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"things Have Got To Change"

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' This $ Archie Siiepp's FIRE MUSIC if you can get to the total energy & strength of this music for as long as a breath as long as you are able to hold on this music can move you into areas of your being & Ilumínate & breathe f iré into (inspire) these areas, places you've never even seen before, or dreamed of This is what this music can do, & if for some reason these words (& my own belief in this music can't move you into a beli jf in its power & strength & jeauty for godsake don 't stand here any longer Listen to it -John Sinclair, 1966 "The Negro musician is a reflection of the Negro peo:le as a social and cultural phenomenon," Archie Shepp ince wrote. "His purpose ought to be to libérate America etically and socially from its inhumanity. The inhumanity of the white American to the black American as well as the inhumanity of the white American to the white American is not basic to America and can be exorcised." Which is just what Shepp did with every screaming burst of pure energy sound during his performance at last month's Blues and Jazz Festival. Shepp and the band's set resulted in a standing ovation from the people. Because of the festival and the welcome arrival of a point in the development of community Communications, where we can finally hear jazz like Shepp's on the radio, people are starting to find out about Archie Shepp and his music contemporaries: John Coltrane, Cecil Taylor, Pharo Sanders, Charles Mingus, Sun Ra, the Art Ensemble of Chicago, Manon Brown, Gato Barbieri. The SUN will feature some of these other musicians from time to time. Of course the music itself gets it all across much better than anything we can say. The records printed on these pages are available at record stores around town, or you can hear them on John and Hawg'sSunday night radio show on WNRZ-FM, on the People's Communications Committee Takin' Over show Sundays on NRZ from 4-7 pm, from time to time on Larry Monroe's nightime show on WNRZ, on Bob Rudnick's radio show on CJOM, and during the jazz shows on WDET-FM. We listened to Archie's rhythmic explanations during Miles Davis's set out at Otis Spann Field inside the houdetrailer that served as his dressing room. Also present was a brother from the people's newspaper the PATR IOT from Kalamazoo, and another brother from UNICORN NEWS SERVICE, a group of media guerillas who work to provide FM stations across the country with alternative reports of relevant and often-ignored news. PATRIOT: Are you able to live by playing music? Shepp: No, I teach school at the University of Massachuietts. PATROIT: So f you weren't teaching you'd have trouble keeping a group together? Shepp: Surely. Black culture isn't intended to survive in America After all, the first thing we're going to have to deal with, even before we begin a real, meaningful analysis of Vietnam and where we are in this country, is to deal with the factor of racism, which is, well even the this years ago, but especially the black people. Because we are the ones who receive, we are the common denominator of experience in America, and so when we say it's a racist country we say this, how do you say that, advisedly. SUN: How do you feel about playing at this festival, for this many people? Shepp: Well the last time I came here I was doing a concert which was to Free John Sinclair, last December. So I feel very good about this, l'm qladthat John has been liberated and I think that's very important for America. He's a white man who stands up for the truth, and I like that. SUN: Do you find the audience for your music expanding now? Shepp: Not particularly. SUN: Isn't this (waving to the crowd) an expansión? Shepp: Well possibly. But what we need is a whole change in sensibility, consciousness. We're talking about economics, reality, I mean let's deal with it, like jobs, housing, education, for everybody, you know. UNICORN: How does your music fit in with that pro cess? Shepp: It always has been there. That's not really the problem. It's beginning to relate plastic entities to more concrete ones, like trailers and toilets and where the shit goes when you flush it down, you have to deal with that. As well as how you know an E flat goes to a G flat or just how it moves you or like that. UNICORN: You've been plugging that change for a long time . . . Shepp: No, not plugging, really, because had I been plugging I suppose, you know, that just makes you a hack. Then l'd be running down like the Inter-national or, and though I believe in solidarity forever, but it ain't about pluggin t or nothing. UNICORN: Well what word would you use? Shepp: Consciousness, awareness, like look at the earth, man, look at the sky, you dig, it belongs to everybody, you know, that's where you start. PATR IOT: What does the economie foundation of capitalism have to do with that? Shepp: Well those things are obvious, that's now what we're dealing with, really. It's like how the televisión, the radio, the mass media, the whole media of communications which we're speaking about specifically, since I feel a connection with that, and how that's used, and NOT used, how it's kept back, how it's prescribed systematically so that people are tube-fed certain kind.s of information. SUN: Like racism . . . Shepp: Surely, not only racism, but not hearing enough of John Coltrane. Or Bird, or Duke. Sure because Lawrence Welk is like, f you would vote for President, Lawrence Welk, he's the obvious guy. Nixon s like his corelative, he's his poli tical co-relative. SUN: Do you think that music is used to manipúlate consciousness by the people who run this country? Shepp: Communications is used that way, see that's what l'm dealing with. It's not v 's commercial so much as how Communications are usei broadest sense of the term, to distort reality. We live in a capitalist country, let's faceit, and of course everything is big business. Thus we have the phrase black capitalism and so forth, which is a disguise, a blind to make black people think that they can particípate fully in a system which by its very definition does not include number one races of people, nor