THE GLOBAL IMPACT
AND SIGNIFICANCE OF
AFRICAN AMERICAN MUSIC
AS AN EXTENSION
OF AFRICAN CULTURE
MUSIC IS THE MAJOR CONTRIBUTION OF AFRICAN AMERICANS TO WORLD culture and is also the major contribution of the United States of America to world culture. Most of what we know as American music is either directly African American music or the music is derived from and emulative, if not an outright imitation, of African American music.
My thesis is in two parts. First, because of technical and political reasons in addition to its intrinsic aesthetic value, African American music has had a significant global impact. Second, although alignment with American commerce and political might has helped spread the music, African American music itself can only survive and develop as an extension of self-determined African culture.
At the same time I argue that our music is African, I also recognize that up until the last four or five years, for various reasons, some of which we will discuss in this paper, most African American musicians have been either unwilling or unable to recognize that the music they made was a direct extension of African culture and that the future of the music is secure only in an African controlled space.
THE HISTORICAL REALITY.
Our music developed simultaneous with the technology of the recording. African American music was the first Black music to be recorded and disseminated around the world immediately as a result of World War I.
The economic importance of recording the music was twofold. First, the fact that the capitalist record companies could make major money from selling so called “race records” was an incentive to record the music. Were it not for the considerable money to be made selling blues and jazz recordings to captive Black audiences as well as, in the case of jazz, to a significant white audience, the prevailing social climate of racism in the form of Jim Crow segregation would have dictated that the music not be recorded at all.
Second, the economic stimulus also meant that the musicians were elevated as a position of status within the community. The entertainer became a major focus of economy activity both inside of the segregated African American community and outside of the community. Musicians as a class commanded more material resources than any other class of Black professionals in the early 20th century.
On an aesthetical level, the development of the recording is most significant because without an audio recording of some sort, African derived musics can not be disseminated. One must be able to hear the music to enjoy it and learn it. One can not learn to play African music from reading notes on a written score. There is no written notation that can capture the complexities and subtleties of African musics. But the recording made it possible for this music to be passed on.
Perhaps if the recording had come from England, then maybe some of the African derived musics of the Caribbean and of West Africa may have had a similar world impact. I think, however, that the expansion of the American economy and American military prowess added significantly to the spread of this new technology. Even if another country had the technology, without the economic and political clout, that technology might simply have withered and the country may not have been successful at spreading its culture worldwide.
I do not believe that there is anything exceptional about African American music versus Caribbean music or traditional and/or contemporary musics from Africa. I believe the difference is the context within which the music was made, i.e. historic dynamism of the host country in which the music was born and developed.
If it were simply a case of raw world power, then European classical music would have been able to stave off the encroachment of (African) American music. Were it simply a case of aesthetic considerations, than why not music from Ghana or South Africa. No, I believe, more than the particular form of African music, the question is the context within which the music operates.
African Americans were influential because on the one hand they exhibited the dynamism of African cultural expression and on the other hand because they were part and parcel of the most powerful political, economic and technological country of the 20th century.
The combination of African American cultural dynamism and national political, economic and technological power was not matched in any other parts of the African world. As a result of being in America, even though the country was and remains racist to the core, African American musicians were enabled to travel the world exporting not just the music but also exporting specific cultural and economic values.
African culture at root is based on participatory democracy, even if the participation is circumscribed by caste and class considerations. Because of its location in the United States, the African expression of adaptation and accommodation was mated with the political expression of democracy. This is not the opportunity to investigate these aesthetical concerns, so suffice it to say that the dynamism of the music reflects not only the African desire for self-determination (which I shall discuss shortly) but also the American ideals of democracy. These aesthetical values were another reason that the music was so popular worldwide. African American music sounded like freedom. (An extensive treatment of this particular theme is found in my essay, “The Social Significance, Political Impact and Economic Potential of African American Music” contained in a forthcoming issue of the African American Review.)
The Fisk Jubilee Spiritual Singers were among the first African American musicians to attract European attention. Later there was the James Reese Europe Orchestra. After World War II this influence would also be felt in Africa at a major level. For example, Louis Armstrong performed here in Ghana during independence celebrations and also donated a trumpet to a school in South Africa where Hugh Masekela learned to play music.
