Archive for April, 2012

Bob Marley documentary let down by its eurocentrism

I went to see ‘Marley’, the new and highly-publicised documentary about Robert Nesta Marley, at the Rio cinema in the heart of gentrified Dalston. While I enjoyed my green tea and organic chocolate bar (definitely a step up from pepsi and popcorn!), I found that being surrounded by trendy middle-class types only added to my sense of fear that the film was going to be annoyingly eurocentric and patronising.

But let’s start with the good parts. Doing justice to the legacy of Bob Marley in the space of two hours and 24 minutes is an impossible task. All things considered, the people behind the film did a pretty decent job. The archive and interview footage is nothing short of incredible. The production team must have gone to extraordinary lengths to get the level of access they got. The interviews with Rita Marley, Bunny Wailer, Lee Scratch Perry, Danny Sims and other important figures in Bob’s life are brilliant, and do a lot to explain how this giant of a man came to be who he was. For any fan of Bob Marley, the film is worth watching for the footage alone.

Unfortunately, the film is let down (as I knew it would be) by its eurocentric perspective. Let’s face it, the first feature-length documentary on Bob Marley should have been directed by somebody else. Kevin Macdonald is perfectly competent as a film director, but he is a western white liberal. The story of Bob Marley is the story of black suffering and strength inna Babylon; the story a great revolutionary activist; the story of a people stripped of their freedom, languages, religions and traditions, building a voice and a collective identity. In short, it is not a story that Kevin Macdonald is qualified to tell.

Bob was Africa-oriented. He considered that Africa represented the future for his people. And yet Africa is presented in the film as a continent of dictators and basketcase governments. The film gets a cheap laugh when Marley’s first visit to Africa – to give a concert in Gabon – is somewhat marred when the band realise that Gabon is “a dictatorship”. We see a picture of Gabon’s then president, Omar Bongo Ondimba, wearing a suit and looking slightly severe. Our collective prejudice requires no further information to confirm that this rarely-mentioned West African nation is yet another hopeless failure, its natural wealth squandered by incompetent, malevolent kleptocrats. This shallow treatment serves to strengthen the near-universal colonial prejudice that African people are not capable of governing themselves. No mention of the devastating impact of French colonialism; no mention of the oppressive neocolonial relations that sustain such a “dictatorship”. It all comes down to: Europeans are civilised; Africans are barbarians. It’s the narrative of the White Man’s Burden.

One of the most poignant moments of Bob Marley’s career was his performance at the Zimbabwe Independence celebrations in 1980, to which he was invited on the strength of his beautiful song, Zimbabwe, which became an anthem of the liberation movement (“Every man got the right to decide his own destiny / And in this judgement there is no partiality / So arm in arms, with arms, we’ll fight this little struggle / Cos that’s the only way we can overcome our little trouble.”). Covering this event, Macdonald can’t help but take a pop at the leader of Zimbabwe’s hard-fought liberation struggle, Robert Gabriel Mugabe. There are long, drawn-out shots of posters showing Mugabe’s face, the obvious subtext being: Zimbabwe is a crazy African dictatorship, because only in a crazy African dictatorship would you find pictures of the Prime Minister on a poster. Apparently it is too far a stretch of the imagination to think that people would ever willingly display affection and respect for a man who personified their decades-long fight against apartheid and white supremacy.

Mugabe is considered by millions of Africans as one of the great heroes of the African cause, but that didn’t stop the trendy liberals of Dalston from booing at the footage of him making a speech. Tellingly, they were quiet just a few seconds earlier during the footage of Ian Smith – the apartheid fascist Prime Minister of ‘Rhodesia’ – making a speech saying that black majority rule would not be allowed “even in a thousand years”. Bob Marley must be turning in his grave.

Incidentally, London now has a statue of well-known state terrorist Ronald Reagan. That’s the type of hero-worship us civilised westerners prefer.

Perhaps unsurprisingly – given that he is one of the film’s producers – Island Records founder Chris Blackwell is positively portrayed in the film. He is shown as being very sensible and wise; the voice of reason. When one of Bob’s former band members claims that the doctors wanted to amputate Bob’s leg in order to treat the melanoma that had developed in his foot, Blackwell sets straight this slightly outlandish claim (the doctors only wanted to amputate a toe). The comedic timing of this scene confirms Blackwell’s role as the wise old white man. We hear about Blackwell the visionary businessman who knew just the right polish to add to the Wailers’ sound to make it acceptable to audiences in Europe. Very little is made of the fact that Blackwell used his colour and class privilege to build a fantastically lucrative career off the back of black culture. Blackwell’s sponsoring of the Wailers’ first album is seen as an act of great benevolence, but the film-makers choose not to explore the fact that Blackwell only had the money in the first place because he comes from a wealthy white family that profited from slave labour. Perhaps such difficult sociological issues will be addressed in the sequel?!