classes of people. You see because I think the United States is very different, economically it is unique- I just want to say Miles Davis is playing very beautifully and it's very difficult to speak while this great gentleman is playing- but l'm just saying that to that extent everything f unctions according to the profit motive, so there's a great deal of distortion with Communications, and everything else. After all, you know we live in a country that's relatively young in terms of its experience. But still ifs super powerf ui and it has been more destructive than it has been really creative in the past, so what we're trying to do is keep the world from being destroyed by a superpowerful country which lacks culture. PATRIOT: How would you define the culture you're speaking of? Shepp: Well, culture to me means really sensitivity to earth phenomenon. Like they say the Zulus used to be ablt to look at their herbs, and they could teil if a cow was missing, which is very different from counting 1-2-34-5-6-7-8-9-10, you know. SUN: It's the opposite of consumerism, which is the sensitivity they're hoping to condition us to . . . Shepp: Surely, and in other words like the barter system and trading a pig for a cow, but that's really, that's where we're at, and we never really left there f we're gonna deal with that. It's good, you know, like you can build something and you can fly in a plañe and all that, but then you have to really begin to deal with who's this cat next door, and is it important that his skin is a different color than you, and all that, and it's a counterdefinition. SUN: If you're living in certain parts of the world you have to deal with the bombs falling on your village . . . Shepp: Sure, exactly. SUN: The titles of your albums have always intrigued me; Things Have Got to Change, The Way Ahead, Attica Blues, and just the whole way you use your music, album jackets, and tune-titles to relate a specif ie message. Like the lyrics on Attica Blues: "All the Natural Forces in the World Let'sGet It On." Shepp: Precisely. I take each song, each title as an entity, as a metaphor, which I think like English deals with metaphor, it's a metaphorical language in which every word has two or three meanings, or f ive or six or like that, it's really the opposite of all the romance languages and the languages before that, the languages of África, which are very concrete. English is a very plastic language, it can mean 50,000 different things. SUN: It's a language of abstraction. Shepp: Surely, it's a language of sophistry. SUN:Could you talk about working with John Coltrane? Shepp: I had the great experience to work with Mr. Trane, yes. I feel Mr. Trane, well that's what we're hearing now, ou see, some of the revolutions, revelations of that experience. UNICORN: We spoke with Pharoah Sanders last night who talked about yoga and meditation and spirituality. So you share that kind of interest? Shepp: Yes, l'm sure that, Brother Sanders s a great gentleman of music, and we all share a common sensibility in terms of our study of self and self-awareness and knowledge. Musicians are serious students of life phenomenon js well as what have you, ascetic and other phenomenon. Becaiise after all, man is a highly developed forcé in the un: :rse, which I think has been proved by rocket ships going to various planets and so on, I mean there may L-; ril kinds of things out there of course n the universe whhh we're not ready to conceive or to deal with, bui you see once again charity begins at home, because we haven't cl 3 al t with ourselves here. We see nothing. They go to Mars, they go to Venus, and they spend and make billions of dollars, when what's really needed here is a whole earthscience type of orientation. Ethics, man, friends and animáis and walking dogs and letting kids grow up and all that, then we're beginning to deal with it's a beautiful thing, because we can deal with it. Brother Frederick Douglass, Denmark Vesey, Nat Turner. This is what we're talk ing about. Freedom of the mind to explore, of man to be free, to really get into things, because look around you man, you take a nice day people around playing music, it's beautiful, anc then you have to thin!:, oh people are being burned up in napaim and lynchec and like that. I ihink this country is just beginning to realize what it is all about. The United States is a country with a great challenge before it, it has a destiny. It is a fulcrum, a bridge, because somehow, through certain historical iorces, all the people of the world have been put together here. This can be Babyion, as our brother Panthers say, and it can be whatever we can make it. We can define it. It's whether we will define it intelligently as men (and vomen:SUN). It's clear, it's manifest, what you want to do you can de. Today you can splice, and over-dub, turn up a knob and then you've got that, you see man has all sorts of choices, it's a question of how he chooses. But you see I think that people are beginning to see that there's not future in wars. We're the first people, we fought the first wars, and our wars never took as many. Today, besides western holocausts it's all infinitesmial. The aborigine and the spear, those days are over, now t's technological war. These cats are really outdated, they 're anachronistic. SUN: But dangerous . . . Shepp: Well obviously, but l'm saying it's like a person who is suddenly projected into an era which de didn't relate to. You see part of man's genius is his f lexibility, s his ability to adapt, and people who make wars have not adapted. They really belong to another era, you know it's a mentality, brutality; it's outdated. Because technology is so vulnerable once you lose ethics and morality and all sight of what's got to go down, man. You can't oe running around blowing up churches and killing kids and not have it reflect itself in the very mechanism, the whole. You see it begins when you mess with life forces, and earth, and what pwople are about. In other words war is archaic, it's obsolete, it's out of style and these cats are trying to find a way to declare t archaic, but they don't dare , they're so hung up in really, insanity. Interview by David Fenton for the STJN