Monthly Archives: August 2008

Negro Music: Turn It Up (Hug Yo’ Kids,Homiez) 20 August 08

T-Baby- “It’s So Cold In the D”


Where the hell do I start with this excellent slice of self expression? *sigh*

First of all, I laughed…then my heartbroke…then I laughed at the sister that can’t seem to figure out if she wants to laugh/not be there/break out a butterfly & some booty claps…then I’m wondering who’s little brother the kid is…then I’m thinking about how maybe music in public schools does enrich ones spirit…then I thought about how friggin’ nice the track sounds over a nice system…then I thought about my  Keisha Cole  odd couple fantasy, where she and I hook up and she transforms into a thugged out Abbey Lincoln and I’m more grizzly and urban whilst applying quantum physics to club anthemsthen I think about how ill it is to start off a video with a dude dead on the floor of a Coney Island cut to a group of kids (various ages/female & male) walking through a cemetery bursting into song…then I think about that night Christian messed up his Upper Playground hoodie jontz at a Coney Island in the “D.”…then I think about my homie lil’ C-Mo who prounounces his “st” ‘s and “sh” ‘s  as “sk” ‘s (example: shrimp=skrimp, street=skreet)…then I think about the sister I saw on the #6 bus the other day eating a bowl of salmon croquette, smacking away like she was sitting on her porch in the Sahara…then I think of the photos my dad sent me of my cousin, who got his ass whupped by his nephew’s boys…then I think of the house that was home to 4 generations of my family and is now sitting in neglected ruins, as if some of Robert Mugabe‘s henchmen ransacked it or Georgian rebels blew it up and tried to pin it on the Russians…I think about the really unattractive female weight lifter from Korea, and the sort of cute one from Tonga, I saw on the Olympics…I think about Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and know that the “lynch mob” energy being generated from white suburban Detroiters parading their final piece of evidence that “those niggers are crazy”, as if there were no mirrors anywhere in their universe…I wonder what Jerry Wexler would’ve thought of this song…T-Baby might be the next Ruth Brown

“It’s so cold in the ‘D.

How the fuck do we ‘posed to keep peace?

What’s all on a niggas mind?

Murkin’ & doing time”



Shout outs: –your name here- & Tyree Guyton

R.I.P. : Isaac Hayes, Bernie Mac, Jerry Wexler,Leroi Moore (Dave Matthews Band),Johnny Moore (the Skatalites),Pervis Jackson (the Detroit Spinners),Johnny Griffin

now watch T-Baby again:


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Spiritual Music: Kelan Phil Cohran talks Sun Ra 14 August 08

video by Floyd Webb

Thursday, August 14, 2008 – 6:30pm 
Millenium Park, Michigan & Washington
Chicago, IL

I’m going to need to open up a Chicago branch of myself to enjoy all of this hard to find “black schitt“, nah mean?

Oh yeah…if these are on your iTunes

you are indeed the homie, and I hope you enjoy this blog…it’s for you.



Blues and the Abstract Truth” – by PETER SHAPIRO

swiped from Wire Magazine

Astronomers now accept that Sun Ra came from Saturn, but none of them can place the spaces where trumpeter and composer Phil Cohran has called home. Since jumping ship from Ra, he has spun new orbits in the black firmament, his Artistic Heritage Ensemble serving as the missing link between Renaissance Venice, Chicago’s AACM, Miles Davis’s Agharta and Earth Wind & Fire.

“Women in wool hair chant their poetry. Phil Cohran gives us messages and music made of developed bone and polished and honed cult. It is the Hour of tribe and of vibration, the day-long Hour. It is the Hour of ringing, rouse, of ferment-festival. On Forty-third and Langley black furnaces resent ancient legislatures of play and scruple and practical gelatin. They keep the fever in, fondle the fever. All worship the Wall.” – Gwendolyn Brooks, “Two Dedications: II The Wall August 27, 1967”

The history of jazz is largely the chronicle of musicians who tried to play, think and live outside the lines; the story of visionaries, heretics, misfits, cranks and miscreants; the history of square pegs and round holes. But what of the square pegs who don’t even try to fit into the existing spaces and spend their careers attempting to carve out their own shapes? Sun Ra gets begrudging acceptance from the establishment’s left wing because he fits perfectly with that hoary old model of ‘black genius/black madness’, others are valourised in academic circles or by their fervent cults, but there has yet to be a paradigm designed that can successfully map the contributions of trumpeter, instrument designer, scholar, shaman, community activist and educator Kelan Phil Cohran and The Artistic Heritage Ensemble.

If you’ve heard of Cohran at all, it’s either because of his stint as trumpet player in Sun Ra’s Myth Science Arkestra between 1958 and 1961, or you’re an obsessive rare funk collector and own one of the two reissue compilations containing The Artistic Heritage Ensemble’s “Unity”. Otherwise, he has largely been written out of jazz history, partially because his most lasting influence has been in the unseemly world of popular music, and partially because The Artistic Heritage Ensemble’s albums were originally released in tiny runs on Cohran’s own Zulu Records label and probably never got out of Chicago. However, their rather astonishing debut album On The Beach is about to be reissued by Aestuarium, a new label set up by local resident Jamie Hodge (otherwise known as Techno producer Born Under A Rhyming Planet), which should prompt a reappraisal and at least a couple of footnotes in the jazz textbooks.

