Definitive Records asks interesting Vancouverites to scour their sonic-led memories to pull out the three albums anchoring their musical tastes.
These past few months have been very challenging with some of the hardest reckonings coupled with the greatest liberations. To be clear, the pandemic has played a role, but the backdrop of 2020 has been framed by the civil rights movement. There is nowhere that is untouched by systems of oppression and the movement that Black Lives Matter has ignited isn’t confined to the lives of Black people but encompasses every oppressed group. It was exciting to see many new faces wake up to the reality of racism, and get curious enough to challenge themselves. I pray that it doesn’t end as the news cycles shifts its lens – because this is necessary change and long overdue. We have to continue to raise our collective intelligence and expand our concepts of equity while fighting for the abolition of destructive systems like capitalism upon which Racism and many other oppressive practices have been built. We’re seeing things tip – in Vancouver a vote just went through to decriminalize poverty. It’s a start. When power and wealth begin to shift to a more equitable distribution we’ll understand that the work of anti-racism is actually working. So, amidst all that, I’ve had a couple of records/albums that I’ve been listening to for different reasons, but on top of that I’ve taken a lot of solace in podcasts, audiobooks, and meditations which I’ll also share. I think this should go first.
This isn’t ‘meditation’ like breathing and centering after yoga. This is meditating on a large concept with a leader whose knowledge borders on enlightenment. Janaya Khan (@janayathefuture) is one of the leaders of Black Lives Matter and is a voice of leadership in the LGBTQ and BLM communities. Every Sunday they host a talk on their IG LIVE TV channel called Sunday Sermon. Please, if you’re not already, watch it. This is what a leader sounds like, this is what a liberator sounds like, this is what a meditation on a topic sounds like. My gateway was “What White People Must Know”.
So first album….
Public Enemy | Fear of a Black Planet (1990, Def Jam Recordings/Columbia Records)
Public Enemy wasn’t perfect, their music like other rap and hip hop have problematic elements (more on that later) but they weren’t afraid to fight the power. In 1990 Public Enemy was talking about the same things that we are talking about today. 30 years of invisible, dismissed, and disregarded Racism does something to a person – it makes you feel invisible, dismissed, and disregarded. And angry. And I’ve been listening to this album to connect myself to the feelings that I’ve been living with and to give space for the anger and the hurt, because it comes from somewhere and deserves to be rooted in something real. But now that people are waking up, I can pretend less. I can stop being expected to soften things to help others maintain their comfort. I can stop centering the conversation around them. These are all things I have been asked, and conditioned to do through my life. Not doing this anymore is one of the liberations I’ve experienced during this movement.
Miles Davis | Dark Magus (1974, Carnegie Hall)
He was 47, dealing with depression, cocaine and sex addictions, and health problems, and would retire a year after this album. It was the end of his career, and the reception has been split – genius / erratic. I don’t think either are relevant. It’s clear that Miles was one of the greats, but this album is about actually about freedom. I’m spinning this record because right now, I’m spending hours a day discussing Racism with friends, family, peers, and sometimes strangers and the thing that comes up frequently is how to shed the privilege of reinforcing an assumption when listening. For many white people, the things that have been ingested have become the things by which they identify, and the work of anti-racism asks them to put those down and find themselves. Put down privilege, put down the platform of white supremacy, put down guilt and fragility, and find out where you stand. And it’s scary. But in the chaos of self-assessment and getting deeply curious about your place in the world, there’s genius. This album is that journey, for me. It’s not an easy listen, but if you can surrender to it, the things you’ll find are far more fulfilling than what you originally expected.
Lizzo | Cuz I Love You (2019, Atlantic)
This album was in heavy rotation the full beginning of this year, because the freedom she offers in each song lets you sing/scream in the car. She’s powerful, empowered, and could not care less about what label you feel you need to apply to her. She’s Teflon, nothing sticks. And that energy comes out in every sound she makes. It’s not that it’s my favourite album, and I may not remember it a year from now, but it served me well Jan-May and deserves it’s time.
I have two that I’ve worked my way through that I think are worth mentioning . If you follow me on Instagram you’ll see I talk a lot about Doing the Work. I believe that we all have work to do, actively. We are all on different chapters of the same book, but no matter where you are in the reading, there’s always more to go. These two podcasts for me about doing the work.
This is Not a Drake Podcast, CBC | My friend Nana Aba Duncan, host of Fresh Air and Media Girlfriends, put me on to this. As I mentioned earlier, not all music stands the test of time. Hip Hop and Rap particularly have historically been homophobic, transphobic, and misogynistic while also being the voice a generation for the empowerment of Black men. It’s quite a contradiction. This podcast examines the problematic elements of the music through a loving. It’s cheekily called This is Not a Drake Podcast as it uses his career as the backdrop to explore gender dynamics within the Black Culture. It’s a great, short run podcast. Episode 3 was my gateway episode.
Code Switch, NPR | Code Switching is a term that may be new to some. It refers to the fact that many BIPOC and QTBIPOC and LGBTQ+ have to speak/behave differently at work with a predominantly white audience than they do in their homes or with their peers, for fear that their true selves are considered unprofessional. The podcast is run by three Black women who work in the corporate world and use it as an outlet to discuss race and culture politics and dynamics across a wide array of topics, included but not limited to, the workplace. Episode 2 was my gateway episode.
These have been saving my life. No joke. This is where I turn to when I myself want to dig into doing the work, and attack my own mis-education. What we learned in school is 10% of the story, and it’s (sadly) on us to learn the rest ourselves. The two places I am poised to begin expanding my learning next are within the Trans community and within Indigenous Culture as those are currently two blind spots for me in my work around anti-oppression. Here are the books I’ve taken solace in as of late. (nb: these books are American – all of this applies here nearly exactly the same way.)
How to be an Anti-Racist – Ibram X. Kendi | The work of ‘not being racist’ and learning about racism isn’t about having a check list and going down it, checking the boxes and saying, ‘Not a Racist’. It isn’t work that gets done in a summer and we get back to ‘normal life’. Prof. Kendi lays out a very large theory (with some controversy) around the action of being an Anti-Racist by examining the ways and places that the power structure of Racism exists. It’s a thought provoking piece on the current landscape of Racism in America.
Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching – Mychal Denzel Smith | Black men grew up on music, literature, and revolution that in many deliberate ways, edged women out of the conversation. Black Women to be exact. The revolution right now has been formed and led by Black Women. Black men have been painted into a box by the messaging that gave space for them to rise up, and in this book, Mychal examines how he became who he is now by challenging what it meant to be a Black Man. And furthermore, how he came to understand the complexity and power of Black women. ‘To my newly forming Black radical mind, women – and specifically Black women – had a way of existing without being present.’
The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander | If you want to deeply understand the way systemic racism operates and the insidious nature of the people who constructed the system (ie. America’s founding fathers, Canadian leaders of yore) read this book. The connection between Capitalism, Racism, Slavery, and Incarceration is crystal clear.
So You Wanna Talk About Race – Ijeoma Oluo | Just started this but I include it because this is a guidebook. Not everyone has a BIPOC or QTBIPOC friend who is comfortable with the emotional labour of walking you through the difficult parts of a chapter. But it’s 2020 and we’ve left breadcrumbs everywhere. This book is full of breadcrumbs. Each chapter essentially works to answer a question that they’ve been posed regarding race.
If you want some helpful breadcrumbs, my two talks on my IG LIVE @antoniocayonne are exactly this as well – Doing the Work and a follow up on How to Do the Work.