Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Black History Mystery Mini Mix

Wacky Wednesday has almost passed, and Thirsty Thursday's almost here...

So I'm gonna keep it really random as usual, so I can make it out to get a drinkee...

Across the street there's currently a panel going on with minority lawyers, and down the street there's a town hall meeting starting at our local War Memorial based around the theme "Are Black People In San Francisco Becoming History?"

Over the past 40 years San Francisco has done a remarkable job of shedding members of the African-American persuasion from it's 49 square miles.

In 1970 San Francisco's census reported about 96,000 black folks living in San Francisco, but there's been a steady decline in those numbers, and as we enter the "Year of the Rat", it's estimated there's only around 38,000 black residents left. That's less than arrived here in the 1940's...

For all it's perception as a liberal melting pot, San Francisco has a nasty racist past that's never really completely been erased from the political spheres.

Since the first white settlers arrived, the policies have been somewhat barbaric, and have included hunting indians into extinction (and speeding it up by paying on a per scalp basis).

Asians who arrived to the Pacific coast were quarantined, burned, beaten, deprived of property rights and prevented from marrying for decades. Even while finally earning barely beyond basic rights in the mid 20th century, there's still a report of a lynching on Market St when a Filipino man was caught with a white woman in the 1950's.

As for blacks, San Francisco never really welcomed them in the first place, racism in pre-Civil War San Francisco had even led to an exodus of black settlers to Victoria island off the Canadian coast. Most blacks arrived 80 years later to a racially intolerant city only after a need to fill WWII factories in the early 1940's, and they soon found out they could not join white unions. They were only able to settle into empty housing in 1940's SF because it had once been filled with Japanese citizenry who were conveniently being detained first to racetracks and then onto bleak relocation camps like Manzanar in the middle of nowhere.

After the war, work at the many shipyards & war industries started drying up, and with that so did the hopes of the many southern blacks who'd moved here from Louisiana, Texas, Oklahoma and other places.

Blacks in San Francisco soon discovered that were not welcome at many workplaces, restaurants, hotels etc and were redlined from obtaining loans and owning homes in most neighborhoods. Just like in Jim Crow states in Dixie, it wasn't until the 1960's that any blacks found employment at major businesses like car dealerships, or SF's famous Palace Hotel who only succumbed after an ugly boycott and picketing.

Here's a song that manages to appropriately depict some of the race issues of the post war era...

Big Bill Broonzy - Get Back ( Black, Brown & White )

When Willie Mays moved out here from New York in 1958 he was amazed to discover he was not allowed to purchase the home he wanted in a tony white neighborhood called Forest Hill, despite being a highly paid well known American hero. It finally took his sneaky jewish lawyer to construct a phony transaction & quiet property transfer to Willie that needed a mayoral intervention, and even then a brick was thrown through the window of his first residence.

At one press conference when Roger Lapham was mayor of San Francisco (1944-48). he came up to a black reporter and asked

"Mr. Fleming, how long do you think these colored people are going to be here?"

Fleming's story was that he said,
"Mr. Mayor, do you know how permanent the Golden Gate is?" He said yes. I said, "Well, the black population is just as permanent. They're here to stay, and the city fathers may as well make up their minds to find housing and employment for them, because they're not going back down South." He turned red in the face. That was the only exchange of words I ever had with him.

By the 1960's, city fathers were angry about the blacks who still remained in the area, and devised a plan to "redevelop" the Fillmore neighborhood in the city's Western Addition. Hundreds of beautiful Victorian homes were slated for demolition, and black businesses were shuttered & given worthless promissory notes that they'd be first to come back if and when the plans were ever finished.

Many blacks moved out to Bay View / Hunters Point where white highway planners had conveniently just built a freeway that bypassed this burgeoning black district.

The area has remained mostly abandoned by the city & government for decades, and after the contaminated Navy Base closed, often the only signs of government existing are occasional squad cars & ambulances passing through.

At one time it was predominantly black, but now a more mixed race population of Asians, White & Latinos dominate, most having swooped up previously black owned properties that are priced somewhat cheaper than in other areas of the city.

So, uh what do do but leave my visitors a mini mix to pacify them while I contemplate the meaning of all this...

I know that Black History month is February and it's almost over already, cuz February is the shortest month. A fact which black folks never seem to forget, go figger.

I can't stand it when people say stupid flat faced ignorant statements like " I Hate The Blues" or "I Hate Country Music"...

If these folks could only understand that most western pop music they adore really is just a rearrangement of the same basic chords & concepts of scales that have been going on for 50 if not 500 years, I doubt they would announce such ridiculous statements.

The blues are the basis for just about everything you hear on rock, pop pr top 40 radio, only that many dorky musicians & bands these days have been so removed from the sources of modern musical material they barely know this.

Many would do well to go back & study...

Although, what good would it do them if audiences don't know the difference either?

It's sad ironic daze indeed when in order for a jazz great like Herbie Hancock to gain attention he has to cover the least black sounding hippie chanteuse to ever shack in Laurel Canyon in order to beat out the blackest sounding junkie white chick in England for a Grammy Award...

Hoo Boy...


Let's get on with a black history month moment
with a bit of some African blues for ya'll

Notable, ( and also Grammy winning) African guitarist Ali Farka Toure has a saying that goes, “America only have the blues leaves, the roots of blues are in Africa”.

This fact is corroborated by historians who acknowledge that blues had been introduced in America by the African slaves. The earliest known recordings of this musical style are oft nostalgic melancholic laments of the impoverished and downtrodden. These songs were rooted in expressions of the slaves’ desire for rebellion in North America, originally sung far from the master's quarters, in the cotton fields or in their shanty's after a long, hard day’s work.

