Music to Study for #BLM

Music to Study for #BLM

August 25, 2020

We’ve sat to down to meditate on possible differences between what we think people need and and their actual needs. Again, come join me. Gather round, let us listen. If it helps, you can go through the stretches in the previous blog post. This is going to be the first in a series of articles that might stretch some of you beyond your comfort zone. If you happen to be a person of color, this is likely to bring up trauma. You can step aside if you want to, or you can nod you head to the truths in here which make up daily life for many people. If you’re ready (this will take about an hour), let us begin.

Mexican Chef #

It’s a party across America // Bachata in the back

This forms the bridge which alludes back to all the other verses with its mentions of “Bachata in the back”. It forms a structure which mirrors the structural opression of Brown and Black bodies where we are generally kept out of the party (the metaphor for the ability to succeed and enjoy our lives). While this racial power dynamic may not be evenly spread across America, it does tend to be widespread in places where there is a mixed population and more affluent European decendents want cheap labor.

In places where there are only people of European descent, the emergent dynamic is that poor are disenfranchised compared to the more affluent peers. Additionally, they have been taught to have pride in the work they do and to not aspire to much beyond being the best worker they can. This makes them susceptible to racist scapegoating. It also keeps them hopeful, since they want to think that given enough hard work they can become as affluent as their peers and live the American dream many of their immigrant ancestors were tempted with. The problem is that there are very specific structural conditions which keep poor people from becoming affluent, no matter their race. Lack of access to capital is one of those structural conditions. However, only people who are not perceived as white suffer from racism. As Rom, Quarks brother, in DS9’s “The Bar Association” said:

“You don’t understand. Ferengi wokers don’t want to stop the exploitation, we want to find a way to become the exploiters.”

This is perfectly representative of the average US capitalist mindset.

This Is America #

There’s too much to unpack about this song: wanting to party, but not being able to because it’s “guerilla warfare”; wanting to make money, but racism and systemic injustice making it nearly impossible to do that; etc. To me, the most important lyrics are actually those at the very end of the song (it’s easy to miss them):

You just a black man in this world // You just a barcode, ayy
You just a black man in this world // Drivin’ expensive foreigns, ayy
You just a big dawg, yeah // I kenneled him in the backyard
No proper life to a dog // For a big dog

I’m not going to unpack everything here, because a book could be written on the 13th Ammendment. Speaking of which, you should watch Ava Duvernays documentary. But if you’re already hip to that, let’s go on:

From the begning of America as the United States, and even before, there was a strong component of white supremacy and slavery. This means that where there was slavery, where there was racism, or where white supremacy took hold, there is still a cultural component of that present in modern populations. No matter how enlighted one person of European descent is, there is likely another person (or two!) who feels equally empowered by white supremacy.

“The Nixon campiagn in 1968, and the Nixon White House ater that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we could make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin and the criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and villify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did."
— John Ehrlichman, Nixon Advisor

This quote hopefully gives you the proper picture that there are people who are white supremacists with wealth who want to shape society in America. They have seen the opening to promulgate white supremacy and raism through the 13th ammendment ever since the US forced some of the southern states to ratify it at gunpoint. Quitely, through the generations, they have been passing on their beliefs and culture of white supremacy to their children and those who will listen to them. These people do not consider these weird, backward, or foreign beliefs, because it’s what they live.

Because of these contemptible people, life for Black people in America is equivalent to being treated like a runaway dog that needs to be kenneled in America’s back yard: prison. Because of these contemptible, backwards people, life in America is like not having a name. It like being a product, a machine that can sew clothes, debur fishing weights, fight you fires for free, etc. Need I go on?

Reality Check (feat. Akenya & Eryn Allen Kane) #

This is song about the self-doubt that racism creates and pushing past it.


We can’t change the world ’less we change ourselves.

In the land of the free, is for the free loaders // Leave us dead in the street then be your organ donors

Meditate (feat. J.I.D.) #

Looking for peace in America
Looking for peace when I stare at you

Stay Alive #

But me I’m just tryna keep my head above water, man
And if they take it all away
Our freedom and our hearts and that glow in your face
I’ll remind you who were before it changed (I’ll remind you who were)
All of these traps, and all of these street signs
None of them will be yours or mine
But I’ll be your empire (Your empire)
Just stay alive, stay alive, stay alive

But me I’m just tryna keep my head above waters, man

Unmoved (A Black Woman Truth) #

When you listen to this song, I want you to listen for some lines tucked away in the center of the song:

You get a new leader and think you know trauma (ooh-ooh-ooh-oh)
I’m 20 years of breakdowns and mantras (hmm, hmm)
So, spare me the shock in looking at yourselves

The big important truth about this is that while you might just be waking up to this, it’s been going on for a lot longer than you’ve been aware of.

I Can’t Breathe #

The lyrics say it all.

Casket Pretty #


Pray For Me (with Kendrick Lamar) #

While this song was originally from Black Panther, it fits in with the basic theme.

Otun #

This is a song about the Palenquero funerary ritual written in Spanish. I have a hunch the non-Spanish parts mean something in one of the many African languages which came across with their once enslaved ancestors.

The Spanish parts basically say (I made no attempt to make it fit in the meter.):

Praise Mary, who conceived without sinning.
Here we call out your praise — in the Palenque Lumbalú (funerary ritual)
Let us go with songs and prayers, today preparing the altar for one departing to eternity.
Praise Mary who appears if you evoke her. With fervor we prepare the opening to the portal.
We’ve said our goodbyes. The candles are going to go out. Prepare the way for the departing soul.
Here we call out your praise — in the Palenque Lumbalú for the departing soul.

