SAN FRANCISCO - On a rainy morning, some 80 teen-age offenders who live in locked confinement at the city’s euphemistically named Youth Guidance Center were ushered into the auditorium.
Dressed in bright-colored uniforms, with the boys and girls carefully separated, they watched in astonishment as Babatunde, an internationally known recording artist, began blowing whistles, banging drums, shaking rattles, dancing, singing and shouting.
The display of frenzied animation brought howls of delight from the audience.
“Music is like oil on water,” Babatunde told his audience between songs. “It does the bidding of whoever controls it. I want to use it to fight racism, fight sexism, fight homelessness and homophobia. And hopefully you can get in your head and come up with a different way of thinking that will be more positive to yourself”
Near the end of his 45-minute show, Babatunde called for volunteers, led them to the stage and showed them how to play various percussion instruments. Within minutes, they were making credible music themselves. A pair of girls began dancing and got approval to continue. When the youths filed outside, both they and the guards were all smiles from the unexpected break from tension and routine.
Babatunde is one of 600 volunteers for Bread & Roses, a nonprofit organization that stages more than 400 free shows a year in the San Francisco Bay Area for shut- ins at hospitals, convalescent homes, prisons, psychiatric wards, homeless shelters, drug rehabilitation centers and other facilities where commercial musicians rarely venture.
This mission to the margins of society began here nearly 25 years ago and has found appreciative audiences in other parts of the country. At the Delancey Street drug and rehabilitation center in San Juan Pueblo, N.M., Don Schiffinan, 37, has attended all 15 concerts offered by Outside In, a Bread & Roses offshoot.
“I remember when a newcomer came up to me and said that was the first time he had heard rock and roll clean and sober, and he didn’t know how to feel at first, because he’s always been loaded at a concert,” said Schiffman, who has been a resident there for two-and-a-half years. “He actually enjoyed it.”
The founder of the movement is Mimi Farina, a former professional singer and the younger sister of folk singer Joan Baez. In the l960s, she recorded several memorable folk albums with her late husband, musician/writer Richard Farina. After his death in a motorcycle accident on Farina’s 21st birthday, she went on to have a successful solo career, until retiring as a performer in 1991.
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