Category Archives: Social Timing

Posts dealing with observations on society today

“The Band is his Orchestra/The Sounds of Delight”- A Riquespeaks feature series on Quincy Jones

Quincy Jones turned 84 earlier this month, in a year that has already seen the passing of such musical luminaries as Junie Morrison, Clyde Stubblefield, Al Jarreau and most recently, the cornerstone of Rock & Roll Chuck Berry. It is going on eleven years since we lost James Brown, who Quincy was three months older than, and we just lost Prince last year. It is now seven years since we lost the man who’s career is seen as Quincy’s foremost musical legacy, Michael Jackson. A few years ago, Quincy’s close friend and Montreaux Jazz Festival founder Claude Nobbs passed on in a skiing accident. But Quincy remains a unifying figure, one who speaks to the history of African American music in the 20th century and how that tradition can be carried on into the future and recognized as a key contribution to world heritage.

One very interesting project that Q had on the table during the administration of President Barack Obama was to get music and American culture in general cabinet level recognition in the United States. He was not able to get that project accomplished, though I’m sure he gave it his all. Although that particular project was not successful, Quincy has used his own music and albums as a platform toward that very same aim.

Respect and appreciation for Quincy Jones was something I grew up with, outside of his production for Michael Jackson. His work with M.J might have been the main reason I was checking for this “old jazz guy” as a kid, but the facts are, my father was a serious Quincy Jones fan. I grew up hearing albums like “Quincy Jones plays the Hip Hits”, and “The Quintessence.” My father highly respected Q as somebody who took the mantle from the great jazz composers and arrangers such as Duke Ellington, Thad Jones, Oliver Nelson, Jimmy Lunceford, Benny Carter, Gil Evans, and so many others. Q was highly proffesional, had trained at the future Berklee School of Music back when it was called “The Schillinger House”, and has also trained in Paris with Nadia Boulanger. He also was one of the first Black arrangers to be involved on an ongoing basis with film scoring.

Through all of this, Q was developing a particular brand of musical magic that prepared him perfectly to deliver three of the best selling, most incredible examples of American popular music ever assembled, namely, “Off the Wall”, “Thriller”, and “Bad.” Now I don’t mean to make these three albums the focus of Q’s entire career that encompasses so much of whats good in American music, from Count Basie, to Frank Sinatra, to The Brothers Johnson, Dinah Washington and Sarah Vaughn. But what I will do with this series is talk about how the unique musical, experiential and spiritual gifts of Quincy Jones were present throughout his career on his solo albums, which really meant Michael Jackson was stepping into a rolling train when he and Q began work on “Off the Wall.” Which also made possible the later star studded success of “The Dude” and “Back on the Block.”

The different musical approaches of Q’s albums, from his skillful use of guest stars, his choice in cover songs, his incorporation of his portage’s compositions, his usage of tones such as flutes mixed with synthesizer leads, his dipping into the old blues and African styles, his jazz based pop language, and his strong rhythm sections manifest themselves on his pre “Off the Wall” and “The Dude” albums. So this particular series will focus on how Q innovated this genre of the producer led album, which is a genre that would later give us great musical works such as Dr. Dre’s “The Chronic.” Q really brought “The Producer” out as a star and musical artist in a way few have done. His skills as a producer were based in his skills as a composer and arranger, but when he reached the peak of his career he no longer needed to write or even arrange the tunes on his album. He mastered the very modern musical skills of setting the right tempos, choosing the right artists, both instrumentalists and vocalists, choosing the right songs, and a million other musical details that went beyond the magic of simply sitting at the piano or holding a guitar and writing a song. This magic of the producer is one that has been appreciated more and more by the music industry and the public at large in recent years. And it’s one I intend to explore in depth, from “Walking In Space” all the way to “Juke Joint”. Q’s success with MJ and his other R&B/pop hybrids in the 1980s was definitley not a fluke, but something masterminded by one of the greatest social musicians we’ve seen, the great Quincy Delight Jones!!!

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Filed under A little Hip in your HOP, All That Jazz, Appreciation, Black Issues, FUNK, Give me My Flowers While I'm Alive, Merry Go Round Music, Music Matters, Rearview 20/20 Hindsight (aka "History"), Social Timing

Music 4 the Nxt 1 Black History Month Edition III: “Bra” by Cymande

One outstanding aspect of the musical climate of the late ’60s and early ’70s was the flowering in popularity of Black musical groups from parts of the Diaspora outside of the U.S.A. This trend was exemplified by acts and groups such as Jimmy Cliff, Bob Marley and the Wailers, Manu Dibango, The Beginning of the End, Mandrill, T-Connection, Fela Kuti, Osibisa, Hugh Masekela, and today’s subject, the Caribbean funk group Cymande. These groups, through their expansive African based rhythms and the incorporation of other grooves cultivated by Africans estranged from Africa, both paid tribute to deep African roots as well as exemplified the new flavors that had picked up in the numerous ports of call along the Transatlantic slave trade. Today’s song from Cymande, their classic “Bra”, is a song that has stood the test of time as a unique example of Caribbean Funk.

