harmolodics, dialectics, and artistic applications of revolution

a young coltrane

John Coltrane

‘I play pure emotion..In music, the only thang that matters is whether you feel it or not..Chords are just the name for sounds, which really need no names at all, as names are sometimes confusing..Blow what you feel – anything. Play the thought, the idea in your mind – Break away from the convention and stagnation – escape! [Musicians] have more room to express themselves with me…They should be free to play things as they feel it, the way it’s comfortable for them to play it. You can use any note and rhythm pattern that makes good sense for you. You just hear it – like beautiful thoughts – you don’t listen to people telling you how to play…My music doesn’t have any real time, no metric time. It has time, but not in the sense that you can time it. It’s more like breathing – a natural, freer time. People have forgotten how beautiful it is to be natural. Even in love…’

-ornette coleman, from The Harmolodic Manifesto [a musical application of socialism]

Even in love…the words settle softly but firmly within my mental. Of course the people are disconnected from any real feelings of what love in its natural state could look like. Feel like. We live within capitalism, which birthed racism and exploits patriarchy. It structures everything and socializes us in a culture that supports such structures; none of which are founded on love. In the states we are taught false bourgeois understandings of it. We are conditioned through bourgeois holidays to celebrate love and togetherness a few days out of the year, where we are assaulted with advertising pressure to consume and show love through our wallets and things. Things replace love and feelings. Natural does not occur, because we do not live within the settings of anything natural. We are so far removed from our own wants and desires; alienated from our bodies and spirits and each other. Alienated from the earth. The type of freedom ornette coleman speaks to in his manifesto above transcends the makings of music. For me, it means the necessity of revolution. Music, like all culture, is regulated through society. Music therefore represents the same rigidity and oppressive ideas that rule all realms of society, incarcerating us in a patriarchal/capitalist mental and physical slavery. Musicians, such as Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane chose to break jazz free from the western linear structure. They wanted collective/individual free expression; the connection of feelings and body with music; with sound. This type of connection is real freedom, but freedom does not exist under capitalism. Therefore our art is not completely free either. But we can use it to express these critical ideas. We can use it to express alternative visions in practice. John Coltrane expresses this idea musically here,

“I think the majority of musicians are interested in truth, you know—they’ve got to be because a musical thing is a truth.  If you play and make a statement, a musical statement, and it’s a valid statement, that’s a truth right there in itself, you know.  If you play something phony you know that’s phony.  All musicians are striving to get as near perfection as they can get.  That’s truth there, you know.  So in order to play those kind of things, to play truth, you’ve got to live with as much truth as you possibly can, you know.”

Ornette Coleman

Ornette Coleman

I believe that revolutionaries feel very similarly. There is an understanding that our struggle is grounded in a righteous truth, liberation. All of our actions are being guided by that truth; the righteous revolutionary strives to embody truth as much as possible, despite the challenges of capitalism. This is what we must do if we stand a chance of moving towards a new age of freedom. This type of revolutionary thinking can be applied to the music and thought of musicians, such as Ornette Coleman and John Coltran. Coleman tried to develop his ideas around free jazz into a loose document called The Harmolodics Manifesto. It is underdeveloped theoretically, and some may argue that it is a joke that Coleman created to amuse himself. Either way, I see the potential in the ideas presented; there is a conscious analysis of music that can be applied to the overall structures of society and revolution. Coleman’s music and ideas are revolutionary, because they are dialectical. Dialectics is the understanding that society is developed and propelled forward through the relationship of contradictions, leading to ruptures and transformation. This was a fundamental change in western methods of consciousness, which relied on formal logic. Formal logic did not account for the real movement that makes up society, because it did not understand contradictions. Karl marx grounded dialectics within class struggle asserting that the fundamental contradiction of society is between the oppressed and the oppressors. It is the results of these struggles, which has catapulted us into new historical epochs, capitalism being our current one. Dialectics therefore is inherently revolutionary, because it is the conscious actions of people provide the basis for destroying and rebuilding society. The makings of history.

