By Ellie King
Jazz, one of the most famous genres of music in the world, originated in the African-American community from New Orleans in the 19th century. However the roots of Jazz date all the way back to colonialism and slavery. Though suffering from brutality and oppression at the hands of White supremacy, enslaved Blacks found solace working through songs, religious songs and “field hollers”, which were calls between people working in the fields.
These traditional songs eventually led to the formation of jazz and blues, with lyrics reflecting the hardships of the Black experience and desire for freedom, as well as the beauty and growth of a community during times of oppression. In the 1800’s, slaves would gather in the famous Congo Square in New Orleans, to sing work songs and spirituals with string instruments and drums. The combination of using African rhythm combined with European melody through instruments is what formed jazz, which is what anthropologists call cross pollination syncretism.
During the early 20thcentury, jazz was seen as “lowbrow culture” due to the genre and musicians themselves being African-American. However in time, White musicians began to adopt jazz and the genre and fan base became outstanding. Today however, we celebrate the genre as inherently African-American, especially during 2019, which marks 400 years since the first Africans landed on North American soil. This year, we honour Black jazz musicians that have continued their ancestors’ legacy and honoured the roots of Black culture.
VIBE105 highlights THREE jazz musicians who hold true to their African jazz and blues roots:
Blackburn is a band of four brothers from Toronto, who have impressed the jazz community since 2009 with their album Brotherhood, which won them a Maple Blues Award and a prominent fan base.
The brothers are also not only well versed, but quite proud of their African roots, with the Blackburn family name itself tying back to the Underground Railroad. Their father’s great Grandfather, Elias Earls, was a slave born in Kentucky, who eventually headed north to Canada and started a family, passing on his passion and talent for blues to his children.
Melanie Charles, a Brooklyn-Born Haitian American jazz and blues singer-songwriter, is an especially experienced New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music graduate, with a knack for creativity and fluidity.
Melanie’s endeavour titled: Make Jazz Trill Again, focuses on her Haitian history, African-American spirituals and work songs, and aims to bring the past to the present through powerful lyrics, the flute and beautiful harmony.
Cécile Doo-Kingué, a Montreal based Cameroonian singer-songwriter and magnetizing guitarist, has garnered a respected reputation amongst other musicians, especially for her ability to combine jazz and soul, based on her African roots.
Cécile’s album Anybody Listening Pt.1: Monologues embodies the very prevalent oppression against the Black community, through powerful lyrics. She channels her African roots and ties in lasting effects of slavery in the song Six Letters saying:
Jim Crow’s legacy prevails
Slavery’s abolished but people are still enslaved
Laws don’t change mentalities
Just how the game is played
Be sure to check out these jazz musicians and tell us what you think on our social media platforms @VIBE105to.