Midterm Blues That You Can Use

Midterm Blues That You Can Use

By Eddie Wong. Posted Oct. 31, 2022.

We’re one week away from another monumental election. Are you going to continue on the course correction path started in 2020 or fall deeper into the abyss of white, Christian nationalism? Maybe we’ll have a mixture of both.  I don’t know about you, but I need to get my head out of the media frenzy spelling doom and gloom for the Dems. I keep reminding myself that we, the progressive forces, have the numbers to win in many states if we can turn out our folks. No matter if we win by a little or lose by a little, there will be tons of organizing work before us. We need to convince millions of eligible voters that voting is not futile. We still need to grow our organizational capacity and empower working people to seize their future. Voting is powerful and that is why the far right has gone to great lengths to pass voter suppression laws to narrow the electorate.

So, what does this have to do with the Blues, a foundational American musical tradition? And what are the midterm blues?  Well, a wise man once said, “Blues is a tonic for whatever ails you.” Yup, that quote comes from one and only B.B. King.  There are all kinds of blues: happy blues, fell in love blues, sad sack blues, got dumped blues, lost my job blues, and gonna run all night long blues. Blues is the original soul music, a well with no bottom mysterious, mythical and mighty in its power. The Blues lifts you up when you are down. As the midterm elections grinds forward with a convulsive, toxic tide of lies from the far right, we need a blues injection.

Here are a few bluesy 2022 works that you will enjoy. Feel free to add your recommendations in the comments section below.

I’ll start with Fantastic Negrito and “Highest Bidder” from his latest work “White Jesus Black Problems” on Storefront Records. Xavier Amin Dphrepaulezz aka Fantastic Negrito conceived of this work as a film and audio experience based on family history. Seven generations ago his Scottish grandmother Elizabeth Gallimore, an indentured servant, met and fell in love with Henry Jones, an African slave, in Virginia. In an interview covered in Grateful Web, Dphrepaulezz said, “There’s a feeling out there right now that we can’t get anything done because we’re so polarized, so entrenched in our ideologies and unmoved by facts or logic, but I wanted to share this story because I think it smashes that narrative to pieces. I stand on the shoulders of my ancestors, both Black and white, who showed me that anything is possible. There was a lot of ugliness in their story, but there was a lot of beauty, too, because in the end, perseverance overcame.”  The CD delves into racism, capitalist exploitation, and joyous redemption. It is a stunning work of art.

The 13 songs on “White Jesus Black Problems” cover a wide range of blues, rock, soul, funk, gospel and noisy, far-out shit.  Like the following video, the music is high energy, challenging, and irresistible.

Dphrenpaulezz said the following about “Highest Bidder:” Greed, excess, commodities. This song’s as true today as it’s ever been. At the time, I was listening to a lot of African drum patterns, and that definitely influenced this song. I was trying to create the feeling of Africa but filtered through America. I think Taj Mahal talked about the idea of the “gods of Africa meeting the ghosts of Mississippi,” and that’s what I was trying to embody with this song.”

Next up is Hurray for the Riff Raff’s “Life on Earth.” I’ve been a big fan of Alynda Segarra for years, drawn to her folk punk approach that is never maudlin but deeply sympathetic to as Jesse Jackson said in his 1984 speech to the Democratic National Convention “… the desperate, the damned, the disinherited, the disrespected, and the despised.” In the highlight of her previous album, “The Navigator,” Segarra addresses her Puerto Rican heritage and draws inspiration from the Young Lords Party.  The following film based on her song “Pa’lante” offers a crash course on life in Puerto Rico today. It was directed by Kristian Mercado Figueroa aka Kris Merc.

On her newest album, “Life on Earth” on Rough Trade records, Segarra once again tackles the vagaries of life and love casting these tales in the social/political realities that shape our possibilities, dreams and nightmares. Resilience is a major theme as she weaves her stories in the natural world.  I love how she acknowledges the co-existing layers of meaning between music and visuals, including graffiti that declares “Capitalism is a Virus.”

The video was directed and edited by Alynda Segarra, who describes the song as “a psalm to all earthly beings. A letter regarding the suffering of humankind which affects all on this planet.”

