Renowned jazz drummer Kendrick Scott is a firm believer in the idea of art and music as more than just vehicles of escapism or entertainment.
"We have to use art as a weapon," Scott said in a phone interview about his song "Philando," a cathartic examination of the final moments of Minnesota police shooting victim Philando Castile's life. In partnership with the Los Angeles-based music software company, Sunhouse, Scott has released a video performance of the song exclusively to Mic.
The video features Scott's performance of the song in front of a live audience. In the song, Scott used the audio from the Facebook Live video footage captured by Diamond Reynolds, Castile's girlfriend, who filmed the moments after St. Anthony police Officer Jeronimo Yanez pulled them over and opened fire on them in July.
As the song begins, Scott uses the drums to sonically establish a sense of mounting tension as Reynolds witnessed the violent death of his significant other. Reynolds' voice can be heard throughout the nearly seven-minute-long track.
"Because we were seeing someone holding a phone — and we're talking about being inches away from the moment of somebody taking their last breath — I wanted to create the story and that moment of chaos," Scott said.
The sound dynamics were created through the use of Sunhouse's Sensory Percussion technology for drummers. Tlacael Esparza, creator of the music software, said the technology employs specialized sensors that translate Scott's acoustic drumming to an electronic sound. From there, Scott can control different parts of the drum to add layers, sound samples and other digital audio effects to the performance.
"We are so proud that Sensory Percussion was able to play a role in helping Kendrick Scott express his powerful message of the critical need for racial justice," Esparza said in an email.
On July 6, Castile, 32, became yet another symbol of the systemic racial issues in U.S. policing and law enforcement. He and Reynolds, along with her 4-year-old daughter in the backseat, were pulled over for a broken tail light in Falcon Heights, a suburb of St. Paul, Minnesota. But the minor traffic stop escalated to Yanez opening firing on Castile, who was in the driver's seat, as he reached for his wallet and ID.
Yanez was charged in Wednesday with second-degree manslaughter and two felony counts of intentional discharge of a dangerous weapon that the Ramsey County Attorney's Office said endangered Reynolds' life and the life of her daughter.
Scott, a native of Houston, Texas, who now resides in New York City, has performed around the world with jazz bands headed by musicians Terence Blanchard, Herbie Hancock and Charles Lloyd. Like many Americans, Scott said he was moved to action by the senselessness of Castile's shooting death.
"This one hit me the most," he said in the phone interview. Scott added that the goal of the song is for listeners to understand that racism and police brutality continue to be a threat for black lives. "The more and more we point it out in our art, we'll show people what the real and true truth is," he said.
In the St. Paul-Minneapolis community, Scott's "Philando" has received warm reviews. Among the fans are Miski Noor, an organizer of Black Lives Matter Minneapolis, who said she went to the site of Castile's death in July and witnessed police wash his blood off the street. She was among the activists who staged an occupation of the governor's mansion, seeking charges against Yanez.
"I thought [the song] was heartbreaking, and also beautiful and inspiring in a way," Noor said in a phone interview. "it's art that talks about the circumstances that black folks and other marginalized folks face, changing it to something that can be celebrated. It's transforming it into black joy."
Pastor Danny Givens, a personal friend of Castile's, said he spoke to him a week before his death. Since then, he's been among community organizers fostering a sense of healing and hope in the community. Scott's song is now part of that effort, he said.
"That song is an artistic piece of prophetic activism — it's transcendent," Givens, the senior pastor at Above Every Name Ministries in St. Paul, said in an phone interview. Scott's song "ministers without bringing dogma," the pastor said, much like the music of black power era musician Curtis Mayfield and Donny Hathaway.
"To see [art] like this come together is why movements stay alive," Givens said. "For me, we don't have a movement without pieces like this."