vagabond/RICANSTRUCTION photos by Sam Lahoz

MACHETERO As Avant Garde Musical

vagabond/RICANSTRUCTION photos by Sam Lahoz
vagabond/RICANSTRUCTION photos by Sam Lahoz

“Creativity requires the courage to let go of certainties.“
– Erich Fromm 

When i was writing the script for MACHETERO i used the music of a band called RICANSTRUCTION as inspiration. RICANSTRUCTION was a band that i had been working with for a long time. They were a band that made music with a Hardcore Punk mentality and infused it with Afro-Rican beats and rhythms, they mixed their brand of Hardcore Punk with Salsa, Merengue, Reggae, Be-Bop and Free jazz. They grew up in the mean streets of Harlem in the 1980’s so they threw in a heavy dose of hard-hitting Hip-Hop just for good measure. The easiest way to describe the way that RICANSTRUCTION made music was to imagine the minds of Bad Brains, Ray Barreto, John Coltrane, Pubic Enemy and Bob Marley melding into one.

The thing that attracted me to RICANSTRUCTION was that they were the sum of everything that had ever inspired them. They took that old Hip-Hop adage of “It ain’t where your from it’s where you’re at” and made it a core principle of their creative process. They took everything from where it was and took it somewhere new. This was something that i had always been struggling to do myself as a graffiti artist, as a painter, as a graphic designer, as a writer and as a filmmaker. When i begin to conceptualize a project the first thing i do is turn to music. i need a soundtrack for whatever i’m doing. It helps to form an emotional center that i can project from. Whenever i get into the creative process whatever i’m listening to invariably becomes a part of the genetic structure of what i’m creating.

RICANSTRUCTION’s first album LIBERATION DAY was a concept album centered around people struggling for their freedom, so it only made sense to fuel the imagination for  MACHETERO with LIBERATION DAY. As i wrote the script the songs began to seep into the cracks and crevices and fill spaces within the film that could only be filled with these songs. The music was going beyond inspiration for the film and beginning to shape it. Certain songs from the album insinuated themselves right into the storyline.

For the most part i can’t stand musicals. To me they are so completely artificial and overwhelming that they seem to over take anything else in a play or a film. Not all musicals but most. It’s not a genre i really like and as i was listening to LIBERATION DAY the script for MACHETERO was beginning to lean in that direction. i fought it thinking that it was just over excitement at having found a way to take something from where it was, as songs on a concept album and take it to somewhere new, as songs driving a narrative in a film. It felt like a good fit but there is always an inherent conflict in the creative process where all creators have to be careful and that conflict lies between the ideas and the ego.

That struggle is in removing the ego from the creative process. To think that you as a creator own your ideas is trap that needs to be avoided. Nothing is original and the creative energy that exists in the ether is simply channeling or filtering itself through you and your experiences. The ego would like to claim ownership over these ideas but the moment that that happens the creation becomes a reflection of the ego and whatever is being created suffers because ego is only looking to serve itself and art needs to serve something greater than ego. Art needs to serve as a connection. This is the struggle for every creator, how to filter the ideas in the ether that have chosen to move through you in an effort to connect with others without letting the ego corrupt those ideas. It’s difficult because throughout the creative process the question is always hanging over the creators head as to what is a natural filtering process of these ideas shaped by your experience and what is ego trying to claim ownership. What makes this even more complicated is that the ego is necessary in feeding your confidence, saitiating your belief that you can accomplish the task at hand. Keeping the ego in check in the creative process while using it to support you as you struggle to create is a dialectic nightmare.

The songs from LIBERATION DAY wouldn’t give up though. Incorporating them into the script kept on making more and more sense. It started to feel right and i started to give in but i needed to find a way to have the songs not just be breaks from the narrative in the film but be a continuation of the narrative. i continued to test them conceptually to see if it wasn’t just my ego coming up with something clever that it could claim. But the idea of these songs belonging to the script in MACHETERO seemed to absorb everything i threw at it.

Then the conception of MACHETERO as an avant-garde musical began to take shape. Throughout the film there are songs from the Liberation Day album that are cut into the film and the songs actually bring information into the film in the same way a musical would. The difference being that the characters aren’t stopping whatever it is that they’re doing to sing to the camera. The characters and the story continue in a way that is conventional with a straight forward narrative. i wanted to make sure with MACHETERO each and every one of the songs  being placed in the film move the narrative forward. On another level the songs juxtaposed against the images of the film shared more characteristics with the music video form than they do with the musical, even though the two are very closely related. It’s this strange hybrid of the music video and the musical that made up the idea of an avant-garde musical.

The concept needed to put to the test. Were the existence of the songs in the film just some smug little way of being clever for the sake of being clever or were they actually bringing something to the table? The songs began to inform the structure of the film and impose themselves into the narrative of the film. They essentially became a Punk Rock Greek chorus adding another layer of narration to the film. The songs allowed me to bring a historical and psychological significance to the characters and their actions that would have been much harder to do without them. These were the questions i was asking of this avant-garde musical concept.

The avant-garde musical was looking better and better and proving to be more resilient than i ever could have imagined. The Hardcore Punk Rock foundation of the songs mixed with Salsa (Breakfast In Amerika), Merengue (Liberation Day), Reggae (Abu-Jamal), and Be-Bop Jazz (Shithouse Serenades and Jihad Seeds) meant that it would be difficult  to absorb all this information which comes at you pretty fast. So i slowed down the flow of that information by placing the lyrics across the screen as they are sung to allow the audience to read the lyrics to better absorb the ideas behind the placement of the songs. The lyrics on the screen also allowed the audience to better understand the structure and the shape that the film had taken. It really was adding another level to the film that made the ability to communicate these complex ideas and emotions easier to understand. It really was driving the story and connecting and imparting information that would be difficult to impart otherwise.

Great songwriting has a way of condensing a story in a way that no other artistic form of expression can. The songs from LIBERATION DAY were perfect examples of well crafted  songwriting. Not4Prophet who wrote the lyrics (and played one of the lead characters in the film) really knows how to hack away at the superfluous and get into the heart of the matter. Joseph and Arturo Rodriguez who wrote the music in collaboration with Not4Prophet really know how to craft song structure so it that moves these stories forward. The songs acting as a Greek chorus narrated elements into the film that – had those songs not been there, would have to be incorporated into the film in some other way. Finding an alternative way to get that information into the film would have required an investment in time and energy as well as the extremely limited financial resources we available.

Working on a non-existent budget with very few resources  the avant-garde musical concept became not only a reflection of creative resourcefulness but also a reflection of production resourcefulness. This condensation the songs from LIBERATION DAY brought to MACHETERO allowed the few resources we had access to in terms of finances, time and energy to be applied to other areas of the film. Working within the confines is where creativity blossoms best. Without restraint creativity is like a spoiled brat running amok for it’s own sake. Struggling within the limitations is where resolve and resourcefulness can be tested and the uncommon solutions are found in the creativity that is harnessed against the odds. It’s in this friction of ideas and concepts and resources and finances that MACHETERO became an avant-garde musical.

This clip from the film is a an example of how i used the song Liberation Day in the film and is indicative of how all of the songs were used in the film.



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