After a life-risking accident, Santa Cruz musicians rally round the Coup
By Paul Davis
Indifferent crowds and shady venue owners are nothing--for any band that spends extensive time out on the road, risking life and limb in a tour bus accident is the worst imaginable nightmare. That nightmare became real for the fiercely political hip-hop group the Coup when their tour bus flipped and caught fire outside San Diego on Dec. 2. Though the group emerged mostly unscathed, they suffered a setback that cannot be easily calculated, losing irreplaceable instruments, laptops, basic essentials and much more as a result.
The Coup, on tour supporting their latest album Pick a Bigger Weapon, have had their share of hard times since first bringing their staunchly agitprop hip-hop to the public in the early '90s. While their first decade in the music business was marred by record label politics and mainstream indifference, the underground hip-hop movement of the late '90s helped bring them a larger audience. But for all of the Coup's tenacity through two decades of adversity, normally unflappable founding member DJ Pam the Funkstress explains that she and frontman Boots Riley, as well as their touring band, are still rattled by the accident.
"Right now everybody's still recovering," she says. "The band members are doing OK, but everybody's kind of depressed--people could have died. Just imagine seeing the bus on fire--it's a weird feeling. [We initially thought] the bus driver was dead, but he was knocked out. If anyone had been asleep, they would have died." She says that those who were injured in the accident are healing up, but that the event has had a profound psychological toll on the group. "Everybody's OK, but when you talk about it, it seems like it just happened. We were supposed to do a tour with the Roots, I don't know how that's going to pan out." The Coup's immediate plans remain vague, and for now, Pam is primarily concerned about the group's backing band, whose members lost their instruments in the accident and rely on playing steady gigs to make a living. "People didn't even have their shoes," she notes. "Our drummer lost his new $5,000 drum kit. This was their livelihood, how are they going to make money now?"
In a testament to the loyal, grass-roots community the Coup has amassed, fans and fellow musicians have rallied around the group in the past month. Following a personal message Boots sent out to their mailing list and MySpace page, there has been an outpouring from the musical community and a number of benefit shows organized for the group. Sambadá's Will Kahn has organized one of these benefits at Moe's Alley, featuring DJ Pam as well as Kinetic Source from Ozomatli, MC Free and members of Sambada. As a member of the heavy-touring Latin jazz outfit, Kahn reacted viscerally to the Coup's situation. "I think it hits home for a lot of performers," says Kahn. "We're bringing the community together to help these folks who have lost everything. What inspired me was imagining myself in their situation, standing there with their tour bus on fire."
Proceeds from the door will go directly to the group, which Kahn says is a testament to the graciousness of Moe's Alley owner Bill Welch. "Bill is making it all possible," Kahn notes. "He treats musicians as a family." Pam the Funkstress explains that all of the money that has been donated to the Coup is being split equally among all of the players affected by the crash, emphasizing how important it is for the backing band members to replace their equipment.
Pam says she's encouraged by the support the Coup's fans have offered in the past month. "It's a big thing, to see the people embrace us," she says. "People have been tremendous--you don't realize the love you have. I would love for us to get out there and perform again, so hopefully this will help out and get us back to doing what we want to do--to get out and do a big-ass show and show the people how much we appreciate it. We'll get back on our feet--it's a matter of getting on the road again."
The Benefit for the Coup takes place Sunday, Jan. 21, at 8pm at Moe's Alley, 1535 Commercial Way, Santa Cruz, and features Pam the Funkstress, Kinetic Source, Dem One, Dee Jay Kikkoman and members of Sambada. Tickets are $10-$20 sliding scale; 831.479.1854.
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