Album Review: The Big Moon – Love in the 4th Dimension

The Big Moon – an all-female awesome foursome from London – have released their debut offering ‘ Love in the 4th Dimension’ during a stimulating, almost paradigm-shifting, though nascent era of guitar music. They are taking their place in the exciting firmament where fellow guitar rock revolutionaries, like Honeyblood, Blaenavon and Black Honey, are also occupying a prime position. ‘Love in the 4th Dimension’ is the latest brilliant example of stripped back, unpretentious Indie rock being ushered in with the objective of erasing a lacklustre division of rock music which has tried, and miserably failed to subvert the chart dominance of the R&B and ‘Urban’ music outputs, over the course of the past decade. This section of Indie rock tried too be clever: combining genres, on the one-hand, conditioned by artistic intelligence, and unorthodox chord progressions, and on the other, a post-punk revivalism which, bizarrely, became besotted with awkward keyboard instrumentation and excruciating synth pop – which has tragically enjoyed a resurgence about as welcome as a giant Donald Trump covered with spiders.

This album, and the band themselves, reach us mere listeners on a nostalgic level. It’s hard to escape comparisons with Indie’s bygone 90s golden era, when so much of the rock magic of Britpop, 90s American Indie, and their immediate aftermath, is drawn upon by the band and deftly reconfigured to produce a sound that is their own. Elastica, Mansun, Sleeper, Pavement, they’re all in this album, but the individuality of The Big Moon is powerful enough to contort these influences to make them almost unrecognisable, as they turn the Britpop-inspired rock t-shirt inside-out and back through its own grunge, shoegaze, punk beginnings.

The opening track – ‘Sucker’ – is a testament to the stripped back, inside-out 90s Indie that the band aim to capture. A slow, fabulously dirty guitar intro that rises and declines in volume and tempo, in a more understated take on the Pixies-cum-Nirvana formula. Juliette Jackson’s vocals have the mellow, “don’t give a fuck” kind of cool attitude that Justine Frischmann teased from her lips back during Elastica’s heyday, and the backing vocals and occasional harmonies are reminiscent of a Banarama pop hit.

The weaknesses in the album are virtually non-existent, but if I was to offer any negative it would be in some of the transitions from strong verse composition to a slightly weak chorus which depletes the overall track: ‘Formidable’ is one such example, but even ‘OK Computer’ had ‘The Tourist’, no band is perfect. If any track from ‘Love in the 4th Dimension’ best heralds in an exciting future for guitar rock, it’s ‘Bonfire’, a standout track that pays homage to punk energy, grunge despondency and Britpop cockiness with faultless effect.

Stay tuned into these rock empresses, they may be the standard-bearers for Indie rock’s recapturing of the airwaves.

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Roxanne de Bastion @ The Roundhouse, London – 3 May, 2017

A hush surmounts the murmuring of an audience waiting in eager anticipation as Roxanne de Bastion skips onto the stage with a beaming ray of sunshine spread across her face in the guise of a sweetly innocent smile. You can tell she has been itching to kick off her album launch tour for her debut LP – ‘Heirlooms and Hearsay’ – as much as we have been twisted in excitement to see her perform. The cosy and hauntingly intimate confines of the Sackler Space within the famous Camden venue is the optimum singer-songwriter gig territory: and, tonight, a space where Roxanne is to begin softly commanding every square inch with her epic lullaby to family history, home and relationships. But first, as a prelude, she opens on stage, solo, with the fan-favour ‘Red and White Blood Cells’. The up-tempo strumming has everyone gently bobbing their feet and heads. We obligingly participate in the chorus backing without needing any encouragement, although Roxanne’s heavenly grin is altogether inviting.

After thanking the crowd, she invites her fellow touring band members onto the stage, although I don’t remember seeing them emerge onstage as it is hard not to be transfixed by the folk singer’s giddy schoolgirl enthusiasm. I am also strangely, in love with her knee-length t-shirt. One, I believe, designed by herself: all black with a white cartoon graphic image of herself on the front. I kind of want one, as it is refreshingly understated from most band or artist apparel which I normally eschew for its gaudiness. I hope it becomes merchandise in the future, but I digress – I warned it was hard not to be intoxicated by her presence on stage.

