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Spreading the message: (clockwise from top left) Gaetano Vaccaro, Jory Leanza, Seantel Chamberlain, and Victorio Reyes of Broadcast Live.

The Revolution Will Not Be Trivialized

For Broadcast Live, music is a means of social protest

By Kirsten Ferguson

This weekend marks the start of Afro-Punk Weekend at Bam Rose Cinemas in Brooklyn, a five-day airing of films at the “crossroads of music and revolt,” says the The New Yorker, with documentaries about the Black Panthers and iconoclastic musicians like street poet Gil Scott-Heron and jazz eccentric Sun Ra. At Brooklyn’s Southpaw music venue, the Afro-punk party continues with sets by influential scene-makers like Don Letts, a DJ who introduced the sounds of dub and reggae to London punk rockers in the ’70s. This weekend’s celebration of the black influence on punk music and ethos may go largely unheralded here in the Capital Region. But it’s a timely coincidence, at least, that Broadcast Live will be kicking off a monthly residency at Albany’s Red Square tomorrow (Friday) night.

The four-piece Albany-based group met their latest member, Seantel Chamberlain, a multi- instrumentalist who commutes up from Brooklyn on weekends to practice with the band, through an ad that she posted on the Web seeking similar-minded musicians. It asked, in part: “Anyone seen the ‘Afro-Punk’ documentary?” The 2003 film, showing at BAM this weekend, explores issues of racial identity in the American punk scene and is the impetus behind the afro-punk weekend events. Like some of their “afro-punk” forebears, Broadcast Live meld elements of hip-hop and roots music with rock and punk, and they share a dedication to social protest through the performance of message-based music.

The three other members of Broadcast Live grew up in upstate New York and first met through their work in Albany activist groups like the Ironweed Collective. “For me, the music is secondary and the primary thing is trying to change society,” says lead vocalist Victorio Reyes, a poet who has published a book of protest poetry called The Rebirth of Krazy Horse. Lately, he has chosen to focus on expressing himself through music. (Reyes also directs Albany’s Social Justice Center.)

“Everywhere you look, you see injustice,” Reyes says, touching upon issues related to the war in Iraq, the criminal-justice system that “locks up black people at an exorbitant rate and works for people who have money and not for people who don’t,” global warming, and threats to a woman’s right to choose. “I want to address these issues, and music is a vehicle to do that. We try to put out a message that’s universal. On the road we met conservatives who were feeling what we were saying, which surprised us. Our music appeals to a wide range of people, and we want the message to do that as well.”

Broadcast Live’s debut album, Underground, hit No. 38 on the College Music Journal charts in May, an impressive feat that landed the group in good company with heralded hip-hop acts like Public Enemy, Ghostface Killah and Gnarls Barkley. The album’s radio success may owe something to the catchiness of tracks like “Underground,” with a poignant chorus that backs up Reyes’ spoken meditations on justice, and “Universal Thoughts,” a jazz-inflected slow-burner in the vein of the groove-oriented, live- instrumentation hip-hop of Philadelphia’s the Roots. (Both songs can be downloaded at the band’s Web site, www.broadcastlive.org.) Other tracks on the album, which the band describe as “half hip-hop, half rock,” favor a volatile blend of guitar-thrash and aggressive vocals that elicits comparisons to Rage Against the Machine.

The music-industry experience of band member Jory Leanza also came into play when Broadcast Live were shopping the album to college radio. Leanza recently returned to the Capital Region after several years living in New York City, where he interned at SpinART and Jetset, two well-regarded indie-rock record labels. That experience taught him the importance of things like targeted radio and publicity campaigns for fledgling bands. “Part of [that experience] was seeing what can be achieved when you have a person working full-time to help promote an album,” says Leanza, who studied audio engineering at SUNY Purchase and did virtually all of the recording and engineering for Underground. “Every aspect of this album, we’ve done ourselves,” he says. “We only hired someone to do publicity.”

The band’s next album is already under way, and the group currently are working on “reformatting” their live show to add more of an electronic element. Resident “musical genius” is Gaetano Vaccaro, who plays all kinds of instruments, including guitar, bass, keyboards and drums. “This guy can play anything,” marvels Reyes. During their sets, band members frequently swap off on instruments, depending on what textures best suit the songs. (“My guitar playing is more rock,” says Leanza.) The band’s melding of styles and influences seems to work in part because their musical differences are balanced out by a sort of commonality. They cite rappers Common Sense and Mos Def as shared influences, as well as politically minded folk rocker Ani DiFranco and neo-soul singer Erykah Badu. “It’s like an unspoken agreement about what is cheesy on the radio—and when to switch the station,” says Chamberlain.

But the band take their musical differences in stride. “You won’t catch me listening to Elliott Smith, but you’ll catch him,” says Reyes, pointing to indie-rock fan Leanza. “And you won’t catch me listening to the Dead,” says Leanza, pointing an accusatory finger at Reyes.

“And only Gaetano listens to musicals like Rent,” laughs Reyes.


ROUGH MIX

 

Got Rough Mix items? Contact Kathryn Lurie at klurie@metroland.net or 463-2500 ext. 143.



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