Frankly, it’s easy to think that wherever you are is the center of the Universe. In my case, that would be Brooklyn and New York City. But, in fact, there’s a lot going on—particularly in the world of black rock and Afro-Punk—far beyond NYC. Bloomington, Indiana is a case in point.
A couple of weekends ago, I had the privilege of participating in the conference called “Reclaiming the Right to Rock: Black Experiences in Rock Music”, which was hosted by the Archives of African American Music and Culture (AAAMC) at Indiana University.
First, let me say that there’s some amazing work going on at the AAAMC. Its director, Dr. Portia Maultsby—who was recently named one of the university's distinguished professors—talked about the importance of source materials to both research and academic study. She said that it’s impossible to introduce a course if you can’t provide multiple original sources that can be studied. As such, since 1991, the Archives have amassed materials covering the range of African American cultural expression since the post World War II era. Its holdings include oral histories, photographs, musical and print manuscripts, audio and video recordings, educational broadcast programs, and the personal papers of individuals and organizations concerned with black music.
And the archiving that’s happening is way better than what’s happening for a lot of bands: old posters, CDs/albums, show flyers, press photos, all of it sitting in a box in the drummer’s basement.
In many ways, it was a big family reunion. There were a lot of people there who I already knew, folks like Greg Tate, Tamar-kali, Stew, Kandia Crazy Horse, Maureen Mahon and the BRC’s Earl Douglas and Laronda Davis. But I also got to hang with Cipher’s Moe Mitchell, Game Rebellion’s Netic and Earl Greyhound’s Kamara Thomas (look out for Kosmic Kam!) It was also cool to meet both guitarist Suzanne Thomas and vocalist and drummer Linda Tillery, along with Ike Willis, guitarist for the late Frank Zappa. Academics such as Reebee Garafalo (UMass Boston) and Andy Hollinden, are also providing valuable scholarship related to black rock and American popular music.
Good discussions all around. I mean, it was great to be around folks who wanted to talk about nothing but black rock for two days.
The other treat was to hear some music. IU has a student performance group, The Soul Revue (above). Lemme tell you: If you are near Bloomington when they’re performing, I highly recommend that you go see them. They’re high energy and they can stop on a dime. An impressive group of students, to be sure. They started their set with a cover of “Cult of Personality.” That caught me by surprise, given that I’ve just seen Corey and Living Colour not long ago. But then I realized that the song has been around for 21 years and has entered the canon. Other highlights were “Them Changes” performed as a duet, and a rousing version of “Proud Mary”. Suzanne Thomas sat in with the group for “Voodoo Chile”.
Speaking of Suzanne, she and her group, The Blues Church, were great. There is no doubt that Suzanne is a masterful guitarist and bandleader. Her set started with field hollers, moved into electrified blues and finished with hard rock. I especially enjoyed her song “Not Like I Give A Fuck."
Tamar-Kali and her band closed out the night. She also performed a few songs from her upcoming album, including the single, “Pearl,” which is available now on iTunes. As ever, she’s powerful, captivating and her band is tight. She just gets better and better, and is one of several artists in the black rock scene who is ready for a wider audience.
Blogger and fellow traveler Laina Dawes also attended the conference and she shared some of her observations here.
- More photos from the conference are on my Flickr page
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