Kelan Phil Cohran (‘Kelan’ is an honorific meaning ‘holy scripture’ bestowed on him by Chinese Muslims during a visit to China) was born on 8 May 1927 in Oxford, Mississippi and grew up in St Louis, Missouri, where he played trumpet with Chuck Terry in the late 40s. In January 1950, he joined the group led by that Okie from Muskogee, Jay McShann. “I played with him for a year,” Cohran says, reminiscing down the phone from his home in Chicago. “It was the best year of my life, too, because I got to see the rest of the world. I’d been holed up in St Louis and Jefferson City, where I went to school at Lincoln University, and that little area was all that I knew. We had a fierce tradition back there then, and we had quite a few good musicians. But everywhere I went with McShann, I found good musicians and I was shocked because it seemed that if you were so good you would become famous. But that wasn’t the case; we had giants around here in every town… The rock ‘n’ roll, I believe we had something to do with that because there was a record company called Peacock in Houston, Texas and we recorded for them all summer. Don Robey brought McShann in to be the house band. They brought singers in from Louisiana, Mississippi, everywhere [he probably recorded sides with Clarence ‘Gatemouth’ Brown and Big Mama Thornton]. Five days a week we were in the studio, putting backgrounds to different singers. That was a great experience because that’s what made me really a musical historian, a musicologist. During those sessions Walter Brown and Jay McShann would sit at the piano and go through thousands of old songs that I never heard of, and they would select certain backgrounds and idioms to go behind the vocals. We had to put heads to the stuff they were doing. I’m sure that’s why I became a composer. In those days most musicians didn’t think of being a composer, they thought of just playing other people’s music and just being good at it.”

In October 1950 he was drafted, but managed to avoid going to Korea by joining a military band at the Naval Academy in Maryland, where he spent much of his time absorbing books in the library. “In 1953 I came here [Chicago] because the market was dwindling in St Louis,” he recalls. “When I got out of the army I had the best gig in town, but it wasn’t good enough. So I came to Chicago and I got completely out of it; it took me two or three years to get caught on here. In the meantime, the guys I was playing with in St Louis all became famous: Oliver Nelson, Jimmy Forrest, all of them. I stuck it out, but nothing really happened till I got with Sun Ra… John Gilmore and I were playing gigs with Walter Perkins before he left Chicago. He kept telling me about Sonny [Blount, Sun Ra’s real name] because he would rehearse every day with him. And he said, ‘I’m going to take you by there’, so one day I went by there and the music was very challenging. You can imagine how a composer would be stimulated by Sun Ra’s music. So I started rehearsing with him and the next thing I know, we were rehearsing six hours a day and playing six hours a night. I don’t know, you looked up and three years had gone by… That opened my world up as a composer. I had written a few songs of merit before I got with him, but he taught me the one thing that really made a difference in my life, and that is: whatever you want to do, do it all the time. Once I learned that, there was no looking back.”

Cohran can be heard with The Arkestra on Rocket Number Nine, Fate In A Pleasant Mood, Holiday For Soul Dance and We Travel The Spaceways, but his most striking contribution was his ukelin zither playing on Angels And Demons At Play. Cohran’s harp-like fills working against Sun Ra’s organ on “Music From The World Tomorrow” and his abstract stabs against astral flute on the title track epitomise The Arkestra’s ‘black to the future’ concept like no other early Sun Ra recordings. “I saw a little instrument in a music store window and that was this little zither,” Cohran recalls. “The reason I wanted it was that it had tuning pins on it, and I wanted to tune my own instrument to some of the modes I had discovered through mathematics. In fact, that’s why I really came to Chicago: to study the Schillinger system which was available here at the time, but they were charging $25 a lesson.

“The Schillinger system is a system of mathematical variations. You get an infinite number of melody and harmonies using this system. Anyway, I’m glad I never took it because everyone I’ve heard using it, they have no spirit, it sounds mechanical. Once I heard it was $25, I went to the library and I bumped into folk music accidentally. I saw that there was [Indian shenai player] Bismillah Khan on Folkways, and I made selections and I’d listen to them, and I began to see the common thread in all of the music. I began to pursue it and study its structures, and little by little, I made some discoveries that all the music had come from a single source, then it became a mission once I discovered that. The little instrument, I just kept developing my technique, how to play it…

“[The Arkestra] were playing in a place on the West Side called The Fifth Jack and everybody in the place was paralysed when we started playing “Angels And Demons At Play”,” he continues. “It was a multi-faceted place that had a bar, a tavern, a restaurant, a barber shop and something else. Everybody emptied all the other businesses and came over to our place – they even left the cash registers and stuff. Because we had them all mesmerised in this one corner of the building. I looked around and it was the first time I really realised how much power we had. Everybody in that place was holding their breath. It was proof that music had that power over people whether they’re conscious or not. It gets inside of your body, inside your body rhythms, it mixes with your chemistry. Ever since then, I’ve lectured on those subjects. I’ve expanded on that for 40 years. That’s what I deal with: music’s effect on the body, and the ancient tuning systems and how ancient people were aware of these properties. They didn’t have the analytical terms for it, but they knew it existed and they knew how to reach it. So with those forms of teaching, that was how we fit this concept, the modal concept really, of playing. I don’t want to go into it really, but you know a lot of people got that concept from me, but they don’t acknowledge it. I could name a lot of very well known people who came to me. Just like with Sun Ra, no one acknowledges anything. I’m not a crybaby or anything like that, but if people want to know the truth about how certain areas develop in an artform, then they would have to search for what happened here in the 60s. It had everything to do with the way it’s being played today.”

Miles Davis and the rest of the Kind Of Blue group may beg to differ, but what is certain is that when Sun Ra and The Arkestra went to Montreal in 1961, Cohran stayed behind in Chicago. “I stayed here because I decided to spend 24 hours a day on my thing,” he says. “It worked. As soon as I started out, I redefined music. I started in the ABCs and went through everything I ever learned and redefined it. That’s when I started to study the sky; I went into flora and fauna, I was already a historian and a mathematician, so I was just broadening the bases. I composed songs according to principles that I had learned and discovered, so all of my over 500 songs are based on something that I learned. Let’s take Gioseffo Zarlino [1517-90], he was the musical director of St Mark’s Cathedral [in Renaissance Venice] for 25 years. His greatest composition was called Negra Sum which means ‘black is great’ [sic], so I wrote a composition to Zarlino. Vincenzo Galilei challenged his theories and he used his son Galileo Galilei, who was about 17 at the time, to help him construct his arguments against his teacher Zarlino. This was the deviation from the old music laws in Europe, because up to Zarlino’s time they held to include the elements and everything in the music – the stars and all of that, the colours, the time of day – but after that they took it all out of the music. Galileo started the revolution you might say, and Bach probably ended it [laughs] with his Well-Tempered Clavier. That’s a different spin on history than what is usually taught. So when I learn things like that, I write about them.”

