Late Dispatches from Afropunk 2013 Late Dispatches from Afropunk 2013

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Ed. Note: On the weekend of August 24th, we sent Charles to Commodore Barry Park in Brooklyn, NY to cover the 9th iteration of the Afropunk Festival. We expected him to get back to us with another one of his endless (if reasonably enjoyable) postmodern gonzo experiential tomes but as the weeks turned to months, it grew increasingly evident that would not – in fact – be the case.

“I’m working on something,” he promised back in November. “Something big and different. Something about race and rock and roll and the true nature of the outlier and…I don’t know…It isn’t even about the music, really. It’s about power and privilege and the context of understanding in the roots of punk rock and how that’s all fucked now and…I don’t know…it’s a lot.”

Too much, apparently, as last week Charles conceded that he would be unable to complete his piece “to (his) or anyone else’s satisfaction” explaining that he felt he “lacked the time and appropriate intellectual resources to explore his ideas in full.”

The morning following our conversation, Charles sent us an email containing all his photos from the festival. He also sent along a series of “false starts” as evidence of “(his) efforts, frustrations and failure.” There were more than a dozen documents which varied from “straight” reporting to a nu metal backlashing to the bias of genealogy which, taken together, we feel paint a unique interpretation of one man’s unexpected experience and so we have decided to include some portions of them in this feature.

We understand this might be jarring for some visitors and so have provided some further notes to introduce each segment including document number (they were provided without name) and, hopefully, context.

Those uninterested in reading selected, unfinished work are urged to scroll past the text and enjoy the artist galleries which are presented as provided.

ENJOY!

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Ed. Note: The following text comes from Document #1 which begins as the truest to the live review form. The scene is set for a lovely weekend in the park, Charles’ anxieties are explored, beer is consumed, etc. The piece takes a pivotal turn from the usual glibness with one, unspoken interaction that led Charles into uncomfortable considerations of his race, culture and privilege.

“A man passes me in a shirt that reads “I SEE WHITE PEOPLE IN FLATBUSH, EAST N.Y. AND BED STUY.” He’s older, well-preserved. He eyeballs me hard and I want to explain to him that I am not part of the problem of gentrification, that I live in Queens with the Greeks and even when I was home in BK, I was part of a long history of Irishmen who kept to our neighborhood and respected the rights of everyone else who kept to theirs but that sounds stupid in my head and this man clearly has no interest in me being anywhere near his person so I head back to the media fort for another MGD.

We’re all white back here. Almost all of us. There are a few who appear not wholly built on Caucasian descent but they aren’t the ones weighed down with thousands of dollars worth of camera gear, toting laptops and tablets and smart phones and slamming Red Bulls like it was part of their goddamn job and that just seems really fucking strange to me. Inappropriate even when you consider that we look nothing like the audience and it is our purpose to relate the events of the day in such a way as to capture the ethos of Afropunk, relating the experience of seeing, of drinking and eating and dancing and being as if we are part of the many congregated in celebration here today.

But we aren’t. And I get that, as a photographer and a journalist one is always a few steps removed from the audience by barricades and fences, by artist and WiFi access no average Joe is afforded, by free food and beverages, by clean toilets that are flower scented and always equipped with toilet paper, by couches and shade, etc. etc. These are perks of the trade that are concessions for busting our asses for cheap or for free and that’s fine and I’d be lying if I say I didn’t relish them but looking out into the crowd today, it feels like an ill-gotten privilege.”

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Ed. Note: The following text comes from Document #3 which is the briefest of the texts and is the first in which Charles considers his heritage.

“For my eighth grade graduation, my mother insisted that my name be read ‘Charles (redacted) y Chene y Ortega.’ She was one of my teachers at the time and made the declaration in front of my class, our principle, pastor and assorted support staff. It was the first I’d ever heard of it and though I found her input embarrassing (as parents tend to be at that age) I was more than a little exhilarated at the prospect of being addressed as a man of ethnic decent.

Up until then, I’d only ever been white.”

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Ed. Note: The following text comes from Document #6 and provides a short study in Charles’ family tree. It also touches on the “validation of skin through the fetishization of ethnicity” which was to be a critical theme in “the big piece.”

