Buy + Browse Back Issues


eMailing List

  • Name
  • Email

Face to Face with OLU DARA (Unabridged)

AA: You've said that you've had your best experiences in rhythm and blues bands.

OD: Jazz bands were more like concert bands; people sat quietly and applauded after each solo. And things started to change in the Sixties, when live rhythm and blues was gone. It’s been gone ever since. You can hardly find a live rhythm and blues band anywhere. But yes, my best days in music, I believe, were playing in rhythm and blues bands.

AA: Really?

OD: When I ask myself about my best days in music, my best memories, they were never in a jazz band. Never. It was always in rhythm and blues bands. There was smiling and laughter and creativity and people enjoying themselves at parties. Those were my best days, my happiest times.

AA: Because it was about breaking down the barriers between performers and audience members?

OD: Yeah.

AA: Instead of erecting them.

OD: Of course. That was it.

AA: In the Forties, club owners were putting up signs saying: “Don’t Dance.” And people like Louis Jordan would break out of the big bands and play exclusively for dancers.

OD: I really admired him for that. He was a fine jazz musician. He got his name as a jazz musician, but he was basically written out of history because he played dances. A lot of bands were basically written out of jazz history when they started playing more rhythmic kind of music.

AA: But there’s so much spillover. I keep thinking about musicians like Ornette Coleman, who went back and forth, or those that got their starts in rhythm and blues bands or territory bands, playing dance music.

OD: I find out that the greatest jazz artists started out playing socially. It seems to me they’re more creative. As you see, they all became well known for whatever they were doing after they played the blues. But I used to read articles about musicians who did play rhythm and blues before they became famous jazz artists, and most of them would say, “Well, I had to play rhythm and blues at one time.” It’s condescending.

AA: Rhythm and blues was in a state of flux when you played it; the rules were changing in popular music at that time, with James Brown and Sly Stone doing more polyrhythmic things.

OD: Yeah, they did. You see, a lot of rhythm and blues songs that would get through were basically written by whites. Most people thought they were black songs, and they were in a way. But blacks didn’t get them published, so the money wouldn’t come their way.

AA: Everyone won except the performer.

OD: Well, that’s the nature of the music business in a lot of ways. Now things are changing. Performers make their money. They can make more money performing.

AA: Now the music is literally about accruing power.

OD: Hip-hop really changed it. It really changed it. By being the bad boys in music, they were shunned, and they were forced to take power over that stuff.

AA: It seems like people pulled away from each other in the Seventies — pulled away from the promise of the Sixties. Black people pulled away, white people pulled away. That seems to be the story of this country. A failure of courage. Reconstruction was a failure of courage, and the blues are survival mechanisms that came out of Jim Crow. A similar thing happened in the Bronx and Queensbridge and all these places in the Seventies, where white America withdrew the support they’d promised. Yet again, black people had to say, “Well, we’ll do it ourselves.” And black art forms — hip-hop, the blues — seem like end-runs around these stalled political systems, be they Reconstruction or the Great Society.

OD: Yeah, basically. Modern reconstruction is a continuum: reconstruct, reconstruct, go back, start again, go back.

AA: The Civil War was happening in 1619, and it’s never stopped happening.

OD: Yeah. It shows you what happens with a young country started by everybody being out of pocket — the Europeans and Africans, the Native Americans, everybody was on a wheel, moving around to places not knowing where they were and not knowing who they are. The country’s like that now. It’s a new country, what, 500 years old? It’s a new country started by people who had no education.

AA: By illiterates — everyone was illiterate, all the whites were illiterate, too.

OD: You’re right — everyone. But everybody is different. Look at the black community. There are all kinds of denominations of churches, religions, hues, economic status. It’s the same for white folks and everybody else. But if you grow up in a world where people delineate, “We are this and they are that,” you’re overlooking the idea that we are all humans. That’s the one thing. We’re doing the same thing, we’re looking for the same shit. Everybody is trying to get something to eat, a decent place to live, a good education — all human beings are basically the same. It’s just that I think we are a lesser species than all other living things.

Growing up in the woods in Mississippi you could see that. I loved to stay around the animals, insects, plants and all kinds of beautiful stuff. Understanding how fortunate human beings are. As a kid I used to think, “Wow, we’re fortunate. Peach trees are growing, fruit trees, everything is growing. We could survive by not even planting if we don’t want to.” Everything is here, but the human being has some type of inferiority about who he is, unlike other living things. He’s combative because one person has a better pair of shoes. But we are not superior to anything. We’re somewhere way down the line. We’re afraid to make correct decisions. I think when human beings ceased to grunt and make noises like animals and started speaking, that’s when the trouble started. When the first guy started speaking, he probably said to somebody else, “What did you call me? What did you say about me? What?” Language, to me, is the enemy.


© 2010-2019 Stop Smiling Media, LLC. All rights reserved.       // Site created by: FreshForm Interactive