Cohran tried out his compositions in his group The Story Tellers, and would also participate in some of Muhal Richard Abrams’s Experimental Big Band sessions. With jobs for musicians becoming increasingly scarce, Cohran would also peddle his wares in the pit band of the Regal Theatre, and in various travelling companies, showbands and circuses – anywhere that would pay. Instead of completely relinquishing his soul to the paymasters, however, Cohran had a plan up his sleeve – one that would result in the formation of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM). “We had 2000 musicians working out of the Southside union. Once it integrated, all of our jobs evaporated,” he declares. “All the professionals, and we carried a nice representation of good musicians, and there were a lot of great gigs and they all dried up, primarily from a cabaret law that was passed. Once the gigs dried up, everybody went to California or New York… I was walking in my neighbourhood by this old cemetery, and Steve McCall and Richard [Abrams] was coming up the street. We stopped and talked about things, and we said, since everybody had left there was nothing left in town. But we were committed to staying in Chicago, so we generally agreed that we should do something about it. I had a big apartment at the time, so I said, ‘Let’s send out postcards and next Saturday have everybody meet at my house.’ So we sent out postcards and it turned out to be on my birthday, 8 May 1965, and we brought about 40 musicians to argue about what is creative music. At the end we said, ‘We’ve got to organise, and we’re gonna come back next week and set up our structure’.”

Cohran formed The Artistic Heritage Ensemble – Cohran on harp, drummer Ajramu, Larry King on bass, Eugene Easton on flute and vocalist [Amina] Claudine Myers – for the first AACM show. “I named it that because there were no ensembles at the time except for classical ensembles,” he proclaims. “Now they’ve got ensembles everywhere [laughs]. My whole mission was to… most of the people here didn’t even know that our music was our legacy. They really didn’t look at it like that. It was either ‘I like it’ or ‘I don’t like it’. They didn’t pay any attention. There was no one to stand up for the music. The music was constantly being pushed aside for something new or tricky. People didn’t understand that there are some things that represent you… See, a lot of blues players get up and explain the blues, they don’t know what they’re doing, man. They know how to play, they know how to sing, but they don’t understand the context in which it took place…

“That’s the reason I didn’t stay with the AACM: we had a difference in approach. I came from St Louis, where I had been in a tradition that did a lot of things, and those were some of the things I wanted to do with the AACM, and that’s why I supported it. When we got into the actual nuts and bolts of how we were going to structure this thing, that’s when we started having a lot of differences. My studies put me in the vein of studying the ancient music, and I became one who submits to his ancestors. In that way, I embrace their concepts of sound and thought, and I hope that someday I will be eligible to receive some of the knowledge they had and was lost. But most of the guys that came into the AACM wanted to take the music that Sun Ra was playing when they would play ‘out’. They want to play ‘out’ all the time because it didn’t require any discipline. That was my opinion. Later on, they developed tremendous discipline, but at that time it was just playing notes. That didn’t do it for me. When we were playing with Sun Ra, we had objectives and sounds and we knew what we were doing… I supported it, but the people who came to my concerts came to other concerts and when they heard all of the ‘out’ music, they wouldn’t hang, they’d get up and leave before the end of the concert. And they’d be like, ‘Phil, what are you doing to me?’ So here I was a defender of their concept, which I didn’t appreciate either. But I stuck it out because I do believe that musicians should be provided the energy to go anywhere they choose in their art, so I supported them for that reason.”

Luckily, Cohran found a group of musicians who shared his respect and admiration for tradition, but who knew it so well that they could take it into rarely explored realms of trance and freedom. Musicians from the Chess Records session group – tuba player Aaron Dodd, bassist Louis Satterfield, saxophonist Donald Myrick, trumpet player Charles Handy, drummer Bob Crowder and guitarist Pete Cosey – joined The Artistic Heritage Ensemble in the summer of 1967, when the group was playing on the shores of Lake Michigan. “Before that, no one played in the park,” Cohran says of that time. “We’d have a parade once a year or a band playing for a special group, but no one played in the parks for the general public before this grant we got from a sister named Betty Montgomery. She secured a grant from a wealthy man to have art exhibitions on the lakefront in an old boathouse that wasn’t being used. So they brought together sculptors, writers, poets, dancers, painters and musicians and I had the music. It was next to Lake Shore Drive, so people would drive by and hear this strange music because we weren’t playing like other people, and they would hear the thumb piano and the zithers, so they would come back and check us out. At our last performance we had 3000 people, so that place was just run over, and that’s where we got established. That song, “On The Beach”, was written August 16. I prayed at the lakefront – I have meditations at sunrise, and that particular morning the sunrise was perfect and I heard the music and wrote [it] down and went to rehearsal. In about three hours we were performing it. That first performance that we ran down is the one that’s on the record; we tried to beat it, but we never got as good at that performance… Incidentally, that’s how [Earth Wind & Fire’s] Maurice White got on the bandwagon. He copied that. He would come to the theatre when he was playing with Ramsey Lewis and sit on my side of the stage. I understand that because he was Satterfield’s friend, and Satterfield was sat on the other side of the stage [laughs]. Ramsey started at ten, we started at eight, he’d be at our place. Later, I found out what it was. [Maurice’s brother] Verdeen also played with me in the summer of 70.”

