We of Cactus Rose are big, lifelong fans of the father of Cosmic American Music Gram Parsons & honored to finally be paying him homage in sound. Come the end of September, we are heading down to Gram’s hometown of Waycross, Georgia, to perform in the 20th year of the Gram Parsons Guitar Pull & Tribute Festival, with headliners including the great Kentucky Headhunters (who I wrote a seminal Village Voice review about back in the day); & we are very pleased to have special guests joining us: Stanley Booth & Lauren Barth. Take a gander at the purty poster that’s circulating & prepare to come join us down Georgia way when we shall be singing a set that combines Cactus Rose originals & select Gram Parsons classics – A’ho!
Join us of Cactus Rose band for our first show of 2017 this Friday night! We are celebrating #BlackHistoryMonth with our own cosmic twang contribution to the #BlackHillbilly tradition & looking forward to reaching out farther with this advocacy into the national & international music scene during this year. Follow us on Instagram: @cactusroselovesyou
#CactusRose live @ Branded Saloon
603 Vanderbilt Avenue, Brooklyn NY
More info/directions: brandedsaloon.com
( Black stringband in 1900)
Although Standing Rock has most captured the souls & minds of Indian Country during 2016, there are many black snakes afflicting Turtle Island — & I have been standing in solidarity with the Ramapough Lunaape water protectors of the Split Rock prayer camp in New Jersey that are trying to stop the Algonquin Pipeline project threatening the Hudson River & the surrounding lands of the Tri-State & New England. I & my band Cactus Rose have pledged to Ramapough Chief Dwaine Perry to be of support to Split Rock, as they hold the space & unite with other allied environmental and social justice groups of the region to stop this black snake. The news that Red Warrior Camp is leaving Standing Rock & withdrawing from the #NoDAPL fight there, even as they turn their energy & focus to other frontlines of Indian Country, has underscored the need for all of us pan-indigenous united folks to tend to the issues in our own backyards/home locales. Here’s some images from my visit to Split Rock this past weekend; all photos by me, except the 2 where I am pictured – by Hugo Kenzo
I will be addressing this activism tonight at my conversation/concert on protest music & activism @ Decolonize This Place in TriBeCa. Looking forward! A’ho*
( Kandia Crazy Horse & Jonathan Demme @ Split Rock Sweet Water Prayer Camp in the land of the Ramapough Lunaape, NJ – by Japanese-Brazilian filmmaker Hugo Kenzo )
( The donations for the Ramapough Lunaape of the camp from me/my band Cactus Rose, @ my flat before the trip )
( #DefendTheSacred in the tents @ Split Rock prayer camp )
( Kandia Crazy Horse, water protector & Indian Country activist, @ Split Rock Sweet Water Prayer Camp in NJ – by Hugo Kenzo )
Many moons ago, I worked at the Schomburg Center For Research In Black Culture of the New York Public Library system — in the last days of the tenure there of my hometown hero Ellis Haizlip, onetime host of the best television show ever: SOUL! I was seeing Mr. Haizlip’s ghost ’round every corner, strolling around in his typical dashiki & tailored slacks, last night @ the Schomburg even before his name was invoked by an elder audience member after the Black Banjo event we were in attendance at the Langston Hughes Auditorium: Banjo Stories & Songs From Haiti & New Orleans, featuring my acquaintance Laurent Dubois (a banjo-playing, Belgian-American scholar from Duke University; I did a talk with him @ CUNY Graduate Center in Midtown back in the spring for the release of his new Harvard tome: The Banjo – America’s African Instrument) & my new friend Leyla McCalla, the Haitian-American banjoist who resides in New Orleans singing songs in English, French, Kreyol & the lone member of my friends’ band the Carolina Chocolate Drops that I had yet to meet. The cited episode of SOUL! featured Taj Mahal (ex-Rising Sons) doing an entire suite of banjo & ole-timey music, talking about the instrument’s African origins and encouraging youngbloods to take up the instrument; this aired back when I was a babychile and obviously there remains a stark racial & generational divide regarding banjo players when the instrument is trendy primarily amongst white Millennials who adopted it after the release of the Coen Brothers’ pastoral pastiche film O! Brother Where Art Thou? with its peerless ole-timey/Americana soundtrack, and the rise of these bands in the Aughts: Mumford & Sons, The Avett Brothers (I was one of the first to cover them as a rock/country critic alongside the Carolina Chocolate Drops, as they were emerging from the North Carolina Piedmont), & Old Crow Medicine Show. Nothing against these bands & the untimely passing of Pete Seeger has also played a role – indeed, he looms large in Laurent’s book — but we still have high hopes that young black kids will get hip to the banjo & take up our decades of work in keeping the black twang musical traditions thriving. I was interviewed for Joaquin Cotler’s podcast on these issues after Leyla’s performance, at the Schomburg; I will share it when it airs.
