While much of the nation tries to comprehend its newest national holiday, the Brooklyn and contemporary music communities are already using it to create new levers of support for Black American and African diasporic music. As a local music fan, there are many ways to participate over the next few days. Bklyn Sounds wanted to give a guide to two of them: buying new music from Black Bklyn artists, and going to Juneteenth music events around the borough.
June 18th marks the second Juneteenth edition of Bandcamp Fridays, part musicker community support system, part music consumerist response to #BLMsummer. Bandcamp Friday was initiated on March 20th, 2020 as a way to help musicians who suddenly saw their live performance income disappear as the world shut down, and needed a way to make a living off their music’s sales (essentially an impossibility in the modern streaming age). That day, the online music retailer relinquished its usual 10-15% royalties, allowing the artists to keep 100% of the sales revenues; and the artists made around $4.1 million. A pandemic musicker tradition was born, quickly moving to the first Friday of every month, and instigating a lot of new musical releases by artists.
Once the protests kicked off in early June 2020, the first Juneteenth Bandcamp Friday seemed a way to fold together financial support for independent artists, with the acknowledgement that pretty much all American music stems from the Black music tradition; and that having a fiscal holiday centered on Black music served a cultural purpose (at least within capitalist-structure thinking). On Juneteenth Bandcamp Friday, the platform’s revenue was given over to the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund (and it is again tomorrow). But it was successful in centering music consumer purchasing power on independent Black musicians.
Bklyn Sounds wanted to mark Juneteenth Bandcamp Friday by recommending a few notable new albums by Brooklyn/New York musicians of color on themes that make sense at our moment in history. There are, of course, many more where these are from.
L’Rain, Fatigue - Simply put, this new album by singer/multi-instrumentalist/producer Taja Cheek is one of the best pieces of experimental rock music made this year: think Beach Boys/Flaming Lips psychedelia as filtered through a soulful, sound-collage lens. As the title implies, the Brooklyn-born and -raised Cheek, who by day is a fine artist and museum curator, created a response to the utterly tiring world we inhabit. Half a dozen listens in, the depth of melody and meaning in that response, is overwhelming.
Melvin Gibbs, 4+1 equals 5 For May 25 - Gibbs is a veteran bass guitarist whose chops have served three decades of punk, jazz, rock, funk, global and experimental musicians; he’s also an original member of the vaunted Black Rock Coalition, long at music activism’s forefront. George Floyd’s death shook him to the core. The spoken words courtesy of Kokayi and extreme sounds are Gibbs’ direct artistic response to Darnella Frazier’s video, somewhere between an avant-blues lament and experimental hip-hop.
James Brandon Lewis & Red Lily Quintet, Jesup Wagon - The tenor saxophonist Lewis’ latest album, which also features such legendary players as bassist William Parker and drummer Chad Taylor, uses jazz-adjacent compositions to create a portrait of George Washington Carver, a 19th/20th African-American polymath, and one of the great Black Americans generally erased from the country’s popular story. An incredible example of music as a history-teaching tool, an emotional transmitter, and also a rhythmic party-starter.
Nappy Nina & JWords, Double Down - This album-length collaboration between Brooklyn-based MC Nina (Simone Bridges) and Jersey producer JWords (a regular on Bk’s The Lot Radio) feels like an incredible sketchpad of wordplay wonder and dance-friendly rhythm, and is crammed with life-positive energy. Both are full of flowing charisma: the rapper comfortable getting self-deprecating about a therapist who won’t call her back, and the beat-maker going on drum’n’bass and footwork tangents. A rap album that’s fun, but not unserious.
Malik Hendricks, Cutting Shapes - Brooklyn is currently loaded with great young dance music producers and DJs making house and techno music Black again. Hendricks is one of them. His newest EP features five classy deep-house excursions, making historical connections between contemporary dancefloors and the jazz ballrooms of yesteryear. The more people who understand that everything current is just a continuum of past events, the sooner we’ll start getting somewhere.
Armand Hammer, Haram - Together and apart, the rapper-producer duo of ELUCID (Chez Hall) and billy woods are prolific, poetic, poignant hip-hop pointillists. They philosophize the darkness of the modern world with clear language and image details that at times makes it seem more pedestrian than gloomy, without ever downplaying our collective condition. The duo’s new album (Arabic for ‘Forbidden’) was wholly produced by veteran hip-hop producer The Alchemist and largely predates the events of the past 16 months. Yet in their minds, it’s entirely relevant.
Kassa Overall, Shades of Flu 2 - Originally recognized as among the best young jazz drummers in the game, Kassa has spent the past few years producing deeply biographical electronic music that connects the improvisation he lives in, to the hip-hop that he loves. On the pandemic-era Shades of Flu mixtapes, Kassa remixes/remakes jazz compositions and performances (classics by Ahmad Jamal, but also new ones like Dezron Douglas & Brandee Younger doing Pharoah Sanders) to startlingly original effect.
Once you’ve supported local Black artists on Bandcamp on Friday, go out into the streets and into the clubs to celebrate Juneteenth on Saturday (19th). Weather permitting, there will be a ton of great free music throughout the borough by day, you can even party hop.
Begin the day at Brower Park in Crown Heights, where the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music, the Children’s Museum and the Friends of the Park are teaming up on an afternoon program, Juneteenth Music & Poetry Suite, performed by poet/journalist/activist Kevin Powell and the Soulfolk Experience, a trio whose musical languages runs through the American and African diasporic traditions. The family event will also include such musicking activities as instrument building. (Brooklyn Ave. & Prospect Place, Noon, Free).
