Copyright of image: The Plastic People of the Universe
The Plastic who of the what? Never heard of them and I’ve been playing music for decades, you might say. Well, it’s not your fault. Even on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean where they’re from, the Plastic People (actually from Czechoslovakia, not the Universe) remained obscure. In America, fans of alternative music may simply know them as a cult band who made weird, experimental music. In fact, the Plastic People of the Universe were one of the greatest rock groups to emerge from Central Europe during the Communist era and their incredible history should be known far and wide by everyone who plays music for a living.
Formed in Czechoslovakia in 1968 shortly after the Warsaw Pact Invasion in which Soviet tanks and troops crushed the liberal period known as the Prague Spring, the Plastic People of the Universe endured two decades of persecution from the Communist regime simply because they refused to conform to the Soviet “normalization”. Since the era of Stalin, the Communists knew the importance of controlling the art in a society and they used art as propaganda to promote their own fake reality. They were fully aware of the power of music and art and couldn’t let it be created freely for fear that the truth would escape.
“The man that hath no music in himself, Nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds, Is fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils; The motions of his spirit are dull as night, And his affections dark as Erebus. Let no such man be trusted. Mark the music.” – William Shakespeare (The Merchant of Venice, act 5, scene 1)
On Friday, August 11th, 2017, white nationalists chose the largely liberal town of Charlottesville (Virginia) to stage a protest march. The alt-right, of whom white nationalists and white supremacists are an integral part. met with counter protesters. Violence and bloodshed erupted when an alt-rightist, in an indisputable an act of domestic terrorism, drove a car into a crowd of protesters, killing one and injuring several.
This continued series explores the relation between jazz and Islam. In this installment, I am continuing the presentation of the biographies of Muslim jazz artists.
Idris Muhammad was born Leo Morris in New Orleans (1939-2014). He began playing the drums at age 8. Before he reached the age of 21, he’d recorded with Sam Cooke and Jerry Butler, and was a respected session drummer for record labels such as Imperial, Specialty, and Ace. In the 1960s his music experienced a profound change due to the influence of John Coltrane. This led to a synthesis of R&B and jazz. He worked with Lou Donaldson 1965-67. In 1969-73 He worked as drummer for the Broadway musical “Hair” and 1970-72, he was the house drummer for Prestige Records. His releases as a leader include “Black Rhythm Revolution”, “Peace and Rhythm”, “Kabsha”, “My Turn”, and “Right Now”. Muhammad has performed or recorded with Larry Williams, Jerry Butler, Curtis Mayfeild, Sonny Stitt, Charles Earland, Gene Ammons, Pharoah Saunders, Roberta Flack, John Hicks, Randy Weston, Jamil Nassr, John Scofield, Roberta Flack, Johnny Griffin, George Coleman, Randy Brecker, his wife, vocalist Sakinah Muhammad, and countless others.