A Bonus Cut Feature: An Interview With The Black Opera

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By:  Gus Navarro 

If you haven’t heard of The Black Opera, get online and look them up. No seriously, do it. You should check them out because they are unlike anything else in hip-hop right now. With multiple costume changes and crowd participation, their live show is an explosion of anonymity and boundless, colorful energy. The Black Opera isn’t upfront and won’t say who is in the group. However it’s there, in plain sight, if you take the time to do your research. The Black Opera exists in a space that is in opposition to the rappity-rap clatter we encounter on a daily basis. Instead, the group is an international collective of artists that have come together around the communal idea that we, as humans, are connected, or as they so eloquently declare, “We are one.” Having released music since 2010, The Black Opera is beginning to reach a new level of acclaim as they continue to push the boundaries of what people perceive hip-hop should be about. If you have the chance to see them live, do it. If you can get online and listen to their music, do it.

During their tour stop at the Blind Pig in Ann Arbor, Michigan, I was fortunate to sit down and speak with two members of the group in anticipation of their new album, The Great Year, released via Mello Music Group. In the interview we touched on topics such as the philosophy behind their music and the influence the Internet has had on the growth of the collective. After seeing them perform and speaking with them, I learned that The Black Opera’s music, stage presence and overall style are propelled by the idea that it isn’t always about who is talking, but what is being said. In a society where the individual is placed on a pedestal above all else, this is a powerful stance to take.

As opposed to revealing the identities of The Black Opera members I spoke with, each voice is denoted as Black Opera Member (BOM) #1 and #2.

Bonus Cut (BC):  What is The Black Opera to you?

BOM #1:  The Black Opera is a collective of forward thinkers, artists, musicians, producers, rappers and videographers who have one goal and that is to promote that all are one. All people are one and that we put art in the forefront of that.

BC:  Will you tell me who’s in the group?

BOM #2:  Everybody that we work with becomes a part of The Black Opera. So we have a lot of affiliates and black ops all over the world. The main focus is the music so we shy away from saying who we are. The best thing to do is just check out the music and find your way through it. You can go through the credits and use Google to find out who’s doing what. We try to make sure that the music gets to you first. That’s the whole goal.

BOM #1:  Research! Do your research if you want to know.

BC:  That’s exactly what I wanted to talk with you guys about. You’re very intentional about being vague and not explicitly revealing your identities. Is that liberating?

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BOM # 1:  Yes, absolutely. Joining The Black Opera movement was one hundred percent about liberation, freedom of expression and not being tied to anything from the past. Whether that’s the block you’re from, the hood, the city, the set you claim or whatever. A lot of times, especially with hip-hop, people get away with saying, “I’m from the city that’s this, that or whatever….”

BOM #2:  They build a box around themselves.

BOM #1:  Yeah, it’s like, “What else?” Especially if that’s not the life you live. You’re telling the story of your city but what else is there? Who are you? We don’t like to fall into that lane. We definitely feel that it was a liberating situation when we chose to join The Black Opera.

BOM #2:  Like he said, “Who are you?” Another question is:  “What are you here for?” Just because you are who you are doesn’t mean you have to create like you look, how you smell or how you move. You can create whatever you want to. It’s like when you put out too much information about who you are or where you’re from, you create this box of judgment. For example, people expect something specific with artists from New York. If you don’t know where I’m from you’ll hear the same song and be like, “Wow, that’s amazing. Let me find out more.” If you start with the music, the live show and unravel it from there it can be pretty dope.

BC:  In some ways, it seems like you’re creating a lane for people to use technology.

BOM #2:  To use it correctly. Nowadays people just go on Twitter or Facebook to see what everybody is talking about. Let me do the cool thing; let me be hip for today. People have so many outlets to find out information (Google, for example) and we’re challenging people to use the Internet in the correct way and think critically for themselves.

BC:  Would there be a Black Opera without the Internet?

BOM #1:  There would be a Black Opera without the Internet, but the Internet has definitely benefitted the growth of the collective. That’s for sure. A lot of our collaborations have come from people that we’ve worked with personally. A lot of the times we’ve grown those relationships organically through the Internet. We like what they do, they like what we do. We start building a relationship and that’s when the music comes. The Internet has most definitely helped in that process.

