Source: The Jazz Video Guy https://www.patreon.com/bretprimack
Roland Rashaan Kirk was such a gem in black music! He is regarded by music heads as a pioneer in jazz and music, in general, with his influence stretching across genres and infecting artists such as Jimi Hendrix and Frank Zappa. Some see his music and message as playful and comic, and others may pour pity onto him but may not fully understand what his mission was. Roland saw his message was to awaken the black folk to the realities of “Plantation Earth.” Born Ronald Theodore Kirk, he lost his sight at the age of two, but despite this, ailment began mastering music and instruments by age 15. Known for his ability to play several instruments, at the same time, he rose to jazz legacy after playing with John Coltrane and a boatload of other jazz greats (Charles Mingus and Quincy Jones, to name just a few) then becoming a leader of his own groups. My favorite piece from Roland Rashaan has to be his 1969 classic, “Volunteered Slavery” on Atlantic records. This masterpiece possesses lighthearted and beautiful sounds that work to improve the mood of any room you play the record if just on in the background. Weirdly enough, my favorite track is not the title track, which the album starts with, but the last one on side one, “I Say a Little Prayer.”
This record caught my eye with that title, “Volunteered Slavery,” and I jumped to a conclusion with my understanding of its message. I understood this title to mean the contradiction of the Black (Afro-American) folks’ plight in a country that has only given them superficial freedom. A struggle to stop following the dangling carrot to the trap door and rise to permanently remove the shackles of white supremacy. I think Kirk was more profound than that, though. As the interview shows, I think Kirk saw the whole setup of the planet as one that was maybe naturally flawed, naturally out of whack, due to something we may never find the reason to. I don’t think this is a defeatist point of view, either. I think it is, like many things, a half-truth.
I believe that Kirk’s mission was to unify black music. This is something that he was deeply passionate about doing because, as he once wrote, “God loves Black sound.” He thought that the controllers of black music (you know who they are) were the problem. If musicians sought to retain their power in creating that, they could actually change things for the better in the world of “Blacknuss.” I think that this can be applied to the broader black community, as well. We are so divided and scattered that it is easy to enslave us and confuse us as a collective. I know black people are not a monolith; we don’t all see every issue the same way, but what about unifying with those who have thoughts that are close enough? Right now, things are downright crazy, and the information is everywhere. The Covid-19, the vaccine, the presidential election, and these things are not going to go away. The people seeking to return to normal may be heartbroken to understand that there is no going back. Some people understand we should NOT want to go back. Going back means returning to ignoring black voices, faces, and ideas (say what you want about the current state of the liberal candidates and their party). Going back means simple protest to appeal to our “masters” for a few more crumbs. If you want that, then cool, fine, but admit that it's not freedom you seek but comfortable "Volunteered Slavery" instead.
At this moment, we could be drafting a new, better constitution for black people and human rights across the nation. We could be destroying all the stale symbols that we proudly hold up to show that we have taken steps in the right direction to nowhere. We are in a moment where we could desperately use brothers like Rashaan. I fear when the dust settles this time, we will see that, but in that 20/20 hindsight that we talk about so often. It will be too late!
In closing, I want to add one more thing about Rashaan and his genius. Rashaan, like other black thinkers, creators, and intellects, knew that to bring harmony to the world, the black folk must have harmony within themselves, individually and collectively. It is the ultimate goal of creating real peace throughout the world, but we try and skip steps. We say to everyone, "drop your identity and come center." This is incorrect. Rashaan, Coltrane, Ra, and even black leaders such as Malcolm knew that to come center and unite the world (or a nation), the black man must unite with himself. Anytime we attempt this, it is infiltrated, destroyed, and slandered by governments, in essence, continuing the discourse of confusion and lack of understanding of the power of blackness. We must put aside these black “boxes,” as Rashaan says in this interview. Cast these labels into the abyss and come together. Then we can start the true healing and begin searching for “the reasons why.” Thank you to the ancestor, Rashaan.