“My father’s mother was an Ortega, a New Mexican whose lineage can be traced (I’ve been told) first to Mexico, then – through a series of “benevolent” conquistadores – back to some rigorous intellectuals of mid-millennial Spain. She was also a Chene, a noble French family who – reportedly – earned the ire of Pancho Villa, himself due to reports of profiteering, incest, etc. and were rode out of town on Cinco de Mayo but no one of the family seems to consider that relevant. Not openly, at least.

My mother does, however and has recently taken to Ancestry.com in an attempt to fully elucidate the bloodline. She’s Irish Catholic on both sides though she makes claim to “a Jewish soul.” She also used to tell me I had Native American in me – Poospatuck, I believe – though these days she refuses to discuss that claim.

My father’s father was Scottish, which the family denies, preferring to say that he was born black Irish despite the fact that every dialectical spelling of our surname suggests we have nothing to do with The Emerald Isle at all.”

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Ed. Note: The following text comes from Document #9 and finds Charles looking back at the profound impact Body Count had on him as a young, white man living in Los Angeles at the time of its release. This is the document we are most disappointed to see end, unfinished, as we feel it could have developed into “the piece,” touching on black power, white guilt, societal context, the shock of unintentional ignorance and the discomfort and denial of personal growth. Sensitive readers should note that this document contains “the N-word.”

In March of 1992, Body Count released their eponymous debut. I was thirteen years old.

Though mostly remembered for the incendiary track, “Cop Killer,” (whose content was so potent it earned the ire of the Bush White House) it was the lyrics of the album’s first single “There Goes the Neighborhood” that really got to me.

‘Here come them fuckin’ niggers / With their fancy cars / Who gave them fuckin’ niggers / Those rock guitars? / Who let ’em in the club? / Did you make ’em pay? / Who let ’em on the stage? / Whose lettin’ ’em play? / Don’t they know rock’s just for whites / Don’t they know the rules? / Those niggers are too hard core / This shit ain’t cool’

It was deeply unsettling idea. Up until that point, I assumed I was an intelligent and progressive individual raised with care to accept and appreciate people in all their many shades, origins and orientations and to reject prejudice in all its forms but to hear Ice T use the word “nigger” as an invective on behalf of the medium I so readily associated myself made me wonder if I was somehow implicit in the systemic marginalization of black culture.

I was pissed, disoriented. I felt naïve and ashamed that I could be so ignorant to the world of skin privilege which I was clearly living in and which I supported every day both actively through my purchases and proclivities and passively by being white, middle class at a time in Los Angeles when the city was ripe with racial turmoil.

Rodney King had just happened and the Crips and Bloods were at the height of their Angelino power and yet, before Body Count, I had earnestly believed – because my friends seemed to be of mixed ethnicities and my parents, my family never echoed the slightest hint of bias – that we were living in something like a post racial (or, rather, post racist) society.
But we weren’t and the more I understood that, the more terrifying Ice T’s statement of purpose became:

‘We’re here / We ain’t goin’ nowhere / We’re movin’ right next door to you / Body Count, muthafucka’

There was going to be a reckoning.

Scary as it was, the notion was exciting. If rock and roll was so woefully white washed perhaps it was time for a black, metal band to barge in and stake its claim among the undeserved luminaries. Wasn’t rock and roll a gift of culture theft, after all? Why shouldn’t there be a violent grab back. And didn’t hip hop birth itself leather to leather with punk in the junk-stained streets of NYC? It all made perfect sense. Ice T, the ex pimp MC was going to shed his beats for the riffs of Ernie C and company and raze the musical landscape to start fresh and better. Hard, black and proud.

And though it might not be “for me” if I was the dyed in the teeth a punk rock cum metalhead I thought I could be, I would still be able to rejoice in the musical revolution.

But then the riots happened, “Cop Killer” got pulled and I was off to high school thousands of miles away from anything remotely resembling black culture and as my hormones raged and I sunk deep into the lonesomeness of indie rock and the Southern California nose brat slant of punk, the mutilated weirdness of industrial and…you know…girls, I just kinda forgot all about Body Count as the cultural invasion their rage promised just fizzled into teenage oblivion.”

