It was a warm summer night. Eighteen thousand people made their way in 95 degree humid weather for the event. As I moved through the crowd to my seat, I was struck by the diversity of ages, races, and signs of economic status. The man to my right was Japanese while the man to my left was Filipino. In front of me was a father with three children under age 10. Behind me was a row of people older than myself, one of whom walked with a cane. This was not the usual crowd for a hip-hop concert. But, then, this was not a typical hip-hop group. The event was a concert with the Black Eyed Peas.
Formed in 1995 in East Los Angeles, the Black Eyed Peas are known as cross-over hip-hop artists. Simply, they’ve crossed over from a narrow urban hip-hop audience to a fan base which crosses the lives of race, ethnicity, and socio-economic status. While much of the music is fun and energetic, themes of equality, social justice, and personal empowerment are communicated in an unequivocal way.
The Black Eyes Peas embody their message of equality and social justice. The group members are African-American, and mixed race of Mexican/Native American, Filipino/African American, and Mexican/Native American/European descent. In concert, they speak of the pain of growing up in poverty, witnessing relatives killed in violence, and the struggles to live out a dream to bring diverse people together through music in order to build a better world. This message is perhaps best typified in the lyrics to their song, “Where is the Love?”
People killin’, people dyin’
Children hurt and you hear them cryin’
Can you practice what you preach
And would you turn the other cheek
Father, Father, Father help us
Send some guidance from above
‘Cause people got me, got me questionin’
Where is the love?
While the song brings an indictment of poverty and violence around the world, it also brings a response in the crowded audience: a gesture using both hands to form the symbol of a heart made by fans not only during this song but throughout the concert. This gesture becomes a kind of commitment to show the love — to live it and to be it.
The performance I attended drew to conclusion with lead performer, Will.I.Am, speaking on behalf of the group. He recounted the groups struggle to rise, not to fame, but to a place where they could bring people together for a message in the music. He spoke of how, as teenagers, they were told to give up their dreams, to take life more seriously. Perhaps it was because they took life very seriously that they were drawn to write and perform original music that bridged races, cultures, age-groups, and musical styles. Now, with all four of the Black Eye Peas at age 35, they are able to live their dream. Out of this experience, Will.I.Am preached a forceful sermon to the audience, encouraging them to live out their dreams, to resist discouraged, and to develop talents and abilities to give something positive of self to the world.
Moments in the concert brought me to tears, including Will.I.Am’s Saturday night sermon. He did nothing less than preach the possibility of hope to people, of a bright future, of the possibility of actualizing God given gifts for the benefit of others.
Following the concert, I could not help but reflect on the significance of achieving economic success while also remembering that there is a social and ethical responsibility for the world. Fortunate and fame are generally associated with a kind of detachment from the world. But the Black Eyed Peas demonstrate a different way of being which takes seriously the responsibility we each have to make the world a better place. Keeping it simple, they embody not just unity in the midst of diversity but the understanding that it is daily actions of integrity (being true to self and one’s dreams) and fair treatment of others (showing love) which bring transformation in the world.
Their dream is one shared by many: a world in which people live at peace with each other and in mutual respect. For the Black Eye Peas, it’s not just a dream. They are about keepin’ it real and teaching tangible lessons through music for making the world a better place.
© 2010, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.