Saturday, 10 November 2012

Hip-hop is folk music grown from the struggle

We were having a conversation the other night about music, as people in pubs are wont to do.  The basic thread of the discussion was that music never sounds as good as when you first hear it.  Bands flagged up for our generation were general alternative sounds, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Offspring and various nu-metal bands, and ages referenced about 13-14.

I’ve been thinking about the conversation last day or so, and thought about my Love Affair With blogs where I analyse my affection and history for bands which made me (click here for The Ramones, The Who and Sonic Boom Six).

I am a very nostalgic person, and I do cling to music passionately I discovered when I was 16.  The Clash, The Ramones, Sex Pistols…  But I guess the thing about those bands was I played them over and over again, learnt every single word to every song and read all the biographies, autobiographies and watched the documentaries.  And they came thick and fast all at once.  And within a very short space of time, pretty much 2005-2007.

However there is a song which for me, totally proves that I can still get excited my new music.  I had never heard of B.Dolan before I saw him support Scroobius Pip at Fibbers last year, and my only interaction with the name has been tweeting on Twitter and asking how much his CDs were.

B.Dolan comes from a spoken word/poetry background, but it essentially a rap artist.  My rap knowledge isn’t bad, but I’d never claim to be a hip-hop fan lest I put my foot in it.  I like NWA, Grandmaster Flash, Sage Francis, Lowkey, Jurassic 5, Flobots and, of course, Public Enemy, but I’m afraid I don’t know much beyond the artists I like into the genre as a whole.

But B.Dolan released House of Bees vol. 2, on which is a track called Which Sid Are You On.  This is an old, old Union song.  Probably to the punk scene, DKM have the most famous version, but I have a track recorded by Natalie Merchant and the Almanac Singers.  The song dates back to Florence Reece in 1931, and a perfect example of an America pro-Union pro-pikcetline folk tune.

B.Dolan’s version is about homophobia in the hip-hop scene, lambasting homophobic and sexist rappers and declaring unity and pride within the gay community.  It’s a powerful statement to make in America alone, never mind the rap circuit.  But B.Dolan has the conviction to pull it off, the lyrics are ferocious and direct, but also wrapped within his staunch delivery.  What I love, with the almost-eerie backdrop of the folk music, and I adore his lyric:  “Hip-hop is folk music grown from the struggle” and that understanding everything is connected linked and is a continual growth is so very exciting.

Tomorrow night I see the ace Al Baker, the man who without doubt cemented my love for radical folk music and opened my eyes to the folk-punk scene.  Al covers a song by Evan Greer called Go Call FEMA, but rewrote the lyrics for the UK.  Around 1930, poet Alfred Hayes wrote a tribute to mighty US socialist and Unionist Joe Hill called ‘I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill Last Night’.  Earl Robinson turned the poem into a song in 1936 has been covered and adapted by Pete Seeger, The Dubliners, Billy Bragg and Tom Morello.  Al’s version is a dedication to 1960s folk icon Phil Ochs.  That is the tradition of folk music, to hand down a song and for each generation to tweak, change and adapt.

This probably comes down to me being a fairly obsessive person, I get fixated easily on one genre/thing.  However I think for hip-hop and folk, there are still new areas to explore.  Folk and hip-hop has deep roots but constantly evolve.  Punk does too, but in a more dawdling fashion.  Theatre evolves too, the second we say “everything has been done that can be done” we have failed ourselves as artists and our audiences.

So please watch B.Dolan’s Which Side Are You On, come see Al Baker on Saturday night at the Black Swan and keep music fresh, and still get excited by the evolution.

Some bands I recently discovered that have blown my mind:

I would LOVE to catch Apologies, I Have None and Crazy Arm live. Last year I discovered Louise Distras, Grace Petrie and Richie Blitz as fantastic political folk musicians.  I will go and skank to Faintest Idea at Pie Race 4 next week.  And Jake & The Jellyfish are still to release a proper album.  I’m listening to Crowns new album.  It’s not flawless, but a find addition.  And Frank Turner has never set me wrong.

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