“Bra” is a song that derives it’s unique rhythmic effect from contrasting rhythmic feels. While the tempo is brisk, Steve Scipio played a bass line that pulled back on the time, while the horns long sustained notes create another feeling on top of that. You’re grabbed from the first notes of the intro, as Scipio plays a firm note on the first beat and another beat on the upbeat of beat 2. He’s only playing TWO notes in the fist bar of the pattern, but the feel and placement of them is enough to create a baseline the listener won’t soon forget. Immediately after the bass hits hard on the first beat, guitarist Patrick Patterson plays a sweet toned guitar slide followed by some fluttering trills, in a style very similar to the Curtis Mayfield guitar ballad style. The horn section then comes in on the upbeats, playing a very sharp, staccato arpeggio, walking up the notes of a major chord, then holding the top note of the chord for a whole two bars, before working their way down and sustaining another note. All of this is laid on top of Sam Kelly’s drums, which are playing a variation of Clyde Stubblefield’s stop and start drum groove made famous on James Brown’s “Cold Sweat”, with the rhythmic gaps/rests lining up with Scipio’s bass line. Working in concert with that are the conga drums of Pablo Gonsales. The result is a dipping, bouncing Caribbean funk groove with all the jerkiness of Island music, yet the pronounced “One” of mainland funk, with a sweet coating of melodic horns on top.

When the vocal comes in, the horns stop playing to give the vocals center stage. Joey Dee sings a tale of African redemption with a slight West Indian accent, with heavy reverb on his mic. “Time Has been lost for trying/we have been left outside/looking at passions dying/Emotions grow strong on time.” After which, the famous sing a long chorus is introduced, “But its all right/we can still go on.” Underneath the chorus the rhythm begins to get more active, as Scipio expands his bass line with class Jamerson/Rainey/Jemmont rhythmic business as Patterson also becomes more aggressive in his rhythm guitar strumming. The horn riff returns and on top of it all the percussionists start to spice up the groove with small rhythmic instruments, with the tambourine rattling like a snake for an instant. After the chorus the vital rhythmic bed continues on for a saxophone solo, under which the rhythm players introduce more variations. Midway through the song, the song breaks down to just bass playing along with percussion. The bassline on the break is an incredibly funky variation on the main rhythm, with the drums playing kick drums on all four beats and the percussionist teasing out melodic rhythms. The groove slowly builds up layer by layer until we get back to the top of the song for one last repetition of the main verse until the song comes to a close on a hard stomped out, “But its ALL RIGHT!”

“Bra” is a song that for a time I thought only my Dad and family knew, and I thought the group was African for the longest. Then in the ’90s Spike Lee used their songs on several movies of his that I enjoyed very much, including “Crooklyn” and “The 25th Hour.” I remember the first time I heard it on one of his films, excitedly showing it to my Dad and asking him what the name of that song was, because I’d heard it all my life but never knew anything about the group. It was later I found out Spike Lee’s connection to them made sense, because being a pan-Carribean group, with New York City’s strong Carribean influence, their music was very popular during the early day’s of Hip Hop, and “Bra” and their other fantastic hit, “The Message”, were considered early Hip Hop breakbeats that had even occasionally been sampled. Both songs are excellent examples of Post Civil Rights and Black Power era ’70s solidarity music, done by a group of Rastafarian funksters in England who’s origins spanned the Carribean. Their music as a whole very uniquely pulled together the Caribbean rhythms and Rastafarian ideology of Reggae with the hard edged vibe of American funk. Also there is much confusion over the title of this song, but “Bra” is simply the old school way of spelling a word that has been popular among Black people again in recent years, the shorthand “Bruh” for the word, “Brother.” This word is not only popular among American blacks (and now everybody else as well) but is also almost an official term of address in other Black countries, such as the great South African Hugh Masekela’s nickname, “Bra Hugh.” Also in Liberia where my mother is from it was a term of endearment, followed by the given name, for males you were close to. So the title of the song is in itself an example of the unique unifying ability of Cymande as a musical group that mustn’t be forgotten!

