Sunday, May 15, 2011
"The White Man, At Best, Is Corny": The Jihad Singers- Black & Beautiful, Soul & Madness (1968)
Gil Scott-Heron, The Last Poets, The Watts Prophets, Camile Yarbrough, Wanda Robinson, Bama, and Kain: the late 60's through the early 80's saw these artists and others combining spoken word and music, racial politics and poetry, rage and compassion-- calling for revolution, assailing the oppressor while examining the failures of the oppressed... bleeding for their people and demanding action.
Black & Beautiful, Soul & Madness by the Jihad Singers is one of the finest and rarest of examples of this vital art form, and it is not one to be missed. Combining doo-woppy vocal arrangements often lifted from other songs (the superb opening track, "Beautiful Black Women", borrows openly from Smokey Robinson) with the kind of furious speak/sung diatribes utilized by the likes of The Last Poets, this is an exercise in stunning dichotomies-- racially salient Intersections in Art. Free jazz meets Gospel pop and lashes out verbally, twisting anger and politics into radical poetry, elevating itself into High Black Art. Certainly it's a bracing reminder that the dominant Baby Boomer narrative tends to gratuitously omit some of the period's greatest protestations in favor of the weak resistance offered by-- to cherry-pick an example or two-- Buffalo Springfield's tepid "For What It's Worth" or, more to the point, something like Hendrix playing the "Star Spangled Banner" as exit music to Woodstock.
The inherent tragedy of listening to these types of albums is knowledge in hindsight that the great&terrifying Revolution never happened, that the energy began to wane in the 80's and that these albums are now often considered mere footnotes in the Great History of Hip Hop. But in light of America's black president and the widespread revolution in the Middle East, as we live under the weird yoke of corporate oligarchy, this kind of call to action and consciousness seems nearly as resonant as it ever did. Not just a musical tourist trip into the heart of another age's revolution, a record like this howls through the years and appeals to our humanity in the now while asserting a history lesson. This is an artifact of an imperfect social uprising, containing as it does questionable, even regrettable, assertions-- misogynistic or racist or violent. But as an artifact, it is perfect, and as an expression of human passion-- an example of ecstatic spiritual exhortation-- it is timeless.
Credit where it's due: I originally picked this up over at Nothing is v2.0, an excellent blog indeed (although he nicked the fine and excellent rip from Reza), so pay the place a visit and afford him a thank you and thank Reza in the comments.
J I H A D 320