And Now For Something Completely Different

I think the New York Times style section is reading my mind.

First they do a story on curly hair, now this week, a story about black rock music lovers. I’ve been mulling a post on black women in rock since last October, but never got around to writing it. Now here we are, months later and the Times has revealed a new term for these outsiders to the rock scene — “blipsters.”

The Modern Age had a fitting take on the new word, and I agree. Stop trying to make “blipsters” happen!

Either way, the article captures a growing phenomenon right now — black artists making inroads into what has become an almost monolithically white genre. Through the article, I learned about AfroPunk, a 2003 documentary made by James Spooner that has evolved into an internet movement.

Spooner’s upcoming film White Lies Black Sheep takes a fictionalized look at a black kid trying to fit into a scene that isn’t tailor-made to fit him.

The trailer for AfroPunk really makes me want to see the documentary, and learn more about that particular feeling of otherness. I mean, if people are out there saying Barack Obama “isn’t black enough,” what kind of response do these kids get from their own people?

I knew one black girl who was into a totally different scene at college — from the black lipstick, ornate outfits, and out-there jewelry she wore, I’d guess she was more goth than punk. And of course, people made fun of her for being different, and other black people said she was “trying to be white.” Who says she was trying to be anything but true to herself??

Growing up in Trinidad, I listened to everything from calypso and reggae, to rap and rock. I was big into grunge, and I still listen to Pearl Jam and Nirvana to this day. Hell, tomorrow night I’m going to a Red Hot Chili Peppers concert, and I’m super excited (Gnarls Barkley is opening)!

Although black people tend to identify with hip hop, the number of rappers today who sample classic rock beats, drop Kurt Cobain references into their songs, and get down in random rock videos proves that the rap/rock crossover didn’t stop in the days of Run-DMC.

And now, TV On the Radio, Bloc Party, and Gym Class Heroes have been getting increased airplay on MTV and rock radio, joining other famous contemporary black rock artists like Lenny Kravitz, Living Color, and Fishbone.

But I gotta ask — what about the ladies? Black chicks rock, too!

Black chicks have been rocking since the days of Johnny Cash’s favorite singer, Sister Rosetta Tharpe (don’t believe me? Just watch her lay down some bad-ass gospel guitar). Tina Turner has always had a rock edge, and more contemporary artists like Skin from Skunk Anansie blazed a trail in the Nineties.

Res (love Golden Boys) and Fefe Dobson have carried the torch and won MTV time in more recent years. Although, it must be noted that both of those artists seem to have been dropped by their labels. Which is a real shame. Despite the lack of mainstream attention, black women are out there leading bands, writing their own songs, and making inroads all over the genre.

Miami’s Erica Sommer belts out crunk-rock as the lead singer of Raging Geisha, then tones it down singer-songwriter style with her heartfelt solo project. Chicago’s Suffrajet plays Joan Jett influenced riff-rock, and Blakk Plastick sings southern Rock and soul fueled funk.

Tamar-Kali is the hardcore goddess of the New York scene, and Honeychild Coleman is producing Eighties-esque dub electronica. As Mercinarias deliver the Brazilian new wave, and Imani Coppola is doing some out-there, experimental, bass-heavy pop punk ish.

Even if rock music isn’t your thing, these fierce sistas deserve your attention and applause for deviating from the norm and carving their own niche. For more black rockers, check out the Black Rock Coalition and cool MySpace groups like Negroclash, and Black Rock Femmes.

And if you’re black and you love rock music, ignore the haters who try to say that you don’t fit in or aren’t black enough. Our diversity makes us beautiful. Stay strong, hold your head up high, and rock on!

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Comments

  1. so many rap artist have used rock samples, and yet many hip hop fans will say they dislike rock music. you and i must have had a mind meld, i love Imani, Living Colour, and Res. i currently have Stevie Ray Vaughn on current rotation. i really enjoy coming here Bella, because you bring up so many good topics from makeup to music to cultural issues. you are bringing in 2007 in big ways girl.

  2. interesting post bella. you know, most of modern music types (various genres) were pioneered by black artists. most of what is considered rock today has much of its origin in blues, soul, funk, etc. so, it really shouldn’t be remarkable to us that blacks take an interest in today’s rock music. afterall, rock is also our roots. just listen to some of the guitar vibes in bob marley’s “punky reggae party”. i think though we’re in a time where most of us have forgotten just how much we’ve pioneered–so we enstrange ourselves and one another– by accusing those who have interest in what is “seemingly” alternative– as “acting white.”