In the autumn of 1967, Cohran set up the Affro-Arts Theatre as a permanent home for the kind of events that were taking place on the beach that summer. “The band played Friday, Saturday and Sunday, that’s how we paid our bills because we had a popular band,” Cohran says. “We trained music, history; we had Hebrew, Arabic and Swahili taught free; civilisation classes, forums. We also held conferences there, one conference of Third World countries.” The reissue of On The Beach includes a live version of their most famous track, “Unity”, recorded at the Affro-Arts Theatre on 15 February 1968. It features Cohran venturing close to Moroccan Joujouka territory with his zithers and an absolutely mindbending guitar solo from Pete Cosey, six years before his memorable contributions to Miles Davis’s Agharta and Pangaea: splashes and prismatic shards of intense colour that not even Hendrix was approaching at the time. “You see, when you get in an environment, it magnifies things in you,” Cohran says of the milieu surrounding “Unity”. “All of those musicians were dedicated to music. At first I kind of questioned that about one of the musicians, but eventually he gave himself to it too. But we were all people who were born to play, and we knew that, and we weren’t going to accept any alternatives because there’s a tremendous energy against black musicians making a living. When I saw that, that was one of the things that stimulated me to look in other areas like schools and churches and places like that, just to keep a band working. That was a very difficult thing and we made it through the 60s. They were all great musicians, but the concept was something that we developed with Sun Ra. Being free and not having to be inhibited with specific chord structures gave me a sense of freedom that I didn’t have before, and I began to explore the ancient approaches to that concept and that really opened it up. So that’s what it’s based on – the original system of speaking through musical mediums. There were times when through our circular energies we were able to transcend normal borders. That’s one of the things I liked about that “Unity”: it showed that we were locked in. There were places in there where we really became just one thought.”

Unfortunately, not everyone involved in the Affro-Arts Theatre was of one thought. After some internal turmoil, at the end of 1968 Cohran left the group and the theatre to teach at Malcolm X Junior College. The AHE mutated into The Pharoahs and later into Earth Wind & Fire, and the theatre eventually closed in 1970. “Sammy Davis Jr and Lola Falana came down and promised to perform in the theatre,” Cohran recollects. “He got busy and couldn’t perform there, but he sent us $5000. But by that time we had been split up by J Edgar Hoover and company… We all opened the theatre as a group, about 25 people, [gospel group] the Jackson Family, Darlene [Blackburn] and her dancers, equipment people, it was a whole staff. We did this out of our commitment to the community, we didn’t accept salaries, we did it to further our mission. I had an interview with two guys at Look magazine, a photographer and a writer. At that time, Look was pretty big and they worked six months ahead. They sent this team in July or August and they asked everything, what colour was my toilet paper? They followed me around for four days. They went to my performances, they talked to people I performed with, they went in the theatre, they went in schools, they went everywhere asking people stuff. They left and said I would be in the January issue of Look.

“But in September the whole group disintegrated. Someone charged me with doing some negative things and we had a meeting and it got to arguing. I had taken each one of these people in on a basis of respect and so I separated from them. I told them they could run the theatre, but I’m not going to travel with the group in disrespect. So I left. I found out later on who it was and what had happened. I guess I responded a little wrong because we were all a bunch of victims. They were playing dirty pool with us, the government was, because of us setting our own agendas. We were marked. I guess we should have expected it. It didn’t bother me,” he concludes with a laugh. “I call it respect.”


Filed under Vibrations

Political Music: Zach de la Rocha Interview 12 August 08

The 90’s did a number of pop culture & youth culture, with the raise of the reactionary grunge movement (led by punk rock crossover superstars Nirvana, and enjoyed by the likes of Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Alice In Chains) and the urban trojan horse “gangsta rap“, corporate music vendors found a whole new way to co-opt the youth movements before they’d gather any steam. The method is called Soundscan, and the principal (for marketing purposes only) provided hard data that millions of Elvis fans can not only be right…but due to their individual responses to advertising and basic overexposure, they could shun their collective ethos as a bunch of rednecks, and now enjoy their moment of consumption while being on an island full of Prom Kings & Queens. Basically technology and manipulation had a baby, and the joke is on you.

Subsequently in 2008, rebellion in youth culture & pop culture appears to have never existed in either when skimming the viacom, comcast, clear channel wilderness of contemporary entertainment. Instead illicit activity in all of it’s non-cultural-ness is available in sanctioned forms (video games,internet porn,salvia divinorum, Dr. Dre’s sparkling vodka,high priced sneakers made in sweatshops, etc.)

I say all of this to say that, when I first heard Rage Against The Machine in 1991, I wasn’t sure if they were more of the placebo or some real folks with real concerns slipping through the cracks.

The answer to that question wavers when factoring in the facts as they’ve unfolded since.

But de la Rocha, who’s been missing in action since leaving RATM in 2000 has resurfaced just in time to cash in/pique the interest of the already politically aroused who like to rhyme, rage and get their political on simultaneously.

His new project with drummer Jon Theodore (formerly of The Mars Volta), One Day As A Lion is exactly what you would expect from the two, political rhymes rapped in de la Rocha’s call to arms fashion over heavy footed drumming that recalls Larry Mullen Jnr.‘s playing on U2‘s “Boy” with both Tony Williams and Ginger Baker‘s playing on P.I.L.‘s “Album“.

Zack de la Rocha talks to Ann Powers
03:30 PM PT, Aug 11 2008…e-days-the.html

These days, the rock scene is low on mysterious figures. As the music has lost its countercultural edge, many of its champions have transformed into average celebrities, happy to speak into any microphone that wanders by. That’s not true of Zack de la Rocha: the Rage Against the Machine vocalist is the rare rock star who keeps his distance from the hype.

De la Rocha is as famous for his radical politics as for incendiary poetics. Between his retirement from Rage in 2000 and his recent reunion with the band, he’s limited his public appearances to the occasional rally or benefit show. His musical output has been spare too: only a few songs have seen light.

