- Reporters Desk
ByMelina Paris, Music Columnist, andTerelle Jerricks, Managing Editor
Grand Performances has been staging some incredibly relevant shows in the past four years. In 2012, it staged Peace Go with You Gil. In 2013 it presented a tribute to Nina Simone. This year it offered the LA Aftershocks series, centering on the rebellions of 1965 and 1992.
The Aftershocks series began with the Wattstax Revisited, the Living Word presentation on June 20. The show’s music director, Dexter Story, marshaled together the most cutting-edge artists of jazz, gospel and soul music in Los Angeles to perform the music from the 1972 festival.
The next two shows in the Aftershocks series include WATTS50 and 65-92: The Rhythm Changes But the Struggle Remains.
Wattstax Revisited refers to the 1972 Wattstax music festival which commemorated the seventh anniversary of the 1965 Watts rebellion.
The Wattstax music festival was seen by some as “the African-American answer to Woodstock.” Organized by Memphis’ Stax Records, the festival was memorialized in the 1973 documentary, Wattstax, by Mel Stuart, which focused on the music festival and the black community of Watts.
Music director Story credits Grand Performances’ director of programming, Leigh Ann Hahn, as the mastermind behind the Aftershock series. In an interview on KPCC, Hahn crystallized the importance of the series.
“We’re still fraught with racism and hegemony,” Hahn said. “We were not as aware that we are all created equal.
“The uprising, riot, the rebellion came out of a traffic stop much the same way the ‘92 rebellion uprising and riots came about…. More than the riots themselves, I think it is important for us in how we look at history in Los Angeles and around the world we begin to address the needs of our community and look forward.”
Though we were not able to catch up with Hahn for this report, Random Lengths was able to catch up with Story about the Aftershock series.
Random Lengths: Aside from the 50th anniversary, explain why Wattstax Revisited is relevant today?
Dexter Story: I think that it is relevant because it is a re-telling or re-enactment of a very historic moment for African Americans in our country. This is news. There doesn’t have to necessarily be a valid and timely reason for recounting one’s peaceful and proud history. Hollywood is proof of that. Wattstax Revisited looked back on the August 1972 concert that commemorated the seventh anniversary of the Watts Riots rebellion in front of 100,000 people with live music by Stax artists.
RL: What’s going on right now culturally that the stories and the work of Gil Scott Heron, Nina Simone, and even NWA needs to be told right now?
DS: We are seeing race at the forefront of the mainstream media narrative. The stories we are being told by corporate-funded journalism would have us believe that we Americans don’t get along. My life is nothing like the paranoid reality played out on television and other outlets. To the contrary, my close and loving network of friends is as diverse as it gets. We are the true America.
However, the work of Gil, Nina, Eric Wright is relevant because it addresses the heightened level of cultural awareness in marginalized communities. Whether a police state is eminent or black lives are being sacrificed is very important but not the point here; keep in mind the art created by these groundbreaking individuals dared speak up for what’s possible, dared give a voice to the underdog, to the communities that exist outside the privileged realm.
Story spoke on contributing to his colleagues and the music community. For the past four years he has worked with the same constellation of Los Angeles-based artists, including Nia Andrews and Jimetta Rose, and have added emerging artists to his roster, including Anderson Paak and Kamasi Washington.
DS: There is a timeliness that always occurs with the Grand Performances shows. My hat’s off to Leigh Ann Hahn, the programmer, and Michael Alexander, the executive director for that. They are forward-thinking; they have a sense of what the city needs, even what the country needs. I can’t wait to see how Leigh Ann connects the Watts 50 and the ‘65 to ‘92 to what I did because that’s her baby, the whole series.
NYC-based Lyricist Lounge curates an evening of socially conscious rap and hip hop. Pacifica Radio’s on-the-ground coverage of the 1965 events will serve as source material for select musical compositions.Featuring performances from:dead prez, The Watts Prophets, iLL CamiLLe, Food4Thot, Jimetta Rose.
Time: 8p.m., July 10
Venue: 350 S. Grand Avenue, Suite A-4,
The Last Jimmy: A Hip Hop Musical with the Roots, Dice Raw
This poignant musical odyssey explores mass incarceration, the criminal justice system and the prison industrial complex through the eyes of young black males. Original music and lyrics by Dice Raw; written by Phillip S. Brown; original choreography by Rennie Harris; direction by Ozzie Jones.
Time: 8 p.m. July 17
‘65-’92: The Rhythm Changes but the Struggle Remains
Kamasi Washington makes the 1965 and 1992 sociopolitical conversations musical using the potent jazz and hip hop voices of Ornette Coleman, Charles Mingus, Billy Higgins, 2Pac, Snoop and Cypress Hill. These are two bands, two musical eras and one ongoing struggle.
Time: 8 p.m. July 25