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The Black Chord (BBC Radio 2)

Presenter: Neneh Cherry
Producer: Pam Fraser Solomon
Date: 13 March 2007
Time: 8.30pm

The Black Chord, a documentary based on Vivien Goldman's book of the same name and hosted by singer Neneh Cherry. It provides an assessment of the way in which the African Diaspora has ensured rich musical traditions across the globe. Featuring comments from Baaba Maal, Wyclef Jean, Courtney Pine, Carleen Anderson and Professor Jason King, the programme tracks the developments made by black musicians and the way in which music has shaped people and places and how people and place shape music.

The documentary mixes opinion and music to document the journey of black music in America, the Caribbean, Europe and Africa. Music is seen to accompany generations of Africans as they have been forcefully removed from their homelands and transplanted across the Atlantic. Cherry states, 'as black people move around so does the music.' The beginning of this spread of music and tradition from Africa is located in the slave trade. Music is upheld as a means by which enslaved peoples from Africa upheld their faith, traditions and strength in the face of brutal oppression. Cherry introduces the topic, 'the journey was made centuries ago by captured and betrayed Africans who still managed to change the world with their music, by funk and soul.' This framing of enslavement ensures that it is to some extent sanitised, as the programme concentrates upon music stemming from the plantations as a means of resistance, as a form of representation of black identity in what Professor King names as a 'white supremacist, Eurocentric society.' The music is thought to represent a common pain, that of captivity. Singer Lola Bell recalled how her parents were field workers, and she describes how the idea of repetitive work, where your mind can be free enabled melodies to be born. This music is described as unwittingly encouraged by slave-drivers who believed that the music made the work gang work like 'a well-oiled machine.' The Black Chord describes the common themes in black music stemming from these experiences of enslavement, of separation, pain, suffering, but also love, family and faith. This is shown to constitute a form of 'collective unconsciousness' from which black musicians have since drawn upon continuously for inspiration.

Abolition is mentioned cursorily but it is the legacy of enslavement, of racism and prejudice and how this is understood and responded to by succeeding generations of black musicians which is of primary interest. The Black Chord, used as a short-hand term for music of black origin, is seen as a way of asserting identity, as musicians in America such as Marvin Gaye, James Brown and Nina Simone joined the Black Power movement. These musicians are shown to have used their work to shape and define their identities as well as alter their society. Artists such as Bob Marley are described as using African-inspired music to state their claim in a society which refuses to value them as equals. Music is viewed as a common thread which links the African Diaspora, as black musicians have used music to imagine their place in the world in different geographical areas and different historical periods. Blues, jazz, funk, soul, hip-hop, reggae and rap are viewed as branches off the same central trunk of the African experience. This experience is not presented as exclusive however. The programme is careful to state a number of times, 'you're part of it too.' Addressed evidently to a non-black audience Cherry explains this as, 'I'm a black chord woman, part African-American, part European. And all this music means something to you and to me. When I go to Africa I feel like its home. And since all human life began there we've all got a bit of African in us. It belongs to all of us.' The programme therefore celebrates black music, culture and identity but every effort is made not to alienate audiences who don't feel an apparent connection to the black chord.

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