But this summer, the 38-year-old Southland native is back and seemingly unstoppable. He has a new musical project — One Day as a Lion, which pairs him with drummer Jon Theodore. One Day as a Lion’s self-titled debut EP, on Anti- Records, hit No. 28 on the Billboard charts with minimal media attention, and is gaining traction nationally on rock radio. A full release will come in the fall.

De la Rocha has also found a way to embrace Rage again. A 2007 Coachella appearance marked the band’s return as a live unit, and its shows have become major events. Earlier this month, Rage blazed through a chaos-inspiring set at Lollapalooza in Chicago, and the band has just announced a Sept. 3 Minneapolis date, which will serve as a protest against the Republican National Convention occurring simultaneously in St. Paul.

This burst of activity has even inspired De la Rocha to break his media silence. He spoke Monday by phone about the current state of political music, his creative process, and the future of One Day as a Lion — and Rage Against the Machine. A shorter version is running in Tuesday’s paper but Soundboard has the full edited interview below.

How did One Day as a Lion, your new project with drummer Jon Theodore, come about?

I’ve known Jon for several years now, and I saw some of his first performances as a member of the Mars Volta. He come from Baltimore and had been in some underground bands there, so I’d heard of him. When I did see him it was clear that music in L.A. was never going be the same now that he was here! I’ve worked with some great drummers, and have seen people try to execute those kinds of things before, but never as effortlessly and with as much feel. He exists in this realm between John Bonham and Elvin Jones. I haven’t seen drumming like that in a long time.
So I immediately felt compelled to get to know the guy and pick his brain and find out what kind of music he was interested in. We had a lot in common. We met in jams a couple of summers ago, without the intention of making an album.
Jon had a friend named Troy Zeigler, who now plays with Serj Tankian, and Troy had this very small rehearsal space where he would teach drum lessons. A couple of summers ago, Jon and I went in there to talk to Troy. He wasn’t there. Jon sat down on one of the student’s kits and started playing. The room was filled with random instruments – there was percussive stuff, these old 80s metal amps that hadn’t been used in ages, and a dusty Rhodes keyboard with some broken keys. I plugged in through a metal amp and ran it through this messed-up delay pedal that had a trigger on it and we immediately started playing. It felt like two people having a conversation using whatever phrases were at our disposal. We had to document it.
We’re still using that keyboard. We had to put an old Number Two pencil and jam it into the side to keep the top on.

The EP came out without much warning and basically no hype. What was the strategy involved in releasing it that way?

I wish I could say there was a strategy involved! We felt that the collection of songs we had chosen had resonated with us and it was really something we wanted people to discover on their own. That’s been missing from music, in a way; we’ve been marketed to so much, rather than people discovering something and picking it up.
When I heard Public Enemy for the first time, it was on the soundtrack for the movie “Less than Zero,” tucked between a Madonna song and some other ‘80s rehash. I was in a friend’s car, he put the soundtrack on and I thought, what is this junk? When it got to “Bring the Noise,” I had that kind of urgent reaction where you just had to stop what you’re doing. It sounded like breaking news.

How did the signing with Anti- come about?

I’ve known Brett for years and we’ve collaborated on a few things in the past, and I appreciate his perspective on making music. He has a genuine respect for artists. I think Anti- can bring in a number of voices that wouldn’t be considered in our rigid radio format-dominated industry still. I found that appealing. And it’s kind of in the neighborhood. But they also have the ability to enable us to grow if that ends up happening. We are working on another album now. And we want to play shows and be a band and go out and start some noise.

The band’s name, One Day as a Lion, hints that this might not be a long-lived project. Am I reading that right?

No! This is not simply a burst of energy. We are going to be making records and writing songs. We’re still in the process of forming as a band — we need a keyboard player, I’m not good enough to do it all myself — so that will be rectified soon. 
The name speaks about a generation of people, a kind of development that I feel. It’s an intuition about people who aren’t going to be so concerned about elections to get what they need. And whose politics aren’t going to revolve around a bourgeois morality. Their interests are going to be focused on food and housing and justice and revenge. And without going too far into that, that’s an intuition that I had.

Why is there no guitar in these new songs?

I’ve always wanted to experiment with sounds that could provide a kind of tension, something you can’t avoid. When I first heard the sirens and high sax squeals of hip hop in the late 80s, I was drawn to creating those textures. With this new music, it’s wasn’t a choice not to use guitars so much as the spontaneity of that moment when Jon and I got together, regardless of the instrumentation. We wanted to produce a sound that was much larger than what you’d think it could be.

You’ve worked with many collaborators since leaving Rage, including Trent Reznor and DJ Shadow. Did what you learned from those experiments factor into ODAAL?

To an extent it did, and it didn’t. When I left Rage… first off, I was very heartbroken, and secondly, I became obsessed with completely reinventing my wheel. In an unhealthy way, to a degree. I kind of forgot that old way of allowing yourself to just be a conduit. When I was working with Trent and Shadow, I felt that I was going through the motions. Not that what was produced wasn’t great, but I feel now that I’ve maybe reinvented the base sounds that emanate from the songs. But I’m still doing what I feel I do well, while looking for a more minimal sound.

The first ODAAL single is called “Wild International.” That implies a global politics from the get go. How does your work fit into that scenario?

Before we get into the larger thing, that song is a response to the way we saw the U.S. government try to reframe the conflicts of the world. Particularly when the Soviet Union had collapsed, there was no way to subject the country to the kind of fear needed to justify what I consider to be an ill distribution of wealth. After 9/11 you could see that reframing taking place. The specter of Communism no longer haunted the U.S., justifying its actions in Latin America and all over the world. What filled that void were Al Qaeda and the Muslim world in general. That song is, in an abstract way, addressing the way the right has distracted people from this huge rush of wealth from the bottom to the top.
Beyond that, I’m speaking toward a deeper sentiment that I feel and I know a lot of people feel. Most of the songs have to do with redemptive moments that come in the face of some real indignity. And that’s the current that I’m trying to tap into, because I think that for a lot of people — for the real participants who live in the shadows and work at car washes and are forced to cross the border and are struggling and facing the real economic consequences — they’re often left out off the debate because of the language they speak or even the terminology that they use.
So it stems from my own frustration. It stems from seeing how things have been developing politically, and watching so much dissatisfaction and people very upset about the way the country is going. And watching all of that frustration steered back into a more traditional political process. The problems stem far deeper than anything that Brother Obama can address, and eventually people are going to have to respond.
I think maybe like a conduit for that expression. I have those same feelings too. I’m a Mexicano growing up in that colonized Southwest. I’m an artist, but I didn’t grow up wealthy.