Afterwards, head over to the Soul of BK: Juneteenth festival celebration in Fort Greene, organized by MoCADA (Museum of Contemporary Diasporan Arts). In addition to family activities, wellness programs (get your COVID-19 vaccinations if you haven’t) and a workshop area (including lessons from Brooklyn Tech’s Lady Dragons step-team), bask in the sounds of some of the borough’s best DJs: there’ll be sets by Run P, selectors from the St. James Joy and Eye Spy parties, and special DC guest, dreamcastmoe. One thing, you have to RSVP to get in. (Fort Greene Place & Lafayette Avenue, music begins at 1p Free with RSVP).
And if the RSVPs run out for Soul of BK, there’s a great nearby option just blocks away on South Portland, where Dope Jams, the once beloved Clinton Hill record store driven Upstate by gentrification, is holding its semi-regular block party (out in front of the Head Sounds store) to celebrate Juneteenth. Expect only the finest in thematically appropriate house- and hip-hop-adjacent sounds from Paul Nickerson, special guest Funmi Ononaiye, and the rest of the dope jams crew. (88 S. Portland Street, 2 pm, Free)
At night, go to Bed-Stuy’s C’Mon Everybody, among the best queer-heavy bar-meets-music-venues in BK, for a special Juneteenth performance by the Illustrious Blacks, a pair of self-described NeoAfroFuturisticPsychedelicSurrealisticHippys, who get the party started quickly (325 Franklin Avenue, 8 pm, $20). Or to Bushwick’s Sultan Room, where the R&B singer Yaya Bey has put together a Juneteenth bill with friends and excellent DJs, Boston Cherry and Run P, for a night of heady vibes. (234 Starr Street, 6 pm, $20)
Enjoy! And do not forget the origin of America’s newest national holiday, as some legislators already want you to.
Our Picks for 6/18- 6/24:
Best known as a jazz trumpeter, jaimie branch is also a helluva composer and electronic artist whose bands splinter in all sorts of rhythmic and improvisational directions. (Full disclosure: I wrote the liner notes to her recent live album, Fly Or Die Live.) At Roulette on Friday (18th) she plays a birthday show with two of those groups, the duo Anteloper (with Jason Nazary), and a trio with bassist Luke Stewart and drummer Mike Pride. Guaranteed to smoke! (509 Atlantic Avenue, 8 pm, $25)
Originally from Guinea, Mamady Kouyate and Mamady Kourouma are a pair of masterful veteran guitarists fluent in the fuisionary style of West African pop and jazz. Their regular gig is with the excellent Mandingo Ambassadors band, but they augment that big-group party atmosphere with duet shows at Barbes in Park Slope, and are back there on Saturday (19th). If you are a fan of melodic guitar improvisation, Mamady & Mamady are always worth checking. (376 9th street, 7p & 9p, $25)
Also Saturday, down in Brooklyn’s improvisation underground hotspot, Clinton Hill’s Satellite Art Club Basement: the vibraphonist Will Shore, who once studied with conduction maestro Butch Morris, rolls out his big band Pedestrian from the pandemic mothballs. This time around, players include, among others, saxophonist Jessica Lurie, trumpeter Chris Williams, and percussionists Jason Nazary and Kenny Wollesen. (961 Fulton Street, 8:30p, $10)
The Morrocan-born, globetrotting musician Samir Langus is one of the leaders of the great New York-based ensemble Innov Gnawa, who update gnawa, the traditional sub-Saharan folk music full of drone and rhythm and spiritual underpinnings, for modern Western audiences. On Sunday (20th), Langus returns to Bed-Stuy’s Bar Lunatico to play with like-minded friends. (486 Halsey Street, 7p & 8:30p, $10)
Kensington Plaza at the intersection of Church and Beverley has been hosting a wide array of interesting live music on Sunday afternoons. This week they’re hosting a special Father’s Day (n case you forgot) program, featuring Paul and Marc Miller, of the drumming ensemble Mecca Bodega, playing a hammered dulcimer and percussion. (Church Ave & Beverley Road, 3p, Free)
Ka Baird (pronoun: they) is a vocalist, multi-instrumentalist, and experimentalist, picking apart New York’s classical minimalism tradition from a DIY punk, and free improvisation perspective. At Roulette on Monday (21st), Baird debuts a new work entitled Proximity Exercises, featuring two cellos and electronics, exploring “relations of proximity and perspective, acoustic density, and physical distancing.” (509 Atlantic Avenue, 8p, $25)
The sextet Garcia Peoples is at the forefront of the city’s indie jam-band scene, an increasingly expansive group of musicians who take as their lodestars not only the Grateful Dead’s live catalog, but also weirdo improvisers such as The Necks, minimalists like guitarist Loren Connors, and decades of downtown free jazz. If you dig the heady jams, go to Sultan Room on Wednesday (23rd) night. (234 Starr, 6p & 8:30p, $25)
There are so many great practitioners of the music sometimes called “jazz” in New York, that calling one of them a secret jewel seems over-the-top, scattered as they are throughout the city. Yet tenor saxophonist Tony Malaby is truly one of a kind, and any chance to engage him in the neighborhood ought to be relished. On Wednesday, he brings his Sabino. quartet to Barbes. (376 9th street, 7p & 9p, $25)