In many cases, procedural connections exist between musical experiences and ethnographic research methods to processes of peacebuilding–for example, conflict transformation. In such instances, there is usually an explicit attempt to demonstrate a mutual form of understanding. In ethnographic research, this has taken the form of written and verbal accounts and interactions, although increasingly, visual and gestural information also is considered. Aural information may not be considered as data itself but rather something to be written down and discussed. Conversely, music can be wordless and even if words are used in the form of song texts, the musical experience itself is shared and demonstrated through sound and the associated meanings of sound. A successful musical interaction is one where the participants understand and demonstrate the appropriate musical responses at the most meaningful temporal occasions.
Expanding on the combined use of musical interaction and ethnographic research, musical ethnography can provide practical insight into the field of peacebuilding and peace education given that a primary prerequisite for successful peacebuilding is to obtain and demonstrate a mutual cultural understanding and acceptance. Music is already often mentioned in literature on peacebuilding as one of the cultural and artistic expressions that are relevant in peace education–such literature, however, often lacks musical expertise or clear methods of application. In music, one may find strategies and approaches to reduce intergroup prejudices and conflict while increasing peaceful relations. In order to most effectively approach this topic, conflict transformation should be explored as as a peacebuilding strategy enabling the unpacking of the social interactions surrounding a conflict dynamic.
Celebrate the International Day of Peace today (September 21st) by reading Craig Robertson’s article “Musicological ethnography and peacebuilding” in the Journal of peace education (XIII/3, 2016). Find it in RILM Abstracts.
Watch Sudanese musician John Kuol talk about his efforts at peacebuilding through music below.
Sometime during the last weekend of July 2023, previously confiscated musical instruments were collected and publicly burned in the Afghan province of Herāt. The head of the local office of the Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, Aziz al-Rahman al Muhajir, justified the burning by saying that music leads to moral corruption. Apparently string instruments, a harmonium, a tabla, and electronic amplifiers were burned. Performing music in public has been banned in Afghanistan since 2021.
Music has long been a controversial topic in Islam. Although the Islamic world has birthed rich and brilliant musical cultures, some Muslims nevertheless believe that music, especially instrumental music, causes people to go astray by indulging in sensual pleasures. The Taliban, a Sunni Islamic nationalist and pro-Pashtun movement founded in the early 1990s, rose to power in 1996 and subsequently banned the public performance of music and imposed numerous other restrictions on musical life. The group ruled around three-quarters of Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001 before being overthrown after an invasion led by the United States. The group regained power over the entire country following the August 2021 departure of coalition forces.
Speaking in July 2023, Ahmad Sarmast, founder of the Afghanistan National Institute of Music, likened the Taliban’s actions to “cultural genocide and musical vandalism”. Now living in Portugal, Sarmast says, “The people of Afghanistan have been denied artistic freedom . . . The burning of musical instruments in Herat is just a small example of the cultural genocide that is taking place in Afghanistan under the leadership of the Taliban.”
Read on MGG Online.
Below is a performance of the Afghani rabāb accompanied by tabla at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
Margaret Rosezarian Harris (1943–2000) was the first Black woman to conduct the orchestras of Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, and 12 other U.S. cities. Harris played solo piano recitals in the U.S. and abroad and served as musical director for the Broadway production of Hair. She was a composer of ballets, concertos, and an opera, and served as a U.S. cultural specialist for a production of Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess in Uzbekistan in 1995.
Harris was a child prodigy: she first performed in public when she was three years old and played a Mozart concerto movement with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra when she was ten. She received her musical education in the public schools of Chicago, Illinois; at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and at the Juilliard School of Music in New York. During the 1960s, Harris was active in New York as a musical director for the Negro Ensemble Company and the New York Shakespeare Festival Company and as a teacher at the the Dorothy Maynor School of the Performing Arts. She made her concert debut as a pianist in 1970 at Town Hall in New York, including some of her original compositions on her program.
The same year she made her debut as a conductor-musical director with the Broadway musical Hair. She also conducted several musicals, including Two gentlemen of Verona (1971) and Raisin (1973). In 1971, she made her debut as a symphony orchestra conductor with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in its Grant Park Concert Series. Harris toured widely at home and abroad as a guest conductor, appearing in concert halls, on college campuses, and at festivals where she frequently performed two roles, conductor and pianist-composer, playing her own piano concertos. She was active in radio and television music and served as the music director for Opera Ebony, and her honors include appointments to national advisory panels and an award from the National Association of Negro Musicians in 1972.
