The African diaspora – R&B etc.

Moving on from Folk/Indigenous music, straight past all those winsome horns, we move swiftly and efficiently into the worlds of R&B, Rock and Roll, and Soul music. AKA, music normal people have heard of.

So, I’m here in Jefferson City, Missouri – home of the pork steak they tell me??? Well, I had one and it was fantastic – more fantastic than Indiana Jones IV that’s for sure, but I’ll let Susan tell you about that. Anyhow, moving on from Folk/Indigenous music, straight past all those winsome horns, we move swiftly and efficiently into the world of R&B, the dawn of Rock and Roll and even into what they call Soul music.

The South

Soooo, since New Orleans invented jazz they went and got themselves a big ol’ ego, thought they were “all that,” and decided they’d invent something else as well. Springing from the second generation of jazz musicians that were left in the city, blues music, and all those African rhythms floating in the air, a new thing – R&B, maybe even Rock and Roll, began to develop. Blah blah blah…LISTEN!!!

Fats Domino – Ain’t it a Shame


New Orleans and Africa are the answer to all the questions. All roads lead there. Ray Charles’s first major musical milestone was arranging and playing piano on Guitar Slim’s million selling song “The Things That I Used To Do”. Guitar Slim is a New Orleans legend and although his hit single went a long way in taking the New Orleans sound to the masses, it surely didn’t go as far as Ray did. RAY CHARLES!

Ray Charles – What I’d Say


So, you know, Ray Charles. He’s a legend. He is also essentially a New Orleans R&B artist that wriggled his way out of that box and into our hearts through an extra dose of individuality and talent.

Otis Redding, a soul singer from Macon, Georgia is best known for “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay” and not as well known for being the best thing that’s even happened to my life. His sound furthered the Southern aesthetic that was beginning to inform our entire American culture, but “Southern Soul”, as they call it – propagated by the Stax and Atlantic record labels and found in the music of Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin, and countless others – can still find its roots in the sounds that were seeping north from the gulf

Otis Redding – Hucklebuck



Jamaica, with its close proximity to New Orleans, as well as with many of its natives continuing to go back and forth between the U.S. and their homeland as migrant workers, had more than its share of Crescent City influence. I could delve entirely too deeply into the ins and outs of Jamaican music but let’s just say this: They like Fats Domino. This cut by Derrick Morgan is a an early Jamaican hit as well as a very close relative to the New Orleans sound.

Derrick Morgan – Fat Man


I read this fantastic story about a Rolling Stone reporter who went to Jamaica in the 50’s seeking out Calypso. Unable to find what he was looking for, as Calypso is native to Trinidad not Jamaica, he was taken aback by the island’s love of New Orleans R&B in general and Fats Domino in particular. In his journal he notes the chart toppers in Jamaica, all of which were New Orleans artists, including this track by Fats. Checkout the guitarist playing the “upbeat” – the classic reggae guitar part. Totally blew my mind when I heard it…..

Fats Domino


Now listen to Toots and the Maytals . For nerds this song is the first use of the word “reggae” but also is a fantastic example of the classic reggae feel – complete with the same “upbeats” that characterize the music AND were heard in the last track by Fats. ALSO, it is well documented that Toots fashioned his vocals after Otis Redding and he was originally signed to Studio One Records for his Otis-esque vocal delivery.

Toots and the Maytals – Do the Reggay



This track is fascinating to me because it oscillates between a very early sort of R&B feel and then hints at a more funk thing in the verses. Anyhow, it’s a wonderful representation of what was happening in Africa. All these new musics were floating over the ocean, combining with the preexisting sweetness of the African aesthetic, and making beautiful music…

The Martin Brothers – Ochonma


To take a quick aside from strictly West African music I thought we’d journey a bit east and check this track out from Ethiopia. Ethiopia is unique for a few reasons – 1) it was the only African country to resist the initial surge of colonization, defeating the Italians in the Battle of Adwa in 1896. 2) Haile Selassie I, an Ethiopian Ruler, would, through no real action of his own, become the figurehead and “messiah” of Rastafarianism. Rastafari is a religion birthed through a complex and strange set of events but took hold in Jamaica in the 60’s and was a very influential factor in the developing of Reggae. Anyhow, this track is from the end of a golden age in Ethiopian music as well as the end of Selassie’s reign. It also shows direct influence from American R&B. GO GO GO GO!!!!

Muluqen Mellese – Wetetie Mare



As Brazil continued its unique growth, removed from the other cross pollination that was going on, they managed to produce a brand new music as well. Bossa Nova, a beautiful blend of all things Brazil, was created by João Gilberto in the late 50’s. Bossa would spread across Brazil and influence everything that happened after it. Jorge Ben, a Samba and Bossa Nova guitarist, would later make his name integrating funk and big African beats into his albums. An artist that spans a large swath of Brazilian popular music, he is seen at the beginning of his career playing an original composition that would later become a bossa standard.

Jorge Ben – Mas Que Nada


Later, Jorge Ben would combine with other Brazilian pop musicians to devise another cultural revolution called Tropicalia. Although lesser known than Bossa Nova, Tropicalia would go on to be a major influence on a variety of important 20th century musicians (David Byrne, Kurt Cobain, Beck), and is still percolating north. Gilberto Gil, an original and highly influential Tropicalista, is seen here at the very, very beginning of the movement. Although thoroughly Brazilian, you can hear the re-integration of very American/Rock and Roll elements in the music.

Gilberto Gil


There we have it, Rhythm and Blues, Rock and Roll and Soul music gracing the stage of a collection of cultures that spread across the globe. Of course from here things began to continue to fragment and splinter into a million different directions – too many for me to keep up with. All I know over here is that Africa and its progeny – The South, Brazil and the Caribbean isles – have produced a beautiful and wonderful cacophony that continues to bless my ears.

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Matthew E. White

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