Wynton Marsalis created an album titled “From the Plantation to the Penitentiary” in 2007 that embodies the idea that music is linked inextricably with the cultural context within which it subsists. In the last track of the album, called “Where Y’all At?”, Wynton completes the journey taken through time within his album by delivering a sermon in the opening bars of the piece as if preaching to a crowd at a rally or a congregation at a church. In place of a speech depicting the successful morphing of an enslaved black culture to one of freedom; however, Wynton uses the chants, clapping and other ring shout tropes on the track to accentuate the devolvement he sees of black culture. The use of these tropes is most effective when you consider the cultural context that Wynton utilizes them in.
In the relatively recent world of 2007, Wynton does not embrace the implicit belief felt by many that our musical culture and people are alive and well—rather, he emphasizes the fact the responsible leaders of the world are gone and that certain music is polluting the country, going so far as to say during the album that gangster rap is a culture of “killin’ and freakin’”. In fact, Wynton’s entire album effectively shocks the listener into hearing the disappointment he feels for society in what might otherwise be construed for as exaltation (for example the chanting and signing heard in the last track). In fact, without his vocal diatribe opening the piece, it would be a logical conclusion to think that he was celebrating something. It is through this communication to the audience that we can understand how he wants us to feel.
To hear samples of “From the Plantation to the Penitentiary”, check out the album on Wynton Marsalis’ official website by clicking here.