Dialogue (dialogando) on urban music by João Craveirinha

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by João Craveirinha


Modern popular music in the show business is often called “Urban Music”. Therefore we did some research back to the roots.

Introduction: Roots of “African work songs”

Everything started after the ignominious slave trade, from Africa, across the Atlantic Ocean to Europe and to the New World (Americas or American Continent). These historical facts happened in between XV to XIX century AD (Anno Domini).

The “work songs” was an intercultural process after the African slaves have been settled for forced labour by their European masters in the agricultural fields in the Americas. (In Europe we also know cases of that process that have been absorbed by the local Europeans cultures in the folklore). To illustrate this we have the traditional Portuguese song called “Tiro-liro-liro” adapted by a modern Mozambican composer Costa Neto.

Development of cultural exchange : Afro-European mélange

Thus that cultural phenomenon happened in the New World in the French colonies; Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, Danish and British. When the slaves are working, they used to sing in their African languages and gradually with some words mixed up with the language of their European masters, as can you hear in the composition “Aideu”, from the Cuban group Céspedes.  The main lead song story is “a traditional Santería prayer for the Orisha Ochun, goddess of the river for good fortune.” From Cuba of XIX century also comes the sound of a rhythm called Tan-go. It’s “a development of the habanera (a dance from Havana, Cuba), are of Afro-Spanish origin. Even the word Tango is from African origin.” Later on in 1900 it was popular in the suburbs of Buenos Aires, Argentina and became its label. The singer Carlos Gardel with “Madreselva” makes it more popular among others composers. From 1910 to 1920s the Catholic Church in Europe condemned this dance due to the sensual aspects introduced by the descendents of Spanish in the South American colonies and made popular in Europe. From Brazil, “Samba” was a form of rhythm developed from the same African heritage at the time. From Brazil we can hear “As Meninas” (a girl’s band) in a modern and beautiful song “bom xi bom, bom” with social meaning. Other African heritages in music we found in Jamaica in the Caribbean with Calypso rhythm and afterwards the Reggae-pop which Bob Marley and Johnny Nash made famous worldwide. Further on those Africans slaves and their descendants developed a peculiar way of speaking their European master’s languages. Below is two examples of one of those work songs from southern North America in XIX century called more exactly “corn songs”: -“Five can’t ketch me and ten can’t hold me” Ho, round the corn, Sally!”…

A U.S.A record from 1819 says there was a place called Congo Square in New Orleans where the Africans slaves gathered to play and sing some sort of African music.

Afterwards African folklore and religious beliefs mixed up with the European religion – Christianity. This “work song” full of sadness reflects it: “Oh, Lawd, I’m tired, uuh… Oh, Lawd, I’m tired, a dis mess”…This kind of song is the mother of the blues. After the abolition of slavery this developed into a new way of singing originating the Gospel and the Negro Spirituals in the churches and later Blues and Jazz in the streets – becoming urban music.

Then in the 1920s, from New Orleans and almost everywhere in the U.S.A where black people settled, a new rhythm called Jazz spread out. Singer Bessie Smith illustrates it when “the blues landscape was dominated by women”. We can listen to a sound - mixture of spiritual and blues in the composition “On Revival Day” from Bessie Smith.

Later one, Jazz, Rhythm and Blues and Rock, altogether, becomes the first modern urban music expressions that influenced the world. An example of Rhythm and Blues and Rock n’roll, we have Buddy Guy a blues guitar man with a song called “She’s Out There Somewhere”.

Conclusion : Back to the Roots (From the Americas to Africa)  

In Africa the 1940´s to late 1950’s were a time of development of popular music into what we call today urban music. “Afro-Cuban sounds reached Africa on records and Radio.” In West Africa from Senegal, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Benin, Congo, Angola, in the East Africa - Kenya, Tanganyika, Mozambique and even South Africa was influenced by the Cuban rhythmic (despite in Southern Africa rhythms from  U.S.A. are more appealing). Another example from South Africa was Trevor Roskin and El Ricas old band (non-existing anymore).

“The late 1950’s were a time of gestation for modern Zaïrean popular music”. And from then Congo-Kinshasa, a Belgian colony, spread out to all Africa and to Europe. This new music is a fusion from Cuban rumba rhythm and African beat.  Congolese composers and guitar players like Rochereau from the hit “Besame Muchacha”; Franco (from OK Jazz) and so-called dr. Nico form “African Fiesta” band. All are among the pioneers of these new sounds. En effect they started the new way of modern music fusion. In 1983 music critic Robert Christgau of the magazine The Village Voice “picked the album (Omona Wapi) as one the greatest albums of 1980’s, a masterpiece which transcends the realm of African music even as it embodies its best elements.”

Some of the lyrics of the urban music albums of this particular era were impregnated with political meanings and not so subtle critics against the African rulers of the new African independent states. And some of the composers have been arrested. Musician Franco called the “Sorcerer of The Guitar” was arrested sometimes “when the authorities objected to his lyrics.” But then President Mobutu paid tribute to him for his contributions to Zaïrean culture. He died in 1990.

The newest urban music style we can find is the hip-hop-rap sound from U.S.A. This sound made the same way back to Africa and again to Europe. Sometimes the same commitment in the lyrics we will find claming for justice, against discrimination, denouncing corruption and violence in society. So are the composition of Edson da Luz a young university student in Mozambique, with is over polemic music called “The lies of the truth” (As mentiras da verdade). The author nick name is Azagaia (spear). JC

Clip available in youtube in Portuguese language. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b9IwDjrUNTE


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