Black Rock Rolls On

Never mind the endless debate about whether hip-hop is dead. Black rock lives, and is gaining momentum as a cultural force.

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However, amid the bubbling up of new black rockers, some see a potential danger of substance giving way to style. ''I see many young artists wanting to expand the boundaries of the music and that's a beautiful thing,'' says Jimi Hazel of  24-7 Spyz. ''What I don't see is a desire to put the work in to learn and understand the craft of songwriting or the art of musicianship.''

Part of the problem is technology, notes Boston Fielder, founder of the URB Alt Festival and bandleader of the MuthaWit Orchestra.

Now that production tools like Autotune can fit onto a laptop, virtually everyone thinks they can be a rock star.  And that, Fielder says, is not such a good thing. ''Technology has put so much limited knowledge into the hands of the average person that we've forgotten that the label of genius has to be earned ... through the grace of the universe, hard work and consistency,'' he says.

The $64,000 question: What's it going to take for this new wave of black rockers to have staying power? First, learn the business, says Moon, a singer-songwriter who's on this year's URB Alt lineup with her D.C.-based band, Uninterrupted. ''When it comes down to it, the issue isn't white or black, but green. If you know how to make the business work for you, then no one can stop you,'' she says. And Tamar-Kali echoes others when she says that artists can't just adopt the style and poses of a scene. ''Just do your art,'' she says. ''Without fail, you will wake up black every morning. In the context of music, you are a musician first.''

Back at the Black Rock Coalition show at Central Park, Living Colour, an inspiring example of staying power, has taken the stage. The packed audience is rocking out, hands in the air and grooving and dancing to the band's catalog, from their big hit ''Cult of Personality'' to newer rock grinders like ''DecaDance.''

Earl Douglas, the Black Rock Coalition's executive director, surveys the crowd, smiles and notes that scenes like this are being replicated around the world. ''Twenty five years and this thing of ours has gone global,'' he says. ''There are extraordinary things [in terms of bands and audiences for black rock/Afro-punk] happening in England, France, Germany and South America. If all of these scenes can come together and more importantly, work together, the sky's the limit,'' he says. ''That's what I envision the BRC doing in the next 25 years--connecting all of the dots.''

Rob Fields blogs about black alternative music and culture at Boldaslove.us.

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