Hypocrisy of Justice: Sounds From the Black Metropolis

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Funded on December 19, 2017
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With this campaign, I am excited to record my first large-scale extended musical work, entitled The Hypocrisy of Justice: Sounds from the Black Metropolis. In many respects, this project is the most realized synthesis of my varied creative identities as a drummer, composer, and ethnomusicologist. Written to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Richard Wright novel Native Son, The Hypocrisy of Justice is a suite of compositions, improvisations, musical vignettes, and spontaneous musical structures dedicated to exploring issues of social, political, and economic injustice; matters of race and culture; religious and political ideologies; and a variety of other tropes, cultural critiques, and philosophical/cultural flashpoints found not only in Native Son’s 1930s setting on Chicago’s South Side, but also in present-day Chicago and other (sub)urban and rural environments, both domestically and internationally. Several of the movements in the suite are set to original text written by director, actress, and playwright Cheryl Lynn Bruce. This recording will feature those narrative elements and the incredibly talented group of artists for whom the suite was written, including acclaimed actor and social activist Wendell Pierce.

As a people, we stand at a moment when voices should be directed toward these important issues. We stand at a moment when liberty is threatened and voices are silenced. We stand at a moment when fear rules and directs the lives and decisions of many and where many see no future and have no hope. We stand at a moment when not all lives matter to all. We stand at a moment, as we have stood before, when art can illuminate the darkness and begin and add to conversations that challenge who we are, where we are, and what we stand for…as a people. For me, this project is my stand. I would be honored if you stood with me. 

About This Project

In the spring of 2014, I was commissioned by Symphony Center Presents at Chicago’s Orchestra Hall to compose an evening of original music to commemorate the 75th anniversary of Richard Wright’s novel Native Son. The concert premiering the work was presented on June 19, 2015 (Juneteenth), two days after the terrorist attack at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. The evening featured my original compositions and arrangements, an original text read by acclaimed actor and social activist Wendell Pierce and written by 2010 3Arts Award recipient Cheryl Lynn Bruce, and a set designed by 1997 MacArthur Foundation Fellow Kerry James Marshall. The aural, visual, and narrative elements of the project explore the themes and issues presented in the novel through a contemporary lens as these themes and social issues continue to be significantly, and sadly, topical in our modern-day society.

Perhaps some further explanation of the project title will provide insight into the ways I have imagined this work overall, including its origins and the place I wish it to have in the national conversation regarding social injustice. These conceptual foundations, I believe, have provided paths not only for the ways I am in conversation with Wright’s novel, but also can present paths for you into the music and text associated with this project.

The complete title of the work, The Hypocrisy of Justice: Sights and Sounds from the Black Metropolis (Riffin' and Signifyin(g) on Richard Wright's 'Native Son'), weaves together a number of ideas. The first, the hypocrisy of justice, is a central idea in the novel. The serious inequality of our American judiciary remains, as it was in the novel’s 1930s setting, a sad and ongoing reality. Whether one looks at the perpetuation of slavery through the systematic mass incarceration of Black and Brown people; the repeated incidents of police brutality and; and their related non-guilty verdicts and non-indictments; the continued lack of due process for many Black and Brown people; and the lack of penalty against banks and other so-called white collar criminals with any equivalence to the penalties received by Black and Brown folks for crimes of similar or less societal impact. The music that I’ve composed for this work sonically addresses these very serious problems that continue to exist and be perpetuated today, much as they were in Wright’s novel.

Riffin’ and Signifyin(g) are both musical and literary ideas. In my composition, I ultimately decided not to present the actual text from Wright’s Native Son, nor did I allude to it in any direct manner. Instead, I “riffed’" or “played upon” the novel, its settings, and the metaphorical elements that are so central to the characters, story, and richness of the novel. The over two hours of composed and improvised material I wrote yielded a work in conversation with Wright's novel and the ideas he presents in Native Son. Signifyin(g) is a literary theory by noted scholar and author Henry Louis Gates. Essentially, it presents the concept of a perpetual Black aesthetic and the ways in which, rooted in folkloric traditions and customs and cultivated through African American cultural practices, Black folk “signify” upon the work of other Black folk, reshaping and reimagining those previous efforts, finding their own meanings and story. As such, I’m most certainly doing a fair amount of riffin’, signifyin(g), and appropriating musically within my work, drawing from both the Blues and other Black vernacular/secular musics and well as musical elements and ideas associated with the Black church.

The Black Metropolis is a book published in 1945 by The University of Chicago Press that’s a sociological study of race and urban life on Chicago’s South Side. Wright, who wrote the introduction to that study, echoes many of the fears, struggles, and disconnects he presents in Native Son, while the book itself presents the so-called Black Metropolis in very direct and real terms. It does a good job illuminating certain tensions in Chicago, certain race, class, economic, political, social, cultural, and religious issues - much like Native Son does in its fictional account.

For this project, with your support, I will professionally record and track the music and text associated with this multi-disciplinary composition. There are many layers of engagement and life for this project that I wish to realize beyond staged performances, including a multi-camera video production to capture the beautiful and thought-provoking set designed by Kerry James Marshall and the development of curricula and programs for high school students to take a deeper dive into Wright’s novel. All of this said, staged performances remain central to my goals for this project and the first step in securing opportunities like those is to document the music and narrative elements in the studio. The other artists participating in the project, all of whom performed on the premier of the work in 2015, include:

Dana Hall, drums, cymbals, electronics, and compositions
Marquis Hill, trumpet and flugelhorn
Steve Wilson, alto and soprano saxophone and flute
Tim Warfield, Jr., tenor and soprano saxophone
Vincent Gardner, trombone
Jeff Parker, guitar and effects
Tomeka Reid, cello
Bruce Barth, acoustic piano and Fender Rhodes
Clark Sommers, acoustic bass
Wendell Pierce, narration
Cheryl Lynn Bruce, author

All of the music is written, the recording studios are selected, and the artists are committed to this project. Your support is the final piece that will help us realize this dream. This work has a place in a conversation we are, or should be, having as a nation regarding social injustice. Thank you for lending your voice and support to this project, for helping me to advance my work as a composer, and for assisting me with gaining visibility for this work specifically and my work as an artist more generally.

Thank yous

Contribute any amount or choose from the levels below.

  • $10
    A personal thank you on social media. ($10.00 is tax deductible.)
  • $25
    A personal thank you on social media and a digital download of the completed recording. ($13.00 is tax deductible.)
  • $75
    A signed copy of the CD and a personal thank you on social media. ($55.00 is tax deductible.)
  • $125
    A signed copy of the CD, a personal thank you on social media, and your name listed as a sponsor in the liner notes. ($105.00 is tax deductible.)
  • $300
    A signed copy of the CD, a personal thank you on social media, your name listed as a sponsor in the liner notes, and 2 complimentary VIP tickets to a future Dana Hall project performance of your choice (airfare not included). ($125.00 is tax deductible.)
  • $1000
    All of the above, plus video content from the recording sessions and a digital download of unreleased material recorded by the Dana Hall Quintet. ($800.00 is tax deductible.)
  • $2500
    All of the above, plus “Executive Producer” credit on the project. ($2300.00 is tax deductible.)

Dana Hall

Drummer, percussionist, composer, bandleader, ethnomusicologist, and educator Dana Hall has been an important musician on the international music scene since 1992, after leaving aerospace engineering for a life in music. Hall has professional performance and tour credits on six continents and extensive concert, …

View Dana Hall's profile
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 Additional support provided by: 

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