Here's the late great Ossie Davis narrating some tales of singing slaves, from a reading of the letters of Frederick Douglass

Ossie Davis Singing Slaves

The modern African blues I am familiar with are a rhythmic world removed from the often less complex slower country blues we hear in the southern US. Here's a singer that embodies the beauteous melodies I associate with African music. Salif Keita, whose been called one of Africa's greatest voices is an albino guitarist from Mali...

I bet if anything might give ya the blues, it could be being mistaken for a white guy in Africa...

Africa: Mother of The BluesSalif Keita
"I Djo Famâ" (mp3)

from "Africa: Mother of The Blues"
(Sheer Sound)

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Here's another artist from this same great collection, and this guy is a legendary artist from Senegal (by way of Niger)...

Ismael Lo

A little more commercial at times, but he has a unique sound as well...

Ismael Lo - "Maria Lo" (mp3)
from "Africa: Mother of The Blues"
(Sheer Sound)

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Here is a track from a mixed race group out of Cape town South Africa, and basically one of the first African pop groups I had ever heard of...

Juluka, an 80's world beat band fronted by Mr. Johnny Clegg, a white jewish kid who had an interest in Zulu culture & music...

They become a famous & somewhat symbolic band that rode a tide of millions around the globe in the 80's who were rooting for the end of apartheid. This very commercial track is likely their biggest hit, or at at least the most well known internationally...

ScatterlingsJohnny Clegg & Juluka - Scatterlings of Africa
from "Scatterlings"
(Rhythm Safari Pty Ltd)

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Long before Johnny Clegg brought African pop stylings to the world, Miriam Makeba & her former husband Hugh Masakela were making music that caught attention of western ears.

Makeba had a big hit with Click Song #1 in the early 60's, and ended up testifying about the bane of apartheid in front of the United Nations in 1963. That act of supposed treason on the world stage cost her citizenship in her home country. It took 40 years for the fall of the apartheid system for her to regain entry into her country.

Here's a remake of that first very vital hit song she did half a century ago, the 70 something singer recut it on her 2004 album Reflections that came out via Telarc...

Miriam Makeba - Click Song

I am no doubt, a big fan of black American soul music from the 1960's...

There's something so wonderful about the spirited sounds made by guys like Curtis Mayfield, Holland-Dozier-Holland and Little Jerry "swamp dogg" Williams. If I had to make a desrt island disc list, you know it couldn't be without something on the Stax label etc.

Unfortunately the 60's are over, and soul has given way to something radio programmers call "Smooth R&B", but there's nothing in it for me.

R. Kelly and a stretch Hummer load of whining modern chick singers backed up with an army of slick producers can't do with millions & all the studio time in the world what a handful of underpaid southern folks in Detroit, Muscle Shoals or Memphis in the 1960's could do in an hour before lunch.

Since I've already got most of the big hits from that era, I'm always on the lookout for undiscovered gems, b-sides, regional hit records and tunes on little labels that couldn't payola their way onto the Billboard charts.

One of the greatest re-issue labels going these days is Chicago's Numero Group...

These folks ccome up with the goods everytime, finding obscure stuff, often totally unreleased back in the day. Songs that shoulda, coula, woulda if only things had worked out differently.

Their latest vital work in the Eccentric Soul compilation series is called Outskits of Deep City. It was painstakingly compiled with the help of scenester Willie Clarke, and it covers the Miami scene of the late 60's & early 70's. There's some damn good soulful black music on this collection, and I'm gonna give ya just a tease from the set, the lead off track by the obscure group known as The Rollers, and immediately you know these are not the Bay City boys from Scotland...

Rollers - Knockin' At The Wrong Door

Going into more contemporary time a bit, no look back into Black History, at least from the American perspective could exclude gangsta rap, and how would that be complete without including the saga of N.W.A...

Straight Outta Compton, these guys blasted through the 80's pablum with material that told of turf wars, beeeotches, ho's and dodging 5-0, all with a crazed non-Politically Correct bravado that could make Public Enemy blush...

N. W. A - F*ck The Police ( DJ Shadow Remix )

Now in the interest of being equal opportunity, how about a very caucasian reinterpretation of one of this prolific rap group's biggest tracks:

Nina Gordon Straight Outta Compton

And how about one more goofy white chick to finish off this post...

Last up is the latest retro sounding pop blend from a band called "She and Him", the collab where actress Zooey Deschanel plays Amy Winehouse to M.Ward's Mark Ronson...

Or hopefully not...

I get the feeling Ms Deschanel while not as alluring in that nasty way, is also a little better adjusted, having grown up in a Hollywood show biz family...

On her new album she goes gung ho for the classic cutesy Girl Group sound. One can only guess why she chose the mopey M.Ward to be her Phil Spector, but the results ain't bad from what I've been privy too. She even covers Carole King, and that means she knows the Brill Building from her BrylCream and respects the Mid 60's Motown-esque medium folks.

Either way, whether you care about that stuff or not, it's a fairly delightful sounding work.

Here's a track:

She and He - I Was Made For Him

Hope that suffices for tonight...

cuz, it's definitely beer thirty...

Good Night & Good Luck y'all

1 comment:

daniel said...

I had to do a double take while reading this this a blog I found through Hype Machine or is it from one of my favorite radical political sites?? Interesting history of racism in SF (I'm in Oakland). I know a guy who was in the National Guard posted in the Fillmore during the riots in 1968...yeah, the city was pretty much under martial law for a while there.