20 Rock Around The World July 1977



The merry month of May was a time for international summits this year as Jimmy Carter took his famous smile to London in a highly publicized conclave of Western heads of states. Their objective was to figure out ways to heal an economic order buckling under the uncertainties of inflation, unemployment, and stagnation.

Just two weeks after their meeting proved inconclusive another summit got underway at Amsterdam’s Okura Hotel. This time, it was the honchos of the world’s music and recording corporations meeting to discuss how to expand one industry which seems to be growing in its global outreach! ‘IMIC ’77’ drew more than 400 executives to a series of high-powered lectures and workshops aimed at solving common problems and maximizing overall profits.

Prominent among the IMICites were the heavies in America’s record companies, which are quickly turning into full-blown multi-national corporations. Overseas sales and profits are increasingly important to all labels in the United States. According to a front page report in

Billboard, all of the major com-

panies report that big bucks are lurking in foreign markets. Many of the majors are earning as much as 50% of their sales overseas. “All major corporate labels continue to expand and/or consolidate their international ventures,” the magazine reports. Significantly, these companies and their foreign counterparts and subsidiaries are discussing how to penetrate what is being called “the emerging music markets in Africa, the Mideast and Eastern Europe.”

There is probably no simple way to assess the cultural impact or ultimate political meaning of the internationalization of American music. Obviously, there is a demand for it–our artists have always communicated an energy and style which people throughout our world find attractive. “Whatever Americans think of their image abroad after Vietnam and Watergate,” an AP dispatch recently noted, “American artists carry the flag proudly everywhere and to rising acclaim … Americans … pervade the world’s artistic con, scio usness.”


Is such a pervasive influence a good thing? And for whom? The companies are certainly superstars. As one who has travelled widely overseas, I observed this trend at close range. I’ve seen black Americans perform in Africa, was astonished to hear the Rolling Stones played on

Radio Hanoi, and even saw one of Melanie’s posters on the paper thin wall of a decrepit one-room Palestinian house in a Beirut refugee camp. America’s pop culture has helped turn the world into one of those global villages that Marshall McLuhan envisioned.

But what of the impact on the indigenous culture of other peoples? Does our music, when packaged and marketed overseas, become an instrument of cultural imperialism and an accessory to the economic domination of poorer countries by U.S. power? This proposition is not as Jar fetched as it may sound. The music industry is about the business of selling more than just records. A whole life-style is involved, a life-style structured around consumption. The young people who buy records also buy stereos; they seek to emulate the free-spending._ leisure-oriented “active life styles” that require lots of so called “disposable income.” Poor countries cannot afford to have their young people diverted into such expensive foreign-dominated life styles.

Moreover, countries which need to mobilize their people’s energies for the task of social development want cultural systems that support social goals. They need artists who refuse to separate their musical talents from their political outlook. In contexts of underdevelopment repression and economic oppression, culture frequently becomes an instrument in a battle for genuine liberation. This is why revolutionary societies and movements use music and other cultural forms as tools of resistence and consciousness-raising.


Until reggae came along, most American music fans probably would find these ideas rather abstract. Jamaica’s music, however, offers an example about how social statements can be entertaining and linked to larger struggles. Unfortunately, this music has not been able to make the sorts of inroads into mass awareness in this country that it deserves. Radio stations, for the most part, will not play reggae and, most significantly, the black American community has largely ignored it. With the exception of an occasional Bob Marley or Jimmy Cliff hit, it appears as if Reggae’s access to the American musical market has peaked.

I talked about this problem recently with one of Jamaica’s finest musicians, Peter Tosh, an original member of the Wailers and one of Kingston’s most original talents. Tosh was visiting Boston as part of a tour promoting his terrific new Columbia album “Equal Rights.” He expressed the fear that the music is

being shunted by the powerful tastemakers because it is too **conscious,” which is acutally an intriguing way to put it. “Conscious Music!”- Unfortunately the ordinary record buyer or listener rarely gets exposed to much of it. (Peter’s record is available in most stores, but if you want to order it, or any one of hundreds of Jamaican imports, may I suggest the newly opened Rupert’s Music at 2 Brookline Street in Cambridge, Ma. (02138). The shop is run by two fatigable reggae fanatics; one of them, “The White Ram,” is a white youth who has completely Jamaicanized himself and and is a popular reggae DJ on Boston radio.


