If you’re looking for the antidote for Trump… we found it.
GANGSTAGRASS from New York, nominated for an Emmy Award, were in town this week combining musical genres to take us on a leap of faith and love: that is, they take bluegrass from the hills and give it a liberal mix-up of urban hip-hop — yes its a total unification — these are the sounds that will bond communities together all over the world rather than pull them apart.
These days, it appears that when you club together a bunch of screaming yeehaw’s, dress ’em in waist-coats, layer them with spangly symbolism and place “make america hate again” caps upon their scalps, you get a bunch of xenophobic bullshit wrapped up in old-glory bedsheets. I know this ain’t the whole truth, but to be fair, it’s how things seem right now.
But with GANGSTAGRASS we get those red-necks meeting-up with players from The Hood and although that should start some kind of nuclear and deadly reaction, this time the shit that’s going down has got a happy ending… Yep, in a crazy world that deals in separation and inequality for profit, the two tribes that make up GANGSTAGRASS come together (in a celebration of dance and American roots music) to kick down the doors of social division and make the world a brighter place. Both ends of the spectrum are fed by a sense of rebellion, isolation and the need to party. So what’s not to like? And, lets not forget, contrary to dumb opinion, real hip-hop (not the pap you hear on the radio) isn’t really all about guns, bitches and fast cars. It’s more about speaking against social injustice, living a difficult life and ending each day with an expression of love and faith.
Hip hop usually has a social message and its about everything that surrounds us. It is a social commentary that reaches the audience quickly and without obstacles. And the music of Appalachia is also fast and played without restriction. It has mixed roots in Irish, Scottish and English (yes) folk music and has complex improvisations and breakdowns. What could be faster than a rap beat over some finger-picking banjo and ole-time fiddle-playing? Well, as we found out this weekend, nothing much! Welcome to the hoedown:
We saw the wonderful GANGSTAGRASS show at the splendid London Garage venue on Saturday.
The band was headed-up by kinda shy and retiring honky-tonk producer and all-round explorative boundry-breaker, Rench on guitar and vocals with D.C. new-grass banjo player Dan Whitener, multi-instrumentalist and former Hackensaw Boy violinist Brian Farrow, “Mental Advisory Implicit Lyrics” rapper Dolio The Sleuth and the charismatic, free-spirited word-styler, and BoomBap therapist plus superman fanatic: R-SON the “Voice of Reason.”
Right from the very start the lead emcee R-SON provided a steady flow of street rhyme that was as accomplished as the cadence was perfect. This helter-skeltered over a barage of shit-kickin’ broken-string fiddle-play that cascaded onto us and came as quick, hot-and-dangerous as the rattlesnake-venom banjo-fire.
Although, some of the songs seemed to us, a little heavy on the hip and less explosive on the hop, nevertheless there wasn’t an attitude-laden, barn-storming cowboy boogie we didn’t enjoy. From the impressive Irish-Eddie epic “You Can Never Go Home Again” with its supreme finger-picking and ridiculous amount of convictions… to the steady, gator-blues, plinky-plonk of “Nobody Gonna Miss Me.” The banjo-play was louche and languid on this one while the fiddle was romantic in its swampy, foggy, nostalgia. All their songs were filled with style, tone, soul and bristle.
“Garage… this is on you...” shouted R-SON and the mostly white, male, middle-aged audience hooted and hollered.
And soon the posse lined up and, after some stunning freestyle and lots of bucking swagger, bumper-sticker twangery, incredibly spirited pluckery (my-oh-my that jibbly-joe on banjo can really lick) and incredibly energetic pomp we reached the sublime coalition of the finale (it came too quick) with the anthemic “All For One” that sounded like something that “Old Crow Medicine Show” might have once combined with the “Folsom Prison Blues” while soaking in the Bayou water of old John Fogerty. What a song, what an event. What a band.
Yes, the world of bluegrass and the world of hip-hop should never mix. Here they do. Bringing love and unity. Hip is the knowledge. Hop is the movement. Music is the power.
The Pocket Full of Fire: Gangstagrass Live Album can be pre-ordered here
Words & Pictures: @neilmach 2019 ©