Bruno Mars and cultural appropriation, part 1: the shake

bruno mars cultural appropriation

To the folks who continue to drone that performer Bruno Mars is guilty of cultural appropriationleave him Alone.

Yeah, I always thought Bruno Mars played Cruise Ship Funk — the safe stuff that’s deodorized to a sucralose state of Middle-American acceptamce where listens invoke Peoria-grandma-approved happy faces, trying hard to keep a beat.

The alternative — frowns, gas masks, church claps, floor smashes on the downbeat — and soul-digging contemplation — isn’t what many of you, except for people who read me on a regular, would be down with at 9 pm in the middle of a Royal Caribbean dance floor.

We all have our own versions of happy music.

But that’s not the point of this piece — (laughing) leave Bruno Mars alone!

Nope, I’m not in his fan club and I don’t own any of his releases. (Laughing) I’ve had enough of 1980s New Jack Swing tunes to hear 2018 throwback nods … although I’ll give props to Mars for this jawn.

And why would I settle for present-day cleansed Electro Boogie Funk joints with an 80s lean, when more organic modern tunes exist?

But still — leave Bruno Mars alone.

Unlike truly-guilty cultural appropriators who want to make you think their Soul inspiration was some sort of immaculate blossoming from within, Mars always gave props to the creative force that inspired him: Black music.

In his own words to Latina magazine in 2017:

When you say ‘black music,’ understand that you are talking about rock, jazz, R&B, reggae, funk, doo-wop, hip-hop, and Motown. Black people created it all. Being Puerto Rican, even salsa music stems back to the Motherland [Africa]. So, in my world, black music means everything. It’s what gives America its swag.

It’s not appropriation if he respects the source.

Mars discussed the music of his childhood during the same interview:

I’m a child raised in the ‘90s. Pop music was heavily rooted in R&B from Whitney, Diddy, Dr. Dre, Boyz II Men, Aaliyah, TLC, Babyface, New Edition, Michael, and so much more. As kids this is what was playing on MTV and the radio. This is what we were dancing to at school functions and BBQs. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for these artists who inspired me. They have brought me so much joy and created the soundtrack to my life filled with memories that I’ll never forget. Most importantly, they were the superstars that set the bar for me and showed me what it takes to sing a song that can get the whole world dancing, or give a performance that people will talk about forever. Watching them made me feel like I had to be as great as they were in order to even stand a chance in this music business. You gotta sing as if Jodeci is performing after you and dance as if Bobby Brown is coming up next.

While I don’t buy his music, I give Mars and his team props for their skill in selling his internalized vision of Black Music to Peoria. But that’s not appropriation.

Meanwhile, I can list plenty of performers who are so caught up in their appropriation game that they wouldn’t even be caught on a TMZ camera while eating chocolate bars.

Digital pal and guitarist Adrian Romero offered a beautiful example of how the cultural appropriation brand becomes confusing to its zealously dogmatic users when he shouted out bassist Charles Mingus’ solo piano album. Give it a listen and tell me you don’t hear Ravel in it. Mingus made no secret of how White Classical composers influenced him.

In fact, fellow Jazz artists Bill Evans (the piano-playing one, if you’re wondering), Herbie Hancock, Duke Ellington, Brad Mehldau, Keith Jarrett and many others cite Classical music as an influence on how they conceptualize and play Jazz — a music genre that was created by Black folks.

Carlos Santana, a Mexican-born American known for his innovative compositional and guitar-playing skills, was so moved by African Diasporic music (“The rhythms of Africa help us on a molecular level.”) that you hear forms like Jazz, Blues and Salsa in nearly all his songs — and a predominantly African-American band called the Black Rock Coalition Orchestra has been known to channel Santana’s style in live performances.

Who is guilty of appropriating when late Jazz Drummer Steve Reid teamed up with Techno music producer Kieran Hebden? This is a layered trick question, but my answer is “no one.

Who would you call the appropriating party when living saxophone legend Anthony Braxton collaborated with experimental Rock band Wolf Eyes to create Black Vomit?

What about the Rolling Stones being influenced by old, Black Blues masters like Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf?

What do you call the more recent collaboration between Jazz trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith and Indie Rock band Deerhoof?

All of the creatives I mentioned have a documented high level of respect for the source that inspired them.

Respect is not appropriation.

Even if it can sometimes sound like Cruise Ship Funk.

But don’t you think this Bruno Mars hoo-ha either focuses on the wrong side of the what-is-blackness debate, or is a poorly spent stretch of time altogether?

More thoughts to come …

song currently stuck in my head: “bad habit (full-length version)” – atfc presents onephatdiva

One thought on “Bruno Mars and cultural appropriation, part 1: the shake

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s