We’ve spoken on Ears To The House before all about the less than scrupulous history of Detroit techno. The documentary which premiered yesterday at Tribeca may well have been called God Said Give ‘Em Drum Machines – given that God is unlikely to have told Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson to engage in a credit card scam, perhaps that’s just as well.
Just a few hours before the premier, a Q&A session was held with Kevin Saunderson and Blake Baxter. Questions asked did not include things such as Baxter and Saunderson’s opinion on the, shall we say, situation which Derrick May has ended up in over the past two years. Nor did questions emerge about why Saunderson has traded on the untrue Belleville Three story for over 30 years.
But the organisers of Tribeca must have, if nothing else, an interesting sense of humour. Because what else would explain the curious choice of host for that discussion? For it was hosted by Shaka Senghor – and like much of Detroit techno’s early days, this is something which wasn’t discussed at the Q&A either.
It was the 28th July 1991. Around 3am in a drug deal apparently gone wrong, Senghor – who changed his name from James White to distance himself from his past – shot and killed a 19-year old male called David Vaughn. He was subsequently convicted of second-degree murder and served 19 years in prison.
Senghor claims that he’s now a reformed character – these days, he’s better known as a college lecturer, author and speaker. Of course, his turning over a new leaf has not been universally accepted. Kathy Vaughn is just one such example – she was the wife of David Vaughn, posting an eight minute video on YouTube in 2015 disputing a number of claims in his book Writing My Wrongs.
Just about the only redeeming thing which can be said of Senghor is he has at least tried to redeem himself over his past indiscretions. The same certainly cannot be said of Juan Atkins, Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson – who have continued to trade on the Belleville Three story they know to be mostly false in order to give themselves the careers they’ve had.
Still, the choice of Senghor as the debate’s host and moderator is a curious one – not least because many in the room will be equally, if not more interested, in what Senghor’s life than anything else. Perhaps that suits the Belleville Three quite nicely…