BOM #2:  We did a song called “Opera Hands” with a producer called Tall Black Guy. It ended up being, for our core fan base, one of their favorite songs. That came from a DJ in Atlanta called DJ Apple Jac. He literally took the Soundcloud link to the beat in its original form, posted it and said, “Yo, the Black Opera should be on this.” We listened to it and were like, “why not?” We were creating in the studio at the time. So that’s how we got connected with Tall Black Guy. Everything happens organically, at the flow of the pace of creation. We do have serious intentions and a serious message but when it comes to the creativity we like for it to just flow organically.

BC:  On your Facebook info page you talk in big terms about the art you make being a commentary on “OUR perception of timeless issues.” Can you expand on what that means and what those issues are?

BOM #2:  Basically this is what we do:  We have issues that are not going anywhere, right? They’ve been professed to us through the news, propaganda, homies and friends. Sometimes you have to find those areas where you can switch the perception on it. Like, what really is racism? What really is hip-hop? The things that are popular to the people that listen to our music, we take a piece of that and we twist it a little bit. It’s like art, you know? Some of the music on our new album has a trap influence. Why? Because you would be blind and you would be deaf if you didn’t understand that hip-hop is going through more of a danceable time. You have these guys that grew up in the ghetto trying to find something positive to do. We’re not trying to condemn them. We’re making the people that listen to hip-hop understand what they’re doing. We did that exactly with a song called, “Rich Like You.” The hook says, “I just wanna be rich like you.” They’re trying to find a way out and the only channel they have is through music. Us being the hip-hop heads, we hear that and we’re like, “Turn that off.” But really it’s like, “Yo, they need your help.” Give them some time. A lot of them sound no different than Ol’ Dirty Bastard comin’ out. They have off-time styles and are creating a lot of new flow; it’s just a foreign tongue. That’s what we do. We use our music to show people how connected we are. The simplicity of the human is really all one. Everybody just wants to breathe, drink clean water, be loved, seen and listened to.

BC:  How did you get to this point?

BOM#1:  I think we see things and we’re inquisitive. It just comes down to wanting to know more, wanting to dig deeper and not taking everything at face value. We’ve got a song called, “Black Nirvana,” where I say, “The same thing that happened to Cobain happened to Tupac.” You might hear that line and be like, “What? No. Cobain shot himself and Tupac was murdered.” If you dig deeper, you can see the similarities. They both were outspoken people, had a lot to say about the society we live in and a lot of people didn’t like that.

BOM #2:  Yeah, both were very misunderstood and heavily judged.

BOM #1:  A lot of people didn’t like the way they viewed society. So for whatever reason, they both died very young in this society. Why is that? There has to be something about this society that did not mesh with how they spoke. I think what got us to this point mentally is just through thinking in critical terms about the things that are presented to us.

BOM #2:  I was listening to a Souls of Mischief interview and Tajai mentioned our names with TDE and Pro Era, which is really cool. He was talking about their [Souls of Mischief] new album, and he was saying that they weren’t necessarily trying to make a hip-hop album. They were just in the studio creating and just trying to make the best music they could. That’s something different for a group that’s been together as long as them. They started talking about some of the newer artists, and he included us, in talking about how he feels like a lot of the new artists have hit a creative wall where it’s like, “I’m sick of doing this. I’m sick of seeing this. It’s the same old, same old.” Even the underground has become predictable and kind of sold out to a certain extent. That’s basically where we’re at right now. We’ve hit that wall and we want to know what else is out there. How can we stop chimin’ in with what everybody’s complaining about? How can we turn a light on and let everybody know that we can do something completely different? You can do whatever you want to and that’s what we’re bringing to the feel. You might look at us and say, “Oh, they’re rapping.” If you look closer, you’re going to see performing arts, art pieces and costumes. It might look like a play, like it could be on Broadway. We’re just doing what we want to do creatively and trying to connect with as many people as we can.

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BC:  How do you want people to feel after they’ve seen you perform live?

BOM #2:  “That was the best show I’ve seen in ages,” that’s actually a direct quote. I’ve never seen anything like this before. I’m inspired to go create, I’m inspired to do something different, think outside of the box and critically think for myself.  We are one.