I would like to see more cultural fusion, in which American musicians and their foreign counterparts find a way of sharing ideas and musical concepts. I would like to see music more relevant to our realities, and more conceived with the possibilities of change. I think different people can learn from each other. Exchange doesn’t seem to be happening much in our own country between blacks and whites and so it is not surprising that it happens so rarely between artists in different cultures. As John Rockwell noted

recently in the New York Times,” Too much white music today seems cut off from the vitality that it has derived in the past from black inspiration … At the same time, blacks suffer from a failure to absorb as comprehensivly as they might, the variety of white popular music from punk rock to electronic progressivism. The black market would appear to be extremely conservative, tied to a few familiar conventions and resistent to even what one might think would be an obvious innovation, like reggae.”

Cross-cultural sharing is happening more in the jazz realm. For example, a recent Arista–Freedom release features a collaboration between the synthesizer artist Richard Teitelbaum and Anthony Braxton. “Time Zones” Teitelbaum explains that “musical crossings between different traditions and cultures are growing rapidly these days, and though this trend may worry some of the stricter traditionalists . . . its inevitability is insured.” Let us hope so. Perhaps what the avante-guard begins the more popular musicians will pick up on.

Perhaps, as groups from different countries travel more and meet each other, more cross-fertilization and a higher internationalist consciousness will result. I thought it significant that the first U.S. cruise ship to visit Cuba carried jazz artists Dizzy Gillespie, Earl (Fatha)

Hines, and Stan Getz. Dizzy told reporters that he had long wanted to visit Cuba and build a memorial to a late Cuban drummer, Chano Pozo, with whom he once played. It was also reported that promoter Bill Graham wants to book Santana to play a date in Havana. But will the United States he as open to Cuban musicians, particularly those with a strong political message? On the other side of the world, the Soviet Union booked the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band for a tour of their country. They are the first major youth band to receive an invite from the Russians who prefer the nitty-grities to the likes of Chicago and the Beach Boys.

One significant commentary on the different attitudes towards music prevailing in our two countries was the admission of banjo player John McEuen who told Parade: “What we needed to firm up the deal was a female vocalist since the Soviets like to have both sexes included wherever possible in cultural exchanges. We immediately thought of getting Linda Ronstadt but she was tied up; so we borrowed Jan Garret of Liberty.” United Artists hopes to’ release an album of the tour which is tentatively called “Detente.”


It takes conscious musicians to make conscious music. One of the most consistently conscious and committed musicians in the United States has been the legendary Pete Seeger. His comments, which I recorded for an interview broadcast on WBCN and were transcribed for print distribution by the Liberation News Service (LNS) are worth quoting at some length:

“It’s easy to see that people who largely control the music industry aren’t interested in pushing songs which are going to upset the applecart, or change their particular way of making a living.

In the 1930’s it was very obvious. Bing Crosby had a song “Wrap your troubles in dreams and dream your troubles away.” In the middle of a terrible depression–that’s the way you’re going to solve things?

Some wealthy businessmen were only too glad to have songs like that played on the radio. They didn’t want people forming unions, raising wages and so on. Likewise today, you’ll find

an awful lot of songs saying `well, there’s not really very much we can do about the world

–que sera sera.

Fortunately, the people who run the music business don’t run the whole world, and they don’t have their way as much as they’d like to. Sometimes a song comes along that gains great popularity in spite of them.

Recently there have been all these films–”Hollywood on Trial” and “The Front”–about the redbaiting that went on in the film industry. Was there a similar kind of redbaiting going on within the music industry?

Just as individuals were blacklisted from jobs, I guess you know the Weavers (the group that Seeger sang with, beginning in the early 1950’s) were kept off TV. Until the Smothers Brothers asked me (to appear on their TV program) in 1967, there were 17 years that I didn’t get on network TV at all. I don’t get asked on that often now, but I’m not complaining.

But I am very concerned today that some great songs and great singers don’t get asked Have you seen Gil Scott Heron on TV, for example?

Yes, as a matter of fact, 1 have. He was on “Saturday Night Live”–of course it was at 11:30 at night, but the show does have a big audience.

Well, we’re making progress!


If Pete Seeger’s sensibility touches you, or if the folk music scene has an appeal, Sing Out Magazine offers an indispensible guide to all sorts of conscious music. Sing-Out is now in its twenty-fifth year and still publishing issues that offer a wide range of information, lyrics and musical scores to keep you up to date on the traditions of many peoples. If you haven’t seen Sing-Out, find out what you’ve been missing by writing to: 270 Lafayette Street, N.Y. 10012. Incidentally, Peter Seeger is a member of the magazine’s editorial board.


By now, you are undoubtedly
familiar with the triumphant re-
turn to the United States of
singer-song writer Jesse Win-
chester, the young American
who sought sanctuary in Canada
rather than fight in Vietnam.
He’s been turning out albums
continued on pg. 26