Wednesday, August 31, 2016

DJs of Color Reclaim Electronic Dance Music

Written by Melissa Bunni Elian / NBC News — With one hashtag—#OscarsSoWhite—industries across America were forced to put aside their proclaimed colorblindness and reconcile with their monochromatic tendencies. As a result, a constant stream of op-eds on journalism, architecture, art, publishing and philanthropic organizations have clamored about issues of diversity within their "overwhelmingly white" institutions.

Manchildblack, a DJ and concert promoter living in Brooklyn, watched these conversations from a distance. When he realized 2016 marked his tenth anniversary in the business, Manchildblack knew he would celebrate, but wanted to do so with a purpose. When he came across a few articles about the Dance Music industry he discovered a way to spark change.

In February, Thump, a channel on Vice's website dedicated to Electronic Dance Music, ran a story titled "Why is Every Single Dance Music Festival Line Up Exactly the Same?" The piece lamented the tendency of promoters to book the same celebrity DJs to maximize profits. Other articles pointed out gender imbalances. Though the stories brought up valid points, for Manchildblack, it didn't go deep enough.

"I realized there wasn't a lot being said about the innovators of color. I mean black and brown people are the creators and founders of disco and house music and those two [genres] are the foundations of what we hear now. That's not celebrated. That's f---ed up," Manchildblack told NBCBLK in a telephone interview.

In that spirit, Manchildblack teamed up with long-time friend and collaborator, Eric Sosa, owner of C'mon Everybody, a nightclub in Brooklyn to launch a festival featuring black and brown EDM acts and DJs. "It's one thing to be annoyed and frustrated and it's another to use what you have where you are and use that to make some kind of change," Manchildblack said.

As soon as the Hype Life Music Festival was announced the reaction overwhelmed them. "It was so refreshing to have the response be so positive right away," said Sosa. The club owes its namesake to lyrics from the song "CHIC Cheer" by CHIC, meant to encourage all kinds of people to coexist under one roof. "People were messaging us to get on the lineup or help with promotion.... They believe in the message," Sosa continued.

With the help of a few friends, Hype Life music festival delivered a lineup of 11 DJs, of all colors, genders and identities. The first party took place on May 28th and served as reminder of the origins of warehouse music.

A few days later President Barack Obama declared June African-American Music Appreciation Month. In a Presidential Proclamation, he stated that "African-American music exemplifies the creative spirit at the heart of American identity and is among the most innovative and powerful art the world has ever known."

In many ways, Manchildblack's efforts to redraw focus toward less celebrated acts mirrors that of Obama's. His next move is to jumpstart the promoting of a new genre, BDM or Black and Brown Dance Music.

NBCBLK spoke to a handful of DJs of color to talk with them about their experiences within the EDM industry and representation. The quotes have been edited for style and brevity:

Rich Medina

If you live in the U.S. and are fan of Fela Kuti, you can thank Rich Medina, who is largely credited for introducing the States to the Nigerian artist's afrobeat genre. Medina started DJing at the early age of 12 and was spinning for the Meatpacking District's nightclubs before it was cool and expensive. His mixes are a blend of funk, house, soul, afrobeat, hip-hop and dance classics. With 20 years and counting Rich Medina has established himself as a verifiable figure in the history of music and sits on the Board of the largest collection of Hip Hop artifacts at his Alma Mater Cornell University.

"There are all forms of networks. In America you got the old boy network, which is typically old, white and male. The new network is young, white and male. Both of those models are touted as the definition of success. When you talk about commercialization of music, it's not designed for talent; it's designed for nepotism. The idea that melanated skin can be an obstacle to your ease of entry to opportunity at times is not news. My high school basketball coach told me 'Son, when we play an away game, you have to beat 7, the five players and the two refs.' So I approach everything as an away game. You can be green with stripes and polka dots, but if you're dope, you're dope."

Ian Friday

Ian Friday is a poet, DJ and producer who started spinning at a time when hip hop was still underground. He is the founder of Global Soul Music, a music company with the "mission to bring soulful music from around the world to the masses." In 1994 he started an open mic called The Tea Party, which supported acts such as Erykah Badu, Talib Kweli and Mos Def at the beginning of their careers. Today he DJs all over the world and holds the title of Resident DJ at the famed Libation Party in NYC.

"The lifestyle of a DJ is sexy, but it's hard on the body. The potential for money and celebrity is there in a way that it hasn't been for the folk that really do it, the meat and potatoes, blue collar DJs. They don't have that access or lifestyle. The notion of EDM is really built upon the culture that sprang up in the 80s around house music. It's forefathers like Ron Hardy and Frankie Knuckles in Chicago, Kenny Saunders and the whole Detroit Techo People and Larry Larand, Tony Malcusi in New York and New Jersey... I mean these are all people of color. Like many things that have been co-opted from people of color, [EDM] doesn't look like the people who originated it. [DJing] is a struggle, it continues to be a struggle. You have to deal with the changing musical tastes, climate. You have to work at maintaining both your musical integrity and trying to stay relevant, creatively."

Click here to read from this article's source and watch the video titled Catching the 'Sprit': DJ Ian Friday on the Art of DJing.