lumpenwardphotoRadio host, music historian and author Rickey Vincent always wondered if there was a connection between the sweaty genre created by James Brown and the fiery politics of the black liberation movement, symbolized by the Black Panther Party.  It was hard for him to imagine a revolutionary cat like Stokely Carmichael doing the “Funky Broadway,” yet both emerged during the same time period. Was there a lost “Black Power Mixtape” out there that blurred the lines between entertainment and social justice?

In the late 60s and early 70s, Brown spearheaded a culture shift which reflected an ideological shift in

Ricky Vincent

Rickey Vincent

consciousness; as the rhetoric around the black power movement grew increasingly more militant following the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, black artists underwent what Vincent calls a “soul music awakening” which reflected the revolution that was happening in Oakland and other cities across America with large black populations. Where R&B and gospel had been the soundtrack to the Civil Rights movement, the brand-new funk which emerged was more urgent, both in terms of its message and its rhythms.

Brown’s “Say It Loud (I’m Black and I’m Proud)” is the most obvious example of funk’s militancy, but the cultural shift was also evidenced by soul singers like Curtis Mayfield, Isaac Hayes, Marvin Gaye, and Stevie Wonder, who began to address racial inequality and economic injustice in their music, sometimes against the wishes of record label executives.

Black artists in the Panther era, Vincent said, were “musing on freedom… what does it mean to be black and proud?”

The Lumpen

The Lumpen

Vincent, the son of a Panther mother and a professor father, grew up in an environment where he was exposed to now-legendary BPP leaders as a young child. “Huey (Newton), Bobby (Seale), and Eldridge (Cleaver) were around my house,” he recalled, during an author talk at Oakland’s Main Library.

But though he grew up a “Panther baby,” he was unaware of a direct, explicit connection between the music and the politics of that era. Until recently, said the author of “Funk,” “I thought the funk was separate.” The popular narrative around the mythology of the black revolutionary, Vincent explained, asserted that revolutionary activists were “so serious, so committed, they don’t really belong to the rest of the community… I understood funk as a revolutionary entity unto itself.”

That perception changed when The Coup’s Boots Riley—himself a Panther baby—told Vincent one day, “you know, the Panthers had a funk band.” (Vincent is listed as a “funk consultant” on the Coup’s records.)

At that moment, the lightbulb went off inside his head. Vincent checked with local cultural historians Billy Jennings, Greg Morozumi and Walter Turner and confirmed the Panthers DID indeed have a funk band, called The Lumpen —a reference to a concept first used by Karl Marx, and later refined by Franz Fanon.

According to Marx, the Lumpen were the working proletariats, who lacked the necessary consciousness to engage in revolutionary tactics. But Fanon believed that the lumpen could be politicized, if they were more educated about the system which kept them oppressed. Vincent referenced Malcolm X—a pimp and dope peddler who became a preacher—as an example of a member of the lumpen who underwent a transformation.

The band The Lumpen, Vincent explained, were a little-known yet important footnote in the Panther saga, whose story is at the core of Vincent’s new book, “Party Music”  – a title lifted from a Coup album – which he says is a “metaphor for the story of black power.”

James Mott

James Mott

The Lumpen emerged out of San Jose State University, where students were fighting for the creation of a Third World Studies department and trying to establish a BPP chapter. They were rank-and-file Panther members who did security for Panther leaders, had musical backgrounds, and would sometimes sing while working long shifts printing and distributing the Panther newsletter.

Overheard by Minister of Culture Emory Douglas and Chief of Staff David Hilliard (who gave them the name), they were pressed into service as the house band at Panther rallies. The Lumpen were a group only for a short period of time, and only released one impossibly rare 7” single, “Free Bobby Now.” Although a live album was recorded, the master tapes disappeared, possibly due to the FBI’s COINTELPRO anti-insurgency program directed at the Panthers. But Vincent managed to unearth a grainy cassette dub of the concert from the Newton archives housed at Stanford and digitized them with the help of Turner, an engineer at KPFA.

Vincent played a few of the Lumpen’s songs at the library, in front of an audience which included several former Panthers and Councilperson Lynette Gibson-McElhaney. The funk is unmistakable, with arrangements of songs made famous by Brown, Mayfield and the Temptations, yet with revolutionary lyrics substituted for familiar verses. In The Lumpen’s hands, Mayfield’s gospelized soul classic “People Get Ready” became less of an encoded hint and more of a direct call to action: “people get ready/ revolution’s come/ you don’t need a ticket/ You just need a loaded gun.” And the chorus of Sly Stone’s “Dance to the Music” became the BPP chant, “power to the people,” while “Old Man River” became “Old Pig Nixon.”

