Black History Month

September 22, 2010 at 6:12 pm Leave a comment

In 2007, Sydney Robertson, the then Director of Residential Life, came up with the idea of marking Black History Month with a series of events in February of every year to coincide with the nationwide celebration.

The first event involved Ben Herson who is the founder and director of Nomadic Wax – a global hip-hop record label and production company dedicated to recording, documenting and presenting hip-hop and underground music from around the world, and Baay Bia a composer, performer and rapper from Dakar, Senegal who came to screen the Nomadic Wax film, Democracy in Dakar, which explores the role of youth hip hop activism during the turbulent 2007 Senegalese elections. The film has won numerous awards at film festivals in both the continental United States and abroad at places as far afield as South Africa, Spain, The Netherlands and Zanzibar off the coast of Africa. After the screening Baay took to the mic with Ben accompanying him on percussion to a rapturous response from the students and faculty. A large number of the students went to MacNeal afterwards to have the drum circle to end all drum circles and greeted Baay like a conquering hero when he made his entrance about halfway through to a throng of screams from his newfound fans.

Later on that month, we invited Eothen Alapatt, label manager of Los Angeles-based Stones Throw Records to come up. Egon is one of the world’s most renowned music aficionados alongside the likes of Madlib, Andy Votel, DJ Shadow etc. and it was wonderful having him share some anecdotes of his time working with the likes of DOOM, the aforementioned Madlib as well as about his love of obscure Turkish psychedelic rock from the 1970’s in his own charming style that had the students hooked on his every word and more importantly bending his ear afterwards way beyond curfew. I couldn’t work out who was more excited, Eothen or the students. Eothen did make one of our former students, Kino Benally’s night by giving him a rare slice of James Brown. It is moments like this that make all the effort well and truly worthwhile.

The following year with Sydney now working for the Humanities Department, I took over the Black History Month celebrations and took it as an opportunity to invite a friend of mine, Carlos Nino, up to talk about music and its correlation with spirituality. Carlos has been producing records since his teens and was at the time a week away from his biggest show, ‘A Suite For Ma Dukes’, an orchestral reinterpretation of the music of the late and dearly missed James Yancey Jr. aka J Dilla at the Luckman Theatre Complex in Los Angeles. As you can imagine it was a major coup to get him to come up to the snowy mountain when he was in the middle of being deeply ensconced in rehearsals along with his musical collaborator Miguel Atwood-Ferguson and a 40-piece orchestra who had never played together playing music that had never been performed before. I would have been a wreck but Carlos as usual was his usual Zen-like self emphasizing to the students the importance of creative exploration as well as encouraging them to record their own music but to never forget their influences. Again, a slew of students had a hundred questions for Carlos to answer way beyond curfew and a few Moving Pictures majors took their opportunity to interview him for a documentary that they were making at the time. I am also certain that sales of Harzat Inayat Khan’s ‘The Music of Life’ went through the roof that night after Carlos read various passages to the students over the course of his talk.

To follow Carlos, I asked Tyler Gibney from HVW8 to come up and do a live painting while a few students played music and a large number of others enjoyed the BBQ that we had on offer. Tyler’s work is predominantly political with references to popular culture of the 1970’s and 1980’s interwoven with his unique graphic style that has seen him exhibit his work all over the world as well as at his own gallery on Melrose in Hollywood.  After completing his work Tyler gave a brief presentation about his work and showed his collaborations with the likes of adidas, Gravis and Zune. Tyler left with a wave of new fans as well as with a new intern, Axel Lanzenberg, who started working for him over the course of the next summer.

The following year we were blessed to have acclaimed Afrobeat musician and former Kalakuta Republic resident, Najite Agindotan from Nigeria to pay us a visit and to teach the students about the many different drums that have formed the tools to his trade most of which the students and myself had never seen let alone knew how to hold. After giving a performance that enthralled the students and especially the percussionists in the crowd, Najite allowed the students to get their own drums and to use his for an impromptu drum circle that had many of the crowd playing until their fingers quite literally bled. The event was a huge success and one that I hope to repeat in the not too distant future before Najite returns permanently to his homeland.

With the wind firmly in the sails now, I invited Jonny Dub and Illum Sphere from Manchester, England who were on tour in the United States to talk about their night Hoya:Hoya which is at the very forefront of the beat/dubstep movement that is taking the world by storm at the moment as well as encourage the students to collaborate with as many people as possible across the various art forms. Illum Sphere, who is a hugely respected music producer gave a quick lesson in how to make beats and that night as we walked through the dorms a large number of students were hard at work trying their own hands at a bit of sonic manipulation which was very heartening to see and hear.

