Memphis musicians have been a growing presence at Austin's annual South by Southwest Music Festival, but the Memphis presence at SXSW will be bigger than ever this month. In addition to the annual showcase from local label Goner Records as well as one-off showcases from Memphis acts such as punk-rock breakout star Jay Reatard and hip-hop acts Free Sol, Lord T & Eloise, and Tunnel Clones, this year's festival will feature the biggest showcase of Memphis acts yet in the form of Six Degrees of Memphis, an all-day, all-night sampling of Memphis bands organized largely by local writer/blogger/Internet DJ Rachel Hurley and musician Jeff Schmidtke (guitarist for The Third Man).
This Six Degrees of Memphis showcase, which will present six bands at an unofficial day party Friday, March 14th, at Opal Divine's Free House and six more (headlined by The North Mississippi Allstars, The Bo-Keys, and Amy LaVere) at an official SXSW showcase that night at the same venue, was born out of an unofficial day party Hurley organized at the event last year, itself an outgrowth of her 10 Degrees of Memphis show on the Internet radio station Breakthruradio.com.
Seeking to expand that event, Hurley, Schmidtke, and others decided to collaborate with as many local labels as possible and submit an official showcase application to the festival.
"We picked six different artists from six different labels and contacted Austin and said, okay, this is what we're trying to do," Schmidtke says. "When they heard that [the] North Mississippi [Allstars were] committed and the Bo-Keys and Amy LaVere [were in as well], they were all for it." Snowglobe, The Tennessee Boltsmokers, and Schmidtke's band the Third Man will round out the official showcase.
Schmidtke says it wasn't at all difficult to get the hard-touring Allstars on board.
"I was very taken aback by how willing and enthusiastic they were to participate in this," Schmidtke says of the band. "They got it very quickly what we were trying to do and were very excited to be a part of it and represent Memphis in Austin."
Local fans can get a sneak preview of some of the Memphis acts representing the city in Austin as well as help out with some of the costs at a benefit show this weekend at downtown's new Ground Zero Blues Club (located on the ground floor of the Westin Hotel across from FedExForum).
The showcase-style concert will feature six of the artists scheduled to make the trek to Austin: the Bo-Keys, the Tennessee Boltsmokers, the Third Man, Snowglobe's Brad Postlethwaite, Jump Back Jake, and Two Way Radio. Doors open at Ground Zero at 8 p.m. Saturday, March 8th. Showtime is 9 p.m. The $15 cover includes an open bar.
— Chris Herrington
"Sometimes, if a house is on fire, in order to save somebody, you've got to shake them and shout, 'THE HOUSE IS ON FIRE!'" says Ayele Akibulam of the rap duo Brotha's Keepa. And that's exactly what he and his partner Jmalo Torriel do on their latest CD, The Re-Education of the Negro, a collection of overtly political tracks referencing everything from the Jenna 6 and the disintegration of urban families to war profiteering by government-connected megacorporations.
"We like to put a little medicine in our applesauce," says Torriel, who insists that music can bring about positive change in the world.
For seven years, Brotha's Keepa has been matching torrents of words to grassroots action by feeding the homeless, raising awareness about what they call the "prison-industrial complex," and organizing cultural programs for young people.
Originally inspired not only by contemporary hip-hop but also by the jarring, incendiary verse of civil-rights-era proto-rappers the Last Poets, Brotha's Keepa doesn't simply aim to describe the less savory aspects of the contemporary African-American experience. The group tries to inspire and to motivate their listeners into action.
"It's always about bringing a message to the people," says Torriel, who hopes music will inspire his detractors to research his words and try to prove them wrong.
"For me, a lot about the new CD was inspired by being a father," Akibulam says. "So many problems in our community today are the result of fathers not being fathers. Our young men are being locked up at an astonishing rate, and the murder rate keeps going up. I strongly believe that this is related to a lack of fathers in the home, to men who've forgotten what it means to be men."
The CD-release show for Re-Education of the Negro takes place Saturday, March 8th, in the theater at Southwest Tennessee Community College. Showtime is 8 p.m. The $15 admission charge includes a copy of the CD. Proceeds from the event will help fund the various projects undertaken by Brotha's Keepa. — Chris Davis