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Motown's Black Forum imprint marks, makes history with "Fire In LIttle Africa" project

Image: Motown's Black Forum imprint marks, makes history with "Fire In LIttle Africa" project

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This may be the most important and informative music project that you listen to all year. The album “Fire In Little Africa” will definitely be hard to top. This album is not only about history, it is history. The 21 tracks tell the story of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre through the voices and talents of a group of creative and committed hip-hop artists. Each of these men and women hail from Tulsa, and grew up hearing oral histories, testimonials, as well as reading and watching books and documentaries about an instance of American ethnic cleansing that would and could not be suppressed despite the efforts to do just that.


Now, thanks to a collaboration bringing together stakeholders that include the Bob Dylan Center, the Woody Guthrie Center, Motown Records/Black Forum will release the groundbreaking project “Fire In Little Africa” on May 28 – just three days before the 100th Anniversary of the pogrom of 1921. This record honors the memory of the men and women who built the Greenwood community of Tulsa – a neighborhood so prosperous that it earned the name The Black Wall Street. Home to Black owned banks, real estate and doctor’s offices, theaters and many retailers, the district was self-sustaining. However, over two days members of Tulsa’s white community used rumors of a confrontation between a black man and a white woman elevator operator to launch an organized and sustained attack against people and property. The attack started on May 31 and ended a day later and included the use of airplanes to drop bombs on the neighborhood. The attack left at least 300 people dead and thousands homeless. Businesses and homes were destroyed.


“Shining,” the first track and accompanying video from “Fire In Little Africa,” is an aspirational track that pays homage to the Black effort, innovation and courage that built Black Wall Street. Backed by a band that lays down a hard core funk bass line and some jazzy brass, artists Steph Simon, Dialtone and Ayilla and Jerica take us to the past and the future – telling the history of Greenwood’s rise and fall at the hand of a mob bent not only on destruction but erasure. That erasure didn’t happen because of people like legendary soulman and son of Tulsa, Uncle Charlie Wilson.


The name of Wilson’s legendary funk group, the GAP Band, is named after Greenwood, Archer and Pine streets in that historic neighborhood where brothers Charlie, Ronnie and Robert Wilson grew up. Uncle Charlie has thrown his support behind this project.


“I am honored to be a part of the “Fire In Little Africa” album featuring the musical contributions of young talented local artists from my hometown of Tulsa, Oklahoma. This tragedy has been suppressed for generations. Growing up in Tulsa we named our band, The GAP Band, after Greenwood, Archer and Pine Streets, the wealthiest and most successful African American community in the United States in the early 20th century. I am proud to see a new generation of talented Tulsans continue to tell the story of our ancestors. They are opening the door for many generations to come by shedding light not only on the race massacre but the excellence of the Black Wall Street and Greenwood community.”


“Fire In Little Africa” is making history in another way. The project is the first new material released by Motown’s Black Forum imprint since it was relaunched earlier this year. Black Forum has reissued a series of historic recording of great speeches that the label originally issued in 1970, including the Rev. Martin Luther King’s speech opposing the Vietnam war that was giving at Riverside Church in New York on April 4, 1967, one year before he was assassinated. “Fire In Little Africa” is a worth addition to a great legacy.