I also feel the portrayal of black Jamaicans in the film is somewhat one-sided and patronising. A few of the interviews don’t go past the level of showing ‘cool’, ‘colourful’, charismatic people who smoke a lot of high-grade ganja. I don’t think it’s done intentionally, but a middle-class white western audience is left with its prejudices intact. A different film-maker might have taken the perfect opportunity to highlight the deep understanding and experience of black Jamaicans and, in so doing, shatter some prejudices.

When you show certain images and footage without giving proper historical context, it strengthens prejudice. We see the leading politicians of the time, Michael Manley and Edward Seaga, both of whom are (basically) white. Then we see the black ‘enforcers’ using extreme violence against each other. No mention of the real issues within Jamaican politics. No mention of interesting facts like how the CIA trained and armed the JLP gangs. So our existing prejudices (that white people are ‘thinkers’ and black people are inherently violent) are confirmed. This sums up my overwhelming feeling about the film: that it serves to reinforce rather than challenge prejudice.

Overall I feel the film represents a missed opportunity and fails to present Bob as the deeply revolutionary figure that he was. I hope some time soon a solidly afrocentric director and producer will step forward and tell this particular story from a different perspective – for the enjoyment and inspiration of the downpressed masses of the world, rather than western university students. In the meantime, go see the film in spite of its faults – the footage makes it a very worthwhile experience.

Hasan Salaam – Miss America

Check the new video for this firing track from Hasan Salaam’s excellent ‘Music Is My Weapon’ album.

‘Miss America’ explores the hypocrisy of the United States, which brands itself as the centre of the free world, whilst busily creating war, famine and discord throughout the world.

The content is important, the lyricism is deep, and Hasan Salaam’s voice rides perfectly over the intense beat. My only issue with the song is that a male rapper using the metaphor of the ‘slut’ is problematic, given the context of the patriarchal society we live in, where men disapprove of female ‘sluttishness’ whist applauding male promiscuity. The sociology of this issue runs deep, and has racial and class aspects to it as well as gender ones (society holds up an image of the virtuous, passive, pure, affluent white woman, which is contrasted to the immoral, nympho, poor black woman). Anyway, check bell hooks’ book “Ain’t I A Woman” for further ideas on that subject! In the meantime, check the video and support the album.

UPDATE: Hasan Salaam reached out on Twitter to clarify the meaning of the metaphor he used: “I don’t think your critique was on point due the fact it wasn’t held up against male promiscuity or women of color. The name Miss America comes from the ‘beauty pageant’ here in the states & is attacking the falsehood of Americas purity.”

The concept behind Hasan Salaam’s EP “Music Is My Weapon” is the belief that music can be used as a powerful tool in the pursuit of freedom, justice, and equality. With the release of the project, Hasan is aiming to prove that music can change people’s lives, literally. All profits from the sale of the EP will be used to fund a school, clean water well, and medical clinic in Guinea-Bissau, West Africa. The school has already been completed, and construction of the well is underway. In November 2010, Hasan became the first U.S hip hop artist to ever perform in Bissau. On the same trip he worked with the young artists, taught creative writing to the youth, and headlined a concert to promote freedom of speech. The “Music Is My Weapon” project is the next step, in an effort to provide change to a country that remains one of the poorest and least politically stable in the world.

Get Music Is My Weapon on iTunes. Follow Hasan Salaam on Twitter.

RodStarz and Luss rep for the political prisoners – FREE ‘EM ALL

Check out this dope remix of J Cole’s “Can’t Get Enough”. RodStarz (one half of Rebel Diaz) and Luss represent for Mutulu Shakur, Sundiata Acoli, Oscar López, Mumia Abu-Jamal and all political prisoners.

Also check Rebel Diaz’s track Never A Prisoner – Free Mumia

Follow Rebel Diaz on Twitter Follow Luss on Twitter

Logic’s verbal stick-up of the wannabe gangstas

Nice to finally see Logic on SBTV, with this Warm-up Session where he addresses himself to all the young rappers trying to build a career by fronting as gangsters.