My dear #BlackHillbilly / twang family of the Ebony Hillbillies were also special guests like myself & we were in high cotton, enjoying the themes and music of the program. The Ebony Hillbillies generously performed at the Standing Rock benefit I curated @ Decolonize This Place back at the dawn of October; I look forward to future collaborations with them — and now — also with Sistah Leyla.
The banjo was my favorite instrument even before I knew of its African roots & I still hope to take it up — possibly in 2017, since I have been invited to the Danny Barker banjo festival in New Orleans by the guitarist/banjoist Detroit Brooks Sr. of jazz titan Donald Harrison’s band who does a lot of outreach in his community and beyond to keep black banjo traditions alive. Black artists (& the Afropolitan ones trying to appropriate southern accents and songlines in the UK) in country music are not a novelty nor a trend; whatever the outcome for current youtube sensation Kane Brown, who’s an Afro-Native (Tsalagi)/biracial country singer from rural Georgia in the “bro” mold (Young Kane & I have several thangs in common), we are here to stay. So #SaddleUp!
( Leyla McCalla of New Orleans & Kandia Crazy Horse of Hudson Canyon, Sistahs of Twang, @ Schomburg Center, Harlem NYC )
( Kandia Crazy Horse & Kimberly Robison, Virginia Native American songbirds/activists of Cactus Rose + Gloria Gassaway, Catawba lead vocalist/bones player/activist of the Ebony Hillbillies (from South Carolina) – We southern belles love to gather, do actions for #StandingRock & sing to honor our Ancestors. Miz Gloria almost went out to Standing Rock last week with our heroine Pure Fe of Ulali; we hope to combine our efforts & make a sojourn together soon come – A’ho* )
(Throwback to last Thursday night in SoHo @ Morrison Hotel Gallery for private view of Neil Young: Long May You Run exhibit, featuring photographs by Henry Diltz, Joel Bernstein, Danny Clinch & others. Here I am “waging heavy peace” with Henry’s famed image of my hero Neil & his dog Harte in the barn door of his ranch in California, Broken Arrow (named after my favorite Buffalo Springfield native american-themed tune & a Delmer Daves western from the early 1950s), from the year I was born, NYC)
Howdy y’all / Osiyo skidoi, all my relations! I have not been able to report back much nor update this site, due to all the many #StandingRock actions & Native American circle pre-thanksgiving ceremonies & events I had over this past weekend & some. Among other events, I sang some of my Native Americana music @ the opening of Urban Native exhibit Cave To The Stars – Urban Natives Unrecognized @ Bread & Roses Project Gallery in Midtown last Thursday; I did #HonoringOurAncestors with the central Harlem Native circle on Saturday, followed by the Thunderbird American Indian Benefit Auction that night on the Upper East Side. And still working on my #LeonRussell memorial article, even as I rehearse for this Friday’s Benefit For Water Protectors concert in Brooklyn @ Jalopy Theater. Ho wa, will share some pix of all this activity by-and-by, but now am learning new songs & also preparing for tomorrow’s Standing Rock action in Midtown – if you somehow missed the horrible news of the chemical weaponry, water cannons & rubber bullets unleashed on the Standing Rock water protectors Sunday night in sub-freezing temperatures & its fallout, now is the time to become aware & join us in these support actions & by donating to the camps. I am receiving many communications suddenly from friends who have been relatively apathetic pre-election & several fellow country / Americana artists now querying me about the Standing Rock resistance; so it will be interesting to see how this continues to unfold & whether President “Walking Eagle” Obama will finally do something definitive in response to these unconscionable attacks on my prayerful relations out West. Still enjoying #NativeAmericanHeritageMonth somewhat — despite the unceasing musical losses: sadly, #SharonJones has walked on, claimed by the same cancer that took my dear mother. This has cast a further pall on the holiday week. A’ho*
Art for tomorrow’s #StandingRock action, by my brotha-in-struggle Kyle Goen #kyledidthis
& a lil’ lighthearted #ThrowbackTuesday snap by #NedSublette of me & my brothas Teddy K aka DJ Soul Punk & Cap’n #KirkDouglas of #TheRoots (the last time I got to see Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings live was @ The Roots Picnic in Philly) @ my live #BlackHillbilly #countryandwestern music series #TheHarlemHonkytonk #SaddleUp!
