Blues Music in Los Angeles
For many decades, Los Angeles, California has stood out as unique geopolitical region. From as early as 19th century, the region was distinguishable as a unique melting point of cultural integration and assimilation. Between the early 20th century and late 1950s a new type of music that revolutionized the American industry and indeed its culture emerged in Los Angeles. This was driven by the more culturally tolerable atmosphere in California as many African Americans moved to the region during and after World War II. While primarily driven by the quest for better economic opportunities in the region, these African Americans especially those from Texas established a new and unique music genre: West Coast Blues. Unique in performance and arrangement of beats, this new music style was adopted into other music styles including rock, pop and hip hop as its popularity declined (Strait 33). Despite its decline over the years, the California blues left a lasting cultural mark that transcends the music scene. This is an observational essay that discusses the cultural influences of blues in Orange County and Los Angeles in general with a special emphasis on the music rituals, dress and singing style associated with blues. It will also highlight the type of people associated with blues in the county and region.
The Blues Event: An Insight into blues culture
Los Angeles blues, like the rest of blues in California, traces its roots mainly to Texas. It was a culture that was imported by migrating African Americans who were escaping the segregation and oppression in South who moved into the area seeking for better economic and social opportunities. And this Texan association blended with African American touch was evident at the blues event I attended last Friday 29th April 2016 at House of Blues Anaheim along Disney Drive in Anaheim, California. The event was dubbed “Backyard Blues” and the artist was Ramblin’ Andy. The attendance was moderate with many people opting for the party that was upstairs where more modern genres of music such as hip hop were being played. Interestingly, hip hop, like many other genres of music like jazz, pop, rock and rhythm and blues borrowed heavily from blues during their infancy. The event was attended by mostly older individuals with a few young couples huddled in the corner of the hotel nodding to the beats and sometimes singing along to the few lines they could muster. Others chatted away happily while occasionally joining in the fan over a drink.
The performance gave credence to the historical position of blues culture as an important interactive platform where people from different cultural and sociopolitical backgrounds come together to enjoy and socialize. The older audiences nodded to the tunes with nostalgia while the few younger individuals in the audience took in the catchy beats with appreciation. The blues event including the composition of the audience and their reaction to the music showed that blues is still an important subculture in Orange County and Los Angeles as a whole. It offers a platform for social and cultural interaction in the county. In addition, the audience seemed professionally diverse. Therefore, the audience despite their relatively small number had a platform for ideological exchanges. The event brought together individuals from different economic background thus offering them a neutral and inclusive platform for interaction.
It is widely believed that blues music in general, including the West Coast Blues unique to California, has undergone various evolutionary changes. At the event, the artist incorporated electric guitars and harmonica. However, the performance retained the distinctive ragtime and feel good touch of the original blues music. In addition, the performance also retained interactive and entertain approach that many pioneer blues music artists introduced. The artist talked to the audience in between singing; sometimes urging them to have fun and also buy his music which he had on stage. Despite adapting his performance to the urban nature of his audience by playing urban or city blues, the artist also maintained the cyclic chords, emotional tone, fluctuating tempo, rhyme and strong and catchy beats associated with the early blues artists. These are the key rituals that have, for many decades been associated with blues music. And to date, they have been preserved through generations of musicians despite the incorporation of new ideas into the genre.
The performance was therefore more liberal which was also reflected in the dressing of the artist who wore a printed light cotton t-shirt and khaki shorts. The audience wore a mix of different clothes. Some were formally dressed perhaps from work and looking for fun after a grueling week in the office. Others were informally dressed in t-shirts. This added to the feel good and liberal nature of blues music. The choice of location was interesting though. It was strategic: a location close to Disneyland commonly associated with tourist. On the hindsight, the performance targeted the tourists drawn from different parts of the country and the world. Therefore, the choice of location also added to the liberal nature of blues culture: liberal and inclusive. That the performance was in a restaurant was also telling of the main aim of playing blues music: feel good. Everyone was welcome to enjoy the music for with blues music, everyone belongs. From Mexican Americans to whites and African Americans, the audience was a melting pot of cultural diversity. The soothing and entertaining performance was welcoming to all including the younger generations.
In conclusion, the blues culture has undergone evolutionary changes while also leaving a lasting cultural impression in Los Angeles and globally. It has inspired numerous music genres and subcultures. The event I attended was a clear indication of the decline of the popularity of the genre especially in urban settings despite its appeal to a clique of people especially adults. The cultural and age diversities of the audience was however a clear indication of the enduring nature of blues. This mix also justified the long held position that blues music played an important in unifying not only the African Americans but many individuals in the societies where it was adopted. Therefore, as a culture, blues has gone full cycle not only in Los Angeles. Its performance is more liberal while the core ritual of tempo, chords, rhyme scheme and purpose has not changed significantly. It has liberated performers and significantly, audience, who now have numerous options which have been inspired by blues. The event showed that despite the numerous changes to the genre, it has maintained some its key rituals such as the catchy beats and rhyme that have, for many decades, set the genre apart.
Strait, John B. “Geographical Study of American Blues Culture.” Journal of Geography 109.1 (2010): 33.