Stanley Nelson’s new documentary The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution has caught our eye as being a nuanced take on a hitherto underrepresented revolutionary movement in American history.
It has also caught our ear, featuring some of the best politically charged music made in the 60s and 70s, which works as the perfect accompaniment to the history of the Panthers. The revolutionary sound adds weight to the adage that art imitates life, as the artists used their music as a platform to disseminate their beliefs.
The messages in the songs range from the vehemently empowered identities portrayed in Fred Wesley & The J.B.’s ‘Damn Right I’m Somebody’ and Jimmy Hendrix’s ‘Voodoo Man’, to the softly spoken disillusionment shown by Gil Scott-Heron’s ‘Winter In America’. Alongside this, there are funk-laden efforts by the Eugene Blacknell, Chi-Lites and Charles Wright, in which the uplifting tone of the music is used to lend cadence to the consideration of revolutionary ideas. Finally, Billy Paul’s ‘Am I Black Enough For You’ pastiches Curtis Mayfield’s ‘Move On Up’, dispersing the question ‘am I black enough for you?’ in between Mayfield’s lyrics to position his questions about racial identity politics as crucial to the consideration of ‘moving on up’.
The quality of the curation is apparent in the relevance of these songs to the issues the Black Panthers were concerned with, and the passion the musicians show when speaking of these messages makes for fantastically compelling listening. One of the standout film soundtracks of 2015, which you can listen to below.