About a week later Tyler came back up to the school this time bringing his friend Computer Jay before they both went to Europe for a showcase and a tour. It is hard to describe what Jay does as his set-up consists of a mixer, a turntable, a Fender Rhodes Electric Piano, a Mood synthesizer and a computer that “talks” back to him as he performs as well as visuals that he can manipulate as he plays. My brain gets sore just thinking about the complexity of what he does but Jay manages to combine all of this in perfect symmetry much to the crowd’s enjoyment. We even had some students break-dancing that night which is always amusing and frightening in equal measures.

Following Ty and Jay I asked Eothen to come back and talk about sampling, Creative Commons licenses and how to get their music signed and distributed as I feel that it is important for the students to know that they can make a living off their creativity.  A very healthy and inspiring question and answer session followed and Eothen took this as an opportunity to play some of the new music from his label, some of which hadn’t been heard in public yet much to the excitement of some of the new-music hungry students and to a certain tall South African who tried to, shall we say, borrow all of it indefinitely.

This past year, there were incredibly exciting plans made that unfortunately due to health reasons fell through (but who may make an appearance this year, wink wink) so at the very last minute I made a desperate call to Carlos Nino and asked him if he could get anyone to come up to the school and on a rainy night we were well and truly honored to have the legendary Tribe Records horn player Phil Ranelin come to campus! Phil’s biography is far too long to share here but who has played and collaborated with everyone from Wayne Shorter to Ella Fitzgerald to Art Pepper to Christian McBride to Marcus Belgrave to Carl Craig and many, many more. We were truly amongst music royalty. The jazz students who were itching to ask him questions couldn’t believe their luck when they were asked by Carlos to accompany Phil as he played. Even our Director of Residential Life, Kevin Sullivan, a New England Conservatory alum, couldn’t resist sitting in on the session with the great man. If you ever get to meet Jacob Scesney ask him about that night and I can guarantee that his smile will be as wide as Broadway. My joy, as a ravenous vinyl junkie, came from being allowed to hold Phil’s original Tribe pressings which go for more than I could ever afford.

The final event was an important one in that I wanted to showcase two platforms that have taken electronic music into new and exciting territory, the MPC and the Monome. I invited the absolute masters of the respective instruments Jneiro Jarel aka Dr. Who Dat? and Alfred Darlington aka Daedelus to give a brief demonstration on each. I did get very lucky in that Daedelus had just appeared in a film called ‘Second Hand Sureshots’ along with JRocc, Nobody and Ras G and never being one to miss an opportunity I made a few frantic phone calls and I was given permission to show the film for the first time in a high school anywhere, which was very exciting. I will never forget the moment when Daedelus walked in and the kids recognized him from what they had just seen. The level of excitement rose immensely and when Daedelus took to the Monome the place was on the verge of erupting but the night wasn’t quite done yet as Jneiro who collaborates with the likes of Dave Sitek from TV on The Radio, DOOM and many others, showed the students exactly how you can make an MPC sing. I know of at least one student who went out and bought both a Monome and an MPC after the show and I can’t wait to hear what they come up with the months ahead.

The goal of the events is not to educate the students on the Civil Rights Movement, one that I personally don’t feel that I could do justice to, but rather to get the students to meet enthusiastic professionals honing their craft and who I feel could inspire the students at the Idyllwild Arts Academy to pick up a camera, get some paint or sit down in front of a keyboard and make something that is utterly unique that granted may fall outside of their respective majors here at the school but which allows them to express themselves as creatively as possible. I also like it that our students are not shy in passing on their information and keeping in touch with the artists that have come up to the school. Everybody that comes up here leaves enthused and well and truly sold on what we do here at IAA and who knows maybe in the future we will see collaborations begin to from that will allow our students to start reaching  their goals of making a living out of what they truly love. Something which I truly envy.

What does BHM have in store for this coming year? Well let’s just say that it is going to be a very exciting year to be a student here and leave it at that as I don’t want to jinx it but trust me on this one.

I’d just like to take this opportunity to thank John Newman, the Dean of Students, for helping me fund and get dates for the events, Kevin Michael Sullivan, the Director of Residential Life, who does yeoman’s work in supporting the events and Sydney Robertson whose idea it all was in the first place. Salute!

— Marc Kets, Associate Dean of Students

Entry filed under: campus culture, special events, student services.

Prefects! Parks Exhibition Center of Idyllwild Arts; Faculty Show

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