by Michael Slate
Revolutionary Worker #1187, February 16, 2003, posted at http://rwor.org
It's rare that I go to a concert and feel like I did at the anti-war concert for Not In Our Name (NION) at the Berkeley Community Theater on January 31.
Featuring Chuck D and the Fine Arts Militia, Ozomatli, Saul Williams, Ani DiFranco and Michael Franti with Spearhead--the concert sold out days before showtime. I arrived at the theater around 6:30 p.m. and already more than a thousand people had gathered up in the courtyard of the theater. Like everything in Berkeley, it was a carnival of color, people and politics. Everywhere I walked people wearing "Power to the Peaceful" and Not In Our Name T-shirts were debating the news of the day in between talking about their favorite artists and the music they were about to hear. The night was organized by NION, AWOL magazine and CCCO (Central Committee of Conscientious Objectors) and produced by Sage Productions.
By the time the concert began at least 3,500 people had packed the place to the rafters and thousands more were hearing it broadcast live on Pacifica Radio station KPFA in Berkeley. It was clear that this night, if only for a few brief hours, was gonna be like another world, like liberated territory, a place where our kind of people can breathe deep, renew ourselves, sing, dance and laugh.
Chuck D, the OG of hard-edge revolutionary rap, opened up the night backed up by a tight, tight band, the Fine Arts Militia that easily slid from jazzy piano riffs to gut deep blues, rock and greasy funk. Chuck, looking like a combination of Thelonius Monk and Otis Redding with a black suit, a black beanie and dark shades, opened up the set announcing that we are gonna stop the war by any means necessary and moving into the Public Enemy classic, Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos .
"I got a letter from the government the other day/
I opened and read it/
It said they was suckers/
they wanted me for the army or whatever/
Picture me giving a damn/
I said never."
Calling himself a cross between the rapper Nas and the poet Allen Ginsberg -- midway through his set Chuck echoed one of the themes that ran through the night as he called on people to put themselves in the place of the people 30,000 miles away who are about to get pounded by U.S. bombs as his intro to the piece Stop the Bomb .
Chuck ended his set with a recent PE piece, a thumping blues rock song, Son of a Bush . "BOOM, BOOM, BOOM, BOOM! Gonna knock his ass down/ right across that floor/ We don't want no war/ Y'all tell Son of a Bush/ Everybody go Boom!"
No sooner had Chuck's set ended than we were treated to a special surprise greeting from death row political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal. "The Civil Rights movement had the uplifting choruses of gospel. The Black Liberation movement had Curtis Mayfield's powerful tenor and jazz artists like Archie Shepp and Max Roach. The anti-war movement during Vietnam had groups like War and even the Beatles. The music of those periods sent messages of resistance and rebellion to millions of people who never read nor received a leaflet nor ever attended a demonstration. So we here hail the power of music, not music to sell SUV's, soap or bling bling but music that fires the spirit, that uplifts the soul, that steels us with the messages of resistance..."
Mumia's greeting opened the door for Ozomatli. From the heartbeat fast dance song Chango to the close of the set with La Misma Canción , the audience was possessed by Ozomatli. Ozo mixed songs like Dos Cosas Ciertas and Vocal Artillery off of their last CD with new works they've created since then. The new work Ya Viene El Sol , a wild mix of tabla and turntable, weaves a fusion of Bhangra and Middle Eastern beats to reshape Ozo's musical stew. There is nothing quite like turning around to see an entire theater audience--3,500 people--non-stop dancing, shaking the entire building from the ground floor to the roof rafters. Ozo introduced a new song about the choices people make in life, Cuando Canto Mi Canción Quiero Inspirar a Mi Gente (When I sing my song I want to inspire My People). Ozo continued the theme of standing with the people of the world as Raul Pacheco, guitarist and sometimes vocalist, spoke from his heart to the people. "So here we are and there are other people on the other side of the earth trying to prevent the same thing that's going to go down that we're trying to prevent. Every different part of this earth there are some people thinking on this same level."
Spoken word artist Saul Williams mesmerized the audience with his performance. He began his set with the Pledge of Resistance and right away moved into his piece Coded Language with a List of Names which ends with a buzz saw tribute to cultural and literary figures throughout history who have stood up against oppression. Other highlights of Saul's performance included his piece Bloodletting , featured on his Not In Our Name CD, and the reading of an excerpt from his new book Said the Shotgun to the Head , which he described as "a love poem to all the things that are decaying and destroying the values of the west."
In his comments throughout his performance Saul also captured another important theme -- the total belief in and commitment to the idea that we, the people, can stop this war and birth another world. "Listen, it is so important that we realize the power that we have within ourselves to change the face of reality. It's very real that another world is possible. It's very, very true...In this day and age, we are witnessing a shift from the powers that be to the powers of being. And what resonates within us is the powers of being. The powers that be will not prevail over the powers of being. They've had a two thousand year reign of phallic symbols, crosses and bombs and all that shit. It's over!"
"U.S. imperialism killed my father," Jeremy Glick told the audience. Glick, who lost his father at the World Trade Center on 9/11, went on: "I hold George Bush responsible for the death of my father. Imperialism thinks if it fucks with your family it will make you back off. It only makes you want to do something to them. We won't privilege the life of North Americans over Palestinians, over people in Afghanistan. We won't privilege the lives of heroes of 9/11 over people like Amadou Diallo. You want to shed a tear for me. Well, pick it up. Stop this war. Stop U.S. imperialism. These people killed my father and now they want me to get down with them. I'm not doing that."
Ani DiFranco took the stage next -- looking very small -- just her and her guitar sitting on a stage crowded with guitars, mikes and drums. But within moments Ani captured the stage and the audience. Ani was especially moving and sharp in one of her pieces when she sang about her view of the world today. " Ask any ecosystem, harm here is harm there, and there and there, and there. And aggression begets aggression. It's a very simple lesson that long preceded the king of earl. There's this brutal imperial power that my passport says I represent. But it will never represent where my heart lives. Only vaguely where it is. I know that when you grow up surrounded by willful ignorance you learn that mercy has its own country and that it's round and borderless. And you just grow wings and rise above it all, right there where that hawk is circling. " The highlight of her performance was a reading of her poem Self Evident,written in the aftermath of 9/11.
Shortly after 11 p.m. Michael Franti and Spearhead took the stage. "We're not just trying to prevent a war in Iraq," Franti said. "We're trying to move a mountain. This mountain is saying that we want the human and the natural and the spiritual interests of the world to take precedence over the corporate and the military and the material interests of the world. And we're not here to engage in a war against terrorism, we are fighting a war against militarism." Michael's music is a combination of soul, hip hop and rock built around themes that meld the values and ideas of the 1960s with what's happening today.
At the end of his set Franti performed what I think is one of the most powerful songs he has written, Sometimes -- an extended rousing celebration song built around the line " Sometimes I feel like I can do anything. " With the first chords everyone was on their feet singing and dancing, and in the middle of the song all of the artists who performed that night joined Franti on stage and threw in their own freestyle contributions to the song. Towards the end of Sometimes a thousand cut flowers appeared onstage and the artists began tossing flowers into the audience. Hard to imagine Chuck D tossing flowers to an audience but it really worked. The audience in front of the stage caught the flowers and tossed them back to the rest of the audience so that within minutes it was literally raining flowers throughout the theater. And when the rain stopped and the song ended, it seemed like the roof had opened up and we really could do anything.
This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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