How I Feel #

I’m a few degrees away and a thousand times defeated
My energy is depleted
But I wanna stand and fight
So we can move the spirit instead travel back into the light
I feel the fears and depression
Fears and aggression
Woven into society from years of oppression
The violence is normalized
Silence is horrifying
Truth is denied and the fact is that more are dying
You don’t have to tell me how you feel
‘Cause I can hear it in their cries

It’s a nation with racism here since the start of it
Hard to let go cause it’s carved in the heart of it
Relation to the land and our rise were a part of it
Roots where I stand, I could never depart from it
And you don’t have to tell me how you feel
‘Cause I can see it in your eyes
And they don’t have to prove to me that the pain is real
‘Cause I can hear it in their cries

Fuego De Cumbia (Cumbia Fire) #

This is my translation of this décima. I tried my best to keep it in the right meter so it can be sung in place of the Spanish.

A pure-blood fire of sad song.

Our pitch black nights are unfolded
with singing and our revelry,
The rhythmic refrain of the drums
are sent skyward by the Black race.
The old Indian stands there playing
his melodic wooden flutes.
They push aside any silence
during our dance and our bonfire—
A fire that does not die out,
is felt so deeply in my veins.

This the fire of my cumbia,
this is the fire of my race—
a pure-blood fire of sad song.
A pure-blood fire of sad song.

In my homeland, undisturbed tombs
are without tribes and without chiefs.
A joy has stayed with the Black race
ever since you saw all of us here.
With strength and courage they are free,
mixing themselves with the Indian.
They sing the sadness of our land,
like the fire of my cumbia,
like the fire of my race,
a pure-blood fire of sad song.


Here there are many ancient signs
of our pre-Columbian times.
Because to speak of wooden flutes
is to travel backwards in time,
to inhabit our yesterday
and the science of the Indian.
It is recalling older times
of long gone centuries ago—
but it leaves this modern mixture
of culture and civility.


Fight Like Ida B & Marsha P #

If you don’t know about the people mentioned in this video, you really need to read up on them:

Lockdown #

You should’ve been downtown (down)
The people are risin’ (look around)
We thought it was a lockdown (lockdown)
They opened up fire (had to get low, fire)
Them bullets was flyin’ (down, down)
Who said it was a lockdown? Goddamn lie (ooh-wee)

Lockdown, we ain’t gotta stop ‘cause they tell us to
In downtown, where I got popped with the rubber bullet
Tre pound (uh), got it in my name now, I’ma shoot it
Lockdown, we ain’t gotta stop ‘cause they tell us to
In downtown

El Feo #

This song features some lyrics in a Zapotec language. I can’t translate them (though I think I know someone who could), but here’s the translation of the Spanish. I made no attempt to make it fit in the meter.

If they talk of me — muchachita — if they talk of me in your presence, say I’m your Black Saint.
I’m an ugly one — I’m an ugly one that knows how to love.

He truly loves you with all of his heart.

There’s a bit of context behind the “Black Saint”, San Baltazar, also Santo Cambá. According to stories, he was one the three Magi (kings, as most people call them) who visited Jesus on the Epiphany and gave the gift of Frankincense. This character went through several evolutions. At first, he was white. Then there was a Black child who attended to him as a page. Then he became Black and one of his compatriots became Asian. Christianity changed the depiction to give people a Black token in Christendom. This last change happened right around the start of slavery and as the slavers were converting enslaved Black people to slavery.

Enslaved people freed themselves and formed their own communities. They made Baltazar their own saint — seemingly representative of the only Black person who was respected by Christians. Because of racism, everyone who didn’t conform to European or mestizo standards of beauty was considered ugly, or “un feo”. Part of me wonders how many people still hold thes views, since I’ve met a few people who do. People tend to call them “a product of their age” but seems to absolve them of their actions and they are still very responsible for the views they hold and the words they say.


This Bitter Land #

There are several ways this song pays homage to “Strange Fruit”. The lyrics themselves allude to the title. The style of harmony alludes to the song as well (but mostly Nina Simone’s take).

This bitter land
Watered with my soul
The fruit it bears
Leaves me so cold
This bitter land
Does nothing for love
This bitter land
Brings pain from above, oh-oh

Look what it’s come to
So what you gonna do?

America — Track List #

This playlist is also available as a Spotify Playlist.

Mexican ChefXenia RubinosBlack Terry Cat3:492016
This Is AmericaChildish GambinoThis Is America3:452018
Reality Check (feat. Akenya & Eryn Allen Kane)Noname, Akenya, Eryn Allen KaneTelefone3:032016
Meditate (feat. J.I.D.)EARTHGANG, JIDRags - EP4:382017
Stay AliveMustafaStay Alive3:012020
Unmoved (A Black Woman Truth)AyoniUnmoved (A Black Woman Truth)4:162020
I Can’t BreatheH.E.R.I Can’t Breathe4:472020
Casket PrettyNonameTelefone1:502016
Pray For Me (with Kendrick Lamar)The Weeknd, Kendrick LamarPray For Me (with Kendrick Lamar)3:312018
OtunMontoya, Nidia GongoraOtun3:252019
How I FeelA Tribe Called Red, Leonard Sumner, Shad, Northern VoiceWe Are the Halluci Nation4:212016
Fuego De Cumbia (Cumbia Fire)Los Gaiteros de San JacintoUn Fuego De Sangre Pura: Los Gaiteros de San Jacinto from Colombia5:262006
Fight Like Ida B & Marsha PRic WilsonFight Like Ida B & Marsha P3:072020
LockdownAnderson .PaakLockdown3:322020
El FeoLos Hermanos RíosLa Tortuga, Sones Istmeños3:011997
This Bitter LandErykah Badu, NasThe Land (Music From The Motion Picture)4:292016