Music And Cultural Identity (New Orleans) Essay, Research Paper
Throughout history, music has made dramatic impacts on the way civilizations and communities function and behave. Likewise, the behavior and attitudes of people in a community add to the flavor and attitude of the music made within the culture. Examples of this sort of connection include the Baroque era in Europe, where the character of the common citizen and the music were very refined and structured, or in England during the 70?s, where the citizens and the music displayed anger and revolt against the monarchy. New Orleans has always been a city that provides inspiration for musicians and artists, and likewise, the creations that come from this city strike chords with many other cultures worldwide and have impacted communities just the same. The sound and vibe of New Orleans, especially right after the Great Depression, helped to release what can be called the ?American free spirit,? by making the nation a more colorful, free, and honest place to live.
There are three distinct sounds of New Orleans, all of which first developed in small urban areas, and caught on throughout the region. These New Orleans-bred styles of music are jazz, blues, and a more recent genre, bounce music. In all these forms, life in New Orleans in its urban context is depicted through the music?s portrayal of emotion, action, and event. The music has also helped to shape New Orleans? cultural identity, which is undeniably different from any other culture in the world in language, behavior, ethic, and daily life. The laid back, sexual, and nostalgic attitudes of the New Orleanian are heard through the crooning of the blues. The high-spirited, ?dirty-dancing,? conversational mannerisms are spoken through jazz music. The rhythmic chanting of a bounce rap displays the tendency of those in New Orleans to party until the early morning, their desire for easy money and better living (the American Dream), and most importantly, the pride he has for his home in the South.
Congress called jazz ?a rare and invaluable national treasure of international importance? that is the ?most widely recognized indigenous art form? in the United States (McDonough 11). Ellis Marsalis states ?jazz is the most American of art forms, the distillation of the American Spirit? (Scherman 73). Apparently, from these quotations, this form of music we know as jazz has had quite an impact on a nation. Many believe Buddy Bolden was the first to play his cornet without sheet music to a basic folk beat, and thus introduced one of the most important aspects of jazz music, improvisation. Louis Armstrong, once called the ?Johann Sebastian Bach of jazz music? by Wynton Marsalis (popular band leader), reportedly had once, while singing a ?folksy? blues/country tune, dropped his music on the ground and instead of picking it up, began to ?scat? or sing gibberish that sounded perfect with the beat, as he improvised the notes and sounds with his mouth in tune with the song. ?Jazz,? Duke Ellington once told a newspaper reporter, ?is freedom? (Ponce 92). When attending a jazz show, you will rarely hear songs played the same way twice. Jazz is also very interactive and conversational ? often the musicians will ?trade fours,? which means they will improvise soloes for four measures and then ?pass? to another performer. Improvisation makes for a very conversational style of music, and it is social by nature. There is the freedom to formulate an infinite number of emotions through the music, and if you?re attending a jazz show, you have the freedom to dance and sing until you get tired. This was not an accepted behavior for popular American music prior to the 20?s.
Few of the founding pioneers of New Orleans jazz music were able to see their later successes, for it wasn?t until after America?s entry into World War I and the end of the Great Depression that jazz music gained recognition nationwide and evolved into big band and swing. At this point, jazz had become the locus of American music. It spread very quickly as many of the jazz musicians had left New Orleans to head North during the Great Migration, which was caused by a plague of boll weevils on southern crops, a succession of floods in the Mississippi Delta, and the availability of factory jobs in the North (Lemann 122). Today, jazz is still very popular, and the style has grown and evolved in many directions.
The blues has played a similar role in New Orleans? cultural successes. In the early 1800?s, slave owners of the South wanted to prevent their slaves from singing various African songs and chants; first, because their songs praised gods other than the Christian god, and secondly, various African musical activities had been associated with attempted slave escapes and revolts. Instead, the slave owners encouraged their slaves to sing Christian psalms and hymns. The slaves would sing the songs with less enthusiasm than their native songs, but would ?croon? them in a style that is now typical of blues music. This form of the blues is not what became popular internationally, but it is the root of what blues is today (Pincheon 4).
Blues became the first adult secular music America ever produced. It was the black musicians? way of venting without displeasing the whites. It again, was a form of freedom. As the blues evolved, it also brought about more positive messages, and became simply a soulful way of expressing joy, praise, or sorrow. ?[The blues] has a sexual meaning, the ebb and flow of sexual passion: disappointment, happiness. It has a whole religious connotation too, that joy and lift? (Marsalis 39). The blues are about accepting tragedy and moving forward ? which is a timeless and endless quality. The blues can be conversational, poetic, sound narrative, or about life history. Before the blues, there were few public outlets of frustration, especially for African-Americans, and there were absolutely no sexual connotations within any other forms. The city of New Orleans, especially downtown, is one of the most secular cities in the United States. Bourbon Street boasts sexuality, alcoholism, decadence, and most importantly, happiness ? all traits that the Blues helped to define in the city.
