Why a Path Band
[printable version - adobe pdf]

This is intended as a prose complement to “Why Not a Path Band?” that appeared in the first issue of First of the Month last year.

We were talking about Malcolm X over dinner after doing a workshop on starting up a path band in Toronto. I realized that I’ve been trying to put Malcolm’s basic idea into a musical praxis. If I understood the last year or so of his life correctly, Malcolm was trying to develop both a political organization and a religious organization on the theory that it would take two orientations/organizations reinforcing and complementing each other to make the radical social changes required by the crisis. In Malcolm’s time “the crisis” was a self-determination of peoples crisis, and, while this crisis is deeper today than it was then -- genocides and administrative massacres accelerating, more blacks in jail than ever before, cultural integrity and diversity never more threatened everywhere -- a bigger species integrity and diversity crisis has emerged that threatens all vertebrate life on the planet. A 12/8 path band, at least as I envision it, simply puts musicking at the very center of Malcolm’s strategy for social change, just when a comprehensive strategy for a deeper crisis is urgent.

Thinking about how easy it is to get a few musicians together and make a start on it, how much fun it is to make music, what joy there is in beating drums and blowing horns in the carnival styles of different cultures (Brazil, Cuba, New Orleans), how satisfying it is to “stroll” and not be plugged in or sitting down or stuck in one place, the money there is to be made by being mobile, different, flexible, ready to play gigs that other bands can’t play -- why bother with the political and pagan angles? Won’t this mess up the fun, the party, the good times?

Well, it could, but if the pleasure of musicking for dancers is at the very center of every path band praxis, it seems possible that building path bands may be a crucial ingredient in bringing Malcolm X’s strategy to fruition. One danger in bringing a religious movement and a political movement together is, of course, fascism: the creation of a totalitarian culture in which religious values reinforce political ideologies and vice versa. It is my hope (only a hope and never a sure thing) that by putting the joys of musicking for dancers first and foremost we are creating purposeful groups of musicians who will be both catalysts and correctives in every locality, building community by being open to both political and religious action that affirms the local community in its resistance to the advertisers, media, corporate controls, politics as usual of late capitalism.

I don’t want anyone to lose focus on the energy and quality of the musicking. Including people who can’t play well yet (children, beginners) means that the core rhythm section people have to be expert and have unshakable grooves going; the paired horns have to punch their parts to cover for the people who are still finding their parts on the path. Quality at the center of it, a constant concern for dancers, cultivating the ‘will to party’ in everyone within earshot, taking care of business (photos, press kit, biographies of band members, cards with raised lettering, the whole PR ball of wax) to be sure that the band makes an impression, makes money, wins friends and influences people with the musicking -- these concerns should always be a priority. Pleasure in playing, happiness, joy, can’t be coerced, can’t be guaranteed to anyone, but pleasure is the goal in the middle of the 12/8 path.

If this goal is met the spinoffs or the pattern that connects to politics, paganism, pedagogy and poetry (or some other mandala of communitas) will surely emerge and quickly. And the quality of the politics, the deeper purpose of the paganism, the proper pedagogies, the poetic fruits of good musicking will define themselves in each locality. Interestingly, it is simply the mobility of a 12/8 path band and the inclusion principle that makes all these connections possible.

Do your snare drummer and bass drummer have the straps or the good over-the-shoulders support harness for ‘the long march’? Are your paired horns in synch for ‘brightness’? Is this fun? Forward ever.

Back to 12/8 Path HomePage