Ancestry, Florida, and the Working Class
Photo by Jessie Riggins
Huey Newton once said about that the Black Panther Party, “Many of our activities provide the working class and the unemployed with a reason and a means for existing in the future. The Black Panther Party says it is perfectly correct to organize the proletarians because after they are kicked out of the factory and are called unemployable they still have to eat. Today we must lift the consciousness of the people. The wind is rising and the rivers are flowing, times are getting hard and we can’t go home again.”
Forty-five years later, Oakland, CA’s Adee Roberson uses the vessel of Tropic Green to continue lifting the consciousness of the people through an artistic process nestled in ancestry and future imagination. Adee has just release a new single “Golden Light” on Crime on the Moon Records, accompanied by a music video created by Wizard Apprentice’s Tieraney Carter.
In a critical moment of gentrification and socio-economic and racial pressure in the Bay Area, it was inspiring to know that Adee decided to and come back to Oakland after moving away to be with her family in Florida. She describes the city as beautiful, having the feel of a city with the energy of redwoods and water. “The Black Panthers started here, I had to live here,” she said.
VICTORIA RUIZ: How did Tropic Green really come into being?
ADEE ROBERSON: I played in punk bands for a really long time. I was in like 7 punk bands. I haven’t been in a band since I was in New Bloods with Osa from Shotgun Seamstress and my friend Cassia. I really like playing music, but I found that it was hard to be in a band by myself, so I started using a drum machine. I really wanted to be in a band and play music.
Florida has been on my mind. There have been so many musicians and artists of color in the current DIY scene coming out of Florida. Can you tell us a little more about your experience there?
It is a very diverse place and a lot of people from tropical climates. There are a lot of Caribbean people and African American and Black heritage. The projects that my dad grew up and lived arein West Palm Beach, which is an hour away from the setting of that book, “Their Eyes Were Watching God.” My grandmother lived there, too. You know, that book is based on a true story of a hurricane and it takes place in the Everglades. The hurricane was the second deadliest tropical cyclone in the history of the U.S. The projects where my grandmother lived, Dunbar Village, was across the street from a mass grave of 674 Black people who were buried after that hurricane. After the hurricane all the Black and White people were picked out of who died. The white people were put in coffins and all the Black people were put in a mass grave. They finally acknowledged that this had happened 10 or so years ago, and there is not a fence there. So it is a pretty intense place.
Putting this in the context of a growing populism around the #blacklivesmatter movement that has grown so much in the past two years, how does your art as a person of color artist relate to your history of race and your ancestry?
You know, I come from a working class background and so there is honestly some shame around where I am coming from and it is still something that I am trying to work through. I come from people who just have a very real experience. I have that experience, but I have also decided to enter a new experience through the punk scene that has lead me to have a very different perspective. I asked my dad, so how do you feel about all of these people getting murdered? What do you think about it? Are you afraid it’s going to happen to you? And you know, my dad is 55 , and I talked to him about it. And he actually lives like 5 hours north of Palm Beach in Florida. He lives in the middle of nowhere and he is like, “it has always been happening. I am really glad that there is media attention around it and maybe that will make it stop sooner than later, but this has always been happening and if you live in the south, you know so many people who have been killed by the Police. You know so many people killed in police custody, you know so many people killed by the cops.” You know, he thinks that it’s great that people have social media in order to raise awareness and that might spur change, but it is just how it has always been. It is really interesting because it is just how it goes, your life as a black person. It is an interesting way to deal with race. It is just the real life experience and day to day stuff outside of institutions. It is the day to day stuff.
And thinking about that, and what you’re talking about with your dad, and how we do have these ways to cast a bigger net to who we are talking to and reaching. I was thinking about another interview with you, where you talk about futurism as the concept of a Black woman being an expansive being. Sometimes I feel pressure as an artist to find a framework to put our art into. How do you the concept of the “expansive being” in your art.
I really do want that. I don’t let constructs dictate what my experience is going to be. I don’t get my art get backed into a corner. And that is how I was raised, too. It was never like, “oh, you’re a black woman, you need to do this or you need to do that.” There were never these restraints that would back me into a corner. I have been lucky enough to have mental freedom and capacity to be this way.
Do you perform Tropic Green live?
I do! Maybe 5 different times. I have played with Hannah Lew and my brother. We used a Moog, a microkorg, and drum machines. My friend Grace Rosario made projections for my shows too. We actually got inspired by Malportado Kids and the “Who Taught You to Hate Yourself” projection. So Grace just went out and filmed and made video images out of scenes of the ocean, things that are important to me, and projections from 70’s Soul Train lines and palm trees. Other times I have just played with prerecorded tracks. Hopefully, Tropic Green will be happening live in New York. Which will be a whole seperate performance with Christina Files, who produced and plays drum machine and lasers on the record. I think it is going to be something that always changes. My mom was like, “can you like move or do something while you’re performing?” and I was like, “leave me alone man, I’m an artist.” It feels so different than when I play drums, I am a drummer so it is something really different to be standing there without a drum set in front of me.
Do you ever struggle with your art? With the type of music that you are making, I think it is easy for people to engage with it at a level where we are just happy that this exists, but do you want people to move past that? How do you push yourself in your music?
I think I am struggling with that right now, actually. I am releasing a lot of visual art and a lot of music and it feels really isolating and kind of lonely in a lot of ways. It feels like I am just doing thing and I have no idea what it means. I think I just push myself because I really just want to live my life and have a good time. The only way to do that is to live your life. The only way to have a truly good time is to be your authentic self. So, I am doing that, but it means that it is going to completely different than anyone else and it is going to be this completely unique thing, so it feels lonely in that sense. It is like wow, I try to fit into different groups. I try to fit into a scene, or black queer subculture, and I think that I am going to fit into these different groups, but I really don’t. It can feel isolating, but what it really means is that we just have to create new things. It takes a lot of strength to do it. I feel like that strength is coming from my ancestors. I am very emotional person, and I draw from my ancestors. My Jamaican ancestors give me a lot of strength and push me to really just do what I want to do. I am just so excited that I get to live my life, which is freedom, and they are pushing me to do what I want to do and that is also the desire of my ancestors. It really inspires me and pushes me. It can leave me lonely and it is a lot of hard work, but it’s for a greater purpose.