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Jazz & Race in the US

Week 13: Islam in the West:  Islamic Hip-Hop, Jazz, & Race in the US

This audio project is composed of selections from two versions of the Ballot or the Bullet speech as delivered by Malcolm X (public domain) in 1964 in Ohio played over the jazz piece “Part I: Acknowledgement” from John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” album released in 1965.  This piece responds to Aidi’s Rebel Music reading from this week.  In particular, Aidi cites the mass conversion of American black jazz musicians in post-WWII to Islam and the notion that conversion was a response to racial segregation to help escape discrimination.

The Ballot or the Bullet speech is one of the most famous speeches in US history in part because of the nature of the message – blacks should assert their political right to vote or their right to take up arms in political revolution.  Malcom X starts out the speech by addressing his Muslim identity.  I chose selections of audio in which he explains the importance of separating his racial identity from his religious identity.  He avoids addressing the role of his faith and instead rallies the crowd to unite under “black nationalism.”  However much he avoids bringing religion into the conversation, we cannot escape the fact that such an influential and famous figure in the history of black civil rights in the US was Muslim and he often credited his own conversion to Islam as the catalyst for his social justice consciousness.

Combining selections from the Ballot or the Bullet speech with the music of John Coltrane highlights their mutual influences.  Aidi mentions the academic study of “how Malcolm X’s speaking style was influenced by the big band sounds of the 1940s, and how, in turn, this fiery Muslim leader’s rhetorical cadences would influence jazz artists like Coltrane… dubbed ‘Malcolm in the New Super Bop Fire.'”  The connection between these two through Islam is made real in audio interplay expressed in this track.  Finally, Malcolm’s voice fades out into the apparently ambiguous “a love supreme” (or “Allah supreme” depending on who you ask) repeated over the piece’s rising, swaying baseline.