Amoeblog

The roots of jazz - ragtime

Posted by Eric Brightwell, August 24, 2009 04:48pm | Post a Comment
Although for most people the strains of "The Entertainer" and other rags now primarily evoke quaint, scratchy images of silent films projected at the wrong speed, when ragtime first appeared around the 1870s, it was the soundtrack of Missouri's whorehouses, parlors and gambling clubs.

st. louis 1870
St. Louis in the 1870s

Ragtime was also one of the first truly and distinctly American musical forms. After cakewalk, ragtime was one of the first global music crazes. That Ragtime's cradle was the river towns of the Missouri Valley shouldn't be a surprise. Missouri, located at the center of the country, has long been and remains a crossroads of cultural exchanges. No state borders more than Missouri and noted ragtime musicians came from all the neighbors and spread to them (except Nebraska and Iowa, states whose people are known to be deaf to the joys of melody and dance). The character of ragtime -- drawing from folk, European and American marches, minstrelsy, spirituals and other forms -- connects Europe, Africa and North America, town and country, classical and popular, black and white.

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The roots of jazz -- cakewalk -- Amoeba's Jazz Week

Posted by Eric Brightwell, August 21, 2009 08:00am | Post a Comment
A performative, competitive dance known as the chalk line walk first appeared around the 1850s on the plantations along the Gulf Coast. Its origins lay in the African-derived dance known as the bamboula -- also the name of a drum -- and it was performed in New Orleans, where on Sundays slaves were allowed to congregate. In their limited freedom, they not only danced the bamboula, but also dances like the pile, chactas and the carabine in Congo Square and at their masters' homes. Louis Moreau Gottschalk, a local creole composer was inspired by the dances and wrote "Bamboula, dance des nègres, Op.2" in 1848. By the 1850s, the bamboula's popularity had spread to Florida, where it possibly mixed with the dance traditions of the Seminole. It eventually developed into the cakewalk, which quickly became popular throughout the Gulf Coast. 

congo square

Whereas the minstrelsy craze of the 1840s-1860s was the first major cross-racial American musical exchange, cakewalk's heyday from the 1850s-1890s was probably the second and importantly, a reversal. Minstrelsy was a product of white musicans seeking to simultaneuosly imitate and mock black customs, but cakewalks were initially produced by black performers imitating and mocking whites. Thus began a long history of back and forth musical and cultural dialogues that have been behind nearly every significant innovation in American music.

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District 9 Movie Review

Posted by Eric Brightwell, August 16, 2009 08:53pm | Post a Comment


I will admit, I was very wary of seeing District 9 for a variety of reasons. For one, my exposure to South African films had led me to the conclusion that the South African film industry is the worst in Africa. Armed with relatively large budgets, South African films seemed technically solid but at best, soulless and at worst, odious. On a continent where countries like Senegal, Burkina Faso and Mali make amazing, artistic and entertaining films with a uniquely African voice, why would I want to see another glossy piece of crap from what seems like an ersatz Hollywood? Critical Assignment was one long and comically awful Guinness ad, Boesman and Lena an unwatchable minstrel show, Stander stultifying bland, Wooden Camera a ponderous examination of racial politics, and The Gods Must Be Crazy (I & II) ponderously racist. When Tsotsi was praised by the Academy, I wrote it off without giving it a chance. Only Richard Stanley's Hardware and Dust Devil did much for me. Also, I find South African accents (and all non-rhotic accents) rather unpleasant.

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Novelty rap and the harsh realities of adolescence -- Freddy Rap and other strange happenings of 1987

Posted by Eric Brightwell, August 10, 2009 10:44am | Post a Comment
Back in 1987 and '88, before Chucky and the Leprechaun came along and divided the loyalties of urban cineastes along racial lines, Freddy and the hip-hop community were hand in metal-clawed glove. It was the year Nightmare on Elm Street 3 was released. Why did Freddy rap occur then and not sooner? There had been a building sense of unease for several years, as evinced in Rockwell's 1984 hit "Somebody's Watching Me" and Dana Dane's 1985 hit "Nightmares." It was the climax of the Cold War, after all. Nightmare on Elm Street 3 was widely viewed as the best entry in the series and was the most successful until FVJ in 2003. It may've just been me, but I also think 1987 was just a weird, wonderful year.

nightmare on elm street

For me, it was full of confusion and mystery. I'd grown somewhat comfortable with my classmates over the seven years of elementary school, but in 1987, I was off to junior high. The air on the school bus was a gaseous psychotropic cocktail of aquanet and Jheri Curl. When the smoke cleared, I found myself at Jefferson Jr High, in the middle of town. The formerly all-white school, my black Social Studies teacher informed us, had been the domain of the devil and his wife (a witch) when he was growing up during segregation. I later figured out her reasons for creating that myth, but it might as well have been true to me at the time. Junior High, in contrast to the relative peace of elementary school, was a trial by fire where violence could and frequently did break out as the pecking order got sorted out. I quickly learned to never use the restrooms. There was tremendous pressure to adopt a sort of uniform with classmates scrutinizing and passing judgment on hair, jackets, shirts, pants, shoes, musical tastes, &c. Brands and styles of (generally tightrolled) jeans (something I'd honestly never thought about) were cyphers that revealed more about their wearer's personality and background than their cracking voices ever could.

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The evolution of the music video, part II (1950s - 1960s)

Posted by Eric Brightwell, August 6, 2009 01:45pm | Post a Comment
As persuasively and incontestably argued in The evolution of the music video, part I  (1890s - 1940s), the music video began not in the '80s, as is often wrongly assumed, but the '90s... the 1890s (if we accept the basic concept of videos being one stand-alone work of one song/one visual). From the humble sound experiments at the dawn of the celluloid age through the artistic flowering of Soundies, many musical promos were created of high historical and artistic importance. In the 1950s and '60s, videos moved from bars and clubs to the living room, as television became the new venue for music promotion.

Cineboxes, Scopitones and Color-Sonics
According to the Quixotic Internet Accuracy Project, the term "music video" was coined by DJ (VJ?) J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson in 1959. That year, the Cinebox hit the scene, essentially following in the footsteps of Soundies by manufacturing videos for what was essentially a jukebox with a visual component. In 1965, the Cinebox was re-branded the Colorama in the US. The following year it was again re-branded, this time as the Cinejukebox.

Cinebox Brochure  Frankie Avalon and a Cinebox Cinebox highlights

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