“If every gangsta rapper really was a gangsta, all you’re doing is making it easier for the feds to catch ya”.

There’s a lot to be said on this topic, so it’s positive that Logic is helping to open up the discussion and is holding rappers responsible for their actions. It’s also important to remember that young rappers are playing in to an image that is perfectly acceptable to the music industry – and the racist power structure in general. This image is glamourised, glorified, distorted and then sold to us so forcefully that many of us start to actually accept and expect it (and this is a process controlled overwhelmingly by rich white men, not poor black boys). MK Asante’s excellent book It’s Bigger Than Hip-Hop explores these issues in detail.

We have to fight the music industry by continuing to develop an alternative, independent, positive, resistant, radical culture that meets the needs of the communities that make it, rather than serving the interests of corporate profit and the political/economic/social status quo.

Follow Logic on Twitter

Lowkey: best wishes for the future

As you no doubt already know, Lowkey has decided to press pause on his rapping career, for the foreseeable future at least. Before deactivating his fan page, he wrote on Facebook:

After many months of contemplation I have decided to step away from music and concentrate on my studies. Maybe at some point I will get back into it again but at this stage I feel I should direct my energy in different, more helpful directions. The ego is a destructive thing and I feel this business and these social networks in particular have a tendency to feed it in an unhealthy way. I will be decactivating this page. Thank you for all those who have supported me over the years. See you on the other side people.

As Beat Knowledge has supported Lowkey since the site first started in August 2010 (I was lucky enough to write the first review of his album), I’d like to take the opportunity to thank Lowkey for his contributions over the last few years and to wish him all the success and happiness for the future. Knowing him personally, I have no doubt that he will continue to use his abilities to further the struggle of oppressed people worldwide. If music is not bringing him fulfilment and growth right now, then it makes sense for him to give it a break.

Despite a few disagreements I’ve had with him over the last couple of years, I have a lot of love for him and a great deal of respect for what he’s done. His effect on the music scene has been incredible. He has combined his lyrical ability with knowledge, a whole heap of honesty, and a love for the people. The result has been game-changing: he has created a path for UK artists to build a career in music, remaining independent, staying true to their beliefs, talking sense, and serving the people rather than the music industry. Tracks like ‘Terrorist’ and ‘Obamanation’ have been a major talking point, and have opened up the discussion of some important topics.

I’m sure Lowkey will be back with another album in the next few years. In the meantime, a million thanks for your contributions, and best of luck!

Marcel Cartier ft G1 (Rebel Diaz) – Start The Revolution

Here’s the final free download from the album ‘History Will Absolve Us’ – a collaboration project between Marcel Cartier and myself.

The album will be dropping in June and will contain 8 new tracks, on top of the 6 tracks that we’ve dropped on Soundcloud and Youtube over the last few months.

‘Start the Revolution’ features the considerable turntable skills of Terry Hooligan. No prizes for spotting the scratch sample :-)

Militant raps, funky golden-era sound, heavy cuts… do you want more?

Marcel Cartier on Twitter
Agent of Change on Twitter
Rebel Diaz on Twitter
Terry Hooligan on Twitter

Spread the word and support radical culture!

Mic Righteous bringing intensity, passion, conscience

If you haven’t seen Mic Righteous’s new Fire In The Booth yet… get on it! Intensity, passion, conscience, honesty, lyricism, verbal dexterity. Not that I 100% agree with what he says about the riots, but it’s an important and valid contribution to a debate that the youth has been largely excluded from. And it’s great to see rappers talking seriously about issues that the music industry doesn’t want them to talk about.

Radical hip-hop from Venezuela: Área 23 – Patriotas

Released to coincide with the 10th anniversary of the defeat of the anti-popular US-backed coup in Venezuela, the video for Area 23′s track ‘Patriotas’ traces the history of the coup and the popular rebellion that restored Hugo Chavez to power. The song itself describes the tremendous anger felt by ordinary Venezuelans about the coup and their determination to reverse it.

In addition to the video, there is also a brand new remix by Agent of Change.

