24 octubre 2015

Black Jazz

In a period when protest music wasn't common, Billie Holiday does a live performance of « Strange Fruit » in a theater or nightclub. Although we cannot see the public in the footage, we can guess that the audience was probably not an exclusive black one. In a 1939 America where racial equality is almost nonexistent, Billie Holiday sings a heartbreaking ballad and we can feel the grief she sings it with. She sings her story, the suffering of her people. She wouldn't have believed that 16 years later, jazz was going to become America's music.

Penny Von Eschen's excerpt of the book  SatchmoBlows up the World : Jazz Ambassadors Play the Cold War describes the irony of what seems to be two opposed worlds : an intrinsically unequal America and the jazz being the music chosen to show artistic expression to the world. During Eisenhower's Administration, in 1956 Dizzy Gillespie tours the world as the goodwill ambassador of the US.

On the Road by Jack Kerouac, father of the Beat Movement so immensely inspired by jazz music. Kerouac's prose is characterized by a style submerged in the stream of consciousness, words spoken out in bursts, in onomatopoeia, sparsely punctuated as if by reading we were playing a trumpet or a saxophone, taking fast breaths in order to carry on reading. The excerpt describes the hectic atmosphere of a jazz club.

Throughout this comment I'll hint at how the same music can be used as a protest, as propaganda and to « let it all out ».

Redemption Songs
« Strange Fruit » is a cry against the atrocities of racism. When Billie Holiday sings we get goosebumps because we feel her pain. She sings this song wholeheartedly and almost as gospel. We barely hear the piano play on the back, all we feel is the extreme sadness that releases from this almost a Capella ballad. The poem describes a very explicit scene of lynching « Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze ». The strange fruit is the one who's different, is the rotten fruit that nobody wants to pick, left « for the crows to pluck ». It's the « strange and bitter crop » that had to be killed in order to avoid spoiling the field.
Lynching is a particular kind of felony, instead of killing the person on the spot and getting rid of the body, leaving the corpse hanging from the tree is a lesson -if that word could ever be used to describe that kind of cruelty-, it's left there for the others to see, it's not a crime but the opposite, it's justice. Its purpose is to maintain the order, the supremacy of the white, to spread terror.
By singing « Strange Fruit » Billie Holiday not only denounces the system but she also break all barriers and codes by performing live.

We can feel the sweat of the mad crowd yelling and dancing in Kerouac's jazzclub scene. Music brings races together and in this nightclub « everybody was rocking and roaring ». People were « tripping and riffing » if I may use the slang of that time. They dance in an altered state of consciousness, they are high on hope, on life, on music.
There is no past, only this present moment where « The behatted tenorman was blowing at the peak of a wonderfully satisfactory free idea ». No resentment, the musicians play for all. The euphoric crowd is in a trance state « a six-foot skinny negro woman was rolling her bones at the man's hornbell ». It's a religious-like experience, it's exhilarating, it's relieving. « A big fat man was jumping on the platform, making it sag and creak ». Dean « was rubbing his chest, his belly, the sweat splashed from his face ». But it's not only redemptive for the crowds but for the musicians as well : « The tenorman jumped down from the platform and stood in the crowd, blowing around ».
The musician is expressing what the crowds are feeling, the sound of their instruments put into music what cannot be expressed with words. « they were all urging that ternoman to hold it and keep it with cries and wild eyes », the sound of the trumpet, like that of Satchmo's, is the repressed cry of resistance of an entire people.

Gillespie's world tour carried the voice of African Americans : « blackness and race operating culturally to project an image of American nationhood ». Jazz is inclusive was the message : « I'm black, I'm American and this is our music ».
President Eisenhower wanted to expose American culture abroad for the purpose of demonstrating the benefits of freedom -and capitalism for that matter- on artistic expression.  Dizzy Gillespie was probably the first official jazz ambassador but many names followed « In the high profile tours by Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington » and also Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, and many more.
Worldwide audiences felt in this modern jazz -or Bebop as it was also known when it contained a high degree of improvisation- something rebel and indescribable that spoke for them. It wasn't only music; it became an attitude towards life.

