Black rhythm and British reserve : interpretations of black musicality in racist ideology since 1750.
The idea that Black people are constitutionally musical tends not
to be considered a racist one. However, British constructions of
Black musicality frequently rest upon a network of derogatory views
of Black people as primitive, hedonistic, and as possessed of
physical rather than intellectual skills. This historical analysis
reveals haw ideas about Black musicality have attained cammon-sense
status in British thinking.
Music has been highly developed in Black cultures this thesis
does not aim to deconstruct a myth of Black musicality. Rather it
attempts a critical examination of the ways in which Black musicality
has been conceptualized. Using a wide variety of sources, but mainly
those from popular culture, it will be demonstrated that British
perceptions of Black musicality reflect domestic circumstances and
contemporary ideologies as much as colonial and Imperial issues.
British commentary on Black musicality starts to appear regularly
after about 1750. This date inaugurates a period of dramatic social
change and the emergence of a division between leisure and work which
led to music being defined as a nan-productive activity, increasingly
marginalised as a social skill. Musicality was denounced as
antithetical to the puritanical notion of industriousness associated
with the ideology of British economic supremacYi foreigners were
increasingly relied upon to provide musical entertainments.
Representations of Black people degenerated into a series of more or
less derogatory caricatures exemplified in the highly popular blackface
minstrels of the second half of the nineteenth century. By the
twentieth century, however, the anti-puritanical associations of
Black musicality had led to the romanticization of the Black musician
who became identified as a symbol of dissent.
Finally, it will be demonstrated that the stereotyping to which
Black music has been subject does not belie it significance as a
symbol of Black cultural autonomy, a form of resistance, and a medium
with positive political potential.