The Force of Fredo

By: Henry Michaels

Music is fundamental aspect of culture, and in my experience it has provided spaces where I have been able to witness the most authentic picture of a place and its history. As I sway back forth in the crowd bumping into those around me, I feel myself engaging in a dialogue with the performer and the audience. By the end of the show, I leave feeling like we have all shared something with one another. A connection that reaches far beyond language, economics status or social position. I’m unable to place a finger on where I feel it, but it sweeps through my body like electricity sending a smile shooting across my face.  

Experiences like these were frequent growing up in Chicago, where music acted as the connecting force between me and my friends from all over the city. Tagging along with my friends and their parents to see their relatives perform at Day of the Dead Festivals in Pilsen, or class field trips to the Field Museum to see live African music, opened my eyes to what music could teach me about those around me. These adventures instilled a curiosity and appreciation toward diversity that have fueled my drive to seek out music and concerts around the world.

I brought this enthusiastic spirit with me on a trip to Scotland this past summer. After a deep search through Glasgow’s concert magazine, my girlfriend and I spotted the name of a familiar artist, Gus Dapperton, who happened to be playing a show right near where a friend of mine from high school was living for the summer.

After a pint at the local pub, we made our way into the sold out show as Dapperton’s band took the stage. What shortly ensued was a kind of call and response between Dapperton and the crowd as his lyrics were shouted back with a distinctive Scottish twang. I was amazed at how many people knew the lyrics of an artist from a small town in New York.

After the show, we ventured to the famous Necropolis Cemetery for a 360 degree view of the Glasgow cityscape. Sneaking into the ancient cemetery felt like an urban spelunking adventure with my friends back in Chicago. A familiar feeling of adrenaline coursed through my veins as we ascended the spiraling walkways. When we made our way to top, the city laid peacefully before us. It was then that we heard a call from a group of kids nearby, who had the same look of mischievousness across their faces.

After some quick introductions, I learned that one of the kids was a massive hip hop fan. He described his own interactions with the Glasgow music scene, and how the viral video of Chief Keef’s “I Don’t Like” sparked his interest in hip hop and Chicago’s drill scene. The lack of a strong hip hop presence in Glasgow, pushed him to look across the Atlantic and into the heart of Chicago’s South Side. Coincidentally, his only journey outside of Glasgow had been to Chicago to see a Fredo Santana concert.

Santana was a fundamental member and founder of Chicago’s drill scene. Alongside his cousin Chief Keef, Santana’s raw portrayal of Chicago’s South Side paved the way for a new generation of Chicago artists. Santana and his friends created a community from nothing, serving as an inspiration for up and coming artists from all across the city.

Like Chicago, Glasgow has dealt with its own murder epidemic. Once titled “the murder capital of Europe,” Glasgow has been cast in a similar light as my home city. But what labels like these miss is the persistence of people in these communities who never back down in the face of adversity. Anthony Bourdain articulates the connection between these two cities perfectly in his Chicago episode of Parts Unknown.

“It is, also, as I like to point out frequently, one of America’s last great NO BULLSHIT zones. Pomposity, pretentiousness, putting on airs of any kind, douchery and lack of a sense of humor will not get you far in Chicago. It is a trait shared with Glasgow — another city I love with a similar working class ethos and history.”

I share Bourdain’s optimism and find myself continually looking to music as the force fueling this tenacious spirit. Music builds community that not only exists in the place it originates, but reaches worldwide. Despite over 3,000 miles of distance, I was able to form a connection with someone based on our mutual affection for Chicago hip hop. This shows how Keef and Santana have created a culture that is much larger than them. A culture that crosses political and ethnic boundaries, reaching people across the world.

Photo by Genevieve Vahl