Today is Margaret Rosezarian Harris’ 80th birthday! Read more in the Biographical dictionary of Afro-American and African musicians (1982). Find it in RILM Music Encyclopedias (RME).
As a singer and multi-instrumentalist, Mike Seeger played an important role in the folk revival of the 1950s and 1960s. Although Seeger was generally less known than his politically outspoken half-brother, Pete, he helped found the New Lost City Ramblers in 1958 and throughout his career recorded and produced dozens of albums of American music that he called “true vine”, which combined British and African storytelling traditions. Although only eight years older, Seeger had a strong influence on Bob Dylan. Recalling him in Chronicles. I (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004), Dylan wrote:
“Mike was unprecedented. He was like a duke, the knight errant. As for being a folk musician, he was the supreme archetype. He could push a stake through Dracula’s black heart. He was the romantic, egalitarian, and revolutionary type all at once—had chivalry in his blood…”
“He played all the instruments, whatever the song called for—the banjo, the fiddle, mandolin, autoharp, the guitar, even harmonica in the rack….He played on all the various planes, the full index of old-time styles, played in all the genres and had the idioms mastered—Delta blues, ragtime, minstrel songs, buck-and-wing, dance reels, play party, hymns and gospel—being there and seeing him up close, something hit me. It’s not as if he just played everything well, he played these songs as good as it was possible to play them.”
Mike Seeger would have celebrated his 90th birthday on August 15. He passed away in 2009. Learn more about Seeger in Country music: A biographical dictionary–find it in RILM Music Encyclopedias.
Watch Seeger perform the song Freight Train and a performance on fiddle and banjo from the 1960s.
In the world of 1970s rock, Freddie Mercury’s voice had few equals. After joining Queen in 1970, his voice quickly became the hallmark of the band. The song Bohemian rhapsody, from the LP A night at the opera (named after a Marx Brothers film) was a coming out for Mercury, whose poetic and dramatic vocal style on that song became a focal point of Queen’s music. In 1976, the band released the LP A day at the races, named for another Marx Brothers film, and performed in London’s Hyde Park in front of more than 150,000 people. Their singles and LPs took the top spots on the hit parades of many countries, millions of records were sold, and the band’s management booked the largest halls and stadiums for their tours.
The album News of the world, released in 1977, featured anthems for the large venues where the band performed, and included the hits We will rock you and We are the champions. Mercury’s flamboyant personality and performances along with his cross-dressing managed to avoid media witch hunts and even enhanced Queen’s public image. Mercury dressed as a ballet dancer and stormtrooper for the 1984 music video I want to break free and convinced the rest of the band to dress in drag for the video as well.
Despite his commitment to the Queen, Mercury nurtured a solo career beyond the band. Before the release of Queen’s 1973 debut album, he recorded a cover version of I can hear music by the Beach Boys under the pseudonym Larry Lurex, and solo work over the course of his career included tracks for a Dave Clark musical and the 1988 album Barcelona, which featured a duet with the Spanish soprano Montserrat Caballé.
Freddie Mercury’s 77th birthday was celebrated this week on September 5! Read on in the Lexicon of progressive rock: musicians, bands, instruments, terms (2013). Find it in RILM Music Encyclopedias (RME).
Watch the music video for Queen’s I want to break free below.
In case you missed it, here’s a related post on Bibliolore.
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The name Sara González is synonymous with the history of the Cuban nueva trova. The genre differed from the traditional trova mainly because of its political lyrics but some have described nueva trova as “a field of multiple, generic-stylistic confluences” (Gómez 2021:272). Many songs incorporate elements from jazz, pop, concert music, and protest songs–in nueva trova, these resources communicate the poetic message of the song.