Ornette Coleman and John Coltranes development of free jazz is a musical application of dialectics in many ways. They used jazz to challenge the limitations of jazz giving birth to a new sound, and therefore a new idea. This is music, but it is all very social. That is why Coleman and Coltrane speak to the human feeling involved. They’re making musical emotion; providing sounds to the thoughts and feelings. They do not see a disconnection between them. This is a new concept that challenge’s the limitations imposed upon our collective consciousness through living in this capitalist system and learning exploitation on the job, within classrooms, and our communities. We have to consciously break free from this conditioning and strive for the truth behind the socialization.  This is don through living, studying, creating and struggling. It is what has helped me stay awake in this system with hope and inspiration for my people. But the truth is we aren’t socialized to feel; to express our feelings naturally. We do not live naturally. We have no idea what that really means even. We buy meat in plastic and styrafoam, and frozen vegetables shipped from across the world.  We live in little boxes removed from one other, laid down on pavement, which has been laid down on the beautiful earth. This keeps us spiritually weak so that we are more equipped to accept the misery of this absurd and abusive system. A people who are awake and in touch with their beautiful hearts and desires together is a powerful force; it stands oppose to the makings of the system. If we all begin to understand this truth and come together on the basis of this truth, then we can rebel against the system with the goal of taking it back and running it for ourselves. Then we will have revolution unfolding around us; materially and culturally, uplifting our spirits because of the strength of our spirits. Therefore, the most important revolutionary work we must be doing during and in between struggles is stimulating the conscious/spirits of the people. Inspiring them and supporting what they already know; what we all know birthed within us.

And art, like struggle, is, and has always been, an important vehicle for inspiring and transforming the people’s consciousness. Arts revolutionary effect on the people is twofold: it is both the production of revolutionary art, as well as consumption of it, which inspires and effects the people. Revolutionary art can deliver messages that inspire the people and make them move. It is also the act of making art and participating with others in the production of art, which can transform someone’s consciousness. There will be many a revolutionary who will diss art and its importance. Part of that is coming from a righteous feeling of seeing art fetishized in liberal ways that lose sight of the importance of revolution and taking power back. That said, art will save you. Capitalism is designed for so many to fail and suffer. It can be hard to find reasons for living, but art offers connection. Connection to ourselves and each other. Often people find art before they have been exposed to the idea of revolution. As a kid It was through art that I found emotional strength to survive my family trauma, and my ancestral trauma, the system being the ultimate source of it all. The more we value art in the revolutionary left the more we can guide people to a total understanding of the world. Our art can cast visions for action and that is what it must do.




To open and be opened

Interviewer: what does freedom mean to you?

Nina: Its just a feeling. It’s just a feeling. Its like how do you tell somebody how it feels to be in love. How are you gonna tell anybody who has not been in love how it feels to be in love. You cannot do it to save your life. You can describe things but you can’t tell them. But you know it when it happens. That’s what I mean by free. Ive had a couple times on stage when I really felt free and that’s something else. That’s really something else!

Ill tell you what freedom is to me NO FEAR! I mean really, no fear.
If I could have that, half of my life – no fear – lots of children have no fear. That’s the closest way, that’s the only way I can describe it. That’s not all of it, but it is something to really, REALLY FEEL! Like a new way of seeing! LIKE A NEW WAY OF SEEING SOMETHING.

When you live chained to a life not of your own making, when you are born into it from a system that permeates even your mothers womb, freedom is a new way of seeing. And one of the most disturbing things is that we have been so inoculated by our oppressors that we have come to accept these chains as freedom, some kind of gift of modernity. Many people, especially here within the United States, have been robbed of an understanding of what has come before and what stands in front of us. The potential of real liberation if we dare to trust ourselves and each other to really live and fight for each other. One of my favorite quotes from Assata Shakur’s biography Assata speaks to the power of consciousness and liberation,

‘the less you think about your oppression the more your tolerance for it grows. After awhile people just think oppression is the normal state of things. But to become free you have to be accutely aware of being a slave.”

And to understand what it means to be a slave in this system you have to be shaken up and opened up as Nina describes in this interview featured below. This is the role of the revolutionary, the dreamer and artist. To open people up from this mental/physical slavery so that they may feel something. It is the feelings that humanize us. Humanizing ourselves is a revolutionary act, which reaches its highest potential when the people are in motion doing this work together through real struggle that can take down capitalism and patriarchy. But before we can reach such critical moments in history, the people need to understand this task and it has always been the militants and creators through out time and space that have inspired the people to do so. Have planted seeds in ones consciousness, emboldening them to act. To conquer fear and self doubt, which stifle our movement. To be free. Womyn like Assata Shakur and Nina Simone are two very important womyn who have done that; and they dedicated their lives to doing that, because they feel. They loved their people enough to want them to wake up. To fight for something greater. I will forever feel close to these womyn, because that is what they did for me.

I’ve been intending to blog about Nina for quite some time. It is her song ‘in the dark’ off of her 1967 album Nine Simone Sings the Blues, which provided the inspiration for the title of this very blog. I was introduced to Nina Simone at the tender age of 15 by my super cool older sister Elicia, who sent me a care package full of cd’s that she thought I might like: An eclectic bundle of Nina, Louis Armstrong, Bjork and Alice in Chains. Elicia is 11 years older than me and a brilliant and creative person. I did not spend a lot of my adolescence living with her, but I always had interesting books and music and intentional gifts to look forward too via mail. Alice in Chains doesn’t make it into the rotation anymore, but I took to Nina quite instantly. Her music was like nothing I had heard before; it’s blending of gospel, soul, classical, and the blues. I have grown to have a deeper appreciation for the dynamic complexities of her music over the years, but even at 15 when I didn’t always get it, I drew strength from the fact that Nina always did her own thang, despite being a black womyn from North Carolina.

