Listen, Whitey! The Sounds Of Black Power 1967-1974

by Jon Kanis

(Light In The Attic Records) CD

CD review [page 165] for issue #33 [Spring/Summer 2012] of Ugly Things magazine [filed on February 29, 2012]

According to comedian Eddie Murphy “Black people lost their minds in the ’70s,” presumably for sporting a natural “Afro” hairstyle and embracing the polyester bell-bottom fashions of the day. Another inference perhaps is the residual insanity left over from 400 years of slavery and racial inequality. To understand the birth of the Black Power movement [circa 1967-1974] I highly suggest checking out Listen, Whitey!, the brand new CD by producer/writer Pat Thomas which serves as an audio companion to the coffee table book of the same name.

There are already several excellent compilations that musically illuminate the struggle for Black Emancipation (Say It Loud! A Celebration Of Black Music In America, Rhapsodies In Black and Black Power) but Listen, Whitey! could be the slice of the revolutionary pie that cuts the deepest when addressing this unique period of American history. Thomas’ liner notes are detailed and well-written and the cover photo says much about the content: a buff and shirtless Huey Newton holding a copy of Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited LP. There are scores of progressive ideas throughout the proceedings as this disc rails, screams, prays, admonishes and soothes the savage soul with observations that could only be made by the disenfranchised. Check out the passionate oratory of Stokely Carmichael and Dick Gregory as they speak out on what Black Power really means. There’s also the in-your-face street poetry of Gil Scott-Heron (poignantly on “Winter In America”), The Watts Prophets (amusingly on “Dem Niggers Ain’t Playing”) or The Last Poets (devastatingly on “Die Nigga!!”).  Refreshingly, as a curator Thomas crosses the color line by including tracks from Roy Harper (“I Hate The White Man”), John Lennon & Yoko Ono (“Angela”) and the aforementioned Dylan (with the acoustic version of “George Jackson”). Each one of these activist/artists understood what it truly means to be an American by exercising the right to speak out against the injustices of the State.

To that end Listen, Whitey! is a Molotov cocktail exploding with 16 superb examples of why it is crucial to exercise your civil rights AT ALL TIMES. Sure, some of these folks were jailed (and many more were murdered) for speaking out against institutionalized oppression. There is certainly a lot of (justifiable) finger pointing going on in this set but there is also a sense of empowerment and a fierce determination not to play victim to anyone, regardless of the power they wield. No tall surprise that the Nixon administration sought to suppress many of these voices and it is certainly sobering to consider how much of this collection is still relevant in 2012, suggesting that until the struggle is truly over being a revolutionary never goes out of style.