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Media Galleries & Readings

Join me on a journey through time with readings and media about this cultural heritage of humanity: African diaspora dance.

The language of partner dance allows even strangers to meet in creative collaboration and intimacy. In fact, this is the expectation of a social dance – to arrive alone or with a partner and dance with everyone. To share these elusive moments is one of my goals in writing this blog. I use words because a camera will capture nothing more than blurry shadows, under typical lighting conditions. Despite these technical challenges, I aim to capture at least one video in each city or dance festival. Here are souvenirs of my journey, sharing the simple joy of social dance.

Video stream: swing and blues all around the world without rehearsal or choreography. There is also a clip from a Bali temple dance, Chicago buskers and a Bomba performance by a Boriqua dance troupe in New York. 
Photo gallery: a parallel stream of consciousness from the ever-present smartphone. 

Readings / media sources 

Most of these books are available as audio via Audible, Overdrive or libraries.

by Barbara Ehrenreich.
Why do we dance? Why does it feel so good? Is its main purpose to create joyful connection and solidarity? 
This scholarly and exciting book gives a history of dance and its evolutionary, social and psychological function – from prehistoric hunting ruses, to Dionysian Greek frenzies, to medieval carnivals, to diaspora dances and contemporary music festivals. It starts with a focus on Europe but expands from there to trace the effects of colonialism on the wider dance world. For the role of dance in resistance, survival, resilience, and of course, celebration and unity – this is the book.

Wade Davis CBC Massey Lectures
Do 'minority' cultures have inherent value, equal to more dominant, mainstream cultures? This was an actual question in a discussion in 2018 at Blues Bump, Montreal. Did you ever wonder why should we respect cultures different from our own? 
A talented storyteller, Davis asks what can we learn from pre-colonial cultures cultures to improve life on Earth today. With respectful, curious and evidence-based scholarship, Davis debunks myths created under colonialism – myths that robbed native peoples of their cultural heritage and achievements. 
Available as series of radio/podcasts from Canadian public radio. There are also books and a movie.

Dust Tracks on a Road: An Autobiography by Zora Neale Hurston
In this brilliant memoir, a trailblazing female academic paints a vivid picture of American society in the blues and jazz era. Hurston brings her anthropological eye to juke joints, where slavery was fresh in living memory. Here merciless violence was the most valued currency, a path to status. Violence, the purest expression of colonialism, echoes right down through the centuries from plantations to the White House, into Hollywood movies, gun lobbies and into the lyrics of blues, country and hip hop.
Narrated by Bahni Turpin.

Collected Poems of Langson Hughes : edited by Arnold Rampersand.
Powerful work by the blues poet of the Harlem Renaissance.
I’ve linked to some of the poems in my Lyon post.

I Wonder as I Wander by Langston Hughes
Ripping storytelling by a now legendary African-American blues poet in this colourful memoir of his world travels during the blues and jazz era 1930-38. His trajectory (like mine in this blog) is inspired by an interest in folk traditions of the African diaspora. He documents dances, songs, oral and written stories and other cultural activities such as wakes. His adventures include a lecture tour across the segregated American South on the brink of the Great Depression, rambles around Stalin's Russia, and reporting on the Spanish Civil War from besieged Madrid.
Narrated By: Dominic Hoffman,  Intro by Arnold Rampersad.

The Big Sea by Langston Hughes
Autobiography from an earlier period in Hughes life – highly recommended reading, available in audio with the same narrator as the later book.

Story of Sister Rosetta Tharpe
Learn about a key figure of blues and rock'n'roll history.

Mister Satan's Apprentice: A Blues Memoir by Adam Gussow
In New York city, a harmonica players love for blues forces him to confront and transcend the continuing racial tensions in the USA of our times. With the audiobook, you can enjoy Adam Gussow's warm storytelling voice and a few licks of the harmonica.

