Today, we asked “Five Questions” to LaRonda Davis, the president of the Black Rock Coalition. The BRC is a collective of artists, writers, producers, publicists, activists and music fans dedicated to the complete creative freedom of Black artists. Founded by musician Vernon Reid, journalist Greg Tate and producer Konda Mason, the organization celebrates its 30th anniversary this year with unique performances and events. Check out www.blackrockcoalition.org for a complete list of events.
The BRC was founded in 1985, making this the 30th anniversary of the Coalition. What’s changed in thirty years?
That’s a huge question. Clearly, a lot has changed—how people make music, how they distribute music, how we consume music, the landscape for live music, the role of the record label, the demographics of the country, even the sound of popular music…they’ve all changed. But somehow rock, and its attendant Caucasian male aesthetic, hasn’t really budged. Sure there are exceptions but, to a large degree, it’s this stagnant, historically-limited perception of rock that persists in undercutting the full range of Black musical expression today.
The Black Rock Coalition still exists because, for all the success Black people have found in hip-hop and R&B, they have as much right to explore success in rock — also an African-American legacy as an objective extension of the blues.
What is the Black Rock Coalition’s position on rap and hip-hop?
Hip-hop is an outlet for the same rebellion, rage, marginalization, and frustration that was once the driving force behind rock and roll—and for that, we appreciate it. But, like with all music, that kind of power can be used to benefit and lead the community or to distort and distract it. We prefer the former.
In June 1987, we partnered with BMI on a show called An Evening of Freestyling Rock & Rap at the Ritz in NYC. It featured a number of emcees rapping over live music performed by members of the BRC and it helped us show support for two musical genres that were similarly born out of resourcefulness, the art of storytelling, and the African-American experience.
Has the global popularity of rap and hip-hop made expectations more difficult for black rock musicians and, if so, how do they overcome that?
Interestingly, the same factors that have made rap and hip-hop so popular worldwide are the ones that make it so hard for Black rockers in the first place, so no, I don’t think one is causing the other. Rather they’re different sides of the same coin.
Black folks have always been accepted as musicians and athletes, so that’s nothing new. It’s when Black people challenge the status quo that things get difficult for them. Hip-hop fits the perception of the Black American experience, rock does not. It’s partly why Black rockers, for the most part, don’t put themselves on the covers of their CDs (think Living Colour, TV on The Radio, Alabama Shakes, Bloc Party, Kenna, etc. — Prince, Lenny Kravitz, and Ben Harper are exceptions) while hip-hop artists are as conspicuous with their imagery as possible. One feeds expectations in search of success, the other fights expectations and risks invisibility on multiple levels as a result.
We can only hope, with artists like Kendrick Lamar and The Roots, that an appreciation for musicians who also create outside of the hip-hop realm will grow and in so doing have a halo effect on tomorrow’s musical pioneers.
Do you have any special events marking the thirtieth anniversary?
Yes! (And I don’t use exclamation points frivolously).
Since September 1 we’ve been celebrating “30 Years in 30 Days” which has included a kick-off party featuring performances by BRC Co-Founder Vernon Reid and his Living Colour bandmate Corey Glover, Unlocking The Truth (our youngest member band with an average age of 13), Betty Black, Burnt Sugar, and The Veldt.
We’ve also had a new music listening party, a screening of rarely-seen footage from previous BRC Orchestra shows, two BRC Orchestra performances of the music of Jimi Hendrix and Band of Gypsys at BAMcafe, a Master Vocal Clinic with Corey Glover, offered free rehearsal space for BRC members every Tuesday, and shown our love to our members on Membership Mondays.
On 9/25, we will start accepting submissions for our next compilation CD, “Rock ‘n’ Roll Reparations v.3: The Million Man Mosh Edition.” All songs submitted (email firstname.lastname@example.org to find out how) should focus on issues likepolice brutality, inequitable incarceration, civil rights violations, and others that adversely affect marginalized communities. The CD will be released via BRC Records in December 2015.
Lastly, a gallery show of BRC photographs and memorabilia will be mounted at the RAW Space in Harlem from 10/8-11/20.
You can get updates on the 30th anniversary as well as more information on BRC membership and tax-deductible donations at www.blackrockcoalition.org.
Vernon Reid was a founder of the BRC and Living Color (amongst others) were once the face of black rock. Who should we be paying attention to now?
It’s a long list, but I'll rattle off a few of those who have shown skill, originality, passion, bite, longevity, and love for heritage all wrapped up in superb musicianship: Tamar-kali, Unlocking The Truth, Fantastic Negrito, Brittany Howard, Betty Black, Imani Coppola, Fishbone, Gordon Voidwell, Guillermo e. Brown, Three5Human, 24-7 Spyz, Straight Line Stitch, Gary Clark Jr., Simi Stone, Radkey, Tunde Olaniran, Deep Cotton, Dope Sagittarius, Pillow Theory, The ooOhh Baby Gimme Mores, Faith, MilitiA. Vox, Stew and The Negro Problem, and Burnt Sugar. We love them all.
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