After hosting a successful Kickstarter campaign, Soul Science Lab, 651 ARTS of Brooklyn and Elektrik Breakfast, remounted ‘Soundtrack ‘63’, an exploration of the Civil Rights Movement of the ’60s in a new multimedia format that utilizes an 18-piece orchestra led by Asante’ Amin. The millennial retrospective featured poets, talented lyricists and other influential voices juxtaposed behind a comprehensive visual experience.
‘Soundtrack ‘63’ had an initial showing in February 2013, selling out two back-to-back shows on the snowiest days of the winter. The remount is particularly timely considering recent developments involving citizen-police conflict and unjustified violence across the nation. It’s clear that civil rights are still a very big issue in the United States and ‘Soundtrack ‘63’ is necessary; it acts as a reminder and educational opportunity to communicate the reality of injustice that people still feel in 2014.
According to the playbill, the show features spirituals, protest songs, and popular music throughout the 20th century performed by an orchestra directed by Soul Science Co-managing Partner Asante’ Amin. The show included commentary by Dr. Cornel West and Sonia Sanchez alongside performances by The Last Poets founding member Abiodun Oyewole, Soul Science co-managing partner and creative Chen Lo and international Hip-Hop artist Blitz the Ambassador. Additionally, musical duo Raii and Whitney Keaton, known together as RAIIWK, performed in a vocal ensemble with Shannon Grier and Rasul A Salaam. All this was backed by a three screen photo and video display, using hundreds of archived clips of historical events, newspaper headlines and photos to create a multidimensional and visually effective show, produced by Elektric Breakfast. Mixing video content with live performance seems like a conflict of interest, but the two mediums flowed, allowing the audience to focus on either storyteller as they wish. Flashes of light and other effects gently move the audience’s attention to the screen when something is particularly important. The show was held at The New School’s Tishman Auditorium.
We spoke with Soundtrack ‘63’s Creative Director Chen Lo, Musical Director Asante’ Amin, and singers Raii & Whitney Keaton.
Chen Lo on the beginnings this project:
We [Soul Science Lab and 651 ARTS] had a conversation about what millennials think about our history and what it has to do with today and all the madness we see happening. 651 ARTS asked me if I was interested in creating something. Initially it was suppose to be a presentation of protest songs from [the ‘60’s], but I kind of flipped it. I’m a Hip-Hop artist and I have so many different roots that show in the different art forms you saw on stage tonight. I also deal a lot with multimedia; we made this thing for young people. A lot of millennials don’t know this history and we needed to make something they’d be engaged in, something they’d enjoy, and something they’d talk about, and so this was born– I called the right people, and we made it happen.
Asante’ Amin on the future of ‘Soundtrack ‘63’:
Soundtrack ’63 will be shown in Pittsburgh in January 2015 and New Orleans in 2016. This night was about getting people talking about it and people thinking about remounting Soundtrack 63 in other cities. There’s a three-prong effect: one being the actual production, two being the educational component, because [Chen Lo] and I are educators, so we have designed a curriculum around the subject matter, to use this as a visual teaching strategy in a classroom, where ever we present this, we want to have workshops and then three, we’re performers, we want to do this and still rock out on tour!
Speaking with Raii and Whitney Keaton:
Q: Why’d you get involved?
A (Raii): We are close friends with the creative director and musical director, and they reached out to us to be a part of this, but we couldn’t do the first installment [in 2013] because we were on the road with Alicia Keys, but this time we were available to be part of it.
Q: What drew you to this project? What made you think, ‘We need to be a part of this?”
A (Whitney Keaton): First of all, supporting our friends – supporting Chen and Asante’, and then realizing, today, what’s going on today- the different types of wars- it [Soundtrack ‘63] speaks just as loud as it did in 1963, I feel bringing that together, like one of the rappers said, ‘if we don’t know our history, we don’t have the knowledge, then we’re bound to repeat it’, and we don’t want it to get to rioting everywhere, though it’s already a problem. This is our generation and we are part of this generation; we are part of this world. We are all affected by events in Ferguson, we are all effected by events in Israel, and so even if it’s not in my neighborhood, I still feel it.
Q: What’s next for you guys? Do you see a vision for this?
A (Raii): This definitely has the potential to be a very impactful presentation around the world. It’s a story and a retrospective that needs to be heard. I think young people need to hear it, I think older people need to hear it. It can go as long as the people want to come and support it. The thing is, this is part of our artistry, whether we do it with this production or with other shows, our mission is to educate and entertain at the same time. We’d love to continue for a third installment.