Short Review of Regina Carter's Reverse Thread (2010)

In Regina Carter's Reverse Thread (2010), we find the epitome of Pan-Africanism, consistent with the black power and Pan African movements of the 60s and carried just as powerfully through to today. It is even arguable that her album title suggests a project that was 'woven' together by running a 'thread' through Africa and finding its way back to each and every root that represents Africa – geographically and ideologically. The word “reverse” on its own can represent multiple things. It represents reversing the connotations associated with Africa and Africans, as they have strong foundations in places like Cuba and the Caribbean as well. Reverse can arguably resemble a major theme of Bebop, which is said to establish what we know today as one of the major pillars of the “jazz language”, an African American founded music. The music lines of Bebop involve lines moving in contrasting motions and chromatics surrounding chord tones, often through opposing directions. There is a chronological reversal observed when we find that all these communities were bound by their African origin before they found themselves in different geographical locations. It reverses the idea of extreme nationalism or superiority of certain nationalities over others because genetics reveal they are one. It calls to counter the idea that nationality and race are not synonymous. The word thread, on its own, maintains a metaphor for the African diaspora, stringing all people of African origin together. In addition to the title, the music just as easily represents the idea of African diaspora.

Carter's first song, “Hiwumbe Awaumba” (or “God creates” in English), utilizes the idea of reversal and challenges the stereotypical geographical and cultural associations with certain instruments, which is much of what Pan-Africanism fundamentally seeks to decipher. The use of an accordion and a violin simultaneously may immediately make one think of Europe or early American jazz, but upon hearing how they are played and the percussion and bass rhythms that accompany it, we are reminded that the violin bore as much an African root as it did a European root – we see violin represented in early classical European music as well as in Ugandan music that translated itself into the people who were brought to America and founded the first origins of blues and jazz. We recognize that the violin, like the banjo and the guitar, bore a strong history within African culture and the early foundations of Black American Music. Not only is the violin's origin more complex than one might initially think, but for those of African descent, it started even before America. The accordion also is characteristic of Spanish flamenco music and Mexican mariachi music, which would make sense in the context of African diaspora because Spain and Africa heritages intersected in Cuba, and African and Spanish roots have contributed to Mexican heritage and genetics. Furthermore, the syncopation in the bass line and the straight eighths feel of the drums suggest Cuban music more than what we would later anticipate to be jazz and blues. Jazz and blues rhythmically are canonically represented by swung eighth notes and triplets that do not appear in this song, despite those genres being first to come to mind when we think of Black music. The idea of reversal comes back to mind again – African music had made its place beyond just America. The chord progression also suggests something simpler than we might hear in jazz music, further destigmatizing the idea that African music is limited to what it was in America.

We can also observe the second song, “Full Time”, which takes on a sort of 12/8 feel alternating with a reggae feel. This intermingling of rhythms, placed adjacent and weaving in and out of each other in the same song, employs the idea of Pan-Africanism and bringing multiple African nationalities together. In this specific case, that would be Jamaican and Afro-Cuban music. In the song “Day Dreaming on the Niger”, we hear a compound 6/4 meter and djembe that is characteristic of early African music. We also hear diminished harmonies, upbeat straight eighth syncopation, and accordion that suggest Spanish music, and improvisational lines based around pentatonic and blues scales, weaving in and out of time, representative of standard jazz language and improvisation. This calls to commence the joy of a shared race with multiple cultures in Carter's vision of the African diaspora.

Carter's Reverse Thread (2010) is a captivating embodiment of the beauty of Pan-African ideology. Despite manifesting in different cultures, one race is the thread that ties them all together and enables vastly different styles of music to blend into one lovely melting pot of sound and culture. The cultures remain distinct on many fronts, whether that be food, music, social customs, clothing, or any other features of our identity. But by reversing our thread back through time, we find the essence of diaspora – the origin remains a constant.

Sasha BerlinerComment