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The centrality of music to African religious ritual and its vital interplay between performers and listeners remain encoded in the rhythms and forms of music across the Americas – from son to soul to salsa, from mambo to meringue, from jazz to rap.Indeed, Brennan argues that popular music exists "as an underground religion that found its cathedrals in the communal sites of dancehalls, ballrooms, and the street, publicly sharing an agenda of ideas...However, this is not what is on offer in Secular Devotion.I was ready for the concept album of all time but what I got was a compilation of off-cuts and experiments. The essay on "imperial jazz" begins as a nicely argued challenge to the American national mythology of jazz.First, the default political and social outlook of Afro-Latino and African-American music is, by virtue of the grim history of slavery, "antagonistic to the market".Second, given that issues of race and exclusion have been central to the moral-political narratives of the US, Cuba and elsewhere in the Western Hemisphere, this is a musical culture imbued with an ethical and political dimension. I am ready to explore them, though I would need a lot of convincing about the intrinsically anti-market disposition of Afro-Latin musical cultures; and I would need to see a lot of carefully researched history of African musical and religious cultures and their transformation into popular music.

If this were not a big enough set of claims, Brennan adds two more.Musically, he argues for direct lineage from the danzas composed by Cuban Ignacio Cervantes and Scott Joplin's ragtimes.Many members of Buddy Bolden first jazz combo had served with the US Army in Cuba, often honing their skills in the syncopated discipline of military bands.For a loosely linked set of essays on popular music in Africa and the Americas, this book makes some very big and interesting claims.


Starting with the title: Timothy Brennan wants to argue that secular devotion is "the resilience in contemporary popular music of African religious elements".In his memoirs, WC Handy, "Father of the Blues", recalled the rhythms of the back streets of Havana. From here, we are launched into riffs on the use of heavy metal by US tank crews, the musical cul-de-sac of the jazz solo, the relationship between Cuban son and jazz rhythms. Brennan's essay on world music treads familiar ground.


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