Tag Archives: racism

There’s No Place Like America Today: Reflections Into This 1975 Curtis Mayfield Album On Independence Day

Curtis Mayfield’s message to America’s black community is a hard one to overstate. As Jerry Butler stated, Mayfield witness the financial exploitation of many an (often illiterate) blues musician in Chicago as he was coming up in the world. He arrived into Record Row in the late 50’s as a teenager-witnessing these “musical sharecroppers” (as Butler referred to it as) basically having to “sing for their supper” by gigging just to earn a living. As the 60’s came in, Curtis Mayfield became one of the first black American musical figures to change that for himself. And as an example for others to come.

Half a century later, America is still in many ways a developing nation. Its still an autocratic nation in many ways. With many marginalized people remaining so in a nation that should have plenty for all of them. For thoughtful people such as myself,this might make Independence Day difficult to celebrate these days. In 1975, Curtis Mayfield released There’s No Place Like America Today-an album that addressed such concerns.  Its cover art is based on a photograph of black flood victims in 1937 by Margaret Bourke-White. Here’s my review from a couple of years ago about the album.


From what I’ve heard of the man from the beginning of his solo career onward? Curtis Mayfield’s music focused on sociopolitical matters from the point of view of a storyteller. He’d basically tell the tale in his poetically strong manner, and than make either make passing observations or ask a rhetorical question. Always with the idea of setting things up for positive change.

After the events of Watergate and the ensuing oil crisis in the mid 70’s? Curtis’s thematic focus was beginning to change from one of implied optimism to one of the need to face the harsher realities head on, and as they were. From the cover artwork re-imagine a famous photograph onward? This album exemplified the change of focus in Curtis’s music.

“Billy Jack” is a thick,boiling over the edge yet spare jam defined by melodic wah wah bass-with a crying blues guitar backing it up and carried along rhythmically by conga’s and other percussive elements. “When Seasons Change” keeps the that same sound fully intact with a lot more reverb on this very hollow around the middle,but still beautifully crafted hard funk ballad.

“So In Love” brings in the close horns,organ and pretty orchestral strings for a shuffling mid tempo soul ballad. “Jesus” throws down a tick tocking drum with a high liquid bass and yet more organ for a gospel/soul ballad. “Blue Monday People” is another mid-tempo ballad full of that round,reverbed wah wah sound along with the typically powerful melody.

“Hard Times” brings all the elements of the opener for a hard funk number with a strong blues flavor while “Love To The People” brings in both this heavy echoed rhythm section with the orchestration together for a swelling,horn filled mass of funky soulfulness. Over and over again? This album brings in a spare,very glossy funk sound that stands on near perfect ground with the lyrical focus. And of course it finds Curtis taking a look at the darker side of his one conceptual vision.

He is seeing the inequities of racial privilege for exactly what they are. And makes it clear over and over that the black community will have to turn more and more inward to move forward. And that stands on both creative and social grounds as well. Of course with musicians like Phil Upchurch and Henry Gibson as part of Curtom’s backing band of the day? Curtis Mayfield was in just the right place to take his funk to a musically broader and lyrically less certain place.


The idea that America should celebrate its birthday based on unconditionally positive ideas is probably a destructive one. Every year as knowledge becomes broader, American’s learn not only truths of its history. But the less than savory circumstances on its founding. Yet America is also a nation where its democratically based…messiness (as my friend Henrique said once) allows for a lot of positive things to be accomplished.  There’s No Place Like America Today takes this well rounded view of outward and inner human politics and brings it all to the table. And in Curtis’s own funky eloquence too.

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Andresmusictalk Takes A Stand

Stop Killing Black People

Today I’d planned to bring you perhaps another Anatomy of THE Groove segment,or another list based article about jazz,funk and soul music. Every human being has a heart somewhere though. I’m no exception to that,and my heart is broken. Within the last three days,two innocent black American men in Alton Sterling and Philando Castile were murdered by the police. Yesterday,a Black Lives Matter protest in Dallas,Texas erupted into violence against the police.  The situation has gotten to such a critical state, it seems like right time to set the record straight as to what Andresmusictalk stands for.

Over the past couple of years,grooves with a message have been over-viewed here. Especially in times of crisis such as outbreaks of violence. And in my home state of Maine the election of Mister Paul LePage to the position of state governor. As much as it might be inappropriate to bring personal views and feelings to this blog,the national situation has gone beyond too far. Day after day,social networks such as Facebook are filled with racist rhetoric-from posted memes to comments. And in many states,including my own,open carry gun laws have turned private citizens into potential vigilantes.

I am personally many things. Black,Latino and openly gay are among them. Yet everyday American’s who are any or all of these things are being made to feel as if they’ve done something terribly wrong. For example,when people such as Treyvon Martin,Michael Brown,Freddie Gray,Tamir Rise and now Alton Sterling and Philando Castile are murdered by police,it is quickly dismissed as a misunderstanding-with the murdered party painted as a “potential criminal element”.  When police are murdered such as in Dallas,most of the nation stand behind them without question.

