“Local Music: Let’s Focus on Diversity”

My hometown, South Bend, Indiana, is settled a little south of I-94, which runs from Detroit to Chicago (hopefully that’s the direction you’re going, at least). The next city to the south, Indianapolis, has a garish and unwieldy “Governor’s mansion,” entirely uncharacteristic of other states like say North Carolina, and on any given night you’re likely to find human beings starving under the bridge near North St. and Delaware, with no place to live.

But either we’re desensitized to it, or it’s become culturally chic to feign said desensitization. Either way, it doesn’t seem to be a priority to fix things, to narrow the socioeconomic gap. Concentration is placed on lowering crime rates, on abolishing gangs, as if catering to these abstract constructions is going to solve things at a human level. Humanitarian aid is not in fashion, things are brushed under the carpet, and to an extent, this pompous trend of contrived moral favorability is reflected in our music, too.

I look to Kendrick Lamar, currently, for a soundtrack to my life, which even being rap is more a rhythmic soundtrack than a lyrical, but in general jam/jazz seems to be the artistic center of the zeitgeist around here, an area that spawned Umphrey’s Mcgee. We’ve got one hip-hop “band” called The B.E.A.T., and their guitarist/keyboardist definitely has jazz leanings, if his solo looping performances are any indication. And when you go into a tavern downtown on a Sunday night, after all the dance club meat market douche baggery from the weekend has died down, it is random loungy jam acts you’re likely to hear, a la Galactic (which are usually pretty passable, at least not trying to go for funk or bluegrass too much, but rather a textural sort of mood shifting).

The Detroit Experiment is a one-off LP project that’s basically instrumental jazz over hip-hop drums. Indiana gets a little more redneck, and Chicago just gets simply “whiter,” for lack of a better term, kitschy bands like Urge Overkill, Veruca Salt and of course Chicago themselves, ruling the roost. The redneck aspects of my town are obviously a problem, because of the town’s significant black population. Blacks already are right to feel alienated by the ubiquitous propagation of Christianity, with its of course white messiah, and the situation is compounded by the lack of behooved black genres in our city’s music festivals. [1] Ben Folds was our invited headliner at the city’s 150-year anniv. celebration, he’s neither black nor local, and the most celebrated genre of the occasion has been classical, with pops getting the most notoriety in the local paper, and a “brass quintet” carrying the cultural torch as the celebrated artistic pearl of this year.

What I see going on is a cultural chasm, which is product of a need for the appearance of positivity. But it’s absurd how disparate the population itself, which includes blocks and blocks of barbecues and barber shops, is from this antiquated classical detritus that’s supposed to comprise our community.

When I was biking to work a month and a half or so ago, I passed this giant park that’s adjacent to my elementary school, and there were 500 black people in this park, and not one white, that I saw. This is the culture here, total segregation. In Chicago, until the 1950s, black were not allowed to live on the north side, and some residue of this sentiment still beckons. Regarding Detroit, as police commissioner George Edwards put it, “A ‘river of hatred’ (runs) between the city’s whites and blacks.” [2] I’d just returned from the freewheeling city of Philadelphia one time and boarded a local South Bend bus full of positive energy, only to be scorned by an overweight black dude, and find myself once again within our town’s meaningless, ghostly industrial skeletons. People feel trapped quite often, and the races are pitted against each other, because black people and black arts, per cultural bias, are not sufficiently represented and promoted.


[1] We did stage a “jazz festival” recently, but the acts came largely from out of town.

[2] This information is courtesy of Anthony Bozza’s Eminem biography Whatever You Say I Am.

Leave a Reply