Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Podcast Picks - 1/16/07

I know, I know. My goal has been to have this thing up over the weekend. Well, things happen and I was bogged down with many other issues over the past few days. In addition, I got pretty burned out on the whole political talk thing. It happens to all of us.

Therefore, I decided to broaden my horizons. To move away from the host-and-a-megaphone thing. I wanted something different. Something that departed from the 'loud voice and a microphone' thing. Something creative. Something with a little music, perhaps.

As the weekend of Martin Luther King Day arrived, by coincidence I discovered a rather intriguing podcast. Years ago, in describing his music, Chuck D of Public Enemy often referred to hip-hop music as "CNN for black people". And since the mid-80's, he's been brilliantly approaching his politically and socially-charged music as just that. Other hip-hop artists told their own stories, from the Afrocentric pride of X-Clan to the socially conscious KRS-One and Boogie Down Productions to Ice T's and N.W.A.'s tales of strife in the ghetto to the New York-centric tales of early rappers such as Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. Nowadays, hip-hop has taken a rather unfortunate turn, as it has become overshadowed by misogyny, violence, vulgarity and materialism. Now, I'm no prude when it comes to anything in music, but one wonders what it is we let our children listen to these days.

Fortunately, the great folks at Voxunion realize this, and have taken to heart the ideas of Chuck D. And they use a key staple of hip-hop's history, the mixtape, to tell their story. FreeMix Radio describe their effort as being a 21st century equivalent to David Walker's Appeal, Ida B. Wells' The Crusader and Robert Williams' Radio Free Dixie. They utilize the mixtape concept as a news and information source, where music and news are packaged for the hip-hop community in a way designed to grab their attention, as they mix stories, news and interviews about the black community in ways no other media outlet can. Stuff you don't hear about in the mainstream media get ample coverage here, such as the violent African conflict diamond trade, how money has corrupted many black politicians, the travesty of the (lack of) response to Hurrican Katrina, the exploitation of inner city youth by military recruiters and human rights abuses in our nation's penal system. And, of course, it's surrounded by music that helps tell the stories. You may not agree with all of it, but it will open your eyes. And the music is powerful, even if you gave up on hip-hop long ago (as I have). All in all, it is damn good, and is highly recommended. In addition to their eight shows that can be downloaded from their site, FreeMix Radio is also distributed freely in stores around Washington, DC and Baltimore. And yes, it does live up to Chuck D's idea of a "black CNN".

In last week's "Podcast Picks," you read about a show called "Best Of The Left," which is essentially a sonic collage that brings together many of the voices you hear on liberal radio and TV. Upstart Radio has something similar, called "Mindwalk." It too is a collage of music and sound (and sound bytes), similar to "Best Of The Left," and presented almost in a magazine format. At a half hour each episode, it also doesn't overstay its welcome. The show also airs on several stations, including Free Radio Santa Cruz, KRFP in Moscow, ID, and others. A recent episode about "Freedom of Speech" includes commentary from Keith Olbermann (blasting Newt Gingrich's ideas about limiting free expression) and graffiti artist Banksy, who's recent claims to fame include painting the West Bank Wall and defacing Paris Hilton CDs. A worthy listen.


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