Session Thirteen: Horace Tapscott/Barbara Mccullough


Barbara McCullough’s portrait of the late musical genius and community activist Horace Tapscott reflects on the connections made through black music to local activism in Los Angeles and to questions of pan-Africanism.

Wednesday 28 March 2018, 12:00 

Birkbeck Cinema: FREE event [book here]

Horace Tapscott: Musical Griot, Barbara McCullough, USA, 2017, HD Video, 72 minutes – UK premiere.

The screening will be followed by a conversation with Stuart Baker, Soul Jazz Records.


Barbara McCullough’s Horace Tapscott: Musical Griot is a portrait of the late musical genius and community activist Horace Tapscott. The film reflects on the connections made through black music to local activism in Los Angeles and to questions of pan-Africanism. Historically the figure of the griot is a storyteller, and this is how Tapscott is presented, telling the story of his life through the development of the Los Angeles Jazz scene.

Emerging from the LA Rebellion, Barbara McCullough is responsible for seminal works which bring together questions of ritual, feminism and post-colonialism, and draw from the artistic richness of the black art communities coming out of Los Angeles in the late 1960s and 70s. In Shopping Bag, Spirits and Freeway Fetishes: Reflections on Ritual Space (1981), a key reference point in the representation of this period, she portrays poets, sculptors and improvisational musicians through a series of vignettes underscored by the music of Don Cherry. The result is a multi-layered film engaging with a concept of ritual that provides the Black artist with a tool with which to engage with traditions of the past and to connect to future generations.

McCullough’s film portrait of Horace Tapscott is informed by a similar set of concerns, embedding the inspirational musician into the fabric of the LA Rebellion. In the summer of 1976 McCullough filmed Tapscott at the Watts Towers Jazz Festival, which was the initial spark of a project that would eventually become Horace Tapscott: Musical Griot. In 1977, Tapscott also performed in Passing Through (Larry Clark, USA, 1977) another key work coming out of the LA Rebellion.

The musician’s appeal to McCullough, and to the filmmakers of the LA Rebellion, can be linked to this central question of ritual connecting generations, as Tapscott in his music sought to make post-colonial connections between past, present and future instances of Blackness through the establishing the Pan Afrikan Peoples Arkestra in 1961 and then the Underground Musicians Association in 1963.