I love the slowness of ‘In the dark’. I love the ways the harmonica fills the spaces between Nina’s vocals, which capture a moment and feeling that pulls you in. Nina wants you to feel the music; there are no formulas or stale emotions expressed through lyrical cliches. Her music is very intentional; cultivated by her spirit with the purpose of touching others. It is a total experience. That is where the power of art lies in the ability to move you; compel you to connect with yourself in ways denied by the system. Any artist must reckon with themselves if they are striving to move people. It is this honesty that appeals to people. Nina understands she is a force and she wants you to reckon with it. This is reflected in the opening track ‘Do I move you?’, written by Nina and sets the tone for whats to come. The back up band brought together many great blues musicians, but the music is pretty tame in comparison to the passion and life that Nina’s performance brings to the songs. Some of the tracks have very stripped down instrumentation to expose the raw emotion of the tracks and the stories they weave. I am a romantic daydreamer type so I gravitate towards art that reflects some of those feelings, which is why the romance of ‘In the dark’ touched me. The whole album is quite good though, and a necessary addition to your music library if you don’t already have it.

Along with the song i have also included this short excerpt from an interview, which was recently shared with me by my dear and talented friend Justin. I have had it on repeat for the past 24 hours. I simply can’t get enough of it: her words, the feelings, the expressions, and the intent. This video feels like medicine to my tired spirit. What I really love about this interview is the poetically direct way she captures the feeling of alienation in our society, and the work she does to transcend it and how it relates to our overall liberation. Beautifully spoken here,

‘Everybody is half dead. Everybody avoids everybody all over the place in most situations, most all the time. I know. I’m one of those everybody’s, and to me its terrible. So all I am trying to do all the time is just open people up so they can feel themselves and let themselves be open to somebody else. That is all. That is it.’

This work is so humanizing and therefore so radical. Many of us carry our wounds daily from the trauma of living within this system, and it prevents us from opening up and connecting with each other or doing right by each other. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by the ways we are harmed by the system and the retaliation we direct at each other. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by the levels of sectarianism that permeate the left; the gossip; the cliquishness; the competitiveness. I wonder about the future and I fear the doubts that creep into my thoughts. But then I watch this video and I feel Nina’s energy and I am reminded of the path I have set for myself and the path that has been set for me before I existed. When I was just an idea. And I find comfort and inspiration in that. I only hope you can too and that we can together. Enjoy.

Hugh Masekela’s Righteous Rhythms

As a warrior artist I like to feature art by other warrior artist or pieces of art that inspire warrior artists, and these two tracks by South African horn player Hugh Masekela are just that. Born April 4, 1939 music found Masekela at a young age. He took up trumpet at 14, and after quickly mastering it went on to lead several jazz ensembles. Growing up in apartheid South Africa, his music has always been a reflection and form of protest against the system that enslaved his people. For those very same reasons he was also forced to leave the country for awhile, as state repression intensified with murder and laws banning gatherings of people. The below tracks are off of Masekela’s second 45 release in the US, ‘Mace and Grenades,’ which contains the equally incredible b-side ‘Riot’. Both tracks have their own distinct sound, but also contain a cross between soul, funk and jazz reminiscent of that year, 1969, where jazz was beginning to shift again into funky directions, which would explode throughout the 70s and 80s. It was loosened up by Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane at the start of the 60’s, freeing jazz in new directions like the black power movements that would erupt simultaneously in riots across the world’s ghetto’s. Watts to South Africa.

The music on the first track ‘Mace and Grenades’ is beautifully intense; a kind of artful and controlled chaos. The drums and guitar set the rhythm of the track with the hi-hats crashing up against the powerful trumpet. Masekela’s horn-like vocals sear into the track 30 seconds later belting out ‘mace and grenades, machine guns, bazookas going off all around. I’m in jail out here’. The B-side ‘Riot’ has a similar controlled loose sound to the musical composition and the horn parts, but the vibe is more upbeat. The grooving guitar rhythm provides a nice backdrop for Masekela to play with the trumpet.