Along with the male trovadores such as Silvio Rodríguez, Pablo Milanés, Noel Nicola, and Eduardo Ramos, Gonzalez helped to found and develop the nueva trova movement in the late 1960s. Born in Havana, she began singing as part of the Los Dimos group and later enrolled in Escuela Nacional de Instructores de Arte (the National School of Art Instructors) with the intention of becoming a music teacher. However, her interest in nueva canción, a genre of pan-Latin American popular music, led her in other directions. In 1972, Gonzalez joined other Cuban musicians on a project that allowed for the institutionalization of the nueva trova, specifically in the Instituto Cubano del Arte e Industria Cinematográficos (ICAIC) Sound Experimentation Group–Grupo de Experimentación Sonora del ICAIC (GESI). Between 1970 and 1978, she wrote songs that explored political themes and integrated ideas of the GESI into nueva trova. In this sense, GESI was important for the establishment of the genre and fundamental in shaping its stylistic features musically. The group also shaped Gonzalez’s musical and political identity. As she described at the time,
“[The Group] has been decisive for who I am. To have ideas of my own, [and] of what I was going to do with my life. . . And as for artistic accomplishment, it was decisive. For everything I have done afterwards, I have always had to resort to what I learned there. . . A school, a method, a way of being, of facing, also, my own creation, my own life. It defined me in every way. I left there with the seed, with the base, firm and secure, that I did not have. And from there everything can come out (González, cited in Sarusky 2005:81-82).
The trajectory of Gonzalez’s career also demonstrated interconnections between a deep knowledge of Western classical music and her devotion to Cuban music and pedagogy. She became an icon of what some considered “the new woman” in the context of the Cuban nueva trova. In this regard, Gonzalez negotiated the gendered political spaces of femininity and masculinity as a woman troubadour.
Read more about the life and work of Sara Gonzalez in Ivette Janet Céspedes Gómez’s chapter Sara González: A different song in the The Routledge Handbook of Women’s Work in Music (2022) and in Lorena Valdebenito Carrasco’s article ¿Hombre nuevo y Mujer nueva? Lo femenino y lo masculino en la Nueva Trova Cubana de Silvio Rodríguez y Sara González in the journal El oído pensante 8.2 (2021). Find the publications in RILM Abstracts and RILM Abstracts with Full Text (RAFT) respectively.
Watch a video of Sara Gonzalez performing Su nombre es Pueblo.
Other Bibliolore related posts to check out:
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Itzhak Perlman contracted poliomyelitis at the age of four after he first started playing the violin, which left him disabled throughout his life. Perlman studied at the Academy in Tel Aviv with Rivka Goldgart and gave his first solo recital at the age of 10. After a tour of the United States and two live shows on U.S. television in 1958, he decided to stay in the U.S. and study at the Juilliard School of Music. He made his Carnegie Hall debut in 1963 and won the Leventritt Memorial Award the following year. In 1965 he embarked on a concert tour to Israel, in 1965-66 and 1966-67 he toured North America, and in 1967-68 he made debuts in various European cities, including London and Paris, which led to his final breakthrough as one of the greatest violinists since World War II.
Perlman also made debuts with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra in Warsaw and Budapest (1987), the Soviet Union (1991), and China and India (1994). For many years, he was associated with the Aspen Music Festival in Colorado and taught at Brooklyn College in New York. Perlman has received numerous prizes and awards for his recordings and music films, including 1996 gold medal from the London Royal Philharmonic Society and the National Medal of Arts der USA (2000). Perlman has also performed on the children’s television show Sesame Street, at Madison Square Garden with Billy Joel, and the theme to the film Schindler’s List.
Happy birthday to Itzhak Perlman who turned 78 on August 31! Read more about him in MGG Online.
Here is one of Perlman’s appearances on Sesame Street.
“Oh, Beloved! I am honey trapped in your love. Make me hear you!”
As the musicologist Ranjana Saxena writes, lyrics like these illustrate the essence of the tappa, a florid, passionately romantic vocal art form of India. Inspired by the undulating motions of camel-riding Arab tradespeople, the word “tappa” originates from the Punjab province of India and Pakistan. Its root word tappana refers to the bouncing and jerkiness of a camelback ride and the mercurial, melismatic singing that these rides have inspired.
Unlike khayal—the serene art music from the Hindustani tradition of India—the tappa is volatile, unfolding rapidly throughout a single tala (rhythm) cycle. The sung text is usually very brief, consisting of not more than two to four lines. However, tappa singers use this brevity to their advantage. They deftly weave in the frenetic melismas through the scant lyrics, finessing the diction to facilitate speed while maintaining comprehensibility. Unlike other forms of Hindustani art music, where the melodic framework for the piece, encapsulated in the raga, is first outlined, this foreshadowing is summarily eschewed in the tappa. Instead, the emotional content emerges over the course of the presentation, which, due to the extreme physical demands it places upon the singer, does not last for more than ten minutes.
