The Roots OF Rock
Written by: Sterne Boakye
Learning the full extent of Black History allows us to celebrate all of our accomplishments and events that have shaped our lives today, a chance for us to publicly honour our ancestors. It is something we should appreciate; learning such gives us the ability to understand, recognise and acknowledge our full worth as a people. It is also enables for us to commemorate our past and therefore we respectfully recall and remind ourselves of our history every year. Black History Month serves as our official memorial however we should not confine ourselves to one month.
When it comes to music, black people are almost forgotten in our contributions to music generally and we are shoehorned into specific genres. However, we have influenced numerous genres such as Rock music. Modern Rock music’s foundations are laid in Rock and roll which was a genre that evolved in late 1940’s America from African-American musical styles such as gospel, jazz, blues and rhythm and blues. It’s almost as if this fact has been lost in the annals of history but the phrase ‘rocking and rolling’ was used in the early 20th century to describe the spiritual fervour of black church rituals. The phrase was used by gospel, blues and swing musicians in music aimed at a black audience. Rock and roll is generally regarded as a merging of African musical tradition with European instrumentation. That is something to celebrate, the achievements of our ancestors, who through music influenced a whole new genre.
African-Americans such as Chuck Berry are usually credited with fusing major elements of rhythmn and blues with new elements that made Rock and roll so distinctive. Along with ‘Fats’ Domino, Goree Carter, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, who influenced early Rock and roll artists such as Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis.
But, in contrast to recent times where music such as Grime, Rap or Hip-Hop is wrongly labelled ‘Black’ music, the foundations of Rock and roll was not constrained. Both African-Americans and white Americans enjoyed the music. Many people saw, the creation of Rock and roll as a precursor to racial co-operation and shared experience. In the 1950’s and 1960’s Rock and roll expressed the social anxieties of the Civil Rights Movement but there was no labelling. The music was for all and the black people of this time recognised their influence on Rock music because even though they saw the greatest commercial success for male and white performers, the genre was dominated by black and female artists. I’m no fan of Rock Music but it seems these facts have been lost over time. Many people label Rock music as ‘White’ music but if we believe that then we are discrediting our ancestors by not commemorating their hard work, creativity and love for all music. If we cannot acknowledge our own influences or we allow our influences to be forgotten, then how can we be displeased that our work is unnoticed.
Some will say that it is system and society itself that allows our impact on music to be forgotten, and they are right. But that is why we have Black History Month, so we as a people, especially our young ones are reminded every year of our struggles and our successes. We must celebrate, appreciate and commemorate our past and all it offers us. Music is a powerful weapon in this case and we must not be shoehorned into thinking that we are constrained to Grime, Rap or Hip-Hop. We can express ourselves through Pop, Rock, Jazz, Classical, Dance, Reggae, Afro-Beats. Why? Because it is not only other races who can express themselves over various genres. We are gifted people, innovative and inspiring and that’s why we have leaders in different genres and periods such as Bo Diddley, Little
Richard, The Supremes, Michael Jackson, Bob Marley, Lauryn Hill, NWA, 2pac, Seal, Wiley and Stormzy.
Society seems happy to associate black people with music genres that can be linked to violence and illegality to keep up the pretence established by the mainstream media. But as our people have shown in the past and we will continue to show, we can use all types of music as celebration or as demonstration. Only when our influence is recognised that our work begins to be noticed rather than vice versa.
“A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.” – Marcus Garvey