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Bonus Cut Poetry: “Working Title: Go Fuck Yourself” by Abby Conklin

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This is Bonus Cut Poetry, a series that features original poems by Bonus Cut staff, artists and YOU! In this series, our mission is to bring people together in poetry, share stories and display wonderful artistic pieces. If you would like to have your poems in the next Bonus Cut Poetry installment, just email us at bonuscut@gmail.com

This installment features Bonus Cut’s own Abby Conklin.

Go Fuck Yourself
By: Abby Conklin 

I want to vomit
the last two years.
Uproot from my gut
the relationship, break
up, the before plus
its after.  The cramped
hiccups of crying
on my apartment floor.
A mind wreaking havoc
at all hours of the day
hazed over with the effort
of being awake.  Months-

months

months of fighting
for what turned out
to be nothing.  The getting
over, the moving on.  Enough
realizations to fill
meeting notes’ margins
on mornings after nights
walled with twisting dreams.
Shaking it all off, trying
to get the blood gone stale
to move.

I want to vomit it all
in my hands- my whole
life since you, and hold
it out as if it is the answer
you seem to still be searching
for.  Here.
Here is what I have made
for myself, and did you want
it back, strangling keeper
of dreams?  I seem to remember
everything I had being consumed,
teeth first, by you.  Here, take
it.  Make a meal of your poison:
the ways in which I
do not need you.

 

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Album of the Week: “The Low End Theory” by A Tribe Called Quest

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Daniel’s Thought

“Once again a case of your feet in my Nike’s/ If a crowd is in my realm I’m saying, ‘mic please’/ Hip-hop is living, can’t yank the plug/ If you do the result, will end up kind of bugged”

“Be alert, look alive, and act like you know”

“A special shot of peace goes out to all my pals, you see/ And a middle finger goes for all you punk MCs”

“East Coast stomping, ripping and romping”

“Industry rule number four thousand and eighty/ Record company people are shady”

Gus’ Thought

There is no question that A Tribe Called Quest is one of the most legendary hip-hop groups of all time. For the last twenty-five years, Q-tip’s signature velvety voice and Phife Dawg’s relentless staccato flow have influenced hip-hop heads, young and old alike. Released in 1991, The Low End Theory, contains a laid-back feel that is heavily influenced by jazz and the experiential narrative of two twenty-something African-American men from St. Albans, Queens.

Featuring guest bassist Ron Carter, The Low End Theory is driven by the low, pulsing notes of stand up bass. Whether its “Butter,” “Jazz (We’ve Got), or “Verses From The Abstract,” the pulse stays on the far backside of the beat, creating the perfect backdrop for Phife and Tip to tell their stories. With DJ Ali Shaheed Muhammad on the 1’s and 2’s as well as features from Busta Rhymes, Sadat X and Diamond D, The Low End Theory is a primary document of sorts, allowing us to revisit the sounds and feelings of parts of hip-hop in the early 90’s.

On The Low End Theory, A Tribe Called Quest’s second album, they are in no rush to explain anything to you. Instead, the tempos are in the perfect spot for them to get there, when Tip and the Five Foot Assassin are good and ready. Don’t get me wrong, they want to rap and tell you their stories through the art form that is music. However, as they’ve done throughout their entire career, they do it on their own terms, at their own pace. Thinking about how the music industry is so heavily influenced and based around one-hit-wonders and what’s trending, it’s important to appreciate the artists, past and present, that make the music they want to make, for themselves, despite the industry. With The Low End Theory, A Tribe Called Quest did this, and continues to do so.

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Word Becomes Flesh: The Magic of Marc Bamuthi Joseph

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By: Justin Cook
Photos taken by: Ian Siporin

“I seek to create space for ritual magic AS performance, and also ritual magic IN performance.”

Last week, I had the privilege to witness Marc Bamuthi Joseph perform in the RCAH Theater located on Michigan State’s Campus, in East Lansing, Michigan. To say the least, it was an extraordinary experience encompassing poetry, dance, hip-hop, critical race theory and everything in between. At times, it was as if Marc was channeling an other-worldly force light years away from planet Earth. His being became living, breathing art—an animated meditation on the black experience in contemporary America that is as intimate as it is enlightening and as terrifying as it is hopeful. But before I get into the magic that was Marc’s performance, allow me to breakdown what makes this man so special.

