Obama’s cosmetic changes

Legendary bluesman Corey Harris, in Lancashire this weekend, tells Tony Dewhurst why his political fire has not gone out – with anger at politics

Friday, 16th May 2014, 7:00 pm
Legendary bluesman Corey Harris
Legendary bluesman Corey Harris

At the beginning of the 1960s, many Americans believed they were standing at the dawn of a golden age.

By the end of that tumultuous decade it seemed like that the nation was falling apart.

The Vietnam War had divided America and the struggle for Civil Rights had defined the era since four black students sat down in a whites-only lunch counter and refused to leave.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

“I was born in 1969, but I remember my parents taking me swimming when I was a youngster and there was a sign for a whites-only pool. That made a deep impression on me, “ said American bluesman Corey Harris, who makes a rare visit to England when he performs at Clitheroe’s Grand Theatre on Saturday week.

“Although we have our first black President in America, Barack Obama, a lot of the changes in our society are only cosmetic ones.

“There’s still an awful lot to be done to make the USA a fairer and more equal society for everyone and that has inspired a lot of my music.

“Obama came in with this great message of change and hope but it has just stayed the same.

“He made a lot of bold promises but he has not been able to keep them.

“He’s just a politician and not many people trust them do they?

“It is the same here in England, isn’t it.”

Harris’ music creates an original vision of the blues by melding influences of reggae, soul, rock and West African music to his sound.

Inspired by BB King, Skip James and Gil Scott Heron among many others, Harris says it remains difficult for many Americans to explore the musical connection between their nation and Africa.

“I think that America cannot truly admit to the reality of slavery, so the African roots are misunderstood and disrespected,” he added.

“Blues was what I understood deepest in myself, though.

“I don’t think an artist can play the blues without dealing with the culture it comes from, and the history.”

He added: “I had an incredible spell working with BB King, and I was lucky enough to tour with the great man. Observing his professionalism, craft and humility was a life lesson.”

Although he grew up in Denver, where he played blues, R&B, funk and reggae, Harris has lived and travelled widely in Africa.

His visit to the Saharan Desert town of Niafunke, where he met African Blues legend Ali Farka Toure, was featured in Martin Scorsese’s 2003 film, Feel Like Going Home, which traced the evolution of the blues from West Africa to America. I wanted to go back to Africa to bring what little I know from our short tradition here as black people in America, and put it back together to make a record of it.

“Ali Farka Toure was a beautiful human being, a giant among men.

“I became a better guitar player through his humble teachings and he taught me that music can only be an expression of yourself.”

Corey Harris Band, Clitheroe Grand Theatre, Saturday, May 17. £15. 01200 421599