The work draws on both long-standing symbols of African American cultural identity and more immediate historical context. It is a modernist work as well, as Roach (1924–2007) and his musicians strove to make use of African and African American legacies in new ways.
Decades after the recording, We insist! still sounds fresh, modern, and haunting, reminding us that jazz tradition has always been in dialogue with the social and cultural movements going on around it, and has often been at its most inspired when engaged in social commentary.
Today is Roach’s 90th birthday! Above, Roach and Abbey Lincoln performing We insist! in 1964; below, an excerpt from the work from around the same time.