SXSW 2009 Shocker: Fela Documentary on Geffen!

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BLK JKS at NPR Music's SXSW 2009 Showcase

A growing number of world music, hip hop and metal acts performing at this year’s SXSW gave me a good indication that the bias towards roots rock at previous conventions is eroding. One of the best bands I saw was BLK JKS , at the NPR Music showcase (which was very well-attended). Even so, perhaps the most astounding musical moment of this year’s SXSW was when I saw the DVD below on my friend Jody Denberg’s shelf.

Music is the Weapon on Geffen DVD

Fela and the Geffen "ball" logo together on Jody's shelf!

It’s shocking to see because Geffen Records was a segregated, white-only label when I worked there 1990-93.  In addition to there being NO black artists on the label, there were about five black employees out of 150 people working there.  They had tried a few times in previous years, with hip hop artist The 7A3, r&b crooner Christopher Williamson and gospel artist David Peaston to no avail and by the time I got there were determined to get out of that business.

Personally, I put my black liberation feelings aside and got to work hard on the indie rock graduates that the bungalow boutique label DGC had signed with the bounty from Cher, Whitesnake, Aerosmith, Edie Brickell, Enya, Don Henley and others from the big building.  While rap was gaining in momentum commercially and artistically, it still had many naysayers.

Yet in the DGC bungalow, we were fans and tuned in to the cultural shift that was underway: we had a running argument about Don Cornelius and Soul Train being anti-hip hop; we wore black baseball hats with the tags left on.  Top Forty man Steve Leavitt was particularly disappointed when the Geto Boys departed Geffen, as he was struggling against its growing influence with Nelson as his best artist and no hip hop in sight.  “Bust a Move” and other songs had started to break through, and of course, the following year, those same Geto Boys would give the hit by Nirvana a run for its money with their song “Mind’s Playing Tricks on Me.”

With love and respect for Fela Anikulapo Kuti, here is a clip from the dvd of Music is the Weapon that is now reissued on Geffen in the USA.  What’s next, Red X?

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