THE AMERICAN NEGRO
(Jazz Is Dead)
Maybe everything you saw in Steve McQueen’s exemplary Small Axe made for TV movie series, was the first time you saw that, knew that… Saw something you didn’t know and maybe hadn’t even given a thought to, about racism and how debilitating and soul destroying it is when visited upon people on a personal level and how it just gut rots a nation. No greatness while racism is embraced and encouraged by our leaders.
Decades ago, my father-in-law, along with close friends and associates, began a Saturday school to push back against the hugely destructive impact racism was having on Black children in schools in the small British town where he lived. You know this is still happening, right? That racism is right amongst us today. I knew he did this. He’d also spent decades after retiring, creating the most beautiful garden for his family and friends to enjoy. He did a lot of brilliant things and was altogether a great man. He was as far away from a dogmatic man as could be. He knew something had to be done. He believed in the victory of good over evil, if you work hard at being good. I was reminded of the needs as they were, as they are, when I was watching Steve McQueen’s films and while listening to Adrian Younge’s eipc and astonishingly courageous album, The American Negro, and his attendant multimedia material, and while glancing across the room at my math-brain daughter and thinking about the opportunities that will be denied her because she isn’t white.
Adrian Younge is a multi-instrumentalist, composer, film-maker and, as a producer has worked with Jay Z, Kendrick Lama, Wu-Tang Clan and way more besides. He has created music for television shows such as Marvel’s Luke Cage (with Ali Shaheed Muhammad). A favorite. In his downtime(!) He says he feeds his soul by working on highly personal projects. The American Negro came into being as he traveled extensively only to discover a relatively high level of ignorance about the brutal history of racism in his home country. Believe me, Ade, the further you come the more disappointed you will feel.
The American Negro is Adrian Younge’s supremely ambitious and audacious multimedia project consisting of a lot of constituent parts. There’s a 26 track album combining musical and spoken pieces. It opens with the first of many challeneges asking whether we have learned anything. Ever. The music opens like a lovely Kamasi Washington hit straight out of the box. Every piece is attention grabbingly lovely. Oh the sounds.
He has a lovely timbre to his voice and the didacticism between the major musical components is not unlike some of the approach Jamila Woods took on her 2016 LP Heavn which I’d recommend to anyone and so often do. Less Neighbourhood-y, but... It’s a great layered and listenable recording, rewarding repeated listens and with added game shows buzzes to alert you should you ever find yourself drifting off. That’s not a criticism, there’s a lot to get through here. There's a touch of the Lost Poets, William Parker. Adrian's is a big voice.
It would matter if Adrian Younge’s The American Negro was unlistenable. When you make the type of immediate statement with the cover art, which is shockingly painful to see, and all it evokes. You’ve got to back it up with real goods. Adrian Younge’s sleeve art is he says “a recreation of “Lynching Postcards” that became very popular to celebrate the murder of African Americans at the hands of White Americans.” My chest tightened and my breaths shortened when I saw it. My friend, the author John Robinson says that sometimes you can shock by not shocking. And sometimes still, the shocking is still very shocking.
Accompanying the LP are a series of podcasts, Invisible Blackness with Adrian Younge documenting the development and evolution of racism in America. Over four episodes Adrian discusses Black consciousness in America and historical parallels to the future and the past with Chuck D, Ladybug Mecca, Keyon Harrold, Michael Jai White and others.
Finally, Adrian’s short film, T.A.N. He wrote, directed, edited and composed the score. A narrative film that sees five fragile souls, confused and in a haze of consciousness and intolerance, enter an eerie dimension. Piece-by-piece, each person realizes their destiny, and the darkness they’ve left behind.
Adrian Younge has a lot to say and the courage to say it. In all, an epic, Ken Burns-size piece of work. But let’s not get into all that. Media event of the year so far though.