At the heart of tappa virtuosity is the zamzama taan, a circuitous vocal gyration employing short patterns of four to five notes that move through the notes of the raga, often cut with notes that are sung in faster subdivisions to create a sense of drama and unpredictability, or to make abrupt changes in the patterns used even more apparent, according to Debapriya Adhikary, one of the torchbearers of the Benarasi tradition of tappa. “Unlike khayal”, he adds, “tappa singing does not allow for nyaas (resting) on any one note. It is a tireless, intricate pursuit of passionate beauty.” Chhuut taans also find a home in the tappa; these taans start with a wide, upwards jerk and descend rapidly, taking a pliable view of tempo, accelerating and then slowing down for effect, underscoring tension and release. However, sapaat taans—linear runs through the notes of the raga—are avoided to ensure that tappas are never confused with faster khayals, which can be equally dizzying.
The demanding nature of the tappa tends to overshadow its nuanced inner workings in scholarship on the genre, both by Indians and cultural outsiders. Colonial collectors such as William Hamilton Bird and Sarah Plowden described tappa as “wild”. At the same time, orientalists such as William Jones and Augustus Willard considered it a “rude style”. Although it can be hard to look past the virtuosic element of tappa singing, a subtle richness emerges once you do. For starters, there is the curious case of the languages used in the tappa texts. The tappas that have endured in pre-partition India (the longest have Punjabi texts), were sung in various languages, including Sindhi, Multani, Bannochi, Derawali, and Saraiki. The poetry of the tappa speaks beseechingly of love, depicting a traditionally demure view of separation and longing. Most importantly, tappa embody the feminine voice irrespective of the gender of the performer; whosoever sings the tappa has to use female pronouns and embody birhaa and shringar, the emotions most closely associated with the feminine in the Hindustani tradition.
Due to its somewhat limited emotional landscape, tappas tend to be composed in a few ragas, such as Khamaj, Kafi, Bhairavi, Jhinjhoti, Tilang, Sindhura, Des, Jangla, Pahari, Maand, and Sohini. Tala (time cycles) used include Punjabi (adha theka), Pashto, and Sitarkhani, used for their uneven accents that further reinforce the off-kilter feel at the core of the tappa.
The rhythmic gait of the tappa is as complex as its origins, which are contested to say the least. The most common view is that this art form was created by Ghulam Nabi Shori (1742-1792), a genius hereditary musician at the court of Awadh in Lucknow, India, patronized by Nawab Asafuddaulah. Tappas attributed to him bear his nom de plume, Shori Miyan, in the last line of the text. As the story goes, he inherited not only knowledge of dhrupadand khayal, the two most prominent genres of art music in the Hindustani tradition, from his father but also a ceaseless innovative spirit. Nawab’s father, Ghulam Rasul, had adapted some of the qawwali taans to enhance his dhrupad singing. At the height of his prowess and frustration, Shori traveled across India until he finally found inspiration after a chance encounter with the aforementioned camel riders and used their simple folk songs as a base for his melismatic vocal virtuosity.
However, authors like Katherine Schofield have brought this theory under greater scrutiny, suggesting that tappas were sung in Delhi nearly a hundred years before Shori Miyan brought them to Lucknow. Considering that Delhi was also the seat of the Qawwali, it is easy to surmise that this conjecture may carry some weight. Besides Schofield, musicologists Fakirullah and Mirza Khan also have identified famous love songs called “tappay” at the time of the Mughal Emperor Shahjehan in the 17th century. Gokul Nath traced tappay sung by courtesans on the streets of Agra even earlier, sometime during the 16th century. Ranjana Saxena notes that some scholars credit the Besara Geet of dhrupad as the source of the tappa. However, due to the oral tradition of music in India, it is hard to say with certainty how any of these compared with the modern-day tappa popularized by Shori Miyan.
Shori Miyan’s is not the only stream of tappa that can be sampled in India. While a contemporary of Shori Miyan, Ramnidhi Gupta, created a variant of the tappa in Bengal that evolved into something completely different due to the sociocultural climate of its new home in Eastern India, from the mainstream, Northern tappa as practiced in Gwalior and Benares. Famed musicologist V.D. Paluskar also composed tappas, but these were settings of mystical poetry and explicitly Hindu devotional, unlike mainstream tappas with their lovelorn turn of phrase. Shori Miyan’s presence in Lucknow, and the spread of his students eastward, virtually ensured that the tappa never gained prominence in Punjab, the land of its origin, as it did in Central and Eastern India. Gamun Miyan (Shori’s disciple) passed the tappa to Benares, and several excellent tappa singers arose there, most notably Girija Devi, who ultimately passed it down to Debapriya.
