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Black Rock Coalition and CCCADI (Caribbean Cultural Center) hosted events last week that reminded audiences, especially those of the African diaspora, of how much black histories, stories and voices get erased, revised, transformed, hidden, abducted, revised, whitewashed or any other term you would like to call it. And just like kinky or curly hair after it is straightened, eventually our histories will revert back.
The other day, for example, I was watching Mysteries at the Museum, and found out that the first black Major League Baseball player was not Jackie Robinson, but Moses “Fleetwood” Walker (although some sources say it is William Edward White). Walker was also an inventor and author and played professional baseball until the late 19th century when Jim Crow Laws were enacted and the League was segregated. After the Major Leagues, he became a businessman and black nationalist, writing a pamphlet titled Our Home Colony: A Treatise on the Past, Present, and Future of the Negro Race in America.
As time goes on, we see our histories often revised or hidden like that, but we still must keep revealing the truth. One such history is rock ‘n’ roll. Rock ‘n’ roll is often whitewashed to the the point that it seems only white people created the genre and continue it, ignoring the contributions of people of color, including black Americans, in it. Black Rock Coalition, which will be celebrating 30 years next year, continues to fight that erasure and did with “Deep Roots of Rock and Roll” last Saturday. at Lincoln Center Featuring performances from Toshi Reagon, Nona Hendryx, Tamar Kali, Corey Glover of Living Colour, Karma Mayet Johnson, Kimberly Nichole, Jason Walker, and Adaku Utah, the show was two hours of electrifying truth, hosted by poet and writer Carl Hancock Rux as the radio DJ speaking his rock and roll gospel. Rux opened the show and repeated throughout the question of “What is Rock and Roll?,” giving a rundown of the various voices and histories that contributed to today’s rock music, like minstrel songs, jazz, blues, spirituals, ring shouts, gospel, early rock ‘n’ roll, and then the demonization and later “abduction” of rock. Bo Diddley, as Rux quoted, did say, “I opened the door for a lot of people, and they just ran through and left me holding the knob.”
The Black Rock Coalition Orchestra gave back to those who opened doors with soul and body stirring performances: the show opened with spirituals and old gospel, like “I’ll Meet You on the Other Shore” with Adaku Utah dressed in a white robe doing an lyrical praise dance. Tamar Kali did powerhouse renditions of Ike and Tina’s “Fool in Love” and Howlin’ Wolf’s “Little Red Rooster;” Karma Johnson’s gritty versions of Big Maybelle’s “Pretty Good Love” and Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s “There Are Strange Things Happening Everyday;” Corey Glover rocked it with “Bo Diddley” and then took us to church with “In The Upper Room;” Walker did some rarely heard blues songs, T-Bone Walker’s “Mean Old World” and Little Esther’s “Talking All out of My Head;” Kimberly Nichole fiercely strutted her stuff with Little Richard’s “Lucille” and Mother’s Finest’s “Baby Love;” the lead guitarist Kat Johnson gave it to us with Jimi Hendrix’s “Freedom;” and Nona Hendryx charged the place and had us doing the New York booty shake with Otis Redding’s “Try a Little Tenderness” and her own song “I Sweat.” Toshi Reagon took us back home before the place exploded with Sly and the Family Stones’ “Take You Higher.” And all of this was worth the heat and sweat for many of us to go down memory lane and dance like filled with the holy spirit!
To sum up the show, I’ll quote part of the poem Rux recited to end the show, from Amiri Baraka’s “Ka’Ba:” “Our world is full of sound/Our world is more lovely than anyone’s/tho we suffer, and kill each other/and sometimes fail to walk the air. /We are beautiful people/With African imaginations/full of masks and dances and swelling chants/with African eyes, and noses, and arms/tho we sprawl in gray chains in a place/full of winters, when what we want is sun…We need magic/now we need the spells, to raise up/return, destroy,and create. What will be/the sacred word?”
It’s those words from Baraka that resonate with CCCADI‘s tribute panel and short concert screening of Puerto Rican musician, Pete “El Conde” (“The Count”) Rodriguez last Thursday. As with U.S. American history, there is also erasure of black contribution and presence in Latin American history. Many will forget that most enslaved Africans were brought to Central and South America, implying that there are many of African descent in these area. One of the panelist, poet and activist, Felipe Luciano, talked about Rodriguez’s confidence in being black, that he was not afraid to be as Luciano said a “spookerican.” Rodriguez acknowledged the history of black people and told their stories in his songs. Luciano said many in Latin American countries and islands do not want to immerse themselves in blackness, seeing blackness as not worthy of any recognition, and are embarrassed talking about race; Spanish influence was destructive creating several divisive racial categories for those of African descent. This continued miseducation in major institutions, which is often done on purpose, is as CCCADI founder, Marta Vega, why we need to keep supporting our own institutions because only we will tell the truth about us.
Another Lincoln Center Out of Doors event will pay tribute to Rodriguez on August 3rd at 7pm and will feature The Cita Rodriguez (his daughter) Orchestra and other special guests.