It Takes A Village

Vortex Music Magazine

Why did Farnell Newton help establish the Portland Black Music Festival? Because we have incredible strength when we come together.

Saeeda Wright performs at the first annual Portland Black Music Festival at the Mission Theater on September 11, 2016—click to see more photos by Tojo AndrianarivoSaeeda Wright performs at the first annual Portland Black Music Festival at the Mission Theater on September 11, 2016—click to see more photos by Tojo Andrianarivo

"It takes a village."



Farnell Newton is a trumpeter, teacher, bandleader of The Othership Connection, record label head and father of five.Farnell Newton is a trumpeter, teacher, bandleader of The Othership Connection, record label head and father of five.I was raised with this philosophy as my guiding principle. Growing up a multiracial (white, black and Native American) male in the black community of Miami, during times of need, the answer was always to ask the village to pitch in. My grandmother was my caretaker when I was a young kid, and then my Aunt Jonette, and finally my Uncle Malcolm. They really embodied this philosophy.

After I finished school at Oberlin College’s Conservatory of Music and started my own family in Portland, I sought out musicians and friends to build a community of my own. In doing so over the years, I started to understand that you have to build a village when creating a safe environment for families—everything from resolving neighborhood issues to raising our children. If I needed help moving furniture, or my car broke down, or I required financial advice, I would call upon my very own village. And I want the village to be able to call upon me as well.

Why A Black Music Festival?

You also have to build a village when creating a music brand that supports artists and throws events, shows and festivals. You need the village to inform what you do so that the result is creativity and action with a positive impact.

One day, I was talking with Tony Ozier (multi-instrumentalist, producer, leader of the Doo Doo Funk All-Stars, and my partner in the FNBeatsGalore record label) about the state of music in Portland. Soon, we added DJ O.G. One, the official DJ for the Portland Trail Blazers, to our discussions. He really rounded out the team because he is not only a talented DJ and businessman, but also an active community volunteer, supporter of child welfare, advocate for people with autism, supporter of local artists and more.

Farnell Newton at the Portland Black Music Festival—click to see more photos by Tojo AndrianarivoFarnell Newton at the Portland Black Music Festival—click to see more photos by Tojo AndrianarivoIn this three-person team’s monthly meetings, we discussed the success of the Dookie Jam (monthly live jam sessions at Dante’s, which have been going strong for several years), how to bring musicians and music lovers together with more events around the city, the lack of a robust music industry in Portland, and the difficulty getting regular work as artists here. We were all frustrated by the way Portland music festivals would bring in national artists as headliners and only (sometimes) use local talent as openers.

Instead of just talking, we decided that we wanted to create a new music festival that would not only bring pride to Portland as a whole but would also specifically celebrate artists in the black community. We envisioned this festival as a great tradition that we, as fathers and artists, could leave behind for our children and families. This was the birth of the Portland Black Music Festival.

Where’s The White Music Fest?

Upon announcing the Portland Black Music Festival, we were hit with the same old racist backlash on social media that we have seen for decades. Facebook comments came in: “Where is the White Music Festival?” I simply responded, “Do you go to the Greek Festival and ask them to start a Mexican Festival?”

While some of the social media exchanges I experienced in response to the festival weren’t productive opportunities for mutual learning and respect, others were. I truly believe that these little glimpses into other cultures through community celebrations of art can help us celebrate and better understand each other.

Hip-hop veteran Cool Nutz at the Portland Black Music Festival. Look out for the 2017 edition of the fest next September as it expands to three days and click to see more photos from this year's fest by Tojo Andrianarivo.Hip-hop veteran Cool Nutz at the Portland Black Music Festival. Look out for the 2017 edition of the fest next September as it expands to three days and click to see more photos from this year's fest by Tojo Andrianarivo.Black culture in America is consistently being erased and appropriated, and it’s important to talk about it. In the kind of backlash we received, we were dealing with people who don’t really understand our heritage. Slavery erased our connections to our African heritage, and continued racism and oppression has sought to diminish our culture. We may be from Cameroon, Nigeria, Ghana and many other countries of Western Africa, but many of us have lost that connection. In the face of that history, we have incredible strength when we come together, acknowledging our past and building our future together as a village. If you don’t know your past, you don’t know your future.

Building Community And Fostering A Welcoming Space

For people to have a place in any community, they have to feel like they are worth something—they want to feel like they are part of this community and its conversations. I truly believe a celebration like this makes people feel at home. It gives them pride in their music community while creating a space to share their heritage and culture with others who respectfully want to be a part of this great experience.

The learning process of creating the Portland Black Music Festival as a community event has taught us so much about interconnectedness, about the intersection between music, art, community and identity. No matter where you are from on this Earth, your religious beliefs, your gender, whatever: We truly believe that music can be the great connector, and this music festival is just one example of that.

Find more about what it means to be a black musician in Portland in the current issue of Vortex.

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