What does it mean to be ‘cool’? How have the expressions “Be Cool!” and “Chill out!” come into our vocabularies? What meaning has been retained, and what lost from these ancient spiritual/aesthetic notions?
This is an interactive workshop presentation on the roots of ‘cool’---a concept that ultimately comes to us via the Yoruba people from the Niger River valley in what is modern day Nigeria! It is a perfect workshop for fourth grade through high school students and will present valuable supplemental material for any study of Africa, African-American, or contemporary American pop culture. With older students, the workshop also presents an opportunity to examine through group discussion the similarities and contrast between traditional and contemporary/commercial expressions of ‘cool’.
The roots of our notion of ‘coolness’, have been documented by the scholarship of Yale art historian Robert Farris Thompson, among others. His work helps explain hip-hop culture, jazz, funk, soul music and the demeanor of folks who are styling to be ‘cool’ from Harlem to South Africa.
The ‘Coolness Workshop’ includes a brief exploration of language holdovers from west African cultures; offers the opportunity to reinvigorate contemporary ideas of what is ‘cool’ with rich individual and tribal understandings of how the term came to be; and details how this powerful idea moved from Africa to the Caribbean, New Orleans, and beyond. With the birth of jazz and the great diaspora of Black jazz musicians into the urban north and the midwest, we witness the movement of an idea that is in full force today throughout the world, from its rich beginnings among the Yoruba to the world stage powered by pop music and culture.