Amid the international uprising against racism and police brutality, many of us are looking to our communities to see what we can do better—and how we can keep this momentum going. So we asked leaders in the Portland music scene who have been advocating for change long before the current uprising to answer the question: What is the Portland music scene's role in this current moment? Here's what they had to say:
Podcast host, radio DJ and founder of Mic Check
Music is an important part of any movement toward change. Songs like "We Shall Overcome" were associated with the civil rights movement of the 1960s, "Fight the Power" was a rallying cry in the '90s, and "Alright" has been a song of inspiration in the last decade.
In this current climate as we struggle for voices to be heard and continue to plead for recognition that the senseless killing of Black men and women by those in positions of power must be stopped, this same need for expression through music exists. To encourage and empower those on the front lines, to educate those who lack awareness and understanding and to provide a respite from the daily toil of the battle at hand.
The Portland hip-hop scene has for years provided a soundtrack for the struggle, and continues to produce artists who use their platforms to provide content that invites us all to lean into the art and carry the message to the masses. But their music also asks the hard questions, testing to see if we are really steadying ourselves for the long road ahead or simply following a social trend. Like the song "Resist" on the Lifesavas album Spirit in Stone calling us out on our claims to want to fight for change, asking, "Are you an actor or an activist?"
Recognizing these local artists who've been gifted with the ability to present these messages through music, especially at a time when we are unable to gather publicly due to the COVID-19 pandemic, is of great value to the culture.
Let us encourage these creators to continue to create art that reflects the moment. To make music that will be a rallying cry for this generation and the next. To spread a message of love to those in pain and community for those in isolation. To seek balance between art, education and entertainment, standing on what's right and true.
Portland has been on display for the world to see with iconic photos of like-minded individuals making a stance against injustice. Let's continue to create and celebrate the soundtrack to the movement.
Rapper, 2019 Best New Band runner-up, and former creative director for the Numberz FM
The Portland music scene's job during this pandemic and racial climate is to do what it should have been doing all along: striving for more inclusivity, and pushing POC, female, queer and trans voices to the forefront.
Although venues aren't open at the moment, they still have platforms and connections, such as their websites, social media pages and contact lists, which they can utilize to promote artists and encourage support and donations for these artists. The livestream I did recently was a perfect example. They did all of those things. They booked talent, such as myself, who represented causes and social issues they wanted to show solidarity with, they promoted me fiercely, and they encouraged their followers to donate.
However, it's not what these venues, publications, radio personalities or any other musical entities do during the pandemic but what they continue to do after. I've wanted to perform at that venue for a while now. So doing that virtually was great, but I can't help but think, will I ever get the chance to perform in their actual venue or hear from them again? Social justice shouldn't be something that's trendy, popular or something utilized to save face, but something genuine and indefinite. Will this inclusivity and solidarity continue long after George Floyd's or Breonna Taylor's names are no longer mentioned on social media?
It's not only up to "gatekeepers," such as publications, venues, radio personalities, but also to musical artists to continue speaking about past and current injustices done against Black people. We have to keep using our platforms and music to speak up. Music isn't always about having fun and turning up—although that too can be therapeutic for Black people—but sometimes can be used to talk about real things. It's up to music lovers to hold these artists accountable as well. We all have a responsibility, no matter how small of a role, and no matter what we do, it should be genuine and indefinite, not something used to seem conscious for clout.
Even me. I've become a lot more vocal on my social media about injustices towards Black people. Although I've always done so in my music, I realized I was playing it a little too safe on my platform branding-wise. However, people do look up to me and engage with my social media content. Even if I'm not "acting," who's to say I won't incite ideas to encourage that next person to plan a protest or donate. That is more important than any racist troll or Karen who decides to express their unwanted opinions on my page. Sparking the right kind of ideas to incite the change we want to see in the world is more important than anything, and we can do that with music.
Rapper, activist and founding member of Anti-Racist Action
As individuals, artists, musicians, I think it's important that we know and understand that we have an essential role to play. That role involves reflection, healing, communication, vulnerability, strength and honesty.
Those of us who are clear about our purpose and path need to be strengthening bridges with those of us who are also operating with clarity and reaching out to those looking for clarity.
We need to be creating community among ourselves as a microcosmic reflection of what is needed and possible in broader communities.