The Berlin native, and her band, take a different tack to the normal album promo tour as they populate the setlist with the occasional non-album track. ‘Somewhere Upon Avon’, for example, is a track that reminisces over Stratford Upon Avon, where her grandfather resided after fleeing Communist Hungary, following the Second World War, and the birthplace of her father. Like the tracks that reached the album, it is an organic offering, resplendent in beautiful simplicity with uncomplicated lyrics of candid sentiment and sincerity. ‘Some Kind of Creature’ is another rogue on the setlist. Its tone deftly straddles the line between upbeat and contemplative, which makes it a standout track of the gig and one that is particularly well-received by the audience.

A thematic coalescence develops as Roxanne plays tracks from ‘Heirlooms and Hearsay’, so that they become distinct from those occasional non-album treats. Many of the songs from her debut record appear to be elegies to her late grandfather – ‘Run’ being especially moving, the emotion and atmosphere that envelops its performance being augmented by the backstory that Roxanne prefixes, and the solitary tear that glides down her cheek as she tells it. Many of her songs, as the evening trots gracefully along, are accompanied by equally personal revelations. The songs from the album explore familial relationships, family history and touch upon the many places de Bastion calls home. On the latter subject, particular attention is given to her native Berlin, of which ‘Wasteland’ – a lamentation of the destruction of the East Side Gallery portion of the Berlin Wall – seems the most frankly heartfelt and soothing in its delicacy.

Each song, and the way in which de Bastion elegantly performs them, reveal an innocence, akin to a child’s poem, but with the depth and tenderness that can only be conveyed through a life lived and feelings truly felt. Roxanne is delightfully charming and funny throughout the performance; wonderfully engaging with her audience while also replete with anecdotes and amusing tour tales. You’d be forgiven for feeling as if you were alone and on a first date, standing with a glass of wine captivated by a beautiful woman’s captivating persona and fascinating life story.

The set comes to an end with a genuine wail of disappointment from the audience, and de Bastion herself, at how quickly the evening has passed. But we are rewarded for our devotion with an unscheduled encore, but I sense the reward is mutual as, I believe, Roxanne is reluctant to exit the stage as she appears to be enjoying herself so enormously, the smile still painted on her face. She invites requests, but eventually settles on an impromptu acoustic version of Outkast’s ‘Hey Ya!’ Her rendition lends a solemn aura to the original, the lyrics seem clearer and more profound when spoken from her lips to the gentle and soft strumming of her guitar. The crowd join in at the chorus, projecting a still but haunting howl of ‘Heeeeey Yaaaa’, almost like a Pagan incantation. It’s a perfect end to what has been a seductively intimate night of live music. Roxanne now embarks on the rest of her UK album tour, but I can’t help feeling there was something uniquely special, and unable to be replicated, that occurred tonight.

 

—Daniel Adshead—

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Partisan @ Dublin Castle, London 31/03/2017

As I survey the interior of this Camden live music institution – a venue that helped establish bands and artists who, in turn, helped establish the pub as a rock ‘n’ roll nirvana to imbibe quality live music performances – I wonder why I have yet sampled this spot during my 18 months in London. This is where Camden locals, Madness, unleashed their 2-Tone/Ska manic performances during their nascent days in the 1970s; Amy Winehouse, another Camden native, was also a frequent visitor to the pub. Now, at 9pm on a cool Friday evening, hoping to emulate the success of those aforementioned artists are Partisan. They take to the stage with a confident and breezy aplomb, which is characteristic of Mancunian artists who know they possess a certain je ne sais quoi  that will send the masses reeling into rockin’ rhythmic frenzy.

They open with the thoughtful ‘Two Lovers’, which is a more melodic, and lyrically rich, track in the group’s repertoire. It is a relic from the heydey of Six10Repeater – the previous band fronted by lead singer and guitarist, Stuart Armstrong, but sounding much more mature in it’s present form. The pulsing drumbeat has feet-tapping rhythm and all is beautifully complemented by Armstrong’s wailing vocals.

I have been following the musical journey of Partisan‘s lead singer and guitarist for nine-plus years, from the days of Six10Repeater and the modest success they enjoyed  including being named ‘Best Unsigned Band’ of 2009 by XFM radio station as well as supporting slots with fellow Mancunian rock group, Nine Black Alps. The group disbanded in 2012, but I continued to follow Stu when, the following year, along with fellow band members Dan Albon (bass guitar) and Leo Stanfield (drums), the current rock incarnation was formed.

