Saul Williams parts the crowd in the Sugar Club and climbs over the red velvet seats to take his place in the unused centre of the auditorium. Standing in his bare feet, the audience surrounds him. He has left the stage behind, it cannot contain his message. He must infiltrate the crowd.
“Hack into comfort and conformity,” he urges, “Smash the binary.” The strain of his delivery pours forth in sweat.
Williams is a poet, musician and activist, he’s also part of a long tradition of black Americans who have left the US for stints in Paris: James Baldwin, Nina Simone, Miles Davis, Ta-Nehisi Coates, to name a few. What struck them on their arrival in Paris was that, for the first time, they were identified as American first and Black second.
Living in a black body in the United States has been a continuous struggle: From 250 years of slavery, to 90 years of Jim Crow laws, to sixty years of ‘Separate but Equal’, to thirty-five years of Redlining (the racist housing policy that lead to ‘ghettoisation’). The continuous denial of basic human rights, as well as profiteering off labour and racist legislation, has been a part of the American narrative that remains unresolved.
Now, institutionalised racism in the police force, coupled with failures in the US Justice system, sees a fissure widening between black communities and those sworn in to protect and serve those citizens.
Last year, 102 unarmed black men were shot and killed by officers. Of those 102 cases, only ten officers were charged with a crime. Of the ten charged, only two were convicted. One officer was sentenced to a year in jail (source), which he could serve exclusively on weekends. The other was sentenced to four years in jail for murdering Eric Harris.
Saul Williams wrote The Noise Came from Here after the killing of teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. In the aftermath of that murder, the “Black Lives Matter” protest became a movement:
Since that Saul Williams gig, the killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile at the hands of police have once again made America’s racial wounds worldwide news. Those incidents were captured on video and seen by millions. Their crimes? A blown tail-light and selling cds. Since then people have taken to the streets, some with legally held semi-automatic weapons.
These deaths were followed by the tragic shooting of five police officers at a “Black Lives Matter”protest in Dallas by a lone gunman, an ex-army solider, Micah Johnston. He was a 24 year-old veteran of Afghanistan.
The officers killed were Lorne Ahrens, Michael Krol, Michael J. Smith, Brent Thompson and Patrick Zamarripa, more were injured.
Ta-Nehisi Coates is a writer you must read on the subject of race. Two of his major pieces are The Case for Reparations and The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration. In his book Between the World and Me, which is a letter written to his son, he says:
“I write you in your fifteenth year. I am writing you because this was the year you saw Eric Garner choked to death for selling cigarettes. Because you know now that Reinsha McBride was shot for seeking help. That John Crawford was shot down for browsing in a department store. And you have seen men in uniform drive by and murder Tamir Rice, a twelve year-old child whom they were oath bound to protect.”
And you know now, if you did not before, that the police departments of your country have been endowed with the authority to destroy your body… The destroyers will rarely be held accountable, mostly they will receive pensions. And destruction is merely the superlative form of a dominion whose prerogatives include friskings, detainings, beatings, and humiliations. All of this is common to black people. All of this is old for black people. No one is held responsible.
“There is nothing uniquely evil in these destroyers or even in this moment. The destroyers are merely men enforcing the whims of our country, correctly interpreting its heritage and legacy. It is hard to face this. But all our phrasing: race-relations, racial casm, racial justice, racial-profiling, white privilege, even white supremacy, serves to obscure that racism is a visceral experience. That it dislodges brains, blocks airways, rips muscle, extracts organs, cracks bones, breaks teeth. You must never look away from this.
“You must always remember that the sociology, the history, the economics, the graphs, the charts, the regressions, all land with great violence upon the body.”
Today, 12th of July, at 6pm at the Spire on Dublin’s O’Connell Street, a crowd will gather to show solidarity after the recent spate of murders in the US. They will do so again at 2pm on Saturday.
Clothing: A Canvas for 21st Century Protest
Clothing might seem trivial in the face of the above, but the Repeal Project is anything but. Founder Anna Cosgrave got the idea for her jumpers when attending a vigil for Savita Halappanaver back in 2012. The tragedy of that case was just one of a litany of despicable stories Ireland has willingly endured because of our archaic abortion legislation.
