- “He’s Calling His Flock Now”:Black Music and Postcoloniality from Buddy Bolden’s New Orleans to Sefyu’s Paris
When Buddy Bolden tuned up you could hear him clean across the river!Clean across the river!He woke up the working people and kept the easy living.Call on Buddy Bolden.Call him Buddy Bolden.
Watch him, he’s calling his flock now.He’s calling his flock now.Here they come …—“Hey, Buddy Bolden,” Nina Simone on Nina Simone Sings Ellington (1962)
Nostalgia for Black and White
On the 2006 track “En noir et blanc” the Senegalese-French rapper Sefyu begins with the sound of a West African shekere moving back and forth through the stereo field. Right left, right left, right left, right … its dotted rhythm emulating a heartbeat. As we wait for the completion of the next rhythmic dyad a needle is suddenly dropped on an old record. The vinyl [End Page 375] scratch completes the pendulum’s anticipated swing left in the stereo field and then sweeps back to the right, obscuring the concluding shekere voice (or is it a maraca?) and briefly suspending the musical flow.
Now a distant-sounding piano emerges from the scratchy record. It plays a dirge-like minor-key loop wherein the top voice rises and then falls a minor third (D–F–D) and the inner voice descends stepwise (B-flat–A–G). A third voice lurks in a bass ostinato that falls (A–F–E–D) before rising with the other voices (D–F–G) to complete the motive. Based on its voice leading and stylistic profile, the lament should be from a Romantic-era art song. Probably German. But it is not.1
The unmistakable and iconic voice of Nina Simone enters on a single but splintered and echoing phoneme that seems to speak: “when.”2 The note-against-note piano loop continues, establishing a static but now blues-inflected D-minor harmonic environment. Again, the voice declares—or perhaps asks—“when.” The three voices continue to wind toward and away from one another in the repeating loop, moving independently, but bound together by the rules of Western tonal harmony, of “common practice.” Finally, a synthesized and diffuse bass bomb falls in pitch space, again sweeping from left to right, and just after the third beat of the now nearly complete four-bar loop, we hear a new phoneme that seems to make a request: “call.”
Sefyu’s dry baritone enters this musical and rhetorical space with the following lines, sung in an agile and staccato hip hop vocal style underlaid with the melodic conventions of Jamaican dancehall.
|Mes origines sont en panique.||My origins are in panic.|
|J’ai fouillé dans toutes les poches||I’ve looked in every corner|
|du monde,||of the world,|
|Ya’ que du trafic.||There’s only traffic.|
|Ben, vas-y-oh!||Well, go ahead yo!|
|Mon coeur a suivi sa logique:||My heart followed this logic:|
|Il faut se mélanger.||We’ve got to mix.|
|Dans la mixité ya’ rien de tragique.||There’s nothing tragic in mixing.|
|Ben, vas-y-oh!||Well, go ahead yo!|
|Dans la vie ya tout de pratique,||Everything in life can be used,|
|Moi j’dis que rien est magique.||I’m saying nothing is magic.|
|Et puis le racisme fatigue.||And I’m tired of racism.|
|Ben, vas-y-oh!||Well, go ahead yo!3|
The bass bomb transforms into a bouncing bass line, doubling the inner voice of the piano line two octaves below and further underscoring the dirge’s feeling of descent. String tremolos underscore the tension of the MC’s “panic” as the ghostly piano strains linger in the rafters.
In seventeen seconds, the opening sonic tableau of spatial and temporal shifts of focus and perspective on “En noir et blanc” establishes the [End Page 376] themes of trafic and mixité that set the sonic stage for Sefyu’s meditation on France’s nostalgia for simpler, purer, “black and white” times. As Alexander Weheliye emphasizes in his study Phonographies: Grooves in Sonic Afro-Modernity, introductions serve a profoundly important role in the recorded history of...