But that leads me to question why was this music chosen? How did such a revolutionary rhythm came to be representative of a country whose roots were puritan and deeply repressive?

The Glaring contradiction
« Why did American policymakers feel for the first time in history that the country should be represented by jazz ? » asks Von Eschen. Why would Eisenhower's Republican administration take an international stand against racism while indoors the situation was far from ideal ?.
In the context of the Cold War and particularly at this very ideological stage, propaganda against Soviet Communism was major. America needed to show the world the benefits of the « free world and the free market ». Nevertheless the racial issue was brought up as a main concern in global forums. Convinced that cultural influence is irrevocably linked to political and economic power, the Eisenhower administration sponsored America’s leading jazz musicians’ tours abroad as part of its cultural foreign policy agenda, while a young Martin Luther King led the boycott to the bus company. « The prominence of African American jazz artists was critical to the music's potential as a Cold War weapon ». But as Von Escher puts it, this double irony does not end there, « with the stroke of a pen, this hitherto disreputable music- routinely associated in the mass media with drugs and crime- suddenly became America's music ».

Billie Holiday sings a protest song, a call for justice for black people in this theatre where the audience is probably not black. The public had bought their tickets to listen to this beautiful black woman sing the sorrows of her people. This is a live performance, an almost a capella one, and we hear no sound in the room whatsoever. The song generates discomfort among the audience that does not clap at the end. In the final seconds we see a very fragile Billie Holiday standing in front of a mute audience. A public who payed this black woman to tell them what they don't want to hear. What could have possibly go through her head during those seconds? Was she scared that this could put an end to her musical career? How much courage does it take to sing to a white audience a song about crimes perpetrated by... white people, their fellow countrymen? And what does an applause mean, does it celebrate the talent, does it support the cause?
In any case the stake was immense and she won. Almost 80 years later, this song continues to deplore racial discrimination.

The protagonists of On The Road are at a nightclub and it seems its a mainly black people one. We can almost hear the music and see the frenetic public « Dean was clutching his head in the crowd, and it was a mad crowd. » This two young men find their peers at this place, among the African Americans. Their cry for freedom is a different one but it perfectly resonates with that of this black crowd and the black musicians. This rundown jazz club echoes their need for non-conformity. Kerouac describes the scene from inside instead of choosing an omniscient voice and by doing so he takes the reader along and we all merge with the crowd. There is no segregation, no classes, no differences, we all let go of our identities, of our ethnicity, there's only music... and humans.

The essential role of African Americans in U.S. national culture

As Von Eschen puts it, the Brown decision, the Gillespie tour and the Montgomery bus boycott led by Martin Luther King « inaugurated a new phase of the black freedom movement ensuring that jazz tours and the modern civil rights movement would forever be joined ». Though of course the strategy was not intended as a promotion of democracy led by black artists, this unique Cold War strategy unintentionally demonstrated the essential role of African Americans in U.S. national culture.
The Eisenhower Administration, ironically enough, made the claim that jazz was the most unique form of American culture. So not only does this show that Gillespie's tour was designed to counter Soviet propaganda but it also proves that by exporting jazz to the world, the US wanted to reveal racial equality in action. « US officials pursued a self-conscious campaign against worldwide criticism of US racism ».
By dehumanizing the black race, slavery in America managed to delete fundamental traits of African culture but the remains blended in with the local one. This led out to (if I may say so) a 3rd culture, the African American one. American-born black people, several generations along the line, feel as American as the European immigrants. It is only natural that black people were so deeply involved with the civil rights movement. They are as American as everyone else on the territory. They expressed their solidarity with all the struggles for racial equality around the globe.
Billie Holiday sings in a theatre and describes « a pastoral scene of the gallant south » not quite as the audience would picture it. She carries the voice of those silenced Americans to the ears of the other America that, taken with her talent, wishes to listen.
And so is the case of Gillespie and the many other jazzmen that followed : their talent opened doors and they became ambassadors of a cause as well as of their own country. They sold «the universal, race-transcending quality of jazz while depending on the blackness of musicians to legitimize America's global agendas ».
Ever since, all over the world, America is associated with jazz, African American culture, the land of freedom, opportunity and egalitarianism. That is the image they project and the black population played a major role in defining this picture.
And is not surprising that Kerouac's protagonists go to this «sawdust saloon », a negro jazzclub to find this urge for freedom they are after. A place where everybody screams their hearts out, literally « he drew breath and raised the horn and blew high, wide, and screaming in the air ». The 2 young white men know that the black cause calls their name, is appealing to them -in a different way- but it speaks the same rebel language.
The blackness and the American-ness cannot be dissociated.

