‘The Gentrification Song’: Black-owned music venues stand their ground in changing neighborhoods

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  • Published on June 15, 2022
  • Last Updated March 10, 2023
  • In History

Pushy neighbors threaten some Black-owned music spots, endangering Black culture in the process. Visit these clubs and help keep them vibrant.

It all started with a raid. In 2018, New York police stormed Ode to Babel, a Brooklyn bar, and slapped it with a $2,000 fine. The incident left bar owners angry and confused; NYPD offered scant explanation on why the bar, which hosts art and music events, was targeted. The final straw, though, was a neighbor’s push to suspend Ode to Babel’s liquor license. This sparked community outrage, as patrons, neighbors and activists alike petitioned the community board and successfully won Ode to Babel’s license renewal.

The controversy inspired Addy Salau, a musician and Brooklyn-based community organizer, to tighten the focus of her activism, from uplifting Black creatives to curbing the gentrification crippling Black-owned local venues across the U.S. “As creatives, we have a lot of influence,” Salau says. “If we could use that to think about what we do when we organize in the same space together, I think that can be very powerful.”

These days, instead of simply promoting Black creativity, Salau is trying to preserve it. The rationale: Amidst the rise of gentrification across most major American cities, Black venue owners hosting multicultural events have been the target of both direct and subversive tactics to push them out of historically Black neighborhoods. From “randomly selected” police raids to inflated lease renewal costs, the future of Black-owned venues as anchors of Black music culture remains precarious.

For traveling music enthusiasts, Salau says, patronizing Black creative spaces is critical to securing their future, as is collectively calling local politicians in support of venue-friendly bills. Meanwhile, here are four Black-owned venues you can support during your travels.

Venues

The World Stage (Los Angeles) This legendary nonprofit venue in Los Angeles has cultivated Black music and poetry since 1988. Founded by poet Kamau Daaoud and jazz drummer Billy Higgins, the space is known for its candid criticism and constructive feedback for revising and perfecting pieces. Visitors can attend weekly workshops that develop artistic knowledge and skill in woodwinds, drums and jazz. The World Stage also hosts traveling musicians on Fridays and Saturdays.

Palmer’s Bar (Minneapolis) This Minneapolis mainstay wasn’t Black-owned until longtime bartender Tony Zaccardi purchased the spot in 2018. Since then, Zaccardi has ushered a new era for the 116-year-old West End bar by refurbishing the storied building with a new stage, new art and restored ceilings, as well as garnering both local and national support during the pandemic. Palmer’s Bar holds itself as a welcoming hub for all creative voices and drinkers. Stop by on a Sunday to hear the legendary blues artists Cornbread Harris.

Shrine (New York City) A creative performance space and multimedia exposition in the heart of Harlem, Shrine is home to a wide range of genres such as indie rock, hip hop, jazz, funk and Afro-beat. Its goal is to advance the artistic development of musicians, filmmakers and thespians. Multiple artists are slated to perform each night, creating a night of expressive experimentation and lively celebration. And yes, there are drinks as well — try the Shrine’s signature cocktail, the Afro-Trip.

The Jago (London, U.K.) Situated in the Dalston neighborhood, this artistic hub showcases jam sessions and dance parties in an inviting atmosphere. Workshops and community-centered events are also organized by the bar and venue to invest in East London’s diverse talent. Patrons can expect plenty of DJs booming Afro-beat, dancehall, disco and reggaeton, while also enjoying smooth nu-soul and jazz grooves from touring bands.

This story was created by Detour, a journalism brand focused on the best stories in Black travel, in partnership with McClatchy’s The Charlotte Observer and Miami Herald. Detour’s approach to travel and storytelling seeks to tell previously under-reported or ignored narratives by shifting away from the customary routes framed in Eurocentrism. The detour team is made up of an A-list of award-winning journalists, writers, historians, photographers, illustrators and filmmakers.