Rhythm and the blues: Filmmaker unveils ‘The Theory Of Brick City Music’ using Newark as his muse

3 mins read

Known as a cultural and political hub, Newark New Jersey is home to some of the most revolutionary and innovative art in the world.

Newark filmmaker, writer, and series-creator, Livingston Steele, created a series in hopes to highlight relatable, fictional stories of the real plight that Newark artists experience in the city’s creative stratosphere.

Initially released in September 2018 as a vignette-styled short, “The Theory Of Brick City Music” follows a young Haitian aspiring saxophonist named Josue, and his brother, Ruben, who is a dancer. The film shows how the two navigate the pitfalls of life, one year after the death of their supportive, musically inclined father, Kenny.

“Our hope is to tell the story of Newark’s artist’s resilience in creating a path of their own, and a community where artists from elsewhere can grow,” said Steele.

Creator of ‘The Theory of Brick City Music’ Livingston Steele. Photo credit: Steele’s Twitter page.


Revolutionizing the war for Black liberation in the Western Hemisphere has come with some historic scarring and gaping wounds for much of Haiti’s population. Since their independence, the country has experienced centures filled with genocide first by the orders of France’s leader Napoleon Bonaparte then being placed in a global embargo for its independence efforts. 

Following, Haiti was terrorized by Dominican dictator Rafael Tujillo; the U.S. colonial military powers and the successive tyrannical dictatorships at the hands of father and son duo, François “Papa Doc” Duvalier and Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier for the better art of the 20th century. Then you add natural disasters via the country’s 2010 catastrophic earthquake, the constant flooding due to hurricanes, and the general struggle as the “poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.” 

With all of the calamities, thousands of Haitians left home for more economic and educational possibilities. Now, approximately 800,000 Haitians to date have escaped their homeland, emigrating to the U.S., and making up about 2 percent of the foreign-born population in the U.S. 

Despite the increased opportunity towards socio-economic advancement, Haitians still experience disproportionate treatment and stagnation across the spectrum of social ills. For example, “Haitians were about as likely to live in poverty as the overall immigrant population (14 percent compared to 15 percent), but slightly less likely than the Caribbean foreign-born population (16 percent). Thirteen percent of the U.S. born [Haitians] are in poverty,” reports the Migration Policy Institute. As well as currently facing mass-deportation in the U.S. across three different presidencies.

Under such circumstances, Haitians and enclaves of the like in the U.S. tend to prioritize “stable” careers. In attempts to avoid the pitfalls of poverty and succeed in the U.S., the aforementioned seems to frame the brothers’ daily picture: No one wants to be broke. Consequently however, the brothers in Steele’s “The Theory Of Brick City Music,” soon learn that the money-making drab monotony of 9-to-5 life does not ensure happiness. So, by not fully realizing their dreams or leaving behind them dreams, the brothers are lost until they work with a collective of artists who confront their fears and passions against the backdrop of Newark. 

What it do?

Despite the popular designation of being a “starving artist,” at times persisting in places like Los Angeles’ Skid Row or Austin, TX, Newark’s art community sticks out like a sore thumb. 

According to the National Center for Arts Research at Southern Methodist University’s DataArts 2020 Arts Vibrancy Index Report VI, Newark, NJ-PA Metro region continued and increased in its rank among the top 10 large art-vibrant communities in the U.S, securing the number seven spot. An amalgamation of several factors, the report highlights what makes Newark one of the most desirable places for artists to work due to the renowned Newark Public Museum, NJPAC, Symphony Hall, WBGO radio station, Rutgers-Newark’s Institute of Jazz studies, among others.

Directed, written, and produced by Livingston Steele, as well as produced by Joel Joly and Josue Simon, the series stars hometown natives Josue Simon, Ruben Simon, Yosiah Dykes, Evans Joly, Jourdan Roberson, Euphony, and other local artists; shooting on location downtown Newark and throughout the city. 

“Our goal is to tell our story within the city of Newark, highlighting the creative scene, artists, and culture supporting mediums of the arts, both young and experienced,” said Livington. “We aim to magnify the well-known and independently established music, art, and dance venues.” The first and second webisodes premiered via their Youtube channel on March 28 and May 2, respectively. For more information, more information, including jam sessions and future events can be found on their website.

Yolanda Aguilera focuses on culture, policy, and Afro-Latinidad.

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