Artspeaks 2002: Jammin' Against the War

by Michael Slate

Revolutionary Worker #1152, May 26, 2002, posted at http://rwor.org

Visual artist Robbie Conal described it as a night full of "the joyous spirit of ferocious resistance, a ferocious joy." Ozomatli's bass player, Wildog, looked out over the crowd, smiled big and said "It's the bomb!" This was ArtSpeaks 2002--a concert against the war at the Hollywood Palace on Sunday, May 12. More than 130 musicians, visual artists, crew, promoters and techs came together in a bold collaboration to throw down the first concert in the country against America's war on the world. And all night long people sang and danced to music that came straight from the heart of all the artists in the show.

It was a night when the audience and the artists inspired each other.

And the careful observer could feel the vibes of dreams for a better world that spun out into the nighttime skies, lit by the spotlights on the corner of Hollywood and Vine.

The almost eight-hour concert played to a sold-out audience of more than 1,200, who came looking for each other, looking to connect. The theme of the night was Not In Our Name--conjured in diverse sounds from the straight-up hip hop of Blackalicious, Dilated Peoples, Mystic and The Coup to the multi-layered polyrhythms of the Pan Afrikan Peoples Arkestra, from the Latin/hip hop/rock of Ozomatli and the East LA Sabor Factory to the Arabic songs of Moroccan musician Hassan Hakmoun and the spoken word and beats of Saul Williams, Jerry Quickley, S. Pearl Sharpe, D'Lo and Wanda Coleman.

A welcome in the concert program from the Artists' Network of Refuse and Resist! and all the artists who came together to do the show noted: "The U.S. government is waging a war on the people of the world. It has no foreseeable end and no boundaries. They are chopping away civil liberties with the ferocity of a chainsaw. They attack and detain people because of their nationality or their religious beliefs. And all this is done in our name, in the name of our security and safety. As artists we refuse to be silent in the face of this. We will disturb the air; we will sing, dance, write and shout our poetry from stages and rooftops. Not In Our Name!"

*****

East LA Sabor Factory--a band made up of youth from the projects and streets of East L.A.--kicked it off with a set they developed around anti-war words from Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali. Poet S. Pearl Sharpe made historic connections with a poem she wrote for the 100th anniversary of the birth of the revolutionary Black artist Paul Robeson. Recalling Robeson's refusal to support U.S. war moves against the Soviet Union, the piece titled "Are You Now or Have You Ever Been" spoke out against the repression of people who dare to stand up against the powers.

The Pan Afrikan Peoples Arkestra, a 35-member band founded by the late jazz pianist Horace Tapscott, laid down a musical bed for the Great Voices of UGMAA choir directed by vocalist Dwight Trible. "People Like Us," a tune originally written to speak to the African Diaspora, took on a broader theme of unity of people around the world in this context. Speaking after their performance, one member of the choir said, "Horace Tapscott always believed in being for the people. We represent the people and we wanted to show that we are one with all the people of the world."

This idea of unity among the people of the world, regardless of borders or religions, was underlined by the short but musically intense performance turned in by Moroccan Gnawa musician Hassan Hakmoun and his international band.

Throughout the night videos and visuals were projected behind the bands. Featured visual artists included Robbie Conal, Dread Scott, Nancy Spero, Iranian artist Amitis Motevalli, Mexican artist Mariana Botey, Afghani artist Lyda Abdullah, MEAR ONE, Judy Baca, S.P.A.R.C., and anti-war images "From Goya to Golub." Video performances included Sara Jones and Palestinian poet Suheir Hammad.

Suheir Hammad sent a soulful reading of the poem she wrote in the aftermath of September 11. Spoken word artist Saul Williams blended optimism for the future with a cry to "cancel the apocalypse" and received a roaring ovation with a reading of the "Pledge to Resist," which is being circulated by the Not In Our Name Project. Mystic began her set with this quietly beautiful verse: "Mountains of sorrow/ rivers of pain/ skies full of thunder/ Not in Our Name!" and asked everyone in the house to answer the question, "How long shall we stand in silence?"

The skillful interplay of Blackalicious mixed crazy fun with sharp observations drawn from their new album, Blazing Arrow. DJ Excel once described this album by saying that their previous work was about finding their path and this was about walking it. MC Gift of Gab stunned the house with the piece "Brain Washers," a rhyme he described as having special relevance to September 11, 2001 and the war in that it warns everyone to be careful to read between the lines when the stories are told by those who want to dominate the world.