On the surface, some of these new songs seem very anti-religious, including the single.

I don’t see it as an anti-religious song. I see it as the West has been using Christianity as a way to justify its actions when in reality, those figures, Christ and Muhammad, were rebels. These two religious figures have been co-opted to justify power, although they fought against the abuses of power and the expansion of empire. It’s almost like, what would Christ and Muhammad do?

What do you think of the state of political art now? Sometimes it seems to have really died down, what with a mainstream full of teen pop and reality television.

I’m listening to things all the time. There have been eight years of the Bush administration and the decline of real wages, and people are responding all the time. It’s unfortunate that more conscious artists or political artists in general haven’t been heard in the mainstream. But I think back to when I was going to hardcore shows and I saw the Bad Brains, those moments resonate and are life-altering moments. Those people who were at those shows have become artists or activists as a result of having their perspective shifted. During the 1980s when punk was seen as unviable or dangerous, or threatening to the music industry, those voices went underground and created their own networks and vehicles for producing what they produced. It did create a very politicized generation. So I don’t necessarily feel that music within the mainstream is always an indication of the political frustrations that exist beneath the surface.
I’ve traveled back and forth between here and Mexico a lot, especially since the Zapatista uprising in 1994. The Rand Corporation did this study about how the Zapatistas were able to create such an international presence and have their experiences and the objectives of the rebellion outlined for so many people worldwide, and how that was responsible for fending off a more direct military action against the communities. It had a lot to do with the Internet. Whether you’re interested in change and growing up in the Lacandon jungle, or whether you’re young here and watching these horrors unfold in Iraq and Afghanistan, we now have the tools to provide a countervoice.

One line jumped out at me, from the title track — “If L.A. were Baghdad, we’d be Iraqi.”

In one sense, that line about one of those redemptive moments that run through the whole EP. But I’m also making a comparison between the expansion of U.S. power into Iraq and Afghanistan and the history of the Southwest, which has been erased. There’s a very close relationship between what happened in Fallujah and what happened at the Alamo.
When settlers fleeing the South after the Civil War came into San Antonio, primarily because they wanted to practice slavery, an altercation took place and James Polk used it as an excuse to invade, to fulfill Manifest Destiny in the Southwest, which is really a misnomer — this is really Northeastern Mexico.
In Fallujah, there were Blackwater mercenaries, and U.S. soldiers taking over schools and using them as a military base in the interest of Exxon Mobil. And the students and their parents reacted by staging a protest. Several students were killed. The U.S. used that as a pretext to go in and decimate Fallujah. I’m exploring that in the song.

How do those two elements of your own life — activism and music-making — intersect or diverge now?

I don’t think the separation is valid, especially in these times. For me, the only time that that line gets drawn when you’re producing music and you’re trying to flush out a certain idea — that’s very liberating, in a very abstract way. It’s in those moments where you feel free, and you can go ahead and explore why you feel free in those moments. In the past moments with Shadow and Trent I didn’t feel that.
Participating in the Son Jarocho work felt more community based, more collective. I was part of a collective voice and not on my own as an artist, and something about that attracted me.
It’s so funny; I’ve read a couple things someone said that there were bets being placed on who would finish their album first, Axl Rose or me. One joke was that Axl was calling his record “Chinese Democracy,” and that there would be democracy in China by the time he finished! I laughed when I considered calling this record “American Democracy.” But I kinda spoke too soon on that!

It’s an election year here in the U.S. — did that factor in to your decision to debut new music now?

I’d be lying if I said it was coincidental. I think that it’s an interesting moment. The lowest approval rating in the history of any presidency — and for Congress. There’s this interesting rupture developing, and I think it’s a healthy one.
To watch the Democrats, who were really our only institutional obstruction to this extremely rightward swing, fall in lockstep behind this new imperial fantasy that became reality — that was a pivotal moment. A lot of people began to question the whole nature of both parties. Now more than ever, there’s a more fertile ground for artists to try to reveal the nature of both parties, who are mainly the public relations team for transnational corporations.
Barack is clearly the most viable candidate, the most intelligent, the one with the most forward-thinking position, but I would hate to see the flames of discontent be watered down by rhetorical visions of hope and change, when historically those things have only come from immigrant workers or people fighting against segregation, or against the second class position of women. History has taught us that when it comes to ending war, it’s always been the people on the ground who’ve led the movement. Veterans who have come home and fought against the war. Iraqi kids. And artists and musicians.

You’ve been touring with Rage again. What is your relationship like with those guys now?

So much has changed. When you get older, you look back on tensions and grievances and have another perspective on it. I think our relationship now is better than it’s ever been. I would even describe it as great. We’re going to keep playing shows — we have a couple of big ones happening in front of both conventions. As far as us recording music in the future, I don’t know where we all fit with that. We’ve all embraced each other’s projects and support them, and that’s great.

When you look out a crowd like the one you played in front of at Lollapalooza, what kind of potential do you see there?

There was this interesting thing that happened during the Clinton administration; people were looking inward and not outward, and not addressing what was going on. Rage set the political foreground for things that would come very shortly thereafter. I think people might see that what we are saying has more relevance now than when the band first came out.

Can we look forward to some live ODAAL gigs in the near future?

