THE POWER OF BLACK MUSIC by Jr. Floyd

THE POWER OF BLACK MUSIC

The African Origins of African-American Music
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 A wide-ranging, jargon-laden discussion of African-American music. Floyd (director of the Center for Black Music Research, Columbia College, Chicago) combines history and theory, beginning with African-American music's roots and progressing chronologically from early spirituals through blues, jazz, R&B, gospel, Motown, pop, and concert-hall music. Dozens of figures, both well-known and obscure, are mentioned, along with key musical works that are analyzed with a blend of anthropological, musicological, and self- made terms. Floyd believes that ``Signifyin(g)''--using metaphoric or indirect means as a mode of artistic expression--is the key element of African-American musical style. He identifies ``Call- Response,'' the use of a structure based on theme (the ``call'') and counter-theme (``response''), as a basis for much African- American expression. He shows how, in this tradition, the performance itself is far more important than the piece performed. Some of Floyd's ideas are controversial, such as his essentialist assertion that there is an African ``racial memory'' among African- Americans that influences the kinds of music they produce--a notion that oversimplifies a complex process including cultural, musical, social, and individual innovations by which a musical style is shaped. Floyd also tends to lump together such varied performers as early bluesmen Blind Lemon Jefferson and Mississippi John Hurt, calling both ``Mississippi Moaners,'' although Jefferson was from Texas, Hurt sang in a relaxed, open-voiced style, and neither is a typical representative of the Mississippi blues school. Many of the practices Floyd ascribes solely to African-American musicians, such as improvising new words based on stock sets of lyrical themes, are found in folk cultures throughout the world. Finally, his personal predilection for black concert-hall music over traditional or popular forms distorts the work. Of limited interest to the general reader, though it will inspire discussion in the musicological community.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-19-508235-4
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Oxford Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 1995




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