Long classified as a music of the low classes, in its community of origin, the Blues nevertheless remains the collective memory of an entire people, because it is through its thematic that one can trace the path of these descendants of Africans victims of the Triangular Trade. A probable return of the Blues on the African continent as a source of inspiration for the young musicians remained possible? After all, why not?
It was in the early 20th century that we had the first recordings of the Blues. “In 1912 William Christopher HANDY (1873-1958), published his first Blues, “Memphis Blues” and provoked a universal craze for this kind of Music”.
As for its origins, they remain obscure. According to Eileen Sudem, “the origin of the Blues is even less known than that of the Ragtime” (2). But while it is difficult to pinpoint the exact origin of the Blues, we can be sure of one thing, namely that the first to have played or sung this music and which continue to do so, are the descendants of those African victims of the slave trade, which the Europeans practiced throughout the 15th, 16th, 17th, 18th centuries, even in the 19th, on the African coasts with to a certain extent, the complicity of some local potentates, ” the famous folks, who during the raids in African villages were often forced to kill four of their compatriots to capture one. A total of fifteen or twenty million blacks were estimated to have been transported or killed during their capture.” (3) on arriving in America, these Blacks brought with them their cultural and musical traditions. “From the beginning of these travels, Jobson notes the importance of music in the lives of Africans; there is no doubt that there are no people on earth more naturally sensitive to the sound of music than this one. ; the leading figures (that is, kings and Chiefs) consider it an ornament of their state so that music is so rarely lacking when we visit them”.
Blues, like all other American black music genres, comes from this musical culture. Blacks have been able to keep this legacy through the centuries. And if the traditional instruments were lacking afterward, for reasons linked to the constraints of slavery such as the Prohibition of black people from playing the drum in order not to communicate with each other, these Africans were able to transmit to their descendants their passion for music (since they went so far as to master the instruments of their masters), and the meaning they had of this music, namely that of accompanying all the acts of daily life, and to be a means of expression and communication for the whole community. “Apart from the ceremonies, African music included hunting songs, educational songs, songs commenting on the life of the community (going as far as gossip and satire) and entertainment music. A ceremony was successful when everyone had participated when the interaction between dancers, musicians, and assistants had contributed to the perfection of the ensemble. Certainly, African music offered the drummer or village griot the opportunity to show their professional talents, but it was in a group rather than in a personal capacity that the participation of the professionals was the most important”. It must be remembered that ” in each village, the griots had as their function to entertain, but also to teach. The griot was responsible for preserving the history of his people and passing it on to other members of the tribe. Jobson compared them to the bards of Great Britain.
We find in the Blues different aspects of this music:
- The griot tradition,
- Style call-and-response (7), specific to the African oral tradition,
- The rhythm, the melody, and the expressive and communicative dimension.
They are particularly found in the sad songs of the longshoremen, the “hollers”, the slaves in the fields and the spirituals expressing pain.
The Evolution of Blues and the Emergence of New Styles
But while the Blues has retained some features of its original musical culture, it has undergone, to a certain extent, the influences of the cultures of other social groups that have co-existed with the blacks and especially the European groups. “The Blues has its harmonic character which is due in part to the influence of the European tradition” (8). But despite this European influence, the Blues remains faithful to its basic community, especially that of these creators. “From the beginning, the Blues was linked to the lower classes, and if it was warmly welcomed in the brothels and saloons of the hot neighborhoods, the respectable people did not want to hear about it” (9). A large part of the Blues singers spent their childhood either in the plantations of the South, (Deep South), or in the ghettos of the big cities. And apart from some great figures like John Lee Hooker who managed to get away with it without moving towards Rock, but remaining in the Blues, many remain in the ghettos or the southern countryside. The arrival of blacks in big cities for economic reasons or to escape a racist South had a positive impact on the evolution of the Blues, notably in the emergence of an urban style, of which the Chicago Blues is the most typical example. But in addition to this rough and very “low-down” style, we note the existence of a much more “soft” urban style, namely the City Blues (or traditional Blues) whose main characteristic is to be less harsh. Also, her performers were often female with a piano or orchestra. We are thus very far away from the Country Blues (rural Blues) whose instrumentation was very rudimentary: most often a singer who is the direct heir of the country Blues, from the roughness, has given a new impetus to the Blues through the instrumental innovation. It is the introduction of electric guitars, bass, drums and brass in the accompaniment, in addition to the harmonica and other ” country “instruments. It is this urban Blues, in its version Chicago Blues, that will play a central role in the emergence of the White Blues.
The White Blues
By white Blues, we mean this new interpretation of the Blues by musicians from the white-American community. The peculiarity of this Blues is to give priority to the instruments. So it is through instrumentalization that the feeling of young white people, like Paul Butterfield, Musselwhite and so many others who went to Chicago to learn the Blues from the great masters of the genre like Muddy Waters, finds its expression. This is contrary to the Blues tradition, which prefers to give priority to the voice, because the Blues is first a voice, L, instrumentation being there, according to John Lee Hooker, only to accompany. Many white musicians hold to this peculiarity, and among them Eric Clapton, who maintains that ” the Blues is not entirely Negroid, because if it were, it would not be the Blues. He was born out of a situation that was partly black and partly white. It is a bit like a blend of Country and african music. Without these two half-circles, there would be no complete circle. The feeling that it inspires has been a tremendous catalyst. You can have that feeling anywhere. If your life, your childhood were difficult, you will have this feeling, who or whatever you are black, white, yellow etc. Feeling is a key notion in first of all the Blues, and more particularly of the one that the Whites play. However far it may sometimes be from its “model”, there is always with more or less evidence this intranscriptible element within which is pre-formed the climate of a piece. This is certainly what Le blanc was most concerned with preserving expressive traits of black, while inscribing his own emotional experience ” (10). It should be pointed out that this phenomenon of appropriation does not stop with the emergence of a new style. He went so far as to influence the entire rock, Folk and Pop Music movement of the sixties and seventies.