The Blues: a very short introduction by Elijah Wald
Educational book that covers the history in a systematic and scholarly way – a solid foundation or reference work. A blues audio history, illustrated with music clips – now that would be exciting! But it may not exist – maybe too complicated to get the copyright clearance? This particular narration was less exciting than it could have been – Dalton Mobley hasn't much expression in his voice.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
Broader insight into the blues era – how music, faith and writing helped an oppressed people to survive with dignity – in a searingly intimate and powerful autobiography by this legendary author.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
Institutionalised racism and sexism in American society and science, revealed in this fine work of scientific journalism, history and storytelling by Rebecca Skloot.

Afro-Caribbean cultural influence on Swing and Hip Hop

The music and dance cultures of the African diaspora in the West Indies share African roots with swing/jazz/hip hop. Both Zora Neale Hurston and Langston Hughes were interested in the African diaspora cultures of the Caribbean. My mothers generation of islanders and subsequent generations emigrated to become urban Afro-Caribbean Americans. Settling mainly in the South Bronx, they directly contributed to swing, jazz and hip hop. Norma Miller, the famous swing dancer, had two parents from Barbados. Legendary DJs Kool Herc (Jamaican-born), Grandmaster Flash (Bajan-born) and Afrika Bambaataa (born to Bajan-Jamaican immigrants) transformed early Jamaican Sound System innovations into hip hop in the South Bronx.*

*The Oxford Handbook of Modern and Contemporary American Poetry 

Dust Tracks on a Road: An Autobiography by Zora Neale Hurston (reviewed above)

Small Island by Andrea Levy. 
The audiobook was brilliant, capturing the colourful accents and characters in this 2004 prize-winning novel. It was adapted for television in two episodes by the BBC in 2009. It captures the predicament of people of the West-Indies African diaspora in the post-war period. They migrate in search of a better life. The so-called ‘Mother Country’ turns out to be a fairytale, propaganda for colony schoolkids. Generation after generation of island people will live out some version of this migration, alienation and adaptation.

To Hell or Barbados : The ethnic cleansing of Ireland by Sean O'Callaghan. 
History of Irish experiences of dispossession, exile and slavery in the British Empire.

Ten Cities that Made an Empire by Tristram Hunt
An overview of the 10 most important cities of the British Empire, their signature trade and activities. Learn about the vast industry of colonial genocide, slavery and plantation that enriched a small, aggressive island off the coast of Europe, beyond even their most grandiose imaginings. 

My want-to read / see list 


Poésie moderne et oralité dans les Amériques noires « Diaspora de voix »
Auteur universitaire: Vettorato (Cyril)

by Lawrence W. Levine
digital versions available

A Drop of Patience by William Melvin Kelly

The History of the Blues: The Roots, the Music, the People
by Francis Davis.

Black and white styles in conflict 
by Thomas Kochman

When they call you a terrorist by Patrisse Khan-Cullors
Memoir by Khan-Cullors, one of the founders of Black Lives Matter. An artist, activist since age16, and she has been an integral part of this movement which is led and centred on Black, queer, women and gender diverse people. (recommended by Amy McKenzie)

Blues America, Part 1 of 2: Woke Up This Morning
Available on YouTube (720p)

The Spirit Moves
Style Wars
Rize (by David La Chappelle)

Other sources: blues, calypso, reggae, hip hop, funk, jazz… too many to name!


Blues and Jazz Reading book clubs and resource lists

Blues and Jazz Dance Book Club

Reading list compiled by scholars and leaders in the blues, swing, and jazz dance communities including: Sara Cherny, Kelly Porter, Damon Stone, Devona Cartier, and Brenda Russell.

Lemonade Syllabus
Not specifically about Blues, but about the experiences of Black women in the US. Compiled from #lemonadesyllabus on Twitter by Candice Benbow, contains a wealth of fiction and non-fiction books by Black women. Topics include Black feminist studies, historical and cultural studies, biography and poetry.

Damon Stone’s suggested reading list



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