This weekend we gave away physical copies of my latest mix CD. Today I’m offering it online. The mix is directly inspired by transnational Mexican sonidero culture, and uses its format to air the voices and stories of a group of dedicated rent strikers out here in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. Here’s a download of the mix and the story of how it came to be–
This past Saturday, friends & I threw a community-minded block party at Rainbow Park in the Sunset Park neighborhood of Brooklyn. The basic idea was to air live music that reflects the population here (Latino, Chinese, Arab…), to bring folks together into a space with great sound as community groups offer info and services.
It takes much painstaking organization, discussion, and collaboration to create an open-ended space, any inclusive moment wide with margins of possibility. I think we managed to do it. Hundreds showed up, listened, participated.
[BTB - kids at Nuria Montiel's print vinyl station, photo by Sound Liberation Front]
Planning for ‘Beyond The Block’ began in late spring and continued — with weekly meetings! — until this Saturday. Our we grew over time, expanding to include people from Beyond Digital, Dutty Artz, The Arab American Association of New York, CAAAV, La Unión, La Casita Comunal de Sunset Park, Sound Liberation Front, and various local artists and community members. Manhattan electronic music school Dubspot donated a grip of top-quality gear. On the day of the event, dozens of volunteers came to help everything flow.
[Undocumented youth activists. Ty Ushka's instagram.]
We made posters for Beyond The Block in four languages: Spanish, Mandarin, English, Arabic. Musicians/DJs held extended conversations with community organizers working towards social justice. Various worlds shrank. We focused on local, person-to-person outreach — that’s why you didn’t see mention of this event on any blogs for example. Our digital hype/ “social networking” skills were put towards helping our partner organizations located in Sunset Park and Bay Ridge activate & amplify the word through their networks.
[Beyond The Block flyers by Talacha]
If the dominant mode of musical experience in 2012 is a web-sped diet of consume and move on, then Beyond The Block is interested in learning about the slow social manifestations of all this music that moves us, and asking how our excitement over these sounds can contribute, in a direct way, to the communities where its heartbeat comes from. And besides, I’ve lived in Sunset Park ever since I moved back to the US in 2006.
As we wrote in the mission statement:
Can a hype block party double as an opportunity to spread information about stop & frisk, immigrant rights, police surveillance, and housing? We say yes. As the championing of diversity, a global outlook, and a celebration of the local become increasingly common in today’s dance music scenes, we see an ideal opportunity to use the energy & open-ended vibe of a great party to connect musical ideas to their real-world analogs — to create a space where we can talk about – and dance to – an incredible musical selection while sharing useful information for our communities that are impacted by issues pertaining to undocumented workers’ rights, transnational identity, health care, police violence, housing and more.
How did it go? Fine late summer sun shone on nonstop music performances across a variety of styles and languages — including teen rappers from around the block, Omnia Hegazy’s English-Arabic guitar songs, Los Skarroneros’ Marxist ska-punk, Uproot Andy DJing, and a perfectly-pitched closing ceremony by Cetiliztli Nauhcampa Quetzalcoatl in Ixachitlan. (This last group had me wishing that DJ Javier Estrada was there, indigenous time rise up).
[photo by Neha Gautam]
In addition to the music were things like: a handball court transformed into a realtime street art gallery, Nuria Montiel’s incredible pushcart art station that let kids transform vinyl records in printing devices, a dozen or so community groups sharing info, $1 spicy grilled octopus from the Chinese food cart…
As fellow organizer Larisa Mann/DJ Ripley wrote, “the face-painting and mural-painting folks were total troopers mobbed by excited kids all day, the community organizations & folks at the tables were full of useful information and good humor and the basketball and handball NEVER STOPPED.” When Ashland Total Freedom came walking up I had to pinch myself. As it turned out, everything really did happen. We’re working on a website but until then you’ll have to peer into the soul-sucking abyss of the Zuckerborg to see it.
[painting produced on the day, Ty Ushka's instagram]
The point is not to brag about this event. The point is to remind ourselves: this is possible. A few dedicated individuals can leverage a lot. Music can start & sustain conversations. You can throw a block party like this wherever you live, too. Getting the permits and such wasn’t that hard (despite NYC’s somnambulant bureaucracy); sharing the workload made everything easier; post-meeting tacos & micheladas formed their own satisfying world.
But about this new mixtape…
As the planning went on, I started thinking about ways to extend the outburst of energy that comes – then goes! – with putting on a party. Something that could spread slowly, perhaps in online worlds, after we tended to the here-and-now on one exquisite September day.
[Beyond The Block flyers by Talacha]
In helping to make this block party happen, I ended up working closely with people involved in the rent strike on 46th St. The mixtape idea clicked into place all at once: I would select made-in-the-USA cumbia instrumentals, and have those sounds serve as a backing track to the rent strikers explaining, in their own words, what is happening, why they are struggling. Most of the three rent striking buildings’ residents are Latino immigrants, many from Mexico. I mentioned my idea at a meeting — people were into it. Pues… ¡Vámonos!
[photos taken by rent strikers]
Noelle Theard introduced me to some of the principal rent strikers, then she and Dennis Flores, who had already been working closely with the strikers, conducted incredible interviews. As the Spanish-speakers among us will hear, one of the other great things about these interviews is how very different each person’s perspective on the rent strike is. It ranges from deeply personal accounts — say, of dirty water dripping on Eulogia’s stovetop — to broad political analysis examining the banks’ roles, to philosophical reflections on rights and dignity and how a just struggle can empower. If you don’t understand the Spanish then hopefully the deep cumbias will communicate.
The ‘Sunset Park Rent Strike Speakout Mix’ was directly inspired by Mexican sonideros. Sonideros (DJs/sound-people) talk on the mic and select tunes, narrating the party and activating the music, cracking jokes, taking requests to dedicate shoutouts to (often-distant) friends, family, lovers. They literally speak community into existence. Dozens of sonidero parties rock NYC each month, from private weddings to all-nighters in inconspicuous venues under the BQE. (Here’s an introductory article on cumbia sonidera in the New York Times from 2003, and an excellent Spanish language e-book published by friends over at El Proyecto Sonidero.)
Another nice thing about the voices gathered here is how they reflect the high level of women involved in the struggle for housing justice in Sunset Park. (With notable exceptions like DF’s Lupita de la Cigarita, sonidero culture skews heavily towards men on the mic).
But I’ve said enough. Here you go:
DOWNLOAD : Sunset Park Rent Strike Speakout Mix [25 minutes, 61MB] (mixed by DJ Rupture, produced by Noelle Theard & Dennis Flores)