Space, the final frontier—well at least for gabachos. Chicanos and Chicanas have been traveling through the cosmos and putting down roots in the heavens for some time now. In fact some of the more notable explorers are based here in Oakland, California. Going back nearly 40 years, percussionists Pete and Coke Escovedo left Santana’s first band to form their own creation called Azteca. It was a bold project of creating a full 15-20 piece band on any given performance that fused latin rhythms, soul, funk, rock and could pretty much play anything. They made two incredible records that are a lasting testament to their innovation as multi-cultural musicians. In their 2nd record, Pyramid of the Moon, they take full flight as they lead the way through the stars for the rest of la raza to follow.
One of those to follow was my primo Lukumi. Fans of the group BRWN BFLO know him as Giant, aka Gigante. Back in 2010 he suited up for space travel with fellow BFLO, Somos One, for his mixtape Giant vs Doom where they document their travels in his song Xican@s in Space. (download it here for free)
Checkout his latest recordings where he mixes reality, imagination, humor and brown soul. He definitely follows the ethos that we believe in—music has no boundaries and you can use it to take you anywhere.
3 or 4 years ago I went to Berkeley’s annual Hip-Hop in the Park and there was my fellow futbolista and friend DJ Treat-U-Nice (aka Dominic Villeda) selling shirts he designed and printed up. It read “Kill a hipster, save your hood”. My reaction at the time was, there’s Dom being Dom. I didn’t realize just how bad the epidemic would grow. My neighborhood in Oakland, (a huge mix of working class people, mostly of color), hadn’t been taken over yet. Soon though they were living next door and my hood started to resemble something far too close to this video by SF rapper/poet Watsky alongside our local friends DJ Treat-U-Nice and playwright/educator Chinaka Hodge.
This past Sunday (11/3/13), a few of us Pelanga DJs attended a discussion here in Oakland, California hosted by Critical Resistance, called Dreaming Widly, Fighting to Win featuring professor-activist Angela Davis and poet-activist Martín Espada. The discussion was centered on the abolishment of the prison-industrial complex in the U.S. A radical idea for certain, but a very inspirational one. As I was listening to these two intelligent and creative voices throughout the evening I was mentally thumbing through my collection to find the perfect song to accompany their discussion. I came straight to this record…
In 1971 Eddie Palmieri formed formed the first ever, and by most accounts the greatest latin-funk group ever—Harlem River Drive. A band made up of all-star latin and soul-funk musicians, that featured the likes of: Cornell Dupree, Bernard Purdie, Charlie Palmieri, Andy Gonzalez and Jimmy Norman. This was at the exact same time when Angela Davis was locked up, in fact the FBI were even investigating Eddie’s group for their politically charged lyrics. One of which was penned by Eddie’s friend Calvin Clash who was locked up in Sing Sing and thus sparked this incredible 2 volume set of recordings live from inside Sing Sing Prison. Take a listen to Somebody’s Son. As Martín Espada explained on Sunday, music, poetry, and art can do far more to motivate, inspire and engage the masses than any speech or lecture. I’m not sure a better song exists that accomplishes this in regards to confronting the inhumanity of prisons. And it’s damn funky too!
You may have noticed the above record is actually Vol. 2. I can’t rightly look past Vol. 1, which is equally amazing.
One of the innovative things Eddie did when performing with Harlem River Drive was to open with separate latin and funk sets then come together for the finale. Lets checkout the opening set from Live at Sing Sing Vol 1, Pa La Ocho Tambo. I’m blown away every time I hear this recording. I honestly get the feeling that Eddie and his group are literally trying to set everyone inside free by knocking down the prison walls with their music. And it wasn’t just at Sing Sing. During this time Eddie was taking his music to many prisons, from Rikers Island to Puerto Rico to Colombia.
Currently 2.1 million US citizens are locked up, that’s 1 out of every 100 of us. For blacks it’s 1 out of 15 and for latinos 1 out of every 30. The bill we are paying to incarcerate our people is $21,00 per year. There has to be a better way. I for one plan to keep dreaming widly and support any movement to tear down our prisons and build something better.
Please excuse our recent absence from this space. We’ve been doing some remodeling and maintenance, but we’re back now! We’re still very excited to continue sharing more music and culture. In fact, last week we got together and recorded our very first Pelangacast live from our LP clubhouse! The concept is not to have the typical radio “programmed show,” but instead to invite you into our cozy wall-to-wall collection of culture on vinyl as we share stories and discoveries from our musical addictions.
Below is our first episode with more to come soon. Have a listen, and let us know what you think.
Advice – I. C. Rock
Ce La Vie – Les Difficiles De Pétion-Ville
Ah Ah Oh No – La Protesta (ft. Joe Arroyo)
El Preso – Louis Towers [NOTE: This unlabeled record was in a Grupo Kuwait sleeve, but it’s actually Louis Towers]
(Where Were You) Last Night – Sumy
Banana Juana – Ralph Robles
Guami Guami – Sir Victor Uwaifo and his Melody Maestros