“I was fascinated by how intricate her singing was, yet how easy she made it seem,” Debapriya says of his illustrious Gurumaa. “She saw that I had an aptitude for the tappa and a love for learning difficult things, so she started to instruct me in it.” Hearing Debapriya sing the tappa, it is easy to see what may have impressed Girija Devi. His cultured, lyrical, and expressive voice not only exhibits the athleticism required for tappa but is also full of pathos and emotion, which is rare nowadays. Debapriya has cultivated a complete mastery of the four baans of tappa singing–laari daar, guthaao daar, khudi daar, and phande daar–overcoming the many challenges these present both anatomically and conceptually to an outstanding degree. He explains that his gurumaa taught him to avoid excessively heavy oscillations to conserve his voice and to find an appropriate balance between vocal gymnastics and the prosody hidden in the text. “I spent a lot of time trying to connect the notes of any given raga in a series of slow glides, which I could eventually speed up to produce the many scintillating effects that the tappa demands,” Debapriya says, “but in doing so I realized that the onus of hard work has to be upon the student. The teacher can only take you to the fountainhead; it is up to you to put in the hours required to claim knowledge as your own.” Debapriya performs his wide repertoire, including tappa, with his cousin and musical partner, Samanwaya Sarkar, who happens to be one of the few contemporary instrumentalists able to render the tappa on his Sitar faithfully.
–Written by Ali Hassan, a versatile singer, percussionist, an aspiring ethnomusicologist, and a multicultural composer-producer from Karachi, Pakistan. Ali is currently an intern at RILM.
Watch a video of Debapriya performing with Samanwaya Sarkar below.
Here Debapriya sings one of his favorite Shori Miyan tappas, and explains the salient features of the Benarasi tappa.
Astrud Gilberto, born Astrud Evangelina Weinert in Salvador, in Bahia, Brazil to a Brazilian mother and German father, was the voice of bossa nova. As a genre, bossa nova combined Brazilian samba rhythms and U.S. cool jazz elements while featuring an understated vocal style that complemented an acoustic guitar technique that featured plucked chords with jazz-influenced harmonies and chord progressions. Her rendition of The girl from Ipanema was sung quietly and melancholically without vibrato, in complete contrast to the extroverted rock ‘n’ roll numbers of the time. The song was composed in 1962 by Antônio Carlos Jobim and two years later appeared on the album Getz/Gilberto by singer and guitarist João Gilberto and saxophonist Stan Getz. On the album–which marked the peak of the bossa nova craze, sold millions of copies, and won a Grammy for Album of the Year–Astrud sang two of the songs: The girl from Ipanema and Corcovado (Quiet nights of quiet stars).
As a young woman, she moved with her family to Rio de Janeiro in 1948 where she worked in the Brazilian Ministry of Agriculture. Astrud married João Gilberto in 1959 after meeting at a friend’s house with whom she had sung as an amateur in bossa nova shows. In 1963, she traveled to New York City and performed an English version of the song Garota de Ipanema on João’s LP with Stan Getz. The English release of The girl from Ipanema marked her international breakthrough, making both the song and bossa nova known throughout the world. Although The girl from Ipanema is one of the most covered songs, it was Astrud’s English version with a Brazilian accent that was first associated with the song.
Astrud continued her career with Getz Au Go Go (1964, with Stan Getz), The Astrud Gilberto Album (1965, nominated for a Grammy in the category Best Female Vocal Performance), and Look to the Rainbow (1966, with Gil Evans). Her hits included Água de beber (1965), The shadow of your smile (1965), and Desafinado (1966, with George Michael). Her final album, Jungle, was released in 2002. She received a Latin Grammy Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2008. Although Astrud never enjoyed massive success as a soloist, she was a prolific artist and collaborated with other major musicians throughout her long career as a vocalist.
Astrud Gilberto passed away on 5 June 2023 at the age of 83.
Read her obituary in MGG Online and locate information on her life and career in the Enciclopédia da música brasileira: Erudita, folclórica, popular (Encyclopedia of Brazilian music: Erudite, folkloric, popular, 2010) in RILM Music Encyclopedias (RME).
Watch the video of Astrud Gilberto performing Corcovado below!
