I Hear Mother Africa Calling-With Odetta In Mind
They say that the blues, you know, the quintessential black musical contribution to the American songbook along with first cousin jazz that breaks you out of your depression about whatever ails you or the world, was formed down in the Mississippi muds, down in some sweat-drenched bayou, down in some woody hollow all near Mister’s plantation, mill, or store. Well they might be right in a way about how it all started in America as a coded response to Mister’s, Master’s, Captain’s wicked perverse ways back in slavery times, later back in Mister James Crow times (now too but in a different code, but the same old Mister do this and not that, do that but not this just like when old James ran the code). I do believe however they are off by several maybe more generations and off by a few thousand miles from its origins in hell-bent Africa, hell-bent when Mister’s forbears took what he thought was the measure of some poor grimy “natives” and shipped them in death slave boats and brought them to the Mississippi muds, bayous and hollows (those who survived the horrendous middle passage without being swallowed up by the unfriendly. Took peoples, proud Nubians who had created very sharp civilizations when Mister’s forbears were wondering what the hell a spoon was for when placed in their dirty clenched fingers, still wondered later how the heck to use the damn thing, and why and uprooted them whole.
Uprooted you hear but somehow that beat, that tah, tat, tah, tah, tat, tah played on some stretched string tightened against some cabin post by young black boys kept Africa home alive. Kept it alive while women, mothers, grandmothers and once in a while despite the hard conditions some great-grandmother who nursed and taught the little ones the old home beat, made them keep the thing alive. Kept alive too Mister’s forced on them religion strange as it was, kept the low branch spirituals that mixed with blues alive in plain wood churches but kept it alive. So a few generations back black men took all that sweat, anger, angst, humiliation, and among themselves “spoke” blues on juke joint no electricity Saturday nights and sang high collar blues come Sunday morning plain wood church time. Son House, Charley Patton, Skip James, Sleepy John Estes, Mississippi John Hurt and a lot of guys who went to their graves undiscovered in the sweat sultry Delta night carried on, and some sisters too, some younger sisters who heard the beat and heard the high collar Sunday spirituals. Some sisters like Odetta, big-voiced, who made lots of funny duck searching for roots white college students mainly marvel that they had heard some ancient Nubian Queen, some deep-voiced Mother Africa calling them back to the cradle of civilization.