Americana Music Association to Host Online Panel on Black Equity in Americana

Rev. Sekou, Adia Victoria, and others gather to discuss inclusivity and the future of Black Americans in Americana music. "The task of the artist at a time of monsters is to remind the people that monsters will not have the last word."

The Americana Music Association will present a streaming panel discussion on Thursday, 20 August on Black Equity in Americana. The panel will feature Tiny Desk Concert alumnus and activist Rev. Sekou, artist Kamara Thomas, Atlantic Records artist Adia Victoria, New Orleans artist and label executive at Louisiana Red Hot Records Lilli Lewis, and festival director Jason Galaz.

Journalist Marcus K. Dowling moderates the panel (VICE, Complex, Pitchfork). Publicists Devon Leger, Nick Loss-Eaton, and a group of other publicists have organized the discussion with the hope of advocating “a more significant presence for Black artists and industry leaders as stakeholders more broadly represented in Americana’s present and future, not just as acknowledged influences on its past”.

The conversation takes place at 1:00 pm PDT/4:00 pm EST on the American Music Association’s Facebook page.

Rev. Sekou, author of Urbansouls: Meditations on Youth, Hip Hop, and Religion and Gods, Gays, and Guns: Essays on Religion and the Future of Democracy, and the upcoming Riot Music: Race, Hip Hop and the Meaning of the London Riots (Hamilton Books), recently spoke with PopMatters about the panel. In addition to his activism, the Arkansas native has recorded three albums in recent years, including In Times Likes Theses (2017), and When We Fight, We Win: Live in Memphis (2019).

“There’s a great reckoning happening in America,” he says. “We find ourselves having to wrestle with fundamental questions of what’s happening with American democracy with a monster in the White House. All musical genres are wrestling with aesthetic choices, what kind of music is played, about ownership, about who has what in terms of record deals, contracts, publishing rights.”

Although music is a largely democratic space, he adds, there are contradictions within it. How to reconcile those becomes a fundamental question for discussion.

“The question is a lot less about what the industry is going to be about, they’re either going to give people publishing back, expand their notions of what Black music is or not. The industry will be the industry”, he says. “I’m not conceding the territory, but the task of the artist at a time of monsters is to remind the people that monsters will not have the last word.”

He points to examples of Albert Camus and James Baldwin beating back oppression and unrest with their works, creating something that lasts beyond the particular time in which it originated.

In the end, he notes, the primary question for a panel such as this, or the larger conversation in the arts is this: “Are we, as artists, going to risk life and limb to bring back democracy from the precipice? What are we going to do to defeat this fascist that is in the White House? Not only that but what are we going to do to defeat the fascist that is in our heads and in our hearts?”