It has been two years since Michael Jackson has died and his cultural impact is still reverberating throughout the world to this day. Today, I came across a 2009 article by Greg Tate in which he gives his thoughts on why Jackson’s icon status was so huge, especially for Black people around the world, and how it fits into an Afrofuturist context.
“What Black American culture—musical and otherwise—lacks for now isn’t talent or ambition, but the unmistakable presence of some kind of spiritual genius: the sense that something other than or even more than human is speaking through whatever fragile mortal vessel is burdened with repping for the divine, the magical, the supernatural, the ancestral. You can still feel it when you go hear Sonny Rollins, Ornette Coleman, Aretha Franklin, or Cecil Taylor, or when you read Toni Morrison—living Orishas who carry on a tradition whose true genius lies in making forms and notions as abstract, complex, and philosophical as soul, jazz, or the blues so deeply and universally felt. But such transcendence is rare now, given how desperate, soul-crushing, and immobilizing modern American life has become for the poorest strata of our folk, and how dissolute, dispersed, and distanced from that resource-poor, but culturally rich, heavyweight strata the rest of us are becoming. And, like Morrison cautioned a few years ago, where the culture is going now, not even the music may be enough to save us….
[Later in the article ]
Furthermore, unlike almost everyone in the Apollo Theater pantheon save George Clinton, Michael now seems as important to us an image-maker—an illusionist and a fantasist at that—as he was a musician/entertainer. And until Hype Williams came on the music-video scene in the mid ’90s, no one else insisted that the visuals supporting r&b and hip-hop be as memorable, eye-popping, and seductive as the music itself. Nor did anyone else spare no expense to ensure that they were. But Michael’s phantasmal, shape-shifting videos, upon reflection, were also, strangely enough, his way of socially and politically engaging the worlds of other real Blackfolk from places like South Central L.A., Bahia, East Africa, the prison system, Ancient Egypt. He did this sometimes in pursuit of mere spectacle (“Black and White”), sometimes as critical observer (“The Way You Make Me Feel”), sometimes as a cultural nationalist romantic (“Remember the Time”), even occasionally as a harsh American political commentator (“They Don’t Care About Us”). Looking at those clips again, as millions of us have done over this past weekend, is to realize how prophetic Michael was in dropping mad cash to leave behind a visual record of his work that was as state-of-the-art as his musical legacy. As if he knew that one day our musical history would be more valued for what can be seen as for what can be heard….”
Here is another example of Jackson’s “musical griot” nature:
Michael Jackson – “Wanna Be Startin’ Something”
Manu Dibango – Soul Makossa (1972 single by the Cameroonian saxophonist, sampled by Jackson in “Wanna Be Startin’ Something”)