January 8, 2010
No pigeonholes, no stereotypes, no rules. In't that what we all love about music? If you can play, you can play. And if you can play, you can play whatever you want, however you want, with whomever you want. With that in mind, Rob Fields explores an ever-expanding niche of contemporary music that simply rocks.
“Black rock, Afro-Punk, and black alternative music.”
That’s my response when people ask me what kind of music I cover on my blog, Boldaslove.us. For nearly three years, this has been my beat. It’s been my attempt to chronicle the cultural shift that I think we’re all experiencing: Black rock, or Afro-Punk, if you will, once confined to the fringes of music culture, is now making it’s way towards the mainstream. It’s still got a ways to go, to be sure. But, as we head into 2010, there’s never been a more exciting time to understand the origins of music that’s reshaping the urban cultural landscape.
First, let’s use this definition: When I say “black rock” I’m not talking about black men and women simply doing whatever you might currently understand to be rock music. And I’m not trying to suggest a separate, but equal new genre. No, I’m using as a term that describes music by black artists that synthesizes a broad range of influences and interests. Some examples can be found at www.boldaslove.us/listening_post/
We don’t have to go all the way back to the Star-Spangled Banner at Woodstock in order to see a burgeoning aesthetic at play. While it’s not unusual these days to see black kids adopting styles that are direct nods to punk rock, you also see mohawks (frohawks!) on folks who you know have never seen the inside of a mosh pit. And when you see R&B singers posing on album covers with guitars slung rakishly over their shoulders, it’s a clear sign that something in black culture is shifting. Used to be that rock was considered “white” music and something that, as a black person, you didn’t cop to unless you didn’t mind others questioning your cred. In fact, once hip hop went global, it was hard to be black and not swear allegiance to it. Folks all over the world used hip hop as a yardstick for what was “authentically” black. Unfortunately, that authenticity was tied up in stereotypes.
But something happened on the way through the 21st century. People started abandoning commercial black music—the music industry term for the hip hop and R&B you hear on the radio—because too much of it sucked. It seemed to be the same five producers programming flavor of the month beats for sad variations on three basic themes: Getting’ paid, hittin’ the club and falling in and out of love.
These days, a movement that was started by the Black Rock Coalition (which celebrates its 25 anniversary in 2010) is gaining momentum thanks to word of mouth from friends and social networks on Facebook and more focused sites such as Afro-Punk. The Internet makes it easy for people of all persuasions to now find music that they like. This is a boon for black artists who defy convention and refuse to have their work put into a narrow box.
The shift is also benefiting from the transition between generations. The fact is, the boomer generation stayed onstage far too long. But now, people in their 20s are in positions to make decisions about culture and to that task, you all bring vastly different notions about race, class, gender and sexuality. Ideas that we long held back are now bubbling to the surface.
And, in my mind, the most important thing about this moment in which black rock is growing in importance: It’s sparking the imagination of audiences, black and white. Not only are white audiences getting more used to black artists who are more than MC’s, but black artists and audiences are finally beginning to realize that their creative potential is limitless.
Rob Fields writes about black rock, Afro-Punk and black alternative music and culture on his blog www.boldaslove.us