Copyright © Greg Tate 2007
I want to to flip this concept of Jazz and The Global Imaginary a bit and project a speculative notion of jazz origins at the beginning of human time, a time when the cultural global and local were one and the same…….
A friend recently approached me about contributing to an anthology she’s editing called THE BLACK BODY. This book will essentially consist of essays about Black Hair, Black Feet, Black Lips, Penises, Vaginas, Butts and Noses. For some reason my friend decided she wanted me to tackle, what else, THE BLACK BRAIN. Being a fool at heart I fool heartedly accepted this fool’s errand.
My initial research led me to the anatomy of the human brain itself which I was surprised to find out actually contains a very dark strand known as the substantia nigra. Basically this term translates from the latin as That Black Stuff. Located at the spiral base of the basal ganglia the substantia nigra produces neuromelanin and another major neurotransmitter known as DOPAMINE which turns out to be fundamental in encouraging and pleasurably rewarding us when we do smart cognitive things related to REINFORCED LEARNING, OPERATIONAL MEMORY, COORDINATED MOVEMENT, and DELAYED GRATIFICATION FOR FUTURE BENEFITS.
So basically, ydig, THAT BLACK STUFF produces this DOPE effect that makes you feel real good about reading Blues People, remembering how to tie your shoes, learn Jimi’s “All Along The Watchtower” guitar solo note for note, do the bump, and not get up for the down stroke on the first date.
Having figured out the neurological wiring of The Black Brain I then asked myself, Well, who possesses the oldest Black brains on the planet — who had the first opportunity to take those bad brains for a spin fresh off the lot. Well I knew they had to be Africans but exactly which Africans I wondered. This led to another ‘Aha!’ moment. Because since mapping the human genome geneticists have been able to identify a Y chromosome marker common to everyone on the planet. The oldest gentic marker it turns out belongs to a group of peoples from Southern Africa known as THE KUNG SAN people. They are more commonly and offensively I learned referred to as “The Bushmen of The Kalahari” and their ancestors are thought to have occupied the desert region of Namibia, Angola, Botswana and South Africa for over 20,000 years. Their Rock Paintings and Cave Paintings are among some of the most elegant, majestic, stylish and symbolically rich visual art to be found on the planet.
Being the first people meant that the San peoples weren’t just the first hunter-gatherers but the first painters, poets too. The first members of the species then to possess human cognition, human consciousness, human self-awareness, symbolic and abstract thought, exchange systems, gender issues. One anthropological report I read said that boys and girls weren’t raised separately nor was one gender raised to be more fierce or submissive than the other. Those who know another meaning for fierce than the intended one will surely get a chuckle there.Women one writer said, are nearly equal to men but I have a feeling if we asked a San woman she might say ‘thaatiggkaacadikkmssuk’ or words to that effect.
We also know from their paintings, and their contemporary ritual practices that the San produced the first ecstatic religion where shake-dancing and trance-mediatation were vital to healing and feelings of well-being.
All this of course led me to ask the vital and relevant question of what kind of music were these very hip, supersouful and very esthetic folk grooving too at the dawn of humanity. This of course led me to iTunes where I was made aware of an album recorded in the mid 90s called BUSHMEN OF THE KALAHARI.
In a nutshell, what I found on that album led me to conjecture that if the San’s musical tradition was as ancient as their Rock Painting tradition then brothers and sisters been straight swinging, salsa-ing, samba-ing, freejazz shakahachiigamelan-ing/bluesfunkhiphop freestyling since the beginning of time.
Don’t mistake my jocular tone for sarcasm or irony because I kid you not.
The sensibility, the drama, the flow, the bounce in this music is truly ancient and to the future and in it you can hear the seeds of Strauss, Trane, Carlos Jobim, Max Roach, Wayne Shorter, Sugar Hill Gang, Lightning Hopkins, you name it.
The African American painter Jack Whitten once described African sculpture as the DNA of Visual Perception. I believe the San’s music may provides the musical analogy of that idea. What I’m going to do now is play some examples of their music and this being the musically sophisticated audience it is, I readily believe you’ll immediately hear what I’m talking about. If this is the DNA of song then no wonder so many dope musical concepts have been busted out over the past 20,000 years.
I also ask that we consider that if the actual sources for all the fantastic, bumping, trance-inducing healing music we love today had a centrality in one of humanity’s earliest civilizations and spiritual traditions then their might be hope yet for renewal among our increasingly barbaric species.
NOTES ON SELECTED TRACKS
- MAMBO some sweet and saucy kalahari samba
- LOHI clave meets lightning hopkins
- QWA a mccoy tyner sketch found somewhere in a distant namibia far far away
- HUNTING SONG or where elvin,max, blakey might have got their funk from
- NARE a much earlier version of the jass messengers
- QWII a composition wayne shorter/joe zawinul wrote over 5000 years ago
- NGWANA doowop from another planet’s brothers
- KCOLELAKANG max roach set up on the side of a road next to a martian chaingang