Amoeblog

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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Asian-American Cinema Part I - The Silent Era

Posted by Eric Brightwell, May 3, 2009 03:00pm | Post a Comment
The first of a nine part series on Asian-Americans in front of and behind the camera

ASIAN-AMERICANS IN SILENT FILM


In the early days of west coast film production, there were few roles for Asian actors except as unflattering stereotypes or anonymous background work. Nonetheless, a small number pursued careers in front of and behind the camera, intersecting and influencing Hollywood's embryonic phase. Although most worked in near complete obscurity, two -- Anna May Wong and Sessue Hayakawa -- became veritable superstars. They still were virtually unable to find roles to their liking, since most of the lead roles (still usually degrading) went to actors in yellowface, a practice that continued long after blackface became taboo. Anna May Wong and Sessue Hayakawa used their earnings to attempt to improve opportunities for less famous Asians by creating more positive depictions, following black cinema's lead. However, with immigration restricted and laws preventing citizenship and property ownership, even the few rich, famous Americanized Asians faced considerable challenges.




ASIAN-AMERICANS IN THE SILENT FILM ERA

In the silent era, most of the APA-related films were low budget, forgettable Chinatown mysteries and crude yellow peril thrillers but they do remain interesting for multiple reasons, including their reflection of changing American attitudes as well as as documents of the efforts of the country's second largest racial minority to break into a system who viewed them as subhuman at worst and as generally as exotic, inscrutable aliens at best.