This is not my beautiful house
The Black Power Movement lasted ten years, beginning at 7:15 p.m. on August 11, 1965 with the Watts riots and ending at 8:30 p.m. on January 18, 1975 with the first airing of The Jeffersons on CBS.
Actually, the only thing anyone can seem to agree on about "Black Power" is the phrase itself, popularized in 1966 by Stokely Carmichael and taken up across the country just ahead of "revolution" and "bad motherfucker." But this two-disc anthology--the only compilation that's both a party-stopper and a conversation-starter--might offer a new point of consensus.
Selected by folks with an obvious stake in getting it right, and sequenced for momentum, these 38 tracks form a gestalt rather than a chronology, starting with a Black Panther speech (Huey Newton) and ending with a disco song (McFadden & Whitehead's "Ain't No Stoppin' Us Now"). Singles both overplayed (the Isleys' "Fight the Power (Part 1)") and out-of-print (Sons of Slum's "Right On") gain in context, as do proto-raps by the Watts Prophets and sound clips of Carmichael, Malcolm X, and Kathleen Cleaver.
The songs on disc two are so resonant, they might be talking to each other. William DeVaughn's "Be Thankful For What You Got" seconds the emotion of Eddie Kendricks's Motown Afropop oddity "My People...Hold On." Then comes Parliament's Washington takeover "Chocolate City," answered by Curtis Mayfield's more modest and realistic "We're a Winner," a live 1971 update of his own 1968 Impressions hit, with new lines for the times: "There'll be no more Uncle Tom/ At last that blessed day has come." The chorus actually was adapted for The Jeffersons theme, which suggests how murky Black Power's win was. (From Red Flag Media, 2004.)
The Best of Talking Heads
You may ask yourself, "Why 18 songs?" Kids who don't possess a Talking Heads album (the band released ten between 1977 and 1988) can always download them. And aging fans with broken record players already have 1992's 33-song Popular Favorites 1976-1992: Sand in the Vaseline. Maybe it's enough to note that at least one unpopular favorite, "Mind," is missing from both collections, as well as last year's Once In a Lifetime box--and that this tune would have made a lesser band's career. Talking Heads are endlessly compilable because they were bent on creating new genres for every new song: "Road to Nowhere" was zydeco reggae gospel. "Once In a Lifetime" was the first Afropop song most Americans heard, and the second rap song most Americans heard, but King Sunny Ade and Kool Moe Dee would have found its synth waterfall far-out. "This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)" was dance music without a country.
If these tracks don't hold up as well as, say, the late Clash (or the Tom Tom Club, which featured Heads bassist Tina Weymouth and drummer Chris Frantz), that's because the Talking Heads' version of pop involved layering lots of harmonies over the opaque weirdness of singer David Byrne. Maybe he sought safety in numbers, or just loved pulling up American roots. But in his best songs, you can feel the vertigo of the new giving way to the comforts of the conventional. For that reason, Byrne had hits with his band; Stereolab has not. He sincerely wanted to take the avant-garde to the mall, even if it meant taking a little of the mall to the avant-garde.(From Red Flag Media, 2004.)
Who Is This America?
Know what Antibalas can do better than Fela Anikulapo Kuti? End songs. On the third album from Brooklyn's 17-piece funk homage to Nigerian Afrobeat, the proud horn charts and rowboat guitars of "Pay Back Africa" give way to a face-smacking coda that the late master would never have let pass--a series of single, echoing guitar jabs, rapidly looped, sped-up and sent crashing into the barbed funk intro of the next track, "Indictment." Which brings us to the other thing Antibalas can do better: talk American.
Punchier than even the best attempts at hip-hop crossover by Fela's son Femi (the band's only real competition), "Indictment" is a comical courtroom jam in the tradition of Jamaican "Judge Dread" rude boy tunes or "F*** tha Police," charging the likes of Condoleezza Rice and George W. Bush with unspecified crimes and calling to the stand such "witnesses" as "the Saudi Royal family," "the people of Iraq" and "the game of baseball." That this staunchly antiwar band presumes to speak for the second entity on that list, however, suggests the limits of homage and reverent Third Worldism.
Antibalas are boilerplate leftists, however multi-ethnic, and while they protest that their music owes as much to Tito Puente as to Fela, I�m waiting on a band that's as versed in either, and doesn't feel it owes anyone anything: These musicians seem to think that "paying back" means singing about people besides themselves, ignoring the rich middle ground between carelessly copping international music and religiously copying it. Sure, plundering others to make something your own might be the American thing to do. But it's also what Fela did. (From Red Flag Media, 2004.)
Also, here's my preview in today's City Pages:
For those who don't know Fela, the late Nigerian James Brown/Bob Marley/Malcolm X rolled into one, from Fila, the Italian sporting shoe, imagine organic big-band funk without any bottom, or with a bottom that keeps dropping away. Imagine the Neptunes in love with baritone sax. Or stop imagining and go see Brooklyn's Antibalas, who use Fela's Afrobeat as a window into America, whatever that is. Though I keep hoping this unbeatable live band will go the way of Talking Heads or Stereolab, taking their appropriation/tribute a step further, the orchestra's emphatic groove is already uncommonly light on its feet. For anyone attending Saturday's Dirty Dozen Brass Band show, or Thursday's Murs show, this is your tonic as well. 21+. $8/$10 at the door. 8:00 p.m. --Peter S. Scholtes WED OCT 20 First Avenue 701 1st Ave N, Mpls.; 612.332.1775