Many of us believe that Black music was the leading sound of the 20th century worldwide, from ragtime to hip hop with stops to include gospel, blues, jazz, and R&B (i.e. rhythm and blues). Moreover, in a slightly jingo-istly way, some of us even believe the United States was “the” major sound of the 20th century.
We attribute that belief to the supremacy of our music. We do not fully understand that much of the so-called cultural supremacy was actually because our music rode on the back of the United States’ world-wide military, economic and cultural dominance.
While it is true that American culture was admired globally, the whole truth is a bit more complex. For example, we often consider Hollywood movies the paragon of movie making. We don’t realize how much of our music was an integral aspect of Hollywood’s 20th century dominance.
People who never heard a jazz recording or who don’t even like jazz, know, and, in many cases, love the iconic 1942 movie Casablanca, with it’s hit song, “As Time Goes By” that featured a Black pianist (Dooley Wilson). Indeed, while it is true that the first “talkie” (a feature-length movie with sight and sound) was the 1927 Jazz Singer, we don’t often realize that was also one of the major inflections of global Black musical ascendency. Moreover, it is is both ironic and a supreme example of cultural appropriation that the movie’s star jazz singer was Lithuanian-born Asa Yoelson, i.e. Al Jolson performing in black-face.
All of the above is a significant part of the context within which reggae became the popular music that dominated world culture in the last quarter of the 20th century. While American cultural was globally supreme in the 20th century, by the end of that period, reggae was actually the worldwide musical force. Of course, the American mainstream does not celebrate reggae’s dominance, nevertheless that is truly the case.
Enjoy this 2012 celebration of Jamaican reggae focusing on the music of Bob Marley. It’s a massive soundscape of historic importance particularly because the sounds are presented by a British aggregation featuring the Jazz Jamaica All Stars with the Urban Soul Orchestra and Brinsley Forde, a founder of the popular UK band, Aswad. This was a sold-out Queen Elizabeth Hall, London concert billed as CATCH A FIRE tribute to Bob Marley & The Wailers.