In the last several weeks, one of the ways the global live music community has shown their support for Haiti earthquake victims was by putting on benefit concerts.
But how exactly does a community pull together in such a short span of time?
And how does a live music community unite for a common cause to help others even though they might struggle with solidarity under normal circumstances?
From the first moment of action to the start of the show, what does the chronological time-line of planning a Haiti benefit concert look like?
One of the reasons, I’ve been amazed at the overwhelming response by the live music community to the Haiti earthquake is because I know planning regular concerts isn’t easy. It takes a lot of time, effort and dedication that often goes unseen by concert fans.
That said, I’ve been inspired as artists, fans, and promoters have all come together to help give support to Haiti. And to better understand and appreciate all the details, I took a closer look to discover the making of a local Chicago Haiti benefit concert.
The Story of Every Drop Counts
Every Drop Counts was a Haiti benefit concert put together by members of the Chicago hip hop community. It took place on January, 31 at Reggie’s Rock Club in Chicago and successfully raised $16,000 for Haiti earthquake victims.
In speaking with EDC’s host Aja Monet I learned how a group of artists, fans, promoters, poets and activists quickly rallied together in a matter of days.
And as Monet shared her story, the bigger and long term impact of EDC was revealed.
Sure, the benefit concert would ultimately support Haiti, but this event has developed into an organization and a movement that could change the course of Chicago’s hip hop and live music community.
The Poetry of Taking Action
Now, I’d like to share excerpts from my conversation with poet, activist, and Every Drop Counts host Aja Monet. I hope you enjoy the journey as she takes us through the very first moments of assembling EDC’s team of organizers and artists, talks about the obstacles she faced, and explains what the EDC movement means for the city of Chicago and its hip hop community.
After the news broke about the Haiti earthquake, how did you start planning Every Drop Counts?
It began via a Facebook chat with BBU member, Jason Perez. While discussing the shock of what was going on in Haiti, I proposed us having an event that would help raise awareness and funds. I did not know exactly how the event would play out but I knew that it was urgent to begin organizing immediately. I called numerous individuals that I knew in the Chicago hip hop community and from there, got the idea to invite artists who weren’t from Chicago. I put a message on Twitter and Facebook shortly after inquiring for anyone that was interested to send an email so that we could schedule a meeting at my house that same evening. To my surprise, there was a flood of emails and phone calls.
Once we had our meeting, I presented to the group what I had already been working on. We had a core set list of confirmed performers and were still waiting to hear back from a few. After discussing our emotions behind the event we got to working, we assigned people to specific committees so that we could determine what organization we were going to donate to once we raised money. One of the members, James Cox, came to the meeting with a list of the main resources needed in Haiti.
After going through that list, we voted on which resource we would focus on providing. I suggested that no individual should ever have to do with out water. Water is vital to any community sustaining it self. If people do not have access to water, they will surely die and suffer. The vote was unanimous. Water was going to be our focus. We then agreed on the name, Every Drop Counts. As Americans we take for granted many things, water being one of the main resources we all, at the very least, have access to.
Over the course of two days, member Chelsey Carter, researched various water organizations and settled on contacting the World Water Relief. She called me with a breakdown of her conversation with a representative from the organization and they were interested in our event. After settling with the organization, we gained confidence in our progress, we were essentially concerned with being legit about our decision making process, about being informed and educated on the issues pertaining to Haiti. Now this has evolved from a group of random, unrelated artists and activists into a movement and an organization.
The bill was a mix of artists that ordinarily wouldn’t play together if this wasn’t a benefit concert. How did you face those challenges?
I’m not sure I saw those “challenges.” I’m originally from a city where differences are accents, where we feed off of those differences, where we collaborate and understand the importance of doing so. I don’t see the purpose of fueling negative energy, granted we all do at times, we are human. But my focus was not on who would or wouldn’t be on a bill together, it was on Haiti. I was more concerned with putting on a show that would bring individuals together and out to support a cause. Now, if in the process I was able to bridge some gaps, it only makes the event that much more meaningful and profound. I didn’t do something by creating this bill that no one else could have done, but at the end of the day it took this event to make it happen. I look forward to this igniting more collaborations. I hope this gets people motivated. I’m praying it humbles us and reminds us of our impact when we come together.
How are the artists responding to being a part of the benefit concert and the Every Drop Counts movement? Is this type of activism new for any of them?
I don’t think any of these artists are new to activism. However, I think this cause is new for them. Any person that takes initiative in their passion, that acts on their drive and their ambitions is an activist. My only concern for these artists and Hip Hop artists in general is, whose cause are you down for. You don’t have to preach, you don’t have to have a list of degrees, or a non profit behind you to consider yourself an activist and a person of influence. However, what is your cause, what affects you, where is your balance? You can’t feed a child candy and only candy, they will not survive. A child needs nutrients, needs vitamins. I make this analogy to say, I enjoy being entertained, but I also need substance. People are hungry. People need substance. We can’t pop bottles every night, some nights we gotta pay dues, some nights we gotta visit a shelter, we gotta pray, we gotta rest, some nights call for us to see ourselves in relation to each other.
Many of these artists perhaps, have not invested themselves in “politically correct” causes but the moment they are producing art that speaks for a mass amount of people, then they are accountable to that influence. My challenge is getting the artists to see the bigger picture, to recognize themselves in relation to struggle. I respect a lot of these artists’ hustle. They are trying to survive essentially in a system that does not care about their survival and in the midst of that they are creating music, this music is bringing people together regardless of any criticism of the music. We all agree that suffering is tragic, that watching Haiti suffer is tragic, and so we can agree there. I want us to start there. I’m still not sure if many of the artists involve on Every Drop Counts are used to activism to this degree. But this is probably one of those moments where the concern is there and the moment is being taken advantage of for the good of Haiti and that’s naturally impacting the change that needs to happen in the Chicago hip hop community.