These contradictory actions have officially proven to me that America today has become nearly totally based on the racial privilege of white people in particular. Through the articles done here,I’ve tried to imply that empathy,not xenophobia,is the solution to a lot of these peoples. So many other people do that in their own way,too. Sadly,few seem to even be listening. So wanted to clarify these matters: this blog is against prejudice  and racism. It’s against the murder of the innocent based on skin color and other non criminal matters. And most importantly it’s against homophobia,ableism and white privilege.

What it does stand for wholeheartedly is music. Music to get people in the mind of doing the dance we call life. And often music with a direct message. Here are some songs to listen to that musically describe today’s situation very well. No over-view from me today. Just listen and dance to the funky and soulful people music.

Don’t Call Me Nigger,Whitey/Sly & The Family Stone

Ball Of Confusion/The Tempations

If There’s A Hell Below,We’re All Going To Go/Curtis Mayfield

Am I Black Enough For You/Billy Paul

Winter In America/Gil Scott-Heron

Black Man/Stevie Wonder

System Of Survival/Earth Wind & Fire

Ghetto Woman/Janelle Monae

Baltimore/Prince

*”Peace is more than the absence of war”-Prince (1958-2016) paraphrasing a quotation from Albert Einstein (1879-1955)

 

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Filed under 2016, Alton Sterling, Dallas, Freddie Gray, gun violence, message songs, Michael Brown, Philando Castile, police brutality, political songs, racism, racist murder, Tamir Rice, Treyvon Martin, Uncategorized, white privilege

Anataomy of THE Groove: “I Wanna Talk To You” by Stevie Wonder

Stevie Wonder’s musical artistry is completely effected by the 60’s social explosions. These changes in American society defined the baby boomer generation,of which Wonder was a member of. The 70’s emerged finding the civil rights and black power movements influencing that entire 60’s era counterculture. One issue,bought up again by Prince three decades later,was the idea of recording contracts as a form of artistic slavery. Wonder’s music had grown behind what Motown expected him to create. And just prior to his 21st birthday,Wonder decided to do as Curtis Mayfield had done and take control of his music.

This April 12th was the 45th anniversary of Stevie Wonder’s album  Where I’m Coming From. This album represented a time when Wonder insisted his contract to Motown be voided until they worked out a deal that gave him full creative autonomy. The album featured a sound that represented the funk process,and Wonder’s use of it to advance his own musical independence. The themes of the songs dealt with anti war ideas ,drug abuse, racism and his new marriage to Syreeta Wright,who collaborated with him on the album. Today,one song on this album rings through my head very loudly: “I Wanna Talk To You”.

Wonder starts out the song with a down and dirty 12 bar blues piano solo straight out of the Ray Charles school of soul. He responds to this vocally on his refrain-just him and the piano. Than Stevie imitating an older voice comes in for the chorus,solo at first. During the rest of the chorus,layers of fuzzed out Clavinet and huge,percussive soul/jazz style drums come into play. After a few rounds of this literal refrain/choral conversation the music comes to an instrumental bridge. This extends into an elongated chorus of these reverbed,heavy groove keyboards until the song breaks apart lyrically and fades out.

Musically, Stevie Wonder is speaking the same musical language here as Sly & The Family Stone were with their Stand album from a couple years earlier. It brings in the raw R&B attitude out of the 50’s blues clubs and juke joints into the slick,churchy use of reverb and instrumental filters. This is what the funk process was all about. And by having fully realized the strong instrumental influence of the Ray Charles comparison that made his childhood career,Wonder was able to bring the then recent musical past into a new and evolving future. And right around the time Marvin Gaye put out What’s Going On at that.

On the lyrical end, I was inspired to write about this song was by seeing a meme that showed members of Black Lives Matter and saying “the most racist people are the ones crying ‘racist’ all the time’. This meme was posted to the Facebook timeline of a friend of mine whose not only gay,but works in a mental health facility. It got me to thinking that perhaps,racism is indeed a form of mental illness. It encourages irrational,murderous behavior. For years “I Wanna Talk To You” was presented in literature as being a song about the generation gap. In a way it is. But it actually goes far deep than that in content.

As it stands,the reason this occurrence inspired me to think of this songs lyrics is how Wonder plays it out. It’s essentially a one man show-style musical theater production,if one were based in straight up post WW2 black American attitude and funkiness. Wonder plays himself singing about the frustration of being black in America. He also plays the voice of an old Southern (most likely white) bigot who insists “my world can be true if you do what I tell you to”. At the end,it all breaks down when they character calls out “ah Stevie boy” and Wonder responds with “hey I don’t need you for nothin'”.

Stevie Wonder throws down an amazing ethic on this song. What amazes me is that Where I’m Coming From is the only one of his adult albums not domestically in print on physical media. In terms of this song in particular,it finds Wonder coming into rising adulthood at the dawn of the post civil rights era in America. Between the black American revolutionary music of funk and the message of organizations like the black panthers, Wonder completely realizes the connections between the two factors. And he plays out American’s racist default setting beautifully on this song with maximum soul and funkativity.

 

 

 

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Filed under 1970's, Black Lives Matter, blues funk, clavinet, drums, funk process, message songs, Motown, piano, racism, reverb, Stevie Wonder