On June 11, in the midst of nationwide protests over the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who was killed by police in Minneapolis, Jonathan "Chaka" Mahone called for the creation of a Black Live Music Fund to support Austin’s long-marginalized Black music community. He made the call during a meeting of the ATX Live Music Fund working group, a committee working on how to allocate new hotel occupancy tax dollars toward live music.
"I have literally spent years at meeting after meeting, listening to rhetoric and dealing with marginalization for speaking out against the glaring inequities and double standards that I faced as a Black musician, moving here 10 years ago," said Mahone, who is vice-chair of the Austin Music Commission and half of the husband/wife hip-hop duo Riders Against the Storm. "Despite all the nonsense, I moved forward into unbearably white spaces that showed little to no acknowledgment of the value that Black musicians played, and continue to play in the music scene. Every single established Austin music establishment that is not led by Black people has glaring holes in its ability to address, and/or acknowledge the historic underpinnings of racial discrimination in this city."
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Mahone went on to note the way Black music has shaped what we now think of as the Live Music Capital of the World.
"There is no Live Music Capital without Black musicians. Period," he said. "There is no Stevie Ray Vaughan without Hosea Hargrove, T.D. Bell, Albert King, BB King, or Albert Collins. But who has the statue? There is no Antone’s without venues like the Victory Grill and Charlie’s Playhouse, but whose venues remain and survive?"
Mahone called for the city "to reinvest in the community that laid the groundwork for much of the prosperity that white venues, promoters, theaters and more have experienced over the last 50 years" by allocating 50% of live music funds to a "Black Live Music Fund."
His ideas for how that money could be used include the creation of a Black-owned/run music venue, small grant funding for Black musicians and entrepreneurs and funding for artist education.
Since then, the Music Commission has moved meetings to twice a month to discuss the Black Live Music Fund and they have formed a separate working group focused on systemic racism within the music industry.
The push for the fund gained more steam on July 24, when Acey Monaro, lead singer of the pop band Go Fever, started a petition from "non-Black musicians and industry folk" supporting Mahone’s efforts.
"Black American music was my first great love. Non-Black people in Austin need to stand with Black people in our industry and our city. We support the #BlackLiveMusicFund as a small first step," Monaro wrote on the official Go Fever Twitter account.
Prominent Austin artists including Alejandro "Shakey Graves" Rose-Garcia, Max Frost, Kelsey Wilson from Wild Child, Jim Eno from Spoon, and Greg Gonzalez and Beto Martinez from Grupo Fantasma were among the first to sign on.
In 24 hours, the petition gained over a thousand signatures.
On Tuesday, Mahone said the strong support among non-Black musicians and organizations tells him that they "understand the fund is necessary to repair the systemic ways Black artists have been kept at the margins in Austin despite the fact that rock and blues are Black forms of expression."
"It tells me that they are ready to support this repair not just in word, but in action," he said.
Diversity and inclusion don't just happen, he said.
"Steps have to be taken. And financial investment is one of those tangible steps that get beyond the talk," he said.