The blues also helped to integrate the black culture into white communities across America. Until the 1960?s, a common view was that “whites were the mind, blacks were the body.” Blacks were supposed to be incredibly potent, sexy, tough, and having a natural sense of rhythm ? everything the common white man wanted. Elvis Presley was one of the first white men to publicly dance as the black blues singers did, equipped with a sexy sway, rising on his toes seemingly on the verge of some impossible groin-propelled leap. Presley?s moves were body shouts, and the croon of his blues singing had everyone craving for more. Girls across America instantly understood it and went nuts screaming for more. Boys understood it as well and started dancing by themselves in front of their mirrors imitating him. The blues sang this freedom, like jazz did, which made it tremendously popular around the United States.
Bounce music is a relatively new form of music that arose in the early 90?s with MC T. Tucker?s remixing of a sample from hip-hop group Show Boys, where he replaced the lyrics with a chanting that is a combination of rap about New Orleans life, and a sort of instruction on how to do different dances such as ?Monkey on a Stick? and ?Calio Wobble.? Terius Gray, one such bounce rapper, grew up in the 9th ward in New Orleans? Magnolia division, one of the nation?s top crime areas. He used to make his living by capturing alligators for fifty dollars apiece. Now known as Juvenile, he and producer Mannie Fresh own Cash Money Records, which, after the release of Juvenile?s album 400 Degreez, is worth over $100 million dollars. Bounce music is simple, and takes little production, yet weeks before a new Cash Money album is released, ?there are people from all around the New Orleans area busting down doors to get it? (Aiges 2-3).
Included in the music are references to wealth and riches, and how money to make an album was acquired through illegal actions. Percy Miller, also known as Master P, who was on the Forbes 400 list last year for his success as a music producer, on his album Ghetto D, unashamedly tells of how he sold crack to make money for studio time, and also includes a recipe on how to make the illicit drug (Schruers, 6). Even more appealing are the references to different parts of New Orleans, and the dangers of living there.
?Move all your valuables, cuz them boyz at your throat with them calicos (knives) I mean, me myself, I just don?t wanna see nobody get hurt
Wanna live? Keep your black ass from out of my turf
You look like one of them boys who ain?t never been f*cked over
I?m bout to change that, send that boy to the Nolia.? (Juvenile 6)
Many people from the New Orleans relate to this music, and its popularity and style has spread throughout the nation. The music gives hope for young and poor kids living in an urban environment, familiarizing them with the dangers. The contagious second line beats and raps about drinking Colt 45 and smoking Swisher Sweets (the least expensive brands of party goods), remind them that being poor does not mean you can?t have fun.
The cultural creations that come out of New Orleans continually enhance the American experience. These musical forms, born and bred in the city, have grown, evolved and helped to shape a more tolerant and free-spirited America. The music from New Orleans is honest music, straight from the soul, and from life experience ? the content of the music is not meant to shock people, but to, as Aaron Neville (a New Orleans resident) put it, ?tell it like it is.? These qualities in any form of art across the nation are what keep America growing culturally.
Aiges, Scott. ?Home-Grown Bounce Music Rules Big Easy’s Rap Roost.? Billboard 19 March 1994. pp. 2-3.
Gray, Terius (a.k.a. Juvenile), ?Welcome to the Nolia.? Cash Money Records. Produced by Mannie Fresh, 1998.
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The New Yorker 13 March 2000. p. 122.
Marsalis, Ellis Jr. ?New Orleans Jazz Funerals.? American Visions Oct-Nov 1998. p. 39.
McDonough, John. ?Crescent City Cadence.? National Parks May-June 1995. p. 11.
Mueller, William and Marda Burton. ?Life by the Mississippi.? Saturday Evening Post April 1989.
Ponce, Pedro. ?Jazz: An American Elixer.? Humanities July-August 2000. p. 92.
Pincheon, Bill. “A Deeper Territory: Race, Gender, Historical Narrative and the Recorded Field Blues.? The Western Journal of Black Studies Spring 2000. p. 4.
Sandmel, Ben. ?A Vibrant Legacy: New Orleans Rhythm and Blues is Still Going Strong in its Home Town.? The Atlantic April 1989. p. 15.
Scherman, Tony. ?What is jazz?? American Heritage Oct 1995. p.73.
Schruers, Fred. ?Survival of the Illest: New Orleans’ Master P Builds a Hip-Hop Empire from the Underground Up.? Rolling Stone 27 November 1997. p. 6.
The Original Hip-Hop Lyrics Archive. 6 June 2000. http://www.ohhla.com/index.html. Accessed on November, 15, 2000.