In 1959 Charles Mingus recorded a composition called Fables of Faubus for Columbia Records, to be included on his album Mingus Ah Um. Like most of his recordings, it was an instrumental track. But this composition was originally written with lyrics, and Mingus would record a version with accompanying vocals for Candid Records a year or so later. The piece is a rather brazen send-up of Governor Orval Faubus of Arkansas, who in 1959 sent in the National Guard to prevent nine black students from integrating Little Rock Central High.
Mingus’s lyrics in Fables of Faubus take on the utter ridiculousness of segregationist attitudes at the height of the civil rights era. His approach to confronting the bitter atmosphere of the times was to take a sideways swipe at the obliviousness of those on the wrong side of the debate. Without being didactic, he struck a blow at the heart of the issue in a way only an artist can.
As I worked on Radios Appear, this idea was an inspiration. I asked a local group of musicians to arrange and perform a take on Mingus‘ composition, and built the visual elements of the piece to evoke the atmosphere of the fable of the tortoise and the hare, where the right and good path ultimately prevails over the hasty rush towards a shortsighted goal. Explicitly, Radios Appear is a commentary on the utter ridiculousness of the current Wake County School Board majority here in Raleigh, who in 2010 are working to reverse decades of progress by dismantling our nationally-acclaimed diversity policy. (See the Raleigh Gawker for comprehensive commentary on the matter. A letter to the editor I published on the matter in the News and Observer is here.)
This debate is certain to rage on… I felt I could not let slide the opportunity to speak on the matter through my piece at Block2.
(Special props to Crowmeat Bob Pence, who assembled a crack team of musicians for a really rad take on Fables of Faubus. The band included Crowmeat Bob, Dave Menestres, Mike Isenberg, and Jon Hubbard. The audio is taken from their version of Mingus' composition, with permission of his estate, and from Yohimbe's American Bologna, recorded especially for Miles' contribution to this piece.)