AUSTIN (KXAN) — As conversations about racial justice, centered around Black voices, continue to amplify around Austin, a movement is growing to bring more equity to the music scene that Austin is known and loved for.
Black Live Music Fund for Austin
In June, Austin musician and Vice-Chair of Austin’s Music Commission, Jonathan ‘Chaka’ Mahone, gave an impassioned speech to the music commission, calling for the creation of a Black Live Music Fund in Austin. Mahone called for using half of Austin’s Live Music Fund to support Austin’s Black musicians. The fund was created last year and is fueled by hotel occupancy tax dollars.
“There’s no conversation about Black musicianship in particular, in this city, the live music capital of the world,” Mahone bemoaned. “Blues, rock, soul — it was built off of that, there was no discussion about the Black community.”
“And when we talk about musicians not being able to afford to live here, well Black people haven’t been able to afford to live here for a long time,” Mahone said, referencing the ongoing displacement and gentrification that have been pushing people of color out of neighborhoods in Austin they used to live in.
As an example of the role Black musicians in Austin’s music scene, Mahone pointed out that on any list of the biggest breakout artists from Austin in the past five years, you’d be remiss not to mention Gary Clark Jr. and Black Pumas, who both feature Black artists.
Next, Mahone pointed to Austin’s music scene decades back.
“There’s no Stevie Ray Vaughan without Hosea Hargrove and T.D. Bell and B.B. King,” Mahone said. “There’s no Antone’s without Victory Grill, so where’s the recognition with that?”
Music institutions in Austin, he said, have been built through the culture and contributions of the Black community, “so it’s time for Austin as a whole to realize that.”
The idea for this fund has garnered a lot of community support, with more than 2,000 people signing an online petition saying they want to see a Black Live Music Fund happen in Austin. Lots of local artists including Shakey Graves, Max Frost and Spoon drummer Jim Eno, have publicly committed support for the creation of this fund as well.
Organizations central to Austin’s music scene have also gotten on board, with the Paramount Theater, Empire Control Room, Cheer Up Charlies, Red River Cultural District, and Austin Texas Musicians all saying they support the creation of this fund as well. Austin Music Commissioner Rick Carney explained that music commissioners are working with a consultant to take the next steps on the ask Mahone has made.
“The commissioners all definitely support what he’s asking [for], what we’re doing is figuring out the best way to make it happen,” Carney said.
Mahone said right now he is focused on exploring the Live Music Fund as an option for supporting Black musicians in Austin, but he is open to exploring other funding avenues as well.
‘Black Everythang Matters’
But Mahone isn’t stopping with the push for a Black Live Music Fund, he’s looking for other ways to support and recognize the Black artists that help make — and keep — Austin the “live music capital of the world.” He was called on by Austin venue Empire Control Room to help organize a concert focused on Black Austin artists and jumped at the opportunity.
Mahone is working with six Black Austin musicians and one DJ (5D, Chakeeta B, Clarence James, DJ Cali, Eimaral Sol, J Soulja, Mama Duke) who are performing from the Empire Control Room stage in a virtual show that will be streamed live August 6 at 7 p.m. He says 100% of the proceeds from that show will go towards a fund he created in September called DAWA, which will serve as a safety net for people of color in Austin who are facing a “short term life crisis.” DAWA has raised $30,000 so far and the first $2,000 will be distributed next week, Mahone said.
The title of the event at Empire Control Room Thursday is “Black Everythang Matters” which came from a design Mahone created earlier this year. In the past few weeks, he worked to paint that phrase in between the faces of Nipsey Hussle and Nina Simone on the outside of Empire Control Room.
“We say Black lives matter, we feel like ‘matter’ is just the minimum,” Mahone said. “That’s the absolute minimum, right? Black lives forever. Black lives into the future. Black lives excel. Black lives everything. Black everything matters.”
This focus on Black musicians in Austin comes at a moment when circumstances are dire for musicians and venues all throughout Austin’s music industry as the live events they depend on can’t happen in the same way during the pandemic. Just across the street from Empire Control Room is the venue Barracuda which had to shutter for good due to the pandemic.
On top of the financial strain, Mahone notes that Black artists have had to deal with racism, gentrification, and being kept away from opportunities due to “biases of Austin music industry leaders.”
Mahone said that it has taken a national uprising against police brutality to open more people’s eyes to the number of ways racism impacts Black Austinites.
“It took that moment for people to realize that there’s a problem,” he said. “It’s been a problem in Austin in terms of the representation of Black musicians for years.”
“So when we have someone like Shakey Graves or Max Frost standing up and saying, you know what, ‘I’ve been a part of this music community, I know that it’s hard, but its harder for these folks,’ that means something,” Mahone added.