Samora Pinderhughes new album “Grief” on Stretch Music grabs your attention and never lets go.  His soft yet insistent voice draws you into tough meditations on America’s carceral system and the racism and exploitation that reinforces and replicates generations of despair.

In 2020, Pinderhughes created “For Those Lost, For Those Taken” to honor Sandra Bland, who was found dead in a jail cell in Waller County, Texas. She had been arrested for assaulting a police officer after a routine traffic stop. Despite protests, officials ruled her death a suicide. In this version of the song, Pinderhughes draws upon the voices of fellow artists to create a devastating, gut wrenching look at the everyday trepidations African Americans feel.

The video features Samora Pinderhughes, Alex Isley, Eryn Allen Kane, Brandon Micheal Hall, Christabel Nunoo, Ben Williams, Elliott Skinner, Niya Norwood, Elena Pinderhughes, Jennah Bell, Madison McFerrin, Jonathan Singletary, and Keyon Harrold.  It was edited by Kian Broder Wang.

Pinderhughes wrote: “This is for Sandra. Today is the 5th anniversary of Sandra Bland’s murder by police & prison officials. So, we made this collage of voices. Today we honor Sandra’s life and Sandra’s resistance. We join in the call for the abolition of police and prisons, the two institutions that took her life. We recognize that as long as these systems exist, nowhere is truly safe for us. We call on everyone to take meaningful action today in resisting and pushing back against systems of policing and prisons.”

The last music video I want to share harkens back to the romantic side of blues albeit with a Mexicano twist.  I grew up in Los Angeles in the 1950s and 1960s and AM radio melded rock, soul, low-rider music, pop, funk, surf and country into a heady mix. How can one will forget the late Art Leboe’s Oldies but Goodies radio show and ads hyping Thee Midnighters at El Monte Legion Stadium? This NPR Tiny Desk Concert featuring Thee Sinseers brings us back to those days but with a modern sensibility.

Felix Contreras, co-creator and co-host of NPR’s Alt.Latino,  wrote that “to appreciate the magic of a performance from Thee Sinseers, you have to understand the co-mingling of Chicano and African American communities in post-World War II, Southern California. Living in the same neighborhoods, these communities created a virtual symphony of R&B, mariachi and boleros.

And what you hear in this California band’s Tiny Desk (home) concert, as they perform among plants in a flower shop, builds on a legacy of music that became known as “oldies but goodies” in the Chicano community. Right from the start, band leader and vocalist Joey Quiñones and his crew dig deep with their original songs that pay homage to the oldies in a way that evokes my own memories of lowrider car shows and lazy Sunday afternoons at Roeding Park in Fresno, Calif.

“What’s His Name” features a delicate falsetto that was popular in 1950s R&B. The short horn parts and the doo-wop background vocals fall into a call and response backdrop for lyrics about a broken heart. There is a very real connection in this set between the passionate vocals of the best R&B ballads and mariachi ranchera, both borrowing from the emotional devastation of Italian opera. That’s all on display in “Hold On,” which makes us question how we have the power to keep on living.

Particular attention has to be paid to vocalist Adriana Flores’ delicate pleading on “Lovin You,” which crescendos into a blown-out ballad powered by a tight, shouted chorus from the entire band.

SET LIST “What’s His Name” – “Hold On” “Lovin’ You”  – “There Must Be Something.”

MUSICIANS Joey Quiñones: vocals, keys; Adriana Flores: vocals; Christopher Manjarrez: bass; Francisco Flores: guitar; Bryan Ponce: guitar, vocals; Luis Carpio: drums, vocals; Eric Johnson: saxophone; Joseluis Jimenez: trombone; Steve Surman: saxophone.

CREDITS Director/Editor: Bryan Ponce; Camera: Anthony Ramirez, Rosario Briseño; Recording Engineer: Brian Gazo; Mixed by: Joey Quiñones; Location: Floreria Primavera.

Well, kids. That’s all the time we have for today’s show. Until next time, keep rockin’ and don’t forget to turn out the vote.

Author’s Bio:  Eddie Wong edits and publishes East Wind ezine. He also helps coordinate articles for Unity News 2022.

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