Look at Bo Go-Go!



Africa's cultural heritage has had a major influence on Western culture and art in the 20th century. At the beginning of the century Cubists and Modernists took a deep interest in the simplified forms of African tribal art. It was the use of geometric shapes to visualize ideas and subjects that made a huge impression on the first generation of avant-garde artists.

At the half turn of the century popular music had deeply changed under the influence of the African heritage. It was the sense for body moving rhythms and soul exposing vocals of the former Afro-American slave population that triggered the birth of numerous new musical styles. Had it been jazz that gave shape to popular musical taste in the first half of the century, rhythm and blues and its spin-off rock and roll did so in the second half.

In the 1950's the electric guitar had become a major asset to popular music. With its powerful amplification it could penetrate the core of our bodies and mirror the pains of our soul. However, for some of the musicians it was not enough to get the new sound only. Soon the freedom of shape that the electric guitar allowed had to be explored.

It was Mr. Bo Diddley who came up with the first custom shaped guitar to dazzle his youthful public. In his music Mr. Diddley (born Elias McDaniels), a young Afro-American fellow, had taken the basics of African tribal dance to create the wildest pop music known at that time by translating them to distorted abstract guitar riffs and frantic drum beats. The guitar that served as his sounding board had a straight rectangular shape.

Was it a coincidence that Bo Diddley choose the rectangle as custom design for his guitar or was he aware of the principles of the early Cubists and Modernists who experimented with geometric principals in their paintings? Did he know about Africa's square box guitars and lutes ? (And did the avant-garde artists know about them for that matter?) Uncanny parallelisms about which we should ask Diddley himself someday ... (or might he simply answer: "have guitar, will travel!" to leave us wondering.)

Green Onion has paid a tribute in admiration of Bo Diddley's formidable art historic insight and has revived the 'cigar box' in a rejuvenating 'spring-burst' painting.


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