Essentially, African American musicians and entertainers were the first Blacks to make a major impact on the world stage. As a group, they were the first people of African descent to travel around the world in the 20th century. Because they were the first they not only opened doors, they also served as inspiration for other people of African descent most of whom were still living in de facto slavery or at the poorest levels without immediate access to international travel.
The influence of African American musicians was also gigantic in the dominant culture societies of America and Europe. In Europe, African American musicians sometimes performed for heads of state. Even though they were more likely to be viewed as entertainment rather than “serious” or “high art”, nevertheless their impact was felt profoundly throughout world culture.
The ascendancy of African American musicians took place within the context of the phenomenal rise of American political and economic influence in general. America’s military and industrial dominance was signaled by the victorious rise to colonial status as a result of land seized after the so called Mexican American War. This led to the establishment of the manifest doctrine in the Western Hemisphere which further consolidated America’s international clout. Everywhere in the world that America dominated, African American music followed. Thus, after the Allied victory in WW1, the sphere of American cultural domination was expanded and then consolidated.
Culturally this impact was so great that it led not only to the celebration of what is now called the “Jazz Age,” but indeed this hot new music “jazz” even had a profound impact on European musical culture. European classical composers began using jazz motifs and themes. Germa n cabaret music, French cafe music, and English popular theater music, all evidenced the influence of jazz. In all of these countries and more, not only was the music itself popular via recordings, but also, African American troops from the U.S. and African American entertainers began to take up residence in exile, thereby deepening the influence of the music on various European cultures.
From a political and aesthetical point of view, it is important to keep in mind that the Jazz Age was an era that contained the Harlem Renaissance. This Renaissance was an unprecedented, major development of African American culture and politics.
But we must be careful to note that the Jazz Age and the Harlem Renaissance was not just a period of singing and dancing. This is the time period of the Marcus Garvey movement which was the largest organization of people of African descent ever. Garvey’s newspaper was distributed throughout the United States and the Caribbean, as well as in parts of Central and South America, and most important of all, in Africa. The fact that Garvey reached Africa gave hope to Africa during a period of colonial strangulation that appeared as though it was impregnable.
The 1920s was also the period of DuBois’ beginning thrusts at hooking into the Caribbean initiated concept of Pan Africanism. The Pan African Congresses sponsored by Padmore, DuBois and their colleagues from the continent of Africa planned the seed of the liberation movements which directly led to the African Independence movements which reached fruition first in Ghana in 1957. The dynamism of the period between 1920 and 1960 directly paralleled the development of African American music.
This is a period when Black people all over the world were seeking self-determination and the vitality of African American music captured this yearning to create a new world, a political, economic and social world as dynamic as was the music. A music that kept renewing itself and politically grew bolder and bolder.
From Louis Armstrong singing “Black and Blue” in Ghana, to Duke Ellington writing suites such as Black, Brown and Beige, to Dizzy Gillespie composing “A Night In Tunisia,” on to the revolutionary developments of the 60s and 70s, African American music directly reflected worldwide African efforts for self determination, and this political outlook in turned informed the aesthetics of the culture of this era.
People of African descent worldwide loved African American music because it reflected their political aspirations and set an example that it was possible not only to achieve self determination, but indeed to inform and even decisively influence European, as well as, world musical culture. If we could do so in music, could we not do so in politics and economics, in sports and technology? The music made us think like that.
At the same time that overt African American music was influencing the world, American music in general was also taking the world by storm. This was really nothing more than the second wave of African American music except at this point it is presented by Euro-American musicians and entertainers. So now the world really embraced our music because whites were performing it even though most of those whites never acknowledged their cultural debt to people of African descent.
Almost every popular 20th century American recording and broadcast artist was directly influenced by African American music, especially in the 20s and 30s up through WW2. Many of the recognized cultural icons from that period, vocalists such as Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra carried African American music around the world, although they generally called it simply “American” music. This led to the amazing situation of African aesthetic dominance through African American music being looked at worldwide as a “white phenomenon” simply because white Americans such as Benny Goodman and Glen Miller were performing the music.
