Rev250 Collaboration Article

Remixing the Revolution

On October 14, the Unfinished: America at 250 partnership hosted “Remixing the Revolution,” an inspiring and entertaining evening of hip hop performances and conversation with artists The Reminders (married duo Samir and Aja) and Tem Blessed, moderated by Adam Bradley, professor of English and the founding director of the Laboratory for Race & Popular Culture (RAP Lab) at UCLA.

“Remixing the Revolution” launched the Unfinished: America at 250 virtual engagement series by showing how hip hop’s beats and rhymes take up the unresolved debates and open questions of the American Revolution: How are our voices heard? What does it mean to be free?

Much like the spirted debates of the founding era, hip hop has galvanized new generations to fight for their own answers to these questions.

Gay Vietzke, the regional director for Region One of the National Park Service welcomed viewers and introduced an opening song from Chris Newell, a Passamaquoddy educator and co-founder of Akomawt Educational Initiative. Newell’s performance of a Passamaquoddy style original composition, representative of Northeast Woodland traditional styles of music, set the tone for the evening by showing the integral role music plays in passing along stories, introducing possibilities, and inspiring joy.

Karen Holmes Ward, director of public affairs for WCVB-TV, emceed the event and reflected on the legacy of the Revolution. “The long and contentious conversation that flows from this pivotal moment in our nation’s past belongs to all of us,” she said.

Dr. Turkiya Lowe, supervisory historian and acting federal preservation officer for the National Parks Service, provided opening comments on the National Park Service’s role in commemorating America’s 250th. “The National Park Service cares for many of the historic sites that both illustrate the nation’s highest ideals and gives stark, often violent, reminders to our contradictions and even our hypocrisies,” she said. “Let [NPS sites] be places for telling accurate, honest, transparent history, for having opportunities for learning and discussions, discussing hard truths and their legacies that impact us today and that will hopefully be sites for healing and recognition for our futures.”

Adam Bradley, The Reminders, and Tem Blessed in a Zoom conversation
Adam Bradley, The Reminders (Aja and Samir), and Tem Blessed (NPS Photo/Oswald)

During the evening’s conversation, Aja, Samir, and Tem discussed their roles as artists and examined the impact music and song have in history, memory, and storytelling.

Both Tem Blessed and Samir spoke about how immigrating to the United States influenced their perspectives and music.

Tem, who immigrated with his family from Cape Verde, encouraged audience members to be active citizens and fight for the country they want to see. “We are co-creators of this space,” he explained. “We are the Americans we’ve been waiting for. I have to be active in creating this world that I believe in.”

At 15, Samir, of The Reminders, immigrated to San Antonio, Texas from Belgium. Though he became a citizen, he observed that sometimes immigrants are treated “like a second-class citizen.” Despite that, he feels that he and his wife, Aja, are representatives of America through their music and themselves.

Music allows these artists to explore difficult topics and express their opinions and ideas.  

Aja, of The Reminders, stressed the need for artists to facilitate truthful conversations that would seem difficult otherwise. “It’s just important for people to tell the truth, because when you tell the truth, it facilitates the conversations that are necessary to get to a deeper truth. … [When you criticize] it means that you care enough about it to look at it more deeply than just what is pleasant and pleasurable.”

She also explained how hip hop has been a powerful influence in her life. Both hip hop music and her family compelled her to take a closer look at history: “Hip hop music gave me a secondary initiative to learn it just for myself to have an understanding of my place and my context in the midst of movements.”

Toward the end of the evening, the artists discussed the power of love in action. 

Aja said that love for this country can result in change if love “denotes action and responsibility and care, which sometimes encompasses confrontation…and conversation and courage. … It takes a lot to love this country sometimes. … Love is an action here… it’s not a passive concept.”

Tem concurred and urged people to expand the conversation. “Unless everyone is invited to grab the mic and speak their truth, we don’t have a complete picture,” he said. 

Throughout the evening, audience members posed questions to panelists and engaged with one another through the chat.  Their active participation, along with the poetic performances and conversation contributed to the dynamism of the evening. In the words of one program participant, “Thank you for developing this music and discussion format. It probably drew a diverse audience and spoke in a different way to each part of that audience.” 

Contributed by: Anjelica Oswald, Digital Public History Intern, Student Conservation Association/National Parks of Boston