Sunday, February 2, 2020

"Blues Take on a New Meaning" for BGSU Student in 1974

"Blues Take on a New Meaning," The BG News, May 1, 1974.
By Montel Jennings
210 Rodgers
Guest Student Columnist

The cover of Blues People by Amiri Baraka (Leroi Jones)

The blues are a part of our tradition reflecting not only the history of the black man in America, but also the prodding changes of civilization as it grew from the farm to the factory, and from small rural townships to the larger cities. 

Although the blues can reside only with black people, it also accurately reflects the movements, trends and changing atmosphere of American society as a whole. 

Today the blues are taking on a new meaning because at no other time in history has the large black populous been on the verge of achieving a sense of equality with the larger white majority. 

FREEDOM, anti-racism and black power are the keynotes for a movement that is attempting to move the black man away from subservience, hypocrisy and second-rate American citizenship. 

A large part of current change is due to evolution and the almost frenetic pace of contemporary society. All men, whether black or white, when the proper time arises, will attempt to claim the few universal rights which should ideally govern one man's relationship to his fellow man.

The blues in the early years dealt with the black man's interaction with his new environment, the oppressive struggles of work, torment and the never-ending fear of an unpredictable future. 

THESE VERY tangible, unendurable hardships permeated a good deal of the early music. Lack of hope and incentive will weaken a man; driving away all feeling of hope and he eventually arrives at the point where he no longer wishes to work, realizing that the road is endless.

Feelings and moods changed as this country grew, for the blues spoke for an entire people, cleansing the impurities of everyday life and giving sustenance for one's day today existence. Like any musical form, it slowly evolved as this country began to grow and expand. New elements were injected into the music as the black man's needs and scope broadened. 

THE HISTORY of the blues is in essence a study in self-realization. That is to say that, as the black man's perspective of himself in relation to society changed, his music changed in almost direct proportion. In the early years, the question of freedom was always very remote; it was thought about, but more often than not. it was only a pleasant dream never to be actually enjoyed. 

But as the years passed through Civil War and Reconstruction, the black man's feeling about himself and his new status came to the fore with a more pressing Immediacy. 

Each new problem that faced the newly emancipated slave was dealt with in song; such as the movement away from the plantation, searching for work, on the rails, and finally the mass migration to the big city in search of new opportunities and a supposedly new grasp of life.

Traditional blues varied with interpretation. It was happy, sad. melancholy and always mournfully soulful. To the present time, the blues still reflect the enforced isolation or cultural separation resulting from an entire group's one outstanding common bond-skin pigmentation. 

THE BLUES of today represents a synthesis of all that preceded it, primarily in terms of textual contents and musical form. Early blues tended to be a purer form in that the degree of outside influences were negligible. While enslaved, the black man's musical frame of reference was quite limited. Plantation life and the unending tortures of work served as the primary textual motivation. 

However, the form and drive of this early music was still rooted in an African culture whose influences were to slowly dissipate as time obliviated memories of a past life. The early music revealed a rhythmic structure that utilized polyrhythms. exotic syncopated patterns and had a responsorial flavor never before heard in this country. 

These early characteristics remained, but as the black man's life became more complicated, new influences were to slowly alter basic forms and content. 

Today the blues are a sophisticated art form whose rhythmic and formal structures are over expanding The relaxed down-home quality of much of early rural blues has given way to a form that is not only musically interesting, but aggressive and proud in all its aspects. 

A GOOD part of early blues music was not written down and many singers and writers are to this day still anonymous. Words and music were passed down from father to son, generation to generation, never to be formally recorded in musical history. 

The work songs, chain gang songs, and gospel music were a source of relief and were a socially acceptable way for a singer to give voice to his innermost feelings.

It is now. more than ever, one of the black man's creative tools, proudly enforcing his equality, his manliness, and his right to be free in a country that has denied his existence for well over a hundred years. 

Traditional 12-bar blues' patterns and rather simple guitar accompaniments are being replaced by more elaborate instrumental ensembles utilizing sophisticated recording techniques. Some of the contemporary blues artists are using rhythm and blues effects, ensemble groups and a basic rock foundation to forcibly drive home a point. 

THE BLUES will never cease to be sung it will only change as time alters and redefines the black man's plight in this country.

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