“It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love each other and support each other, we have nothing to lose but our chains”Assata Olugbala Shakur, To My People, 1973
Assata’s Chant and Other Histories is an anthology of interviews, readings, immersive storytelling, and archive audio that tell tales of the Black revolutionary Assata Shakur and her comrades in the Black Liberation Movement, including Sundiata Acoli, The Panther 21, Fred Hampton, Mutulu Shakur, and more. The goal of the project is to illustrate snapshots of the journey of Assata and her comrades in the Black Liberation Movement. This is opposed to simply retelling her story in a one-dimensional biopic format. A tendency that has gained much criticism over recent years for its inability to truly capture the lives and struggles of these revolutionaries.
The medium of podcasting is a powerful tool for archiving and distributing oral history, specifically the history of those who have been marginalized and oppressed by the state. This format is particularly suited to telling the stories of people like Assata and her comrades for a variety of reasons.
Firstly, the process of recording oral history interviews is often much less invasive and more organic than the process of conducting filmed interviews. Over the years of interviewing people, particularly Black people, on both film and audio, I found that people are more likely to open up and delve deeper into their history if they feel like they are not being watched. This approach was particularly important for this specific project because a lot of the people we interviewed have been victims of state-sponsored surveillance.
Secondly, many people included in the series have faced the impact of prejudiced anti-Black media, which distorted and continues to distort the lives of those involved in the Black liberation struggle (for more on this, see Wilderson, 2014).
We have used the anthology format as we believe it will best serve the history and the audience. This is not OUR version of these events. As often as possible, we “return to the source,” be that speeches, essays, and other writings of those central to the histories. We intend to add to this source a number of interviews we have conducted with ex-Panthers, academicians, and others involved in the Black Liberation Movement.
One day when we were lost…
“It seems to me that the artist’s struggle for his integrity must be considered as a kind of metaphor for the struggle, which is universal and daily, of all human beings on the face of this globe to become human beings”James Baldwin
In the development of this project, we were approached by a liberal White-owned production company interested in the series. It quickly became clear they had little-to-cursory knowledge of the issues, ideology, people, and political struggles behind the series or Assata herself. One particular incident included the attempt to analogize the story of Assata with that of the women depicted in the 2016 film “Hidden Figures.”
Far too often, the Black artist is only useful to the White liberal if the stories they tell, images they capture, and words they write tell the White liberal exactly what they want to know about Black people. If the perspective brought forth in the artist’s work doesn’t reflect or, even worse, challenge the White liberals’ want to know about Black people, it is shunned, rejected, or told it needs “more development.” Don’t take our word for it; ask any Black artist you know. This, coupled with the increased ability of content to travel without the need for larger organizations, factored into our decision to fully self-fund this project.
Our aim is for this project to be presented directly to our target audience, which is best described by Dr. Robin J Hayes’ “Diaspora underground.” In Love for Liberation: African Independence, Black Power, and a Diaspora Underground, Hayes describes the “Diaspora underground” as:
“A geography of spaces, but it’s also a space time, right? So it is a physical space, but it’s also a conception of the past, present, and future. So when we talk about a Diaspora underground, we understand where our traditions of resistance and revolution come from, how they’re impacting where we are right now. And what is our vision for a future? So that is what I mean by underground; it is the geographic spaces in which we connect across nation-state boundaries. Right? It is Brixton, it is Harlem, it is Algiers, in the 60s and early 70s. And it is also a sense of time in the traditions of resistance and rebellion, that connect us past, present and future”Dr. Robin J Hayes interview with the authors of Assata’s Chant and Other Histories, 2020
For us, the Diaspora underground is the perfect articulation of our target audience. The traditional social grade target audience metric is more suited for immediate gratification and short-term listener targets for quarterly goals. As well as being an engaging piece of audio, we are hoping this series will act as a resource now and in the future for historians, educators, students, and the Diaspora underground at-large to engage with these histories. Over the course of the research period of this project, we spent roughly £800 on books and countless hours reading, interviewing, and combing through archives – in the hopes that those after us who are also interested in this history do not need to do so to understand one of the most crucial periods in the US and world history.
When discussing the role artists play in this Diaspora underground, Hayes posits, “[artists] help create political consciousness and relational networks that are significant to building and sustaining a Diaspora underground.” In line with this, we strive for this project to do what Dr. Saturu Ned (AKA James Mott, member of the Panthers for over a decade) described to us as “connecting the dots” between the overlapping events, times, places, and people to provide a fuller, more comprehensive and realistic look at the Assata’s Chant and Other Histories.
Series 1 (released weekly across digital streaming platforms like Spotify, Apple, Google, and YouTube from August 2022) lays the foundation for more complex and “difficult” conversations and histories that we will touch on in series 2 (TBC early 2023). We at Nello would like to thank all the amazing contributors who gave us their time and trusted us to present their stories and the artists involved in bringing the visual and musical elements of the series to life.
“History doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes”Dhoruba Bin Wahad