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Filed under Black Issues, FUNK, Liberia/Africa, Music for the Next ONE, Music Matters, Rearview 20/20 Hindsight (aka "History"), Social Timing

Music 4 the Nxt 1 Black History Month I: “March of the Panther” by Mongo Santamaria

Mongo Santamaria is the one of the best artists to talk about during Black History Month because the cultural forces behind his music cover such a large part of the African diaspora. A native of pre Revolutionary Cuba, he learned music in his community based on rhythms that had come directly from Africa. It was said one of his grandfathers had in fact been a Yoruba priest. His composition, “Afro Blue”, was considered to be the first jazz standard based on an African “3 over 2” rhythm, and was popularized by John Coltrane. In the ’60s he moved from a straight Afro Latin jazz to a Boogaloo based melange of Afro Latin rhythms interlaid with the popular sounds of Soul and Funk. One album I grew up with during that period was an album he did called “Soul Bag”, that featured an incredible version of “Cold Sweat.” Today’s Black History Month special is a song from his 1970 LP, “Mongo 70”, entitled “March of the Panther.” This song was composed by guitarist Sonny Henry, who was the composer of Carlos Santana’s breakthrough hit, “Evil Ways”, which he originally recorded with Willie Bobo. “March of the Panther” is a funky, strident, striving number with the electric energy of the Black Panther Party in the late ’60s and early ’70s.

The song begins with an old school military march theme, featuring snare drum, tuba, flutes and horns playing in a style straight out of the Revolutionary War period. The allusion is very clear as the song transitions from music for that old school revolutionary army to a groove for the new school revolutionary army, The Black Panther Party, as the drummer plays a snare fill that leads to the groove. Bass Player John Hart plays a funky two note baseline supported by two pickup notes in the classic late ’60s, early ’70s style. There is a call and response relationship between the bass line and the electric piano, as the piano plays a syncopated rhythm chord figure after the bass plays its eighth notes. The drums play two strong kick drum notes in harmony with the bass but besides the cracking snare drum hits the drums are partially obscured by Mongo’s powerful African percussive figures, which are both pattern setting but also communicate in an improvisational way. These provide the setting for the rousing horn fanfare, which is a national anthem type melody that plays long, sustained notes, in the style of marching/military music, but also reminiscent of horn sections in African and Afro Latin bands, playing horn lines in unison. The bass and horn melody goes between two chords, as the bass line walks down to second chord sequence and the horns follow. After playing through that sequence the arrangement goes to a change part where the whole arrangement seems to come together in unity for the chorus, which is then followed by another vamp/statement of the main melody, with more attention paid to the trumpets, followed by another chorus that is again, heavier on the top end of the horns. After that a tenor sax solo is introduced, under which the bass player is given more freedom to improvise funky lines that support the solo. After the solo ends, Mongo’s conga playing becomes more pronounced, as he varies his rhythm and begins to take more of a leadership role, introducing the sections of the song with his drum flurries. The song grooves on and fades out, shifting back to a straight military march at the end.

“March of the Panther” took up the call that was made during the 1960s for new forms of Black art that would be the new symbols of the New Black Nation. In this case, it envisions itself as the theme for The Black Panther Party as the military arm of that nation. Mongo always foregrounded African/Black identity in his music, naming songs after Yoruba Gods and Black figures such as Malcom X. It was amazing for me to discover this funky song that took the idea of a military march and remade it for the age of The Panthers. The song itself is a good example of uptempo, super rhythmic, boogaloo inspired early 70s funk, in fact it would work very well over a montage movie scene about The Panthers or activists set in that time period. It was said that Herbie Hancock played his classic “Watermelon Man” for Mongo after Mongo had said he couldn’t see the connection between Afro Cuban and Afro American music. Upon hearing the funky tune, Mongo immediately got excited and began playing along with it. Of course, in Mongo’s hands, “Watermelon Man” went on to become one of the biggest hits in jazz history. It was this ability to connect the African roots, modern Afro Cuban music, jazz, and the then current funk and soul vibes that gave Mongo the unique place in Black music history and Black culture that he occupies. And that is one reason, along with his excellent musicianship, that a figure like Mongo deserves more consideration when contemplating the bonds of Africans in the Americas. And “March of the Panther” stands tall as an anthem for the Party that is no longer that brings together the energy of the whole African diaspora for the long waged fight for total prosperity and liberation!

