April 24, 1970, midnight concert at the Apollo Theater, Harlem
April 1, 2015
by william cordova
Visual artist William Cordova, an old school vinyl head, had three works featured in an exhibition entitled “The Record: Contemporary Art and Vinyl.” This essay is in homage to an underappreciated masterwork.
“Let me make this…very clear to all the police in the audience, and for those who will still see their roles as passive ones: the shit is on!”
–Felipe Luciano (East Coast Chairman, The Young Lords)
April 24, 1970, midnight concert at the Apollo Theater, Harlem
This live album came into my own archive by chance but not accident. It was through direct awareness and relation to the social content of the material rather than curiosity that led me to its existence.
The concert, organized by the Young Lords, captured the imagination of many young people all over the US, and influenced other music oriented fundraising events by bringing together activists and musicians who were radically revolutionizing activism around the world; The New Haven 8 Concert, Concert for Bangladesh and Concert for The People of Kampuchea, Farm Aid, the list goes on.
The Young Lords, a Latino community organization based in New York City, modeled themselves after the Black Panther Party’s platform. Free survival programs, children’s breakfast, food/clothes giveaway, legal defense, and free clinics for the poor. The concert appealed to a diverse audience through an eclectic line up of music that included, R&B, Latin avant-garde, Rock, Salsa and poetry. The proceeds went into these programs.
The album’s jacket design is minimal with a single Black and White photo printed across the front. The back of the jacket is equally simple without liner notes, year of manufacturer or Record Label, except to note tracks and performers. It is important to note that the actual vinyl record does not contain any printed information other than the numbers 0086813209.
One is almost prompted to visualize the movements and breathing of each performer as they interact through their set.
One can figure out the A side by listening to the audio intro of Denise Oliver, The Young Lords Minister of Economic Development, hosting “our first guest” the music of Joe Bataan. It’s obvious that Bataan’s set is incomplete from the quick audio cuts, still, this may be the earliest known live recordings of Joe Bataan, An Afro-Filipino, from Spanish Harlem and one of the first musicians to sign with Fania Records. Track 1 is a scorching version of What Good is a Castle; a poignant composition about the state of low income housing the decrepit high rises of El Barrio. Track 2. Ordinary Guy is an interesting sped up live version from Joe Bataan’s Riot album (Fania 1968). Ordinary Guy was originally released on Bataan’s Gypsy Woman LP (Fania 1967). Tracks 3. Obatala closes the set but then Joe Bataan returns to the stage and proceeds to perform his first hit single, Gypsy Woman and finally a theater rousing Freedom from 1969’s Poor Boy (Fania).
“But I was what I am, a man for the times…am talking about freedom?” – Joe Bataan (Freedom)
The Rascals (formerly, Young Rascals) start up track 4. Good Lovin,’ from their self-titled Young Rascals album (1966, Atlantic) partially excludes is the bands introduction by Denise Oliver. Track 5. People Got To Be Free, evolves into an extended sing along with the audience that runs a total of 6 minutes a huge feat for a song that originally runs 2 minutes and 30 seconds. Track 6. Groovin’ (1967, Atlantic) really reveals the extent of influence that Afro & Latino music had in contemporary Rock music of the late 1960s and early 70s. Groovin’ first starts out with a conga solo from an unknown player and a bilingual version of the song by lead singer Felix Cavaliere. A version that is seldom heard live. (Groovin’/ Sueño, Atlantic 1967).
Elaine Yarborough and The Truth & Soul Ensemble performed only one song or at least it was the only one included, Track 7. Leavin’ This Morning, a traditional folk song originally recorded by Odetta on Odetta and the Blues (1962, Riverside). The Truth & Soul Ensemble’s version though is far from traditional or acoustic. Elaine Yarboroughs (not to be confused with Yarbrough & Peoples) soulful voice often climaxes the blaring high brass, drums & bass background of The Ensemble. It is unfortunate that no other recordings of this group were able to be located.
The following performers, track 8. The Harley Four, is interesting in that this is a Martial Arts family troupe performing without any music as background and yet included in the album.
Side B opens with a long duration of static whose source, after much scrutinizing, turns out to be the microphone to the reel-to-reel recorder that the entire event was recorded with. Track 1. Speech, starts out with “a solidarity telegram from Betty Shabazz, widow of Malcolm X, it’s unclear if Denise Oliver of the Young Lords is reading the telegram. Track 2. Starts out much clearer, the album track listing states, Richard Moore (Dharuba) of the Black Panther 21 speaks.
“I came to curse you out and you should take that as constructive criticism … come and see about Bobby”
-Dharuba (Black Panther)
Richard Moore (Dharuba Bin Wahad), and 20 other Black Panthers accused of planning to terrorize New York City landmarks were all eventually acquitted in what was to be the longest and most expensive criminal court trial in NY city history. This rare recording of a speech by Dharuba also makes the entire event more monumental in regards to the historic location, historic event and historic participants.
Track 3. Felipe Speaks, “let us not support political prisoners because they are images. Let us support them because we are supporting ourselves,” a brief monologue by Felipe Luciano (The Young Lords NY Chairman).
Track 4. Pedro Pietri, is an early recording of late activist and poet Pedro Pietri’s Puerto Rican Obituary poem, a powerfully insightful masterpiece of literature. One can hear a pin drop in the Apollo’s cavernous stage as Pietri’s poetry flows with rhymes.
Juan, Miguel, Milagros, Olga, Manuel, All died yesterday today and will die again tomorrow passing their bill collectors on to the next of kin All died waiting for the garden of Eden to open up again under a new management All died dreaming about America
-Pedro Pietri (excerpt, Puerto Rican Obituary, Monthly review Press 1973)
Track 5. The Last Poets, offers a reunion of sorts as David Nelson, Gylan Kain and Felipe Luciano the original Last Poets took center stage probably for the last time (1968-1970). Only one track is mentioned though the trio performs 3 pieces including Tell Me Brother (Kain), Black Woman (David Nelson), and Rifle/Oracion-Rifle player (Luciano). All three tracks were also recorded in The Last Poets, Right On film soundtrack (Juggernaut Records 1970). Felipe Luciano offers the audience a parting comment, “Revolution is difficult…but we will win…you mustn’t just sit there, leave and think it’s not happening…. Let me make this…very clear to all the police in the audience, and for those who will still see their roles as passive ones: the shit is on!”