Celebrating Black Music Month Outdoors in Oakland!

By Zoë Polk

“CAN ANYONE NAME A SONG BY A BLACK ARTIST ABOUT BIRDING?” I asked. To be fair, I was having a little bit of fun with the group. It was a beautiful Saturday morning in Oakland and we were about to begin our hike into the redwood forest.

I had a song in mind that I was positive the group had heard many times before, but perhaps hadn’t thought of as about appreciating, studying, listening to birds. So then I sang some lyrics:

Rise up this mornin’,
Smiled with the risin’ sun,
Three little birds
Pitch by my doorstep
Singin’ sweet songs
Of melodies pure and true,
Sayin’, (“This is my message to you-ou-ou:”)

     Instantly,  I saw the expressions of recognition form on everyone’s faces. Of course the song I was referring to was Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds.”

giant redwoods in Oakland

giant redwoods in Oakland

“What about a song tribute to trees, flowers and the sky? Can anyone name a song by an African American artist that’s about appreciating nature?” After a similar response, I sang some more lyrics:

I see trees of green…….. red roses too
I see em bloom….. for me and for you
And I think to myself…. what a wonderful world. 

      Again, we smiled and laughed at the familiar words of Louis Armstrong’s “What A Wonderful World.” Music in the outdoors can mean different things to different people. At Outdoor Afro, we love to listen to the “music” of the wind blowing through trees, chirping birds, the ocean crashing on the beach and rain falling to the earth. We also love music that honors our environment and wildlife. As African American Music Appreciation Month, June is the perfect time to reflect on the love of nature described in songs of many of our favorite black artists. Moreover, it’s a perfect time to remember how much loving the outdoors is embedded into black culture.   From Ella Fitzgerald’s versions of “Mountain Greenery” and “Blue Skies” to Michael Jackson’s “Earth Song” to “Country Girl” by the Carolina Chocolate Drops to “New World Water” by Mos Def, Outdoor Afro is jamming out to our own Black Music  Month nature playlist.

    Redwood Regional Park  is certainly song worthy. With giant redwood trees, lush green ferns, fragrant eucalyptus trees and brilliant red madrone trees, it offers amazing diversity to every visitor.

In addition,  it has numerous trails that allow you to have a new adventure every time you visit.

The Redwood Bowl Staging Area, where Outdoor Afro convened and had our second annual barbecue offers great amenities including a wide open space, which proved perfect for setting up a volley ball court and practicing yoga.

Outdoor Yoga

Outdoor Yoga

With music on our minds and our lips, we set off to explore the park. During the hike we took time to discern poison oak from other plant life- recalling “Rule of Three- Leave It Be!” We also kept our gaze above, taking in the enormity of the trees and scanning for birds.

And we continued to deliberate on the love for the outdoors in black music.

For example, we at Outdoor Afro often pay tribute to the Buffalo Soldiers, regiments of black soldiers who served in the U.S. Calvary in the 19th century. Many  people are familiar with Bob Marley’s famous song titled “Buffalo Soldier” but few know that the Buffalo Soldiers were stewards of Yosemite and some of California’s most important wild spaces. So when asked to name a song by a black artist that is about black park rangers, the familiar sound of the steel drum, blaring horns and Bob’s smooth voice should ring in our ears.

We made our way on trails, starting on the West Ridge Trail and then descended down the Fern Trail to the base of the giant redwoods. From there we walked along the Stream Trail. Before making our ascent up the Starflower and Madrone Trails, we took some time to rest our bodies and discuss gear that assists our enjoyment of nature. I shared about each item I used when hiking, including hiking poles, hydration systems, and sturdy hiking boots. I also talked about my experiences shopping at REI, especially the helpful and knowledgeable staff who provided one on one service and advice as I decided which items to purchase.

Going through items on my person, I took time to explain how hiking poles provide comfort and support to my body on long and steep trails. I also emphasized the importance of quality hiking boots, like the KEEN Ketchums I was wearing, which are integral to stepping with confidence on different surfaces.

We also spent some time reflecting on how important it is to hydrate when hiking on hot days like Saturday.  My personal choice is Klean Kanteen’s double walled vacuum insulated bottle,which still had ice in it 6 hours after I filled it up! Moreover, we talked about how we can all take better care of ourselves, our environment and our wallets by using sustainable containers for our water consumption.  Before the hike, I spent some time reviewing the resources and information available on this topic on Klean Kanteen’s website, and learned a lot about why it is important to limit consumption of single use plastics. I was excited to share these lessons with Outdoor Afro hikers.  For example, we contemplated the chemicals that are in our plastic containers and how those chemicals may contaminate the water we drink.

Learning more about single use plastics

Learning more about single use plastics

In addition, we all agreed that we are conscious of what we put in our bodies which includes knowing where our water comes from and what kind of process it went through before it was packaged. In terms of safety for the environment, I encouraged hikers to think beyond throwing a single use plastic in a recycle bin and get more information about how many bottles actually end up being recycled versus how many end up in the ocean. And finally we talked about reusable water bottles and hydration systems as long term investments which may require an more expensive upfront cost than a plastic water bottle but save money in the long run.

And of course we thought of a song by a black artist that to go along with that discussion:

Oh, mercy mercy me
Oh, things ain’t what they used to be
No, no
Oil wasted on the oceans and upon our seas
Fish full of mercury
Oh, mercy mercy me

Marvin Gaye “Mercy Mercy Me”

     After we finished the hike, we sat down to a scrumptious and bountiful barbecue in the Redwood Bowl Staging Area.

     We had a leisurely afternoon in which Outdoor Afros got to know each other, talked about other activities we enjoyed outdoors and provided details upcoming trips with Outdoor Afro Northern California. In addition, as we told you in a previous post, Outdoor Afros definitely be bugging and Saturday was no exception. Two of our younger members delighted in finding lady bugs!

loving lady bugs

loving lady bugs

It was an amazing day and we were so honored to get to know, hike and barbecue with all of the wonderful Outdoor Afros who joined us!

photo 4


Our hiking route

Want to try our hike? Check out the map below! Send us an email and let us know what you think!

Check out our hiking route in red!

Check out our hiking route in red!

One Thought on “Celebrating Black Music Month Outdoors in Oakland!”

  • OMGee! Yall had SO much fun!
    And I love the Interpretive Spin of popular music and nature. So awesome…and this post…the best.

    And it made me realize the parenthetical of Mercy, Mercy Me is (The Ecology). Marvin Gaye put it all Right there!

    See you outdoors soon!

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