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Filed under All That Jazz, Black Issues, FUNK, Music for the Next ONE, Rearview 20/20 Hindsight (aka "History"), Social Timing

Music 4 the Nxt 1 Black History Month Special

Black History Month is admittedly one of those things my opinion of has vacillated on through the course of my life. When I was a young child in school I enjoyed it more than anything else in my school curriculum. I have always been the type of individual who views the acquisition of knowledge with the attitude of exploration and discovery. And Black history, both in Africa and America having the “Hidden” quality that it does, due to suppression, ignorance, arrogance the profitability of subjugation and domination. My parents always had a strong sense of Black history simply from their backgrounds, my father being born in the Depression era south and being active in the Civil Rights movement, and my mother being a Liberian with a rich understanding of both Africa and her country’s roots in being established as a haven from American slavery and white supremacy. Still, I don’t think the majority of Black parents want to overburden their children with sad and negative messages. So even with my parents having the knowledge of things that they did, some of the most substantial information would come out when they were watching and responding to news items.

I was fortunate enough to have Asian and white teachers in Oakland, California who were very responsive and understanding of the predominantly Black demographics of their school, under the guidance of Mrs. Kelly, a strong Black Principal, to inject Black and multi cultural information into the curriculum. I still remember my kindergarten Teacher Ms. Huen giving us red envelopes for Chinese New Year, which is also this month, and marks the return of my birth sign, the Rooster!

So I always enjoyed learning about Carter G Woodson, Lewis Latimer, Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglas, Phyllis Wheatley, W.E.B DuBois, Madame C.J Walker, and the numerous other luminary figures who against all odds contributed to America and kept Black people alive to get to the point we are today. Many of their inventions and discoveries proved to me a truth my father related to me from his experience down south, that a great many things were invented by very hands on Black people who were tasked with getting the work done and took it upon themselves to find an easier way to get those tasks accomplished.

Then when I grew up, in the Def Comedy Jam ’90s, I got innundated with the same jokes as everybody else, about how they “gave Black people the shortest month.” Which totally overlooks the contributions of Carter G Woodson and the fact that Black History Month is a BLACK invention. More recently the line has been “Black history is all year round”, which is one that I wholeheartedly agree with and try to practice on this blog and my other writing activities. However, just as with holidays, wedding anniversaries, birthdays and other events, there is a reason Human beings choose dates to commemorate things. There is a great power to Human ritual that we sometimes forget in our modern fragmented world, a certain purification of purpose and inspiration. And it’s in that spirit that I’m adding a supplement to “Music 4 the Nxt 1” in honor of Black history month. I will still review funky songs but the scope will expand in terms of era, genre, and locale. I will cover songs of inspiration, songs in honor of Black historical figures, and songs that were just breakthroughs or inspiring to Black people at any given point of time. These grooves will come from Reggae, Soul, Funk, Rock, Gospel, Spirituals, Jazz and many other genres. I hope that my readers enjoy it and that it reminds you of the struggles, accomplishments, joys, pains and exultations of peoples of African descent and why it is critical our position continue to be strengthened for the good of all.

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Filed under A little Hip in your HOP, All That Jazz, Appreciation, Black Issues, FUNK, Merry Go Round Music, Music for the Next ONE, Music Matters, Rearview 20/20 Hindsight (aka "History"), Social Timing

riquespeaks Inaguration Day Music Special

Friday January 20th, 2017 marks the Inaguration of the 45th President of the United States. It is clear from the divisive, childish, rude campaign he ran, and the den of thieves he has appointed to his cabinet that he is coming in with very clear plans to undo many positive things that have taken place in this country over the last 50 years. For me personally, this is one of the most dramatic political events of my life, following the election of Barack Obama, and the drama over George W Bush’s election in 2000. But this new Administration poses a greater threat to what I hold dear in both style and content than that of GWB. Times like this demand that I go back into what brought me here to understand whats going on and how to go forward, and that is the social and political information distilled in some of my favorite music! So I’d like to take this opportunity to share some music with you today that will be uplifting, informative, insightful, and useful on the first day of the Trump “Error.”

“Party for Your Right to Fight” by Public Enemy

Public Enemy is one of my favorite musical groups and their music and the lyrics of Chuck D have been a guiding force for most of my life. “Party for Your Right to Fight” is a lesser played track from their classic second album, “It takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back.” The title inverts The Beastie Boys classic rebel without a cause anthem, “Fight For Your Right to Party” into a rousing call to arms, with the “Party” in the title being synonymous to political action, especially that of the Black Panther Party. In a unique production move for P.E, Chuck and Flavor rap the whole song together, with one voice slightly delayed behind the other, in a break from their usual style of Chuck raps and Flavor interjections. The song itself minces no words, attacking the U.S Government’s COINTELPRO operations during the 1960s. It also features a great sample from prime period George Clinton, saying, “Aint nothing but a party ya’ll, lets get it on!”

