The African Diaspora — Introduction

I am going to embark on an ambitious and most likely doomed-to-fail journalistic excursion: I will attempt to try and document through 3 continents and hundreds of years the music of the African diaspora.

Ok Ok Ok Ok. So I’m kind of a fake journalist IBH. I certainly don’t have what they call “experience” and even less “training,” but not withstanding, I am going to embark on an ambitious and most likely doomed-to-fail journalistic excursion. Really, I’m going on tour for six weeks and have convinced the free spending staff over here that the best thing that they could do with their money is pay me to write from the road. Being blessed with so much free time, the limber mind of Pinson Chanselle and the encyclopedic library of tunes that we will have stored on those Powerbooks, I will attempt to try and document through 3 continents and hundreds of years the music of the African diaspora.

Lets be honest, the “African Diaspora” is a nice way to say the slave trade. We, over here in Richmond, of course have to deal with the repercussions of that currently and will for a long time. As in examining any other music, you certainly cannot separate the music from the lives of those who are creating it. That is a whole different, deeper, and undoubtedly more important story to be told. However, I feel unequipped to handle such complicated matters with my pen as it is, as we have said, inexperienced and poorly equipped for that responsibility.

Words, at least mine, can never fit in the right combinations to describe my personal feelings regarding the slave trade, but I would like to say before moving on to more nerdy musical topics that I try and tackle any conversation about the African diaspora with a sense of reverence, caution, and sadness.

Music from Africa has changed our world. Everything you love – hip hop, punk rock, hardcore, jazz, blues, reggae, R & B, soul, bliippety bloopety European dance music, rock and roll – literally most every music you have ever listened to is descended from Africa (that excludes those of you who jam to Gregorian chant, operas, and can sing me the melody to Beethoven’s 4th symphony). In the next 8 or so weeks I (I = Pinson and I) will try and navigate the complicated but thoroughly exciting web that all these styles and genres have left in their wake.

So here’s the plan. I’m going to tell you the plan so I can A) talk myself through it and assure myself that it is a feasible one and B) let the nerdy constituency of RVANews offer suggestions and insight into my organization.

Basically we have to deal with the music of West Africa, the Caribbean, Brazil, the South, and WWPA (what white people appropriated). I figured we could progress chronologically through 6 “genres”. Genres is a very loose term as the six that I have chosen are….

  1. folk/indigenous music
  2. music with horns
  3. R & B
  4. Latin
  5. funk
  6. beyond

Each week we will document, via those clever little music players that we use, the aforementioned genre in each region (including WWPA). The web is intricate and everything certainly does not fit into a nice box. Not everything will be exactly chronological and wont always fit into my nice preplanned genres. BUT, hopefully I can illuminate some of the threads that connect all this business and THAT WILL BE INTERESTING?!?! It might be a fascinating musical adventure. Or it might be a terrible wreck of a project.

Stay in touch and let me know your thoughts.

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Matthew E. White

Notice: Comments that are not conducive to an interesting and thoughtful conversation may be removed at the editor’s discretion.

  1. If you think of Diaspora in even broader terms, that really includes EVERYBODY! But also, a great example is Carnatic music, as South India was one of the first place people migrated to after leaving West Africa. From that you have development throughout India, and then through Asia, and then Europe, and then finally the Americas. Although all of these gradually began to spread out in all directions at the same time, which is INCREDIBLE!…although I still like to believe that Yellow Magic Orchestra was born from the core of the Earth.

  2. mattwhite on said:

    you should just continue to leave really knowledgeable comments, it helps my struggling credibility. also, dude – yellow magic orchestra. those guys. oh man…

    i will leave documenting the entire worlds musical diaspora to a significantly longer tour. like a really long one.

  3. I am so incredibly excited about this.

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