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Wednesday, June 20, 2018

“We have to keep on fighting”—Music and Activism at the R&B Festival at MetroTech

The lineup for this year’s outdoor R&B Festival at MetroTech includes new voices and established masters alike, from the worlds of R&B, funk, gospel, soul, jazz, and world music. Performances take place every Thursday at noon through Aug 9, and each concert is FREE and open to the public. Here, Marketing Intern Nadege Nau explores sociopolitical commentary in the work of a few of this summer's featured artists.

By Nadege Nau

If the work of J. Cole, Kendrick Lamar, and Childish Gambino is any indication, recording artists are seizing the moment to grapple with injustice and musically highlight the downtrodden realities of America. It follows that multiple artists at this year’s R&B Festival at MetroTech are channeling social dissonance in their music, too. Marcus Miller composed the score for the film Marshall (featuring this track performed by Andra Day and Common), while others are leveraging soothing harmonies and live instrumentation to express their grievances.

Bernard “Pretty” Purdie, who kicked off the series on Jun 7, uses a signature rhythmic syncopation known as the “Purdie shuffle" to ease his listeners' minds. The “Rock Steady” drummer debuted his new album Cool Down earlier this year, and, even amid the prominence of electronic music, Purdie remains a soul relic. His resounding influence echoes in tracks sampled by Beck and DJ Shadow, while his formula for subtle timbres seep throughout Duval Timothy’s “Ghostnotes.” Gil Scott Heron’s frankness in “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” is backed by Purdie on percussion, and he has a credit on James Brown’s "Say It Loud–I'm Black and I'm Proud" album.

Just like “Say It Loud–I'm Black and I'm Proud”'s mid-tempo approach was a far cry from the predominantly somber tones of the civil rights era, similarly are Cool Down’s pulsating horns and drum sonics an instant mood booster. “I want to fly high above my suffering and pain,” sings a spirited tenor in the chorus while drawing elements from retro funk and gospel. 

Bereft of virtual movements, demonstrators in the 60s and 70s rallied to “Fight the Power”—but now #BlackLivesMatter circulates the web. The hashtag, turned full-fledged activist operation, undergirds Terence Blanchard and the E-Collective’s aim to heal via the electronic jazz albums Breathless (2015) and Live (2018), which they’ll perform selections from in late July.

Live is an album for these troubled times yet it's also an album filled with hope,” Blanchard explains. “We want to encourage listeners to speak out and talk to those around them, discuss with those around them and heal with those around them.” 

Terence Blanchard and the E-Collective.

Blanchard, esteemed trumpeter and frequent Spike Lee collaborator (having scored Malcolm X, Mo’ Betta Blues, and Lee’s next film Blackkklansman), revealed his initial intent wasn’t to make the E-Collective protest driven. However, constant social upheaval compelled the quintet to produce Live—a tribute to those murdered by gun violence recorded while the band performed in communities once periled by police brutality. 

And Parisian trio Delgres signifies resistance. Coming to MetroTech Commons early next month, the group’s blues-infused world music illuminates diasporic struggles among Afro-Caribbeans and African-Americans. “Through its rousing Creole blues and its committed lyrics, the group comes back to the sounds of Guadeloupe and New Orleans while adding a contemporary dimension.” The trio is named after and pays homage to Louis Delgres, a French Caribbean military leader who opposed reinstating slavery in Guadeloupe. Band leader Pascal Danae sings of his martyrdom in a haunting requiem called “Mo Jodi,” or “Dead Today.” Also sung in Creole, “Mr. President” possesses a more universal context addressing prevailing sentiments of the disenfranchised and socially conscious:
Mr President, you are so smart
Please explain what the hell is going on
Mr President, you are the one in charge
Please explain to us why we're still struggling

We have to keep on fighting, fighting, fighting...
Struggle, struggle, struggle...
Despite the political undertones, Danae wants audiences to enjoy themselves at Delgres’ performances, saying “we travel between those very reflective songs and songs that are more, like, into the memorial quest, but it’s important for us to keep it at a pretty light level. People come to the concert to have a good time. We share a good time, it’s not a history book.”

Join us at the BAM R&B Festival at MetroTech this summer every Thursday from Jun 7—Aug 9.

Nadege Nau is BAM's Marketing Intern.

© 2018 Brooklyn Academy of Music, Inc. All rights reserved.

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