The artist must elect to fight for Freedom or for Slavery. I have made my choice. I had no alternative.
– Paul Robeson
Why do we think that we never have enough with just what’s inside of us? Today, today we must scream at the top of our lungs that we are Brown, we are smart, that nothing that they do can push it away!
– Victoria Ruiz, Downtown Boys
Paul Robeson was a seasoned actor, both in Theatre and Film productions, as well as a popular singer in the early 1900s. He was so talented, he was considered the 10th most popular star in British Cinema in 1937. Robeson was also a very outspoken activist against racism, fascism, and even the United States government itself for its imperialistic practices. He went so far as to put his career aside to concentrate on advocating against the fascist side of the Spanish Civil War. He used the platform he earned as an artist to advocate for the political and social causes he believed in. This, among other things, got him blacklisted by the US government during Joseph McCarthy’s Red Scare, and subsequently, denied a passport. This rendered him unable to work, and by the time his travel status was reinstated years later, he had already moved into retirement and isolation due to his dwindling health.
That was almost 100 years ago.
You would think that the world would be in a better condition by now, wouldn’t you? 100 years is a long time.
After all, plenty of science fiction writers thought it would be possible, didn’t they? They dreamt of an end to problems like hunger, war, and poverty. That without these kinds of issues civilization could finally move on and be perfect. That our greatest obstacles should exist no further than the constant entropy of the universe and maybe even just getting over this whole “mortality” thing in the process. This was the future they imagined and expected. Hell, it just plain made sense. Right? This was science, you guys. Not eugenics, oh no no no nooo.
Well, here’s the funny thing about those writers–and I call it funny because it actually makes me laugh, haha–the sweeping majority of them, if not damn near all of them, were 1. White and 2. men. So, when it came to naming the definitive titans of dilemmas that were keeping our “great human race” from thriving on this planet in peace and harmony, racism and sexism didn’t make the cut.
That’s like saying “Traffic? What traffic?” when you’re the asshole facing the open road blasting Nugent going 56 in a 70 one-lane-one-way with everyone else stuck behind you slamming their horns with their heads.
The fucking nerve.
Well, as time progresses, some people smash open some new lanes. A good chunk of them don’t survive the jump, but have made way for other cars to get through nonetheless. Despite this, the first car keeps trying to stay in front of the others. It doesn’t get why the other cars are trying to pass it. It hears their honking and thinks they’re being rather rude. It then takes it upon itself to try and run them off the road. In some cases, it succeeds. And so, the Struggle continues.
But, in this day and age, the voices of struggle are louder. They reverberate from all corners of the world, and make the planet tremble with fever. Some write, some paint, some speak, and some sing.
Some even scream.
Downtown Boys are a beast of a band hailing from Providence, Rhode Island. They play a charge of punk so electrifying it’ll short out your senses. The guitars sound like they’re coming out of a fucking tesla coil, the drums are a sonic beating, the two saxophones in the band bring the songs to an entirely new wavelength of expression, and above all else, the vocals. Victoria Ruiz leads Downtown Boys with an unapologetic snarl that is meant to rouse even deaf eardrums.
Things that Downtown Boys actively oppose and fight against include: “the prison-industrial complex, racism, queerphobia, capitalism, fascism, boredom, and all things people use to try to close our minds, eyes and hearts”.
The quote at the top of this post is taken from their new single, “Monstro”, which you can stream on YouTube below. The full-length it comes from, Full Communism, is out May 4th on Don Giovanni.
Their earlier releases are also available for purchase/download/streaming at their bandcamp. They go everywhere from jazz freakouts to Kleenex/LiLiPut style insanity. They even do a great cover of one of the greatest punk songs a lot of people haven’t heard of, Pekinska Patka’s “Poderimo Rok”. I’ll be crossing my fingers for them to play that one at Galax Z Fair IV.
As a music lover, Downtown Boys’ music fills me with a whole universe of emotions. But as a person of color, their music makes me glow from within. I’m filled with a radiant light of courage and purpose. I feel validated and empowered. I hope everyone reading this listens to them and goes to see them at the Fair. Especially people from my neck of the woods, the Rio Grande Valley. I really think you’d dig this.
Get your tickets here or at Melhart’s Music in McAllen.