Sometimes one may mistakenly think of Brooklyn and its music as a “low key” scene or field in the world of music, especially when it is compared to nearby Manhattan. We New Yorkers often hear of the rock band or the hip-hop group coming out of Brooklyn finding commercial success after starting up here.
Just taking a look at the artist roster that has come from Brooklyn, we can see how much our little borough has played a crucial part in so many music scenes. Behind those headlines and scenes lie the people. The music makers. The dreamers. The doers. The creators. The artists. The musicians who practiced their craft day and night and worked hard and gave 100% percent of their effort to learning and to sharing what they learned with others.
From Jazz musicians to Emcee’s to underground Reggae scene-sters even having a place in American culture, Brooklyn is said to be a music mecca and has influenced music around the world. Aptly stated by Music.Mic writer “we might not have a reggae scene in this country. American classical music and jazz might (have) looked completely different. Hip-hop may never have become the global movement it now is.”
Some such early great songwriters and especially inspirations to future composers, George Gershwin and Aaron Copland hailed from Brooklyn. Emcees such as A Tribe Called Quest, Jay-Z, Mos Def and so many more rappers have also hailed from Brooklyn. Bob Marley and the Wailers headed to Church Avenue to cater to one of the largest Caribbean communities in New York.
The history of Brooklyn (and its people) is like a direct look at some of the early ramparts of what would become a rich tapestry of ever-changing diversity in sound.
Many Jews relocated between the 50’s when early merchants moved their businesses. By the 1970s, the Brighton Beach area became dangerous; many civil service workers had moved away, and other middle-class families had migrated to the suburbs. Yet simultaneously, revitalization beginnings came when Soviet Union’s immigration policies softened. Thousands of Soviet Jews from the Ukraine then settled into Brighton Beach. The neighborhood became known as “Little Odessa” after the port city and a resort on the Black Sea.
Culture of Brooklyn & its Influences
For a taste of Russia (in food and music) today, one can head to the many spots that also serve up live music in Eastern Parkway, Bay Ridge & thriving restaurants near Brighton Beach Ave. Whether you even speak the language or not, you might hear a folk balalaika that expresses the Russian temperament and colorful emotions, or hear the flute which is prominent in many pieces. You may come to enjoy the rattle of a treschyotka.
Many more New York immigrants who settled in our cities brought their music with them. The largest number of black immigrants were English-speaking Caribbeans (West Indians) settled mainly in New York. By 1923, they were 12.7 percent of the city’s population. According to Winston James, the immigrants had “literacy levels above American blacks and even some whites”, and “women arrived who held occupations as teachers, doctors, lawyers, and craftsmen.”
Caribbean emigrant (Jamaican-born) Marcus Garvey established his organization, UNIA in Brooklyn. This organization promoted the assistance and economic development of blacks, as well as Canadian, African and Caribbean newcomers.
Artistic newcomers upon their arrival brought their diverse cultures, dressing styles, and manifold indigenous music styles born of a melting pot. As stated by researcher Daniel Crowley, of “its nations and territories, the language barriers (Spanish, English, French, and Dutch) are one of the strongest influences” located nearby Latin America and thus resulting influx of assorted original musical influences resulting in Calypso, Mento, Reggae, Soca, Ska and many more.
For a taste of the Caribbean and its music today, one only need to head to the Flatbush area or the Bed Stuy area almost any night of the week for some sunny (even when it’s not) feel-good double chopped drum tunes featuring this sounds main stars; the guitar, organs/clavinets and the distinctive bass.
Another more recent musical influence that occurred was the expatriation of many Manhattanite artists into Brooklyn in search of affordable rents. After the real-estate market collapsed in the late 80s, you could rent a huge loft almost anywhere for reasonable prices. The 90’s brought the development of the LES (once a haven for many artists) and the commercialization of Manhattan grew to dizzying heights (including the rising rents) and in the aftermath of that boom for the city; was of course, (and almost always is) …a crash for the artists.
Rent-control and a fight to keep the city safe from predatory developers began and by the 2000’s many had evacuated due to bidding wars, the increased gentrification of the neighborhoods, and a disappearance of the unconventional lifestyle they came to love.
Many of these Brooklyn art communities have become as stated by NY Times “scarce with listings, high in demand and rapid-fire gentrification has sent prices soaring in the northwest quadrant.” As stated by an TheAsianAge writer, with now increasing rents in Brooklyn as well as Manhattan, it would seem parts of Brooklyn now may also be facing similar developmental threats as Manhattan had. He states, “New York City has become too expensive to continue incubating young artists.”
But today, you can still head on over to Williamsburg, DUMBO or Greenpoint for some classical music listening, (thanks to hipsters is now making a resurgence) jazz, rock, and for foot stomping and other worldly feels of electronic dance music and electroclash. Brooklyn has stayed an attraction to artists trying to make a name, so long as they can afford to.
Speaking of names, the NY Times stated in 1987’ “more than half the owners along Eighth Avenue between 51st and 61st Streets had Chinese names. More than 60,000 plus were Chinese residents communities (originally many hailed from Hong Kong) and had been buying storefront buildings and opening businesses.” As many have before them, the Asian communities also share their wonderful sounds out of the Sunset Park area. One can head there to hear traditional folks and players are well known for playing exceptional classical. They are still flourishing near Eighth Avenue.
All types of music can be heard and enjoyed around Brooklyn in these fall months. As stated by Thirteen magazine, “Brooklyn is called home by thriving communities from the Caribbean, Latin America, former Soviet Union, Middle East, China, and Korea. We continue to draw residents and spirits from across the globe.”
There are multitudes of styles that can be enjoyed by talented musicians who are dishing out great sounds today in our great city. You can enjoy this music or also become part of it, today. Music isn’t just a combination of sounds, it is the messages of our lives, our struggles, our joys, inspirations and our feelings expressed in sound. You too can learn to play the flute, to sing, play guitar, drums, piano and more that have shaped the sounds of our city and will continue to.
At KBM Music we have more than 25 years of success and offer lessons from experienced musicians. We also offer vocal training, music theory, and music composition, in addition to lessons for Pre-Schoolers, and for those with Special Needs. We cater to all ages and offer flexibility and expertise in a variety of instruments. If you are interested in taking music lessons in the Brooklyn Area KBM contact us today at (347) 344-5780.