SOUL OF A NATION (AFRO-CENTRIC VISIONS IN THE AGE OF BLACK POWER: UNDERGROUND JAZZ, STREET FUNK AND THE ROOTS OF RAP 1968-1979).

Soul Of A Nation-(Afro-Centric Visions In The Age of Black Power: Underground Jazz, Street Funk and The Roots Of Rap 1968-79).

Label: Soul Jazz Records.

On the ‘4th’ of August 2017, Soul Jazz Records will released their eagerly awaited new compilation, Soul Of A Nation (Afro-Centric Visions In The Age of Black Power: Underground Jazz, Street Funk and The Roots Of Rap 1968-79). Its release coincides with the new Soul Of A Nation-Art In The Age Of Black Power exhibition, which opened at the Tate Modern on the ’12th’ of July and runs to the ’22nd’ October 2017.  The exhibition covers the period between 1963 and 1983, and the thirteen tracks on Soul Of A Nation-(Afro-Centric Visions In The Age of Black Power: Underground Jazz, Street Funk and The Roots Of Rap 1968-79) are the perfect soundtrack to what was a hugely important period in American history.

1963 proved to be the height of the Civil Rights movement in America. Many African-Americans had devoted themselves to the Civil Rights movement and had been working towards the day when America would be fully integrated. That was the day that they had long dreamt about. Sometimes, it seemed tantalizingly close, other times, it looked as if their dream of integration and equality was out of reach. However, the members of the Civil Rights movement were never going to give up on that dream. Their American Dream was integration and equality.

Things started to change after The Civil Rights Act 1964 was enacted. It banned discrimination based on race, colour, religion, sex, or national origin in employment practices. The Civil Rights Act 1964 also ended unequal application of voter registration requirements,  and prohibited racial segregation in schools, the workplace and in public accommodation. This was a huge step forward towards for the African-Americans population.

So was the implementation of The Voting Rights Act of 1965, which restored and protected voting rights for minorities.  This was a hugely important piece of legislation. Another important piece of legislation was The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 which removed racial and national barriers to immigration, and expanded opportunities for immigrants from regions other than Europe. The third piece of important piece if legislation was The Fair Housing Act 1968, which banned discrimination in the sale or rental of housing. It looked as if progress was being made in America.

Especially as many African-Americans made a conscious decision to re-enter politics, even in the deep South. Other young African-Americans became involved in the Civil Rights’ movement. It looked as if this was a new beginning in America. 

While America was changing, there was widespread rioting in many of America’s inner cities. This began in the African-American communities in 1964, and lasted right through to 1970. By then, the nascent Black Power movement’s influence was growing.

The Black Power movement’s roots can be traced back to the mid-sixties. By 1966, different groups within the Civil Rights movement had embraced the slogan Black Power. This included SNCC and CORE during the nineteen day March Against Fear in June 1966. Both organisations embraced the slogan Black Power, using it as way to describe trends towards militancy and self-reliance. Elsewhere, the Black Power movement started to gain and promote more of a sense in black pride and identity as well. 

Among the most public faces of the Black Power movement were the Black Panther Party, which had been founded by Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale in 1966. They adopted their own dress code, created a ten point plan, openly displayed firearms, used the clenched fist as a symbol of solidarity and used the slogan: “power to the people.” However, the Black Panther Party adopted the ideology of Malcolm X,  the former member of the Nation of Islam, and used a: “by-any-means necessary” approach to stop inequality. 

By 1968, the militant calls for Black Power were growing louder. It was a frustrating and worrying time for all African-Americans, not just those involved in the Civil Rights’ Movement.

The Civil Rights Act of 1968 had been filibustered as the year dawned. This had happened several times before, and most likely, would’ve happened again. However, when The National Advisory Commission On Civil Disorders in 1967 published its report on the ‘1st’ March 1968, it recommended that: “a comprehensive and enforceable federal open housing law” was a possible remedy to the civil disturbances. It looked as if there was a solution to what had been a long running problem.

Ironically, as The Senate debated The Civil Rights Act of 1968 Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated. This lead to the worst ever wave of civil unrest. Suddenly, filibustering was a thing of the past. The House passed The Civil Rights Act of 1968 on April ’10th’ and President Johnson signed it a day later on the ‘11th’. Although this was an important day for African-Americans, the death of Martin Luther King Jr, who had been an inspirational figure for many within the Civil Rights’ Movement.

Despite the death of Martin Luther King Jr, the Black Power movement was still  a rallying cry for African-American pride, autonomy and solidarity. They drew inspiration from many of the newly independent African nations, who were embarking on a new and exciting period in their history. 

Meanwhile, many African-Americans’ lives had been blighted by poverty, poor housing, unemployment and drug addiction. They were also still victims of racism and inequality. It was no surprise that so many African-Americans were becoming part of the Civil Rights’ movement, and were becoming involved in the Black Power movement. Many African-Americans became politicised for the first time. Others embraced the more revolutionary politics, and came to the conclusion that the lack Power movement’s: “by-any-means necessary” approach was the only way ahead during what was an intensely political period in African-American history. 