Jazz music has been playing on the background throughout this text as we I had been shedding light on the crusade of the African American population for equality and recognition. All things duly considered it is still equally impressive that such a music can be used in so many different ways but at the same time congregate different causes under the same rhythm. Jazz music is unquestionably black, it wouldn't exist without its African roots but neither without its American branches. But it's a music that plays to everybody. Jazz sells a dream. And America knew how to use it in its favour.

31 agosto 2014

Abrazo anacrónico

No sé si fue el acento, la voz monótona o las instrucciones repetidas una y otra vez.
No sé si fueron los ruidos provenientes de los caños de desagüe, sentir el temblor del metro bajo mis pies.
Quizás la penumbra, o el aire húmedo del subsuelo.
La posición estática o el cansancio.
Quizás fue un sueño.

Pero sentí el aire fresco en la cara, la suave caricia del sol de un día frío del otoño tardío. El cielo azul, casi igual que el del glaciar a mi izquierda. A lo lejos se escuchaban los rápidos, el azul-turquesa del río era aún más brillante rodeado de los troncos color canela de los arrayanes.

Y ahí estaba.
Mi papá.
Abrazando a mi hijita.

Seis años no impedían que ella apoyase su cabecita en el hombro de él.
Yo veía su nuquita, papá me miraba con una mirada tranquilizadora. No tenía anteojos.
Ella abandonaba su cuerpito en los brazos de su abuelo. Es evidente que no era la primera vez que se encuentran.

Las lágrimas empezaron a brotar de mis ojos y luego a rodar por mis mejillas. Yo seguía inmóvil.
Y, por primera vez, no me quedé con el desgarro de esta realidad de ausencia.
Por primera vez me quedé con una sensación de tranquilidad de ese maravilloso abuelo que sería, que hubiese sido…

Que es.

29 diciembre 2013

Bienvenida al mundo

Bienvenida al mundo, mi chiquitita.
El mundo te estaba esperando.

27 diciembre 2013

Mientras te espero

Es muy extraño este período de congés maternité. Recién ahora entiendo el significado de la dulce espera. Es como un paréntesis en la vida mientras todo y todos continuan su ritmo normal a mi alrededor. Las primeras dos semanas estuve sumamente activa: hacía mi clase de yoga en casa todos los días e iba a practicar al estudio 2 o 3 veces por semana, iba a la pileta, a museos, exposiciones, a caminar, a encontrarme con amigos, acomodé y reorganicé nuestro departamento, hice mi valija para el hospital, seleccioné tu ropita entre las bolsas y bolsas que nos dieron y después la lavé, cociné...

A partir de la 3ª semana, me empecé a sentir mucho más pesada y me cuesta un poco caminar. Los ligamentos de la parte más baja del abdomen tiran mucho y el peso ya es muy importante. Ya salgo mucho menos y me busco actividades dentro de casa.
Estas son algunas de las cosas que hice mientras te esperaba, este último mes:

Exposición Georges Braque en el Grand Palais
Georges Braque, L’oiseau noir et l’oiseau blanc,1960, Huile sur toile
Exposición Désirs et Volupté à l'Époque Victorienne en el Museo Jacquemart André

Lord Leighton - Crenaia, the Nymph of the Dargle - 1880

Exposición Masculin Masculin en el Musée d'Orsay

La Belle au Bois Dormant en la Ópera Bastille

  • Por primera vez (¡en mi vida!) hice un arbolito de Navidad y la festejamos en casa (me gustaría que se convierta en una tradición y empezar a festejar con vos, no como en mi infancia)
  • Aprendí a hacer algunos origami
  • Estoy haciendo un curso de Design online
  • Cocino seguido
  • Vamos bastante al cine
En general, estoy de acuerdo con Séneca: 
Le plus grand obstacle à la vie, c’est l’attente qui se suspend au lendemain et ruine l'aujourd’hui. Sénèque  
(El obstáculo más grande a la vida es la espera que interrumpe el futuro y arruina el presente) 

Pero esta espera está siendo realmente dulce.