An example of how ludicrous the “white wash” of African American music can be projected under the title of “American” music is Nat King Cole. Nat King Cole was an extremely dark skinned man -- he must have been Ghanaian or maybe Senegalese. In any case he was the first African American to have a nationally broadcast television program. His music was very, very popular with African Americans and with white Americans. His singing style was cool and smooth. He enunciated his words clearly and he was never very loud. Although he eventually became known as a popular musician, he started out as a jazz pianist, and then became a jazz vocalist before switching to popular music. As his popularity grew, people around the world became influenced by his music. He recorded an album in Spanish that was very influential throughout South America and the Caribbean. But let me illustrate the whitewash.
When Nat King Cole’s records were imported into apartheid South Africa, the government would not let them be sold with a Black man’s face on the cover. So the recordings were sold with pictures of white people on them. According to Hugh Masekela, who told me of this in an interview, most Black South Africans thought that Nat King Cole was a white American who was a great musician. They loved his music but had no idea that he was African American. So you see, the whitewash of our culture has even happened when the musicians were visibly Black.
I believe that any real evaluation of African contributions to world culture must also include those contributions which were masked in “white face” by performers of European descent who did not bother to make sure that the African influences were acknowledged. There is no American musical culture that is not African at a significant level.
Thus we see that America had developed as a military power and thus had political influence. America had developed as an industrial power specializing in technological breakthroughs, the most significant of which from the perspective of musical culture, was recording technology. Finally, through the efforts of African American performers directly, and white performers indirectly, America also dominated popular musical culture worldwide, and even going so far as to influence European classical music. This is the context.
Too often, those who make a critical evaluation of culture, decontextualize cultural from the social and political thrusts of the era and never take into consideration the technological developments of the period.
THE CONTEMPORARY SCENE.
In the 1990s African American music remains popular but it no longer is the most dominant form of African derived music worldwide. Reggae, for example, is just as popular in many African countries. In Brazil their local musics, samba especially, are more popular and have even influenced African American music. We are witnessing the waning of African American musical dominance and the rise of other African derived musics, including popular music from African artists such as Youssou N’Dour, Miriam Makeba, Baaba Maal, Hugh Masekela, Fela Kuti and Angelique Kidjo. This is a direct reflection of the diminishing of American power in the world which is concurrent with the development of African and Diasporic nation states.
The music can not be separated from the real world. The music can not be studied in isolation if we are to understand its influences. Above all, culture must be contextualized to be understood. The close of the 20th century is fundamentally different from the opening of the 20th century. Not only is American industrial and economic might on the decline, but also America is no longer the technological leader of the world, especially with respect to recording. In fact, there has been a serious revolution in the recording industry resulting in what I call the “democratization of technology.”
By this term I mean that high levels of technical achievement and technical equipment are available for relatively modest sums of money and do not require a college education to master. Hence, peoples all over the world, even peoples who are illiterate can own and operate state of the art recording equipment. The advent of DAT digital recording equipment and compact discs in particular are exceedingly important developments.
Digital recording of broadcast quality can now be done with battery operated, portable equipment. This means that it is possible to literally go among our people to record music in the context within which the music is made. We no longer have to severely disturb the ambience or environment where the music is being made just to document the music. We no longer have to be a world power and have air conditioned studios to record. The equipment is not as sensitive to atmospheric conditions. The equipment is highly portable and very lightweight. All of this is important when we are talking about developing countries and developing peoples competing with established industrial powers.
Moreover, this accessible equipment produces the same quality audio as the big boys with their million dollar budgets. The results are also broadcast quality. This means that a recording made in Ghana or Tobago can be of the same audio quality as New York or London. Which in turn means that we are now able to compete on the level of the quality of the music. Plus we are now able to do it ourselves and are no longer dependent on western technology and western technicians. I suppose that it is important to note that DAT technology was developed not in the west in Europe or America, but in the east in Japan. The state of the art recording equipment does not even come from the western powers. We must pay attention to these developments because they hold great implications for developing countries and peoples. These implications far exceed the realms of music culture and the arts in general.
