Prison Radio
Mumia Abu-Jamal

“The magic of black music.”

As the deaths of two musicians recently demonstrates, black music is an art form that radiates freedom, and that radiation flows around the world.

The death of Sharon Jones, lead singer for the Dap Kings, is of course tragic, and that she died of cancer at the relatively young age of 60, yet her very being was a celebration of a stellar life force.

A woman once told she was too black, too short, and too fat to become a performer, did just that—and thrilled the hearts, ears, and souls of millions. In their horn-heavy down-home standard, “100 Days, 100 Nights,” Sharon Jones sings a lesson learned of a lover, a hard lesson, to pay attention to whom you lend your heart.

Her determination led her to ignore agents and record producers and allowed her to set the stage of fire with her blazing spirit. She freed herself and those she blessed with her voice and her powerful dark presence.

Accross the Atlantic, a Brit of Greek parentage did his own share of lighting the stage afire. Born Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou in 1963 in East Finchley, North London, England, he became world famous as George Michael of Wham! Like many young Brits of his generation, simply read Boy George, for example, the beats, rhythms, and blues of black music struck their ears and moved them.

These artists raised on Motown sounds constructed musics based on that dark ore and found fame and fortune. I think what they heard and what they found in black music was precisely what black musicians seeded it with: a yearning for freedom, for it was in the magical realm of music that black folks found their closest vision of freedom to be, to become themselves.

That energy was infectious and touched hearts and souls worldwide. Jazz soars in France, in Poland, in Japan. Rap has a deep foothold in London, in Paris, in Tokyo, in Soweto, in Harari, in Berlin, in Marsai, in every city where there are those who are oppressed.

George Michael mixed black beats to fuel his pop hits and often used black producers and black musicians to enrich his work. When he came out as gay, he may have shocked the media, but it could be sensed in the subtext of his songs and felt in his frenetic beats. Black musical beats and rhythms liberated him, freed him to be his self, because in black music, one finds that yearning for freedom.

From imprisoned nation, this is Mumia Abu-Jamal.

These commentaries are recorded by Noelle Hanrahan of Prison Radio.