Category Archives: music

BBK1

In His Own Words: B.B. King (1925-2015)

Compiled by Arturo R. García

I would sit on the corners, and people would walk up to me and ask me to play a gospel song, and they’d pat me on the head and say, that’s nice, son – but they didn’t tip at all. But people who ask me to play the blues would always tip me. I’d make $40-50. Even as off in the head as I am, I could see it made better sense to be a blues singer.
The Telegraph, 2009

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The Grammys Have An Awkward Brush With Social Justice

By Arturo R. García

In the midst of a show that was downright turgid at times, there were glimpses of social relevance during Sunday night’s Grammys. You had Sam Smith openly thank an old boyfriend on national television while celebrating winning four awards. And the award’s outright hypocrisy in honoring abusive cis-males was only exposed further with remarks on domestic violence from President Barack Obama and activist Brooke Axtell:

After a year of passionate romance with a handsome, charismatic man, I was stunned when he began to abuse me. I believed he was lashing out because he was in pain, and needed help. I believed my compassion could restore him and our relationship. My empathy was used against me. I was terrified of him and ashamed I was in this position. What bound me to him was my desire to heal him. My compassion was incomplete because it did not include me. When he threatened to kill me, I knew I had to escape. I revealed the truth to my mom and she encouraged me to seek help at a local domestic violence shelter. This conversation saved my life.

And then, of course, you had Prince. With one simple remark — “like books and Black lives, albums still matter” — His Purpleness made explicit a message that Beyoncé and Pharrell attempted to express visually. But while seeing Hands Up Don’t Shoot on the Grammy stage was worth noting, those two moments weren’t without their own problematic undertones.

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FR3

Live From Facing Race: Keynote Address Featuring Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon, Toshi Reagon, and Tashawn Reagon

This year’s keynote session for Facing Race starts at 4:30 p.m. EST and will be a multi-generational affair featuring Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon, Toshi Reagon, and Tashawn Reagon.

From the program description:

Bernice Johnson Reagon, a scholar, singer/songleader, and activist for over half a century, has been a profound contributor to African American and American culture. Born in Southwest Georgia, her singing style and traditional repertoire are grounded in her experiences in church, school, and political activism. As a composer, she has created a narrative of her social and political activism through her songs and larger compositions. She performed as a member of the SNCC Freedom Singers during the sixties; founded an all women a capella ensemble, The Harambee Singers, during the Black Cultural Movement; and founded and led the internationally acclaimed Sweet Honey In The Rock for thirty years until retirement. Paralleling her work in music, Reagon is one of the leading authorities in African American Cultural History.

Her strongest musical collaborator is her daughter, Toshi Reagon. Described as “a one-woman celebration of all that’s dynamic, progressive and uplifting in American music,” Toshi is a composer, producer, founder, and leader of her own ensemble, Toshi Reagon and Big Lovely. Taking the stage at 17, singer, songwriter, guitarist Toshi Reagon moves audiences with her cross genre offerings of blues, rock, gospel, and incredible original songs. Collaboratively, these two socially conscious women artists have masterfully created two operas, “The Temptation of St Anthony” and “Zinnias: The Life of Clementine Hunter.”

Tashawn Nicole Reagon is a Sociology and Gender Studies major and an Intergroup Relations minor at Skidmore College. Tashawn has co-facilitated a two-credit, intergroup dialogue between students of color and white students on race, and interned in the Gender Rights and Equality Unit of the Ford Foundation, where she wrote a report entitled Student Activism for Gender Equity. Tashawn helped to establish the Justice Project at Saint Ann’s high school that examined issues of race and other identities.

The full session, as posted online, can be seen live below.

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The Racialicious Preview for San Diego Comic-Con, Part II: Saturday & Sunday

By Arturo R. García

Thanks to Kendra, as ever, for covering Part I of the weekend. As usual, you can find our panel coverage on Twitter through her account, the R official feed and my own personal account.

Just like last year, we’ll be compiling our individual panels on Storify and posting them next week. For now, though, let’s look at the second half of the con!

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Kanye1

The Ghost of Bigger Thomas Surfaces in Kayne West’s Monster [The Throwback]

With Kanye West in seemingly another controversy this week following a mid-concert rant, it’s a good time to revisit Latoya’s look at the furor surrounding his 2011 single, “Monster.”

By Latoya Peterson

Kanye has officially overdosed on artistic symbolism.

After his 35 minute debut of "Runaway" in back in October 2010, it difficult to figure out how Kanye would top a video that incorporated references to modern performance art, ballet, couture, mythology, and Fellini.