Additionally, although the cassette is very popular in developing countries, the CD, or compact disc, is the minimum level one has to attain in order to compete in the international arena. Of particular note with respect to CDs is that they are much more durable in southern climes than recordings were. They are easier to transport and ship, more convenient to use, and wear much better than vinyl recordings. This means that developing areas where resources must often be shared and recycled will get more use from a CD than from a vinyl recording. Finally, because of the world acceptance of this technology, the end cost to the user has also dropped to levels that are within the reach of developing communities.
On an aesthetic level, African American music is in a serious decline because the overall development of African Americans is in decline. This may not seem obvious at first glance, especially to those people of African descent who live in developing countries and are inspired by what they see of African Americans on television. The difference is quite simply one of perspective and of relative direction with respect to self-development.
Initially, African American music was a spur to the attainment of democracy and independence. But after achieving independence and then struggling through neo-colonialism, most developing peoples are now working desperately to achieve true economic self-sufficiency. Thus, developing countries and communities want to own their own industries in all areas of development, including within the cultural sphere of music production. However, within the United States, most African Americans were bought off by an effort to integrate into the so called American mainstream.
During the last 20 years rather than an increase in self-development, what we have actually suffered is a decrease. African Americans own less land in the United States today than they did 20 years ago. African Americans own a smaller number of businesses than they did 20 years ago. Moreover, many of the businesses that African Americans do own are service adjuncts to multinational corporations and not retailers and distributors to African American people.
For example, a major company might make janitorial products or offer a janitorial service but all of its clients are white companies. Such a company is directly dependent on the good will of white companies to hire them and such companies will therefore operate in a manner acceptable to those corporations regardless of whether such “acceptable manners” contributes to the overall development of African Americans specifically or African people in general.
Within the musical sphere, African American artists sell more records than at any time in the history of recordings, and yet we have less independent development than ever before. We no longer own even one major popular recording company. Why don’t we have a Motown or an active Solar Records? The answer is because African Americans gave up on independent economic development. This surrendering of our economic potential is reflective of placing individual aggrandizement far above group development.
In general African American artists, regardless of how conscious they say they are, focus most of their attention on developing their individual careers and thus do not band together to form collectives and organizations whose goal would be the development of a community, even if it were limited to a community of musicians. This lack of group identity is not specific only to musicians. My critique of this cultural reality is the same for all levels of professional activity in the contemporary United States. The focus on individual advancement and the lack of organized activity means that even those musicians who are relatively conscious find that there is very little they can do because the majority of their peers do not want to work on collective projects.
I believe that this attitude of individual aggrandizement is reflective of the neo-colonial national bourgeoisie attitude with which developing countries are very, very familiar. Clearly, such people are not prepared to make the commitment and sacrifice that development requires. But more than their economic capitulation, there is the question of their political role and their aesthetic role as cultural workers.
On a political level, contemporary African American artists, for the most part, have been coopted by the commercial pressures of cultural commodification. In order to sell recordings, the artist must appeal to the masses of Americans. The tastes of popular audiences in the United States have been cultivated on appeals to sex and violence. The artist who wants to sell a million records had better take this into consideration.
This leads to aesthetic decline. The music is no longer dynamic and expressive of group ideals and aspirations, instead it is designed to appeal to a voyeur consumer mentality. The music is no longer to serve as a spur to action and inspiration upon reflection. The music no longer looks to accomplishments in the future. The focus is on instant gratification in the here and now. Thus, the appeal of the music is based on fads and trends, rather than long term collective development. Moreover, the aesthetic also reflects a fascination with youth culture to the exclusion of adults and elders. Thus, even if those adults who try to get with contemporary music find themselves forced to act like youth.
Look at major artists who have been recording for over ten years. Listen to their latest releases and you will see that they are trying to act and sound like teenagers. By doing this, these artists give up their function as teachers and mentors, and thus become incapable of offering the leadership and wisdom that adults and elders traditionally offer to any society. This is especially the case within popular music with its emphasis on youth culture.
