Edge, Encounter #4 (Liquid a Place) by Torkwase Dyson

Torkwase Dyson, Edge, Encounter #4 (Liquid a Place), 2022 © Torkwase Dyson


Some Reflections on the Black Aesthetic

By Larry Neal

This essay originally appears in the 1971 collection The Black Aesthetic, edited by Addison Gayle Jr.

This outline below is a rough overview of some categories and elements that constituted a “Black Aesthetic” outlook. All of these categories need further elaboration, so I am working on a larger essay that will tie them all together.


Spirit worship, Orishas, ancestors, African Gods. Syncretism/catholic voodoo, macumba, Holy Ghost, Jesus as somebody you might know, like a personal diety. River spirits.

formal manifestation

Samba, Calypso, Batucada, Cha-Cha, juba, gospel songs, jubilees, work song, spirituals.

1. RACE MEMORY (Africa, Middle Passage)

Rhythm as an expression of race memory; rhythm as a basic creative principle; rhythm as a existence, creative force as vector of existence. Swinging.

2. MIDDLE PASSAGE (Diaspora)

Race memory: terror, landlessness, claustrophobia: “America is a prison. . .” Malcom X.


Shamans: Preachers, poets, blues singers, musicians, mackdaddies, and politicians.

formal manifestation

All aspects of Black dance styles in the New World. Pelvic. Dress and walk.


Funky Butt, Stomps, Jump Jim Crow, Buck n’ Wing, Jigs, Snake, Grind, slow drag, jitterbug, twist, Watusi, fish, swim, boogaloo, etc. Dance to the after beat. Dance as race memory; transmitted through the collective folk consciousness.


Legba, Oshun, Yemaya, Urzulie, Soul Momma, Evil women, Good loving women, woman as primarily need/man as doer. Blues singer as poet and moral judge; bad man Earth centered, but directed cosmologically. Folk poet, philosopher, priest, priestess, conjurer, preacher, teacher, hustler, seer, soothsayer. . .


Sound as racial memory, primeval. Life breath. Word is perceived as energy or force. Call and response Blues perceived as an emanation outside of man, but yet a manifestation of his being/reality. Same energy source as Gospel, field holler, but delineated in narrative song. The African voice transplated. This God must be the meanest and the strongest. He survives and persists Once perceived as an evil force: “. . . and I (Dude Botley) got to thinking about how many thousand of people (Buddy) Bolden had made happy and all of them women who used to idolize him. ‘Where are they now?’ I say to myself. Then I hear Bolden’s cornet. I look through the crack and there he is, relaxed back in the chair, blowing that silver cornet softly, just above a whisper, and I see he’s got his hat over the bell of the horn. I put my ear close to the keyhole. I thought I heard Bolden play the blues before, and play hymns at funerals, but what he is playing now is real strange and I listen carefully, because he’s playing something that, for a while sounds like the blues, then like a hymn. I cannot make out the tune, but after awhile I catch on. He is mixing up the blues with the hymns. He plays the blues real sad and the hymn sadder than the blues and then the blues sadder than the hymn. That is the first time that I had ever heard hymns and blues cooked up together. A strange cold feeling comes over me; I get sort of scared because I know the Lord don’t like that mixing the Devil’s music with his music. . . It sounded like a battle between the Good Lord and the Devil. Something tells me to listen and see who wins. If Bolden stops on the hymn, the Good Lord wins; if he stops on the blues, the Devil wins.”


Shango, Nat Turner, Denmark, Vesey, Brer’ Rabbit, High John the Conqueror, Jack Johnson, Ray Robinson, Signifying Monkey, Malcom X, Adam Clayton Powell, Garvey, DuBois, Hon. Elijah Muhammed, Martin L. King, Rap Brown, Rev. Franklin, Charlie Parker, Duke Ellington, James Brown, Bessie Smith, Moms Mabley, King Pleasure, Raefilt Johnson. Son House. Louis Armstrong. . . Voodoo again/Ishmael Reed’s Hoodoo. Islamic suffis. Third World’s destiny. The East as the Womb and the Tomb. Fanon’s Third World, Bandung Humanism. Revolution is the operational mythology. Symbol change. Expanded metaphors as in the poetry of Curtis Lyle and Stanley Crouch; or L. Barrett’s Song For MuMu. . . Nigger styles and masks such as Rinehart in the Invisible Man. Style as in James P. Johnson description of stride pianists in the twenties. Bobby Blue Bland wearing a dashiki and a process. All of this links up with the transmutation of African styles and the revitalization of these styles on the West.


Feeling/contemporary and historical. Energy intensifies. Non-matrixed art forms: Coltrane, Ornette, Sun Ra. More concerned with the vibrations of the Word, than with the Word itself. Like signifying. The Black Nation as Poem. Ethical stance as aesthetic. The synthesis of the above presented outline. The integral unity of culture, politics, and art. Spiritual. Despises alienation in the European sense. Art consciously committed; art addressed primarily to Black and Third World people. Black attempts to realize the world as art by making Man more compatible to it and it more compatible to Man. Styles itself from nigger rhythms to cosmic sensibility. Black love, conscious and affirmed. Change.

  • Essays — Some Reflections on the Black Aesthetic by Larry Neal, Feb 14, 2023