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Black history is American history

By Used with permission from the Lowell Sun Online. By KATHLEEN DEELY

A discussion on black history in the year 2004 would not be complete without examining the rise of hip-hop.

This rap music hybrid, born of inner-city youths feeling ostracized from mainstream life, is what ethnomusicologist Emmett Price will talk about next Tuesday when he comes to UMass Lowell as part of a citywide celebration of Black History Month.

"Hip-hop is taking the world by storm on a global and national level and it's important to examine it," said Price, assistant professor of music and African-American studies at Northeastern University.

The music, which caught on in American cities in the mid-'70s, is now as important as jazz and blues are to African-American culture, he said. "It's crucial, because when you talk about the African Diaspora, hip-hop was born out of it; it originally came from Jamaica," said Price, who teaches a class on hip-hop and culture.

Price's talk, "Hip Hop and the New American Legacy," is one piece of an active patchwork of arts, music, food and educational events run by UMass Lowell for the month of February. This year, activities extend to the city, with Ayer Lofts artists taking an active role.

The university kicks things off on Friday with a jazz ode to Count Basie. Boston musician Kendrick Oliver and the New Live Jazz Orchestra will be joined by Miami vocalist Kevin Mahogany for a night of Kansas City Swing at the Durgin Concert Hall on the South Campus.

Bobby Tugbiyele, president of the Association of Students of African Origin and the Black Student Union, pulled together the talent based on their historical importance.

"I thought a celebration of someone who was a pioneer of jazz music like Count Basie would be beneficial because of what he represented. Anyone able to be successful at a time when a group of people were being subjugated and (who) broke the barriers is important to remember," said Tugbiyele, who was born in Nigeria and grew up in New York City.

A poetry reading, soul food festival and an exercise called the privilege line round out the campus events that are mostly free and open to the public Friday's concert comes with a $10 price tag.

Conducted by the National Conference for Community and Justice, the privilege line is an exercise that examines race and privilege in society. Participants form a straight line and, prompted by a speaker, step up if a question relates to them. This shows, said Tugbiyele, that people may look different but are the same deep down.

"Black history is American history. It's important to recognize that," he said.

In conjunction with the university, two Ayer Lofts artists have put together an art, film and music jamboree called "Essence of Culture." The exhibit features eclectic artists that hail from Puerto Rico, Columbia and Egypt, as well as a few from the Ayer Lofts that reflects "color, women and mothers," said Raquel Bauman, who is running the event with Pam Goncalves.

"We wanted to feature expression of culture, the essence of everyone's culture, not just related to African-American people," said Bauman, adding that the exhibit is not typical of the Ayer Lofts Gallery.

"It's about taking time for us to all be aware of how we can come together and express our individuality and insight and reflections of culture," said the Ayer Lofts artist. There is an opening reception on Sunday from 3 to 5 p.m., featuring a live music and food.

A festival of movies that deal with race and social justice will be shown from 4 to 7 p.m. the next two Saturdays at the Middle Street gallery. They are Amistad, Imitation of Life and For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf.

"Essence of Culture" closes on Feb. 22 with Irish step-dancers tapping to an African-American beat.

"This is about creating an opportunity for people to express culture and arts and discuss issues we don't normally talk about," said Bauman.

Events are also being held at the Mogan Cultural Center and Middlesex Community College.

Most events are free to the public. For more info, call the university's multicultural affairs office at 978-934-4336.