So first there is a minimum of collective development, second there is an emphasis on sex and violence, and third there is an almost exclusive focus on youth culture. This is precisely a recipe for failure at long term, collective self-development as a people or nation. Within this context, we must criticize most contemporary African American music not only as aesthetically empty but also as politically regressive and even negatively counter-productive from a developmental perspective.
In the world context, where African Americans previously played a major role in inspiring peoples of color and developing peoples and nations, the music today is seldom anything other than advertisements for conspicuous consumption and moral decadence -- conspicuous consumption because the images of the music focus on products to be bought, and moral decadence because the violence and sex are pushed strictly within a context of individual gratification with only token lip service to the development of the people.
Contemporary African American music is particularly decadent precisely because the music, for all its posturing to the contrary, generally represents the views and interests of individuals rather than of a community. In fact, the values put forward are actually impediments and injurious to the material and moral development of communities and nations. But beyond that, most of these images are deliberate exaggerations and falsifications of our collective reality. The majority of our people do not live like what one sees in popular music videos.
Most commercial videos are self indulgent fantasies at best and intentionally are divorced from day to day reality but these same videos are beamed around the world via CNN and other cable networks. Multinationals consciously use this videos to expand the demand for products whose only purpose is to make the manufacturer rich.
Much of this decadent music is defended by saying that it reflects reality and that it gives the people what they want. Essentially this is the argument of professional puppets who exist simply as mouthpieces for multinational corporations. When our reality is that we are at the bottom of economic development and nearly impotent in terms of political power wherever our people are found, then what we need to do is change reality and not simply reflect it. When our people have been corrupted by constant exposure to chemical and psychological drugs, we need to advocate drug free environments.
In the case specifically of violence, as long as Blacks are killing Blacks in America it is perfectly acceptable for rap groups to advocate and glorify violent behavior. However, if there was a liberation movement going on and white corporate stock holders were being systematically shot down, then the recording companies would take a moral stand against records which advocate violence. The question is not violence, but rather the nature of the violence.
Finally, when an artist is trying to make a hit record rather than trying to reflect the hopes and aspirations of their community then it is impossible for the aesthetics to develop precisely because aesthetics are more than the taste of one or two people. Aesthetics represent the sentiments of the community as a whole, the judgments of value and beauty. If the community is underdeveloped, the aesthetic sense will also be underdeveloped. If the community is mired in negativity, the aesthetics will be the same. The only exception is those aesthetics which reflect a willful effort to bring about revolutionary change.
At every previous juncture in the history of African American music, the music has changed not simply to sell, but rather to reflect the aspirations of our people to better themselves. Even if the artists are not overt in their political articulations and sentiments, their aspirations will be to own their own companies, to garner fair fees, to reach out to people all around the world. Their music will reflect themes and styles which inspire the audience toward those general objectives. In the case of those artists who are overtly political, their work will be critical of the status quo in both content and style, and will advocate substantial collective change.
The musics of revolutionary artists will always incorporate the traditions of the people even as it makes use of the latest technology of the day. You will be able to recognize revolutionary music because it will be both people based and technologically advanced. This is the only way liberation forces succeed, and even within the sphere of music we have revolutionaries.
Revolutionary aesthetics differs greatly from national bourgeoisie aesthetics, even though the national bourgeoisie will often mouth slogans that seem to be revolutionary. They will decry racism but not advocate collective development. They will appeal to “color consciousness”, i.e. vote for me because I am Black, buy my music because it is really Black, but they will not advocate moral development. Moreover, rather than bring new ideas and new technological developments to their audiences, the musical national bourgeoisie will revel in displays of ostentatious extravagance: the biggest light shows, the loudest speakers, smoke and mirrors but no substance.
African American artists must decide which road they want to travel, but this decision will be made not by the artists themselves, rather it will be made by the community. To the degree that there is a social movement for self development, to that same extent, the community will produce artists who will celebrate the traditions of the people and simultaneously inspire the people to move to higher levels of technological and moral development. In order to be truly revolutionary in this period of worldwide cultural commodification, artists will have to present their music as an extension of a collective, if not national, effort for development.
