To whom this should distress,
Having attended and enjoyed many of the DCA’s Compose LA events, especially impressive Quetzal’s collective songwriting at Self Help Graphics, I have written this letter to explore the fact that grassroots community movements were not present at Compose LA despite the amount of such groups that exist in LA. This keeps in mind that you might have invited them, but they were not present.
Cultural affairs differ from place to place. In France, writer Andre Malraux put to together the cultural plan that has allowed every corner of the country to enjoy the fine arts. In Brazil, instead, musician Gilberto Gil brought in a culture of “remixing” and “”cultural points” (a big success) wherein cultural policy is all about promoting the production of culture, as opposed to libraries or museums of culture. In Los Angeles, we have not yet decided on what we want. What we do know is that social movements are what mobilize folks the most, in our city of a housing crisis, to participate in the commons. In our quest to define cultural affairs in this city, why then aren’t our social justice community organizing soil efforts for new popular songs today as it was the case in the past through music like Ozomatli’s or Rage Against The Machine’s, both the product of the general Regeneracion / Pro-EZLN movement on the East Side? The same goes for the “Fuck The Police” hip hop (county of LA) that emerged out of radical community organizing, now the classic sound of LA. Why is this not being spearheaded by the DCA, as a catalyst of such “common culture”?
It seems bizarre that fundamental to “California living” is music, and that musicians in LA today have not much to perform about racial justice in the city that recently gave birth to the deeply poor and working-class Black Lives Matter movement and coalition around it. Why seems to be hard to answer, or maybe the answer is that this city, despite being part of a metro area that produces the second highest GDP in the US, after New York, does not have the resources to articulate its vast existential crisis, that primarily stems from the housing crisis and the city’s over policing, and postmodernity.
We must identify the resources necessary and offer to them to social justice community movements. Offering them here is the key. We must engage in solidarity with communities. In his autobiography “Street Fighting Years” Tariq Ali highlights his conversations with John Lennon, conversations that led to song “Power to the People” and the album Imagine. In it Tariq Ali notes Lennon’s concern and engagement with street fights such as labor fights, and his philosophy of rock and roll, that unlike the thinking of bands like The Eagles and The Doors as per Lennon’s remarks on the two California supernovas Lennon did not believe that Rock and Roll was at its essence political but that it could be political as solidarity music that participated in the movement. Such thought can only come from a deep engagement with the social justice movement. In LA, for the DCA this would mean going to the source this engagement, formal and informal community groups, neighborhood councils, and engaging with social movement associations about the production of music, instead of only producing panels and such with a select audience that hardly voices its concerns and is engaged in “changing life” as per how Charles Baudelaire helped opened what we know as 20th and 21st century poetics.
Furthermore, we must explain ourselves past practice of community development music in LA. In Los Angeles, social justice acts quickly become facts and then artifacts of a long history of resistance and domination. Instead of becoming the examples to underlie a Regenaracion, they become talking points in the vastly popular endeavor of signification for social mobility reasons. Why else would someone speak about the LA Riots / Rebellion of 92 other than to say that I know and here is what I know. Nevermind having attained a certain critical mass that one could have translated into people power and policy; it’s about knowing that South Central (artifact now that the area goes by South LA) burned. All this to say that we have done this already and Ozomatli and Rage Against The Machine (the sun ablaze as / maria’s foot touches the surface of sand). Let’s discuss this in community.