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Monday, April 24, 2006

Session 4: AfroAmerica Part 1: Archie Shepp

Recorded in a frenetic 3 day period at the end of January 1972, Archie Shepp's "Attica Blues" remains a fierce indictment of America's treatment of Black prisoners in particular, and the "last days of judgement in North America" in general.

Having emerged from the shadow of John Coltrane in the mid-60's, Shepp followed his own path, indulging and stretching his musical and political instincts, and forging mighty ideas in the crucible of East Coast Black culture. LPs such as "Fire Music" (including a tribute to Malcolm X), "The Magic of Ju-Ju" testified to his interests in the African roots of Jazz, and in his particular schtick of be-bop.

Then came two defining events for Black Americans, with ultra-significant after-affects that still resonate down the years.

On August 21 1971, 3 days before his case was to go to trial, Black Panther George Jackson was killed during an "escape attempt" at San Quentin prison. The official report into the killing accused Jackson of participating in a riot earlier that day, involving two dozen other prisoners, where three corrections officers and two inmates were tortured and killed.

Mere days after, on September 9 1971, prisoners at Attica, after demanding better living conditions, showers, education, and vocational training, exploded in a 4-day riot of violence and hostage taking. When over one thousand NY State police and correction officers stormed the facility to end the revolt, over 40 people died, including 11 of the 39 hostages.

The media claimed that many of the hostages had been killed by the prisoners, but it was later established that all but one of the hostages were shot by state troopers or prison officers. The public was faced with the following telling factors: of the 2,300 inmates, between 75% to 85% were of Afro-American or Puerto Rican extraction. All of the 383 correctional officers where white. Reports of beatings with batons dubbed "Nigger Sticks" were rife, and in the heady days of the Black Panthers, many prisons transferred their troublesome revolutionary Black inmates to Attica.

Attica Blues, by Archie Shepp
Buy "Attica Blues" from Amazon

It doesn't take much insight to see that Archie Shepp must have composed "Attica Blues" in a torrent of rage - but that didn't prevent the 10 experimental and groovy cuts on the album being tight and compelling. Referencing both events, Shepp weaves a magical spell, even cutting a vocal track with flugelhornist and lyricist Cal Massey's daughter Waheeda, who was 7 years old at the time. A vital slab of vinyl at the time, now lovingly reissued by Impulse!

Postscript: 27 years after the Attica riot, the State of New York settled a wrongful death lawsuit with the families of the slain inmates, paying a 12 million dollar financial settlement in autumn 2004.

King of Bongo presents:
Blues for Brother George Jackson, by Archie Shepp [mp3 | 04:00 mins | 192 kbps | 5.64 MB]
File under: Inspirational Elegaic Jazz

[Click on the link and you’ll be taken to yousendit where you can download the track. First come first served people, only 7 days and/or 25 downloads allowed!]

To come: AfroAmerica Part 2: Pharoah Sanders!

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