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Tue Mar 13, 2018, 10:26 AM

Rumble The Indians Who Rocked The World

There's a lot of excellent history in this documentary's study of the birth of the blues, jazz and rock. I was hard pressed to find a promotional video that did not skim over or outright remove the importance of African-ness in the creation of American music that the movie reveals. Yet still, I couldn't understand my small dissatisfaction with the film but Jack Hamilton, Slate’s pop critic and assistant professor of American studies and media studies at the University of Virginia, nailed it for me.

Patton discussed below is "Delta blues pioneer Charley Patton, whose grandmother was thought to be Cherokee, is quite simply one of the most important musicians of the 20th century and probably worthy of at least a hundred such films."

"The film doesn't mention the prominence of such musical characteristics in West African traditions, nor does it mention Patton’s well-established influences and mentors such as Henry Sloan and Willie Brown, both of whom were black. Neglecting this context runs the risk of suggesting that Patton’s musical style was acquired through something like biological transmission—an old-fashioned notion, indeed—as well as potentially muddying the still-charged question of whom the black American blues tradition rightly 'belongs' to.

Patton’s segment also illustrates some of the film’s shortcomings, particularly its quixotic and quasi-musicological quest to uncover the Native American 'roots' of modern popular music. This type of sleuthing is always tricky and rarely all that satisfying, and the film’s lengthy theorization that the melismatic style of Patton’s singing and the intricate rhythms of his guitar playing are direct retentions of his Cherokee ancestry feels flimsy at best. Melisma and polyrhythms are common to many musical traditions, including those of the black American South, where Patton spent his life as an itinerant musician under the constant threat of Jim Crow–era racial violence."

The documentary connected a lot of dots for me and I loved it. You can view it on Amazon Prime.


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