Wednesday, September 24, 2008
Causing A Collision
Thinking more about this idea of 'Africa' as a metaphor for randomness and self-expressive physicality within technology and art, I was reminded of my first response to jazz as a teenager. I was intrigued by its virtuosity and linear complexity, especially within the cool, modal riffs of Miles Davis or John Coltrane and when I encountered the unbridled, almost feral rawness of Albert Ayler's 'free' improvisations I really got into it. However, it wasn't until I heard an African, the late Dudu Pukwana, building wild improvisations on changes that were an amalgam of late be-bop harmonies, atonal 'free jazz' and traditional Zulu folk rhythms – his last album, In The Townships, is a rarely listened-to jazz masterpiece – that I caught a glimpse of what I would love to achieve in my art, and of what it meant, literally, to get more 'Africa' into it.So much great African (as opposed to African-American) jazz evolved not as a reaction to purely African environments but to constrictive, rather grey, European ones. Many South Africans of Pukwana's generation – Mongezi Feza, Nikele Moyake, Johnny Dyani and Louis Moholo, as well as the white South African pianist and bandleader, Chris McGregor – fled the oppressive restrictions of apartheid and ended up being part of the social, political and style upheaval that was Sixties' London (where people were also just becoming aware of African 'highlife' dance music).In the Wired article I mentioned a couple of days ago, Eno observed, "What is tremendously exciting to me is the collision of vernacular Western music with African music. So much that I love about music comes from that collision. African music underlies practically everything I do - even ambient, since it arose directly out of wanting to see what happened if you 'unlocked' the sounds in a piece of music, gave them their freedom, and didn't tie them all to the same clock. That kind of free float - these peculiar mixtures of independence and interdependence, and the oscillation between them - is a characteristic of West African drumming patterns."How exciting it is when this happens with what you see – and how you see it and how you actually make it – in art. Basquiat got close as did, maybe, Picasso and Pollock before him. But who else?