ONLINE REVIEW & INTERVIEW by Josham (UK)
We Are Gathered Here - Fine Arts Militia Fine - adj. Very good; in good health; Art - n. creation of works of beauty; skill Militia - n. military force of trained citizens for use in emergency only. One listen to 'We are gathered here' and you will know that the above definitions of FAM are damn near spot on. This album is very good. Lyrically Chuck is in good health. The music is a work of beauty (redefine beauty as meaning well crafter). The world is in a state of emergency, music is in a state of emergency (as far as subject matter and technology go), FAM come along and speak some much needed common sense on it all. Based upon Chuck's lectures on Rap, race, reality and technology, lyrically this album goes deeper and more varied than most artists dare. You may have heard that this was a spoken word album, be ready for a redefinition of spoken word. It is as if Chuck got in the booth to do his lyrics heard the music or felt so passionate about the subjects (or both) and just let it all loose on the mic, and damn he sounds good. Likewise the production reflects this attitude, that 'ferocious soul' phrase comes to mind here. Musically there are some surprises, for example 'Community vs. Plantation' is a reggae flavoured track and not at what you'd expect to hear Chuck flow over, but, if possible on such a strong album, this is the stand out song. Hardgroove, producer of the project, described this as 'PE on steroids' and I would have to agree. Check the opening track 'Twisted Sense of Reality (Pt. 1)' on which Chuck speaks about the events of 9/11/01). Chuck holds nothing back. Some honest straightforward talking is what is needed now and this is what Chuck does. The mood of the song is set perfectly by the production and musical backdrop, this perfectly sums up the whole album. After such an intro it would be very easy to stop the CD and not listen further, the truth is rarely easy to hear, but to do so would be to miss out on a classic album. By the end of the album lyrically and musically FAM have taken the listener on a ride through the real world warts and all, check the track list below and you will know what I am talking about. Its short at ten tracks, but that is where its strength lies, leaving the listener wanting more and not overstaying its welcome.
Leave with your own mind The overall feel though is one of hope, done mostly with clever production that at times reinforces the points made lyrically and on other tracks is upbeat when the lyrics get intense (check 'Community vs. Plantation' and 'Leave with your own mind'). Chuck even offers his key to survival (and after having had such a controversial career with Public Enemy he probably knows a thing or two about that) on 'Intelligence vs. Nonsense' - which advocates the application of a bit of common sense. It would be easy after the first listen to pass this off as another rock rap project, but to do so would be an over simplification (if not criminal). Yeah, the guitar does have a prominent role in the music here, but the music covers a spectrum of sounds; rock (Rap, race, reality and technology (Drop the bomb)), reggae, soulful (The Drug Game) and the list goes on. If only all lectures could be this entertaining. Fine Arts Militia - Interview
'We are gathered here....' the first offering from Fine Arts Militia (FAM), a group of musicians put together by Hardgroove and Chuck D. FAM don't hide from the issues that need to be spoken on, they don't hide from giving a musical backdrop that can make you feel anger at times and uplifted at others. Based on Chucks D's lectures on 'Rap, Race, Reality and Technology' and a sound described as 'Public Enemy on steroids', you know this is going to be a hell of a ride....
Joshsam: Most people know Chuck. Give us a little more background of yourself and the rest of the group, how it formed, the different personalities, etc..
Hardgroove: Well if I were reading this interview, I wouldn't care who I was. So, I'll make it brief. (smile) I'm a musician/ producer by trade and a long time fan of Chuck D. Once we decided to do this record; I asked three of my favourite players to help me create FAM.
Rocky Bryant (drums), Victor Burks (keys), Brad Craig (guitar). They were my first choice on their respective instruments. They also have the depth of character to handle a project like this.
Joshsam: 'We are gathered here...' conjures up images of a preacher, was it intended as a pre-emptive strike at those who attack Chuck for being 'preachy'?
Hardgroove: The concept from the start was to create a series of songs that covered the same topics as Chucks' lectures. People gather at colleges to hear Chuck speak, so the title makes sense and it's catchy.
Joshsam: The album works on many different levels with the message of the lyrics being emphasised by the music, best shown on 'A Twisted Sense of God'. Is this something you worked on creating?
Hardgroove: I would like to tell you that we planned the whole thing. The truth is Chuck and I agreed to make a record that we felt was a strong artistic statement first and foremost. Each tune is a result of circular inspiration. Each idea answered the call of the preceding statement. Collaboration, in its truest form. When you do that, the result usually turns out better that you hoped for. In this case, you clearly got the message as a listener. That is my definition of success.
Joshsam: Musically there is something for all on the album, does this reflect the different tastes/talents of the group members or was it intended to draw as wide an audience as possible?
Hardgroove: "Different tastes and talents" is a good definition of what FAM is. This record is the natural result of doing what we think is good at that time. Like most people we are influenced by different things, at different times. Reaching a wide audience would just be a result of doing
something that many people can relate to. FAM consists of five men with global experiences. Logically we would have a broader appeal.
Joshsam: Would you say that as a group you have tried to show the diversity of black music on the album?
Hardgroove: Again, it's the result of creating without the chains of convention or expectation. One band couldn't begin to represent the depth or diversity of Black musical culture, but we certainly weren't afraid to show the musical roads we've been on. I don't think FAM will be interesting to people that need to be told how diverse Black artists are.
Joshsam: What other releases/projects can we expect from FAM as a group and the individuals in the group?
Hardgroove: Chuck can surface on anything at anytime. The primary focus of FAM as a band is this record and preparing for live performances.