  3. Bella,

    You and I must be kindred spirits. I started heavy into the alternative scene when I was 11/12. I would watch Alternative Nation and 120 Minutes every chance I got. I absolutely love, love Nirvana. Would you believe that I was bawling my eyes out when Kurt Cobain died?? (I was only 13/14 at the time.) I own Nevermind, In Utero, MTV Unplugged, and Insectide to this day (in tape form). And Under the Bridge (RHCP) is one of my all time favorite songs! I always got asked why I listened to that “white people music”. In recent years, I have been more into R&B/Hip Hop (but mostly Neo-Soul) but I still love the old alternative songs I used to. The alternative music scene is not what it used to be though. I definitely like the early-mid 90′s stuff way better than the stuff they are playing now.

    But Fefe kicks ass! She was supposed to play at my sister’s high school a couple years ago, I was seriously thinking about going. But the show cancelled.

    Thank you for this article from another black girl who plays guitar, listens to everything (including white people music) and doesn’t care who knows it!

  4. great post! ya the older Res music is great, been listenin’ to her since high school, great to see her makin’ a comeback! u read my mind, i love imani coppola too, her voice is so different from everyone else, love the raindrops song!

  5. Black Rockers are definitely unusual to me. I see many in Detroit & Ann Arbor, MI. I do not consider them to be less Black but perhaps racially/socially in a state of discovery.

    I happen to like some rock music like old INXS, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Hole, Nirvana, Lenny Kravitz.

    I checked out those movie trailers & the movies look like they are pretty good & worth seeing to what life is like for Black Rock die hards.

    The Black guy in the “White Lies Black Sheep” movie needs a really god deep conditioning Stat!

    I listened to Skin’s music before & just could not feel it, but she is one beautiful Sista!

  6. Monica's back says:

    I love all kinds of music. I was listening to some Pink Floyd and Led Zepplin today. I hope rock does make a comeback but INCLUDES us this time. I miss geat rock ballads think Steve Perry. I miss great guitar rifts, bombastic drum rolls, and just crazy antics on stage. Those white men were hella sexy back then. I use to love Def Lepard, Twisted Sister, WhiteSnake, van halen, Joan Jett, Heart, etc… I Love, Love, LOVE the Eagles which is more country-rock. I also love anything Disco. Donna Summer is my hero!

  7. These are my favorite white artists as of now…KT Tunstall, Nickelback, Red Hot Chillis Peppers, Robin Thicke, and, Justin Timberlake. I really don’t have a favorite type of music, nor do I feel the need to listen to one type of music. I just listen to what sounds good to me.

  8. Once again another great post. :D I recently saw Gym Class Heroes on Conan O’Brien (that is my man). My hubby and I were grooving to their sound. Fefe is cool. I dig what she is trying to do. Will check out the others. In the 80s, INXS, Bon Jovi, Aerosmith, Cheap Trick, Terence Trent D’Arby were some of my favorites. I appreciate being amongst kindred spirit. I also enjoy Gospel, which is not always popular among my fellow West Indians, older R&B, Soca, Reggae, jazz, some hip-hop. ;D. Rock music is native to Blacks. It is unfortunate that the music has been co-opted by other groups.

  9. Don’t forget Jada Pinkett-Smith’s band “Wicked Wisdom”

  10. The diversity your site offers is one of the main reasons why I stalk this site so much. In the words ( or a paraphrase) of Little Richard we created it and they stole it, I have no qualms about listening to rock music and admitting that I like it. However, I am the bud of many jokes among my friends. One of my current Rock favorites is AFI, and of course I am also a fan of Nirvana. No matter who you are you cannot deny Curt Cobain’s genius. I also love me some Fleetwood Mac, and I know they’re not really rock but ABBA is the shiznit.

  11. I thought that Times article was pretty timely too.

    Check out this post by another blogging Nichelle. She’s a “blipster”, so she encounters a lot of ignorance when she attends various shows.

    http://nichellenewsletter.typepad.com/newsletter/2007/01/what_you_gonna_.html

  12. Thanks Bella for posting about Black Rock Music. I love rock music, and I’m glad I’ve found more support groups.

  13. Coffy, thanks so much for saying that! I was just thinking about what makes this site great (in my humble opinion), and it’s definitely the regulars. Your comments mean a lot to me. All of you guys, seriously. I come home from work exhausted and there’s an inbox of intelligent discourse waiting for me. It feels wonderful.

    Peajai, I was a 120 Minutes junkie when Matt Pinfield hosted it. I was such a stan, I hooked up my tape player to the TV and I still have audio tapes of songs from there to this day! I was such a music nerd, and still am. I went through a huge Beatles phase in high school, then Simon and Garfunkel, and of course grunge . I had a Soundgarden calendar. Man, I am outing myself as a total rock dork tonight! I don’t listen to much new stuff, but I am discovering some new and quirky talents out there amidst the power rockers.