Hugh Masekela performing at the Monterey Pop Festival June 1967

I appreciate that the title is riot, because riots are so often characterized in negative ways by the monopolizing bourgeois press to breed fear of the people among the people. A divisive strategy employed by a divisive system that gains everyday from our losses. Are we suppose to just take it numbly? My public education experience was not enough to inoculate me in bourgeois dreams of false consciousness when I saw my father escape responsibility through crack pipes fed to him from the same system that sought to suck every bit of energy my mother had in wage labor to make up for the absence. To me a riot is nothing but an expression of the people. A response in free form and that is good. It is good when the people are in movement together.and art, like a riot is movement and expression. Of course it is better when these movements sharpen into collective conscious actions employed with revolutionary means. This requires a shift in consciousness among the people. When the people begin to understand the truth behind their oppressive and exploitative conditions they might be inspired to do something about it. This shift in consciousness is nurtured most deeply through life experiences and direct participation in struggle. But it is also developed through reading and studying the world; history and culture. Art, like theory, is an expression of idea’s in different forms, and can inspire and inform people about the world. It also nurtures the spirit and helps keep it uplifted, which is necessary work if we are to sustain ourselves for the coming tides of struggles. These two Masekela jams, produced during a global wave of revolutionary movement in 1969, are still a beautiful source of inspiration over 40 years later. Because even though apartheid is ‘over’ the legacy of colonization continues to structure the country like it does everywhere else. And Africans, black African’s, continue to have the lowest paying and most dangerous jobs. The recent massacre of striking South African miners is an example of the level of oppression and exploitation that continues to exist within South Africa and through out the world, and Masakela’s music continues to be relevant to what is happening politically. When I listen to these tracks I am reminded of the ways art can stand the test of time in similar ways that writing and theory do. It is powerful, because it shapes people and people shape the world.

I like my jazz on overcast afternoons where I draw back the curtains on my big windows and let the gray fill up the room, feeling bluesy and romantic; or I like it late at night when candles are lit and my mind is fuzzy, but awake, nonetheless, in contemplation…but these jams are worthwhile any time of the day, regardless of weather forecast and mental state. Hope you enjoy!

Art that can fight: Resisting Art Murmur Gentrification

table at the art murmur

In Oakland there is an event on the first Friday of every month called the Art Murmur that the art collective I am apart of, The Corner Collective, vends at. During the event art galleries around downtown stay open later, and vendors and performers line the streets with hand crafted creations and performances, while people are able to roam the streets freely. Our collective likes to participate in the event, because we are all artists living in Oakland. We are all writers, visual artists, musicians, dancers and performers that believe first and foremost that art is a revolutionary weapon in the hands oft the people. We seek to have art move people in directions of struggle and liberation. Art without substance is useless and only strengthens the bourgeois culture around us. The art murmur is one outlet for us to share our creations, but also our politics with the 100s of people who roam up and down telegraph ave throughout the night.

The Art Murmur began as a community event to bring people and artists together in celebration, but is rapidly changing into a tool of gentrification for KONO business association and the local government, which functions to protect capital and business interests. New regulations have been enacted to limit people’s free movement of the streets through new permit regulations and rules, as well as taking away 23rd street as an area for artists to table and perform for free. The state has also increased its presence at the Murmur making sure to harass and police the people, who are out trying to have a good time. This past murmur on August 3rd had dozens of pigs and private security piglets roaming the streets hassling the people. The energy was uneasy at times. Our collective, like most of the vendors, set up without permits. These are public streets and people should be able to sit on them and sell their art, especially during an art walk event. But as the purpose of the art murmur shifts to be more and more about the development of a thriving business district, rather than community, working-class artists are forced to either pay up or be forcefully pushed off of the streets by the pigs. This all relates back to the function of capital and property. The local bourgeoisie has the material power to own space and therefore control the movement on that space. They want the Art Murmur to be a bourgeois art event for the new, largely white, money pouring into Oakland so they create new laws and rules that will support those efforts.

That does not mean that we are at their whim. We can also step back and analyze the situation and our power to respond and change the situation. We could organize as Oakland artist and refuse to pay the fees and refuse to leave the space. We could organize parades and marches of resistance. We are visionaries that must use our skills to conjure new visions of the world and living. The gentrification of Oakand and the Art Murmur represents a potential opening in struggle for revolutionary artists; a way for us to practically use our art to resist the political economic oppression within our community. The Corner Collective is interested in doing such work. We must take back our streets and our communities and we believe that art must play a role in that. If you live in Oakland and are interested in connecting with us around these issues send an email here: cornercollective@gmail.com and check out our blog here: anationofrighteousminds.wordpress.com Also, peep some of my new creations below. If you are interested or inspired by any and would like me to create something beautiful for you send me an email. I sell $5-20 sliding scale.

Peace and love yall!

we all walk amongst warriors…

Tribute to J Dilla black and white

Vibrate blue

Moon Warrior

Vibrate red