Vincent then introduced a special guest: James Mott, one of the Lumpen’s vocalists, who explained that the group’s role was “getting the message to a group of people who would never read a book, never read a newspaper.” Mott related how he was visited by FBI agents who promised him recording contracts if he left the BPP. But he and the others stood firm: “we had children that needed to be fed,” along with health care and senior services, he explained.

James Mott and Ricky Vincent

James Mott and Rickey Vincent

Vincent then touched on another key aspect of the funk-power connection: both are source material for hip-hop. As he noted, “the hip-hop generation got their politics from their music.” The Panther legacy exists through musicians like Digable Planets, Tupac, Nile Rogers, Paris, Riley, dead prez, and Chuck D (who may have named the group Public Enemy around the Panther acronym for political education). The Fugitives were a rap group that included the son of Lumpen member Bill Calhoun. Even Kanye West and Chaka Khan have connections to the BPP. Not only have the Lumpen become part of history, but as Mott noted, their music “has a message that resonates today.”

***

The Bay Area’s appreciation for Halloween/Dia Do Los Muertos is so big, it can’t be contained into just one day. The celebratory festivities began for many last weekend, continued on Thursday, and extended all the way through Sunday for some. People wore costumes to work, school, clubs, parties, etc., proving that the region is full of a) freaks, b) people who know how to have a good time, c) those who honor their ancestors, or d) all of the above.

Death slays the New Parish

Death slays the New Parish

On Thursday, Oakulture caught the legendary Afropunk pioneers Death at the New Parish, which turned into a (gentle) mosh pit as the reformed Detroit black rockers blessed the building with classic numbers like “Politicians in My Eyes.” For a band that’s been resurrected, Death sounded pretty good live.

Deuce Eclipse as a baseball fury

Deuce Eclipse as a baseball fury

From there it was on to the Legionnaire for the last of their Halloween party. We missed the performances by Foreign Legion and Bang Data, but we did get to see BD frontman Deuce Eclipse dressed as a baseball fury from the movie “The Warriors.” Can you dig it?

Friday happened to be First Friday, as well as the one-year anniversary of Solespace, the shoe store/art gallery which has given progressive/political artists of color the opportunity to hold space in the gentrified Uptown neighborhood.

Happy birthday Solespace!

Happy birthday Solespace!

It was the opening reception for a new show, Future Ancestors, by political poster specialists Dignidad Rebelde, aka Melanie Cervantes and Jesus Barraza. The show honors five social justice changemakers–Malkia Cyril, Jidan Koon, Pam Tau Lee, Karina Najera, & Yosimar Reyes–and invites the question, “what sort of ancestor will you be?”

The party continued Saturday night with an appearance by dancehall reggae star Gyptian at New Karibbean City. As expected, many in the audience were decked out in costume. What was perhaps not so expected, though, was that the audience was 80-90% female. If Oakulture was still single, that’s a ratio we’d be trying to work with.

Gyptian at NKC

Gyptian at NKC

Speaking of working with it, the charismatic Gyptian delivered a strong performance that had the ladies swooning, while unannounced special guest Bascom X was also a hit. Not only was the show a release party for Gyptian’s new album, Love, Sex, & Reggae, but it was his birthday as well. A special evening became even more special because of Daylight Savings Time, which extended the after-hours dancing and carousing by an extra hour.

Hmm. Ancestry, legacy, history. A lot to think about this week.

***

This week’s picks:

Let’s Stay Together” screening w/ filmmaker Joshua Bee Alafia, Thursday 11/7, 9:30pm, $10, the New Parkway 474 24th. St.

 

The Pimps of Joytime/Monophonics , Friday 11/8, 9pm, $17-$20, the New Parish, 579 18th St.

 

Santos Shelton: Big Things Have Small Beginnings, Saturday 11/9, 6pm, free, Betti Ono, 1427 Broadway

 

Jazz for Palestine, Saturday 11/9, 9pm, $30-$35, Uptown Body and Fender, 401 26th. St.

 

GZA, A-plus, DJ Apollo, 10:30 pm, $15-$20, Yoshis, 1331 Fillmore, San Francisco

 

Roots of Dubstep w/ Mad Professor, Joe Ariwa, General Levy, Sunday 11/10, 9pm, $15, Elbo Room, 647 Valencia, SF

 

 

 

 

 

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