Growing up I listened to all genres of black music but loved rhythm and blues, hip hop and gospel the most. I would like to say I’m musically inclined. Since I was three years old, I mimicked the rappers of TV, made up my own songs and created tunes out of Dr. Seuss rhymes. Like Aretha Franklin, Whitney Houston, and Tina Turner, I sang in the church choir.
African American music, often called black music, impacts all cultures and races and has formed the base of American music. Ragtime singer Scott Joplin, blues singer Robert Johnson, guitarist Rosetta Tharpe and jazz artist Louis Armstrong contributed to America’s musical heritage.
Music derived from the depths of the African American community inspires a global sound. For example, hip hop has grown to be such an influence that we now have Spanish, Asian, and European rap artists. Hip hop is “a reflection of shared truths in communities ranging from the Favelas of Rio de Janeiro to the council of estates of England, ghettos of New York, slums of Ghana and the towers of Shanghai,” according to an article from Thought Economics. Hip hop’s butterfly effect started from the inner-city neighborhood of Bronx, NY and expanded across the world.
My host mom, born and raised in Valencia, said the late Aretha Franklin is one of her favorite artists. I know that other people in Valencia are just as inspired by black music than the primary black listeners.
On a recent Saturday, I went to a black music festival called “Feel the Groove,” and found myself in a crowd of some 50 whites dancing to the groove of blackness. Besides me there was only one other black person.
I met Juan Vicente, the founder of Black Thought Collective (BTC). The BTC is an organization in Valencia used to promote “black roots music through events,” in Valencia. Vicente who born and raised in Valencia, Spain, is a white man who has loved black music since he was a teenager. He says, “The reason I love black music [is] because it’s the kind of music that always touches your heart and your soul.” BTC organized the “Feel the Groove” festival to celebrate soul, funk, African and Caribbean music.
“We’re trying to show people in Valencia [more] black music,” Vicente said about the purpose of BTC. It was interesting to see so many white Spaniards gathered for the sole purpose of celebrating black music. I found it even more interesting that including myself, only two black people attended the event. Vicente said there is a small minority of black residents in Valencia. “Maybe two percent at the most, I think,” he said.
The festival was well enjoyed. Almost every song they played reflected my childhood. Old school jams from the 50s, 60s, and some from the 70s. I thought of my grandparents whose favorite radio stations are jazz and old school station. There was a sense of pride I felt knowing that black music impacted Valencia in such a positive way.
Kenny Province, a music enthusiast and native of Valencia, Spain, was the only other black person at the event. He was there as a vendor promoting his book collection called, “United Minds.” The books in this collection were interesting because they were educational books which highlighted every element of black culture, (i.e., music, history, foods, etc.) Province said that the people in Valencia who liked black music are like outsiders. “Even I feel like that,” Province said while organizing his book collection.
Province, whose father is Haitian and mother a Spaniard, said that before coming to the festival he wondered, “Am I going to be the only black thought at the festival?” He was relieved to see me there and asked if I struggled to find black music in Valencia.
Province shared with me his experiences of growing up in Valencia as one of the few black people here. “When I was growing up and I listened to headphones with hip hop,” Province recalled, “people would ask what I was listening to. When I would say hip hop, they were like, “what?” Province said that he created “United Minds” to push something for people “who don’t have [a] reference or mirrors to reflect [them].” It was fascinating to hear his take on being a black citizen in Valencia and preserving a culture that’s not often celebrated here.
The conversation was much needed and informative, to say the least. Province said he could talk to me all day about black culture and his fight to push it in Valencia. “Most of the people here in Europe who listen to black music only know the shape [of black culture], but they don’t know the depth,” Province said. His words speak truth.
I could relate him even as an African American living in the States. Though Kenny and I come from different backgrounds, we share a familiar feeling our being left out. We understand how it feels for our culture to be glorified but excluded because of our race. Black music continues to spread across the world and hopefully, the love for black people will too.