13 diciembre 2013

Semana 36

Mi panza a los 7 meses. Foto de IG
A pocas horas, días, semanas de que mi vida cambie radicalmente y de tener en mis brazos a nuestra bebé, las emociones son tantas que me es muy difícil plasmarlas en un texto coherente. Lo quise hacer a lo largo del embarazo pero me fue muy difícil. Tenía las ideas en mi cabeza pero al intentar expresarlas, no pude dar con nada demasiado lógico. ¿Será por eso que este estado roza con lo mágico o, por qué no, milagroso?. Sí, millones de años de evolución humana, la ciencia que descifró el genoma humano y los avances y descubrimientos diarios pero... que un ser se forme y crezca en el propio cuerpo y que luego se convierta en una persona, sigue siendo algo mágico. ¡Pobres hombres que no pueden experimentar este estado! La naturaleza nos hizo un regalo maravilloso a las mujeres, poder sentir a tu bebé crecer y moverse dentro tuyo es el regalo más fantástico que me hayan podido dar... además del de mi propia vida.

Estos casi nueve meses fueron un período de conciencia plena de mi presente, de quién soy, del mundo que me rodea. Un período de éxtasis, de sentido de la dirección, de fuerza. 

En la modernidad, con las ideas feministas de la "liberación femenina", decir que una mujer se siente plena cuando da a luz es políticamente incorrecto, inaceptable. Respeto desde lo más profundo de mi ser a aquellas mujeres que deciden de forma consciente no tener hijos, admiro esa seguridad y honestidad hacia ellas mismas. ¿Por qué está mal decir que una mujer se siente completa cuando trae a otro ser a este mundo? ¿Por qué está mal que el instinto animal, el instinto más básico, nos gobierne? 

¿Por qué las mujeres queremos ser madres? No sé si es entonces este instinto animal de reproducción, si las mujeres somos instrumentos de un Plan Universal, si lo hacemos inconscientemente para conformar el modelo socio-cultural establecido o si, a un nivel metafísico que me cuesta imaginar, son los hijos los que nos eligen como padres. No tengo la respuesta a una sola de estas preguntas pero sólo puedo estar segura de una sola cosa: hoy me doy cuenta que no podría sentirme plena si, al final de mi vida, no hubiese pasado por esta experiencia.

La experiencia de la maternidad no es un sentimiento anodino: nos confronta con nuestra imagen del mundo, con nuestra consciencia del presente y con la fuerza de la vida. Es una experiencia iniciática (y no tengo miedo de usar esta palabra) que nos va a enseñar el significado del amor incondicional. El embarazo me dio una sensación de fuerza insospechada (espero que en el parto también). Las sensaciones más profundas se exacerban, los instintos se despiertan.

Convertirse en madre es ser responsable de su propio cuerpo, estar a la escucha de las necesidades reales, es volverse autónoma. Es realmente crecer y madurar. Me siento, más que nunca, conectada a la Tierra, a un Todo, a las generaciones pasadas y futuras. Siento a la vez una enorme responsabilidad y un reconocimiento infinito hacia esta Naturaleza que me eligió como depositaria de fertilidad.

Y no olvido el rol del padre, del compañero, el rol masculino al lado mío, tan vital como el femenino. Nada puede existir sin su opuesto (es lo que me tatué hace años en mi tobillo izquierdo para tenerlo siempre presente). El rol del futuro papá es axial y fundamental. Es complementario al mío y no me hubiese embarcado en tal aventura sola (mi reverencia a las madres solteras -por opción o no- quienes tienen que asegurar ambos roles). 

Mujer y Hombre complementarios en esta maravillosa aventura de la vida.