Lumpen: the politically infused funk music band of the Black Panther Party

The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. What images do these words invoke? Are they different after the movies about the Black Panther comic book, particularly the one with the CIA agent? What is your reference for the Black Panther Party? For many people, it might be the images of armed Black men protesting the California legislature's attempt to limit the Second Amendment rights of non-white people to armed self-defense.

This post is about Lumpen, the funk band comprised of members of the Black Panther Party.

Party Music: The Inside Story of the Black Panthers' Band and How Black Power Transformed Soul Music by Rickey Vincent examines and shares how Lumpen brought music and revolution into a seductive rhythm of transformation and joy, reflecting the needs of the community and the artistic creativity of political movements.

"Connecting the black music tradition with the black activist tradition, Party Music brings both into greater focus than ever before and reveals just how strongly the black power movement was felt on the streets of black America. Interviews reveal the never-before-heard story of the Black Panthers' R&B band the Lumpen and how five rank-and-file members performed popular music for revolutionaries.  Beyond the mainstream civil rights movement that is typically discussed are the stories of the Black Panthers, the Black Arts Movement, the antiwar activism, and other radical movements that were central to the impulse that transformed black popular music—and created soul music."

The book's title is taken from the fourth album by the revolutionary funk-infused HipHop crew The Coup, "Party Music," released in late 2001, with an album cover with an image of the destruction of the World Trade Center that was soon scrapped.

In the Forward, Boots Riley of the Coup and producer of the revolutionary sci-fi fantasy film Sorry to Bother You,locates the emergence of the Lumpen band in the same false dichotomy between conscious jazz-influenced HipHop and funk/blues-inspired Gangsta Rap. Riley emphasizes that the point is not to change culture, a stand-in for the civilizing narrative of changing behavior, but to understand and be part of political movements to change material conditions.

"The Black Panther Party was also of the mind that material change was what was needed. The Black Panther Party put forward a serious class analysis that didn't waste time with the idea that changing culture was the key. So, it follows logically, that when they decided to have a band, it would be a funk band. The Lumpen took music that black folks in the United States were listening to at the time and changed the lyrics to make revolutionary agitprop grooves. The Lumpen's music, like the Panthers themselves, pointed to the idea that there is no need to call on us we could be, the use that we are just need the right map and the right tools. Ricky Vincent just put a very important part of the map in your hands."

In the preface, Vincent explains his motivations, "This book explores the soul of the black power movement. It puts a face to the revolution and seeks to humanize black revolutionaries of the day. This book is for anyone who recognizes the transformative power of James Brown but still can't find his name in their civil rights history book; it is for anyone who was fascinated by the fearless vision of change put forth by the leaders of the black power era and has wondered how those ideas came about."

Consider these quotes from Amilcar Cabral, a revolutionary philosopher from Cape Verde and leader of the liberation wars in Cape Verde and Guiné Bissau.

"The value of culture as an element of resistance to foreign domination lies in the fact that culture is the vigorous manifestation on the ideological or idealist plane of the physical and historical reality of the society that is dominated or to be dominated."

"Always bear in mind that the people are not fighting for ideas, for the things in anyone's head. They are fighting to win material benefits, to live better and in peace, to see their lives go forward, to guarantee the future of their children."

This video comes from the Panther Times, "The Lumpen 50th Anniversary – Historic Influence in Revolutionary Music."