By the late 1970s, hip hop’s five core elements had emerged, namely deejaying, emceeing, breaking, graffiti, and beatboxing. The first two originated primarily in New York City hip hop parties led by DJs (disc jockeys) who revolutionized the practice of record spinning through the art of turntablism, and MCs (master of ceremonies) who performed rhythmic call and response with audiences. Breaking (the dance element of hip hop), graffiti (the visual art of hip hop), and beatboxing (the ability to create beats with one’s mouth) also formed in tandem with early hip hop culture at these parties.
Emceeing, which later known as rap, had cultural roots in the Black verbal arts of the United States and the Caribbean region. Mainland U.S. traditions that remained visible in hip hop include “jive-talking” radio personalities of the 1940s and 1950s, oral traditions of storytelling, and “playing the dozens“, a competitive and recreational exchange of verbal insults. Jamaican traditions include toasting, mobile disk jockeys, and sound systems. Many hip hop pioneers were Caribbean immigrants who brought musical practices from their native countries and adapted them to new social and sonic contexts of New York City.
The mingling of Caribbean immigrant and native-born African American and Latinx communities in the United States set the stage for the development of hip hop and rap music. A large Caribbean community had developed in New York, where the first rap and dance parties were said to have begun, as early as 1972 in the Bronx. Rapping as a distinct musical form developed in New York as a cultural expression encompassed by hip hop. Socioeconomic conditions in the Bronx and Harlem in the 1960s and 1970s profoundly shaped the aesthetics and activities of hip hop culture. The construction of the Cross-Bronx Expressway in 1959 accelerated the deterioration of buildings and led to the displacement of communities of the south Bronx–in many of these areas, youth gangs and gang violence emerged. Despite the turbulence of the 1960s and 1970s, Bronx youth developed popularized expressions that eventually came to be associated with hip hop culture, then consisting primarily of graffiti and competitive dancing. Hip hop became a powerful cultural symbol of urban youth. Within a few years, it had spread far beyond the Bronx.
Rap largely incubated outside of the pop mainstream during the 1970s. Although commercial success eluded him, Kool DJ Herc is widely considered to be the godfather of rap. His ideology ultimately defined hip hop culture–he was a record collector, dedicated to finding jazz, rock, or reggae discs possessing a funky drum break ideal for dancing. When asked in an interview about how many times he would play a break, Herc replied, “I wouldn’t go too far. Two times. I’ll just extend it two times. And James Brown says “Clyde” [for drummer Clyde Stubblefield]–that’s my name. So James Brown shouted me out. Oooh. Then the break comes in. I used that to start me off, and then go into the Isley Brothers and [Babe Ruth’s] The Mexican. Oooh, I like this. And then Jimmy Castor Bunch. Them were the records, man. I lay claim to it: That’s a Herc record. I’d say, “You never heard it like this before, and you’re back for more.” That’s it.”
Spinning records at local venues, Herc attracted Black audiences largely from the Bronx and Harlem where so-called “b-boys” dominated club dance contests until Puerto Rican youth developed a new dance vocabulary of power moves known as breaking (or break dancing). “Some say hip hop some begins with the DJ. But actually hip hop culture itself begins with the b-boy. We’re the x factor,” says Cholly Rock (Anthony Horne), a first generation b-boy. Cholly traces breaking back to the 1960s when Latinos across New York started “rocking” or “uprocking,” creating moves inspired by mambo music to contemporary soul and rock. Rocking was inspired by battle dances and performed as type of showdown. Some dancers latched on to its more aggressive components referring to the elaborate dance-disses as “burning.” Provocative styles emerged among feuding New York City gangs, especially in the Bronx.
Grandmaster Flash (Joseph Saddler) provided the final impetus in making rap an art form. After moving to the Bronx from Barbados with his family as a child, Flash learned about electronics in a high school vocational class and quickly applied his knowledge to turntables and his father’s record collection. He extended and refined Herc’s breakbeat technique by incorporating a cross-fader system to monitor the mix on headphones and switch channels quickly–essentially inventing the turntable/mixer setup used by many hip hop DJs today. Flash specialized in playing breaks, the point when a DJ rapped, or a b-boy displayed his flashiest moves, and was adept at extending breaks and abruptly shifting records to the next break beat (or “cutting”). He also perfected “scratching” (see video below), the technique of taking the beginning of the beat, holding the record with your finger and making it go backward and forward with your finger.
Look out for upcoming posts celebrating hip hop’s 50th anniversary in the Hip hop at 50 series on Bibliolore. Find out more about the history of hip hop and contemporary scenes in RILM Music Encyclopedias (RME) and RILM Abstracts.
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