This is the second ‘Soul of A Nation’ album released by Soul Jazz Records to coincide with the exhibition ‘Soul of a Nation – Art in the Age of Black Power’, critically acclaimed and enormously successful when it opened at the Tate Modern in London last year (as was Soul Jazz Records’ accompanying first album ‘Soul of A Nation – Afro-Centric Visions in the Age of Black Power 1968-79’). The blockbuster international exhibition is now at the Brooklyn Museum, New York and then travels to Los Angeles in 2019.
This new album features a number of important and ground-breaking African-American artists – The Art Ensemble of Chicago, Don Cherry, Funkadelic, Gil Scott-Heron and more – alongside a host of lesser-known artists all of whom in the early 1970s were exploring new Afrocentric poly-rhythmical styles of music – radical jazz, street funk and proto-rap – while at the same time exploring the Black Power and civil-rights inspired notions of self-definition, self-respect and self-empowerment in their own lives.
During this era African-American jazz musicians ripped up traditional definitions – rejecting the term ‘entertainer’ to redefine themselves instead as ‘artists’. They worked outside of the mainstream music industry perceiving this artistic relationship to be fundamentally exploitative and politically flawed. Artists instead formed their own pan-arts community-centric collectives, set up their own record labels, ran concerts in alternative performance spaces – art galleries, parks, lofts, community centres – all as a way of taking control of their own creative destinies.
At the start of 1960s jazz musicians had embarked on an intense period of musical experimentation as artists John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry sought to dismantle the traditional definitions of jazz by creating new music that broke free from its establishment shackles. By the end of the 1960s, forward-thinking African-American jazz musicians had absorbed the ideas of this radical and avant-garde path but also began to introduce many new elements – not just civil rights concepts of freedom but also black power ideas of self-respect, righteousness and anger.
Their music developed into a radical and intense Afrocentric mix of jazz, funk, soul and street poetry, all in search of a new musical language that could better represent artistic African-American cultural expression.
All of the featured artists here were involved in this search in different ways; A shared sense of Afrocentric collectivism joined the dots between the deep avant-garde experimentalism of The Art Ensemble of Chicago (here featuring soul singer Fontella Bass singing the powerful ‘Theme de Yoyo’) to the hyper funk psychedelia of George Clinton’s Funkadelic.
The poetry of Gil Scott-Heron and Sarah Webster Fabio performed with a backdrop of street funk and heavyweight percussion laid down the template for the birth of rap. The Har-You Percussion Group, a group of young Harlem teenagers, showed how government-sponsored social initiatives helped create great art and music. Gary Bartz and The Oneness of Juju offer spirituality and cosmology. Collectives like The Pharaohs and Detroit’s Tribe add deep jazz and street funk in equal measures. And so on.
Influenced and radicalised by Black Power and civil rights, all these artists were involved in creating – in the words of the Art Ensemble of Chicago – ‘Great Black Music: Ancient to Future.’
This album is available as heavyweight triple vinyl (+free download), full and extensive text, exclusive photography, with house inners