Juggernaut is one of the latest singles released by the band. A powerful rock anthem that teases with deftly smooth, calm but quick verse instrumentation, before expanding, during the chorus, into energetic strumming and drum-beating, accompanied by Armstrong’s characteristic wailing, which sometimes seems on the cusp of being a yodel. The song flirts with the sound of post-punk revivalism of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs or The Subways bent, but the band keep just a short enough leash to maintain the song’s melodic charm. It is clear that Stuart’s musicianship and songwriting has evolved rapidly, since things came to a close on his previous project, as the sound is much more polished.

However, the rip-roaring, garage rock-type crowd-pleasers are not wholly abandoned. The band’s pen-master still remains true to his rock ‘n’ roll songwriting beginnings. Ashes with its jangling guitar intro explodes into a molten rock number and as we get to the meat of the set list, the band begin interweaving punk and, conversely, post-punk elements. Oxygen settles us back into the richer an deeper melodies that the band are crafting, supported by Armstrong’s gorgeous wails. The pulsating bass and drum-beat that are the scaffolding of the track, would not be out of place in a Royal Blood album, who are prominent purveyors of this foundational rock formula.

The past two years, or so, have been exciting times for the band as they have worked with renowned producers, Jim Spencer – who has previously recorded with legendary Manchester artists such as New Order, Johnny Marr and Liam Gallagher – and Mike Bennett – who has iconic bands/artists such as Sham 69, The Specials and Ian Brown among his collaborators. They continue to release new singles, and I, for one, am hopeful of a debut album, soon, but, as the set fast approaches its close, the band go back to the vault and rattle out another pumping rock relic from Stu’s S10R past. Today Somehow, which was one of two of Armstrong’s songs to appear on an early version of the Pro Evolution Soccer computer game, is a raw ejection of frenetic guitar shredding, punctuated by a winding electric riff in the middle, before being sandwiched between another slice of rapid-fire guitar energy so manic, you think the strings will suddenly combust into flames. It’s my favourite track, possibly because it was the first I heard.

The band lay down their weapons of musical pleasure-giving following the final track that is among the most abundant in its instrumentation, there’s a hint of The Animals’ House of the Rising Sun and I am left elated and stunned at the musical strides the band has made. This is their first UK tour since returning from a monumentally successful US tour at the back-end of 2016. There are plans for another trip stateside and after tonight’s performance, you can see why new audiences are yearning for their sound. This is the kind of band that can steal back the airwaves from the plastic music generation of marketability over substance and rock soul. I am wishing them every success in the future, by God they deserve it.

 

— Daniel Adshead —

 

Listen to Partisan here: https://soundcloud.com/partisan77

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Buzzcocks @ Élysée Montmartre, Paris 25/03/2017

I absolutely must open this review with at least a soupcon of hero worship for Steve “I wanna hear you blow the f***ing roof off!” Diggle. At the not so tender age of 61, still has the rapid-fire punk energy coursing through his Mancunian veins. Shredding with youthful exuberance on his guitar, throughout the gig, you could be mistaken for thinking it were 1978 at the Manchester Apollo, as Diggle screams that classic punk refrain: ‘Mad, Mad Judy!’ Lead singer/Guitarist Pete Shelley is his usual stolid self on stage, although now rather more rotund than in the bands halcyon days, but, fair play, he too can still keep step with a 27-song tornado of pure punk rip-roaring power pop that ensues.

Upon sauntering to the stage, the band rip into ‘Fast Cars’ and the crowd immediately rain beer on the chaotic circles of arms legs and banging heads that opened up as effortlessly as a tin of Heinz baked beans. Before you’ve even blinked Pete wails ‘My mad love battery – wants to charge you!!!!’  and we’re already into the second number of this Paris-based punk cyclone with the energy from the crowd gathering a scathing velocity, but the mosh pit does not truly erupt until the thumping drum introduces the power-pop anthem of ‘Orgasm Addict’ – the first single released by the band 40 years ago. I have been to many rock gigs, but this is the first time I have watched a group of near-pension age blokes whip up such a storming, body-slamming orgy of…well, near pension-age blokes! Until they perfect time travel, this raw three-chord Punk rock detonation is the closest you will ever get to visit, or re-visit, the 1970s Punk scene.

