The Evolution of Vintage

14 06 2007

Evolution of Vintage

By Derek Beres

One of the blaring paradoxes of technological evolution is its ability to reconnect us to history. As we plug in to our digital toys, the possibilities of education, in both directions, are endless. With a few clicks we can learn about the past and present of any nation and culture globally. (Reliability of information, however, is questionable.) And if we know anything about human nature, it’s that as we step into the future, we always look back.

This pattern has come to define the recording industry. The super-sized labels, able to rely less on million-plus selling albums and crafted, polished mega-stars, have turned to back catalogs containing publishing rights they’ve been acquiring for decades. On a more regionalized level, smaller labels are using this forward/backward process to unearth a vast collection of brilliant analog gems from across the planet. These sonic excavations are nothing new, but with a growing ease of communication, crate digging has turned into online exploring—although, as we will see, the compilers below tread the ground they collect from.

In the past few months I’ve received a growing number of vintage treats in my mailbox from labels that have either just started or are looking for interesting scenes to introduce to wider audiences. While I’ve received albums from virtually every country, we’ll focus on a few stellar releases making an Afro-Caribbean connection, which, in terms of modern music in America, underlies the foundation of much of what we listen to.

Early cross-cultural connections on these six albums are seen with startling clarity, especially the influence of American soul, jazz, and R&B (and the reverse flow of island flavors into our national consciousness). We can trace virtually every popular song format to Africa (hip-hop, R&B, jazz, soul, gospel, even country music), and the route it took to the Americas. Along the way sprinklings of island flavors were blended and reformed, and today a cornucopia of sounds gives allegiance to its Afro-Latin roots. Here are a few that have made that circuitous route, now available for wider audiences than most of the artists probably ever dreamed possible.

Read the full column on PopMatters by clicking here.

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