And yet, I don't think anyone counted on Kanye deciding to deck the halls with dead white women in "Monster".
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Pia Glenn3

Watch: Pia Glenn Takes On Nick Cannon’s ‘White People Party Music’

By Arturo R. García

This week, Comedian Pia Glenn’s Black Weekend Update webseries took aim at the new Nick Cannon album, White People Party Music, and Cannon’s attempts to both explain that he was “p*ssing people off” while it was “all in fun.”

“You want to p*ss people off? Congratulations.” Glenn says. “But when it comes to issues of race in America, some of us are trying to make change, not just urinate. And we can’t make change if your shenanigans pop up like an arcade token in my roll of quarters when I’m trying to do laundry and not here to play games.”

Thankfully, Glenn rounds up Cannon’s many misfires — and keep an eye out for Cookie Carter, as well.

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Always Foreign, Always Brown: Crown Heights-based activist DJ Ushka on growing up in Thailand, gentrification, global bass, and Edward Said

By Guest Contributor Rishi Nath, cross-posted from Open City Magazine

Crown Heights-based activist DJ Ushka. All images by Nabil Rahman.

[Editor’s Note: This is Open City’s second installment of “Lyrics To Go,” a collaboration between writer Rishi Nath and multimedia journalist Nabil Rahman . The series features conversations with contemporary musicians whose life and work intersects both Asian-American communities and New York City neighborhoods. Click here for DJ Ushka’s special mix for Open City readers.]

These days, DJ Ushka seems to be everywhere at once. She is all over Brooklyn, whether opening for Sundanese vocalist Alsarah in Stuyvesant Heights, deejaying and booking the monthly iBomba party in Williamsburg, or swooping in to save the AAWW PageTurner Festival party after a booked act canceled last minute. She also zig-zags the country, appearing at gigs in Boston, Philadelphia and Oakland. And that’s just weekends. During the day, she is a full-time staff member at the New York Immigration Coalition , where she handles communications and youth development.

Born Thanu Yakupitiyage, in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Ushka grew up in Bangkok, Thailand. She attended college in western Massachusetts, where she was turned on to post-colonial theory. From her spacious, dimly lit living room in Crown Heights, she described how that experience, a decade ago, changed her.

“It was the first time that I really started to understand concepts such as Orientalism, through Edward Said,” she said. Her laptop, attached to speakers and headphones, was open and glowing on the coffee table in front of her as she spoke. A poster proclaiming “Stop Racial Profiling,” hung on the wall behind her.
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Beyoncé’s SUPERPOWER as a Love Letter to Black Radical Insurgency

A still from Beyonce’s Superpower video via. Entretenimento

By Guest Contributor M. Shadee Malaklou, cross- posted from JesusFuckingChristBlog

In her December 13th article for The Raw Story, A Plea: Remember Beyonce’s Record Is Art, Not A Political Treatise”, freelance journalist Amanda Marcotte — who writes on feminism, national politics, and pop culture — tackles the accusation that Beyoncé’s album is “anti-feminist” (referencing reactions to lyrics like “bow down, bitches”) by reminding us that Beyoncé has produced for us a work of art, not one of politics. …Because if we look closely, her politics are flawed, or so the argument goes. Marcotte faults Beyoncé for “reinforc[ing] the same beauty standards she decries on the records”, but ultimately concludes that Beyoncé is still a feminist because, you know, feminism is messy. Marcotte ends the piece in (what she claims is) a “plea” that not only fails to understand Beyoncé’s feminism, but also functions to silence the Black radical politics of Beyoncé’s work:

I want to remind everyone that music is not a polemical or a campaign pamphlet. Music is art. Art can—should—be messy, contradictory, raw, and emotional. I love that Beyonce openly struggles in her music and in her image between the push-pull of both wanting to embody this kind of feminized perfection and seeing it for the trap that it is. It’s much more honest and human and humane than some kind of bland feminist treatise set to a beat. Beauty is a painful trap to ensnare women, but beauty is also pleasure and it draws you in. Denying these contradictions and presenting ourselves as people who have it all figured out all the time is tempting, but it’s not honest. And it’s certainly not art, which is supposed to reveal, not conceal. Just a small plea from me to remember that we’re talking about an art form, not a political treatise, as we tear into the lyrics, beats, and imagery that Beyoncé just turbo-launched into the public.

In one short paragraph, Marcotte manages to remind us why white feminism fails (still) to address the experiences of Black women as women; and in the same stroke, disaffects us — as a viewing public — from our identification(s) with Beyoncé as a woman of color. As an ideology, (white) feminism demands that women identify (and rally) as women first, and as bodies of color second, or better yet, last. Marcotte forecloses on the overdeterminacy of Blackness in an anti-Black world, and underestimates Beyoncé’s commitment to (what I am going to suggest here is) an insurgent, Black political future.

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