Research Project

Whose Blues?: From the Delta to the Download

Dr Tom Attah

Dr Tom Attah during the event

Dr Tom Attah during the event

The research, a performance practice-led participant-observation of popular music consumers, producers and cultural workers, explores the effects of digital technologies on the perpetuation, dissemination and development of blues music and blues culture.

The impact led to a clearer public understanding of how the narratives and history of the blues have been constructed and told, and has contributed to an increased awareness of and interest in blues music as a lived experience and practice beyond imagined boundaries of race, geography and time.

The beneficiaries of the research are UK national and international blues music consumers, arts cultural workers, practitioners and the Royal Musical Association.

This body of research examines the effects of technological mediation and specifically, digital remediation, on blues music and blues culture since the proliferation of computer mediated communications (CMC) from 1996.

It focuses on the effects of technology on popular music and society, such as how these relate to power, gender, media, history, race and discourse. It seeks to nuance public understanding of how the histories of blues music been told and received. Has it become formulaic? Or remained, like the music itself, open to outside influences? Who have been the genre’s primary historians? What common frameworks or sets of assumptions have music history narratives shared? And, most importantly, what is the cost of failing to question such assumptions?

The research is recontextualising and culturally historiographical through a lively practice-based component that “uses the blues” to rethink blues as a lived practice, and to afford readers, listeners and participants new perspectives on the field of cultural production. The research involved interviews with cultural producers, consumers and cultural workers in addition to surveys to gather data. ‘Practice-led research’ in this context refers specifically to the researcher’s ability to access audiences and performers in the blues style both nationally (United Kingdom) and internationally (mainland Europe & Russia) in the course of their work as a professional touring musician.

Research references

Attah, T. (2020). To make purple, you need blue: Prince as embodiment of the postmodern blues aesthetic. Book section. Prince and Popular Music - Critical Perspectives on an Interdisciplinary Life. M. Alleyne and K. Fairclough. London, Bloomsbury.

Attah, T. (2017). Halls without walls: examining the development, dissemination and perpetuation of blues music and blues culture. 53rd Annual Conference of the Royal Musical Society, University of Liverpool. 7 – 9 September 2017.

Attah, T. (2018). ‘I thought I heard that up north whistle blow’: African American blues performance in the north of England. In: Sounds Northern - Popular Music, Culture and Place in England’s North. Equinox Publishing, Sheffield, pp. 77-95.

Sanjek, D., Attah, T., Halligan, B. and Duffett, M. (2018). Stories we could tell: putting words to American popular music. Routledge Taylor & Francis Group.

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