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Ed. Note: The following text is taken from Document #15 (the last Charles provided) and is unique as it is the only document that reads as angry. We’re not sure where this “false start” was going but we’re including it (despite Charles’ later apologies for providing it at all) because we feel it elucidates some of the fear and frustration Charles felt in trying to accurately weigh in on “…the other black experience” (see, Afropunk.com) while reconciling the weight and responsibility of his skin. The excerpt ends with the question which, unfortunately, has no available answer.

“I take no issues with being a straight, white male. It’s who I am and for all the guilt I’ve tangled with in the time from when I first realized that my mottled pedigree doesn’t mean shit in a culture whose concept of privilege revolves around skin through my lessons in high-end, cosmopolitan apocalyptic sociology and the time I’ve spent in and out of the presence of what we’ll kindly call “benign racism,” these days I tend to not even really consider it.

Not deeply, at least.

I am white and that means nothing to me. It is a weightless, statistical consequence of people fucking in the right order on their course to the stubborn conforms of the violent American normative.

I don’t have a culture that can be readily defined and that never meant shit to me until Afropunk.

And now, what?”

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Ed. Note: Below, you’ll find photo galleries from Afropunk 2013, divided by artist and with Charles’ initial field notes.

The Skins

The Skins are three parts siblings, teens and a totally decent rock and soul band. They cover “Black Skinhead” like stone badasses. I understand I wasted my promise of youth.

Small Axe

Rap rock? Rock rap? The singer says the guitarist is from Brazil and their dancing hype man has the cold sneer of a killer.

Jean Grae

Jean Grae plays her set in honor of her mother (an artist, herself) who very recently passed away. She is a powerful presence and the mourning imbues her performance with a tremendous, electric weight.

Rebelmatic

If you count Kwame in the days of Fellatio Lockjaw, I know exactly three black punks. That’s fucked up.

The London Souls

There’s something about 70s blues riff rock that just seems so British to me.

Unlocking the Truth

Everyone wants to see Unlocking the Truth, the way underaged instrumental power metal trio from Brooklyn and with good reason. These kids can slay.

LEIF

LE1F’s set is peppered with so many guest MCs, I honestly, can’t tell what HE sounds like. Is hip hop always this disorienting?

Ninjasonik

“Who is this?”
“Ninjasonik.”
“Seriously?”
“Yeah.”
“What…HAPPENED to them?”

Psycho Egyptian

I really wish I could pull off daisy dukes and a biker jacket and a tattoo that reads “UBERMENSCH NIGGA” but no…very much no.

Mykki Blanco

A nasal rasp for free and hyper-sexualized madness, Mykki Blanco is the antidote to hip hop’s slickened meathead tropes.

The Heavy

Goddamn, that man’s got some pipes on him. I should really listen to more soul.

CX Kidtronix

Total fucking armageddon. CX Kidtronix’s set is a melee of bleeps, squeals, screams, shredding, costumes, asses, MCs and anarchy the likes of which I don’t think I’ve ever seen. Some people seem to seriously hate it. I think it’s amazement.

Saul Williams

Wow.

MEATLOAF MUZIK

Teenage boys are not cultural emissaries.

The White Mandingos

Darryl Jenifer from the Bad Brains is in this band and the vocalist is wearing Bad Brains shorts and sneakers. That makes me uncomfortable. Rock and roll.

Big Freedia

I LOVE YOU, BIG FREEDIA!

Death

There’s been a lot of hype tossed around these Detroit protopunks since their story was shared in the documentary A Band Called Death and its all deserved. They’re taut as hell and clearly having the most fun ever.

Vintage Trouble

Holy shit. This band. Yeah. You want to get your soul rolled? Go get in some Vintage Trouble.

Trash Talk

Of course Trash Talk started a riot.

Living Colour

In 1989, I saw Living Colour open for Guns N’ Roses and The Rolling Stones at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. They were great then. They’re great now. Corey Glover bites his nails a lot.

?uestlove

In my continued, inexplicable bid to never have Chuck D melt my face, I ended my weekend watching ?uestlove play a laptop on top of a big, black box.



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