Baaba Maal’s new release “Firin’ In Fouta” exemplies this development. Using the most modern of equipment, he recorded the traditional sounds of his village and integrated those sounds into the fabric of the music. Women pounding grain establish a specific sounding beat and a rhythm on one track. Children playing are part of the chorus of another song. I believe that all revolutionaries, in whatever sphere, whether political, economic or artistic, inevitably, in the immortal words of Amilcar Cabral, return to the source of their people and bring with them a push for technological development.
There is no such thing as a revolutionary who is out only for him or her self. Especially when they win, you will notice that the alleged revolutionaries immediately turn into tyrants and dictators who mouth slogans while they make themselves rich and do nothing or very little to increase the general productive forces and standards of living for the masses.
This is why benefit performances alone are a sham if the artist is not doing something to develop community. Charity and handouts are inadequate substitutes for development and self reliance. The major problem for African American artists is that once they become popular and successful they immediately remove themselves from day to day contact with their communities and live among the upper echelons of mainstream American entertainers. Thus, they can not reflect their community because they no longer have a community.
But I do not want to get mired down in negativity. Let us look toward the future impact of African American music as an extension of African culture.
SELF DEVELOPMENT AND SELF RELIANCE ARE THE WAVE OF THE FUTURE.
Clearly, wherever we find African people, whether on the continent or in the diaspora, there is a major need for development in all spheres of life but especially so in the area of economic self reliance. Thus, our reality establishes our agenda.
From my critique of African Americans, some may conclude that I despair about their will and ability to contribute to African development. The truth is just the opposite. I believe that African Americans are undergoing a crisis and a rebellion. We have a crisis because after all of our achievements specifically in the area of desegregation of the American society, our crisis is that we are materially and morally worse off as a people. While many of our artists have sold out, an equally large number are very, very concerned about what can be done.
In fact, even among those who have sold out, as they grow older -- and in this case “old” is thirty years old -- they realize that the system does not want them and that both as a representative of their people and as an individual they are rejected by the consumer, youth oriented culture. These artists will not simply disappear.
While we are faced with a crisis, we are also in a period of rebellion because the masses are suffer greater deprivation than anytime in the last two decades. People in the United States are reacting violently and rebelling against authority. While rebellion in and of itself is brief and sometimes even counterproductive if not harnessed, rebellion does establish fertile ground for revoltionary developments.
What is required is cultural liberation movements attached to national development projects. In this regard, I do not think that artists take the lead. As contradictory as it may sound, I believe that a close inspection of our realities will show that revolutionary artists develop out of the demands of revolutionary times. Only when there is ferment in the political, economic and technological spheres will there be revolutionary activity in the artistic sphere. There is no exceptionalism for artists.
Of course there will always be exceptional individuals who can perceive and focus on the revolutionary potential of a situation even when it is underdeveloped. And of course there will always be exceptional individuals who respond to the requirements of the moment in exemplary and innovative ways. But even these individuals can not exist apart from history.
These are my suggestions and recommendations for the revolutionary development of African American music, and by extension, African music in general.
1. The current trend in economic development is multinational. We all know that the biggest problem that African people face is that there are no African nations on the continent and that the nations of the Caribbean are political, economic and technological dwarfs without the indigenous resources to sustain themselves.
At this point it is important to digress to explain what I mean when I say that there are no African nations on the continent. The boundaries for all of the present nation states were drawn by European powers in the interest of Europe. Those of ourselves who consider ourselves Pan Africanists have long saw this as a problem. In trying to come up with solutions to this problem we have traditionally thought like Europeans. By that I mean we have always thought about changing the boundaries, redrawing the boundaries. Well perhaps their is an African solution.
We all know that along many of the borders of African states the people, without benefit of passport or diplomatic recognition, go back and forth between states. Perhaps the easiest way to develop Pan Africanism is not to do away with boundaries in the physical sense but rather in the diplomatic sense. This will of course find immediate objection among the national bourgeoisie and the sitting governments who will fear the loss of power should their opposition flood into their countries. Well, I suggest that the first step be the repatriation of the African diaspora.