Lyrics (Spanish):

Es que no entienden la vida no es como ellos la piensan
La vida es una historia con unas ganas inmensas
La vida es lo que nace de la misma conciencia
Ahora son ocho estrellas en sintonía y frecuencia
Ahora el poder es del pueblo que no hará mas reverencia
Ahora cuando el cerro baja es que caracas tiembla
Secuestraron al líder bajo la noche y la niebla
Como dice el veneco ya nos sacaron la piedra
El líder fue secuestrado, secuestrado el vocero
Un grito desmesurado desde el 23 de enero
Desde la vega cotiza, desde petare entero
En donde hay revolución hay voluntades de acero
Una guardia de honor que enfrento a los traicioneros
Si por el televisor no se veía ese balacero
Solo se veía a estanga jugando a ser don dinero
Con una cara de panga con ínfulas de banquero
El 11 tus intereses el 13 son los del pueblo
Fascistas solo lograron dejarnos un mal recuerdo
Pero los que convocaron de sus casas no salieron
Porque aquí no importa el bando importan son los que murieron
Aquí no importa el bando importan son los que murieron.

11 de abril concentración masiva
de Chuao a Miraflores a entregar una misiva
gran movimiento de mentes confundidas
carne de cañón para el imperio genocida
usando a mi gente y colocando al frente tal vez a los mas inocentes
tomando como argumento un fantasioso encuentro chavez de dos marchas diferentes
Avenida Baralt con puente llaguno escenario presencial del deseo de algunos
Muere Tortosa y su empeño reporteril junto a los sueños de su esposa en una bala de fusil
Caos pánico y sigue muriendo gente
Medios en sincronía acusando al presidente
Pero el pueblo se dio cuenta que no estaba actuando mal
Cuando a canales del estado les tumbaron la señal.

Cayeron inocentes, civiles patriotas
Se mantuvo el guerrero teniendo puestas las botas
En la mirada tristeza esperanza en la mano
Con un fusil de conciencia llamado soberano.

Se desbordaron las calles convertidas en trincheras
El enemigo ha logrado la división desde afuera
Contrato mercenarios los puso en las azoteas
Soborno policías los dedico a la tarea
Mientras que matan al pueblo no hay informe de tele
Solo se ven comiquitas pero la sangre huele
Un olor que te grita el llanto de un inocente
Por una bala accionada por el cañón de un demente
Pero olvidaron al joven que tiene alta la frente
Que no olvida la patria siempre la lleva presente
A capa y espada con el peligro latente
Bajo desde el cerro en busca del presidente

Se derrumba un país, nos derrumban un país.
Bajo desde el cerro en busca del presidente.

Se derrumba un país un golpe ya esta en practica
Empresas en rumba atacan de forma mediática
Un nuevo presidente se levanta sin sufragio
Derrocan un comandante pero no callan al barrio
Una CTV que jode que mata trabajadores
Inocentes anteponen por vida de gente pobre
Saldrá muy caro el paro el pueblo ya lo declaro
La rebelión de los barrios aplasto tu descaro
Que paso Venezuela mataron la vocación?
Eliminaron nuestra lucha y tumban la revolución?
De madrugada militares preparan emboscadas
Revelarse al proceso será una empresa muy cara
Programación especial pa que nadie se percate
Que la gente ta en la calle y que saldrán al rescate
No se tolera un secuestro, que las voces se unan
El bravo se defiende desde un gran fuerte Tiuna
Paracaidistas libertarios que no se detuvieron
Marcharon, atacaron, rescataron nuestro cielo
Ahora con tantas voces que se oiga en el mundo entero
Venezuela no le teme a la fuerza de un imperio.

No, ya no le teme.
Venezuela no le teme a la fuerza de un imperio.
Ya no le teme.
Venezuela no le teme a la fuerza.

Follow Causa Venezuela on Twitter
Follow David Segarra (director) on Twitter
Follow Hip Hop Revolución on Twitter
Follow Agent of Change on Twitter

Marcel Cartier – The Best of Revolutionary Minded

Here’s the new mixtape from revolutionary rapper Marcel Cartier, featuring classics from all three “Revolutionary Minded” projects, plus exclusives from the forthcoming album with Agent of Change (me!) and previously unreleased joints.

Pick it up for just $5 / £3.49 from OneRpm.

Follow @MarcelCartier
Follow @Agent_of_Change

Celebrate Rebel Diaz’ sixth birthday by getting their full discography for very cheap!

Leading hip-hop activists Rebel Diaz have been a group for six years today. They’re marking the occasion by selling their entire discography for a knock-down price of $15 – just under £10.

Get it here.

Follow @RebelDiaz
Follow @Illanoiz
Follow @RDACBX

Return top