Originally, Marc was simply a spoken-word poet. After winning the National Poetry Slam in 1999, he began to experiment with poetry and movement, incorporating elements of tap, ballet, breaking and miming in his performances. Since then Marc has become “one of America’s vital voices in performance, arts education, and artistic curation” by continually pushing the boundaries of “traditional” theatre and reimagining the power of poetry and language. His accolades include, but are not limited to, gracing the cover of Smithsonian Magazine after being named one of America’s Top Young Innovators in the Arts and Sciences, an inaugural recipient of the United States Rockefeller Fellowship that recognizes 50 of the country’s “greatest living artists,” the 2011 Alpert Award winner in Theatre, and in April 2013, he was one of 21 artists to be named to the inaugural class of Doris Duke Artists.

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Now, back to the magic: witnessing Marc perform in the flesh. That night, after a brief introduction, he got right down to business. First, he made us define a few words, which were central to his whole act: hate, greed, neglect, racism, self-hate and capitalism. Some of our responses were simple, i.e. hate is “misunderstanding,” while some were more academic, “capitalism is an economic system in which trade, industry and the means of production are largely or entirely privately owned and operated for profit.” From these definitions, Marc went seamlessly into his first piece, Word Becomes Flesh.

He began by using these words to develop a creation myth for what he referred to as the “Almighty Nigger Mentality,” a mentality that was created to oppress the African-American community through the siblings Racism and Self-Hate—the love children of Capitalism and Greed. Then, he broke into a spontaneous spoken-word/dance number that detailed the woes of the black community while simultaneously miming a lynching. Between every line, Marc let out a deep breath, and with every breath, the noose got tighter. Next, as if suddenly returning to Earth, Marc went into a causal dialogue about his relationship with his Haitian father. As a young boy, Marc wanted to learn how to tap dance. This didn’t please his father who saw it as part of Euro-American culture. But to Marc, the rhythms of tap were the rhythms of African drums, that slaves, ripped from their homeland, stripped of their traditional instruments, used their feet to keep the rhythm going on those long days in the plantation fields—because, you know, slave owners would never cut their slaves’ legs off.

Then he went right back into another section of Word Becomes Flesh detailing the inner-conflict of a soon-to-be father: should he stay and become a father, or should he run away as the “Almighty Nigger Mentality” would like him to? As Marc would later explain, with much joy, he decided to stay, his son now a teenager. The title of the piece, Word Becomes Flesh, then came full circle. Not only did Marc’s words literally become flesh through choreographed steps and miming, but also he gave his word, his promise, to stay, and now his son, an abstraction in the womb, is living flesh. This story, interwoven with over-arcing narrative of creation myth, allowed us into the intimate depths of Marc’s life while reaching outward to struggles of black manhood throughout the United States.

The second part of his performance was a few sections from his choreopoem red, black, & green: a blues, which focuses on social justice, activism and sustainability within minority communities—communities who are often absent from mainstream environmentalist movements. This piece was inspired by his work with the Life is Living project, which Marc spearheaded himself with the help of his community in Oakland, California. The idea behind the project is to create safer spaces where minority communities can come together and proactively change their environment through sustainable measures. Instead of using the term “Green” that most environmentalist groups use, which comes with many connotations, Marc decided to use the term “Life,” hence the project’s name, Life is Living (http://youthspeaks.org/lifeisliving/aboutus/). Since it’s inception, the Life is Living project has created numerous dialogues on the importance of sustainability and community across the country. It has even perked the interests of hip-hop legends such as Mos Def, Talib Kweli and ?uestlove.

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He concluded on a spoken-word piece about gang violence, which is the harsh reality for many black teenagers in America. The piece was specifically about a Sudanese mother he had met while working with the Life is Living project in Chicago. Her son, and several other young men, were senselessly gunned down on a street corner. This is a tragedy that is all too common in oppressed communities around the world. The poem detailed his conversation with this particular mother, who continuously “spat seeds to the ground.” It was raw; every word, every movement, all synchronized to display the physical, emotional, and spiritual tension young black bodies face on a daily basis. It was as if the dead, as if this mother, was directly speaking through Marc.

Despite the serious subject matter, Marc sustained a light-hearted vibe throughout the night. He was engaging—often running up and down the steps of the theatre, jumping, twirling, spitting poetry like madman—and kept everyone on the edge of their seat. It was truly a unique experience, unlike anything I could have imagined. To share that theatre with Marc was an honor, and an inspiration. It was not only a testament to the indomitable human spirit, but also to the reality that art can be magic.

