Ed. note – Regal Radio’s David Evans volunteered at this year’s Takin’ It to the Streets Festival.
By David Evans, Regal Radio
What began as a small crowd surrounding the Streets Stage during a rainy Saturday morning last weekend — the raindrops outnumbering the people at the time — during the the day’s Peace Rally, blossomed into a swelling crowd stretching over a block out from the stage when Talib Kweli’s performance ended 2013 Takin’ It to the Streets Festival in Marquette Park on the south side of Chicago.
My day at the festival began at 6:30 that morning when I arrived at the park and made my way to the volunteer tent. The setup of stages, tents and chairs moved slowly, but by 11 am the festival was up and running. Over the course of the day I worked in several positions, from helping other volunteers set up musical equipment to traveling with four other volunteers to pickup festival booklets from a printer in suburban Bridgeview to supervising a inflatable double slide full of children in the hot sun. On top of that I had my primary responsibility of being a hospitality liaison to rapper Brother Ali. Despite staying busy for much of the festival, I got the opportunity to interact with family, connect with friends, reconnect with old friends and meet some of the artists who performed at the show.
The Summer Peace Festival started at approximately 11 am, comprised of several speakers representing the religious and social activism community. The most notable speakers were King Tone, onetime leader of the New York Latin Kings. King Tone is known for being the subject of the HBO-released documentary Latin Kings: A Street Gang Story.
Tone told his story of learning about the Chicago Latin Kings faction in the 1980s and becoming a member of the New York faction. By 1995 Tone was elected the Supreme Inca (boss) of the Latin Kings. He spoke of the prices he had to pay as a result of being a member of a gang, but also of the benefits of brotherhood he found in the gang. Tone lauded Ceasefire, a violence interrupter group, for their work in Chicago (though the organization’s former leader, Tio Hardiman, has suffered due to recent controversy) and urged Chicagoans to stop the violence in Chicago, stating that “New York will see what you’re doing and make a change, too.”
Father Michael Pfleger of St. Sabina Catholic church in the Auburn-Gresham neighborhood gave a fiery speech on the issue of violence in Chicago, stating that despite the media and law enforcement’s claim that violence in the city is decreasing, it doesn’t appear so, that since that Friday, twenty six people had been shot throughout the city (Pfleger’s words rang especially true for that weekend — by its end, forty six people were shot, including several fatalities). Pfleger also spoke of the need for unity amongst the people of Chicago to bring an end to the problem.
Imam Talib Abdur-Rashid of Harlem, New York’s Mosque of Islamic Brotherhood spoke for the need for unity in the black community to end urban violence.
“I don’t believe that genocide of (black men) will be the problem, but fratricide, the killing of black men by their brothers, will be the ultimate outcome,” Imam Abdur-Rashid said.
“The devil says ‘life is cheap, and so are you.’ The devil is a liar.”
Imam Zaid Shakir, of Zaytuna Islamic College in Berkeley, California also gave an impassioned speech on the need for self reliance in communities of color.
“If you don’t have grocery stores nearby, you can grow your own fruits and vegetables,” Zaid Shakir said. “If the police won’t come to where you live, you have able bodied men who can protect your neighborhoods.”
Rami Nashibi, executive director of Festival Organizer the Inner-City Muslim Action Network, later came to the stage and spoke on the historical significance of Takin it to the Streets being held in Marquette Park, in 1966, Dr. Martin Luther King was stoned by neighborhood residents during a rally there. As recently as the 1970s, Marquette Park was much associated with members of the American Nazi party who used the park to stage rallies.
Nashibii also spoke about the diversity of the social and religious groups who had unified to be apart of Takin it to the Streets and urged the attends to be a force of social change in their communities.
Rapper Rhymefest, well known for co-producing Kanye West’s “Jesus Walks” (and more recently, West’s album, “Yeezus”) set the tone for the day’s performers, running through songs several of his more politically and socially-conscious tracks. Poet Kevin Coval, of “Louder Than A Bomb” fame, performed a spoken word piece as well.
British duo Native Sun, comprised of rapper Mohammed Yahya and singer Sarina Leah, were also a standout. Yahya dressed in a white oxford, bowtie, jeans and Chuck Taylors was a stark contrast to his partner, who was dressed in a black t-shirt and African dress. The duo performed “Mother and Son,” a moving song about such a duo, they also performed an ode to Fela Kuti, a remake of Fela’s “Suffering and Smiling,” which engaged the crowd.
Native Sun was followed by New York-based rapper Quadir Lateef, a tall, dark and seemingly imposing brother who could easily double as a NFL linebacker. Lateef wore a large chain with two sword emblem and performed “Poison,” a remake of Nas’ “What Goes Around,” in a style that can only be compared to Notorious B.I.G. Lateef’s “Break the Cycle” implored black men to break the cycle of abandoning their families for the lure of the streets and his final song, which used the a sample from “Holy Are You” by Rakim, also made use of the Shahada, the oath that people take when becoming Muslim.
World renowned Malian rock musician Vieux Farka Toure took to the stage as the afternoon progressed and the skies cleared up. Dressed in traditional Malian garb, the Toure and his group performed songs “Aigna” and “Tabara” to a receptive crowd.
Austin, TX based spoken word poet Imaad Khan continued the afternoon’s performances, which also included acts Khaled M, Liza Garza, The Reminders, Zamin, the Narcycist Hypnotic Brass Ensemble and Yuna. During this time, I moved around where needed as a volunteer and watched a very dope b-boy show at the Festival’s Hip-Hop Elements stage.
As night started to approach, Brother Ali, a highlight from past Streets festivals, performed songs off of his Mourning in America and Dreaming in Color album from 2012. Ali’s impassioned performances of “Mourning in America” and “Only Life I Know” were particular standouts.
The festival’s headliners, Talib Kweli and DJ Ali Shaheed Muhammad of a Tribe Called Quest, came on at around 8 pm. Kweli gave, in my opinion, one of the best performances out of nearly a dozen I have seen of him. Rocking songs off his new album Prisoner of Conscious, as well as songs from his catalog and that of A Tribe Called Quest’s, most notable was his emphatic performance of “Distractions,” a rapid-fire song taking the state of contemporary hip hop and life in general due the distractions of the media.
Kweli ended the show with the crowd favorite “Get By,” which the crowd sang along to with a passion that belied the fact that many of them had been there all day, it was more like an appropriate climactic call for strength and unity during a day that was created for just that.
Follow David on Twitter @davidevans9 and Regal Radio @regalradio1