Black History Month in San José

By DEM ONE

To be Black in San José is to be a minority amongst minorities. As our numbers have declined, spaces where we can see ourselves and each other have also become scarce. That is why I was excited to perform at the 4th annual Black History Month Spoken Word Festival with my RIGHTSTARTER co-conspirator PC Muñoz.

We always say that RIGHTSTARTER aims to present a guttural artistic response to the current political moment. The historic First AME Zion church in downtown San José, its walls clad with African-American historical artifacts, provided the perfect backdrop for presenting some of our newest work. Our set included the spoken word piece “Physical Science” which deals with the enduring legacy of segregationist ideas, and “Betrayed”, an edgy screed in the style of our musical forbearers Public Enemy. In a synthesis of past, present, and future my son Ellis Marcel sat in with us and played bass for a couple of tunes.


We closed the evening with a jam session featuring all of the incredible poets and musicians who performed that night: breakbeat poet McTate Stroman, the vocalist duo Consonance, and performance poet Venus Jones. Props to Venus Jones, Al Farley, the African American Heritage House, and First AME Zion church for providing such a welcoming platform for Black artistic expression.  

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Finale

w/DEM ONE, Venus Jones, Consonance, and McTate Stroman

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Starting it Right

RIGHTSTARTER w/Ellis Marcel and Venus Jones

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The son

Ellis Marcel guesting on bass

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4th Annual African-American Spoken Word Festival, 2019

RIGHTSTARTER, Venus Jones, Al Farley, Consonance, McTate Stroman.

Photo courtesy Venus Jones

The Future is Not a Rock Star

Historians agree that the human voice was likely the first musical instrument utilized by prehistoric peoples. Tens of thousands of years and multiple technological shifts later, the voice remains the most powerful, expressive and personal of all our musical tools. Every day around the world for hundreds of reasons, people lift their voices and sing regardless of their level of training, talent or professional aspirations. If all human-made instruments were to suddenly disappear from the earth,  music could still be made through the power of the voice.

Prior to the dominant era of recorded music in the American pop music continuum, many families of various means kept a piano and a stack of sheet music in their parlor for post-dinner bonding and entertainment. In those days, singing popular songs was not a dreamy vehicle for stardom; it was an enriching pastime to share with loved ones. There were surely professional musicians in orchestras, touring shows, churches, and other institutions, as well as popular interpreters of song on the radio and in the movies, but the point was the song, not the singer. The star-making machinery had not yet been set in motion.

Spike Lee: American Original

Veteran Brooklyn filmmaker Spike Lee is everywhere these days, rightfully soaking in the glow of his first Best Picture and Best Director Oscar nominations. 

BlackkKlansman, the 2018 film which earned him those nods, is just the latest in a rich and eclectic career that has spanned over 35 years. In that time, he has often garnered equal amounts of praise and scorn for his films, which, in their most pointed moments, deal directly with issues of race, culture, sex, and ontological corruption.

While this new film is the first to earn notice from the Academy, Mr. Lee has several masterpieces in his cinematic canon already. Get on the Bus might be his most perfect film and Inside ManHe Got Game, and 25th Hour are also powerhouses.  No other filmmaker has captured sibling dynamics and the pain of playing music to an empty house better than Lee did in Crooklyn. His undisputed classic Do the Right Thing, starring a sweltering New York City summer, turns 30 this summer.