And while glimpsing a 90-minute sojourn into 70s Britain, via Paris, to celebrate 40 years since Buzzcocks’ first E.P (‘Spiral Scratch’) and debut single release, I bumped into another historical figure of note among the leaves of the Adshead family tree: my 17-year-old father (or rather, my 55-year-old dad thinking he is 17). I had never laid eyes on a man so giddy in excitement to see the favourite band of his youth, even more unexpected that the pogoing, sweaty body-slamming oaf was my, usually poised and inscrutable, old man. As the band tore through its back catalogue, like a punk freight train, Maurice Adshead sufficiently dealt with every other would-be mosher, like a schizophrenic bear pitted against a motley assortment of mildly manic bears. The whirlwind of sweaty bodies was reaching peak carnage by the time the pop-rock crafted ‘Promises’ was ejected from the stage by Diggle’s buzz-rattled guitar. Howls of “oh-Oooh!” requited by the 800-strong crowd to Pete Shelley’s call of “These promises!..Are made for us…!”

The nostalgia from portions of the crowd, who are old enough to remember the band in their heyday, feverishly palpable. Much of the perspiration spattering across my person is being violently beaten off the brows of the age-45+ by their generational peers in the now beer-sodden and sticky mosh pit. However, the audience, as a whole, is inspirationally a rich mix of age and gender: probably 60% were under 40. While the young and old revel, together, in the phonic delights of one of Punk’s essential pioneers, Steve Diggle, during various points throughout the gig, brings his guitar slaying right up to the sweat-glistening, hot faces of those up front, posing for the ubiquitous camera phone shots and uproariously plastering high-fives and fist bumps to any outstretched limb. It is undeniable that the band still take great pleasure in playing to crowds, and while the old and new still yearn for Punk’s bygone days, Buzzcocks won’t have to lock away their plectrums in the memory box anytime soon. Punk is not dead, but it certainly smells…musty.

Before the band finally exit the stage, the crowd are propelled to nuclear heights with blood vessels throbbing and feet bounding to the unrivalled punk anthems “What Do I Get?” and “Ever Fallen in Love With Someone” – hell of a way to ‘wind down’ a set. The beer-stained floor has barely begun to rot the soles of my ill-chosen shoes before the band return to the stage to a flurry of cheers and applause for 3-song encore that climaxes in a drunken mob pub style sing-a-long to the chorus of “Boredom! Boredoooom!”. Needless to say, the band left us in a state of anything but.

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Emiliana Torrini & The Colorist – Islington Assembly Hall 8 February, 2017

Iceland’s Emiliana Torrini is garnering a reputation for impressively adept collaborations, whether it be bands of gypsies, Berlin jazz musicians or experimental Belgian collective – The Colorist – her latest alliance. The result of this partnership is a live album featuring some new material, but largely made up of reimaginings of selected tracks from Torrini’s back catalog.

The Colorist immediately bewitch the audience with their, initially, gently melodic, then ascending thump of percussive impulse – punctuated by rhythmically pizzicato flourishes – as an introduction to the evening’s event. In some ways the Islington Assembly Hall is a perfect setting for what Torrini and the eight-piece Belgian ensemble have to offer. The solemn simplicity of a borough council office’s exalts the thunderous percussive interjections to a level that shrouds the Icelandic singer in the magnetic aura befitting a Pagan high priestess. Torrini’s outfit aids and abets this impression as she lithely (especially for a heavily pregnant woman) saunters on stage, following the introductory percussive howl,  in her vestments: A full-length poncho and trousers combo seemingly tailored by Mongolian nomadic women (lots of flowers and whimsy). The bands assortment of instruments augment the arcane atmosphere: From piano, viola and double bass to marimbas and something resembling a space hopper.

Upon Torrini’s delicate, priestly and understated arrival onstage, the music breaks into the new interpretation of ‘Caterpillar’ from the ‘Tookah’ album. Her ethereal vocals flutter distractingly above the soft twinklings and tappings of the band behind her. And there her voice remains, whether supported with little musical accompaniment – as in the almost a cappella rendition of ‘When We Dance’ – or adroitly surfing the percussive waves of sound the are to come later. From the start, Torrini, with her sweet and innocent physiognomy, sways at the microphone in rhythmic bliss, already lost in the music. Torinni is incredibly engaging with her audience and elicits many a laugh with her humorous anecdotes and musings between songs. By the time we arrive at the fourth song in the set – the divinely peaceful ‘Birds’ – complete with heavenly chirping – the space inside the venue begins to take on a hippie commune feel. Members of the audience begin to mirror Torrini’s now signature swaying, becoming drawn into the musical nirvana that those on stage expertly fashion; love reigns supreme.

