Five years in the making, Free Radicals’ vision of the end of white supremacy is embodied in the wild cover art by John Kitses, featuring the power-of-the-people pulling the white-power fossil fuel plug out of the socket, and a Trump-tank riding to armageddon with battalions of MAGA hat guys and cocktail swishing executives. The over 50 musicians include 4-year-old kids from Peace Camp Houston chanting their hearts out, 92-year-old Harry Sheppard playing with the power of a lifetime of experience on the vibraphone, and every single generation in between. White Power Outage vocalists and musicians represent so many of the beautiful shades of Black, LatinX, white, Asian, mixed, and indigenous people that make up the culture of Houston, Texas. They came together to make revolutionary music, and to demand an end to white supremacy in the arts, culture, politics, the economy, and in their personal lives.
Free Radicals present White Power Outage Volume 1, now available here: http://www.freerads.com
Years ago, a friend, Karan Bali, came up with the title White Power Outage, and drummer/producer Nick Cooper reached out to rappers, poets, singers, and spoken word artists to see if they might be interested. The response was massive, and the plan to do one album has transformed into an ongoing series. Free Radicals is thrilled to take the project across national boundaries, with new raps coming in from Australia and the Gaza strip. Over five years of recording, the theme inspired dozens of different interpretations. Vol. 2 is being recorded as the band releases Vol. 1.
For the first track, Free Rads invited onboard Dr. Obidike Kamau, the host of Pacifica Radio’s Self Determination, poet, and activist for reparations. Born in Corsicana TX in 1953 in the segregated South, Kamau’s words root the album where it belongs, in a brutal history of the struggle against a racist system. Kamau’s voice, though, is soft and patient, and his poem sees white power being “replaced by a power that is equal and fair / that loves life and humanity everywhere / that respects women and children as the divine creatures they are / that vibrates with the poet’s line that everybody’s a star.” This reference to Texas-born Sly Stone, and the backing track itself, pay respect to the funk tradition, which has often been connected to Black liberation.
Throughout the album, the kids from Peace Camp Houston are chanting together things like “No Hate! No Fear! Immigrants are Welcome Here.” The kids were thrilled to have the opportunity to share anti-racist, pro-immigrant, and pro-liberation messages with the world.
D-Ology has been on Free Radicals’ albums since the ‘90s. His new track, Look at That, is a merciless dismantling of white supremacy with lyrics like, “pretending noble intentions / henchmen with rope for lynchin’” and “Barack was the pacifier for hire to stop the hemorrhage, the plot thickens.”
Rapper and poet EQuality (from the Houston rap group The Hue) has been featured on Free Radicals’ albums since 2004. On Dreaming of a White Power Outage, EQuality raps, “blood on the leaves and blood at the roots / the first human trafficking was importing Africans / we talking reparations? we can meet up at the Vatican.”
Kam Franklin (of the Houston band The Suffers) has been jumping on stage with Free Radicals for decades, and her new track, Daughter of Diana, looks at those victimized by perpetrators and then again by the system, with haunting words, “try not to wind up dead / oh that’s her on the news / heard that she got abused / was she telling the truth? / I don’t know, but what’s the use if they don’t act in time / rape kits behind / city budget declines / source of blame inclines…”
Nosaprise first invited Free Radicals to play at his annual fundraiser for school supplies, We Give a Jam, back in 2008, and they’ve performed together in New York and Houston since then. Their first recorded collaboration, Cash Out, examines police violence, wealth inequity, and reparations, “We see inequities, we know what that’s about / Let’s close that income gap and then we cashing out.”
