Review by Dawoud Kringle
(All videos approved by BRC)
September 2015 marks an interesting and auspicious occasion; the 30th anniversary of the founding of the Black Rock Coalition (BRC). Founded in 1985 by a handful of African American rock musicians, including Vernon Reid, Bruce Mack, Greg Tate, etc., the BRC has attempted to establish the rightful presence of the African American in rock music: a genre their ancestors founded. Since then, an impressive subculture, and movement of truly great rock musicians and bands, has become part of the BRC family and legacy.
This month (September 2015) the BRC is celebrating three decades of its existence with a series of performances at several venues in the New York Area. On Sunday, 9/6/15, the Kick Off Party, hosted by Brooklyn’s Bell House kicked things off.
The first band, Betty Black, was a quartet with female front woman / lead vocalist / bassist Sylvia Gordon. Their guitarist had an approach that leaned mostly toward ambient textures. The music was a lush and sensual rock / post-punk. It seemed to form a background for a shadowy and self contained subculture wherein you are either intimately involved, or you are not. Yet, the door is being opened for you.
Unlocking the Truth was up next. They are the youngest BRC band. Literally; they’re not old enough to drink legally. They made an entrance; the drummer began with a beat, the bass and guitar joined him. After a slight tech glitch, they began a metal song that assaulted the audience with relentless power. Their music was dark, aggressive, and point-nihilist, executed with impressive skill. I managed to catch a few of the lyrics, and what I heard suggested an attempt on the band to live up to their name. As experience refines their music, concept, and performance chops, Unlocking the Truth will doubtless accomplish many great things.
BRC founders and leaders of Living Color Vernon Reid and Corey Glover were next. These gentlemen need no introduction. This was a stripped down performance: vocals and semi-acoustic / electric guitar. Glover’s vocals are as powerful as they were when I first caught Living Color live 25 years ago. Reid’s guitar mastery is as together and imaginative as always. The performance was quite loose and light-hearted. Although the music was tight, the between songs banter was more like old friends joking together. And the audience was involved in it; many of their long time friends in attendance, and made their feelings known in the demonstrative mannerism of close friends. Most of the set was old Living Color songs. They did a blues with special guest David A. Barnes offering a brilliant performance on harmonica. Their rendition of “Make Me Wanna Holler” had an “in-your-face” intensity and an almost frightening intimacy. Their performance was, on a whole, both masterful and magnificent, and casual and fun.
The Veldt followed. They presented a powerful, emotional, and dramatic musical performance. Despite a strong connection to the “old school,” they are among those who employ new school sample and loop technology, which (despite the presence of master percussionist Shawn Banks) comprised the lion’s share of their rhythm section. They handled this beautifully, and showed that times change, but the importance thing, namely the spirit and essence of the music, remains the same.
Burnt Sugar Arkestra closed the show. Their set began with an impassioned duet between guitarist and BRC cofounder Greg Tate and vocalist Mikel Banks. As their set progressed, they delivered a performance worthy of their place in the whole tradition of African American music.
Mikel Banks said something interesting about the BRC: “We’re still relevant because shit’s still fucked up.” He’s right. There is an undercurrent of racism in the US that has prevented the otherwise admirable and promising political experiment begun in 1976 from working. It has infected the USA with a socio-political and psycho-spiritual disease it has yet to recover from. The BRC exemplifies an essential part of not only its diagnosis, but, most importantly, its cure.
As I stood in the venue, listening and mingling, the enormity of the 30 years of the BRC’s existence dawned upon me. I saw some of the old guard (whom I met back in the early 90s, when the BRC used to have its meetings at Frank Silvera’s Theater on 125th street), and some who are young enough to be my children. And, it’s important to point out, the musicians on the stage and the members, supporters, and friends in the audience were not confined to African Americans. All are welcome, all are family; and the idea that the presence and support of Black Rock produces no loss to anyone and delivers an asset to all was demonstrated to be a tangible reality, not just an abstract idealist concept (something the corporate music world, and the people whose minds and spirits they’ve enslaved and ruined, are probably incapable of understanding).
These are all good signs! It means that the BRC founders initiated something that is not only cool, but necessary to all generations. They are a healing force in a society that desperately needs healing. I salute them and wish them continued and increasing success – which I have no doubt they will achieve.