Musicians from Emerson College, the Boston Conservatory at Berklee and the Berklee College of Music came together for “Black Lives Matter: The Meaning of Freedom Concert.” Acts ranging from poetry to spoken word to theatrical pieces to songs, were all part of the two hour show.
“It’s about bridging the generations through music,” said Dominique Jones, a sophomore songwriting and music business major at Berklee and the executive student producer of the show. “We want to drive home concepts of cross-cultural unity because no one ethnicity can eradicate racism, classism [or] sexism. It’s something everybody needs to unite to do.”
Davis, a countercultural icon long associated with the Civil Rights Movement and the feminist movement, has a storied past of advocating for equality. Her outspokenness has won her both champions and detractors throughout the years, including pre-Oval Office Ronald Reagan, who petitioned to have her barred from speaking at universities.
“Angela Davis is my hero. Music always entrenches into life experiences,” said Darline Harris of Virginia, a former member of the Black Panther Party in Boston. Davis was associated with the Black Panthers in the 1970s.
Following an introductory short film, Brad Trumpfheller powerfully performed “Invocation,” a heartbreaking poem about the discrimination and judgment faced by members of the LGBTQA+ community. His trembling voice and shaking fingers beautifully illustrated the injustices the community faces on a daily basis.
Next, a short extract from the “Luck of the Irish,” performed by Dorcas Thete and Camille Serlin, displayed the rampant racism of the late 1950s and the early 2000s. While projecting her powerful voice across the room, Thete planted the image of a self-sufficient African-American family living in an accommodating neighborhood in the audience’s mind. Thete put incorrect and ignorant assumptions about race and wealth to rest.
The spoken word element of the show concluded with “Miley, Pls Stop,” a poem performed by CJ West and Evan Cutts that asked the young singer to stop appropriating black culture.
After an introduction by the president of Berklee College of Music, Davis spoke at length about the meaning of freedom. She highlighted her belief that the music of black people around the world has always been about freedom, regardless of genre, style or sound. She then moved onto the issue of All Lives Matter.
“If we simply say ‘All Lives Matter,’ we are capitulating to the tyranny of the universal,” Davis said. “When we say ‘Black Lives Matter,’ we are challenging the assumption that black is merely a particular category to be subsumed under the larger category, human. Because we know that human has been clandestinely radicalized as white, and gendered, as male. And if ‘All Lives Matter,’ we would not need to emphatically proclaim that ‘Black Lives Matter.’”
She concluded her remarks with the final stanza of Nina Simone’s iconic song “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free” to a standing ovation and thunderous applause.
The following concert began with a compelling performance of Nina Simone’s “Four Women,” with each vocalist using the intricate qualities of her voice to portray the characters and stories that each individual woman tells in the song.
“The song basically describes different-looking black women in the world in general,” Anne-Florence Pugong, a freshman soloist at Berklee, said. “It’s meant to be quite slow and lingering because everyone has to be able to understand what I’m saying and tell the story.”
After several powerful performances, the audience received the final song of the night, Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror,” with an energetic standing ovation. At the end, the theatre was plunged into darkness, with the crowd’s cheers going strong.
“The energy tonight was on a whole other level. Everyone forgot about themselves and it was for the whole of the show,” Lyric Rachae, a junior songwriting and music business major at Berklee who performed Janelle Monae’s “Cold War,” said. “Energy is transferable, and when we’re feeling it, the audience feels it. The song has a lot of wisdom in it, and I wanted to carry the wisdom on stage with me in hope that somehow the energy would combine and pull through the song.”
The songs, including many which are associated with the Civil Rights Movement as well as contemporary numbers like Beyoncé’s “Freedom,” emphasized Davis’ message of equality, racial or otherwise.
“Freedom is not a state of being,” Davis said. “It is a yearning, it is a striving, it is a creative path. It is a constant struggle.”
Photo by Alex Melagrano