By Melina Paris, Music Columnist
Social justice is achieved when human rights are manifested in the everyday lives of people at every level of society. Protest music provokes and inspires us to act and to bring light to injustices.
That is what singer-songwriter Aloe Blacc brought to a recent concert at the Ford Amphitheater. He and his partners have tapped into the necessity for social justice artivism and seek to activate people through their work.
The crazy antics of our election cycle, coupled with the overwhelming numbers of unwarranted shootings of people of color, prove that we are trying to coexist in very uncertain times. To balance the scales of justice would uplift society. And, that’s what Blacc is attempting to do.
Blacc helped create Artivist Entertainment, an independent entertainment company dedicated to representing artists whose art and music inspire positive social change. His co-founders include his wife, Maya Jupiter, Quetzal Flores, Alberto Lopez and Veronica Gonzalez.
As a first generation son of Panamanian parents, Blacc identifies with immigrant stories. It is part of his story. To him, immigration reform in the United States would be a positive social change. His 2013 song, Wake Me Up addresses the issue in two ways, recognizing the plight of the immigrant experience and promoting compassion toward people trying to make a better life.
Artistically speaking, he also gives recognition to his fellow musicians. Three bands and two solo guitarists performed alongside Blacc.
Performers included Los Angeles-based, Woody Aplanalp and Fabiano Nascimento, guitarists from Rio de Janiero. Bands on the lineup included Cambalache, The Concentrates and The Brothers Band.
During that concert, Blacc introduced the set list as songs that have inspired him to be an artivist.
The show opened with Aretha Franklin’s, Think. Blacc sings as though his roots are in the church and the musical arrangements accentuated his vocal talent. He followed with his song, Love is the Answer, a soulful praise to the sentiment from his 2013 album Lift Your Spirit.
This set went on to showcase the Latin band, Cambalache. Made up of L.A. musicians, Cambalache’s primary concept of creating and exchange comes from building community through participatory music.
The final number was Cambalche’s De Lingo Gringo. I do not speak Spanish, but I understood three specific words: gentrification, beautification and migration — the dialect of Americans.
Later, Blacc rendered a cathartic song that brought to mind the gun violence in this country. The song was Bruce Springsteen’s American Skin:
Is it a gun, is it a knife
Is it a wallet, this is your life
It ain’t no secret
It ain’t no secret
No secret my friend
You can get killed just for living in your
The Concentrates, playing a combination of cello, violin and drums, performed John Lennon’s Working Class Hero. It was a rich interpretation, juxtaposing classical and folk sounds between the violin, cello and Blacc’s vocals.
Rhythm and blues singer, Siedeh Garret made a special appearance to close the set. Blacc joined her in singing Michael Jackson’s, Man in the Mirror, for which she wrote the lyrics. The audience was rapt.
The final set showcased The Brothers Band. The Los Angeles-based group’s style encompasses soul, funk and rock. Closing the show, The Brothers Band lightened things up showcasing their funky indie sound. Lead vocalist, Tutu Sweeney’s voice is surprising as a wide ranging, heavenly alto with the band’s powerful and expressive sound.
Blacc and The Brothers Band performed Teddy Pendergrast’s Wake Up, a song that encourages people to be the agents of the change they want to see. The problem, as Blacc sees it, is the songs that make these social appeals are in the underground.
Speaking of underground, Blacc introduced another song as an ode to Native Americans, The Parasite by Eugene McDaniel.
In 1971, the administration of then-President Richard Nixon pressured Atlantic Records to pull the promotion of the album that included that song. The song has been described as a stinging critique of the root of American imperialism and its relationship to the genocide of America’s native populations.
This type of music speaks to the logic of activism, in a consumerist nation.
“You are what you eat,” said Blacc, repeating the old adage. “If you are what you eat and you consume music, watch what you consume.”