Since you’re relatively new to Chicago, having been here for just six months, what sort of obstacles or adversity did you face when planning EDC?
Sometimes all change requires is for someone to take action. And in getting the ball rolling with EDC I guess that’s what everyone trusted at the start. You can’t always trust a person but you can trust their actions to reveal to you who they are in some capacity.
Yes, we’ve encountered some conflict in organizing the benefit. Anytime there’s new leadership people are skeptical. I’m new to the city and I attempted to bring a lot of people together in a week’s time.. I understand why a lot of people would naturally question that. But I didn’t think of it in those terms. I trust my actions and I know what I do will speak for itself.
I’m a poet and my craft is about articulating experience and bringing awareness to folks. At the heart of any thing I’ve ever said, I’ve been more concerned with “us” then “me.” After this event takes place, you can tell me whether or not my actions speaks for itself. I challenge myself daily to be better than yesterday and I can only hope that in those efforts, I am helping others better themselves. Every Drop Counts was something we needed to do. We had to act fast because the days were going by for the Haiti victims, I couldn’t afford to worry about the obstacles because I knew they weren’t anywhere near the devastating obstacles Haitians was facing.
Yes, I’ve heard about Chicago’s ‘Haterville’ reputation. To be honest, I didn’t understand that at first. I love Chicago. I didn’t see what others so aggressively spoke of. However, slowly I began to see the affect of a city facing major youth violence, educational injustice, government neglect…I mean there’s so much going on here. But in order to make the concert happen and help Haiti, we needed to get beyond that mentality.
If you want to understand a people, look at their music, look at their cultural identifications. Some of the artists on the bill may fashion themselves as “up beat” artists or “party music” and these are our young people. Often times critics do all this tearing down but they don’t build creative and complex criticisms. Perhaps we are creating more “party” music because we are trying to live outside of our experiences. Perhaps we are not trying to glorify our pathos and simply wish to dwell in the optimism of music that makes you dance and numb pain of harsh reality. Or maybe as people of color we are so tired of having to justify our actions to people that we don’t want to speak for an entire people all the time. Maybe we just want to be ourselves.
This does not excuse a lack of balance but rather gives these artists agency as individuals that are well aware of their role and choose to take multiple roads. All I’m asking is that we remember the importance of each other. We must acknowledge that one does not negate the other, that our conscious brother and sister is not in opposition to our party hipster scene goer. And if we joined forces, if we encouraged each other, man, imagine how powerful that could be.
There’s a lot of youth violence and segregation in Chicago, so I think this might bring us together and maybe we can begin to face those issues, too. We have to keep that spirit that Obama brought and channel it from this event. One person can not do it alone but it is in the collaborative effort that we get things done. Every Drop Counts is a collaborative effort, it took a community of people to come together.
I don’t know if this concert will ignite more unity or ambition to break down barriers in the hip hop community or in our communities in general. But that doesn’t really matter because the walls were already starting to come down before Haiti happened. Chicago was founded by a Haitian, Jean Baptiste Pointe du Sable, there’s something deep in that. Our greatest examples of liberation and revolution is from the Haitian people. In this horrifying situation we can grow and learn.
What did you learn from watching other Haiti benefits and how did you apply it to organizing EDC?
We needed to take action a long time ago with helping Haiti. It’s sad that it takes [the earthquake] to take action. I’m learning that we have immense capacity to impact and affect each other. I know you can’t ask everybody to be for the cause. But you can work with those who are ready and willing to help. Also, we learned not to make the mistakes of blindly trusting organizations. We wanted to be sure in our research, to be confident in our decisions.
What does it mean for Chicago to show support for Haiti?
It means that Chicago can show support for itself. If Chicago can see Haiti in relation to itself than we can use some of these same methods of organizing to build each other up. Haiti needs help, but we all need help. We all have to see the situation in Haiti as possible for either of us. Maybe this will alter how we think about this city and the ability to unite for a common good.But first we have to agree that being concerned with education and youth violence, and political corruption is a common good.
We have to take the first step by calling it like we see it. Maybe this event won’t do anything at all for people, but I highly doubt that. The event hasn’t even happened yet and I am beginning to see its affect on people. I pray it will be in the consciousness of the people. There are many ills here in Chicago, many under developed communities. There is also a great racial tension here. It doesn’t victimize the city, no more than this earthquake victimizes Haiti. People are powerful because of their struggles when they use it as fuel to persevere. Only beauty can rise from such rubble. We will see that. I truly believe we will.
How did you finally choose Reggie’s Rock Club as the venue?
It was a no brainer. We reached out to all these different venues, some never got back to us, others tried to charge us ridiculous amounts of money, and unfortunately, others didn’t get back to us soon enough. Reggies was supportive not just of the show but of the cause and that was important to us. From the moment we’ve been in communication with them they’ve been incredible and supportive. They have offered up their services and their space to us with no hesitation. We can respect that.
It just happened that Reggie’s got back to us the quickest and gave us the best opportunity. They were excited to work with us. My first performance when I moved to Chicago was at Reggie’s and I’m grateful that they wanted to help.
I’m not sure, but I think some people doubted what we were doing at first. I got calls from other venues after the fact but it was too late. And now that they see what it is, they might feel that they should’ve responded quicker. Hopefully those other venues can help out with other events. We’d love to work with them in the future.
Picking the venue and finding the best place was very word of mouth and it shows the power of individuals coming together. It takes a lot of grueling work to bring something like this together. Thanks to Fakeshore Drive’s Andrew Barber.
For more info visit Every Drop Counts (website), Twitter, and Facebook.