One was arrested while manning a first aid station for protesters. Another went on CNN and CNBC to talk about his troubled city and his legendary bar.
One sang at the memorial service for the man whose death sparked international cries for justice. And another did what musicians do best: use their talent to try to make a difference in the world.
These are just some of the many Twin Cities musicians heavily involved in the crises that overtook their hometowns over the past 2 ½ weeks, starting with the May 25 death of George Floyd while in police custody through the protests and riots that followed.
We spoke to these vital scene makers about their experiences at this historic time, as well as their thoughts on what the Minnesota music community can do to bring about positive change.
Matt ‘Nur-D’ Allen
The arrested first-aid provider
The Rosemount-reared, comic-book-loving rapper, 29, spent four long days and nights after Floyd’s death providing first-aid care, supplies and water to protesters around south Minneapolis. He had no prior medical training; he just happened upon a station abandoned by trained medics the first night and “just did what we could from there.”
They formed the Justice Frontline Aid Crew and enlisted support from Modist Brewing and other donors to provide aid and supplies over the next few days. On the fifth night, June 1, Allen and other members of his team were arrested near the State Capitol just after 10 p.m. for breaking curfew. He is awaiting a court date and expecting a $1,000 fine.
Looking back: “Me and my team saw things I don’t think any of us will ever forget. The chemical eye damage from tear gas was horrible, people coming in with red, ripped-up eyes. We saw a girl who got hit in the face with a rubber bullet; her teeth were broken and she was spitting out bits of teeth.
“On Saturday, the scariest day, the police came through and fired on our medic station deliberately. One girl got hit with a rubber bullet at point-blank range, and our nurses had to try to save her eye and face in the basement of a home by cellphone light. We couldn’t go anywhere because we would’ve been arrested. Anytime we called for an ambulance they wouldn’t send one.
“As the curfew neared [that Monday], my team and I made the decision to stay with the protesters because we had seen in prior events that the police were using extreme force to silence every kind of protest. Just after 10 p.m., there were maybe 50 kids seated on the Capitol grounds singing ‘Stand by Me.’ This militarylike police force surrounds them in full riot gear, lights blazing, jumping out of the bushes and all that. We were blessed that violence didn’t occur, but we felt like we had to be there if it did.”
Going forward: “Justice Frontline Aid is transitioning into more food-shelf service, taking donations and distributing them. But we know there are going to be more protests, and we want to be ready. If not for George Floyd, there will probably be something else that triggers more protests.
“COVID had already given the music community a sucker punch in the gut, and this has kind of been another thing. We all want to help, but there are other things standing in our way. This would normally be the time musicians are throwing benefit concerts and special events. In the meantime, I’d like to see more musicians who are more established than I am take a more vocal and financial stance toward these communities as they rebuild.”
The musical activist
Not surprisingly, the Sudan-born, St. Paul-raised rapper/singer/poet already had a song in the can related to police brutality. Just five days after Floyd’s death, Saleh released the haunting track “body cast” as a stand-alone single to benefit the Minneapolis-based Black Visions Collective.
“There were already eyes on me prior to this, and on Minneapolis as a hub for transformative work and transformative artists,” said Saleh, a nonbinary performer, citing write-ups for the song already from Rolling Stone, Pitchfork and even the Grammys website. “We didn’t solicit any of it. I think that tells you how all eyes really are on Minneapolis right now.”
Looking back: “I wrote ‘body cast’ in 2019. Like many of us in Minneapolis and St. Paul, I was still processing the murders of both Jamar Clark and Philando Castile, so I wrote it with them in mind. After [the Floyd tragedy], I just felt like I wanted to do something with the platform I’ve been given, and music is where I have the most visibility.
“So my idea was to release that song and put all the money toward Black Visions Collective, which is mobilizing around defunding MPD because of the violence they have enacted in the community and the murders they have committed. Alec Ness and Psymun [engineer and producer] worked together to master the song quickly. We are all community members, and we care about the black community in Minneapolis, so we wanted to get this out there fast.”
Going forward: “I’m not going to lie, I feel kind of vulnerable about the media attention. There are many other people and artists that are working on the front lines that deserve attention. But I understand because of my higher visibility the media pays attention to me, and I want to use that to benefit the community.
“I’m also going to train to be a medic to help at protests. That’ll be how I can contribute immediately. I’ll learn things like CPR, bandaging, removing tear gas from people’s eyes. I understand in doing that, I’ll be at risk of being arrested or shot at with tear gas or rubber bullets, but I’m preparing my body and soul for that.”
The memorial singer
Porter arrived in Minneapolis just two years ago from Sacramento, Calif. Her husband, the Rev. Ellington Porter, is a professor at North Central University, where Floyd’s memorial was helmed by the Rev. Al Sharpton on June 4. She had also previously worked with Sharpton’s National Action Network.
Between those two connections, she earned what she called “an incredible honor” to sing “Amazing Grace” at the service alongside Darnell Davis & the Remnant (with whom she regularly performs around town). Surprisingly, she had endured neck surgery just two days earlier at the Mayo Clinic.
Looking back: “[The surgery] just added to it being a bittersweet moment full a lot of emotions. I still had a big bandage on the back of my neck. So I was careful, somber and nervous all at the same time. That song is like a national hymn to me, so I wasn’t so nervous about singing it. My focus was more wanting people to be uplifted.
“My prayer was that it would bring hope and a sense of peace to everyone — not just his family, but everyone who’d felt pain and heartbroken over the past week. So much has happened since he was murdered, I wanted to let God’s light shine through me to heal that pain.”
Going forward: “The music community really has a powerful tool we can use to bring people together across racial lines, whatever kind of music it is. I truly believe there is healing power in music. I’ve seen it firsthand singing to Alzheimer’s patients and others with medical needs. We’re all hurting in one way or another. Music is one of God’s gifts to heal us.”
The bar owner
Already well known around town after years of playing bass in Romantica, Eleganza!, Kruddler and other bands, Zaccardi became even more of a local institution after buying the West Bank watering hole Palmer’s Bar in 2018. He’s still happy he made the leap, even after having to board up the place and worry about its destruction during the riots. He gained national media attention after he spray-painted “Black Owned Business” on the plywood over his windows.
Looking back: “I just threw that message up quick and didn’t think much about it. It just seemed like maybe one little thing that might help protect the place. I painted it before I knew neo-Nazis were part of the mix. Once I learned that, I thought, ‘Oh, great, I painted a bull’s-eye on the place!’
“And then it kind of went viral, starting with Newsweek, then CNN, then CNBC. I’m not much of a spokesman for anything, but I figured if I was going to be handed this platform, then I should definitely try to make something positive out of it and help my community.
“Hell, yeah, I’m in support of the protesters, but not at the cost of somebody’s dream. Seeing a building like Minnehaha Liquor destroyed — which had been in that family for decades — that place was somebody’s dream. I certainly didn’t want to see Palmer’s destroyed. This place is my dream come true now.”
Going forward: “I know so many people in bands who want to help. They’d be throwing up benefit concerts left and right, but nobody can do that because of the coronavirus. In the meantime, my biggest hope is some of the best songs of our generation come out of this.
“It really feels like we’re in the middle of the biggest civil rights movement since the ’60s, and our city is at the center of it. For me to be on CNN and CNBC just shows that’s the case. These issues are back at the forefront, and we’re seeing the best and worst of people at the moment.
“With the amount of people I’m seeing who are trying to make things right, trying to help each other and the community, I think we’re mostly seeing the good in people here.”