As we are guided serenely into ‘Nightfall’, Torrini continues her melodic proselytising with an almost forlorn wailing, like whale song calling out for a lost calf. It is hard not to be utterly moved by such vocal expression. The show is not without its jaunty and high-octane moments, however. ‘Animals Games’ has an understated and melancholic funkiness to it, which sends pulses of electricity through audience members shoulders. ‘Jungle Drum’ is another highlight which ends the main set in frenetic euphoria, or hysteria, I can’t be sure.

Emiliana and the band treat us to a three-set encore beginning with a haunting and atmospheric instrumental, which brilliantly sets up the bursts of acidy exhales that are ejected between verses by a now viperish Torrini. This is ‘Gun’ and it intoxicatingly descends into a schizophrenia under the red light, smoke, shrill moments of pizzicato and pulsating spotlights. We are returned to sanity with the tranquil twinkling of piano keys that accompany the gorgeous ‘Bleeder’. As a finale, Torrini gives a sultry rendition of Kylie Minogue’s ‘Slow’ (a song Torrini co-wrote). It’s the perfect way to cap a delightful marriage of the delicate and the outright sublime.

 

Full Setlist

  1. Caterpillar
  2. Serenade
  3. When We Dance
  4. Birds
  5. Nightfall (Pale Blue)
  6. Animal Games
  7. Blood Red
  8. Thinking Out Loud
  9. Tookah
  10. Speed of Dark
  11. Today Has Been OK
  12. Jungle Drum

Encore

  1. Gun
  2. Bleeder
  3. Slow (Kylie Minogue cover)
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A Mesmerising Ritual of Power & Protest: PJ Harvey – Brixton Academy, London 31/10/2016

It’s Halloween, and Polly Jean Harvey emerges from the darkness. She stalks the stage while leading her sombre troupe of drum-beating musicians across this territory, that is now completely her own, to the percussive battering of ‘Chain of Keys’, with the solemnity of a funeral procession, and the foreboding of an ancient mystical ritual. It is a mesmerising, almost cultish introduction – her onstage companions possess an aura of devout followers rather than band mates – is hypnotic, and you feel you have been thrust into the frame of a Wes Craven/David Lynch movie hybrid.

From the moment Harvey reveals herself – wrapped in a black, flowing gothic dress with accompanying feathered headdress – the auditorium capitulates and fixes its awe-inspired gaze upon the sinister silhouette before them. Those who resist are corralled by the captivating spells cast through Harvey’s rapturous soundtrack which accompanies the visual spectacle she delivers with such unnerving subtlety. The audience are left not knowing whether to applaud or stand in bewildered veneration, worshipping at the feet of their occult goddess. This is not merely a show of music, this is theatre: and oh, how we are thankful to be witnesses to it.

The Hope Six Demolition Project, Harvey’s 9th studio offering and her first UK number 1 album, dominates the evening, with all 11 tracks represented in the 20-song setlist. While plenty offerings from Hope Six’s predecessor, Let England Shake, are also conjured up. The stage is enveloped with an atmosphere of menace and disquiet as the lasting chant of “This is how the world will end” erupts from the Ministry of Defence, a song laden with war imagery and thundering reverberations, throughout. The slightly schizophrenic tones of ‘The Wheel’ with its references to ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, do nothing to assuage the ominous pall that rises off the stage like an invisible but palpable phonic vapour. Much credit should also be given to the all-male shadowers of the enigmatic Harvey, who project a booming tidal wave of sound which propels the drama of the new songs, upon which Harvey’s voice can still often cut through and, at times, float elegantly above. If Hope Six is the protest against the state of the current world, Harvey is the power that gives the sentiments their potency.

However, it is those offerings from Let England Shake and, my personal favourite, To Bring You My Love, together with the whipped up frenzy of 50-foot Queenie, which rips through the Brixton Academy like a hurricane, that metaphorically raze the cavernous South London venue to the ground.

The entire night is a tour de force and a demonstration in how to craft an absolute masterpiece of melodic theatre, not through pomposity or pyrotechnics – which Polly Jean is, thankfully, devoid of – but through the perfect, uncorrupted catharsis of musical and lyrical expression, of which Harvey is a consummate choreographer. Albeit with the help of an disarmingly magnetic and beguiling stage presence. Following the untimely death of David Bowie, Polly Jean Harvey is arguably our best living music artist…and, at age 47, she hasn’t yet reached the top of her game.