    Dahls, thanks for your comment, sometimes I worry that this site has no balance. It’s evolving and I’m trying to stay true to the beauty thing, but I’m glad to know my random randomness is appreciated out there! I also dig Abba, and will get down to Dancing Queen any day of the week.

    Regarding the black rock chicks theme, boy do I have an awesome Afrobella of the Week coming up! I found a new singer who I absolutely love — Lauren, you know who it is. But I’ll write a loving post about her for Monday. Stay tuned!

  14. As a sister who’s all-time favorite band is Led Zeppelin, I thank you for this post! NY Times article? I didn’t know about. I live in NY. I feel like such a fool!

  15. other lauren says:

    OMG. You mentioned all the rocker chicks. Most convos of this nature ignore them and center on the dudes.

    love it

    i was so upset when they shelved fefe’s record and where is res?

  16. Other Lauren, I might be able to tell you tomorrow… I think I read that Res is singing back up for Gnarls Barkley. Which means she’s working with Cee-Lo, which I HOPE means he gets involved with her comeback. She’s too fierce and talented to disappear from the scene.

  17. Well said! I’m not necessarily that big on rock, but appreciate that your reminder that we are free to listen to the music we love regardless of genre. It kills me when folks accuse others of “trying to be white, selling out, etc., etc.”

    And can I say that I am so jealous of your upcoming concert? I Loooove me some Chili Peppers – I’m originally a Southern California girl – how could I not?!?

  18. Thanks for the post Bella! I love all kinds of music (except twangy, “my dog died and the bumper fell off my pickup”-style country. My parents played everything from Al Green to Barbra Streisand in the house, so I have an appreciation for a lot of different artists. I am still to this day a big Chili Peppers fan (Flea is up there with the best funky bass guitar players of all time and Anthony Kiedis is eternally hot)and Res is my damn girl. I wish that her album hadn’t been shelved–”How I Do” is still one of my favorites. I also own “Nevermind” and “In Utero” by Nirvana, right along side my Tupac, classic Isley brothers, and my Outkast CDs. I am really starting to feel Gym Class Heroes and TV on the Radio, and I am a fan of Panic At the Disco and Fall Out Boy, but I do like more of the early 90s alternative stuff like Alice In Chains and Stone Temple Pilots. Cool post!

  19. Don’t forget, Trinidad itself has a rock scene of its own and I suppose they could be pretty much called ‘black rock bands’. Bands such as Orange Sky, Skid”Nevely, Tripped and Falling, Incert Coin, Lanyap, jointpop and many other from years past have paved a way for a unique blend of calypso, reggae and rock. Check http://www.islandnoise.com or google the names of the bands of check them on myspace. There are some Orange Sky, Tripped and Falling and jointpop videos on youtube as well. In TT we’re pretty much all ‘black rock bands’.

  20. Good article! I appreciate it when you put things up like this. Because these are people and music that I normally wouldn’t know about to even give them a chance. It was good to see, Rosetta playin the guitar back then. I like Ami Winehouse now. There are different types of rock and a lot of it does not sound like music to me. It can be different, but is STILL has to sound good. I do like a few artist and their music. I like Chilli Peppers. Thanks for the informative article!

  21. Bella..Bella,,,Bella…everyday..I find something thought provoking here…in my band I sing reggae ae well as jazz and alternative..and a few rock songs…i love the ability to embrace all parts of who I am…born in Flint Michigan,,,lived in Oklahoma…North Hollywood..and Arizona…my taste are diverse…I appreciate you giving shouts out to the women of color…rock on with your bad selves….!

    Be Blessed

  22. Bella,

    Taping off the TV is pretty nerdy but I think I have you beat. I actually paid to have the videos delivered to my house! I subscribed to Rock Video Monthly for a time and every month would be so excited to see what videos would be delivered to my house. I think I still have those videos somewhere.

  23. Oh Bella THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU FOR THIS POST. You have no idea how much this means to me. I love RES’s albulm with all of my heart and I am still upset that it did not take off the way it should of. I love all types of music and I dislike how some African-Americans seek to pigon hole all of us when it comes to music and poltrics.

  24. Queen of all Mojo says:

    Thanx Bella for the topic. I love classic rock and the blues. It just speaks my soul. My favorite bands are Led Zeppelin and Cream. I saw Cream last year at MSG. It was a great show. I was the only black girl at the show. LOL! Anyway…Jimi Hendrix holds a special place in my heart. There is no one like him. I keep telling my friends Black rockers are going the change the face of modern music. Nobody believes me…….Trust me in 5 to 6 years. What we think of music now WILL be changed because of brilliant black artists! Yeah!!!

