The SMC Benefit Concert for the #ECRBforNYC Campaign

By Nikhil Yerawadekar

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Like most working musicians, I’ve performed at a number of benefit concerts for charities, NGOs and social causes over the years. The fundraising strategy for international do-gooder organizations generally involves spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to put on high-end galas for wealthy donors.  Ironically, some of my biggest paydays as a gigging musician have been from playing benefits, where thousand-dollar entry fees are coupled with lavish dinners and performances from name-brand artists.

I’ve come to terms with the reality that survival in the music business involves some degree of compromise, but these big-deal events have always felt particularly gross to me. Should we really expect purposeful philanthropy from people who need to be wined and dined at an exclusive event in order to give?  Are people whose lifestyles are so exclusive really the folks who should be deciding how to benefit those in need?

Part of the Sound Mind Collective’s mission is to “connect independent musicians and artists with local community and encourage meaningful, positive growth through education, social justice advocacy, and creation.”  Our collective is comprised of NYC-based music makers and supporters who wish to circumvent the cognitive dissonances of the music business and imbue our creative work with real meaning. We believe that our expressive work has value whether or not it’s supported by a corporate structure.  We also believe that people in our communities can better their lives without propping up middleman organizations, agencies, or wealthy funders.

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With that in mind, we are fortunate to be in a position to support the Campaign For An Elected Civilian Review Board.  This grassroots political campaign seeks to empower New Yorkers in an intelligent and meaningful way: Fix the lack of accountability in NYC’s police department. Time and again we’ve seen officers commit acts of misconduct, ranging from corruption to rape and murder, without facing real consequences. (The native New Yorkers among the Sound Mind Collective have our own long lists of negative experiences with police officers.)  This state of injustice is perpetuated by our city’s current police oversight structure, where cronies of the mayor and the police department are given decision-making authority in cases of police misconduct.

The ECRB campaign seeks to replace the current oversight structure with a complaint review board consisting of community members who are elected by the public, rather than by people in power who seek to shield the NYPD. The campaign’s goals are extremely pragmatic and rooted in addressing the needs of the most vulnerable people in the city. You can find out more about what the campaign is all about on their website.

The campaign consists of an diverse group of serious, capable and experienced radical thinkers.  And, the logical, democratic methods of ECRB were a huge inspiration for me in figuring out how the Sound Mind Collective would operate.

This May, the Sound Mind Collective put together an awesome lineup of musicians to raise money for the ECRB campaign. The event, full of great vibes and positive human energy, was hosted by one of our favorite venues in Brooklyn, C’mon Everybody.  C’mon’s proprietor, the huge-hearted Eric Sosa, is sensitive to the importance of the cause, and was willing to be flexible with his bottom line to host and play a role in strengthening our community.  In the end, we were able to raise $1300, just about double the coffers of the campaign and put on a truly different kind of show.

I have to shout out our host-with-the-most Yah Supreme, and our raffle queen Erin Boyd who both did an amazing job keeping the audience entertained and engaged throughout the night. The program included a brief presentation from ECRB campaign members, as well as an impassioned statement from Juanita Young, whose son Malcolm Ferguson was killed by the NYPD.

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Musically, it was a hell of a night. Geminelle Rollins started things off with a beautiful, vulnerable and moving solo performance and was followed by my own group, Low Mentality, in our second show with a brand-new lineup. I wouldn’t wanna put it on myself to give a proper evaluation of our set, but I can say the audience seemed pretty happy!  I got to relax and be part of the crowd afterwards to enjoy the brilliant Resistance Revival Chorus, featuring a heartbreaking solo feature from Abby Dobson. They were followed by slamming performances from MAKU Soundsystem and Bajah & Dry Eye Crew, whose international flavors reflected the real cultural fabric of NYC. They rocked the house.

I was thrilled that such a diversity of performers were down to support the cause, and that it wasn’t a tough sell for SMC members to book these great acts.  I believe this is because the ECRB campaign is fighting for all of us, and so many of us are tired of living in a city where we fear those who are meant to protect us.  Real accountability and justice in NYC will benefit us all.

The Sound Mind Collective is excited to keep our benefit-concert series growing at community-oriented venues, for community-oriented causes, without needing to kowtow to the wealthy.  We are currently in the beginning stages of planning our next benefit and I can’t wait to see how we can improve upon our methods. It’s really exciting to know that we musicians can help shift the power structures in our city and that we can do so with the art form we’ve put at the center of our lives.

To make a donation to the Campaign For An Elected Civilian Review Board, please visit their GoFundMe page: https://www.gofundme.com/ecrbnyc