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From “Free Huey!” to #BlackLivesMatter: The United States’ Continuing Failure Toward its African-American Youths.

Saturday marked the 50th anniversary since the inception of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense in Oakland on 15 October, 1966.

Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale were two typical African-American youths growing up in a 1960s America that persecuted its black citizens, while, at the same time, demanded they serve in war, and possibly die, for the same oppressive country which refused to recognise their rights. These, hitherto, nondescript individuals formed the BPP 50 years ago after becoming dissatisfied by the lack of will, from the existing crop of civil rights and black nationalist/militant organisations, to directly challenge the police brutality that had become a mainstay on the streets of the west coast and northern United States, following the mass migration of African-Americans, from the South, during the post-Reconstruction era and then, subsequently, the Great Depression.

The movement, from the start, was characterised by revolutionary black nationalism and known for its armed monitoring of police cruisers. The group were receptive to Marxist and Maoist thinking – in the early days of the group, Seale and Newton would bulk buy copies of Chairman Mao’s “Little Red Book” and resell them to leftist students and liberal-thinking intellectuals  in order to pay for the shotguns they carried during their patrols – and became staunchly in favour of feminism, demanding that members value the equality between male and female members, during the BPP’s nascent days.

Controversies persist regarding how to interpret their enduring legacy. In ‘Black Against Empire’, Bloom and Martin describe the Black Panthers as “the strongest link between the domestic Black Liberation Struggle and global opponents of American imperialism”. Others are less kind and emphasise the BPP’s disrespect for law and order and penchant for indiscriminate violence, suggesting their “gang mentality” was geared toward a collective persona seen as “defiant posturing over substance”. In spite of the gulf in the historical discourse where the character and role of the Black Panther Movement is concerned, there is no doubting the gravity of their impact during the riotous Civil Rights firmament that was gripping America throughout the 1960s. Many scholars exalt the BPP to a status of the “most influential black organisation of the late-1960s”. An organisation which acted as armed escort for Betty Shabazz as she travelled from San Francisco airport to deliver a keynote speech at a conference organised in honour of her late husband, Malcolm X, had, consequently, displayed its influence and channelled this into efforts to galvanise black, disaffected youths into action to end police violence and racism against their communities and, furthermore, demand the same freedoms as their Caucasian peers. Today’s refrain of ‘Black Lives Matter’ is born of the indelible influence of the BPP, arguably, as much as it is the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People) and the SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Conference), and the Black Panthers inspired the confidence for young African-Americans to demand what is granted to them by law and the Constitution: justice and liberty.

But despite the self-actualisation that has come to realisation for black youths in America over the course of the past 50 years, social justice and equity continues to be absent from the city streets of the Watts’, Comptons and Baltimores of the, apparent, land of the ‘free’. Racism and discrimination are still all-consuming contagions that corrode American society. The epicentre of the current outrage against the seemingly continuous murders of unarmed African-American men and gratuitous brutality against young blacks, male and female, is local police forces across America. The persisting racial tensions, which occasionally erupt into all out riots – as in Carolina – are reminiscent of the troubles of 1960s America; the Watts riots, particularly, come to mind. You could be forgiven for thinking that little, to nothing, has changed regarding the condition of young African-Americans in those five decades. For example, between 1 January and the beginning of July, 2016, 194 African-Americans have been murdered by police officers in America. This comes after over 1100 African-Americans were gunned down by US police forces in 2015 – a record high and roughly twice the total of white individuals murdered during the same period. This is an eye-opening statistic when one considers that African-American males, under the age of 30, comprise only 2% of the US population, and yet their deaths at the hands of law enforcement personnel accounts for 15% of the total. Additionally, 25% of those killed were unarmed and posed no serious threat to officers or civilians.