As the sixties gave way to the seventies, many within the Civil Rights and Black Power movements started counting the cost of their struggle. They had lost Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr, who both fell victim to the assassin’s bullet. Still, the struggle would continue until the they achieved the American Dream of integration and equality.

Meanwhile, the Civil Rights and Black Power movement continued to influence artists, authors, poets and musicians. This includes music that feature on Soul Of A Nation-(Afro-Centric Visions In The Age of Black Power: Underground Jazz, Street Funk and The Roots Of Rap 1968-79). The thirteen tracks are a reminder of the ideals of the civil rights movement, black power and black nationalism. This influenced the evolvement of radical African-American music in America during what was an intensely political and revolutionary period.

During this period, artists like Gil Scott-Heron, Roy Ayers Ubiquity, Philip Cohran and The Artistic Heritage Ensemble, Phil Ranelin, Horace Tapscott With The Pan Afrikan Peoples Arkestra, David McKnight, Joe Henderson, African Rhythms, Doug Carn and Carlos Garnett emerged, and became part of this new musical movement. They all created groundbreaking music that had been influenced and inspired by tenets of the Civil Rights movement, Black Power and black nationalism. The music ranged from avant-garde, free jazz, funk, fusion, proto-rap, soul, soul jazz and spiritual jazz. This new music was very different from what many African-Americans listened to. 

Especially the music Ray Charles was releasing and the music that was being churned out of the Detroit’s Motown soul factory. The artists on Soul Of A Nation were part of a brave new musical world, and created ambitious and innovative music that was representative of the African-American people during a crucial period in their history.

Soul Of A Nation-(Afro-Centric Visions In The Age of Black Power: Underground Jazz, Street Funk and The Roots Of Rap 1968-79) opens with Gil Scott-Heron’s The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, which made its debut on his 1970 debut Small Talk At ‘125th’ And Lenox, which was released on Bob Thiele’s Flying Dutchman Productions. A year later, the definitive version of The Revolution Will Not Be Televised feature on Gil Scott-Heron’s 1971 sophomore album Free Will. It’s an anthemic track that full of social comment that would become synonymous with the legendary singer, songwriter, musician, author, poet and political activist.

In 1978, Mandingo Griot Society released their eponymous debut album on the Chicago-based Flying Fish label. Mandingo Griot Society was a collaboration with forty-two year old trumpeter Don Cherry, who was one of the pioneers of free jazz. One of the highlights of the album was Sounds From The Bush which is a potent fusion of Afrobeat, African Roots and avant-jazz. It’s also the perfect introduction to Mandingo Griot Society, and free jazz legend Don Cherry.

Just like Gil Scott-Heron’s The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, Roy Ayers Ubiquity’s Red, Black and Green is an anthemic track that is synonymous with this important period in African-American history. Red, Black And Green was the title-track to Roy Ayers Ubiquity’s 1973 album for Polydor. Vibes’ man Roy Ayers, leads features an all-star band on what was one of the finest albums of his career so far. One of its highlights was Red, Black And Green, a hopeful and joyous slice of jazz-funk.

Three years after the death of Malcolm X, Philip Cohran And The Artistic Heritage Ensemble released The Malcolm X Memorial (A Tribute In Music) on Zulu Records. Nowadays, this four track album is regarded as a cult classic. It featured Malcolm X a mesmeric, dramatic and impassioned fusion of soul-jazz and Afrobeat.

In 1976, poet Sarah Webster Fabio released her third album on Folkways Records, Jujus-Alchemy Of The Blues Poems By Sarah Webster Fabio Read By Sarah Webster Fabio. Providing the musical backdrop to Sarah Webster Fabio’s vocal which veered between soulful to proto-rap, was Don’t Fight The Feeling. They provide a funky, jazz-tinged backdrop on Sweet Songs which is a reminder of this hidden gem of an album.

American jazz trombonist, composer, arranger, producer and bandleader Phil Ranelin released his sophomore solo album Vibes From The Tribes on the Detroit’s Tribe Records in 1976. Tribe Records was no ordinary label though. It was a political, social, and aesthetic collective of local musicians, whose leading lights of the collective were Wendell Harrison and Phil Ranelin. When Phil Ranelin came to record Vibes From The Tribes he was joined by other members of the collective, including Wendell Harrison Marcus Belgrave and Harold McKinney. One of their finest movements was the title-track, which opens the album. It’s a genre-melting fusion of funk, modal and soul jazz that showcases the truly talented Phil Ranelin at the peak of his creative powers, on this extremely rare album that nowadays, changes hands for upwards of £500.