Gene Clark, a Native son of Tipton, Missouri, was a brilliant singer/songwriter/folkie who attained global fame for a spell in the 1960s as a member of The Byrds. Then, after quitting the band at the height of their acclaim — leaving them with the amazing “Eight Miles High — Gene embarked on a long & often turbulent solo career until his untimely death right after I moved UpSouth. Thus I never got to see him live, much to my regret. Yet each & ev’ry day I flash on him & his Creation, usually keeping a lot of his collaboration with my favorite banjoist, Doug Dillard (also now gone to Glory), in heavy rotation. One of my most beloved of Gene’s songs he cut with The Gosdin Brothers backing him – “So You Say You Lost Your Baby;” I also spin his masterpiece No Other a great deal. “One In A Hundred” and “Life’s Greatest Fool” are other key tunes of his for me. Someday, I will feel brave enough to share my ode to him, which I composed out of my time dwelling in the Ozarks in Missouri, called “Tipton Bramble.”
Today’s Gene Clark’s bornday, so re-sharing the column I wrote on him a couple years back which foregrounded his Native American heritage (which many don’t know about) & also featured an interview with my Cosmic California musician/surfer friend Brent Rademaker of Beachwood Sparks & now GospelBeach: THIS BYRD DONE FLOWN AGAIN by KANDIA CRAZY HORSE
( GENE CLARK, POST-FLYTE )
Also found out last night that rare country-rock specialist label Sierra Records has issued Gene Clark – The Lost Studio Sessions 1964-1982 > So will get that in my #NativeAmericanHeritageMonth rotation fo’sho’! – A’ho*
(Dillard & Clark)
As a fan/supporter of the Americana & Alt-Country scenes for decades, as well as a longtime rock journalist/music editor covering the country genre, I became aware of Brooklyn’s Jalopy Theater at its inception & used to frequent it a lot in the earlier days of its existence when I socialized with a lot of rural transplants to the City from elsewhere in Mainland America. Since I started writing songs & then playing out, have long wished to play there for Jalopy is the main equivalent in NYC to what the Nashville country Mother Church, the Ryman, provided for generations of hillbilly singers & players during the 20th century. So I am pleased that I am finally making my debut appearance @ Jalopy Theater on 25 November, with my new Native Americana / Cosmic Country band Cactus Rose: Jeff McLaughlin (guitar, vocals), Evan Taylor (drums), Hilary Hawke (banjo, vocals) & our frequent guest star, Seminole elder/artist/activist Lonnie Harrington (guitar, vocals). Thanks to the organizer of this benefit for the water protectors of Standing Rock that we are performing in support of: Jan Bell of the Maybelles & #BrooklynAmericanaFestival
( My picker, Jeff McLaughlin, with his signature Heritage guitar, during our Cactus Rose band rehearsal this afternoon, High Harlem NYC – We are pleased to continue our activism & being of service via our art on behalf of Standing Rock — as well as the Split Rock — water protectors in North Dakota & New Jersey #mniwiconi #NoDAPL #NoAIM #StandingInSolidarityWithStandingRock #LoveWillWin )
It will be fun to again share a bill with the husband of my dear sistahfriend & fellow Georgia Peach, Amanda Jo Williams, that I have sung with for years: Matthew O’Neill – Matthew’s also a big Neil Young fancier & we commune often about Neil’s sounds & Native lore; so great timing to do a show with him during Native American Heritage Month & right after Thanksgiving. Looking forward! Nee Ah Nee – A’ho*
