possibility that the nations of the world will divide along color lines seems suddenly not only possible, but even imminent.... It is clear that what happens in America is being taken as a sign of what can, or must, happen in the world at large. The course of world events will be profoundly affected by the success or failure of the Negro American Revolution in seeking the peaceful assimilation of races in the United States.

The Moynihan Report

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, musicians strove to realize the artistic potential and creative possibilities that were emerging in tandem with anti-colonial efforts and the civil rights movement. …

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