Live At I.U.C.C. was the album recorded by Horace Tapscott With The Pan Afrikan Peoples Arkestra Desert Fairy Princess between February and June 1979. It was released later in 1979 on Tom Albach’s newly founded Nimbus West Records label. He had founded the label after listening to some tapes that he bought from Horace Tapscott. These tapes became Live At I.U.C.C, which features Desert Fairy Princess. It’s one of the highlights of Live At I.U.C.C, which is an oft-overlooked album of spiritual jazz from Los Angeles.

David McKnight delivers an impassioned proto-rap vocal on Strong Men, against an understated backdrop. He’s accompanied by a spartan selection of African percussion and backing vocalists. Together, they provides the perfect backdrop on this potent mixture of music, poetry and social comment.

Joe Henderson’s career began in 1963, with the release of his debut album Page One on Blue Note Records. Thirteen years later, and Joe Henderson was about to release his sixteenth solo album Black Narcissus on Milestone Records. Black Narcissus featured a crack band of jazz musicians, with Joe Henderson playing tenor saxophone and synths, and co-producing the album. One of its highlights is the title-track which drifts along melodically, with Joe Henderson’s tenor saxophone playing a leading role.

Oneness Of Juju released their debut album African Rhythms on the Black Fire label in 1975. The title-track African Rhythms has long been a favourite of DJs, dancers and compilers. No wonder, as it’s a delicious fusion of soul, funk, jazz and Afrobeat.

Pianist, songwriter and producer Doug Carn’s career began at Black Jazz Records in 1971, with the release of Infant Eyes. He released a quartet of albums on Black Jazz Records between 1971 and 1974. By 2001, Black Jazz Records was back and Doug Carn released his sixth album New Incentive “Firm Roots”. One songs that didn’t feature on the album was Suratal Ihklas. It was released as a single by the Heavenly Sweetness in 2008 and marked the welcome return and reinvention of Doug Carn.

Duke Edwards and The Young Ones collaborated on  Is It Too Late? which was released on Prestige in 1968. It featured Is It Too Late? which on the original album was a near fourteen minute epic. However, on Soul Of A Nation, it has been edited down to ten minutes. It features Duke Edwards’ impassioned soliloquy, which is combined elements of gospel, soul and free jazz.  The result is a powerful genre-melting opus where Duke Edwards lays bare his soul. 

When Carlos Garnett released his sophomore album Black Love on Muse Records, in 1974, he brought vocalists Ayodele Jenkins and Dee Dee Bridgewater onboard. They were part of the all-star cast that recorded Black Love. One of its’ finest moments was Mother Of The Future, where Ayodele Jenkins and Dee Dee Bridgewater play leading roles on a track that marries avant-garde, free jazz, post bop and soul. Carlos Garnett even yodels, turning his vocal into another instrument on this ambitious track that is full of twists and turns. It’s a case of expect the unexpected but enjoy the journey on the tracks that closes Soul Of A Nation-(Afro-Centric Visions In The Age of Black Power: Underground Jazz, Street Funk and The Roots Of Rap 1968-79).

Just like previous Soul Jazz Records’ compilations, Soul Of A Nation-(Afro-Centric Visions In The Age of Black Power: Underground Jazz, Street Funk and The Roots Of Rap 1968-79) is lovingly compiled and curated compilation. The compilers have combined some familiar tracks with a few leftfield choices and hidden gems. They’re a reminder of what was hugely important and in some cases, frustrating and turbulent period in African-American history.

America was still blighted by racism, poverty and inequality. Some of those that had devoted themselves to the Civil Rights movement, and had been working towards the day when America would be fully integrated, must have felt that was never going to happen. Not after six years of riots in the inner cities between 1964 and 1970, and certainly not after the assassination of  Malcolm X in 1965, and then Martin Luther King Jr in 1968. That lead to the worst civil unrest American had seen. However, it led to the passing of The Civil Rights Act of 1968. This was one step towards integration and equality. 

Despite being was one step nearer reaching their goal, it was still a long way until the Civil Rights movement and Black Power Movement reached their destination. Providing the soundtrack to that journey were the thirteen artists on Soul Of A Nation-(Afro-Centric Visions In The Age of Black Power: Underground Jazz, Street Funk and The Roots Of Rap 1968-79). They were just a few of the musicians, artists, authors and poets that had been inspired by the tenets of the Civil Rights movement, Black Power and black nationalism. These musicians provided the soundtrack to the journey towards equality and equality.

Eventually, they reached their destination, and their fight for equality and equality was now a reality. No longer were African-Americans persecuted and discriminated in their own country. Instead, they were treated as equals, which was what Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr had dreamt of and worked towards. The members of the Civil Rights and Black Power movements never gave up on that dream, and eventually, they achieved their American Dream, which was integration and equality. Documenting that long and eventful journey were the artists on Soul Of A Nation-(Afro-Centric Visions In The Age of Black Power: Underground Jazz, Street Funk and The Roots Of Rap 1968-79).

Soul Of A Nation (Afro-Centric Visions In The Age of Black Power: Underground Jazz, Street Funk and The Roots Of Rap 1968-79).

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