James Brown Economic Plans




The Godfather of Soul James Brown always used his musical voice and powerful standing in the Black International community as a platform to speak on various issues of wide concern. Although he was reputed to be a conservative, the economic philosophy he espouses on these songs is far from the “Trickle down greed and pain” that has been Republican economic philosophy since Ronald Reagens time. “Take Some, Leave Some” for example espouses a communal, humanistic economic philosophy over a brutally crawling funk groove. JB says, “Ive never been the type of cat that has to have it all.” “You Cant Take It With You” from 1976’s “Get Up Offa That Thang” LP is a companion piece, a furiously funky B-Boy/Locking groove where JB disavows money as the full measure of a persons life because at the end of the day, theres no such thing as a rich dead person! The classic breakbeat “Funky President” is a commentary on the Presidency of Gerald Ford and the tough economic times the country was facing in the mid ’70s. Here JB unveils an economic plan of self sufficiency for Black America, inspired by Marcus Garvey, Booker T Washington, and the Honorable Elijah Muhammed, “Lets get together/get some land/raise our food like the man/save our money/like the mob/put up a factory OWN the job.” “The Whole World Needs Liberation” from the “Get on the Good Foot” LP is a track built off the earlier Bootsy Collins fired “Brother Rapp” that focuses on a topic of Third World liberation, which on the economic side is still one unfolding today. JB states strongly, “It’s neither Black or White/it’s what’s right/its neither White or Black/It’s a fact/the whole world needs Liberation.”

“We the People” by The Staple Singers

The Staple Singers used the guitar playing of “Pops”, and the wonderful voices of Mavis, Cleotha and Yvonne to provide a soulful companion in sound to the Civil Rights movement. When the tide turned to Black power, pride and identity, The Staples actually hit their peak from a popular standpoint, as their rootsy, gutsy sound was very much in league with the heart of the Black community at that time. “We The People” is a funky national anthem for the community at that time, and it’s message is very pertinent in the age of Trump. Although we have a very despicable man taking office today, it is “We the People” who “have to make the world go round.” Meaning this can not only be Donald Trumps America, the people must remain engaged and vigorous in checking his hand!

“B Movie” by Gil Scott Heron

This song is still hands down the best summation of the types of forces in American life that got us to the point a Donald J Trump could get elected, for my money. It’s that because of the cutting, insightful brilliance and experiences of Gil Scott Heron, and its also that because it was inspired by the election of a somewhat similar figure, Ronald Reagen, 36 years ago. In this epically funky poem and song Heron traces America’s enthusiasm for Ronald Reagen to the celluloid images of white masculinity and manifest destiny sold to the American public by actors such as John Wayne. Ronald Reagen himself became the stand in for John Wayne because Wayne was “no longer avaliable for the part.” Replace the Saturday matinee with television reality shows and you get an analysis of how the American forms of media speak to the dark side of American ideals and produce figures like both President Reagen and Trump. And it also makes you wonder if Americans could ever resist a half credible celebrity being sold as a political savior?

“International Thief Thief” by Fela Kuti

Fela Kuti is the artist I think of the most during the Trump error. When George W Bush won the election in 2000, a local Nigerian commentator in the Bay Area, Tunde Okorodudu, laughingly commented on a local Black news show, “So you people want to make America a BUSH huh?” Meaning in the African sense, backward, less developed and potentially chaotic. Some of the things a vote for Trump represents, ethnic strife, less world engagement, less immigration, less civil and political freedom, are exactly the type of strongman politics many people in the world have been running away from. And here we have a winning plurality in America running TOWARDS them. The voice of Fela Kuti wailing out against his own government in Nigeria and the way it had been ill set up and miseducated by the colonial powers in Britain loom large in this environment. And we must remember that the Nigeria Fela was railing against was a nation swimming in oil cash, doled out very selectively among an elite and split along ethnic lines of tribe. Fela was a tireless critic of every segment of the Nigerian society that needed change, and he always tied it back to their history of colonialism and getting away from African values. This song attacks the “International Telephone and Trust Company” which with African humor, Fela calls “International Thief Thief”. “Thief Thief” is what African people yell in neighborhood settings as a call for the community to apprehend a fleeing criminal and bring them to community justice. In this way, Fela brings the high and mighty governmental and business leaders down to an understandable level of common thieves operating on a mass scale. This is the way Trump’s cabinet seems to be shaping up, a consortium of rich buisness leaders being put into positions they can profit from.