The problem goes beyond the barrel of a gun. The incarceration figures of African-Americans, as a whole demographic, in the US prison system is astonishing when considering their tiny representation within the national population figures. 12% of people living in the States are African-American, but yet 35% of prison inmates are black. This disparity goes beyond complex and systemic institutional racism, but is also part of a wider societal problem relating to the criminal justice system in the United States; a nation with 4.4% of the world’s population, but 22% of the global prison population. Even with this additional consideration in mind, the disparity between black and white incarceration figures is staggering, especially when you introduce comparisons between 1960 figures and those of the 21st century. In 1960, – when Huey Newton would have been an 18-year-old black youth and subject to unfathomable instances of bigotry – six years before the BPP was formed, there were 1,313 black male prison inmates per 100,000 of the population, whereas the figure for white males was 262. The ratio of black males in the US prison system has increased tremendously, and the gap between black and white has also widened significantly, in the 50 years since 1960. 4,347 black males per 100,000 of US residents were languishing in prison in 2010, as compared to 678 of their white male, abundantly more populous, counterparts. So, black men are five times more likely to receive a custodial sentence than their Caucasian fellow citizens, despite comprising a fraction of the population.

When periodically confronted with realities like the above, I am often reminded of the brilliant Marvin Gaye track ‘Inner City Blues’, from his seminal 1971 album ‘What’s Going On’: An insightful and raw social commentary on brutally violent and unjust urban landscape: The northeast and the American Midwest providing a particular focus for the unforgiving lyrical appraisal.

To illustrate how perfectly the present urban climate mirrors the late-1960s/early 1970s America that Marvin was soulfully protesting in his greatest work, you need only glance at the lyrics:

Rockets, moon shots
Spend it on the have nots
Money, we make it
Fore we see it you take it
Oh, make you wanna holler
The way they do my life
Make me wanna holler
The way they do my life
This ain’t livin’, this ain’t livin’
No, no baby, this ain’t livin’
No, no, no
Inflation no chance
To increase finance
Bills pile up sky high
Send that boy off to die
Make me wanna holler
The way they do my life
Make me wanna holler
The way they do my life
Dah, dah, dah
Dah, dah, dah
Hang ups, let downs
Bad breaks, set backs
Natural fact is
I can’t pay my taxes
Oh, make me wanna holler
And throw up both my hands
Yea, it makes me wanna holler
And throw up both my hands
Crime is increasing
Trigger happy policing
Panic is spreading
God know where we’re heading
Oh, make me wanna holler
They don’t understand
Dah, dah, dah
Mother, mother
Everybody thinks we’re wrong
Who are they to judge us
Simply cause we wear our hair long

The verse that I have emboldened is, obviously, the most striking and relevant given the main news stories emerging from America and to the Black Lives Matter campaign. But all that precedes it are severe afflictions that not only predominantly black communities, but which most ethnic minority demographics face. Almost a quarter of African-Americans live in relative poverty in the United States, today, (for Hispanics it is over a fifth). For the white population it is less than 10%, with the rate of relative poverty in the United States, across the entire populace, measured at 14%.  In some states, where African-Americans are a significant presence (e.g. Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina) the percentage of African-Americans who are impoverished begins to eclipse 30%. But interestingly, in those states where the African-American presence represents less than 5% of the total population, poverty figures skyrocket – to a high of 46% in Nebraska. Three other States show that over a third of their black population are living in relative poverty (New Mexico, Kentucky and Ohio). Only Ohio has a black population ratio that is commensurate with that of the nation as a whole.

The deep and widening inequalities between black and white extend into education and unemployment. Only 22% of black Americans obtain a University degree compared to nearly half of the Caucasian population. Unemployment among Africa-Americans is at nearly 10%, when the national figure is below 5%. Not surprisingly, unemployment is higher among those individuals who do not attend University. So the inferior access to higher education begins to lay the poverty trap for black Americans at a very young age. All of the above can only serve to reinforce the inequalities and divisions that underpin the current issues around race and discrimination, that are forever tormenting American society. It was the same factors that were placing so many black Americans in a deplorable situation back in the 1960s.

Since the Black Panthers showed young African-Americans that they deserved a seat at the table of justice, equality and pursuit of happiness, the political class and judicial system has not evolved and offers little to help improve the lives of their black citizens, continuing to impede the progress of almost all ethnic minorities. Black Lives Matter is an episode in history repeating itself and a government not recognising its past errors. From the Watts riots of 1965, via the violence in LA follow the savage police beating of Rodney King in 1992, we have no arrived back where we started. At an America that does not value the lives of a segment of its on citizenry; a government and law enforcement organisation that will protect its licensed murderers who unlawfully kill those of a dark hue; and a not insignificant proportion of the white population that wilfully turn a blind eye to everyday tragedy and act as apologists for racial crimes perpetrated by those entrusted to ‘protect and serve’.

As Marvin Gaye said: “God knows where we’re heading!”

 

 

 

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