THE Q&A: Black Legacy Project uses music for unification

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By Darlene Donloe

Contributing Writer

Trey Carlisle and Tony Mack both believe music has the power to heal.

That’s why the co-creators chose to use that medium to advance the Black Legacy Project.

The Black LP, as they refer to it, uses music to bring people together, promote dialogue, spark collaborations, explore historic songs that honor protest, Black relations and Black history, as well as bring communities together. The Black Legacy Project is produced by the nonprofit Music in Common.

Mack and Carlisle started the Black Legacy Project to form racially diverse groups of musicians who build an understanding of historically Black songs and contemporary works and encourage their audiences to do the same.

Carlisle, an L.A. native, is a rapper, singer and songwriter, who plays guitar, drums and piano.

Mack, 58, is the founder and director of Music in Common, an Atlanta-based organization that empowers diverse cultures and faiths to discover common ground through collaborative songwriting, multimedia and performance.

“Music is a universal language,” said Mack, whose company creates conversations through music. “It’s a fantastic force to bring people together.”

Mack said he started the organization in response to the brutal murder of his bandmate and friend — Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journal reporter abducted by terrorists in Pakistan in 2002.

“It was a call to action to harness the power of music to combat the hate,” Mack said.

Since 2005, Music In Common has directly served thousands of people in more than 300 communities across the globe and across religious, ethnic, cultural and racial lines.

Carlisle, 24, was a participant in a Music in Common program who rose quickly through the organization. He became a senior fellow for Music in Common and then co-created the Black Legacy Project with Mack.

The Black Legacy Project goes city to city to bring different races and religions together. The Los Angeles arm of the project is currently taking place through Dec. 7, with events and programs for musicians and non-musicians alike.

In each community the Black Legacy Project travels to, songs addressing a theme connected to the local community are reimagined and composed. The selected theme for Los Angeles is “American Skin,” which addresses how the color of one’s skin impacts their lived experience.

The theme will be explored by examining and reinterpreting the songs “American Skin” by Bruce Springsteen and “Sweeter,” by Leon Bridges. Community members will analyze the lyrics of the songs in round table discussions to help inform how they are musically reinterpreted by local musicians.

Paige Williams, Felice, David Parks, and Jason Feddy serve as the musical co-directors of the Los Angeles project. A full lineup will be announced Dec. 1. Musicians interested in participating can audition online at https://www.theblacklegacyproject.org/audition.

I recently spoke to Carlisle and Mack about the Black Legacy Project and Music in Common, and the importance of the two.

DD: What was the inspiration for launching Black Legacy Project?

TC: We were inspired to create it in 2020 when we kept seeing the headlines of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other unarmed Black people being killed. Both of us were grieving. Todd was listening to Bob Dylan’s songs on racial justice. Todd was struck by how the songs still spoke so true today. We discussed how Music in Common could use our work to start healing and help through music advancing greater belonging and solidarity in the U.S. That was the reason.

DD: What is it about music? Why was music chosen as the art form for this project?

TM: Music is a universal language and a powerful way to bring people together and discover their common ground and common humanity. It’s a powerful connector. It’s why we chose music for this project and organization as a whole. Music seemed like the best way to do it. As the organization grew, we started recognizing the need to do more — to dig in and find ways to harness the power of music.

DD: Trey, you are Generation Z. Does music mean something different to your generation?

TC: Great question. I would say yes and no. I studied music and peace-building in college. Music has universal significance in every community. The universal function of sharing history and stories and sharing dreams and desires and longing. It has the ability to connect us — not just to people. When we create songs about the earth, the spirit is speaking to our higher power. It has the function to help us connect with a beloved community.

At the same time, the message and the history are being shared by different communities. It’s going to be different. The lived experience in my generation, the issues and problems can be different from other generations. School shootings, violence, climate change. We see it on social media. Being able to speak to mental health and mental wellness and speaking toward that.

DD: Do you believe there will ever be peace among the races?

TM: We have hope that it will be the case. It has to happen from the ground up, face-to-face where you get to know each other. We have to do the work. It becomes a more feasible idea.

TC: I do, for two reasons. One, it is my responsibility to have hope and belief. My ancestors had hope for a better world when they had no reason to believe so. Because of them, I’m able to live my life today. It’s me carrying the torch. I believe there is peace, even though racism had been around, but as a construct, it’s a new phenomenon. It was created. A lot of these systems of oppression and violence, we create them. We are the shapers of culture. We have to imagine a better world. I believe we can do it.

DD: In each community, the Black Legacy Project travels to, songs addressing a theme connected to the local community are reimagined and composed. The selected theme for Los Angeles is “American Skin,” which addresses how the color of one’s skin impacts their lived experience. Why was “American Skin (41 Shots)” chosen for L.A.?

TC: We chose it for two reasons. The actual phrase was very much inspired by Bruce Springsteen’s song. He wrote it to Amadou Diallo, who was murdered. (Diallo, an immigrant, was killed by plainclothes New York police officers.) The essence of the song is how the lived experiences of Black folks in the U.S. is very much shaped by the legacy of racism. It’s about how our lived experiences are shaped by our racial background. The legacy of pain and suffering that has been attached to it. You can see a lot of race relations in L.A. through redlining, Rodney King, income inequality and more. When you look at the diversity of people in L.A. County, you can see the lived experiences are different.

DD: What was your end game goal when you launched the project?

TC: We want the [Black Legacy Project] to inspire ongoing conversations, collaborations and initiatives in every community. We never wanted it to be a circus. We don’t want to come in and give a good show and leave. We want it to continue. That’s why we work with local groups. It can lead to inspiring action. There is no us and them. It’s just us.

“The Q&A” is a feature of Wave Newspapers asking provocative or engaging questions of some of L.A.’s most popular newsmakers or celebrities.

Darlene Donloe is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers who covers South Los Angeles. She can be reached at ddonloe@gmail.com.

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