The Blues Is Our Story (Celebrating Black Music Month) by Brother Yusef
The Blues is healing. The Blues is freedom. That is my motto. Every stage I’ve performed on, I take that message with me. As an Afro American Blues artist, I say it to remind people of the true origins of this music. Sadly, I feel the true understanding of what this music is about has been willfully neglected.
The blues came about out of the need for Afro Americans to seek freedom and healing in a society that denied them both healing and freedom. This music allowed Black folk a way to express their humanity in a society that for 400 plus years denied them of their humanity. The blues was our way of saying, “We Matter”.
I’ve been a professional blues musician for 25 years. I started playing guitar at the age of 19 one year after I graduated high school. Being a blues artist was the furthest thing from my mind. My interest was in Jazz, Reggae, Funk, and Rock. I just wanted to be good. But I knew enough about history to understand that everything I wanted to learn was rooted in the blues.
After eight years of trying to learn different musical styles, I decided I would devote everything to the blues. even though I felt something was missing. Other young Afro American blues artists. The older legends like BB King, Buddy Guy, and John Lee Hooker were still going strong, but the new crop of black blues artists were missing from the mainstream. Was blues being appropriated by White musicians? It seemed African Americans have all but abandoned the genre. I decided to become a full-time blues artist out of a desire to preserve what I consider my cultural birthright. I take special pride in performing the blues and giving honor to my past. Unfortunately, I felt too many of the white artists lacked the full cultural understanding of the music. They loved the fruit of the black struggle while ignoring the root of the black struggle. And that struggle stretched 20 plus generations.
It was not uncommon for me to perform at a Blues festival as the only Afro American individual on the bill. Or to actually see a major Blues event with non-blues white acts as a headliner. That’s not to say non-Afro Americans should not participate in celebrating blues culture, but could you imagine having a Celtic (Keltic) music festival without featuring a traditional Scottish, Irish or Welsh act or a Mariachi music festival without a Mexican Mariachi band. It is my belief that a blues Festival should be a setting meant to celebrate and showcase the music and its traditional culture, which is Afro American.
Admittedly, I made the mistake of thinking Afro Americans had abandoned the blues genre. Today, I am greatly encouraged with the number of young Afro American musicians reclaiming what I call their cultural birthright. Many are choosing to take up the mantle by expressing themselves artistically with the music of their forebears. The blues is in good hands. A couple of artists I will mention who happen to be under 30 are Marquise Knox out of St Louis, Mo who is 29, Christone “Kingfish” Ingram from Clarksdale Mississippi who is 22. There are so many more, and thanks to social media I discover more and more fellow younger Afro American blues artists hear the call of their ancestors to keep the tradition alive. The Blues is our story.