The beauty and the pain that shares the space of aja monet’s new track, “The Devil You Know,” and its accompanying short film is nothing short of breathtaking.
There is a history here, not just of black politics but of performers gone by; aja resurrects them all in this ten-minute piece that cannot be ignored.
There is a lot of talk about slam poetry like it’s the new thing, but the images of the genius Gil Scott Heron, playing jagged over the image of aja, remind us that this simply is not so. Jayne Cortez also comes to mind, and the powerhouse performance of Abbey Lincoln, on her husband Max Roach’s 1960 opus, We Insist!
Images of chains emerge over the vocal intro of “We are being told of the greatness of Western Civilisation,” and this quickly melds into a montage of stark imagery – slaves, poor black communities, tribes and key black figures such as Angela Davis and again, Gil Scott Heron.
The track wears its influences on its sleeve as it lays to waste the ideals of White America; “The Devil you know takes the air we breathe, privatizes the water and profits from homelessness.”
Have we heard all this before? Yes. Has anything changed? No. Hell No.
The crimes of Western civilization that Gil put out there when he declared “The Revolution will not be Televised,” and via Whitey on the Moon are still an issue, but aja updates the roll-call of atrocities by name-checking the #Metoo movement, transgender issues and the image of feet on necks in light of the world-changing George Floyd murder in May 2020.
I particularly love the mix of media here. Music video as an art form should arguably be long-dead, but every so often, a promo comes along that changes the game. The frantic yet beautiful trumpet solos by Christian Scott marry with stock footage of a black audience of protestors at a 1960s/70s rally. Their cries play out like the choir that runs through Melvin Van Peebles’ Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song. The Earth, Wind and Fire soundtrack was one of the most powerful elements of the film that, as Black Panther Huey Newton claimed, “The first truly revolutionary Black film made … presented to us by a Black man.” As such, the film was deemed with absolute certainty – “Required Viewing.” The powers that “Bled your, momma, bled your poppa, but won’t bleed me” are still in the eyes of the incredible aja monet, the “Devils that we know.”
Whilst much slam poetry has taken the form of rap or sweet soul via the likes of Sault in more recent years, aja’s use of jazz as her medium might not be original, but it is as fresh and as vital as when Gil released Pieces of a Man in ’71. Required listening? Hell Yes!