“We got to work for Peace / Peace ain’t gonna be free / Gotta go to war…” so often sang my late hero & artist-activist influence Gil Scott-Heron (but he was not a warhawk, he was singing of peace-waging), when I used to see him annually in NYC at venues such as S.O.B.’s downtown. And, while I listened to his tunes “B-Movie” (about Ray-Gun America in the 1980s), “Winter In America” (a reminder for #NativeAmericanHeritageMonth & due to escalated actions around the Dakota Access Pipeline resistance & halting other black snakes of Turtle Island) & “Gun” (for obvious reasons in trigger-happy America & upon Veterans Day), this week & then just spoke with my Pamunkey great aunt Ethel from Virginia, who is an activist/southern belle/church lady in the truest sense & at 91 would have been embedded all year @ Standing Rock were it not for ailments, I was reminded indelibly that we cannot despair at this hour of chaos after the presidential election. We must be strong, we must be prayerful if we follow Native tradition & other faiths, and we must seek to be united as possible in order to work for Peace in the coming days of a New Nation that does not honor nor respect the rights of all of its citizens.
( Caitlin Rose & Kandia Crazy Horse @ Mercury Lounge NYC (w/ photobomb by Roddy of Daniel Romano’s band – Follow @cactusroselovesyou on Instagram )
2016: A year of sonic loss, domestic terrorism against #NoDAPL water protectors & days of rage in newly-minted Trump America…I will not retire from my activism & I am feeling a renewed dedication to songwriting, illuminating the folkways of the postmodern New South, and collaborating with other (Native) artists that also follow the Way of the New World to work towards indigenous futures. So, instead of wallowing — although I was/am mighty weary — I went out into the fractious City, finding fellowship & even some laughs with other indigenous activists from near and far as well as musicians from Argentina (Nico), Canada (Daniel Romano & band), & my sistah-in-twang Caitlin Rose (Nashville via Texas). While we raised a toast of Tecate backstage @ Mercury Lounge in the East Village/Lower East Side to Canadian singer-songwriter icon #LeonardCohen & #MightyBaby’s Martin Stone who just passed & then I rotated sounds of my treasured record collection overnight in their memory + for Veterans Day (my step-great-grandfather Mr. Bridges of SW Georgia fought bravely in World War I & always remember him upon this day) — Elyse Weinberg, Stevie Nicks (who I mightily wish I could catch on her current tour!) & Fleetwood Mac, Jon Lucien, Rufus Wainwright — it was deeply impressed upon me that we must be thankful that #WeAreStillHere able to sing, play, laugh, dance & write songs, despite possible dark days ahead on Turtle Island and all of the many sad losses that have befallen the music world in 2016. As discussed with #CaitlinRose, I look forward to playing in Nashville, doing some festivals & sharing new songs in 2017, with my trusty band Cactus Rose holding me down. Some don’t like (colored) women who are brave & fly the freak flag high; there are concurrent wars against us of the #NoDAPL resistance and the collective body of black women in this society; and there are some entities that have tried/want to silence my Voice – but still I shine on. And I am going to stay #BlackHillbilly ’til I die. Here’s to #TGIF — as my great aunt would say — and looking forward to enjoying the remainder of #NativeAmericanHeritageMonth
( Nico Bereciartua of Magpie Salute (from Argentina) & Kandia Crazy Horse of Cactus Rose band (in hat Karen Dalton) @ Henry Diltz’ Morrison Hotel Gallery in SoHo for “Midnight Rider” photography exhibit on Gregg Allman of the Allman Brothers Band by Patricia O’Driscoll, NYC )
( Why I want to see Stevie Nicks (who I have never seen) live…She composed this song “Silver Springs” while on the Road in my homeplace of the #DMV. I used to spend special times with my late mother in Silver Spring in the brief period before she walked on & grew up going there often in my “Maryland is for crabs…Virginia is for lovers” shirt in the 1970s. Precious memories…& songwriting inspiration! )
( How I came to truly know/love Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” – via my beloved & the best male Songbird of my generation #JeffBuckley (RIP) #ScorpioRising #ScorpioSeason – In Memoriam for all the Singers & Players & Freedom Fighters )
( & Leonard Cohen & Jeff Buckley’s acolyte who’s one of my most beloved contemporary artists: #RufusWainwright – This 11/11 tune comes from his double-LP masterpiece Want One / Want Two that was life-changing for me in the early Aughts. I still treasure getting to meet Rufus once backstage at a taping of the Jimmy Fallon Show in Manhattan, courtesy of my brotha Kirk Douglas of The Roots )
Kandia Crazy Horse x Kimberly Robison #KAR on the march of Manahata for Standing Rock #mniwiconi #NoDAPL
Some of the great photography that’s come in from Afro-Native artist & milliner from Texas, Kimberly Robison / KAR. I look forward to performing with her here in NYC next month, as well as being involved with various actions on behalf of Indian Country. When I did the same march up Wickquasgeck back in early August with Brooke & Luis of Eagle & Condor Community Center, there were only 10 of us. So it was heartfelt & illuminating that so many have come to stand in solidarity with Standing Rock in the time since – A’ho*
#mniwiconi #IStandWithStandingRock #NativeAmericanHeritageMonth
(With my fellow NYC artist Cheadah, upon our arrival @ 107th Street)
(In the sage smoke…)
(Kandia by Kimberly / KAR in my “Karen Dalton” hat)
Sho’nuff, I got post-Election 2016 Blues & been nursing ’em by spinning a lot of fitting tunes by my hero / influence as an artist-activist, Gil Scott-Heron — including “Winter In America” & “B-Movie.” Feeling even more wintry this grey November day in New York City for just found out that musician & bookseller #MartinStone has walked on. Regret that have not had the resources to cover a favorite song by one of his former bands, my beloved #MightyBaby, as long planned; but still hope to do so one day. Like the great Ian Matthews of Fairport Convention/Matthews Southern Comfort (who I briefly met once when he got me into his tour of Gene Clark’s No Other that came to the Music Hall of Williamsburg in Brooklyn) & my new friend/fellow sister country singer who used to dwell in the Ozarks, Jan Bell of the Maybelles / Brooklyn Americana Festival, who hails from Yorkshire, Stone was one of a select elite of master musicians that interpreted Anglo-Americana, perhaps the most interesting & exciting moment of the original British Invasion of the 1960s/early ’70s.
I have fortunately been invited by Jan to perform at the Jalopy Theater benefit concert for Standing Rock that she has organized, on 25 November @ 9pm in Brooklyn. Tix available here: KANDIA CRAZY HORSE x CACTUS ROSE singing in support of the STANDING ROCK water protectors camps
Here’s my beloved “Virgin Spring,” lachrymose, gossamer beauty befitting the vibes today in America. Mighty Baby was the UK’s answer to the Grateful Dead — a band I followed for aeons — & it’s interesting that they made their transition to this sound roughly around the same time that Jerry & ‘nem were trying to remold themselves in the manner of then-emerging Crosby Stills & Nash (& sometimes Young), as you hear on my favorite Dead LP, Workingman’s Dead >>>>>>>—–))—>
Sending you love o’er the Big Water in Fair Albion (despite #Brexit & #BritsSoWhite), to my brotha Mark Pringle, co-head of London’s Rocksbackpages.com which archives my early music journalism – Thankye, Mark, kindly for what correspondence did get to have with Martin Stone – A’ho*
I am an independent, stubborn southern belle & outlaw queen — Always been, always will be. Still, I believe #TheFutureIsFemale & I am also, of course, here for #IndigenousFutures – so I voted today in remembrance of my heroines: my Pamunkey mother Anne Marie from the Shenandoah Valley & Miz Fannie Lou Hamer, The Black Panther of Lowndes County. Sho’nuff, neither party gave us much of a decent choice & Kaine has only paid lip service to #NoDAPL on the eve of the election, smacking of desperation. Yet I have got to take the long view for the Turtle Island Liberation Movement I am a part of & with deep south kin still alive who were persecuted and firebombed by the Ku Klux Klan for daring to vote & mobilize their African-descent community to do so, I will never take my right to vote for granted. And a #NastyGal does step into the breach & flex her power, too – Love, that’s America! A’ho*
#KandiaCrazyHorse #NativeAmericana #singersongwriter #CosmicAmericanMusic #NativeAmerican #artist #activist #indigenousrevolutionary #AfroHippie #IStandWithStandingRock #NativeAmericanHeritageMonth #LoveWillWin #Merica
Sidenote: as a Black Bullette/Taurus Woman & Wonderlove(r), this was great to read today: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/stevie-wonder-driving-equals-trump-presidency_us_5820c1a0e4b0aac62485fa21 KANDIA CRAZY HORSE loves STEVIE WONDER (a key influence)
( Kandia Crazy Horse #IdleNoMore in the voter queue today in Hamilton Heights / Harlem-on-the-Range, Uptown NYC – @cactusroselovesyou Instagram )
( Coming out of my polling place, a school named for Adam Clayton Powell Jr. – IG: @cactusroselovesyou )
( Some local Latina sisters were gifting us #StarsAndStripes Hershey kisses while we waited to vote #VoteNYC – IG: @cactusroselovesyou )
It’s a great day to be indigenous, Sisters & Brothers! Leaving out anon to march Manahata along the Lenape trail Wickquasgeck, with my friends & fellow activists of the Eagle & Condor Community Center — we all stand with Standing Rock. This is my fight song…well, theme music for the Trail, anyroad; was singing this, “Broken Arrow” by my favorite band Buffalo Springfield, last Friday night acapella with filmmaker Jonathan Demme who’s a fellow Neil Young stan, after our #ProjectAmericana performance @ Symphony Space.
Thinking of the Missouri River (with “O Shenandoah” also echoing in my Soul) via these lyrics:
Did you see them in the river?
They were there to wave to you
Could you tell that the empty quivered
Brown skinned Indian on the banks
That were crowded and narrow
Held a broken arrow?
Today, I shall be singing freedom songs all the way from Columbus Circle to Shorakapok. We will be holding a water ceremony, after a stop at the Indian Caves of Inwood Hill. Stay tuned for my report. Rocking my mocs on out the door…! >>>>>>>—–))—>
Hope y’all are enjoying #NativeAmericanHeritageMonth & have a grand ole weekend – A’ho*
#KandiaCrazyHorse #NativeAmericana #artist #activist #CactusRose #band #IStandWithStandingRock #MniWiconi #ProtectTheSacred #NoDAPL #BlackSnakeKillas #HonorTheTreaties #StopSpectra NO #AlgonquinPipeline #rockyourmocs #VOTE!
Well, since my sentiments about the state of Nashville’s country music establishment on and beyond Music Row tend to be unwelcome even amongst my former circle of rock critic colleagues, I wasn’t going to weigh in on this year’s CMA Awards, the 50th edition, which I did happen to watch. However, in my absence offline, an apparent controversy has been brewing on the subject of race and country music, due to the much ballyhooed performance of “Daddy Lessons” by Texan artists Beyonce (pop, urban) & the Dixie Chicks (once modern country royalty). Although I don’t wish to gas up TMZ, the site is one of the prominent places that has cited the CMA site & social media having scrubbed their entire online platform of images/references to said Beyonce-Dixie Chicks summit in response to copious racist reactions to the awards show appearance on Twitter & elsewhere: VIEW HERE
Now, I am no Beyonce fan nor “stan;” and I have no fear of the BeyHive in stating this — my backpages as a longtime music critic & editor for over 20 years clearly delineates where I stand on her & chronicles many of my thoughts on the history and contemporary scene of black artists who create in the overlapping country & western, bluegrass, hillbilly, Cajun, prewar stringband, mountain music, Americana, and roots genres. I also happen to have served on a panel @ CUNY Graduate Center in NYC earlier this year, holding forth on Black Banjo, my role in the country & western genre as an artist and touring fan, the Affrilachia movement, and the recent publication of scholar/banjoist Laurent Dubois’ book THE BANJO – America’s African Instrument. Talked about the fictional Darlings of The Andy Griffith Show a.k.a. The Dillards, and how Doug Dillard became my favorite banjo player and influence via Dillard & Clark. And I am a veteran of my friend Greg Mays’ annual Harlem Hoedown, where I always square dance as I learned as a babychile in rural Virginia to the sounds of my dear friends the Ebony Hillbillies. I was a “primordial” adopter, supporter, and then critic of the Americana scene in general, way back into the 1980s, and have watched successive waves of cowpunk, neo-southern rock, alt-country, y’allternative, insurgent country, progressive country, Ameripolitan, indie folk, etc etc come to consciousness and come to market; and always pondered about the African presence in all of these scenes and on the record business side up to this day where Americana is now on the Billboard chart — the year’s big news in music. The pop/urban mix with country as a featured event of the CMA Awards has obvious precedent; many of my former colleagues are still talking about Justin Timberlake (who’s in the process of going Country & recording a country album) performing with Chris Stapleton last year. Yet this year’s turn, especially at the 50 marker, is notable less due to Beyonce but rather down to the fact that at a time when Bro-Country is waning, Taylor Swift has defected for pop, and nigh every classic arena rocker has cut a country record/moved to Nashville to revive flagging careers, country (&western) still has a glaring race problem and its related business wing cannot develop or sustain virtually any artists of color not named Darius Rucker. Opening the show with a too-brief turn by black country icon Charley Pride underscored this issue; the fact that the CMAs chose to have Stapleton and Dwight Yoakam — great & skilled though they are — pay homage to Georgia R&B hero & country maverick Ray Charles, to illustrate the S-O-U-L of country music instead of even summoning their own recent hitmaker Mickey Guyton or Americana star Rhiannon Giddens who was present at the awards (backing up Eric Church) showed exactly where they stand. The citing of SOUL, as it always has been, is code for the blackness in twang; the modern country (&western) scene and business has never quite progressed beyond the early 20th century moment of Race Records and segregating sounds by racial and regional provenance. And all hell broke loose on social media yesterday and today, as country music fans of the dominant culture rushed to show their displeasure with the inclusion of a black (pop) artist on the CMAs, accusing her of trying to take away country music from whites who supposedly have eternal ownership of the genre — despite the patent & well-documented African and Native American origins of country besides the Scotch-Irish contribution. I myself am a Native Americana / cosmic country & western artist in no small part because I am of Native American, African, and Scottish descent, a rich hybrid made in America’s Southeast from which the Source of the music eternally springs. I am also just a fanatic of bluegrass, mountain music, and cowboy tunes — and I claim as much ownership of that Creation as anybody. Keen observers have known for a spell that one of the most vibrant bluegrass scenes in the world is in Japan, and that events and festivals like the Black Banjo Gathering in Boone, North Carolina, have been yielding a younger, new wave of twang talent of African descent.
(My shot of superstar country artist #BradPaisley & #CharleyPride opening #CMAAwards50 – credit: @kandiacrazyhorse Instagram)
Here’s what I posted in response to the show on Wednesday night, while live-blogging portions of it on Facebook & Instagram: “I am watching #CMAAwards50 & pondering deeply about the African & Native American roots of the genre; plus how far Nashville & Music Row still have to go in honoring these legacies. Wonderful to see my hero #CharleyPride open the show with my fellow Virginian #BradPaisley (Yep, I’m a fan, despite the unwieldy “Accidental Racist;” I blame LL Cool J); but still tinged with some sadness and confusion. Someday, #NativeAmericana & #BlackHillbilly will take their proper place. For now, enjoying seeing all the 1960s & ’70s country women I grew up on that made me aspire to sing in twang, besides my Native American triumvirate (Buffy Sainte-Marie, Karen Dalton, Rita Coolidge): Loretta Lynn, Tanya Tucker, Barbara Mandrell (!!)…& Reba…Waiting for Dolly [Parton], of course…! #KandiaCrazyHorse #NativeAmericana #mountainmusic #AppalachiaSounds from #Virginia #countrysinger #southernbelle #countrygirlsdoitbetter #AffrilachianNation”
Quibbling about how pop or authentically country any given act is — that’s something I leave to the working music critics. Certainly, the Dixie Chicks’ reappearance on the CMAs was controversial due to their past & interesting to have that baggage reexamined so close to the presidential election. Some staunch country loyalists were always going to react negatively to that. Yet the main issue — just as a decade-plus battle for Country Music’s soul reaches its zenith (see the site Saving Country Music for consistent dispatches on this topic) — is that country (&western…& Americana) is the last frontier for artists of African descent — whether that be Virginia-bred me, Kandia Crazy Horse & my new band Cactus Rose, or Kenya’s leading country singer, Sir Elvis Otieno — and the country establishment and much of the genre’s audience still views it as their own private safe haven away from the predations of urban music/culture/style and technology-tied modernity. It is interesting that Bro-Country, which would often feature the likes of Florida-Georgia Line duetting with Nelly and Blake Shelton attempting to rap, is fading just as there is a rise and music industry push behind a range of country and Americana acts that claim rock and other musics as influences or stylistically and attitude-wise invoke 1970s Outlaw Country: Kacey Musgraves, Sturgill Simpson, Margo Price, Sam Outlaw, etc…and are hailed for restoring “true” country sonics and values […with nods to their precursors Shooter Jennings and Hank III (both of whom I often loved & covered as a critic in the past)]. Yet there’s still apparently little to no room under the twang tent for we country artists of color, cosmic or otherwise.
Hey, I love Tompall Glaser and Clarence White & Willie Nelson as much as any other ’70s babe of my generation; and as a singer-songwriter, I am clearly influenced by my most beloved Gene Clark and the Buffalo Springfield — hear my paeans “Quartz Hill” & “Americana” “Tula” (en espanol) & “Scene & Herd” etc — and the less-celebrated Ladies of the Canyon like Judee Sill, Claudia Lennear, and Essra Mohawk. Neil Young, I see you (& thanks for singing for Standing Rock). I spent the early 1970s toddling behind my dear lil’ Pamunkey mother from the Shenandoah Valley at the bluegrass tents of Folklife Festival, snuck viewings of my favorite show Hee-Haw (’twas grand to see Roy Clark pickin’ an’ grinnin’ on the CMA, yep?), dreaming of growing up to play the Grand Ole Opry (at the Mother Church Ryman, of course) just like Darius Rucker; he ain’t the only one! Sweetheart Of the Rodeo by The Byrds & The Notorious Byrd Brothers were always & still are major for me. I am talented, and I am well-versed in the breadth and depth of country; I am extremely proud of my southern roots. All we want, after so many moons of flying the freak-flag high for Black Hillbilly & Native Americana, is to have a permanent non-conditional seat at the (farm) table, per Mrs. Knowles-Carter’s great sister Solange.
As I go prepare to march for Standing Rock again this weekend through all of Manhattan, please note that the date for the Jalopy Theater water protectors benefit in Brooklyn has been changed to 25 November. Follow the new Cactus Rose band Instagram account at @cactusroselovesyou for more details as they are announced. I continue my personal commitment to ongoing activism on behalf of the Standing Rock water protectors, and the band & I are very much looking forward to playing with our friends from the Brooklyn Country scene! I expect this to be one of my treasured highlights of #NativeAmericanHeritageMonth 2016