- Oscar Brown, Jr.
MUSIC: THE LIBERATING FORCE
The captivity of black people by white racists is accomplished with guns and money. How can we end it? Insofar as money is concerned numerous forms of economic activity have proven effective in destabilizing and bringing pressure on the racist establishment. Innovative new ways to do economic battle can and will be developed to wage the all-out war our liberation requires, but such tactics will, of course, prove insufficient if we are still held captive by armed force.
So what about the guns? It is obviously perilous to engage a gun manufacturer in a shootout unless you can manufacture and employ comparable weapons yourself (see Sadaam Hussien). Lacking such military capacities It appears that one way to deal with a gunman is to somehow paralyze his trigger finger. The best way to accomplish that is by changing his attitude. The only way to decisively alter his attitude is to move his heart. The most effective way to move the heart is through music.
"Power," said Frederick Douglass, "concedes nothing without a demand." This, of course, implies that the demand be a forceful one. Liberty is something obtained when it is taken. The liberation of black people from the domination of racist whites can only be achieved by application of the necessary force. Can music provide this force? Yes, it can, due to its matchless ability to stir the human spirit.
It is hard to imagine any human endeavor that does not benefit from having sympathetic strains of music to accompany and encourage it. Music is a moving force. Music is a gathering force. Music's appeal is not only to the intellect but to our emotions and spirit. Its influence can be wordless, or it can accommodate language to deliver specific intelligence and exert irresistible influence. Music is portable and memorable. Songs can accompany us even against our wishes just because their melodies are so haunting; their words so unforgettable. Music is to be regarded as essential to human well being.
Harmony, tone, and tempo are qualities music combines according to a cosmic code. Only a gifted few have keys to it. Music conforms to measurable immutable mathematical principles. Only that talented few can access them. Their ability to do so comes as a calling. If they are allowed to develop so that the call can creatively be answered, the world at large may benefit. If the significance of music is ignored or denied, then the world is deprived of its incomparable influences. How, for example, can harmony, tone, and timing effectively be taught without it?
One of the means by which white racism has dominated black people has been its control of music, beginning with the abolition of drums from the daily lives of Africans throughout their time in chattel slavery. The drum is the soul of black Africa. It is the source of Sanctifism. African life was organized around its poly-rhythms. It demanded dances that appealed to spiritual powers and described man's relationship to the gods. Sanctifism was the result of this devotion to the drum that was imported with the African slaves to whatever territory they were taken. Sanctifism then subtly identified each geographic location as the place of the samba, the tango, calypso, or jazz; as the "birthplace" of the blues, or house of hip hop, all facets of the same African rhythmic gemstone.
Santifism provides black musical expression its great power. Rabid racists, disturbed, have sought to stifle it and stunt its growth, but generation after generation of resistance proved futile as the rhythm and blues of African expression overwhelmed uptight white opposition like a juggernaut. From the days of ragtime, through early jazz to swing, bebop, the blues, and rap, the influence of Africa's children has prevailed and enriched the world. They are the ones who, since slavery, have either created or vastly influenced all of the popular music and dance styles enjoyed by all races ln the United States of America. It is an influence that is burgeoning on the airwaves and riding the crest of new communications technologies. It encourages such movements as the boogie. Resistance to the boogie has diminished from one generation to the next until today it seems safe to say that only those who, for whatever reason, are physically incapable of doing the boogie resist it: everyone who can do the boogie does it just because it feels so good.
Reference to the boogie in the context of a very difficult political struggle may seem frivolous to some, but when measured by the untold hours of pleasure and joy it has brought into the lives of those who accomplish it, this social force can better be seen for its enormous power. Pain and punishment exert their dominating pressures on human existence, but pleasure and joy apply an even greater motivation to action, including political action.
One of the major ways in which the Federal establishment governs our activities today is through the tight restrictions that are placed on what music gets played on the air. On the pretext that it is accomplished for commercial reasons the amount and character of the music we hear are severely limited. Music that would in any way disrupt established political and economic controls must, if possible, be kept from the public. Given the potential music has to stir people to action, those who govern, irrespective of their particular political persuasion, must concern themselves with what songs the populace sings, and the drum beats to which it moves. Moreover, the popularity that can come to musical performers can endow such individuals with influence over millions of people, which then can be translated into money and altered attitudes.
History teaches us that artfully applied, Sanctifism, the natural musical power of Africa's offspring wins out overall resistance to it. It just has to be heard to be appreciated. Our challenge then is to make the music we are capable of creating, publicly available in ways that disarm our oppressors. Given the miraculous growth of communications technologies and techniques, this challenge is not nearly as difficult to meet as it once was. As Duke Ellington put it, "Things Aint What They Used To Be" There are new means for getting music into the ears of the masses. If it gets in their ears it will enter their hearts, and if taken to heart, it can change their minds and, ultimately their actions. It can paralyze trigger fingers, and thus liberate us all. In other words, if we free the music, the music will free us.