“This is My Country” by The Impressions

Curtis Mayfield and The Impressions song end this playlist on a positive note. Curtis actually caught some flack from this song from some in the Black militant community at the time it was released. They thought it was jingoism, but in reality Curtis song is a strong, soulful declaration that he and other Black people would not cede this nation to the Bull Conners, Governor Faubeses, George Wallaces and Storm Thurmonds of the country. The reason? “We struggled 300 years or more!” This song then is a soulful rallying cry for Black people, women, immigrants, disabled people, LGBT, poor people, middle class workers, Native Americans, Muslims, and any other group that faces hatred in the Trump years. This country does not belong solely to people like Donald Trump and his “mad as hell” voters but to everybody who lives here and contributes!

This list could go on and on but I will stop here for now. I hope I’ve give you some thoughtful grooves on this Inaguration Day. Sociopolitcal music will be a strong presence on this blog in the next four years, both through classics such as these as well as highlighting newer grooves to come that will take on the ironies of the Trump error. It will be wild ride for sure, but one thing I do know is that Donald Trump is NOT God (or Godly), meaning even he will have to bow before a committed majority of freedom loving Americans.

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Filed under A little Hip in your HOP, All That Jazz, FUNK, Merry Go Round Music, Music Matters, Politrix, Social Timing

Tommie Smith, Athletic Protest, and the Greatness of the Raiders

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This past Monday night was a very special one as both a Raider fan and a Black history buff. My hometown Oakland Raiders went down to Mexico City to play a Monday Night Football contest and defeated the Houston Texans. This was special on several levels. For one, it was a unique experience to see an Oakland Raider game played in Mexico. Many of the most die hard Raider fans in the Bay Area and L.A are of Spanish descent, including many close friends, and some of them even made it to the game. I could tell from the social media posts they were sharing that to be able to explore the country of their ancestors while also enjoying their hometown team play (and win) a football game is an experience that touched them deeply. It was also special validation of the Raiders to win a big international game on Monday Night Football. During the Raiders decades of dominance in the 1970’s and ’80s they were especially known for their excellence when the lights shone the brightest, on prime time Monday night games. Those Monday night games exposed the nation to the pirates, bikers, soul brothers, renegade drinkers, central casting running backs (Marcus Allen and Bo Jackson), and reckless hitters who together created the Raider mystique. Winning on an internationally televised stage legitimatizes what we’ve known in the Bay Area all year, The Raiders truly can play! But Raiders owner Mark Davis did something else that made a very powerful statement.

Colin Kapernick, starting QB for the 49ers has drawn both haters and lovers for his National Anthem protests this football season, with some even dubiously claiming they are behind the NFL’s current ratings drop. Those protests have evolved from simply remaining seated to taking a dignified knee, and he’s been joined in them by members of his own team, as well as players on other teams and in other sports. The motivation behind them has been the nearly unceasing stream of officer involved, racially motivated shootings by police officers against Black men and women during the past few years, which leads back to the legacy of Jim Crow and America’s history of racial repression. With Kap’s proud Afro and Ethiopianesque visage, both his image and his stance remind one of the Black sports heroes of the 1960s in particular, people like Jim Brown, Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Muhammed Ali, and many other athletes of that time. He has been counseled in his sports activism by a Soul Survivor veteran of the Civil Rights and Black Power days, Dr. Harry Edwards, who organized a legendary boycott by black athletes of the 1968 Mexico City Olympic games.

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Those games are legendary for the manner in which they highlighted the racial tensions of the time. Dr. King was killed in April, and America endured it’s largest scale racial rioting in its history. The phrase “Black Power”, unleashed by Stokely Carmichael right next to Dr. King in 1966 had resounded with a powerful echo in the worldwide Black community, and James Brown had already released his anthemic “Say it Loud, I’m Black and I’m proud.” The Black Panthers had been around for two years and were fixtures on the nightly news, and every force in Black life, from the right, left, and center were being galvanized on where they stood on the new wave of Malcom X, Marcus Garvey, Third World Liberation Black militant thought that had finally come to the forefront.

It was in this environment that Dr. Harry Edwards called for a boycott by Black Athletes of the ’68 Olympic Games in Mexico City. Muhammed Ali had already provided the greatest example of a star Athlete resisting racial and governmental tyranny by refusing his induction to the draft in 1967. By the late ’60s professional sports had emerged as possibly the largest positive reflection of Black people in the United States and increasingly the world, with the way paved by stars such as Bill Russell, Jim Brown, Don Barksdale, Woody Strode, the great Jackie Robinson, Althea Gibson, Bob Gibson, Willie Mays, Joe Louis, Muhammed Ali, and many others. Many of these stars were very explicitly socially and politically active, but even those who were not were very useful to demonstrate the fact that Black people had the ability to do great things in modern society. Back when Jesse Owens owned the 1936 Olympics, it was suggested by Adolf Hitler and his Nazi propagandists that “Blacks lacked the intelligence to run”, which is an absurd claim considering people of African descent are known for our athletic prowess today. But it represents the totalitarian thinking on race that gripped the 20th century and would exist today if not for the obvious exploits of so many great Black people.