Cosgrave had also spotted social and political activist Gloria Steinem wearing a t-shirt that read, “I had an abortion”.
This simple yet powerful message of solidarity and protest, openly displayed on a t-shirt, stayed with Cosgrave. With the jumpers, her aim was to give people, “Outerwear that gives voice to a hidden problem”.
The first pop-up shop, scheduled to run Friday to Sunday in Indigo and Cloth, was sold out by Friday evening, such was the popularity and support shown. Walking around town, the proliferation of black jumpers emblazoned with white block lettering is evident.
Their next pop-up shop will be at Longitude, this weekend, from the 15th – 17th. One performer, Roísín Murphy, who’s new album you can listen to below, has already shown her support. Pick up your jumper, be visible – what you wear is your canvas:
What to go to?
Films of Note – Sugar Club – runs until August 5th
This month-long curated selection of music films has some of your favourite concert flicks – like the iconic Stop Making Sense, which is so popular, it is shown fortnightly to dancing hordes – as well as introducing audiences to the more obscure in the genre; thus unearthing new music, which is what it’s all about.
This genre has been enriched of late with Amy (showing July 14th) and Searching For Sugarman (July 18th) quickly assuming the mantle of classics. What did they have? Well, Sugarman had a potent mix of the socially conscious story, a cheated star, Rodriguez, and a fantastic sountrack, which was completely new.
It took on the behemoth record industry, raising questions about them as gatekeepers, while fixing the spotlight on an unintended consequence of apartheid South Africa; where Sugarman sold millions of records.
Amy worked because of its central star’s magnetism, her tragedy and a vault of home video footage that allowed director Asif Kapadia display and frame the story in such an effecting way.
With James Murphy bringing the band back this year, Shut Up and Play the Hits (July 30th), LCD Soundsystem’s 2011 farewell concert, has found itself somewhat devalued as they return to stages with a robust rewiring of their classic hits and a new album promised by year’s end.
This tear stained, friend grabbing, ennui fest is a major part of their appeal and is a perfect intro for those unfamiliar with the band who headline Electric Picnic this September. Arguably, there’s no better Noughties band. Read Una Mullaly analysis of their comeback and what it meant in her Murphy’s Law piece.
Get the full list of movies showing here.
Here are two favourites from this genre that I would have included in the schedule: The Band’s The Last Waltz and the Arthur Russell biopic Wild Combination.
What to Listen to?
Nils Frahm on Gilles Peterson – BBC Radio 6
Nils Frahm is a modern musical satellite, operating at stratospheric levels, he is one to keep your ears tuned to as he continues to soar.
Only in his mid-thirties, his combination of neo-classical piano and instrumental electronica is a fusion so advanced it puts him in a genre-less vacuum all of his own creation. He has opened up classical music to a wider and younger audience.
Recently, Frahm curated a festival in the Barbican, London, as well as playing a 6 hour show in the Louvre, Paris, with Ólafur Arnalds.
This two-hour chat with Gilles Peterson is an exploration of his influences and looks at where this prodigy is headed next – the answer is the studio. He selects a number tracks, treating listeners to an exclusive untitled track and an outtake from the movie score he did for the film Victoria, which was released last year and set in Berlin.
What is scary is Frahm’s evaluation of his musical output so far, “I feel like a lot of the stuff I’ve put out have been lucky accidents and side projects. I really love them all, but for me the next record is something where I want to experiment, build new things and invest more energy.”
Listen to the show in full here, he has also just released a new EP with spoken word from Robert DeNiro, yep, I am talking about him:
The Barbican show was his last performance for an extended time as he breaks from touring, retreating to his studio in Berlin to make good on that crazy promise of a more expansive record.
#NewMusic – Take Her Up to Monto, Roísín Murphy
Irish Pop-queen Roísín Murphy is back within 18 months of releasing the cosmic Hairless Toys with a slower and more nuanced pop album. Take Her To The Monto, named after Dublin’s old red light district, was released last Friday and on a first listen it’s all there: the allure, the mystic, and the reason she’s not a massive star – she’s too elusive an artist.
She plays Longitude next Sunday, July 17th. Her shows, with hundreds of costume changes, descend into pure pleasure.
Listen to the album in full here: