feature: “of course music is for everybody” – the chicago tribune talks diversity in rock

November 14, 2014

Yesterday a piece was published by the Chicago Tribune in which writer Allison Stewart explores the subject of diversity in Rock, centering the piece on American progressive metal band Animals As Leaders and its frontman Tosin Abasi (pictured). Read some excerpts from that piece below, and check out the full write-up HERE

By Alexander Aplerku, AFROPUNK Contributor

“Death and Bad Brains started it, these bands advancing it. Of course music is for everybody. Leave preconceptions at the door.” 

“Animals as Leaders frontman Tosin Abasi is one of the most-revered guitarists in metal. He’s also African-American. When he walks into the club the night of a show, sometimes this happens: “They’ll be like, ‘Can I help you, sir?’ Because obviously I’m not in the metal band playing there tonight,” Abasi says. “They’ll assume I’m lost or something. It’s, I don’t want to say abnormal, but it’s unusual to be fronting a metal band as a black dude.”

Rock ‘n’ roll was, of course, born out of traditionally black musical forms like R&B. It has been dominated by whites since its earliest days, despite periodic African-American attempts to reclaim it, from Jimi Hendrix to punk bands Bad Brains and Detroit’s Death to influential 1980s rock band Living Colour and beat-intensive ’00s indie rock bands like Bloc Party and TV on the Radio, multiracial outfits led by African-Americans.

When Jarad Dawkins, Unlocking the Truth’s drummer and co-founder, was first learning to play an instrument, his friends told him that heavy metal was the devil’s music. They meant the white devil.

Most of the artists interviewed grew up in big cities or wealthy suburbs, with a diverse group of friends. “If you’re in the big city, it’s one thing,” says Matthew Morgan, co-founder of the Afropunk festival. “But if you’re in Kentucky or Greensboro, (N.C.,) hip-hop and traditional notions of blackness are still extremely prevalent. So there’s a long way to go.”

“We grew up on hip-hop, and later got exposed to … punk,” says theOGM, co-leader of Ho99o9 (pronounced “horror”). “My culture, we grew up thinking punk rock and metal was (for whites), and it’s totally the opposite. Just like rap music, it’s just aggression. People are expressing themselves and telling their stories, it’s just a different sound.”

“The world receives me as black. When I walk into a convenience store, I’m a black guy, but my actual sense of self isn’t necessarily supported by African-American culture,” he says. “If anything, I was kind of ostracized by black culture because I didn’t really fit the mold.”

“I’m always secretly happy when I see people of color in the crowd. I’ve noticed a growth of it, but the first tour wasn’t like that,” he says. “It’s so rare they get to see someone who looks like that onstage. It’s like a secret connection.”