February 19, 2008

A Cultural Celebration of Black/Brown Unity

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[This is a report on an event I didn't attend and had nothing to do with. I post it because the issue it addresses, Black/Brown unity, is of critical importance to the future of the people's struggle in this country. Since the beginning of the year, we've seen this clearly. The approach of some high-level Clinton strategists in the Democratic Party primaries has been to focus on driving and keeping a wedge between Black and Latina/o voters to stem the rising Obama tide. This "inside story" has been echoed and pumped up happily by mainstream media all too thrilled to have "the white lady vs. the Black guy" as a dramatic frame for reporting the elections. The dangers of such wedge politics and the "common sense" narrowness behind them should be obvious.

I want to add a plug here for the splendid folks at Rock and Rap Confidential. I heard of this because I subscribe to their couple-post-a-week email list, which you can do at the website. The folks responsible for the great project reported here, Rock A Mole Productions, don't update their website for shit, and, but for R&RC, I likely never would have learned about it. Sign up, why doncha?]

Common Roots, Common Dreams:
Black, Brown and All The Town

It began with a three part invocation.
  • A drum call by LA’s best young percussionist, Miguel Ramirez.
  • Sixteen-year-old Rachel Holley of Compton’s Dominguez High School sang “Lift Every Voice and Sing” (The Negro National Anthem).
  • Then from the back of the club, a beautiful young woman draped in traditional Mexican garb made her way slowly through the tables to the mic, all the while pouring her heart into the song “Cancion Mixteca.” It was Marisol, among the best of the new crop of singer/bandleaders who are leading a resurgence of traditional Mexican music among the youth while also taking it in new directions.
Now the show—Common Roots, Common Dreams: A Celebration of the Commonality of Black and Mexican History and Culture—could begin. It was the tenth festival presented by Rock A Mole (rhymes with guacamole) Productions. It took place the evening of February 17th in a Los Angeles nightclub packed beyond overflowing. The co-hosts were Always Running author Luis Rodriguez and Def Poetry Jam poet TamaraBlue.

The evening was divided into three sections--Life, Death, and Transformation—in order to take performer and fan alike on an emotional journey of unity, pain, and visions of a better life.

Mike the Poet wrote a special piece for the evening which, with ferocious energy and liberating detail, showed that Los Angeles has always been a city of Black and Brown synergy. Mike’s historical journey expanded to include everyone, bringing the crowd to its feet with its conclusion “The city is ours!” And, at least for one night, it was.

Actor Pocho Joe and beatboxer Joshua Silverstein performed an hilarious piece which skewered out of touch “radicals,” followed by Joshua making music with his mouth until he somehow slipped a harmonica into the mix.

Besskepp, Def Poetry Jam poet and host of A Mic and Dim Lights (LA’s strongest spoken word venue) and Rock A Mole founder Ernie Perez did a duet about the blessings of being parents of multi-racial kids.

Ant Black of San Diego’s premier spoken word crew, Collective Purpose, performed “Tallulah,” a spellbinding piece which focused on Katrina and Jena while turning all of African-American history into a wind for change. This was followed by a coda in Spanish by rapper Redemption from Guanajuato, Mexico which dealt with the ways in which Mexico is heavily African.

Janet Gonzalez urged the crowd to “take a walk in my shoes,” the shoes of an undocumented immigrant as she delivered a fiery poem which detailed why you’d rather be barefoot.

TamaraBlue compared a tiny apartment to prison while Frank Escamilla (aka the Busstop Prophet), Porschia Baker, and Amalia Ortiz brought the violence of our streets and our border into often terrifying focus.

Sarah Cruse sang and spoke her way out of history’s constraints on “No Longer Captive,” followed by Metaphysicz standing in the center of the room while he delivered his commanding description of the peaceful, prosperous world that’s just out of reach.

TamaraBlue returned with a piece about the power of poetry. She was followed at the mic by Malcolm Mays, a seventeen-year-old high school student from South Central LA recently featured in the New York Times because….he is currently in post-production on Trouble, his feature film debut which presents solutions to Black/Mexican conflict.

Luis Rodriguez (“Making Medicine”) and Besskepp (“Welcome to a World”) finished things up with visions of a new world brave enough to take care of us all.
Welcome to a world

Where everybody’s affording the necessities
Nobody's hungry, thirsty, or roofless
Where the old and toothless got dental benefits
Benefit concerts not necessary because we're all rich
Even regular folk can survive off of being broke
Soak up soap operas and novellas
Cause that's the only drama

And there was plenty of music. The house band included G Mack (Mary J. Blige, Snoop Dogg) on guitar, Boudro (Gladys Knight) on bass, Michael Sulcer (Ray Charles Orchestra) on drums, and Chuck Boogie (of fusion funkateers Slang) on keyboards and turntables. The band was led by Ernie Perez of the Boxing Gandhis and Carvell Holloway of Ten East. Ten East and Marisol’s band La Santa Cecilia also offered up the first-ever collaborations between a jazz band and a traditional Mexican band.

What’s next? A short play, The First Embrace, begins rehearsals this week. It depicts the bitter struggle before the Mexican-American War between the Mexican government—which embraced fugitive slaves—and the U.S. government, which demanded those slaves be returned to North American plantations. The play will be performed this spring but perhaps more importantly it will be filmed on set and in full costume, then distributed free on the Internet and on DVD.

There’s also talk of another Common Roots, Common Dreams to take place this summer in Olvera Plaza, the heart and soul of downtown Mexican Los Angeles.

Stay tuned.

Much respect to all artists everywhere—

Rock A Mole Productions/Los Angeles

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