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MUS 347- Discussion 7: Music and its relation to Black Activism

Aug 28, 2023

Discuss the music and its relation to black activism, the avant-garde, and the civil rights movement. For this question, to receive full credit, each member of the class should follow the instructions above on your initial post.

Discussion 7: Music and its relation to Black Activism

We Insist! Is a Jazz album that adopts an Avant-grande style and comprises a suite that is both vocal and instrumental. The themes reflected in the album were related to the Civil Rights Movement. The Avant-grande stylistic elements present in the album are visible in the ensemble played without the application of piano, the loud vocals accompanying “Protest”, and obvious instances of improvisation present in various places such as the concluding part of “Tears for Johannesburg”. To formulate this album, Max Roach collaborated with lyricist Oscar Brown Jr. focussing on the struggles undertaken by African Americansformulated to, so that they could achieve equal status in America. The vocals in the album were provided by Abbey Lincoln, who also frequently collaborated with Roach in various endeavors. The lyrics provided by Brown were verbal but Lincoln’s parts in the creation were wordless.

“Driva Man” turned out to be one of the most popular compositions on the album. The composition was penned in collaboration with Oscar Brown and Max Roach. The song tells the story of Slavery through the words it employs and its accompaniment. In accordance with Nat Hentoff, who saw the recording sessions of the song live, the song personifies a white overseer who during the times of slavery forced women in his jurisdiction into sexual exploitation. The lyrics contain terms like “pater ollers.” Hentoff in his liner notes also provides a proper definition of “pater ollers” as provided by another slave. The definition describes “pater ollers” as white men who took women from their homes, wore them out, and then returned them back to their masters. These white men were poor and out of poverty gave themselves up for employment to slave owners. As a part of their duty, they roamed around the plantation at night and whipped the slaves if they saw them roaming without any plausible reason.

Several intentional actions havBy been applied throughout the song in order to reflect the imagery of slavery. The track has the 5/4 time signature. This signature aids in the addition of a percussive hit which is intense. This is played through either a tambourine or appears to sound like a Rimshot, during the first beat in each measure. Throughout the track, a similar pattern is felt as well as followed. The way the sound is formulatedto gives the feeling of forced labor and also produces an eerily similarity to the sound that comes from a cracked whip. The track is also played in the style of Blues, which caused it to have a length of six bars. These bars are noticed in pairs within this song, and therefore the chorus eventually becomes 12 pairs long. The tune begins with Abbey Lincoln. The melody is sung in an acapella manner by Lincoln. Additionally, she is also playing the tambourine with the melody. The next person who enters the composition is Coleman Hawkins who is playing the tenor saxophone melody. This tune is supported by three drums. The conclusion of the chorus produced by the instrumental melody leads to a solo that has 4 choruses. Through all of this, the 5/4 time signature with a hit punching on the first beat of each measure is maintained. By the melody “Driva Man” is the most simplistic composition present in the album. It plays using a C minor in the pentatonic scale.

In the liner notes presented by Hentoff, it is revealed that during the appearance by Coleman Hawkins, who in the performance plays the part of a male counterpart to Abbey Lincoln’s vocals, Hawkins stays more than he is required. It is because Hawkins is astonished at the composition formulated by Max Roach. Hentoff also shares about an interaction between Abbey and Hawkins where the latter advises not to splice, because if a piece is so perfect then there is bound to be something wrong with it.

The extension of Slavery-driven “Driva Man” is produced in the form of “Freedom Day.” This track was written as a reaction to emancipation, a phenomenon that eventually became the law of the land in 1865. Max Roach himself arranged as well as wrote this track. The title of the track “Freedom Day” is ironic because of Max Roach’s commentary about the song. According to Max Roach’s confession, the song could never be completed because Freedom as a concept for African Americans was a complex and difficult concept to grasp. According to Max Roach even with Emancipation, it was difficult for African Americans to enjoy true freedom.  Therefore, the song in his opinion concluded with a question mark. The musical technique of the track reflects the tension that was prevalent in those times between expectancy and disbelief. The action of placing the minor-blue solos over a feverish rhythm section helped the composition to beautifully capture the emotion of anxiety and anticipation produced by Emancipation. The instruments are layered in a conflicted manner in the composition to reflect the conflict that had occurred regarding beliefs during that time for African Americans.

To reflect the feeling of anticipation that the composition aimed to project the song is performed by Lincoln with impatience. This track has the highest arrangement of all the tunes in the album and is attributed to a simple melody, the rhythms that are formulated by the vocal lines of Lincoln are not at all attuned to the patterns associated with the rhythm section of the song. The textures present in the composition constantly switch. It opens with the voice of horns, then proceeds to vocals by Lincoln, after which a new melody by a horn is introduced, and at the end, the horn solos and drum solos appear in a consecutive pattern. The song incorporates instruments like trumpet played by Booker Little, tenor Saxophone played by Walter Benton, trombone played by Julian Priester, and, drums played by Max Roach.

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