  25. What a pleasant surprise! Thanks so much for giving my band and solo project props… especially in the same article as mad respected artists Skunk Anasie, Res, Tina, Bloc Party, Imani, etc! The world is more that ready for this! Black women have been rocking out for longer than anyone has chosen to admit, but I can think of several responsible for setting the standard decades and decades before!

    Thanks so much for supporting “the movement”!

    Always w/ heart,
    Erica-Sommer

  26. Thank you for a great post AfroBella!!! I feels like in this country people have such a limited view of what black people are supposed to watch, or listen to. It seems that some times both blacks and white want black people to fit this narrow little category,( you must only listen to Hip Hop and Rap if you don’t you are trying to be White)Music Transcend color, race , clas that is what is so beautiful about it!! I love rock And I love discovering new acts everyday. Thank you for all the new faces I can’t wait to check them out. Black girls Rock!!!

  27. Hey Bella!

    Great post sis! I love ALL kinds of music, I never fell for being pigeonholed into what’s “Black”. I LOVE rock especially old school stuff like Cream, Hendrix, The Doors etc. I also love Imani Coppola..I thought I was the only who knew who she was haha! Res is my girl! I can’t wait to cop her new stuff. Some of the artists you mentioned I’ve never heard of, I will certainly check these sistas out.

  28. I love res, have you heard anything new on her lately? just wondering

  29. LBellatrix says:

    Once again, thank you for educating a sister… :)
    I’m not as into music in general as I used to be, but when I was, I listened to ERRY-THANG, no joke. In terms of rock, I was probably one of Living Colour’s biggest fans back when they first blew up. I’m glad you mentioned the Black Rock Coalition; I’m still working through this page of podcasts:
    http://wps1.org/include/shows/radio_brc.html
    I really need to start spending my money (once I start earning some again, lol) on “alternative” black artists, musicians, and writers. Measuring blackness limits our potential as HUMANS. (I can’t take credit for saying that…a wise young brother (who has his own folk/rock band) said that.)
    One more thing: “Afropunk” is AWESOME. Put it on your Netflix queue, quick! I wish the guy would do an update.

  30. It is interesting that we are using the term ‘Black rockers’ when black people are the pioneers of rock music. Chuck Berry invented Rock N’ Roll in 1955. It’s just sad that because we don’t know our history we are quick to lose it. There is no way Elvis Presley should be declared the King of Rock and Roll when all his moves and everything else came from the likes of Berry and Little Richard. These ‘black-rockers’ are only honoring their roots and their heritage. Maybe if more black people knew about the history of Rock and Roll they would not look at ‘black rockers’ as trying to be white, but rather just trying to be themselves and honoring those who came before them.

  31. You have no clue how much I enjoyed this article. I love rock music and it is so hard for my friends to understand why. I know they probably call me a “sell-out” or all those other ignorant names when they see me jamming to the chiilli peppers or damien rice. I wish more of my black friends would become a bit more open minded when it comes to music.

  32. Thank you for this post!

    I’ve always listened to a wide variety of music. I grew up in a household where musical diversity was the norm, so it’s not unusual to me AT ALL when black people listen to or perform rock music.

    And why shouldn’t we? We invented ROCK – along with BLUES, GOSPEL, JAZZ, DISCO, RAP, and HIP-HOP! Have people just forgotten that or has the music business succeeded (after much effort) in rewriting history?

    I don’t care if they took the “roll” out of the phrase or not. ROCK is ROCK & ROLL, and we created it, therefore we have THE RIGHT to listen to it and perform it WHENEVER WE CHOOSE.

    OBAMA For President in 2008!

  33. Im Mixed race,and in my mid 30s,and live in u.k,Like most Black/mixed race kids my age,i was into hip hop culture totally – graff b boying,etc….then one day i saw a jimi Hendrix documentary on tv,after that 45mins,my life was changed.Ive never seen or heard such heartfelt,and honest musical expression.Ever.This was a man who was playing his own revoulutionary style of blues. Blues at a time when soul was the “new” music,and blues was waning in black america This was a man who had the courage to be HIMSELF,even when he was being laughed at,and shunned in Harlem,Even when critics,both white and black were trying to put him in a box.The story of Jimi Hendrix is a lesson to every creative black musician from then to now,and to the future,and its a story every young black musician should read up on.Then maybe we would not have the cookie cutter garbage being peddled as black music on tv.The ignorance ive heard from some black people over the years about “real Black music” just annoys me.It also explains why older black music (i.e blues) is more popular and respected studied by white kids than black.This to me is what has KILLED hip hop stone dead.black kids ive seen dont want to know,unless its on mtv,wearing bling,and got a fat wad of cash.along with the microphone and the turntables,and the spraycan,black kids should be picking those guitars back up and applying the hip hop attitude(Afrika Bambaata/Dondi/Wild Style etc), cos if not,i guarantee 30 years from now youll have some kid in Harlem being laughed at for “acting white” and listening to that old hip hop shit….

