Saturday, March 24

Celebrating African American music


Hip-hop, rock, soul, gospel and jazz have one thing in common:
They’re coming to UCLA.

The Festival of African American Music runs in Schoenberg Hall
from Oct. 24 to Nov. 4, featuring eight nights of performances and
a two-day musical and cultural symposium. It is sponsored by
UCLA’s ethnomusicology department, as well as the Ralph J.
Bunche Center.

The festival, titled “It’s All Connected,” is
divided into genre-based concerts, arranged chronologically by the
development of each style. One goal of the festival is to explore
the manifold definitions of African American music, which has
evolved and grown from early labor songs to the commercial
juggernaut of modern-day hip-hop.

“It is the music industry and the media world that likes
to compartmentalize musicians, because that’s a very good way
of marketing. If you just said “˜African American
music,’ it’s very difficult to market that,” said
Jacqueline DjeDje, the chair of UCLA’s ethnomusicology
department and director of the ethnomusicology archive.

“Not only African American musicians, but all musicians
see themselves as musicians first, and they play all types of
music. The music industry is going to put them in a box and say,
“˜Oh yes, this is a hip-hop artist.’ And they just
dismiss the fact that this person played jazz or R&B at some
point in time, or still do.”

The festival comes at the tail end of the UCLA School of Arts
and Architecture’s “Year of the Arts,” which
included a yearlong series of interdepartmental performances and
exhibitions on campus and at the nearby Hammer Museum. This event,
the brainchild of ethnomusicology Professor Kenny Burrell, was so
ambitious it inspired the ethnomusicology department to host their
own event.

“We’ve established something called the Year of
African American Music,” DjeDje said. During winter quarter,
New Orleans blues pianist Henry Butler will spend two weeks in the
department as a visiting lecturer, with plans for the spring event
still not finalized.

The purpose of the year, and specifically the upcoming festival,
is to increase exposure to the traditions and history behind music
that in many cases has become part of mainstream American

This is reflected in the course listings for UCLA’s own
musicology department, which includes Music History 64, a class on
Motown records, and Music History 150, “History of
Jazz,” which focuses primarily on African American innovators
like Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis and Ornette Coleman.

Throughout American history, genres like jazz and blues, once
originated by black musicians, have developed into what is now
referred to in Dean Chris Waterman’s Music History 5 textbook
as “American popular music.”

“Within the African American community, certainly jazz as
a musical form has been associated with African American culture.
It depends on whether you’re looking from the perspective of
the globe or the perspective of the U.S. ““ hip-hop is a
global phenomenon now. It’s everywhere. But it started
here,” said Darnell Hunt, the director of the Bunche

Each night of the festival will incorporate a historical element
and explanation beyond just the music.

On one night, Burrell plans to compare a recorded piece from the
early 1900s to a recent composition. Burrell, chair of the
ethnomusicology department’s jazz program, came up with the
idea for the festival and developed its ambitious schedule. If not
for time constraints in setting up the festival and booking
artists, specific genres like rock and funk would have been given
their own separate night rather than being put together.

Nonetheless, the connection of styles is a reflection of the
festival’s original mission.

“Not only has African American music influenced America,
which many people understand, but we want to show and explain and
expose how it has influenced music all over the world,”
Burrell said.

“There’s a wonderful story to be told about how it
was born, how it has developed, and how it has impacted music
around the world.”

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