Wednesday, August 15, 2012
The Bronx's Role as a Stie of Unparalleled Musical Creativity
For more than sixty years, the Bronx has been the site of a tradition of musical creativity unmatched for its quality and diversity by any community in the nation, and quite possibly the world. Beginning with Jazz, Afro-Cuban music, and Doo-Wop in the 40's and 50's, moving on to Funk and Salsa in the 60's and early 70's, then on to Hip Hop in the 70's 80' and 90's and today to bachata, hip life and cumbia, the Bronx has been a place where musical traditions evolved and fused in communities where people from many different cultural traditions lived in close proximity. In the 1940's and 1950's the migration of African Americans, Afro Caribbeans and Puerto Ricans into neighborhoods of the Bronx already inhabited by Irish, Italian and Jewish residents created a climate in which jazz, rhythm and blues, and Afro-Cuban music were performed and appreciated not only by people of the ethnic groups among which these forms originated, but by youth of every background. The result was an explosion of musical creativity, nurtured in clubs and theaters, schools and churches, and the community centers of public housing projects, remarkable for its hybridity. The Bronx was a place where the greatest Latin bands regularly employed Black musicians, where jazz artists played Latin numbers and employed Latin percussionists, and where doo wop ( a term for urban harmonic singing without instrumental accompaniment) and rhythm and blues singers often created harmonies to Latin and Caribbean rhythms. But more importantly, many Bronx communities, in the 1950's and 1960's were places where cultural and musical traditions were shared on a grass roots level. To be from those neighborhoods, whether you were Black, White or Latino, meant you danced Latin and sang in the urban harmonic style, and had a special appreciation for artists, like the Drifters, Joe Bataan, Mongo Santamaria or Jimmy Castor, who fused the two.traditions In the late 60's and early 70's a new group of migrants- this time from Jamaica and other Islands of the Anglophone Caribbean- produced another revolution in Bronx music history. Bringing with them a musical culture featuring sound systems with giant speakers, and toasting over beats, DJ's like Kool Herc, Grandmaster Flash and Afrika Bambatta, all from Caribbean families, created a compulsively danceable music by fusing the most percussive sections of funk and latin records into long extended instrumental passages that captured the imagination of a generation of Bronx youth from every cultural background. Calling their music hip hop, these dj's inspired a revolution in dance, graphic arts and poetic lyricism that soon swept the nation and the world. You can go to Berlin, Tokyo, Rio, Cape Town or Guaralajara and put on Grandmaster Flash's :"The Message" and people will know the words, and move their bodies to the beats. This music, spawned during hard times when the Bronx faced arson, disinvestment, and withdrawl of city services, remains the music of choice of disfranchised youth throughout the world and is still actively being produced and performed in Bronx neighborhoods. But those neighborhoods have hardly been static, either culturally or musically. In the last thirty years, immigrants from the Dominican Republic, West Africa, and Mexico have come in large numbers to the Bronx, bringing new musical traditions to contribute to the borough's cultural mix. A great example of this is the Dominican musical group Aventura," who, when high school students in the Bronx, took a folk music from their country of origin called :"bachata" fused it with R and B and Hip Hop, and became one of the most popular latin combos in the world, capable of filling Madison Square Garden 4 straight nights, The same kind of cultural fusion is taking place in Bronx neighborhoods with West African and Mexican youth, and it is only a matter of time before artists drawing upon their musical traditions break into the mainstream. The Bronx today remains the same kind of laboratory for cultural and musical experimentation it was in the past-- with the new, hip life and bachata and cumbia- thriving side by side with the old- salsa, and hip hop and Latin Jazz.