Joshsam: The album begins very dark and apocalyptic and finishes very upbeat and positive, almost as if you are saying yeah things are screwed up but there is hope, is that the message you hoped to convey?
Hardgroove: Most definitely. A child cries at birth because life as he knows it is coming to a violent end. But soon he smiles. Life is a consistent cycle of darkness Vs light, hate Vs love, hopelessness Vs hope. FAM expresses this cycle in a cryptic sort of way.
Joshsam: Do you have a release date for the album yet?
Hardgroove: I'll keep you posted. Definitely not before February of 2002.
Joshsam: Chuck describes this as spoken word but it seems more than that to me, spoken word never got my head and feet moving. How would you describe it?
Hardgroove: My embryonic idea was to do a spoken word record with music as an equal partner, instead of a lame caboose. Therefore, the term "spoken word" was making the rounds during production. By the time we started cutting vocals, the music demanded a high octane vocal performance that very few vocalists can deliver. I do not see it as "spoken word" when I consider the art in that genre. For now, I will describe it as Public Enemy on steroids.
Joshsam: As an artist how do you feel the concept of Slamjamz has helped you?
Hardgroove: Slamjamz has helped change my concept of the music industry as a whole. The traditional means a releasing a record is no longer the alpha and omega. Artists have options. I encourage everyone with artistic goals, whether it is musical, visual or anything else to explore Chuck's philosophy regarding Slamjamz and the future of online commerce.
Joshsam: If there were one thing you could achieve through this album, what would it be?
Hardgroove: Tough question. I'll share my immediate feelings. I would feel that we've accomplished something important if this record could serve as a counter balance to the glut of shamefully self-hating and destructive commercial releases that masquerade as "Black Music". I'll stop there for now.
Joshsam: Citybeat music? Is there anymore we should know about that? Or anymore you would like us to know?
Hardgroove: Citybeat music is a production company that I own and operate with Richie Clarke. FINE ARTS MILITIA is our first production for Citybeat. We recently completed four songs for Bootsy Collins. We expect a couple to appear on his upcoming Warner Brothers album.
Joshsam: FAM, where did the group name come from?
Hardgroove: The name came to me about a year ago. I was working on songs for a band that I was hoping to create at the time. I am a huge fan of Bob Marley, and the songs were in that vein. The name Fine Arts Militia suited the vision I had for that group perfectly. When Chuck and I started this group, I suggested the name. Chuck liked it.
Joshsam: You mention being geared up for live performances, does this mean that we may see a world tour?
Hardgroove: The conditions need to be right for a world tour. 1) Distribution in the major world markets. 2) Promotional activity in those markets. 3) Reasonable promoters to work with. 4) A schedule that allows Chuck to continue the current activities that he's involved with. FAM on a bill with PE is a likely first scenario.
Joshsam: The album is very diverse in sound and lyrical content (as we've said) do you think that having been subjected to one dimensional, limited subject music for so long the timing of the release is just right for the public?
Hardgroove: I can only hope so. Timing is everything. The responses we've gotten so far suggest that we are in sync with the next wave of conscious art.
Joshsam: Chuck talks, on the album, about intelligence and common sense saving lives, do you think that by offering a balance or rather an intelligent alternative that you may show people that there is a choice in the way they lead their lives?
Hardgroove: Definitely. Many people come to entertainment for entertainment. Within it, there is often a point of view. When a young person listens to an artist repeatedly, they begin to absorb that point of view, for better or worse. It is increasingly obvious that much of today's art is designed to appeal to the most self-centred desires in us. FAM is exposing the self-serving
messages and negative imagery of today's "black entertainment". Young people need to see other examples of how to think and live. Then they can make responsible choices as adults.
Joshsam: Tell us a little about the influences musically on the members of FAM.
Hardgroove: Since each of us plays at least 3 different instruments, the influences are too numerous to list here. Its tough to list influences, because I always forget to mention someone very important to me. So I'll just list the first 25 cds that I see on my desk. I only keep favourite CDs on this desk, but it's hardly a complete list. James Brown, Earth, Wind & Fire, Ohio Players, Staple Singers, Parliament, Funkadelic, Tony Williams, Stewart Copeland & the Police, The Clash, Sex Pistols, Cheap Trick, Cameo, Keith Richards, Stanley Clarke, Sly Stone, Return To Forever, Led Zeppelin, Jeff Beck, Jimi Hendrix, David Sancious, Bob Marley, Ramones, Public Enemy, Isaac Hayes, King Crimson.
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Intellectual hip hop/spoken word over rock grooves.
author: Mark Roemer
This CD is a must have. FAM is fronted by Chuck D, the prolific, gifted rap music legend. 'We Are Gathered Here' is a social commentary delivered in such a way that it not only digestible, but also easily accessible and palatable. Issues explored include: violence, religion, the Internet, technology, September 11, and common sense. The lyrics delivered by D are deep, important, intelligent, and poignant. The backing rock tracks are driving and consistent, heavy at times, jazzy and funky at times, at all times a perfect accompaniment to the vocal tracks.
This is some original product right here!!!!
author: HENSTER from the group KING PIECES
This is not for the weak at heart. If you like and respect original thoughts and musicianship, this is a cd to get. I mean with the legnedary Chuck D on the vocals, how are you gonna front? Same intensity as the PE stuff. No doubt a banger! Messages will go over the heads of these "bling bling" cats no doubt!
Buy this album!
This is great. A strong, well thought out album which both engages your brain and is great to listen to. If it works well for me (a white, middle-age Brit), then it should do the same for you. I hope there are more to follow.