Keeping Your Identity
USA | Brian Walker
At the age of 18, I picked up the guitar. I did not know what the future held for my guitar and me but I knew I wanted to play music for the rest of my life. I was inspired by my Uncles who played the 12 bar blues with Mississippi delta style solos during my childhood. They brought people together with the guitar, and they sang about their experiences of joy. The only problem I had is, I could not sing at the time, and I didn’t play with the soul of a southern black man. Two years into playing guitar, I focused on learning the blues and playing soul music. I wanted to play rock music and was told that I needed to learn blues and soul music before I could get started on rock. For the next two years, I jammed with my Uncle learning how to get better at my instrument. I was the only one I played music with on a consistent basis other than a few friends who liked to jam here and there. I still did not know how to sing, until I met my friend Christian who I met from my first college music course who helped me get the confidence to start singing. A year after learning how to sing and play guitar, I started to write songs and play out in coffee shops and DIY punk basements. During this time, I became aware that people looked at me like I was different. People looked at me like I was confused about my own identity, because I was a black man who played punk style music. I would hear words like “I didn’t expect that” or “wow I thought you were going to sing something with a little more soul.” At this moment, I learned that my involvement in the punk DIY scene would not be easy. Being an African American male in today’s society is not easy. People assume that because you are black you can only do certain things (i.e. play sports, sing certain kinds of songs, etc.). Because of this bias, I feel that my creative outputs are always questioned as to whether or not they are valid. I have had to spend much of my years playing music trying to eliminate this stigma, but the stigma will always remain even if I were to become a “famous” musician. I know that people question whether my credentials as an underground artist are “punk enough.” I am questioned on whether my roots or upbringing in music is the same as the everyday suburban punk. To be honest it is not, I grew up on hip-hop, soul, and R & B. I found rock in the early 90s when I found a love for Nirvana and The Smashing Pumpkins on the radio. I do not familiarize with the story line of bands like Black Flag, The Ramones and many other classic punk heroes, but that should not mean that I am any less creative than other people involved in the DIY music scene. I know that the sound I create is one of my own, which makes me creative. I know that others question my ability to be authentic because I am a different race than others who play the same type of music that I do. As a racial minority, being creative comes with invisible limitations. Peers will always box you in based on the status quo of your culture. I do not let that limit who I am as a creative. I know that because of the color of my skin, people expect to view me as a rapper, or a blues singer. I am so much more than that and my skin should never determine what I should and should not be able to do. Creativity has no color, it comes from the experiences of yourself and that should be no reason keep yourself from showing who you are. I believe we should be creative to paint the realities of ourselves, and let no outside forces keep us from being able to pain that picture.
Brian Walker is a Touring Musician residing in the Glenside, PA area near Philadelphia.