NYU Black Renaissance Noire Winter 2014 - Page 44

42 In that light it is important to consider that, as the great poet Langston Hughes and many other critics and commentators pointed out when the book made its initial appearance, Blues People was in many ways the intellectual and critical culmination of a contentious historical debate raging within Black America. This debate, playing out in larger society as well was over the cultural and thus political and ideological value and meaning(s) of the African American experience and the role of its various artistic forms. In Baraka’s analysis, the music serves as both a crucial narrative record of what black people have experienced (literally and on vinyl). Artists’ creative work publicly represent an ongoing emotional and psychological register of the impact and effects that this experience has had on their spiritual, existential, and philosophical conception of themselves. As he puts it in his original introduction to the book in 1963:  In other words I am saying that if the Negro in America, in all its permutations, is subjected to a socioanthropological as well as musical scrutiny, something about the essential nature of the Negro’s existence in this country ought to be revealed, as well as something about the essential nature of this country, i.e. society as a whole…And the point I want to make most evident here is that I cite the beginning of blues as one beginning of American Negroes. Or, let me say, the reaction and subsequent relation of the Negro’s experience in this country in his English is one beginning of the Negro’s conscious appearance on the American scene…When America became important enough to the African to be passed on, in those formal renditions, to the young, those renditions were in some kind of Afro-American language… Baraka was also deeply concerned with how and why these specific musical traditions, techniques, and innovations took the various forms and stylistic identities that they did from the dialectical standpoint of their creators’ dynamic, and critically informed engagement with their aesthetic material. One of Baraka’s major strengths as a critic is that his emphasis is always on the process of the creative act in the course of expressing ideas and emotions via the integral elements of music making. This is a major — even central aspect of Baraka’s writing as a music critic that he strongly maintained and greatly enhanced in all future critiques and celebrations of Jazz, Blues, and Rh