Definitely. I’ve always hoped that a project I was involved in could be a little more spontaneous, set up on a block and play. Me and Jon see eye to eye on doing that.

Meanwhile, as you said, Rage is playing in Minneapolis the same night the Republican convention happens in St. Paul. What do you anticipate for that show?

You’re gonna have to come and cover it. I think we both know what we expect. Good shoes would help. And you might wanna dip that bandanna in some vinegar.

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I Pledge Allegiance With Creation 6 August 08

“The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain” by Langston Hughes   : photo by Freddy Allen

“One of the most promising of the young Negro poets said to me once, “I want to be a poet__not a Negro poet,” meaning, I believe, “I want to write like a white poet”; meaning subconsciously, “I would like to be a white poet”; meaning behind that, “I would like to be white.” And I was sorry the young man said that, for no great poet has ever been afraid of being himself. And I doubted then that, with his desire to run away spiritually from his race, this boy would ever be a great poet. But this is the mountain standing in the way of any true Negro art in America__this urge within the race toward whiteness, the desire to pour racial individuality into the mold of American standardization, and to be as little Negro and as much American as possible.

But let us look at the immediate background of this young poet. His family is of what I suppose one would call the Negro middle class: people who are by no means rich yet never uncomfortable nor hungry__smug, contented, respectable folk, members of the Baptist church. The father goes to work every morning. He is the chief steward at a large white club. The mother sometimes does fancy sewing or supervises parties for the rich families of the town. The children go to a mixed school. In the home they read white papers and magazines. And the mother often says, “Don’t be like niggers” when the children are bad. A frequent phrase from the father is, “Look how well a white man does things.” And so the word white comes to be unconsciously a symbol of all the virtues. It holds for the children beauty, morality, and money. The whisper of “I want to be white” runs silently through their minds. This young poet’s home is, I believe, a fairly typical home of the colored middle class. One sees immediately how difficult it would be for an artist born in such a home to interest himself in interpreting the beauty of his own people. He is never taught to see that beauty. He is taught rather not to see it, or if he does, to be ashamed of it when it is not according to Caucasian patterns.

For racial culture the home of a self-styled “high-class” Negro has nothing better to offer. Instead there will be perhaps more aping of things white than in a less cultured or less wealthy home. The father is perhaps a doctor, lawyer, landowner, or politician. The mother may be a social worker, or a teacher, or she may do nothing and have a maid. Father is often dark but he has usually married the lightest woman he could find. The family attend a fashionable church where few really colored faces are to be found. And they themselves draw a color line. In the North they go to white theaters and white movies. And in the South they have at least two cars and a house “like white folks.” Nordic manners, Nordic faces, Nordic hair, Nordic art (if any), and an Episcopal heaven. A very high mountain indeed for the would-be racial artist to climb in order to discover himself and his people.

But then there are the low-down folks, the so-called common element, and they are the majority__may the Lord be praised! The people who have their nip of gin on Saturday nights and are not too important to themselves or the community, or too well fed, or too learned to watch the lazy world go round. They live on Seventh Street in Washington or State Street in Chicago and they do not particularly care whether they are like white folks or anybody else. Their joy runs, bang! into ecstasy. Their religion soars to a shout. Work maybe a little today, rest a little tomorrow. Play awhile. Sing awhile. O, let’s dance! These common people are not afraid of spirituals, as for a long time their more intellectual brethren were, and jazz is their child. They furnish a wealth of colorful, distinctive material for any artist because they still hold their own individuality in the face of American standardization. And perhaps these common people will give to the world its truly great Negro artist, the one who is not afraid to be himself. Whereas the better-class Negro would tell the artist what to do, the people at least let him alone when he does appear. And they are not ashamed of him__if they know he exists at all. And they accept what beauty is their own without question.

Certainly there is, for the American Negro artist who can escape the restrictions the more advanced among his own group would put upon him, a great field of unused material ready for his art. Without going outside his race, and even among the better classes with their “white” culture and conscious American manners, but still Negro enough to be different, there is sufficient material to furnish a black artist with a lifetime of creative work. And when he chooses to touch on the relations between Negroes and whites in this country with their innumerable overtones and undertones, surely, and especially for literature and the drama, there is an inexhaustible supply of themes at hand. To these the Negro artist can give his racial individuality, his heritage of rhythm and warmth, and his incongruous humor that so often, as in the Blues, becomes ironic laughter mixed with tears. But let us look again at the mountain.

A prominent Negro clubwoman in Philadelphia paid eleven dollars to hear Raquel Meller sing Andalusian popular songs. But she told me a few weeks before she would not think of going to hear “that woman.” Clara Smith, a great black artist, sing Negro folk songs. And many an upper-class Negro church, even now, would not dream of employing a spiritual in its services. The drab melodies in white folks’ hymnbooks are much to be preferred. “We want to worship the Lord correctly and quietly. We don’t believe in ‘shouting.’ Let’s be dull like the Nordics,” they say, in effect.

The road for the serious black artist, then, who would produce a racial art is most certainly rocky and the mountain is high. Until recently he received almost no encouragement for his work from either white or colored people. The fine novels of Chestnutt go out of print with neither race noticing their passing. The quaint charm and humor of Dunbar’s dialect verse brought to him, in his day, largely the same kind of encouragement one would give a sideshow freak (A colored man writing poetry! How odd!) or a clown (How amusing!).

The present vogue in things Negro, although it may do as much harm as good for the budding colored artist, has at least done this: it has brought him forcibly to the attention of his own people among whom for so long, unless the other race had noticed him beforehand, he was a prophet with little honor. I understand that Charles Gilpin acted for years in Negro theaters without any special acclaim from his own, but when Broadway gave him eight curtain calls, Negroes, too, began to beat a tin pan in his honor. I know a young colored writer, a manual worker by day, who had been writing well for the colored magazines for some years, but it was not until he recently broke into the white publications and his first book was accepted by a prominent New York publisher that the “best” Negroes in his city took the trouble to discover that he lived there. Then almost immediately they decided to give a grand dinner for him. But the society ladies were careful to whisper to his mother that perhaps she’d better not come. They were not sure she would have an evening gown.

