Ian and S-A
I can't do justice to the last three very fine posts, given my comparatively poor knowledge. I am also pretty tired tonight so I might come back with more later. For now, I welcome from a political angle any debate about serious racism and relatively trivial racism. Many run away from it when it should simply be a natural development of 20th Century change. There is a question to be asked about whether spats, which are understandably meaningful to those involved, prevent further enlightenment and concrete reform. I doubt too that any smugness about how far we have come should be permitted to be unchallenged as it is currently.
I am firmly of the view that while most people in most countries have many reasons to be critical of their national arrangements, condemnation of indigenous culture, valid as it often is in artistic terms, is not a good way of addressing race issues. I have got myself into hot water on this point with acts as diverse as Gilad Atzmon who is not a fan of his own country and Show of Hands, who didn't please everyone by waving the English flag. I would prefer English folk music to have the ability to be white and yet non-racist, not least because it embraces universal themes, and also to be able to incorporate all elements of what makes us British now without being marketed as some kind of novelty, eg The Imagined Village. As for Atzmon, well perhaps he isn't the best example in this discussion because I would contend that his statements tend to be more in his words and less in his music. If you vehemently disagree, and think his music is defiantly non-racist, do let me know. If not, are non-musical statements sufficient?
But then one turns to a Tigran Hamasyan. There you have Armenia but so you do too with, say, Djivan Gasparyan. When it comes to world music, I don't think anyone is going to say in a convincing way that the Armenian musical tradition is racist, any more than one might be able to argue that Archie Roach, by being Aboriginal, is an Australian racist. What are we to make of Emahoy Tsegue-Maryam Guebrou? Is she in the African-American tradition more than she is Ethiopian? Surely there is an example of contrasting meanings of black and meanings of roots. Things get quite complex at that point. It seems to me that it is the historical roots of jazz which lead, if not uniquely then not at all typically, to a discussion about race purely on the axis white versus black. In some ways it reminds me of McCartney's assurances that the Beatles were essentially rock n roll and Motown.
I am not quite sure where you are going with Polar Bear and St Etienne but I recognise them, albeit with some merit, as faddish. I would do the same with Light of the World or Galliano who might in their day have spoken to me of jazz just a tad more. Certainly black artists who collaborate with white artists to cover Neil Young with jazz hints represent a development of sorts but it isn't a development of the African-American roots of jazz. Soweto Kinch, of whom we have spoken before, might have a better claim but there is a lot of hip-hop in there, whatever his journey to Ronnie Scotts. What I note though is that it is the Iyers and the Akinsires who do well in the critics lists. This follows the historical pattern. At one point we were trying for a thread on Dutch jazz. It is rich and varied but how many names trip off the tongue? Could it be that there has, rightly or wrongly, been a bias against Eurocentrism rather than vice versa? One could argue that the Europeans now are simply establishing some balance.
There is surely an argument for jazz, unlike folk, to roam wherever it wishes, for the listener to decide on its authenticity, for any decision to be based on the value an individual wishes to place on roots or calling it pure? I should have thought so. World music can do that too but arguably it is rather more hampered by expectations in regard to tradition. My major concern with all of these genres, while attempting to grapple with the different ways in which they develop, is not that they go off in a myriad of directions. Rather I would hope that when they do so, and no one will stop that, there is still sight of the trunk of the tree, if I can put it in that somewhat crass way. There always needs to be a central reference point and growth needs to come from that too.