Singer and songwriter Erykah Badu presents a two part series exploring the extraordinary underground music generated by the Black Power movement of the late Sixties and early Seventies: radical, beautiful and rare.
Black Power - with its symbol of a fist clenched in anger and defiance - politicised African American music in ways the Civil Rights movement had not. The desire for integration gave way to a new, fighting impulse of cultural separatism and self-determination. Politics and music became explosively attuned. From 1968 The Black Arts Movement - 'the cultural and spiritual sister of the Black Power concept' - flourished, dedicated to the foundation of an authentic Black aesthetic in literature, poetry and music. 'The Black Power and Black Arts concept both relate to the Afro-American's desire for self-determination and nationhood' wrote the African American philosopher Larry Neale in 1968,'...a main tenet of Black Power is the necessity for Black people to define the world in their own terms. The Black artist will make the same point in the context of aesthetics.'
The quest for freedom had both a musical and political resonance. Musicians opened up new and unexplored worlds of musical possibility. Players like Ornette Coleman and Archie Shepp pioneered the 'New Thing' - an avant-garde in jazz, pushing the limits of harmony and rhythm. Music was explicitly pressed into political service: The Black Panther Party even produced its own album of underground anthems 'Seize the Time' and Black music as a whole became far more vocal in its opposition to white mainstream society. Poet-musicians like Gill Scott Heron and the Last Poets delivered stinging attacks on the political failure of Civil Rights and the reality of the black experience in cities across America. Meanwhile Africa became as a powerful symbol for a younger generation of black American artists, a source of political identification, spiritual sustenance and often exotic, musical inspiration.
Black Power transformed the way musicians negotiated control and ownership of their own music. The club and bar circuit gave way to performances in galleries, lofts, community halls and public spaces. The Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians was inaugurated in Chicago (and still thrives today) and other collectives followed. Radical independent labels flourished with very limited vinyl release. Many of these records, infused with the Black Power ethos, are extremely rare, and are featured throughout the series.
Contributors include: Ornette Coleman, Archie Shepp, founder of the Black Arts Movement Amiri Baraka, Black Arts poet Sonia Sanchez, jazz flautist Lloyd McNeil, Abiodun Oyewole of the Last Poets, Gill Scott Heron's co-writer Brian Jackson, hip-hop artist Talib Kweli and former Black Panther leader and songwriter Elaine Brown.
Presenter: Erykah Badu
Producer: Simon Hollis
A Brook Lapping Production for BBC Radio 4.