When her band, Strangefruit, broke up last year, L.A.-based singer and sax player Ngozi Inyama retreated from music altogether. She didn’t even listen to the radio. The frustration of almost landing a couple of label deals, then watching them fall through, and the strain of having amassed a cult following that didn‘t translate into sustainable career momentum, were compounded by the feeling that, as a black female musician making rock music, she’d toiled for years without “being given my rightful place at the table.”
With those wounds somewhat healed, Inyama decided to step back into the musical arena on a slightly cleaner platform than the one that‘s been laid as the ground floor for contemporary Afro-American sounds. She wanted to celebrate the diversity of black music on terms that had nothing to do with accepted notions of blackness. Thus, Black Friday was born.
Scheduled to take place September 10 and 11 at the Musicians Institute (1655 McCadden Pl., Hlywd.), Black Friday is a two-day festival featuring local black musicians who span the gamut of musical genres. “For some reason,” sighs Inyama, “everyone keeps bringing up Lilith Fair, and I take issue with that. Yes, women organized this event, but we were more inspired by the first two years of Lollapalooza than by Lilith; Lollapalooza is the vibe and the energy we’re going for.” The “we” Inyama refers to includes Black Friday co-directors Beverly Milner, from the West Coast branch of the Black Rock Coalition (BRC), and Kasey Lovelace, who runs Acoustic in Black, a local BMI-sponsored performance series.
The goal of the festival has shifted significantly since Inyama first conceived of it three years ago as a way to showcase her band and the bands of friends. “Back then,” she laughs, “I just wanted to call up a bunch of people and put on a show. Now I hope to develop more of a sense of community among the artists, to have people connect and form a support network. I also get the sense that a lot of people want this to become a bigger thing. I‘m not sure if I’m the person to pull that off, but this could be a jumping-off point.” In fact, she‘s already planning the next step for the festival.
“We’re looking at schools up and down the West Coast, trying to arrange it so that the whole package of L.A. artists could do a college tour,” she says. “We‘re in the process of talking to small businesses about sponsorship for that — in addition to the sponsors [Palomar Mountain Springs, BMI, Remo, SWR] we have for this initial festival. And the BRC back East is starting to make some noise that they’d like to bring us out there, but that‘s still early in the talking stages.”
Although musical performances are the backbone of the festival, there’ll also be panels on topics such as marketing and distribution, indie vs. major-label deals, and the rise of the Internet as a viable outlet for artists. Living Colour‘s Vernon Reid is scheduled to appear and take part in a jam session on Saturday; Speech (of Arrested Development), Kevin and Bryan O’Neal (original members of the Bus Boys), Kofy Brown, Black Sheep, Dakota Moon and local hip-hop stars Medusa & Feline Science are among the other acts scheduled to play.
Singer Shawn Amos will also perform. He‘s excited by the festival and its goal of stretching the boundaries of contemporary black music, but dislikes the “urbanalternativerockhardcore” hook being used to sell it.
“’Alternative‘ anything, I cringe at,” he says. “I’ve been calling my music ‘hillbilly soul,’ and nobody seems to trip on that. When the [white] alternative scene first started, I thought that was a bogus label as well; adding the word black to it makes it doubly offensive. Charlie Pride is a country artist. Jimi Hendrix was a blues-inspired rock & roll artist. There‘s been this industry thing set up where if you’re a black musician, that must mean you‘re either a rapper or you’re an R&B artist, and people like me who do other things fall through the cracks.”
Tickets for the festival (available at Aron‘s Records, www.ticketweb.com, and the Musicians Institute on the days of the event) are $20 for a two-day pass. “What people can expect,” says Inyama, “is just a huge breadth of other shit happening onstage. Even I was surprised at how wide the range of music is — from hillbilly funk to hardcore heavy metal. We’ve got a little pop, and a couple of acts who consider themselves hip-hop but not rap. And we have one brother, Steve Harris, who just calls his music ‘unity music.’ He‘s an awesome singer and definitely one of the most melting-pot artists, going from hard rock to hip-hop to straight-up soul singing.”
The doors open at 7 p.m. on Friday, and the performances start after the last panel (which ends at 3 p.m.) on Saturday. When asked how long the shows will run each night, Inyama just laughs. “Until we get all the bands off the fucking stage.”