  34. Sue Le Vent says:

    Thanks for the heads-up on all those artists! I’ll ne checkin them out.

    Can’t agree with you on Fefe though, I think she got dropped because her music is terrible.

  35. This is a great article! Thanx! Allow me to talk a little about myself relating to rock music. I’m a 21 yr. old Black/Cherokee-Blackfoot (Native American) College Student who listens to all kinds of music. My specialty is rock music from the 70s, 80s, and 90s. I’m from the Bronx. I am currently a student in SUNY Potsdam College in Potsdam, NY and I still get exposed to a lot rock music from the past and other great music genres. I thank God that my mom exposed me to tons of great musicians from the past and the present. Because of her, I ended up getting an eectric guitar with a small amp – a Brownville NY guitar at Sam Ash. It was on sale (LOL!). The only hip-hop I listen to are the ones from the 80s and 90s. I listen to some undergound hip-hop that are not getting the big exposure as it should. My mom, who’s been a math teacher since 1982 from NYC (1982 – 2005)to Yonkers (2005 – present), have received questions by her colleagues and her junior high school students such as “What kind of music your daughter is into?” Her answer: she’s eclectic. most likely, she listens to rock music. She gives an brief explaination about how black people a a hole should definitely have the right to be exposed to different kinds of music. I guess you can say that I grew up in a hosehold where music diversiy is pretty much the main key to success. About my Brownsville Guitar – I still have it in my dorm room and I play it in the evenings up till 10. I hope to be in a ban playing lead guitar someday. My influences are Lenny Kravitz, Nirvana, Guns N Roses (oldGNR), Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, Paul Simon (Simon & Garfunkel), the list goes on orever. Anyways, thanx for writting this great article and I hope we can team up playing kick ass 80s or 90s rock n roll covers together. That would rock, don’t ya think?

  36. just came across your blog on black women and rock. loved it….i’m a rocker myself….

    wanted to share this event with you too….

    Women in Rock: Cindy Blackman, Felicia Collins, Siedah Garrett, Nona Hendryx, Joyce Kennedy, and Meshell Ndegeocello
    Wednesday, October 8,2008 8:15 p.m.
    Berklee Performance Center
    136 Massachusetts Avenue
    Boston, MA 02115
    Women in Rock is the brainchild of Kudisan Kai, associate professor of voice, who will perform two of her songs. Said Kai, “I wanted to offer the college something that was straight from my heart and experience, share my knowledge in this genre, and discuss the musical, social, economic, and political influences that made these women choose such a path. Many people don’t even realize there is such a thing as a black female rocker. These women are very strong, multi-talented, and well-versed in several genres of music. I decided to showcase these women at Berklee, where they can garner respect as outstanding instrumentalists, singers, and Grammy Award-winning songwriters, and be role models for all female musicians.”

    Terri Lyne Carrington, a professor of percussion, is the musical director for the concert and will play drums for all of the artists. The star backing band includes powerhouse bassist Meshell Ndegeocello (who will not sing lead) and guitarist Felicia Collins of The Late Show with David Letterman. Rounding out the band are Berklee student Cedric Hanriot on keyboards and alumnus Aurelien Budynek on guitar.

    The concert is being filmed for a documentary by Sheila Hardy titled Nice and Rough, exposing the unknown history of black women in rock.

    Student Shea Rose and her band will open the concert

  37. ??????????? ????????? ????????????? ???????? ? ?????, ????????? ??? ?? ??????.

  38. Leah M Jeffers says:

    Hi Bella. I met you at the Womens Empowerment Essence Conference. It was such a pleasure meeting and chating with you. I had such a wonderful time at the conference. I am still feeling all of that positive energy and motivation from the conference. Looking forward to seeing you in December at your Holiday get together. Please dont forget to send me the date, time, and place of your event. Take care!

  39. Thanks for a marvelous posting! I definitely enjoyed reading it, you can be a great author.I will make certain to bookmark your blog and will often come back someday. I want to encourage continue your great writing, have a nice evening!

  40. I am frequently to blogging and i truly appreciate your articles. This article has really peaks my interest. Let me bookmark your site and keep checking for brand new info.

  41. Really, lovely posting. Exactly where is your Rss?

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