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Elks Lodge Summit Recap

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By: Gus Navarro

A recap of this event.

Organized by Ella Campbell of Back Beat Magazine, the Elks Lodge Summit was truly a great night of jazz, hip-hop, reasonably priced beer and a little bit of everything in between. The Elks Lodge in Ann Arbor is an interesting venue, and I mean that in the most complimentary way possible. It’s unlike most places you go to listen to music and have a good time. Sitting on a hill overlooking the skyline of Ann Arbor, the outside looks similar to an old fraternity house. On the inside, the basement holds the bar and venue area for bands to set up and play. It’s an intimate setting, and the Elks Lodge Summit was an intimate event. The quintet of Judson Branam IV on drums, Ella Campbell on saxophone and EWI, Olin Clark on guitar, Nathan Flanders on keys and Endea Owens on bass, held it down, clearly having fun and doing what they love to do. Besides the band, four MCs, Blas FaMe, Tru Klassik, Duke Newcomb and Clay, began a cypher and would trade verses back and forth as the band grooved and continued to feed off each other. The musical foundation set up by the band created the perfect space for the MCs to rap and the crowd to enjoy being a part of the whole process. Hip-hop and jazz are undeniably linked and if you were in attendance this past Friday, you got to see and hear why. If you’re free the next time this event goes down, you should come. It will be worth it.

Check out Ella’s Soundcloud page to hear recordings from the night.

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Album of the Week: “Food & Liquor” by Lupe Fiasco

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Daniel’s Thought

If you can compare an artist’s debut album with any other debut album out there, Lupe Fiasco would be somewhere near what Phonte, Big Pooh and 9th Wonder did as Little Brother with Listening, or what El-P did with Fantastic Damage. These records weren’t necessarily five-mic classics, but they were a nice change from the ordinary, further pushing the hip-hop sphere of sound. With Food & Liquor, Lupe comes from Chicago’s west side to throw a variety of songs that tackle serious topics hidden underneath slippery wordplay.

The title of Lupe’s debut is a definitive way to look at life’s constant battles, with good (food) always battling evil (liquor). On “American Terrorist,” he discusses America’s history of terrorist activity (“Don’t give the black man food/ Give red man liquor“), while “Hurt Me Soul” tackles Lupe’s own struggle with hip-hop and its patriarchal stronghold. With these strong themes and topics, Lupe makes it a mission to articulate them through his own artistic vision, relaying a tangling maze of rhythm, rhymes and a clear cadence. “Kick, Push” rocks the stereo with quick-cutting rhymes about growing up, and “Sunshine” chronicles a first date under a sheath of extended metaphors and interchanging rhyming bars (“Never met her before/ But I think I like her like a metaphor/ It’s hard to get”).

Creativity dominates Food & Liquor, but there’s also a clear and straightforward message of positivity here, and with what seems to be of little effort, Lupe Fiasco delivers on his debut.

Gus’ Thought

Most people first encountered Lupe Fiasco’s high-pitched flow when he declared, “guess who’s on third?/ Lupe steal like Lupin the third” on Kanye West’s classic “Touch The Sky.” A year later, the Chicago MC would drop his debut record, Lupe Fiasco’s Food & Liquor, and take the hip-hop world by storm. Food & Liquor is the perfect blend of personal reflection and larger social commentary, that reveals another side to hip-hop in Chicago that can be compared to the legends such as Common or Kanye in a new-age type of way.

Right from the get-go, Ayesha Jaco recites a poem layered with the sound of cars zooming by and the endless banter of men and women. It feels as though you are standing on a Chicago corner, taking in every detail. This is because Jaco illustrates the history, way of life and energy of the city corner, while also setting us up for the main idea behind much of the record. The final lines of the poem are:

“The days of Malcolm and Martin have ended/ Our hope has descended and off to the side/ Waiting for the re-installment of the revolution/ Because we are dying at the cost of our own pollution/ But God has another solution, that has evolved from the hood/ I present one who turns, the FIASCO to good.”

From there Lupe recites the opening lines to the Qu’ran and begins to tell his story in album form.

