The West Coast Hip-Hop Underground takes on George W. Bush
Think back…way back. The year was 2001. A vibrant, growing underground music scene was sweeping across the West Coast. Combining hip-hop, Latin, Funk, and Spoken Word elements, bands such as Ozomatli, Blackalicious, Dilated Peoples, and The Coup were creating new music and building audiences. The L.A. Times called it “Positive Hip-Hop,” others preferred “Conscious Hip-Hop”. Whatever the moniker, the infectious new music spoke to the disaffection and rebellion roiling through their generation.
Then came September 11.
Not in our name
Will you wage endless war…
Nothing was the same. Fear, uncertainty, reaction set in. Virtually unopposed, the government began rounding up immigrants, passed draconian new laws, and launched a massive invasion of the poorest country in the world. “People should watch what they say” was the “advice” the Bush administration gave to artists, as Bill Maher and others were driven from the airwaves. “You are either with us or you are with the terrorists!” intoned the president of the United States.
…will you invade countries
bomb civilians, kill more children…
Ozomatli’s new CD, released on September 11, was buried in the patriotic onslaught, and the West Coast Hip-Hop Underground found itself struggling in the new reality. Had they become historically irrelevant? Do they now face the choice of “Get with the program” or dissolve into oblivion? What could be done?
…letting history take its course
over the graves of the nameless…
Their answer was obvious. Hold a concert! On Mother’s Day, May 12, 2002, as bombs were raining down on Afghanistan and the future plans for Iraq were still a deep secret, an event took place in Hollywood that began to broach those questions. Before a sold out crowd of 1,800 at the legendary Palace theater, a disparate group of Hip-Hop, Latin Funk, Spoken Word and Visual Artists–rising stars and unknowns–created and produced what would become the first antiwar concert of the new millennium, ArtSpeaks! Not In Our Name.
…Not by our hearts
will we allow whole peoples
or countries to be deemed
No one there will ever forget that night. Featured performers included:
–Ozomatli, winner of the 2002 Grammy Award for Alternative Latin Music;
–The Coup, whose 2001 CD Party Music was named one of the best of the year by Spin Magazine, Rolling Stone, the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, and Village Voice;
–Blackalicious, Dilated Peoples, and Mystic, premier groups of the fast emerging Conscious Hip-Hop trend;
–Saul Williams, co-writer and star of the 1998 film Slam, winner of the Sundance Grand Jury Prize and the Cannes Camera d’Or;
–The Pan Afrikan People’s Arkestra, created by L.A. jazz legend Horace Tapscott;
–Jerry Quickley, internationally known spoken word artist;
–Hassan Hakmoun, Moroccan born guitarist recently featured in the New York Times for his intricate merging and blending of musical forms.
What they, along with dozens of visual artists, created, was dazzling. Steeped in the most exciting trends in hip-hop, including a mixing and merging of worldwide cultures, and bathed in a cacophony of visual art, the show created an energy and rapport with the audience that seemed to just keep building. There was a palpable sense throughout that something new was being born here, a fusion of art and politics rarely seen-summed up by guerilla poster artist Robbie Conal as “A night of ferocious joy.”
…Not by our will
And Not in Our Name
The Film: Something has been started here…How will it end?
A Night of Ferocious Joy is a concert film that is based on the energy and feel of what happened that night, and goes beyond it to explore the jagged terrain it heralds. The best concert films are not just about the music or event, but the social and political context in which they live. Most significantly, they often fix on a turning point, a beginning or ending that is concentrated in that moment. Don’t Look Back captured the beginnings of Bob Dylan’s emergence as the “voice of his generation”; Woodstock celebrated the birth of a new culture while Gimme Shelter eulogized that culture on the brink of its decline; The Last Waltz concentrated the end of a golden age of rock music; and Wattstax heralded the era of Funk music and Blaxploitation films.
A Night of Ferocious Joy also aims to capture a turning point-one still in the making.
The film combines intimate, hand held, high-energy concert footage with backstage conversations roaming the wide range of issues faced by these artists today: What has changed since 9/11? How has the new repressive atmosphere affected your work? How do you stay focused on your vision while the drums of war beat ever louder? Are the themes of last year, even last month, still relevant? How has your audience reacted-do they embrace or reject you? How do you see your role in this changing world? What does the future hold?
Through that interplay of music and talk, the film presents an emerging cultural trend in this country-not attempting to clearly define it, but to explore its birth and pose the question: Something has been started here…How will it end? A Night of Ferocious Joy is a portrait of a phenomenon being born in this new world that, while owing much to the music and cultural upheaval of the 60’s, is on its own path into the unknown future.