Those of us who aren't clear on our purpose might want to be looking at social movements against oppression and for human rights and justice the world over, past and current, and examining the roles that art, culture and music specifically have played. Listen to, read about and consume music from the folk and community-oriented cultural expressions, to the underground and superstars: Bob Marley, Nina Simone, Bob Dylan, Fela Kuti, Dead Prez, Joan Baez, Paul Robeson, Linton Kwesi Johnson, Aretha Franklin, Sinead O' Connor, Public Enemy, Rage Against the Machine.
Let their voices and examples be a guide to the power and vision we should aspire to.
We can change the world, we should, we have to.
What music was banging during past struggles for civil rights and Black liberation? What music was banging during the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa and globally?
How has music inspired you in the past? What music do you listen to that shifts your mood from hopeless to optimistic? I want to be asking what I can do as an artist to create music that can actually shift and transform energy. We must create music that can heal, educate, inspire, uplift and liberate. If I'm having a block or feel particularly uninspired, I want to utilize my time, thoughts and energy to uplift those in my community who are very clearly accomplishing that work through their art. The career path-oriented musician gets conditioned to be narcissistic in their drive to be successful in capitalism. As my good friend and fellow Emcee C3 the Guru says, now is a time to reinforce empathy, community, solidarity and unity over the self-centered aspects of our aspirational commitments.
I've seen powerful pictures of some graffiti saying, "George Floyd, you changed the World." Let us channel and reinforce that change.
Executive director, Friends of Noise
Portland's music scene's role in the current moment is to do the work to dismantle the systems of white supremacy within the regional music ecosystem. It's just that simple.
Portland can be a model of what an inclusive and intersectional city can be. A city that supports the contributions of all its residents no matter their race, abilities, wealth or the lack thereof. The Portland music scene can be a leader towards that aspirational goal during this transformational moment. As with the pandemic, the economic downturn will hit Black, Indigenous and other People of Color members of our music ecosystem harder than most. It's been gratifying to see leaders within our community declare their allyship to #Blacklivesmatter and the movement that it has spawned. What we need are accomplices that are willing to invest—with no expectations of a financial return—in BIPOC led ventures that can grow into the critical multiracial music infrastructure that BIPOC communities will need to make their cultural contributions to our city.
There are too many talented artists, bookers, producers, etc., who are Black, Indigenous and other people of color who are sidelined and overlooked because they don't fit the image or taste of a Eurocentric perspective.
There are too few—if any, in some cases—BIPOC venue owners, talent buyers, promoters, etc., who are in a position to facilitate equitable representation within our music ecosystem.
The Portland music scene will survive, but if its current institutions are able to reset and rebuild, they must use this moment to reckon with our local music industry's ongoing historical crises of BIPOC exclusion. Black owned venues and clubs have been lost due to gentrification, lack of capital and discriminatory policing and regulation. Hip-hop shows would get frequent visits from the police and Fire Marshall. When I worked at La Luna, it was a common occurrence that the police would show up just before midnight to shut down hip-hop concerts, while a rock show the next night garnered no such attention.
Here are three strategies that those in power can do now to help dismantle white supremacy when it comes to our music scene: Center Black and Brown voices, share your privilege and work to reconcile and heal past harms.
My nonprofit Friends of Noise is focused on doing this work for the youth of our community. We center BIPOC voices by consistently reaching out to and creating opportunities for Black and Brown youth. The majority of our shows are multigenre so that our audiences are multiracial. Last year, we helped a group of young men produce a festival on the condition that I could book half the bands. I selected Black, Middle Eastern and trans artists for the bill. The young men acknowledged that if not for my intervention, the entire bill would have been filled with white teenage boys.
We share our privilege by loaning equipment, expertise and our connections with our community of youth with an emphasis on youth of color. Whether it's looking for a venue or navigating a permit process, we share what we've learned, who we know and what we have. We recently partnered with Morpheus Youth Project to give incarcerated young men space on our XRAY.fm radio show to share their voices, music and poetry.
We work every day to reconcile and heal past harms by understanding the limitations and hurdles that white supremacy and othering imposes not only on BIPOC but also youth who are differently abled and our LGTBQ+ friends. We dedicate resources to these youth musicians and sound techs, and teach production skills so they can play, run sound and produce our shows, and gain the experience they will need to navigate a more inclusive music ecosystem that welcomes their contributions and talents.
If we can do this work, so can you.
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