Not in Our Name
with Ani Difranco, Spearhead, Ozomatli, Chuck D & the Fine Arts Militia, and Saul Williams
By Charles Russo
JamBase, San Francisco
January 31, 2003
When considering that 20th century anarchist Emma Goldman once said, “If I can’t dance, it's not my revolution,” she would have surely been thrilled by last week’s phenomenal benefit show for Not In Our Name. Boasting an impressive line-up of musical acts that provided the party as much as the politics, the sold-out event set a high standard for the potential collaboration of art and activism.
And who better to kick off such an event than the very man who set the foundations for music and activism in our generation: Mr. Chuck D. Chuck premiered his latest project, the Fine Arts Militia, a sharply dressed, musically finessed, five-piece funk and groove band. After a brief introduction from a member of the Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors, Chuck cast his vote of support by starting an uplifting set with Public Enemy’s classic anti-armed forces jam “Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos”:
I got a letter from the government the other day
I opened and read it - ‘said they were suckers
They wanted me for their army or whatever
Picture me giving a damn - I said never...
Wearing a black suit and reading glasses, Chuck came across as a sublime mix of radical college professor and empowering congregational minister. Using the band to carry his sly lectures, Chuck took the debate to the crowd with tracks like “Rebel vs. Thug” and “Intelligence vs. Nonsense.” Chuck was also in good humor, not only in amusing the crowd with his shrewd street wit (“Our country is being run by a Bush, a Dick, and a Colin”) but in closing out his set with the entire Ozomatli horn section on a rambunctious pair of covers: first with James Brown’s “I Don’t Want Nobody to Give Me Nothing (Open Up the Door, I’ll Get It Myself)” and closing with a tribute to John Lee Hooker with “Boom Boom.”
After a brief recorded greeting from Mumia Abu Jamal, Ozomatli took the stage and promptly tore the roof off of the Berkeley Community Theater. Starting with the infectious “Chango,” Ozo’s mix of salsa rhythms and hip-hop beats clearly provided the evening’s most electrifying set of music. Ranging from the rowdy “El Sol” to the beautifully serene “Quando” and punctuated by instrumental excursions into percussion and brass, Ozomatli’s 40-minute set was a masterpiece of music-induced celebration. (However, if there is one complaint to be made of Ozomatli’s amazing performance it's that they omitted their typically grand entrance and exit through the crowd; a disappointment when considering the long sloping aisles of the Berkeley Community Theater.)
In having to follow such a blockbuster set, poet-actor-musician Saul Williams might have had the most difficult task of the evening. Stepping up to a lone mic without any supporting musicians, Saul began by reciting the Not In Our Name "Pledge of Resistance," effectively articulating the core sentiments of the event. Saul then quickly moved into “Coded Language,” his furious spoken word anthem invoking the names of past artists, prophets, and humanists towards the uplifting of the entire human consciousness. From there, Saul’s eloquence held the now silent theater in rapt attention as he closed his set with excerpts from his latest book of poetry, Said the Shotgun to the Head. Though Saul Williams might have been the least known amongst such a popular line-up of musicians, he may very well have left the biggest impression.
After a short intermission Ani DiFranco took the stage amongst enthusiastic applause and the frantic (if not humorous) sight of ushers trying their best to keep her legions of loyal fans from swamping the front aisles of the theater. Sporting a huge mane of dreadlocks, Ani quickly set forth to sustain the now escalating set of musical performances that had been built up over the course of the evening. Though she joked with the crowd between songs and was as personable as ever, her set seemed to ache with an impending urgency. Songs such as “Your Next Bold Move” provided a haunting reminder of past wars and the specter of those to come. However, it was clearly the 9-11 inspired, beautifully crafted spoken word of “Self-Evident” that provided the emotional climax of the evening:
3000 some poems disguised as people
on an almost too perfect day
should be more than pawns
in some asshole's passion play
Finally, the ever-beaming, perpetually barefoot, locally adored Michael Franti brought Spearhead out to close the show on a lively note. Playing the beautiful “Every Single Soul” and the upbeat “Stay Human (All the Freaky People),” Franti & Co. brought the audience back to the wildly celebratory mood that Chuck D and Ozomatli had invoked earlier in the evening. Franti closed his set with the infinitely appropriate “Bomb the World,” singing: “You can bomb the world to pieces, but you can’t bomb it into peace.”
Spearhead then brought out all of the evening’s performers for a final end-of-the-show jam. Whereas many of these star-studded grand finales come off as anti-climactic token appearances, this final jam at the Berkeley Community Theater was nothing other than pure bedlam. Perhaps it was the huge horn presence of Ozomatli and their sense of rabid marching band gone wild. Or maybe the couple of hundred long stem roses that the stage designers tossed out into the crowd and began frantically filling every inch of the theater. But really, it might have just been that the ushers finally threw in the towel, as the aisles turned into a 30-row dance party. Whatever the cause, it was quite a sight to behold. Amongst the hordes of flying roses and the sight of Chuck D laughing it up with Ani, it seemed that not only had each of the acts been at the very top of their game with magnificent performances, but that the party had indeed been finally reunited with the rebellion.
JamBase, San Francisco
Photos by SPIE
Not in Our Name www.notinourname.net
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