Story of the Root Genre- Slaves to Superstars.

Blues- The music that causes the revelation of emotions when sung and played makes you feel every note you hear. It wasn’t formed or discovered overnight. Dejection, suppression, and frustration gave birth to a genre that has lasted until this day and will not fade away anytime soon.  If it weren’t for the Blues, the contemporary music we hear today would never have existed. All the genres we listen to, be it pop, hip hop, or electronic, can be traced back to the root Genre: Blues. People bond over music, and even though African Americans created blues in the US, it bridged the gap and helped cure the discrimination by attracting a massive white audience. It also gave the minority in America a foundation of belonging and familiarity that still exists.

The blues originated in the deep south area of the United States in the 1860s-70s by African American work songs, hymns, and chants of people plowing a field, bending their voices, and trading random lines which rhyme. This shows the authenticity of the genre, its rawness. This evolved when instruments were adopted. The entire Mississippi Delta was grooving to The Blues in Juke joints, houses, and even open fields! One guitar combines with vocals along with birds, and the wind formed the base of Delta Blues. Artists like Mississippi John Hurt, Robert Johnson, Fred Mcdowell, and many more gained fame and recognition down south while still being victims of racism. The music was also considered dark at the time, referred to as the Devil’s Music. It was said that at the crossroads, Robert Johnson traded his soul with the devil, for no one had ever seen someone play The Blues like him. It was religious for the people who belonged to the Delta.

However, the lifespan of Blues in the Delta was short-lived. In 1916, the African American slaves migrated north, and so did the blues.

Chigaco was the next stop for blues. The migrated population included musicians. The fields were replaced by streets, gathering a larger audience. The open-air market on Maxwell Street was the hub for blues musicians where they jammed, earned tips, had competitions, and celebrated this beloved genre of music.

As technology advanced, musicians got introduced to the use of electric guitars and amplifiers. The blues was not limited to just one guitar and vocals. Soon drums and bass was added along with piano and filled in with a bit of harmonica to form an ensemble. These ensembles were recorded in studios and recognized by companies such as the famous Chess Records, which gave a platform to pioneers of Chicago Blues Buddy Guy, Little Walter, Howlin Wolf, Willie Dixon. The Chicago Blues inspired many bands and artists that came after. For example, The Beach Boys, Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley, and The Rolling Stones even formed the Rock and Roll genre by deriving inspiration from the blues! (The band rolling stones has been named after the song by Buddy Guy!)

Ironically the blues was not just played or sung by the ‘blacks.’ The ‘whites’ started paying equal attention to Blues by attending gigs, forming groups, and worshipping the genre! What started off as an art of rebellion now began to mend fences. By the early 60s, Rock and Roll was taking over everyone’s hearts. More records were sold than ever; crowds were getting bigger along! As a result, there was a subsequent increase in intoxications and gambling. This ended the careers of artists such as Little Walter Chuck Berry, who was locked up in a cell for false charges at the peak of his career. His tracks were stolen and used by other artists. I think it is safe to say some sober artists were still blacks.

On paper, blues is mainly played in a 12-bar rhythm. Each bar creates a bit of tension but resolves from where it started. When you play the blues, you have a conversation with yourself; that’s how you feel it. Even the simplest of notes, if played with a certain feeling, can give you chills. There is no method; it’s all within oneself, whether it’s an acoustic guitar in the fields of the south or a screaming tube amplifier with a Strat in a Texas gig; in the end, it is just the intensely raw aura of the blues.

We have come a very long way from the Delta, but its impact on music hasn’t faded. More or less, every genre that we hear has originated from the blues. Be it Hip Hop, Metal, or Pop. Therefore, I like to call it the Root Genre.

The authenticity has lost itself in the ocean that is created, but its impact definitely hasn’t drowned. There still are several artists across the world who are reviving the spirit of this root genre- Blues. Sooner or later, we surely will find ourselves in a Saturday night blues gig or a Juke Joint.

Suhaas Kumar

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