Getting to the root of what— and who—is relevant in our world today
Between the Lines
The only thing that we all know for sure, is that relevant is real. We talk about “keepin’ it real” but “real” is only important, if it is relevant to what we’re talking about or what we’re trying to resolve.
The Republican and Tea Party candidates for president took the stage this week and proceeded to hammer away at what was wrong with the Obama administration. Interesting enough, no matter what they said was wrong with the past three years, each of them said change is part of their platform, too.
It was like “My change is better than your change, even if your change has worked.”
Part of what they were talking about was relevant, but most of it wasn’t. They never got to the root of the matter, the false wars and the weak economy started by their own party (or residuals of it).
These debates are designed to confuse the public. I didn’t see a relevant player on the stage. No one who, if I was walking in front of the flat screen, I’d stop to pay attention to by saying, “That’s different.” I didn’t see that kind of change on the stage.
However, over the weekend, I had an epiphany while at the Playboy Jazz Festival that I think makes my point. The last four years, we’ve heard a lot of talk about change.
Change is not something that occurs very easily, nor does in happen very often. But when change happens, people notice.
People notice, when they see something they hadn’t seen before, or hear something they hadn’t quite heard before. When they see or hear it, they immediately embrace it and are willing to try it as something to take to heart. The truth about many of the problems in our society is the ability to get to the heart of a matter in a way people can embrace.
Whether it’s jobs, homes, schools or whatever, we hear a lot of noise about what people could do, what people should do, what government could or should do, but at the end of the day, the conversation becomes so convoluted that the change gets lost in irrelevance.
What made Obama such a political phenomenon was that he was markedly different; not just a Black guy. White folk had seen one of them before, if not a few of them. It just wasn’t the change message. We’d heard that before. It was that he packaged himself differently, and at the end of the day, his appeal was a combination of his look, his sound, and his message.
For instance, the 33rd Playboy Jazz Festival is one of the quintessential jazz festivals where what is going on in the audience is as much a part of the festival as what is going on up on stage. Hosted by Bill Cosby since 1979, the festival is a two-day, two nine-hour sets of entertainment that has a cult-like following of Jazz purists who are always looking for the next big sound. Whether it’s Jazz fused with Blues, Salsa, Pop or R&B, the Playboy Jazz Festival is to Jazz what the Apollo is to R&B.
Everybody wants to get on the Playboy Jazz ticket, but very few headliners want to close Playboy. It’s a difficult assignment.
Miles Davis would never close Playboy because of fear people wouldn’t understand one of the many genres of music he created and walk out. So, generally the headliner is the next to the last act, considered the primetime slot, and people start heading for their cars on the closing act. The closer usually plays to a half-full house.
But the early exit wasn’t the case this past Saturday, when the Rap/Funk/R&B fusion group, The Roots, closed.
From Questlove’s first beat, The Roots had the Hollywood Bowl on its feet … and not to head for the exits. They brought a look, sound and message that these Jazz-goers hadn’t seen before. And when I say errbody held their spot, I mean everybody. I saw very few people leaving, which I hadn’t seen in the 25 years I’ve been attending Playboy Jazz Festival. It was an evolution of the cutting-edge Jazz tradition Playboy had come to be known for. It was a look they hadn’t seen before. It was a sound they hadn’t heard before. And the message in the music just grabbed the audience.
It was very relevant at the right time. It was what we call “a moment” to watch these young brothas turn out L.A. Not everybody knew what they had just seen, but they knew it was righteous, raw and relevant to the music scene. They were relevant to what the people wanted to hear. When it’s relevant, it’s right. Many people have a problem getting ahead of the curve, understanding what and who is relevant at a given time.
Case in point, Newt Gingrich. The mass defection of his campaign staff last week is due to his being relic of the past. He was relevant in 1994, but not in 2012.
The American Negro tends to get bogged down by irrelevant views and irrelevant people.
Understanding a new sound, a new message has been a troublesome endeavor. Then came Obama and many didn’t see that one. But they see it now. He was as different in his time as King or Malcolm were in their time.
The Roots are relevant examples of what a unique sound and presentation can do. The people always know something markedly different when they see it. They know change when they hear it.
Anything that comes after the Roots with a similar theme will not get the same attention. That’s what the Republicans and the Tea Partiers are dealing with.
Their change message ain’t exactly resonating with the public. Despite their efforts, the people ain’t exactly feelin’ them right now. They’re irrelevant. They haven’t distanced themselves far enough to become relevant again. President Obama will have a more difficult time being relevant, coming behind himself. He did the impossible in 2008, made a cynical public stop, hold its spot, listen and act. Same thing The Roots did Saturday night. The advantage he has is that once you’ve done the impossible, difficult is easy. The Roots showed how easy, when you have the right sound, at the right time.
What is relevant and who is relevant is really what the world is about today. Irrelevancy doesn’t matter.
Anthony Asadullah Samad, Ph.D., is a national columnist, managing director of the Urban Issues Forum and author of the upcoming book, “Real Eyez: Race, Reality and Politics in 21st Century Popular Culture.” He can be reached at www.AnthonySamad.com or on Twitter at @dranthonysamad.
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