Other artists like Michele Thibeaux, Arthur Yoria, Genesis Blu, Shrey Day, and Karina Nistal have shared the stage with Free Radicals over the years, but never did a recording session together. Michele Thibeaux’s Ring is a sound collage memorial to those killed by police violence. Arthur Yoria’s Café Sin Leche is a satire of a gringo in a coffee shop. Genesis Blu’s Chariot Rock is about self-liberation and declares, “I’m ready to get the f*** up out the plantation.” Shrey Day’s Now Ending White Supremacy is a battle call for nonviolent resistance. Karina Nistal’s Estamos En La Lucha indicts ICE, saying, “Quieren acabar con la juventúd / Enjaulados en la frontera / Como si fueran criminal / Pobres criaturas indefensas / Se merecen su lugar / Me de horror mirar / Como los separan / De sus papás.“ (They want to end youth / Caged at the border / As criminals / Poor defenseless creatures / They deserve their place / I am horrified to look / How they’re separated / From their parents.)
Free Radicals guitarist Chris Davis is from Perth, Western Australia, and when the band asked him to reach out to Aboriginal and indigenous voices back home, he introduced the band to Bryte, who immediately jumped on the project, giving voice to the centuries long struggles against white supremacy in Australia.
Nick’s ‘90s band Sprawl did a song Piece of the Rock, with the words, “god, gold, and glory, football and 40’s / it’s all a matter of predestination.” Nick thought it would be a perfect match for White Power Outage, and he kept bugging singer Matt Kelly to re-record it in a bluegrass version, until Matt finally agreed to jump onboard as the one white voice heard on Vol. 1.
More Power by Rashard (singer from the Houston funk band the C.I.T.Y.) provides a kind of balance. The voices of White Power Outage, Vol. 1 are full not only of rage, but also of love. “Why hate? What’s the reason? / You don’t even know me, what have I done to you? / Let’s try love! This is the season. / A wise man says no one wins when the family feuds.”
Swatara Olushola’s powerful voice is heard on several tracks, including her epic Already Guilty, which asks, “Who’s gonna come and save me when my life is on the line? / I can’t call the police, it can’t even run across my mind / We already guilty, they gonna sway the jury, every crime is on me / I can hear the people start to cry.”
Free Radicals was thrilled to get to collaborate with Can’t Tell Us Nothing, an award winning improv comedy group who do a sketch of three men trying to impress a woman in a bar, by telling her that they, “work in big oil, like BIG oil, like real big oil.”
Pete Sullivan on bari sax, Nick Cooper on drums, Jon Durbin on trumpet, Marzcos on saxes, Harry Sheppard on vibes, Eddie Hawkins on organ, and Lynn Bechtold on violin have all been recording with the band since the ‘90s. But among these old-timers, at age 92, Harry stands in a class all of his own. Watch him here http://www.freerads.com/HS.mp4 playing with the Free Rads at a breakdance competition, and it’s hard to tell who is faster — Harry on the vibes, or the breakdancer spinning on his head.
Pete and Nick play with the current stage and street line-ups, and are joined by Jason Jackson on alto sax, Jacob Breier on bass, Muhammad Jafari and Susie Hernandez on percussion, Nick Gonzalez on sousaphone, Al T. Alexander Jr. on trumpet, and Chris Davis on guitar. Jacob writes many of the songs, and created many of the videos. Pete often shows up at the street protests carrying his baritone sax
somehow on his bike. Jason, Pete, Jacob, Muhammad, and Al Bear on guitar are all involved with education, mentoring a new generation of artists and thinkers. Al T. Alexander Jr. is the youngest member of the stage and street band, and is wise beyond his years.
Also on vibes, Damon Choice is another spiritual force in the band, bringing the energy and wisdom from his years playing with the Sun Ra Arkestra. The rest of the crew are beloved sometimes-guests, former full time members, and band buddy Eggplant, who managed to get us the recording of his voice for the album minutes before it was sent off.
The Struggle Continues
While racial disparities vastly increase regarding wealth, access to health care, the criminal ‘justice’ system, and access to the arts, Free Radicals and the many collaborators would rather live in a world where powerful people quickly lose their power when they begin to oppress others. Until that time, artists will continue to be one of the few checks and balances on a system far out of balance, and teetering towards collapse.