Many things make Food & Liquor a worthwhile album. For me, there are two specific aspects that make it great. First, the illustrative wordplay is engaging and makes you hang onto every syllable for fear of missing something. On the fifth track “I Gotcha,” Lupe spits:

My perfume pursued them everywhere that they went/ You don’t want a loan leave my cologne alone/ It’s a little too strong for you to be putting on/ Trust me I say this justly/ I went from musty to musky and y’all can’t mush me/ I warn y’all cornballs I Hush Puppies.”

I’m obviously not going to sit here and claim that these are the most socially “conscious” bars of all time. However, in this case, that’s not the point. Lupe demonstrates how words can be used to creatively diss people without even reverting to easy-to-use cuss words. This is just one example and there are many more throughout on tracks such as “Sunshine,” “He Say She Say” and “The Cool.”

The second aspect to this album that is great goes with the first. Through his lyrics, Lupe presents himself as a multifaceted MC that can speak to many different, and equally important topics. His Muslim faith is a huge part of his identity and you hear that. “Kick, Push,” is a commentary on boyhood, individuality, skate culture and love. “American Terrorist” problematizes the history of imperialism in the United States. On the ninth track, “Daydreamin,’” Lupe satirizes gangsta-rap culture while also shining a light on conditions in the hood. If you watch or read interviews by Lupe Fiasco, he is someone that has much to say and is known to be outspoken on a lot of different issues. As his debut album, Food & Liquor serves as an introduction into some of these thoughts and opinions as he seamlessly transitions over the course of sixteen tracks.

As an MC, Lupe reminds us of the power of words. Featured guests such as Jay-Z, Jill Scott, Gemini and Matthew Santos drop in, adding lyrical and vocal accents to the already intact work. With production from Kanye West, Prolyfic, Soundtrakk and The Neptunes, the beats add the final layer to all that has been said, sung and recited. Lupe Fiasco is referred to as an influential figure in hip-hop because of what he has done and continues to do within the culture. He has a way of mixing satire and criticism that is hard to come by. On his debut album, Lupe Fiasco’s The Food & Liquor, you can hear where some of that comes from.

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Mark Your Calendars: The Elks Lodge Summit!

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By: Gus Navarro

A few months back, Back Beat Magazine co-founder, Ella Campbell, organized an open jam session for instrumentalists, vocalists and MCs to play music together in a night of improvisation. Lucky for us, it’s going down all over again at the Elks Pratt Lodge in Ann Arbor, Michigan this Friday, September 19th. Featuring a quintet made up of Judson Branam IV (drums), Ella (saxophone and EWI), Olin Clark (guitar), Nathan Flanders (keys) and Endea Owens (bass), the “Elks Lodge Summit” is guaranteed to be a night of good times, jazz, hip-hop, dancing and creativity.

The night will consist of the house band getting a feel for each other as they play various jazz tunes from some of the sax greats such as John Coltrane and Joe Henderson. From there, they will transition into the portion of the night where MCs and vocalists will be invited to take part in the music making process while the band covers artists like OutKast, Slum Village, John Legend and J*Davey. One of the coolest things about this event is how jazz and hip-hop will be seamlessly mixed and mashed, creating something special.

In anticipation of this second event, we had a chance to speak with Ella about some of the details. First we asked what her thoughts were regarding the purpose of the Summit:

“Some jazz musicians love performing with emcees, and some emcees love performing with live musicians. Bringing the two groups together and creating a nurturing atmosphere for both is one of the goals. I also want to bridge the musical language and genre induced barrier between hip-hop artists and live musicians, just like they’re doing at Revive Music now and how The Roots have been since their beginning. I think that jumping right in and creating the music together is an exciting way to do that.”

Hip-hop and jazz have been connected from the first cyphers and block parties in New York City and this continues to be the case. The best thing about this event is that you will actually get a chance to hear that connection being made.

Check out the quintet covering OutKast’s “So Fresh, So Clean” as Rafael De La Ghetto and Blas FaMe trade verses.

When asked about what she is looking forward to most, Ella responded, “Elks is a place that many musicians feel comfortable testing out new material, and the audience is always receptive to whatever we throw at them. I can’t wait to see what experiments brew up this time around.”

Friday night is sure to feature a slew of killin’ tunes and a collaborative atmosphere that will be inspirational and fun to be a part of. If you’re near Ann Arbor area on Friday and are looking for a good time, come out to the Elks Pratt Lodge. It’s going down and you won’t want to miss this.

