Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Negro, Not a Negro: The groove factor

We’ve looked at faces, we’ve looked at booties. We heard singing voices and speaking voices.

Now I wanna go to the deepest level of our conscious and subconscious perceptions of race. Can you listen to a group of musicians in a groove... and tell if they’re black or white?

With so many white boys out there givin’ up the funk, it might not be so easy. Then again, it’s hard to fool Mother Nature. (Not to be confused with: “Is it live or is it Memorex?”)

So... let’s have a contest. There are six musical snippets below, roughly 40 seconds apiece. Some are by black musicians, some are by whites. The first person to correctly race-identify all six tracks, A thru F – black or white? Negroes or not Negroes? – will win a prize.

That prize is an excellent Johnny Otis CD from 1992 – “Spirit of the Black Territory Bands.” (Downloadable from iTunes and eMusic.)

Mr. Otis, of course, is the son of Greek immigrants who decided to become a black musician. (And became a legendary one.)

For an example of the old-style swingin’ on the “Territory Bands” album, click here and spin “Harlem Nocturne” on my Vox blog.

The rules are simple: Post your six guesses in the comments thread. Only one set of guesses per player. And if you happen to recognize any of these bands... please keep the information to yourself until the contest is over.

Here we go:

Track A

Track B

Track C

Track D

Track E

Track F

UPDATE (09/21/07): No winner this time, y’all. Dang... some white muthafunkers got their game tight enough to pass the blindfold test! Wild Cherry would be proud.

So here’s the rundown:

A: white
B: white
C: black
D: white
E: black
F: black

Even though most of you pegged Track A as a white band, this one had me fooled. When I copped it via Napster years ago, I assumed “Message from the Godfather” by the James Taylor Quartet was some obscure James Brown tribute/ripoff from the 1970s.

Nope. JTQ is a British band (pictured at right), and this cut came out in 2001.

Track B is “Tighten Your Wig” by Galactic, a highly regarded New Orleans funk unit (pictured below).

Track C is “Pledge” by Jef Lee Johnson, a one-man band out of Philadelphia.

Track D is a cover of the J.B.s’ “Damn Right I’m Somebody” by T.J. Kirk, the hipster quartet of Charlie Hunter, Will Bernard, John Schott and Scott Amendola.

Track E is an untitled live jam by Jean-Paul Bourelly, Vernon Reid, Dennis Chambers and T.M. Stevens. You can download this one for FREE from Bourelly’s website. Just follow this link, scroll down to where it says “Jean-Paul Bourelly & Vernon Reid – Live,” and click “track 2.”

Track F is “Funk Reaction” by Lonnie Smith. Or Lonnie Liston Smith. There is much confusion on this matter. Either way, he black. This track was recorded in 1978.


Roberto Rivera said...

Well, someone has to get it completely wrong first -- might as well be me:

A. Not (un Negro)
B. Is
C. Not
D. Not
E. Is
F. Is

I've been reading Taylor Branch's "Pillar of Fire" and I thought of this blog when I read a funny quote by Malcolm X: he told folks who objected to being called "black" what "negro" meant. When they replied "it means 'black' in Spanish," he then asked why it was okay to be called "black" in Spanish but not in English and then asked if they call whites "blancos."

Ah, the mid 60s: bean pie, "Muhammad Speaks," bow ties. It makes me nostalgic.

susie said...

A. B
2. W
3. W
4. W
5. B
6. W

Dougfp said...

Well, I was going to play, but my guesses were identical to Roberto's.

By the way, my late mother-in-law, who was a dark-skinned Mexican, used to call me her "pan blanco."

I always hoped it was a term of endearment.

Undercover Black Man said...

^ "White bread?" Is that what it means?

There's no getting around color, no matter where you go on this earth.

bumpster said...


What do I know my favorite band is a bunch of white guys fremont fronting as a soul band from oakland.

daughterofthedream said...

A. wh
B. bl
C. wh
D. bl
E. wh
F. bl

jena6 said...

A. N

Russell Farmarco said...

A. Negro
B. Not
C. Not
d. Not
E. Not
F. Negro

The Angry Black Man said...

A. Blanco
B. Blanco
C. Blanco
D. Negro
E. Blanco
F. Negro

dez said...

My answers are the same as daughterofthedream's, so I guess I can't compete this time :-)

FayV said...

A. W
B. B
C. B
D. W
E. W
F. B

Mark V said...

Pure multiple choice guessing from the gut:

A. Negro
B. Not
C. Not
D. Not
E. Negro
F. Not

DeAngelo Starnes said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
DeAngelo Starnes said...

A, B Not
Rest Negro

estiv said...

A. Not
B. Negro
C. Negro
D. Negro
E. Not
F. Not

Not easy to tell. There's probably a scholarly article in some ethnomusicology journal somewhere about musicians who, thanks to the lack of visual cues provided by recordings, were able to successfully "pass" in either direction. There was a white musician who worked with one of the great black preachers of the fifties or sixties and who became a well-known gospel organist, but unfortunately I can't recall his name.

If I got these right, I will reveal my secret formula for success. If I got it wrong, I will admit that I have absolutely no secret formula whatsoever.

Chris said...

A. w
B. w
C. b
D. b
E. w
F. b

Withnail said...


estiv said...

UBM, I got a question. All of your previous N/NN quizzes (faces, booties, singing voices, speaking voices) featured individuals. This one features groups. So--are you saying that all members of each group are black or not, or that only the leader is, or what, exactly?

Undercover Black Man said...

Okay, I'll call an end to this. Fascinating... nobody got them all correct.

Estiv, good question. I endeavored to get get all-white and all-black ensembles... thus disqualifying bands like the Greyboy Allstars and the Dap-Kings (majority white, but with one or two coloreds) and like the Brooklyn Funk Essentials (majority black, but with one or two whites or Latins).

See how hard I work in the cause of science? ;^)

DeAngelo Starnes said...

What're the answers?

Undercover Black Man said...

Working on it right now, DeAngelo. I'll post them at the bottom of the original post.

DeAngelo Starnes said...

Aw man, D had me fooled big time. Sheeit!