UCSD Composer Of ‘Central Park Five’ Opera On The Intersection Of Politics And Art
KPBS Midday Edition Segments / December 3, 2019
Speaker 1: 00:00 So much is conveyed through art. And one composer has used his work to reflect on important social and political issues of the day from the central park five to the life and times of Malcolm X composer and longtime professor of music at UCS D Anthony Davis feels it's an artist's responsibility to address current events and politics. He'll speak about his latest opera and artistic approach to issues happening in our society on December 7th at the central library. But before that he joins us in studio. Anthony, welcome. Oh, thank you. Thank you. So your latest work is an opera called central park five, based on the notorious case of five teenagers of color, falsely accused and convicted of rape and assault after a 1989 attack on a white jogger, one in which Donald Trump played an infamous role. The opera speaks to much of your work over the decades and that you'd like to focus on current events, politics, and history makers. Why do these issues inspire you?
Speaker 2: 00:58 Well, I think it goes back to, um, when I was, uh, first and co I've always had a very intense interest in politics. And I think at one point I wanted to be a political science major when I was going to school, to college. And, uh, I was also interested in philosophy and, and I, I scrapped, I was doing music all the time. I was playing piano and stuff. So that kind of took over. But it allows me to combine what my, my interests, both, you know, in art, in art and music and also in, in a political sphere. And, uh, one thing that's fascinating to me is always the parallel between artistic developments, the developments in, in music and culture and what's happening in, in the, in political and politics and the social sphere. So, uh, when I did X, for example, there was a direct parallel between the evolution of, uh, up, when you look at the Malcolm X, his story and, and his emergence as a, a leader in the 1960s and late fifties. You know, Eddie, and it's always a kind of corresponding development in music. And, uh, in central park five, I think there's the same, same kind of synergy between music and, and, and politics. You know, the emergence of hip hop and, and especially in 1989, which was a pivotal year,
Speaker 3: 02:20 no, uh, uh, upset, uh, eh, out to see [inaudible] stop back. Ah, you have something to [inaudible]. Uh, [inaudible] uh, I see that as
Speaker 2: 03:00 kind of critical point, that juncture in terms of culture as Ellis in terms of the political struggle and where we had to face and then also the emergence of Trump at the same time. Do you think that art is a way to give people more context and a better understanding of history and, and social issues that are happening today even? Yeah, I think kids are, it's way to way to give them more context and also to let them identify and feel the emotion of it. That it's not just intellectual, it's not just, uh, just, you know, uh, facts and, and history. But also that, that th that, uh, to, to see what it's like to be, you know, Cory wise and in jail for 13 years for something you didn't do. And so that, that, uh, that identification is very important and I think it's something you could do through music and art in a way that, that can't be done in straight history.
Speaker 2: 03:55 What elements do you pull from when you're putting together and composing your opera? Well, our Kapost from, well, I pull from a lot of things. One thing, uh, I've always loved New York. I'm a new Yorker, so at heart, I mean I lived in New York till I was four, but I always feel I'm a new Yorker. My parents lived in 130 eighth street and Harlem. Uh, and so I've always identified myself that way. And, uh, so I always think about New York, New York to me is also music meets Duke Ellington. It's, you know, bebop, it's, it's mittens. It's also, uh, hip hop and Charlie Parker and Charles Mingus, all the kind of history of the music that's embedded in, in New York city. And so, uh, when I do an opera and when I do the music, I always reflect on that. At the beginning of central park, they sing about Harlem, a black and tan fantasy, which Richard will, Richard Wesley.
Speaker 2: 04:56 Okay. Black and tan. Okay. That's a Duke Ellington, you know, Duke Ellington, that's Duke Ellington's Harlem. I use that. They're there. There's actually a moment in the opera when I actually use some of the [inaudible], some, some are black and tan fantasy appears in it. And also, uh, you know, thinking about Charles Mingus and, and black state, the Senator lady, you know, so this is also though, that's New York to me too. So New York is, uh, filled with music and film. And that I can draw upon that, uh, in, in terms of portraying the city betraying the conflict and also portraying a conflict, you know, uh, this kind of war for central park. You know, Trump on the one hand being sort of the force of gentrification, the force of, you know, uh, trying to in a way take Carl home away from us, you know, so, so, uh, and it was very telling to me when I was looking back at, I saw watching a video of demonstrators who were demonstrating white demonstrators who were demonstrating against the central park five and on the placard they had do the right thing. That of course is right from do the right thing from Spike's movie, which came out in 89. So in a way I always think that when the central park five were convicted and, and prosecuted, they were really prosecuting radio Raheem is what they would think they were doing. And, and it was really about a war against hip hop against this young generation and the emergence of an, of a new culture and a new form that was a threat to the white establishment.
Speaker 1: 06:39 When you look at, at other artists, do you think are doing a good job of putting a spotlight on current events and using their art as, as that medium?
Speaker 2: 06:48 Yeah. So I think you know, the number of us who think that way. I mean, some of us in in weird way like Kanye West, but you know, I'm not sure about his motivation set, uh, but, but a lot of us, I'll be, we were thinking about it also being a positive force for the community, for the African American community. That's always been very important to me that I think about young people being proud of who we are and proud of what we've had to overcome and proud of what the potential and possibilities are for the future.
Speaker 1: 07:22 I've been speaking with Anthony Davis, composer and longtime professor at UCS D. Anthony, thanks for joining us. Thanks so much. Anthony Davis will be at the San Diego central library December 7th from three to four 30 to talk about his latest work, the central park five and his artistic approach to social and political issues. Thanks again, Anthony. Thanks so much.
Anthony Davis will be at the San Diego Central Library on Saturday to talk about his opera “The Central Park Five” and his artistic approach to social and political issues.