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Listening

The Creole You’ve Been Waiting For

What I try to tell all of the black nationalists, white identity groups, and Polynesian isolationists I meet—we have a weekly potluck—is that cultural integrity is a musical dead-end. It’s your fringe cultures that are responsible for the majority of creative output. Cohesive group identities don’t make anything new, they just rehash tradition. It’s only when you get to the miscegenated peoples, who are a bit more ready and willing to create their own traditions, that any actual progress can be made. It’s also really hard to play a flute with a Hapsburg chin. And just forget about cutting yourself onstage if your blood won’t clot from years of inbreeding to protect your racial identity. Somewhere along the line you have to make a choice: cultural identity versus creative freedom, Charles II of Spain or Iggy Pop.

“Creole” is essentially another term for said miscegenation, along with all the other ethnic combinations: cholos, castizos, zambos, octoroons. Half of which were probably insults at one time but are now badges of honor. Cajun music is that stuff you hear in the background of Popeyes Chicken commercials. Those weird people who live in the swamp and procreate across ethnic lines are now one of the few caricatures this country can lean on, either because they were unique enough to stand out or their genetic makeup was a dominant gene jambalaya that could resist the constant onslaught of malaria. Let’s remember back when their music wasn’t a hokey backdrop for a biscuit stand.

» Listen to Cajun music from the 1920s and ’30s at Cajun Music Mp3


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And of course rock and roll itself is the amalgamation of country and blues, which you can read about in a library’s worth of music criticism by ex-Rolling Stone writers who like to point out that there will never be another Beatles and Elvis didn’t write all of his own songs. Well the Korean Black Eyes didn’t write this Elvis song and I don’t go around pointing it out. I just enjoy the amalgamation.

» Listen to “Burning Love” at The Calico Wall


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There’s some weird connection between Brazilian psychedelia and German krautrock for which Cymande may be the best example. Afro-latin minimalist soul, odd time changes, hand-drawn cover art that looks like something by Krokodil, and then just straightforward ’70s funk. They were Guyanese and Jamaican musicians playing in Britain, which may not have been a huge cross-cultural shift at the time, but it layers in enough traditional Caribbean music to make something altogether new, for which they were promptly ignored until De La Soul started sampling their beats in the ’80s.

» Listen to “Bra” by Cymande


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Somebody once told me that Jamaica has the largest per-capita musical output of any country. Not sure how you measure that or what it means, but it sounds right. There’s enough dub, rocksteady, dancehall, mod, and ragga tunes out there to last a lifetime. It’s even more amazing to realize how much of it sounds similar. Not in a bad way—they make the finest art out of the variations on a single beat. And yet Light of Saba sounds like something else: a clean Rasta orchestra. The composer, Cedric Brooks, was a Jamaican parallel of Sun Ra in a way, sans the space worship, that mixed Caribbean sounds with modal Ethiopian jazz.

» Listen to “Axum” by Light of Saba


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If you wanted to find the music of pure breeding as a counter-example, you’d probably reach for your classic composers—your Bachs, your Mozarts—but even those guys were mooching off mixed European cultures. It’s all Hungarian waltzes, German polyphonic chorales, and some Swiss Appenzell rhythms dropped over a harpsichord melody—then a hundred years later Mort Garson makes a small ditty with an electronic harpsichord and you wonder why you’re killing yourself to be so complicated.

» Listen to Mort Garson at undomondo

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