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Friday, February 26, 2010

Bringing History To Life With Guitar And PowerPoint


History. Boring.

Traditional presentation: Professor drones on at the lectern in the oversized college lecture hall.

History. Engaging.

Untraditional presentation: Jazz musician sits down with a group of about thirty people, his tools an acoustic guitar and a remote-controlled digital projector.

Ray Kamalay brought to life key events in the long fight for equality during his presentation at the Plattsburgh Public Library Tuesday evening.

The program, "Slavery, Haiti and the Roots of American Music: A Storytelling and Music Lecture," also traced the influence of African music on such American genres as jazz and blues. Ray interspersed his presentation by playing a few songs and riffs that illustrated his points.


The program included images that helped to explain the history behind slavery. The image on the projection screen dates to ancient times, symbolizing the power of the slave owners over their slaves . Slavery, Ray explained, was part of the spoils of war, the victor enslaving the vanquished, a system that was at first not based on skin color.


Projection screen image: Pope Alexander VI (Rodrigo Borgia). He was a corrupt secular leader during the Renaissance, said Ray, who had a great impact on slavery when he divided up the New World between Portugal and Spain, allowing each nation to have a "fair share" of the enslavement market.

Black slaves brought musical influences from their native countries. But due to discrimination black people were hindered from performing in public before white audiences. Minstrel shows, explained Ray, came about in part because white audiences would only accept black-faced performers in a comedic setting.



But over the years black performers gained more acceptance. Pictured on the screen is jazz and blues singer Ethel Waters. Ray wrapped up his program by playing one of her songs.


For more information about Ray, his research and music: www.raykamalay.com .

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