For me the honor of the most infamous VMA acceptance interruptus goes to Fiona Apple. Whether she was speaking from the heart or biting the hand that fed her, the then 19-year-old’s speech from 1997 will remain memorable.
In the third installment of of my series exploring music and cultural appropriation – and abandonment – we will focus on Black artists who aren’t necessarily doing what some consider “Black” music. That assessment in and of itself is problematic because of the ramifications of an audience that has acquiesced its legacy to others. The dictionary explanation for acquiesce is: to accept, comply, or submit tacitly or passively.
I believe this is a problem particular to African-Americans (as I’m defining those descendants from the enslaved/indentured people who built the United States and is still owed a debt that has yet to be paid). Far too many AAs are stuck on a very narrow road of “Blackness” whereby you must comply with an extremely limited expression lest you have your Black card revoked. Again it goes back to not knowing who you are and letting others define your identity, being afraid to step outside parameters, being closed-off and xenophobic or being filled with so much shame that you don’t want to be around anyone who looks like or reminds you of….you. It’s a mess isn’t it?
I’m continuing the conversation from last week where I evaluated the use of Black gospel choirs to elevate the songs of non-Black artists. I haven’t decided whether it’s an all-out appropriation, some appreciation or callous apathy on their part but I suspect it’s a tradition that will continue. It will continue because some of us don’t have any cultural or racial pride and think of ourselves less than. Except when we’re validated by others (esp. whites). Even if that means we abdicate our musical heritage to anybody who shows an appreciation for early Aretha Franklin. We forget it’s the use of a music borne from pain, suffering and survival from experiences unique to African-Americans and part of our never-ending (but lax on acknowledging) contributions to the good ol’ USA.
Which brings me to the second conversation in this series about white artists who appropriate their version of the Black (American) experience and sell it back to us. Now the question that needs to be asked is why are those artists given a blanket credibility and support when we won’t even support actual Black artists who aren’t putting out what I’m calling XXX Porn & Warfare set to a beat? I think I already answered my question but I’m putting it out there for consideration anyway…..
Ok, I wasn’t trying to make this post a full-on charge of cultural appropriation. Though the question begs to be asked: When non-Black artists use Black gospel choirs in popular music does it convey levity to their songs? Or as Dave Chapelle would say, “When Keeping It Real Goes Wrong.” Is it blatant swiping of “Black cred” or something else? I also think we should consider the borrowing of “spirituality” by employing a choir.
I want to specify that’s it’s African-Americans who are descendants of slaves that created this music. That’s why listening to other Black artists of different ethnicities and cultures and who hail from other countries aren’t quite able to capture that sound unless they’re trying to imitate it. Why isn’t it considered “cool” and “different” i.e. as VALID when Blacks of different ethnicities collaborate on projects? We’re not all coming from the same place or perspective even if our skin shade is similar.
Zag got into the fashion blogging business in September, after Mary Tomer, a 27-year-old account planner at Bartle Bogle in New York, hatched the idea for the blog. She noticed Mrs. Obama’s style during the Democratic convention, yet could not find information on what she wore.She decided to create a Web site, which she described as “a central resource for tracking her style and providing as much designer information and commentary as possible.”
The site’s creators will have to tread lightly as they try to make money on the site, because audiences want blogs and social networks to be conversation tools, not marketing vessels. “Particularly with the Obama mystique, anything that smacks of commercialism will blow up,”