Preface
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Preface As I am writing about the blues after a thirty-seven-year interval—the last time I had specificallytouched the subject was in 1961—this book is unfolding before my eyes as if I were in a state of trance. Obviously, I haven't been sitting in idleness during the last three decades. Besides covering much of sub-Saharan Africa in field research and writing, I have also written much about the extensions of regional African cultures in the New World, notably in Brazil, and (in return) on the impact of jazz and other forms of African-American music in southern Africa. Since 1974 I have been a performer on clarinet and guitar in Donald Kachamba's Kwela Band from Malawi, playing a kind of music that is, at least in part, a jazz offspring. In 1977 I visited American blues researcher David Evans in California and spent several days listening to historical blues recordings and material from his recent fieldwork in Mississippi and providing commentary from an Africanist perspective. In 1981I paid him a second visit in Memphis, where he had settled; and together we visited a number of blues performers there and in northern Mississippi. Another trip followed in 1990, and in 1993I revisited Mississippi as part of a remarkable research team that included the oral literature researcher Moya Aliya Malamusi from Malawi, Evans's wife Marice, music researcher Richard Graham, and myself. We recorded and videotaped storytelling by John Milton Alexander at Victoria about the trickster Rabbit, and we also visited Glen Faulkner near Senatobia, who played for us his "one-stringed guitar," both his older acoustic model and his more recent model with electric amplification. Other journeys within the United States in recent years, for lectures, research, and visits, have brought me to the Center for Popular Music at Middle Tennessee State University, Murfreesboro; the Archives of Traditional Music at Indixiii ana University, Bloomington; Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois; the Center for Black Music Research at Columbia College, Chicago; the Department of Musical Instruments of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, where Moya and I held Andrew W. Mellon Senior Research Fellowships; an International Conference on Black Ethnicity at the North-South Center of the University of Miami (Florida); and lectures at ten other universities. During these trips the Chicago-Bloomington-NashviUe-Memphis highways seem to have become a kind of north-south axis for my "rambling" spirit—occasionally meeting old friends on the Greyhound bus, such as the ghost of Robert Johnson , who in one of his songs said that after his death his body should be buried by the side of the highway so that his spirit could catch a Greyhound and keep traveling on. Thus, while African-American studies have been an important focus of my work, at least since the mid-iQyos, I did not anticipate that I would write again specifically about jazz or blues. I had developed an enormous respect for the learned and detailed literature that had accumulated since the 1960$, and thought it would be better left to other specialists with more African-American historical background knowledge. Until 1996 I didn't think that anything in the world could have the magical power to prompt me to write again extensively on jazz or blues. However, that magical nudge came when David Evans proposed that I contribute to an anthology he was editing an article on the blues' "round trip," i.e., their roots in Africa, their rise and development in the southern United States by the 1890$, and their "return" to selected areas of Africa during the second half of the twentieth century, where they have been picked up and reinterpreted by a variety of African musicians. At the particular juncture when I received this request, I was about to prepare a lecture trip to Salvador, capital city of the state of Bahia, Brazil, for August and September 1996.1 was also booked at Andrew Tracey's Fourteenth Symposium on Ethnomusicology at Rhodes University, Grahamstown, South Africa, for late September. Therefore, I registered the proposal with only one eyewhile continuing to read with the other eyeStephen J. Gould's thoughts on the fortuitous nature of the evolution of life. . . . Eventually, after completing the South African obligations, I flew to Malawi, retreating to family life in my home surroundings at Moya's Oral Literature Research Programme in Chileka, staying up to the end of the year. The daily perspiration at over 100Fahrenheit during Preface xiv October...