It is often said to understand where you are in life, and where you might go, you first have to understand your past. For multi-instrumentalist, composer and producer Adrian Younge, the American past seems to be, both too muddied and too sanitized to effectively gage where we even are in society right now.
It’s with this in mind, that he, along with many others, have made it a goal to help clarify that history and account for stories and narratives ignored or hidden by mainstream society throughout the decades, using music as the main medium — a form of art he notes Black people have used in America to share their stories and pain as well as an attempt to try and reconnect their shattered and severed culture.
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Released in conjunction with Black History Month, Younge has composed a multi-faceted project in the forms of a new album, a mini documentary and podcast, Invisible Blackness with Adrian Younge (available on Amazon’s Audible).
In his album, ‘The American Negro,’ Younge calls upon a mixture of sound and influence from Black music throughout the decades to better tell this untold story: his spoken word very much inspired by the beatnik adjacent poetry sounds of Gil Scott Heron (Whitey on the Moon, The Revolution Will Not Be Televised) even down to the backing instrumentals and thumping bongo drum, Younge pieces together a relic of the past enlivened by current frustrations.
Younge walks us through a revised history, detailing facts of America’s past and what he believes those actions and accounts mean for him as a Black person as well as to all Americans.
Names of past victims of racism and murder are given a second chance to be acknowledged and learned about; James Mincey Jr., George Stinney Jr. and Margaret Garner’s stories told in bittersweet and beautiful instrumental numbers and lyrics that depict their tragic and unjust stories. Younge’s pains and frustrations, fueled by generations of mistreatments, are laid down among sweeping soulful interludes, Jazzy, free form breakdowns and spoken word declarations. The end result is a beautifully composed, lush sounding album of incredible pace and eloquence.
All this collides with events of the present — Black Lives Matter, police brutality and the civil unrest that follows injustice.
Younge’s message is potent and emotional, with topics and statements that are harrowing and stirring, but it also exists in a time where everything is influenced and tinged by social media.
Coleman Hughes, a public intellectual, podcast host and young Black man, argues that it is extra difficult for any salient point or philosophy to take hold amongst the Black community and individual activists in part because of the information war, morality gatekeepers and inherent bias of social media.
This phenomenon makes ‘The American Negro’ an even more poignant and necessary statement, but I would also ask our generation’s activists, artists and leaders to consider the effect of the landscape in front of them. Younge notes with ‘The American Negro,’ he wanted to make a timeless album akin to ‘What’s Going On,’ but Marvin Gaye or Gil Scott Heron were never affected by first and second hand influences of social media and onset of an information overload.
Younge’s work in essence coincides with the ideal that we don’t rise to the height of our goals, we fall to the levels of our system. He calls on young people to pick up the work of their predecessors, learn from our past and continue the plight of equality without forgetting the atrocities and struggle behind us. So, it is imperative that we understand the systems we are implementing to accomplish these goals whether it be through social media, beautifully crafted music or otherwise.
Words: Patti Sanchez