What made a larger impression on history was not the boycott, but two Bay Area sprinters who actually competed in the games, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, the Gold and Bronze winners of the 200 meter race. Their black glove raised protest, feet shorn in black socks standing on the podium in victory, provided possibly the greatest visual of the Black Power era, an image that matched Brown and Mayfield and Franklin’s music and Malcom X’s speeches. This action, though celebrated now, resulted in death threats and ostracism from the Olympic and Track and Field establishments.

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History has been very kind however to the legacies of Tommie Smith and John Carlos, and Raider owner Mark Davis added to that on Monday Night. He invited Dr. Tommie Smith to fly with the team to Mexico City to light the torch that a Raider great lights before every home game in honor of his father, Al Davis. This was significant on several levels because Tommie Smith (who had a very brief NFL career) never played for the Raiders but is like the Raiders, a Bay Area legend who is a symbol for standing for what you believe in. The man who’s torch he lit that night, Al Davis, was perhaps the supreme maverick of NFL history, a man who drafted a Black Quarterback in the first round and hired one of his former players, Art Shell, to be the first Black NFL Head Coach in 1989. Davis was also known to be one of the first men in professional football (along with Bill Nunn Sr. of the Pittsburg Steelers) to regularly scout the HBCU’s, where he found Hall of Famers like Gene Upshaw and Art Shell.

The symbolism and the reality of this action shocked me for several reasons. While I know Al Davis and the Raiders have always been a very progressive team socially and culturally, they are also a very “blue collar” team. In fact, Im pretty sure that the small numbers of people who voted for Donald Trump in the Bay Area had many Raider fans among them. But the Raiders also represent a powerful coming together of Black, White, and Mexican working class people in the East Bay Area of California, other places like Los Angeles and the rest of the country. The Raiders have strong Mexican associations such as their legendary theme song, and the original name of the team was slated to be “The Senors” before a little girl suggested the name “Raiders.” They wear Black, just as Smith and Carlos did in Mexico City in 1868, and just as that other great Oakland institution, The Black Panthers, and another one, The Hell’s Angels. And they also always had the renegade vibe of the Hells Angels with players such as Ken Stabler, John Mutusack, Ted Hendricks and many other Raider greats.

The Raiders did this in a Bay Area sports world that has always been as progressive and nonconformist as the Bay Area as a whole. The Bay Area has had wild sports visionaries like Oakland A’s owner Charlie Finley, who clad his team in the perfect “Have a Nice Day” 1970s uniform of Green and Gold while winning three straight World Series. It also had my favorite coach, the visionary Bill Walsh of the San Francisco 49ers, who elevated offensive football to a science and also instituted a minority coach apprenticeship program in the NFL that led to Black NFL Head Coaches like Dennis Green, Marvin Lewis and Ray Rhodes. Walsh did this while employing and being advised by the organizer of that ’68 Olympic boycott, Dr. Harry Edwards, who also advises Colin Kaepernick almost 50 years later in 2016.

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In the end, Tommie Smith’s Al Davis torch lighting was an incredible moment for the NFL, The Raiders, Black athletes and the legacy of Bay Area sports. When Colin Kaepernick began his protests, I had the feeling no Oakland Raiders would be able to participate as freely in the protests. In fact, two players did raise a fist before a game and caused some friction among the team. Mark Davis has stated that he did not mind his players protesting but did not want them to do so, while in uniform, which he felt would tarnish the Raider brand. However he had met Tommie Smith through his father when he was in college and had a great appreciation for what those men did on that day. The Raider fan base is unique, probably containing both Donald Trump supporters with Black militants and Obama supporters, and some of those same Mexican Americans and native Mexicans Trump wants to build a wall to exclude. What unites them is an independent, hard working, that provides an example of how united America will be once the old divisions can no longer be used to run games, which is what the best of sports does as a whole. While I don’t want Dr. Tommie Smith’s torch lighting to be used to suggest all Black struggle is a thing of the past and not relevant when modern day athletes express their desire to see social change happen today, I applaud it as the most “Raider” thing I’ve seen in too long of a time!