On this recording you can hear the band laying down Big Boi’s “Shutterbug” with Rafael De La Ghetto tearing it up on the mic once again.

Event Info:

Elks Pratt Lodge
220 Sunset Rd
Ann Arbor, MI 48103

Venue is cash only.
Food and drinks available.
No hats once you get inside.

To listen to more recordings from the first night, check out Ella’s Soundcloud page.

RSVP on the Facebook Event page, here. 

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Keeping Your Mind Focused: Michael Brown and Ferguson

Photo credit: america.aljazeera.com

In the early afternoon of August 9th, a young black male, eighteen-year-old Michael Brown, was gunned down by police in the streets of Ferguson, Missouri. The exact reason as to why officer Darren Wilson drew his weapon and fired at the teenager remains unknown, and there are different versions of what actually happened. The shooting occurred on a Saturday and by Monday people all over the country had taken to social media to organize vigils and huge group photos in honor of the slain teen and in protest. The Twitter hashtag #handsupdontshoot became a way of connecting people and is a reference to the moment just before he was killed in broad daylight. The residents of Ferguson, a predominantly African-American community, have taken to the streets, voicing their anger, frustration and fear because of this specific incident but also because of the atrocious and inexcusable history of police brutality, oppression and hostility that has been directed towards the black community time and time again. The images of police, armed to the teeth with gas masks, bullet proof vests, assault rifles and tear gas, coming out of Ferguson are reminiscent of the 50’s and 60’s. These were the days of legalized segregation and Bull Connor, the Commissioner of Public Safety in Birmingham, Alabama, when white people opposed and literally fought against racial equity. Three weeks later, what has transpired in Ferguson is bigger than Michael Brown and represents much larger structural issues within the United States. Because of this, we acknowledge that this story is continually developing and there is still more information that will come to the fore. Our attempt here is to highlight some key articles and videos that help to give context to this story and that we found helpful to understanding the history and broader systems of inequality and brutality that are clearly on display here. Additionally, we hope to give examples of where hip-hop fits into all of this. While this piece may not fully encompass everything that has gone on, we feel that the following articles are crucial in working towards an understanding of what people are feeling, thinking and wondering as the story continues to evolve.

“America Is Not For Black People” The Concourse August 12th, 2014
http://theconcourse.deadspin.com/america-is-not-for-black-people-1620169913/+GregHoward1

Written on the first Tuesday following the shooting, Greg Howard revisits the different accounts of what happened before Brown was shot. He then speaks on the militarization of police since 9/11, the deaths of Oscar Grant, Trayvon Martin, Jonathan Ferrell and Eric Garner, as well as the demonization of Michael Brown. As he explains here:

“Part of the reason we’re seeing so many black men killed is that police officers are now best understood less as members of communities, dedicated to keeping peace within them, than as domestic soldiers. The drug war has long functioned as a full-employment act for arms dealers looking to sell every town and village in the country on the need for military-grade hardware, and 9/11 made things vastly worse, with local police departments throughout America grabbing for cash to better defend against any and all terrorist threats. War had reached our shores, we were told, and police officers needed weaponry to fight it.”

In this article, Howard expertly links the death of Michael Brown to the greater societal and historical context of racial oppression and fear of terrorism that continues to haunt the United States.

Ferguson Pastor: This Is Not A Race Issue All Things Considered August 14th, 2014
http://www.npr.org/2014/08/14/340422502/ferguson-pastor-this-is-not-a-race-issue-this-is-a-human-issue?utm_source=npr_email_a_friend&utm_medium=email&utm_content=20140817&utm_campaign=storyshare&utm_term=

This is one of the most powerful things you will most likely listen to involving the story of what has been happening in Ferguson. In this interview, Melissa Block talks with Ferguson preacher Reverend Willis Johnson about a picture that was published of him in the Washington Post. In the photo, Johnson is seen speaking with, and holding back, a young black man from joining in on the protests going on around them. The young man is clearly beside himself, a mixture of anger, fear and pain etched across his face. Johnson talks about his own experiences growing up in the United States as an African-American male, what that has meant throughout his life and that to him, what has been happening in Ferguson is beyond race. Listen to this interview because when Rev. Johnson speaks, you will hear how real racism is and how much it hurts.

