Today at 6pm at the Walter Reade Theater at Lincoln Center (165 W. 65th St.) the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement in conjunction with ImageNation will host the world premiere of the film “Black August: A Hip-Hop Documentary Concert,”directed by dream hampton. The night kicks off with a performance by Ghanian emcee Blitz the Ambassador and features an ending discussion with Lumumba Bandele, Marc Lamont Hill, Talib Kweli, and former Black Panther, Dhoruba Bin Wahad.
Here’s a trailer for the premiere:
We talked with Malcolm X Grassroots Movement founder and director, Lumumba Bandele about Black August, international hip-hop exchange, and the makings of the film.
Q. How did Black August start and what’s the mission?
A. The Black August hip hop project started in 1998 at the request of two political exiles Nahanda Abiodun and Assata Shakur, both in Cuba, who had spoken to myself and two other brothers, Kofi Taha who was representing Students for Jericho and another brother, Clyde Valentine who was working with Stress magazine. We were all down for the World Youth Festival and both the exiles had asked us for a way to utilize rap music as a way to both raise awareness around political prisoners in the US and to raise resources and funds to fund that work. Another objective is to connect hip hop communities around the globe so we would travel to hip hop communities in Cuba, in South Africa, in Tanzania, in Brazil and have cultural exchange and establish some networks that would allow us to move our human rights work in all communities forward.
Q. This started out with which hip hop artists in the US?
A. Talib Kweli had always been part of it, Dead Prez had always been part of it. Early on it was Mariposa, DJ Spinna, he was the first deejay to volunteer his time, and Rosie Perez and Fab Five Freddy came out to co-host. It was a good show and we didn’t have any major headliners. This is 1998. There are shows we have here in the States and then we take artists internationally. Dead Prez, Tony Touch, Mos Def, Talib, and Common have gone to Cuba. Jeru the Damaja and Black Thought have gone to South Africa.
Q. What has come out of it so far?
A. This is probably the most successful fundraiser for political prisoner work in the US. We’ve been able to raise over $75,000 for political prisoner work in the US which historically has been bake sale kind of fundraising that has been happening. But more importantly we have been able to introduce, not only the history of the resistance movement and the black liberation movement here in the US and the international communities, but we’ve been to able to introduce actual people who are part of those movements to that community so much so that now you have people in Brazil who know the story of Mumia Abu Jamal and Mutulu Shakur and Assata Shakur and vice versa. We learn the stories of their freedom movements. So the idea is to spread awareness and gain resources and funds.
Q. Is there a language barrier?
A. When we go to Brazil we translate our material so they know what it is. In Cuba the government mandated the artists to write down the lyrics that they were going to perform. But also hip hop has a way of getting inside places where typically you would have a hard time sharing information, so language becomes an issue to some degree, but when Black Star is on stage at the amphitheater and you have thousands of Cubans that are singing their song language is not as much of an issue.
Q. Yeah I talked to K’naan recently and he talked about how he memorized “Paid in Full” from back to front and didn’t understand a word of it..
A. One of the major success I like to credit Black August for is when we’re taking artists overseas we’re helping them through a process of politicization, they are helping to politicize audiences about issues of political prisoners and freedom stories, but they themselves are becoming aware and are learning. When we took Common to Cuba and he was actually able to sit down with Assata Shakur, he was transformed, so much so that when he came back he recorded, “Song for Assata.” If it had not been for Black August taking him to meet her to dismantle this image the state has of her and for him to sit down and have a conversation about her, about her life, about who she is, transformed him. He has been supportive of her case. The song he made did what Black August is supposed to do. We can’t even quantify how many people learned about her from the song.
Q. What other artists have been transformed?
A. Talib, Dead Prez, and Mos Def are the most obvious, they had already been involved with some of this work, but to actually sit down with people that they had only read about pushed them to take their art and work to another level.
Q. Have you reached out to other artists?
A. Yes, what some may consider unlikely artists. We haven’t been able to really get many artists to go overseas. To get them to participate is a major sacrifice. Through the history of Black August, we’ve never paid any artists, all of the performing artists have volunteered and donated their time. Many have footed a bill to fly themselves in. Erykah Badu footed her bill to have her band fly in to perform at Black August in Brooklyn. We’ve had Fat Joe, David Banner, Saigon perform at Black August. We want to step out of this whole rap artist, conscious MC thing. Truth be told a lot of funding comes from artists most wouldn’t consider conscious MC’s.
Q. What’s the cultural exchange been like with US and international MC’s?
A. In 2002 we had Cuban rap artists come here and many were a part of the Cuban rap festival. Those kinds of exchanges are good even if it’s just watching each other perform. This is in the film, you’ll hear Mos Def talking about how he was amazed at how the Cubans had their own style of doing rap that was bumping! He talked about how the amphitheater and the whole show reminded him of the scene in Wild Style where the place was packed and people were just rocking, like no matter the language its hip hop. It’s raw hip hop.
–For tickets to tonight’s showing call 212.875-5601