Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Western Electric Company, Inc. (1970)

So this one seems to be pretty complicated, or at least more than I'll have space to do justice to in a single post. The basics are as such: "The Dialect of the Black American" is an LP that ultimately argues for "the speech of black Americans" to be granted the same consideration as is "automatically" given to "the languages of other lands." The description on the back cover mentions how "the black man" was "wrenched" from "his African soil" and brought to America as a slave and goes on to to characterize the black experience in America as one that has been "slighted." The language here is all pretty laughable (to keep from crying that is). I guess one could argue that it was written in 1970, but that doesn't make it go down any easier. The lines that really had me cringing: "America accepts the preservation of her settlers' pasts. From Williamsburg to Chinatown, from Saint Patrick's Day to the Jewish New Year, she recognizes the wellsprings of her subcultures. This the blacks now require."

The kicker in all this weirdness is that the record was released by the community relations arm of Western Electric. Baffling, huh? You can listen to the record here, although as evidenced by everything above, I'm not quite as optimistic as the writer there about what this LP might represent. From the get-go the listener is presented with audio of "authentic" black talk, mainly angry women hollering at "Leroy" who is too lazy to get out of bed and yelling at their kids to "shut-up" and "don't slam that door." Check out the cover at the very least. I'm not going to say it's "fantastic." Regardless of any well-meaning intentions with the design, there's definitely something off-putting about a graphic of a black boy's head with a photograph of "the ghetto" superimposed over where the mouth should be.

I prefer the take from Detroit's Theo Parrish on all this with his house track "Ebonics." He samples some bits and pieces of dialogue, then lets the question of "How little have we gained and how much have we lost?" become a refrain. Now this is genius stuff, and Parrish does a mean ODB to boot.

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