“The Deaths of Black Men in America” Melissa Harris-Perry August 16th, 2014
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/08/16/melissa-harris-perry-black-men-killed-by-police_n_5684588.html

In this video segment, MSNBC host, Melissa Harris-Perry discusses the fact that black men have been killed by police officers at an alarming rate in just the past decade alone. As she points out, “From 2006 to 2012 a white police officer killed a black person at least twice a week in this country.” To go along with this, Perry looks to the 1857 Supreme Court decision in Dred Scott v Sanford as the origin of many of the issues that we face today. In 1857, it was ruled that African-Americans were not citizens and were never intended to be by the authors of the Constitution.

“How The Rest of the World Sees Ferguson” The Washington Post August 18th, 2014
http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2014/08/18/how-the-rest-of-the-world-sees-ferguson/

With this article, Adam Taylor and Rick Noack share examples of how other countries are covering the death of Michael Brown. This article is helpful in trying to get a better sense of how this news story fits within the larger global context. The article touches on coverage in countries such as Britain, Germany, Turkey, Afghanistan, Russia, Iran and China. The various publications have their own agendas and opinions on what has been happening in Ferguson in large part because of their country’s relationship with the United States. Predictably, much of the coverage has been focused on the racial dynamics and images of police that are impossible to ignore.

Killer Mike Interview on CNN August 20th, 2014
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bFfrNFkP2do

Atlanta native, Killer Mike, has always had a knack for saying what needs to be said in a somewhat controversial and in your face way. In short, he is a gangsta when it comes to expounding on socio-political topics such as Reaganomics and the effect that the War on Drugs has had on black and brown communities. In a conversation with CNN, he has a lot to say about police in the United States. We learn that his father was actually a police officer. Because of this, he holds police in high regard and acknowledges the difficulty of the job. Police as he says, “Are blue collar guys.” The issue is, however, that police are typically no longer from the community they serve. Instead, the culture of policing has changed since 9/11. Here, Killer Mikes forces us to think about what it would look like if police actually protected and served their communities.

“Black Life Is Treated with Short Worth”: Talib Kweli & Rosa Clemente on Michael Brown Shooting Democracy Now August 22nd, 2014
http://www.democracynow.org/blog/2014/8/22/black_life_is_treated_with_short

In this twenty minute interview, Talib Kweli and Rosa Clemente discuss many of the key issues that surround the situation in Ferguson. First, they recount their own personal story from the previous night’s protest in which they thought they might see another young man killed. Despite her twenty years of work as an activist, Clemente refers to it as, “the most terrifying moment of my life.” From there, Kweli and Clemente express their opinions on the use of social media within the context of the protests, what happens when we focus on the looting that has taken place, the fact that women are also being terrorized at the hands of what is referred to as “a militarized police apparatus” and that the death of Michael Brown has the potential to shift the narrative on how the police are viewed within the United States. In her final thoughts, a deeply moved and passionate Clemente asks crucial questions:

“And I’m sick and tired of this. Like Fannie Lou Hamer, I am sick and tired of this. We have so much life to live and a limited time amount to do it. And every day, the older my daughter gets, or any of my friends, all I can think about is, is this world better? Because it’s just really not. And what is going to happen to our children? What does this do to other people in the community? How does this affect white people that are anti-racism, working against racism? All of this has been so lost in this.”

Kweli and Clemente are both legends because of the work they do as social justice activists in and outside of the hip-hop community, making this interview a key component in the attempt to understand the broader scope of what has happened since the death of Michael Brown.

“Race/ Off” The Daily Show August 26th, 2014
http://thedailyshow.cc.com/videos/ufqeuz/race-off

In true Jon Stewart fashion, he dismantles what Fox News has said in the past few weeks following the shooting of Michael Brown. In this 10 minute clip, we see everything that is absurd about the right wing news channel and the stupidity of their anchors (I’m lookin’ at you, Bill). Stewart is a master of using humor while talking about issues that are humorless. At some point, if we don’t laugh at the ignorance that is being thrown in our face (while also challenging it), it may destroy us. Despite the jokes, the reality of racism in the United States cuts through with hard hitting honesty that isn’t funny, in any way, shape or form. We are reminded that, “People of color, no matter their socioeconomic standing, face obstacles in this country with surprising grace” and that, “race is there and it is a constant. You’re tired of hearing about it? Imagine how fucking exhausting it is living it.”

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