Boots Riley and The Coup opened up the door to a revolutionary "house party." It was straight Boots and all the revolutionary hip hop he is known for. His words seemed to bounce hard off of the driving Oakland funk. There wasn't a still body in the house and many in the audience knew the lyrics and sang along to nearly every song in the set, pulled mainly from the new album Party Music.

After Boots and just before Ozomatli took the stage, the Artists' Network of Refuse and Resist! made a surprise presentation of the Horace Tapscott Cultural Resister awards to both of these artists. The awards honored the body of work of these artists and took special note of the way they have stepped out against this war. In the spirit of Horace Tapscott, the award thanked them both for "always standing with the people, daring to disturb the air with beautiful and powerful art that inspires and encourages and for giving us songs to dance to as we fight for a better world."

Ozomatli performed a tight set--a combination of old favorites and songs drawn from their grammy- winning album "Embrace the Chaos." Wildog, the bass player for Ozomatli, said that the band had been really inspired by the concert, by the theme, by the audience and by all the artists coming together to do it. Ozo was joined on stage by Jurassic 5 DJ Cut Chemist, who was with the band when it first started, and Boots sat in for a quick jam of Ride the Fence.

Dilated Peoples turned in a strong finale to the night--as Dilated's Rakaa Iriscience and Evidence spit razor sharp rhymes over crazy beats laid down by their DJ Babu. Drawn mainly from their new album, "Expansion Team," the set included a very moving acappella rhyme by Rakaa called "War."

*****

Midway through the night Korean artist Ji Sung Kim stood underneath a projection of a piece she created in memory of her family members killed on September 11. All was quiet as Ji Sung Kim spoke: "On September 11 my cousin Sue, her husband Peter, and their 2-year-old daughter Christine were killed when their plane hit the second World Trade Center Tower. They shouldn't have died. Nothing in the world, no act, can bring them back or console the heartrending sadness our family feels. That their deaths are being used to justify a horrendous and immoral war against folks all around the world enrages me. In no way would Sue, Peter and Christine want to be remembered as the catalyst for global war... My cousin Sue, like myself, we are daughters and granddaughters of refugees who lost home, family and country because of the Korean War, a war waged by U.S. greed and militarism. After 50 years the U.S. is still bent on global domination, using anything, including my family's tremendous loss, to wage war everywhere against anyone who is resisting U.S. domination and the poverty and suffering it produces."

Throughout the night artists and audience mixed it up with each other, sharing thoughts about the concert and about the war and the current situation. One thought was a constant that night, repeated by almost every artist in the house--the desire to send a message to people around the world.

Hassan Hakmoun spoke about how he wanted people in Morocco, the Philippines, Afghanistan and the Middle East "to see how people here are united with them, even though the people here are Americans and most are not Muslim. People have come to this concert to support people in these other countries because the people here know that this country has no love at all in how they treat human beings."

Boots Riley explained why he participated in the concert and how important it is to bring people together against the war. "It's important for me to play ArtSpeaks against the war because although a lot of people have been speaking out against the war and a lot of people are against the war, this is the first of its kind where artists are coming together to officially say we are unified in our efforts to stop this war. When I'm out on the road a lot of people tell me that they never knew there were so many people against the war, that they thought they were the only ones. Here we got a sold-out house of people and artists who came to something specifically against the war. This concert will show people all over the world that there are a lot of people who don't fall for the American lie and it shows that it's not all about the borders between countries but it is about the borders between the oppressors and the oppressed."

As the night drew to a close, spoken word artist Jerry Quickley, who performed with a band that included Money Mark, summed things up for many of the artists in the show. "I've been throwing down with ArtSpeaks since it started in 1997. Every year it seems to get more imperative and more important. And this year, with this damn near genocidal agenda for never-ending war, I think it's important for people of conscience to find the space to speak out, find the space to say no, this is not something we're down for. Art at its best can have moments that are transcendental, that give people the ability to lift their spirits and help them soar, soar with others. It can fill people with a collective spirit and give them a chance to imagine a world that is different. If you can't imagine a different world, how the hell are you gonna build it, how are you gonna help make it."


This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
rwor.org
Write: Box 3486, Merchandise Mart, Chicago, IL 60654
Phone: 773-227-4066 Fax: 773-227-4497
(The RW Online does not currently communicate via email.)