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Between the 16th and 19th centuries, Africans were violently uprooted and transplanted in the Americas. At the root of the Africans’ experience was a process of de-culturalization that stripped them of their history, language and social and cultural customs. The process remains today the biggest injustice unleashed by one race against another.
Nevertheless, African culture survived and did so because the Africans found ways to adapt to the cultural hostility. As a result, there are a wide variety of artistic and cultural forms in the Americas, but which have one seed and one root - Africa. Whether it is music, dance or celebration, there is a chain that binds them all. It is a spiritual stamp that distinguishes us as a people and manifests in the way we approach life and how we do things.
Embodied in the survival of African culture and the manifestation of African artistic expressions in the Americas is a journey of re-discovery - a search for what was taken away when Africans were uprooted from their homeland and brought to the Caribbean and the United States of America (USA). An aspect of that search in the USA was labeled Jazz.
Today, Jazz influences the Caribbean sound scape, despite the fact that we in the Caribbean have our own manifestations of African cultural survival in the musical realm.
The reason why jazz influences the Caribbean and the world in general has to do with the fact that the USA rose as a cultural super power to influence the world with her culture, including music. Therefore, embodied in the musical search of the Caribbean are references to Black music from the USA, including jazz
However, the music, which evolved in the Caribbean was different. The terrain gave us the opportunity for higher levels of resistance to slavery, as well as the preservation of African social practices and customs. As a result, our music is more rhythmic because it has a closer reference to the "drum". The music that the slaves created in the USA was rooted in what they called the blues, which formed the foundation of jazz. Black Americans, therefore, play jazz.
We in the Caribbean do not play jazz, even when we play the form of the music, because it is not our experience. It is not our culture. What we play has to be called something else. We at Bayley’s Plantation have labeled this search Säf, which implies that there are no Jazz musicians from the Caribbean. We have produced masters such as guitarists Fitzroy Coleman and Ernest Rangling; saxophonists Luther Francois and Arturo Tappin; trumpeters Arturo Sandoval and Ricky Brathwaite; pianists Raf Robertson and Clive Zanda; and world's greatest steel pannist Len "Boogsie" Sharpe to name a few. These musicians may play the same notes as John Coltrane, Mile Davis, George Benson and Herbie Hancock but the music is not the same. So they do not play Jazz, but play Säf.
It is a similar situation with the English we speak in the region, which is different to what is spoken in England and other parts of the world. Our speech patterns, rooted in the echoes of our distant African tongues, altered the sound and structure of the English language and created forms.
It is the same with our music. Our musicians utilize vocabularies evident in jazz, but the expression, feel, approach, reference, rhythms and perspective are not the same. It is this that makes our music Saf and that of our North American brothers and sisters, Jazz.
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