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Heil Trump, Mein Imperial President

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Last week’s Presidential Election marked one of the most incredible political turn of events of my lifetime, as Donald J Trump, the real estate tycoon who’s rude antics I’ve been a witness to the majority of my life, won the Presidency of the United States with a solid electoral college victory, while losing the popular vote. Count me among the ranks of those who, although not energized by Hillary Clinton as a candidate, thought that she would triumph after watching the Trump campaign make one blunder after another. But no bullying, rude remark was enough to quell the wave of white resentment at the center of Donald Trump’s appeal. As Adolph Hitler once wrote, “The mentality of the masses has no use for half measures and weakness. It recognizes only ruthless strength and brutality.” Or as Donald Trump would say, “Take the oil.” It’s very clear that Barack Obama’s caution and gift for nuance might seem next to Trump, only a more successful, two term version of Jimmy Carter’s, coated in carmel. Trump in this scenario fulfills the American taste for heroes of old, bold white men who dictated terms to the rest of the world rather than asked. But in the 21st Century, the image of the dictatorial white man has changed. It is no longer the swaggering cowboy of old, represented by Ronald Reagen during his Presidency, it has now been replaced by an eastern business tycoon. And “The Donald” has convinced a winning plurality of working class (and college educated) white people that he is the most qualified person, inherited billions and all, to look after the common man. Now there have been rich champions of the working class before, such as FDR and JFK. But neither represented the visceral pull of Trump in this past election.

In reality, Donald Trump’s victory, though shocking, is many years in the making. The dominant political narrative, brought to the American people in its greatest form by Ronald Reagen, is that “big government” has become the problem in American life. My argument has always been that we never heard one peep about “big government” until Blacks and other minorities began to be seen as benefiting from government programs. Reagen and his advisors brilliance was to tie hatred for government into racicalized issues such as affirmative action, school busing from black to white districts, employment laws, minorities studies programs, welfare programs, jobs programs, and any other measure directed at fixing or mending racial inequality in America.

This wave is a very old one, that was brought to the fore by George Wallace and Barry Goldwater in 1964. Before that it had been seen in the violent “whitelash” after Reconstruction in the post War South. Trump emulated one of the most divisive of American politicians, Richard Milhaus Nixon, on his way to victory last Tuesday. Except with even less grace, playing to the reality TV deadened American mob of the early 21st Century. As much of the rest of the world denounced Trump’s antics in revulsion, a certain segment of American’s rapturously cheered his every rude, ill tempered tirade. Here finally was a person running for office who “kept it real.” Even some Blacks, who knew that Trump inspired the most vile and blatant racism seen since the 1960s, found Trump and his supporters real hate refreshing.

The great writer Playthell Benjamin wrote an essay on the unique American appeal of Donald Trumps brand of neo facism. It can be read here https://commentariesonthetimes.me/2016/03/14/is-donald-trump-a-uniquely-american-fascist/. Benjamin raised a fascinating point, which is basically that these extreme right wing movements, playing on simplistic ideas of going back to some lost glorious past (Make America Great Again!) and steeped in ethnic and racial chauvinism, need leaders who fit the history, myth, and temperament of the nations they’re attempting to mislead. And that Donald Trump, business tycoon and reality television star, has a personality and background uniquely suited for a number of Americans to trust him enough to turn over unprecedented power to.

Trump has, since his rise to celebrity during the 1980s, represented the American ideal of a bold, wheeler dealer businessman. This figure has replaced the cowboy and soldier as totems of American masculinity, with business and the competition for dollars seen as the true warfare. In this America, even wars such as the one’s we have conducted in the middle east are seen clearly as conquest for material resources, that all add up to money and prosperity. As Herbert Hoover was once reputed to say, “The business of America is business.” Trump is also a much different figure than the internet geeks who are much wealthier than he. Compared to them, he seems to have more of the patriarchal American boldness that is imprinted on our acquisitory history.

It seems that Americans have been running away from Democracy for many years. Benjamin Franklin was said to have remarked after the forming of the United States that he and the founding fathers had created “A Republic, if you can keep it.” The strength of the American Republic will be tested as it has not for a long time. The supporters of Donald Trumps argument, as well as right wing movements around the globe, is that the increasing wave of globalism, in which borders are undermined and resources do not find their way to actual citizens of the nations they’re supposed to be there for. This argument is problematic, as Its always been my point that the wave of globalization began with the creation of the Atlantic world, and was set in motion years ago by tragedies such as Slavery, Colonialism, and Native removal. As Malcom X said, “The Chickens are coming home to roost.” I will continue to use this blog as a space to monitor the coming changes in America, as a journal to advocate for things I believe are beneficial to human beings of all persuasions. And we will all need to remain vigilant as we’re being driven in the most sophisticated car in the world, by an elderly first time driver.

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