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Negrophilia, The Album by Mike Ladd

On this Thirsty Ear Blue Series release, Mike Ladd, with his well chosen ensemble of musicians and instrumentation, dares to bring through time and from words, a sound picture of black culture, as described by author Petrine Archer-Shaw in her 2000 book, NEGROPHILIA, Avant-garde Paris and Black Culture in the 1920’s. Ladd has stretched the meaning of Archer-Shaw’s book to apply to the present perception of black culture, the whole point being that the derogation of blacks has not changed totally. We continue to manage to concretize the segregation of "blacks" and "whites" in the never-ending struggle for equalization & self-preservation, not in the legal sense, but in the sociological sense.

It was the purpose of Archer-Shaw’s book to expose the misunderstood history of how attempts to integrate black culture into the whiteness of Europeanism essentially backfired and created the image of the Negro as one to be passively mimicked and derided or to have their physicality exaggerated, both practices rolled into a standard where any Negro affectations and characteristics were appealing, stylish, and avant-garde. The mere swallowing by the white Parisians of the differences that Negroes as a people possessed & then how the Negro culture was digested and spit out is remarkably sickening.

Ladd has succeeded in creating a sense of the book, in which are portrayed the stark polarities of the cultural circumstances, through a pointillistic composition in which the mix of electronics, acoustic instruments and vocals tells the story of attempted homogenization within a complete contradiction of terms. The music wraps around the concepts of the stereotyped Negro "primitive" mystique, the eroticism and exoticism, all harbored by Parisians in the development of their perception of the Negro. Ladd’s musical ensemble, which carries within it piano, organ, synthesizer, drums, winds, trumpet, electronic looping, and programming, is directed towards magnifying the lustfulness of the era where blackness was sucked into whiteness in the arts, in living style, into fashion, & crafts. And Jazz...well, jazz became the primary source of the promotion of Negrophilia.

The Negro culture decorated the white. The Negro culture placed value on that of the white. The words of Ladd’s vocalizations, adjusted electronically and transformed into near raps, cite characterizations within the book and make the point that they still apply. Monkeys, bananas, Hottentots, the blond Negress. The counterpoint, the rare harmonies, the solo playing of instruments that loom above the bedding of the precise and stringent rhythm patterns paint the picture of what actually was a rich culture, albeit ill-founded and confusing to the Negroes as well, especially after Negrophilia was inherited by Harlem.

The turning point of the recording comes in track six, where hard-driving grooves and tempos played out by the drums, bassoon, trumpet, and electronics, transport to a smooth readjusted position of viewing. We have reached modern times.

A negligible emancipation of the races, the music tells us, only changes in personalities and the nature of the tonal accompaniment to a collective direction perhaps, yielding to slight dissonance and oftimes singular syncopation and repetition. The music tells us of the poignant coming apart & the staying apart of that which the arts does want to unite, but will accept in its separation. Races withdraw into their own worlds but only steps away from each other.

In the last chapter of her book, Archer-Shaw says "...whites now bear many of the cultural contradictions that are an inevitable result of their engagement with blacks and modernity. Inevitably the point of entanglement repeats itself as it has done throughout history, among the young in the realms of popular culture, fashion, music, dance."

The intention that rests in NEGROPHILIA, THE ALBUM, becomes the recognition that one step of a revolutionary technologically savvy kind can prevent history from repeating itself. Ladd has humbly, clearly, elegantly tried to take this step.

The street date for this recording is January 25.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Mike Ladd
  • CD Title: Negrophilia, The Album
  • Genre: Free Jazz / Avante Garde
  • Year Released: 2005
  • Record Label: Thirsty Ear
  • Musicians: Andrew Lamb (winds), Roy Campbell (trumpet), Vijay Iyer (piano, organ, synthesizer), Guillermo E. Brown (drums & electronics), Bruce Grant (tape loops), Marguerite Ladd (sample composition), Mike Ladd (vocals & programming)
  • Rating: Five Stars
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