The Negro artist works against an undertow of sharp criticism and misunderstanding from his own group and unintentional bribes from the whites. “O, be respectable, write about nice people, show how good we are,” say the Negroes. “Be stereotyped, don’t go too far, don’t shatter our illusions about you, don’t amuse us too seriously. We will pay you,” say the whites. Both would have told Jean Toomer not to write “Crane.” The colored people did not praise it. The white people did not buy it. Most of the colored people who did read “Cane” hated it. They are afraid of it. Although the critics gave it good reviews the public remained indifferent. Yet (excepting the work of Du Bois) “Cane” contains the finest prose written by a Negro in America. And like the singing of Robeson, it is truly racial.

But in spite of the Nordicized Negro intelligentsia and the desires of some white editors we have an honest American Negro literature already with us. Now I await the rise of the Negro theater. Our folk music, having achieved world-wide fame, offers itself to the genius of the great individual American Negro composer who is to come. And within the next decade I expect to see the work of a growing school of colored artists who paint and model the beauty of dark faces and create with new technique the expressions of their own soul-world. And the Negro dancers who will dance like flame and the singers who will continue to carry our songs to all who listen__they will be with us in even greater numbers tomorrow.

Most of my own poems are racial in theme and treatment, derived from the life I know. In many of them I try to grasp and hold some of the meanings and rhythms of jazz. I am sincere as I know how to be in these poems and yet after every reading I answer questions like these from my own people: Do you think Negroes should always write about Negroes? I wish you wouldn’t read some of your poems to white folks. How do you find any thing interesting in a place like a cabaret? Why do you write about black people? You aren’t black. What makes you do so many jazz poems?

But jazz to me is one of the inherent expressions of Negro life in America: the eternal tom-tom beating in the Negro soul__the tom-tom of revolt against weariness in a white world, a world of subway trains, and work, work, work; the tom-tom of joy and laughter, and pain swallowed in a smile. Yet the Philadelphia clubwoman is ashamed to say that her race created it and she does not like me to write about it. The old subconscious “white is best” runs through her mind. Years of study under white teachers, a lifetime of white books, pictures, and papers, and white manners, morals, and Puritan standards made her dislike the spirituals. And now she turns up her nose at jazz and all its manifestations__likewise almost everything else distinctly racial. She doesn’t care for the Winold Reiss portraits of Negroes because they are “too Negro.” She does not want a true picture of herself from anybody. She wants the artist to flatter her, to make the white world believe that all Negroes are as smug and as near white in soul as she wants to be. But, to my mind, it is the duty of the younger Negro artist, if he accepts any duties at all from outsiders, to change through the force of his art that old whispering “I want to be white,” hidden in the aspirations of his people, to “Why should I want to be white? I am a Negro__and beautiful!”

So I am ashamed for the black poet who says, “I want to be a poet, not a Negro poet,” as though his own racial world were not as interesting as any other world. I am ashamed, too, for the colored artist who runs from the painting of Negro faces to the painting of sunsets after the manner of the academicians because he fears the strange un-whiteness of his own features. An artist must be free to choose what he does, certainly, but he must also never be afraid too what he might choose.

Let the blare of Negro jazz bands and the bellowing voice of Bessie Smith singing Blues penetrate the closed ears of the colored near-intellectuals until they listen and perhaps understand. Let Paul Robeson singing Water Boy, and Rudolph Fisher writing about the streets of Harlem, and Jean Toomer holding the heart of Georgia in his hands, and Aaron Douglas drawing strange black fantasies cause the smug Negro middle class to turn from their white, respectable, ordinary books and papers to catch a glimmer of their own beauty. We younger Negro artists who create now intend to express our individual dark-skinned selves without fear or shame. If white people are pleased we are glad. If they are not, it doesn’t matter. We know we are beautiful. And ugly too. The tom-tom cries and the tom-tom laughs. If colored people are pleased we are glad. If they are not, their displeasure doesn’t matter either. We build our temples for tomorrow, strong as we know how, and we stand on top of the mountain, free within ourselves.”

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little Words with Big pictures 2 August 08

Anyone have any weird stories they think may or may not be related to the recent solar eclipse?

I definately think that the guy who beheaded the other guy on the bus in Canada was touched, but who the fuck knows what was really up his ass? That story was the craziest schitt I’ve ever read in a newspaper as far as one on one atrocities go. As I said to Chanda, the Columbine Massacare just devolved.

I hope they blame whatever that killer had on his iPod, and in Manitoba, Canada I’m going with George Thorogood & the Destroyers, I once saw some middle-aged Asian men buy this album in Toronto. They seemed very mild mannered and reeked of chewing gum, but I could tell they were up to no good.


I think CNN’s “Black In America” 2 part series may have been the most horsefeathers ever assembled and promoted as a news documentary.

I was glad to see Professor Michael Eric Dyson and his brother Everett Dyson though, those two should have a sunday morning series on CNN, a radio show, a podcast…something.  

God bless Mumia Abu-Jamal, but who is his audience?  And how is he so in the loop and in prison? Something about him lending all of that blackness to tribal activists and the conspiracy movement….? I’ve never been able to tune in, I always happen across Mumia. He’s like the guerilla version of  Jesse Jackson’s “Black Santa Claus”.


Not Mumia Abu Jamal's Audience...Needs some attention

Not Mumia Abu Jamal's Audience...Needs some attention

Give me Professor Michael & Convict Everett Dyson doing a “Car Talk/Click N’ Clack” styled hour taking calls from Americans (all of ’em, not just the black ones) talking about the antagonizing elements that continually undermine progress in America today.

As Michael & Everett Dyson go, so go America.

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