COPING WITH CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA
Photo used with permission from Sheila Pree Bright @shepreebright.
I am not one to normally externalize my feelings on the internet with regards to the horrors of this world, however it seems that I am not the only one still processing the racial violence that occurred in Charlottesville, Virginia. That the president not only failed to unequivocally condemn the racist undertakings at the neo-Nazi and white supremacist rally, but that he faulted “many sides” for the violence that erupted on August 11th and 12th is shocking to say the least.
In times like these I find that I am immobilized, numb, unable to cope, process, and ultimately heal (if healing is at all possible). I know that music is not the entire answer, but it can be some part of the answer. Indeed, we know that throughout history, it is through cultural and artistic expression that political underpinnings are oftentimes illuminated. With this I give you a few songs upon which you can meditate during these trying times.
Donny Hathaway “Young, Gifted and Black (Live)”
Although composed and recorded by the incredible Nina Simone, Donny Hathaway's version of “Young, Gifted and Black (Live)” is a beautiful rendition of the Civil Rights Movement anthem. Bleeding with raw emotion, Hathaway’s smooth, caressing tenor and its gospel inflections is sure to move you to the core, as it did the audience:
Nina Simone “Ain’t Got No, I Got Life (Live)”
Claiming the humanity and dignity of black people that had been denied them for centuries, Nina Simone proclaims—in a matter of fact way that might obscure the weight of her words—: “I've got my hair, got my head, got my brains, got my ears, got my eyes, got my nose, got my mouth, I’ve got my chin, got my neck, got my boobies, got my heart, got my soul, got my back, I got my sex.” The trailblazing artist and civil rights activist gives us a chilling performance leaving us with the sentiment we all need to hear and demand: “I’ve got life!”
Kendrick Lamar “The Blacker the Berry”
From the prophecy of black liberation in his 2015 oeuvre To Pimp a Butterfly, Kendrick Lamar’s “The Blacker the Berry” is an unapologetic anthem of a radical refusal to continue to be oppressed. Singing in a haunted voice, followed by hoarse rapping, Lamar rebukes the American government that sees itself as God; one that tells the Black community to bow down, “Down to our knees...And pray to a God...That we don’t believe”. Kendrick lists all the harms done to Black people, from the CIA’s saturation of drugs in black communities in the 1980s, imperialism on the African continent to slavery on the North American continent.
Heralded as a modern day Black Power anthem, Beyonce’s “Formation” (music video included) offers a powerful commentary on black financial independence, police brutality, the cultural importance of New Orleans in the black American imaginary, as well the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Queen Bey leaves us with a call to action: “ Okay, ladies, now let's get in formation/ You know you that bitch when you 'cause all this conversation/ Always stay gracious, best revenge is your paper.”
Nina Simone “Mississippi Goddam (Live)”
In a live recording session in Antibes in 1965, a visibly upset Nina Simone forcefully deplores the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama which killed four black children. That she could very well replace Mississippi with Charlottesville or Ferguson, 54 years later, is disheartening.
JAY-Z “The Story of O.J.”
Jay-Z’s new album 4:44, is a rumination on infidelity, legacy, America and blackness. In the track, “The Story of O.J.” rapped over a sampling of Nina Simone’s “Four Women,” HOV’s prescribed fight against racism (which has been a constant throughout his career) is through financial success: “Financial freedom my only hope.” The music video not only critiques Disney and Warner Bros.’s racist cartoons of the past, but it highlights the very way colorism shaped and continues to shape racial understandings and identities in the United States.
Chance The Rapper ft. Saba “Angels”
Released as a single before his 2016 masterpiece Coloring Book, in “Angels,” Chance tells us: “I got my city doing front flips/ When every father, mayor, rapper jump ship / I guess that’s why they call it where I stay / Clean up the streets, so my daughter can have somewhere to play.” The musician, producer and winner of the BET Humanitarian Award shows no sign of slowing down, both musically and politically.
Laura Mvula ft. Wretch 32 “People”
The exceptional composer, multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Laura Mvula delivers a heart-wrenching track delineating the violences committed upon black people across the world for her 2016 album The Dreaming Room. In it, she also celebrates the incredible achievements of people of color, the best example of course being her oevre.
I must remind myself from time to time, as Mvula emphatically yet delicately urges:
This light in us
We are a wonder