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“Fuck Picking Cotton”: Sacha Jenkins’ THE 1865 Reinvents the Antebellum As Punk Rock Opera

A few weeks ago I was fortunate enough to attend a gala tribute for legendary, Pulitzer prize winning poet Yusef Komunyakaa held at the New Jersey State Museum, in his opening remarks when he received his lifetime achievement award, Mr. Komunyakaa simply stated “Art is an action”. A week prior, I found myself standing dead center at the Mercury Lounge being pummeled by the powerful and joyous noise that is The 1865. This was their “Don’t Tread On We” album release party, where band leader/multi-media man Sacha Jenkins and vocalist/lyricist Honeychild take a hard look at post-Antebellum America and tie it into the current, historic, attack on black culture-weaving folklore, history and rebellion into a Punk Powered Manifesto.

The band played, it was fine, but given Sacha’s history as a man tapped into the larger culture, there needed to be more than this. It was enough for me to arrange a meeting with Sacha and try and see what the man was actually up to. Is it rock opera? Is it political activism. Well, is it? Upon entering the Wework Space of MASSAPPEAL, Mr. Jenkins warmly greeted me. You know Jenkins better than you think you do, his work on Season One of Aaron McGruder’s “The Boondocks” would be enough to tag you. But there is so much more, he created one of the first ‘zines dedicated to graffiti art & culture ’’Graphic Scenes & Xplicit Language’’, in the 1980s, was the music editor for Beatdown. In 1994, Jenkins co-founded ego trip magazine which ultimately lead to VH-1’s immensely popular “ego trips the (white) Rapper Show”.

More? He was the music editor of Vibe, worked with Spin, co-authored a book on Eminem. And most importantly, is a member of The White Mandingos, with Murs and Bad Brains bassist Darryl Jenifer. It was that Bad Brains groove that pushes The 1865 and that first caught my attention. At his office, Jenkins was a thoughtful and generous host, after the obligatory ”guitar shop” chat, we settled into discussing his current project. While I enjoyed The 1865, it felt unfinished. It seemed like a part of a larger Sacha Jenkins narrative. He smiled knowingly, and said “I can’t be quiet. I forever feel the need to represent every chance I get because you never know when your time is up, or when the wheels will fall off of the platform you’re riding. We need more like-minded people pushing the progression in an effort to drown out the noise and static. I’m not the only one out here and I’m glad this is the case. But we need more.”

More Indeed, blisteringly enlightened and entertaining social commentary is Sacha’s forte, throughout his career there is a place where the black experience both personal and public , meet in words and images. This is clearly the case with The 1865. The line between the hard rock of a Foo Fighter and the hard place of slavery and racial injustice (both past and present), in the US meet-so a fan, not just me, who knows this stuff, but the kids in the malls and on the skateboards, can freak and learn. Sacha mentioned a show The 1865 performed, a more hip hop centric evening, At first the audience hated it, but within a couple of songs they were convinced: one of the great innovations, Chicago blues, taken back, A blues striped down, and performed as riff formulated punk ultimately rocked them to their core.

“Don’t Tread On We” is quite an impressive debut, Sacha outlines its creation as follows: “The album was recorded up at Applehead recordings in Woodstock. Beautiful environment with support from an amazing team, Chris Bitner and Michael Birnbaum. The songs initially came together on guitar in my bedroom. Honeychild (Shoegaze Queen Carolyn “Honeychild” Coleman, who fronts the band as well as playing Baritone Guitar), would then tackle lyrics. Legendary rock session ace Chuck Treece (On Bass & Drums), made the rhythm section something beastly.” The band later added Afro-Brazilian bassist/vocalist Flora Lucini (whose own band MAAFA is a force to be reckoned with!), and drummer Jason “Biz” Lucas to the mix. The end result is simply kick-ass, take no prisoners rock & roll.

When asked about the future of The 1865 Sacha elaborates:

“We are developing the theatrical side of the LP now and the goal is the unleash it at the top of next year. The storytelling lends itself to a theater type setting”.

Vibrant, entertaining and essential… As Mr. Komunyakaa said: “Art Is An Action”.

I say: “Fuck Picking Cotton”.

The 1865 is NOW

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