African countries should offer dual citizenship to any and all members of the diaspora who are currently citizens of a non-continental African country. (Please bear with me and I will explain how this impacts the music.) This would mean that people in the United States, England, Jamaica, Trinidad, etc. could apply for and achieve dual citizenship simply by buying land and paying a small repatriation annual tax. Unless the person took up residence, the repatriation would offer limited citizenship, excluding the right to vote, but after a period of residence, perhaps a year or two, the dual citizenship could include the right to vote.
The fact of the matter is that what most states are looking for skills and venture capital. Dual citizenship for the diaspora would offer both without tampering with the difficult question of Pan Africanism on the continent. In the diaspora, U.S.$50,000 is an insignificant amount of money to invest into a capital project, but invested in Africa that same U.S.$50,000 would be a major investment. Venture capital is relative to the context within which the capital is to be used. The appeal to the diaspora does not have to be altruistic. There is the opportunity for diaspora individuals to profit at the same time that they contribute to national economic development.
In the sphere of music production, this offer of dual citizenship could provide tax incentives and contractual incentives for artists who are currently constrained by U.S. taxes and American based company restrictions. Additionally, this offer would give diaspora artists access to new audiences and new markets. Finally, these artists could also represent their adopted country in international competition and conferences, significantly expanding the national clout of the host country. Of course, this example applies in the all other fields including sports, scientific and technological areas. But specifically within the sphere of musical production, the host country would be able to compete in the international arena and the diaspora artist would gain a home base and expanded market.
2. Cultural interaction is a fundable project for both artists and governments. Just as PANAFEST received support from AT&T, the American government and other international concerns, that support could be increased with the participation of diasporan artists who establish dual citizenship. The increase could be not only in the area of greater funds for PANAFEST, but also in the area of funding for developmental projects which could make use of the aesthetic and technical expertise of diasporan artists.
Artists could be invited to do collaborative projects and long term residencies which would include going throughout the countryside and not simply be limited to the capital city. The Ford, Rockerfeller and other foundations would be very interested in such projects especially if these projects were a joint initiative between diaspora artists and continental governments.
On the aesthetic level along the cross fertilization would offer a fantastic boost to the aesthetic development of the music. The nation state artist would benefit from working with mature diasporan artists and the diaspora artists would benefit by being introduce to traditional African cultures. Again, we are speaking about projects that require commitment at a level beyond cultural commodification for sale by multinational corporations.
3. At the most basic level, linkages can be established to facilitate cultural production. For example, I work with a small, independent recording company in New Orleans. We produce compact discs for approximately U.S.$2.50 to U.S.$3.00 per disc. The disc retail for U.S.$15.00 and wholesale for U.S.$9.00. At the very least, we could be facilitating the production of compact discs. All that would be required is a compact recorder which are currently available in the U.S.$1200 range.
On a national level, the government of various countries could establish national CD manufacturing plants which would offer services to citizens and make it possible for nationals to compete in the international market.
I am prepared to facilitate suggestion number three immediately and would like to take up specific discussion of suggestions one and two. I have intentionally made these suggestions very broad so that there is room for refinement that is necessary in implementation.
I do not think that international cooperation should be left exclusively to the multinational corporations. I believe that the nation states of Africa have a resource available to them whose potential is almost unimaginable. The African diaspora needs Africa in order to provide a national base for collective development and African states need the skills and access to technology and venture capital which the diaspora possesses. I believe that in order for African American music to become a world power again it must do precisely what it did initially and that is present itself to the world incorporated into the political economy of a developing nation. I am suggesting that African American music can become a true representative of African culture, not by extension and in the abstract, but by repatriation in the concrete.
The unification and development of Africa will not happen overnight, nor will it come about based on a European model. It seems to me that the development of African people worldwide requires the reintegration and unification of African productive forces. We must expand the nation state concept at the very same time that we strengthen the political and economic independence and self reliance of all people of African descent. The future belongs to those who unify and work together to change their current realities of under development into a future of cooperative development. One people. One aim. One destiny.
—Kalamu ya Salaam
PANAFEST, UNIVERSITY OF CAPE COAST, GHANA
13 December 1994