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Black Culture and Musical Theatre


'Lord, I really don't think no man's love can last Lord, I really don't think no man's love can last They love you to death then treat you like a thing of the past…

A loose monotonous form, easily fitted to physical movements…and it is the American Negro's most characteristic expression. Into it have gone his loves, his hates, his protests, his whole emotional life'

Jazz in the contemporary scenario reverberates with the fight of the black against the evil forces of apartheid, communicating rhythmically a communal way of life, deeply political, interfering in matters of slavery and servitude, the plight of women, and the menace of land mines. 'One of the things about the black music is that it can express joy and sorrow at the same time. Sometimes people think we are so happy when we are singing because the music has that swaying rhythm. But very often we are saying something painful and tragic in our songs' said Mariam Makabe, the pioneer of black music who died recently. Even though her remarks are about the black music, it also holds true for jazz, the way in which it is steeped in black culture and tradition with rhythms that are moody and heavy, a tightly constructed rhetoric that fuses the oral tradition with politics aiming to rouse fellow countrymen with a sense of history. 'The confidence behind jazz speaks of the fundamental human need for due recognition denied to the oppressed. The story of jazz is indeed the story of music intertwined with racial politics, always triumphant and worried, wry and angry, naïve and knowing a dynamic symbol of black pride, resilience and resistance defiantly standing up for the black race with boldness. Jazz sounded modern because its lively and improvisational characteristics clearly differed from older formal and sentimental music. Furthermore, listening and dancing to jazz also enabled many whites to break with a tradition of more restrictive public behaviour.' (Emery L. F, 1988: 210).

At the same time jazz also served a social and cultural purpose for blacks. It communicated the migration of Afro-Americans from the agricultural South to cities and industrial life. From rent parties to Harlem Renaissance salons, jazz performance enabled black Americans to affirm - not reject-their individual and collective pasts. One of the most important changes symbolised by jazz, however, transcended racial differences. Given the intense clash of cultures expressed in the jazz controversy, it is surprising to find some people - both black and white- who could move between the two. They were men and women of modern sensibilities. But as Sidney Bechet understood so well, improvisational music promises no sure passages; rather it captures the inevitability of mobility and change.

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