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Man, what a last few days this has been. So many thoughts, so many required actions, so many fires (literal and figurative) being fought, so many people belatedly waking up to the lived experience of PoC (people of colour) across the western world. I’ve written extensively about some of this on Facebook, so if we’re friends there, feel free to go have a rummage through my recent posts. I’ll hopefully pull it together for a blog post soon.
But one thing that’s been on my mind in reading responses to this and considering the lack of acknowledgement of black excellence in our culture has been the need for public expressions of the debt every western musician not playing exclusively pre-20th century music owes to the musicians, composers, improvisors and musicologists of the African diaspora. In the family tree of popular music - of blues, jazz, funk, soul, rock n roll, RnB, drum n bass, electronica, hip hop and every other popular music style, we are permanently and immeasurably indebted to those pioneers. To the musicians of West Africa whose music evolved and grew as they were shipped across to the ‘new world’ as slaves:
• Music that grew and developed in fields, on plantations, as work songs, spirituals, songs of a longed-for emancipation.
• Music that in the US melded with the folk music of Scottish & Irish immigrants to become Appalachian folk music & then country.
• Music that in the hands of Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Cab Calloway, Louie Jordan and then Little Richard, Bo Diddley (with my incredible - and dearly missed - friend Lady Bo) and Chuck Berry morphed from Blues to Jazz to Jump Jive to Rock n Roll and took over the world.
• Music that was combined in the minds of black geniuses like Miles, Duke, Bird, Billy Strayhorn, Monk, Mingus with harmonic ideas they were absorbing from European music to become the new, transformational strands of jazz that emerged in the 40s & 50s.
• Music that, in the absence of access to guitars & drums, repurposed turntables as performance instruments & gave the urban poor their own soundtrack for party & protest. The technological revolution that hip hop brought to pop music was so huge, it’s in everything we do today.
My own musical DNA is imprinted with the language and aesthetics of black music from both sides of the Atlantic. With Motown and Reggae, hip hop and the blues. Music acknowledged as ‘black music’ like soul and funk, but also music derived from the innovations of black musicians like punk and metal and electronica. Bass influences, improvisors, composers, bands and solo artists. Rappers and singers, poets and prophets, nerds with amazing tech skills and friends whose music making I’ve had the privilege to learn from beside them on stage.
So here’s The Root Of It All. I’ve been playing all day, and all the unrecorded stuff before this was more obviously steeped in the blues, but this is what happened when I hit record with this on my mind.
Two deep, unending truths need restating again and again: Black Lives Matter, and Black Music Is the Root Of It All.
[addendum, July 13th 2020] Just added a 2nd track to this - Slow Your Heart is a Steve-take on the blues. It's a slow burn, it takes a long time to unfold, and definitely rewards headphone-attention. Lots of things that are happening are in the background, and a lot of the rhythmic relationships between things shift a lot over time... Enjoy x
released June 4, 2020
Recorded at LawSound Studios (AKA the corner of my bedroom) June 4th, 2020
The UK's most celebrated and prolific solo bassist - alternating between solo and collaborative releases - have a rummage around and see what you find. The subscription is by FAR the best way to keep track of the many musical goings on!