It’s my day off today and I came across this bit from a book on music in West Africa (the book centers on Guy Warren, who is Ghana’s best known drummer; the man arranged Handel’s Messiah for the African Talking Drum, a bit of music I would dearly like to hear).
The short version: American jazz musicians in the 50s started looking to West African music for inspiration, as a place of origin. Which is all well and good, but it came along with its own sort of paternalism/racism. I can’t say it any better than Warren himself:
‘‘They’re racist… Because they thought we were incomplete versions of them. They thought that jazz was better than us, more sophisticated, that, you know, we stopped on the evolutionary ladder. That what we had to do with jazz was in the past, you know, that it was just about drums and the slave times. Well that’s bullshit. And it’s racist.’’
‘‘I didn’t want to sit behind a trap drummer with some congas, just playing some little African thing, what do you call them . . . huh? . . . ‘fills’ . . . behind the real drummer. That’s what they wanted, that was how they wanted Africa to fit into jazz. They wanted ‘fills.’ They couldn’t imagine our music as equal, as something that they should learn and have to meet. That’s why I didn’t fit in, that’s why it’s racist, that American jazz bullshit. It’s racist.’’
Although it seems that Max Roach kinda sorta almost admitted that he may have been wrong:
“Ghanaba was so far ahead of what we were all doing, that none of us understood what he was saying, that in order for Afro-American music to be stronger, it must cross-fertilise with its African origins. Ghanaba’s conception, like that of Marcus Garvey, George Washington Carver etc. was beyond our grasp. We ignored him. Seventeen years later, Black Music in America has turned to Africa for inspiration and rejuvenation, and the African soundz of Ghanaba is now being imitated all over the United States where Afro American music is played.”
I can’t even find the book from which the interview is taken on Amazon. Damn.