Here we have not so much a tracing of Negro music in America, as a presentation of the culture of those who performed, mostly as an expression of pain. In this exhaustively researched book, Brian Dorsey is especially strong on the poetry and the rhymes, and rhythms resulting from them. The staccato burst of anger has been laid before us here in many of its forms, and quite brilliantly, too. If the cause of poetry is evocation, Negro poetry often leans wholly on rhythm resulting from repetition, stuff of the moment and rarely of a timeless quality. Except, of course, when we consider Strange Fruit. Here is a marriage of words and feeling in the classic form. With or without Billie Holiday, these few words are immense in a poetic sense, for they take the theme further, a rarity in a musical culture where words are generally little more than a vehicle. Much else in Negro expression, despite the shouts and hollers, has the message in the beat, and stops at that. After reviewing a great many books on this and related subjects, all of them naturally dealing with race, I have still to find mention of Oscar Brown Jr. and his marvelous rendering of Forty Acres And A Mule. Protest was never hipper than this.
Mr Dorsey has given us a good book. There is a great deal of Langston Hughes, a really interesting interview with Doug Hammond the poet and musician, and essays concerned with (dare we say?) Coltrane and Co. The author is surprisingly fluent on rap. We old fools can learn much from his gleanings. However, I can't resist closing with a gag (from a Negro comedian, at that). "It is surely a sign of the apocalypse that the world's greatest golfer is Black and the world's best rap singer is White. This is a book for some serious study. Highly recommended to those who want a solid presentation of what it means to be an American Negro (which still means, unfortunately, a Negro anywhere.)
by Lawrence Brazier
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