Monday, January 26, 2015

Selma’s deceptively idyllic opening soon gives way to the depiction of racism taken to a terrible zenith on Sunday - September 16, 1963 when the lives of four Sunday school children – Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson and Denise McNair were sacrificed.  Another child, Sarah Collins, lost her right eye in the attack and more than 20 other people were injured.
It is no coincidence that the 16th Street Baptist Church and Birmingham, Alabama featured so prominently in galvanizing the civil rights movement.  With its racist governor George Wallace and the brutally barbaric Police Commissioner Eugene ‘Bull’ O’Connor the climate was one which allowed for the protection of the KKK perpetrators of the Birmingham church bombing, stalling any investigation and criminal conviction for over ten years.
Selma, Alabama was chosen for the iconic march to Montgomery partly because it was still rigidly segregated in the 1960s, any African American trying to eat at so-called ‘white’s only’ establishments were beaten and arrested, there was no outward socialization between the races and that area of the Southern ‘black belt’ was clinging stubbornly and illegally to its past.  One must remember this was deep Dixie country.  The selection of Selma as the battleground between integrationists and racists was a well-designed strategy whose sole intention was to force the hand of Lyndon B. Johnson into enacting new civil and voting rights legislation.  Johnson, the Vice President at the time of John F. Kennedy’s assassination found himself in 1964 the newly elected President caught between ushering his own agenda into play and crafting a response to the nightly visions of brutality played out across American television screens.  Ordinary Americans were aghast at the constant images of murder and mayhem perpetrated by Americans against other Americans. 
Selma the movie, pays homage, primarily to Dr. Martin Luther King, a martyr and staunch proponent of the Mahatma Gandhi style of resistance, who believed in using non-violent tactics to effect changes in the status quo.  Director Anna Devurnay focuses on King the man, and yes, there is evidence of his infidelities; brought to light and used by the FBI in an attempt to destroy King’s image as a God fearing family man and sully his efficacy as leader of the non-violent movement.  King’s weakness in that regard is countered by his steadfast resolve to stare death in the face while always showing the power and strength behind the confrontational, but non-violent movement.  The movie also brings to life the other nameless, faceless freedom fighters, starting with Jimmie Lee Jackson, murdered by state police after a peaceful demonstration; Amelia Boynton, activist and one of the organizers of the Selma march, beaten unconscious on the Edmund Pettus Bridge on Bloody Sunday, the SNCC brothers Colia and Bernard Lafayette instrumental in spearheading the Selma voter registration campaign, James Reeb the white Boston minister murdered after participating in a symbolic march to the Edmund Pettus Bridge, following the televised brutality on March 7 1965 - Bloody Sunday when state troopers and police attacked the demonstrators with tear gas and billy clubs leaving many bloodied and broken.  The marches were led on that occasion by the current Member of the US House of Representative John Lewis and Hosea Williams.  Annie Lee Cooper, civil rights activist, forever remembered as the woman who fought to exercise her voting rights and punched Sein November 2010 at the age of 100. 

lma Sherriff, Frank Clark.  Cooper was fired from her job in a nursing home for pursuing her dream to vote in Alabama, a right she had already held in the States of Ohio and Pennsylvania.  She died
I was also powerfully reminded of the countless nameless supporters who answered the call to participate in that monumental march from Selma to Montgomery, those who provided food and shelter to the vanguard activists, and in so doing jeopardized their own safety, but nonetheless sacrificed for a greater cause.
The movie Selma does its job injecting new interest in a slice of history that many would like to sweep under the carpet, it shines a light on America’s shameful racist past.  Some would say America’s continued racism – evidenced by the escalating deaths and civil rights abuses of young black men at the hands of police officers across the length and breadth of America.
There are those detractors who have complained that little celluloid space was devoted to those who stood shoulder to shoulder with Dr. King, Ralph Abernathy, Fred Shuttleworth, Joseph Lowery, Andrew Young, John Lewis and Bayard Rustin to name a few, but Selma the movie is another trigger for the start of a much needed and hopefully continued conversation.

I was moved afresh at how far African Americans have come and yet how little things have really changed.  Dr. King’s dream is alive, the spark is dim, but the flame has not been entirely extinguished.  Every black child needs to see this movie, at least once and be inspired to live their own dream.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

That Daughter’s Crazy” - the one woman show that evolved into a film about the life of Rain Pryor who grew up a hybrid black and Jewish girl in Hollyweird.  Born at a time when retaliation at being called a nigger led to her expulsion from school and her front lawn being the repository of a burning cross and the word spray painted on the walls of that same home.  The only daughter of Richard Pryor and Shelly Bonis, a union which some would say truly celebrated the pimping lifestyle, after all Pryor was raised in Southern brothels, the son of a prostitute whose grandmother was a madam; Shelly was a go-go dancer.  The unlikely couple fell in love, married and produced Rain, so named one rainy night while her parents were stoned!

The documentary is not about Richard Pryor, it’s about his daughter coming to terms with her dual raciality.  The trials and tribulations of living with the prejudice that blighted her early forays into public performance, most notably being passed over in her Hollywood High School for the lead of Peter Pan, instead relegated to the more exotic role of Tiger Lilly.  Her paternal and maternal matriarchs played pivotal roles in character building, her father’s grand-mother the brothel madam from whom she learned that the word ‘nigger’ emanating from the wrong mouth was a signal to defend one’s heritage and from her mother’s mother she learned never to take no for an answer.  Those larger than life female role models helped her to carve her own road and gave the courage and strength to tell her story.  Growing up the child of arguably the funniest and most irreverent comedian in the United States, a longtime predilection for drugs, the famous attempted suicide when he poured alcohol over himself while freebasing, suffering 50% burns over his body who finally lost his battle for life to Multiple Schlerosis.  Raine’s story is poignant and bittersweet as she tells of losing faith after God ‘allows’ her father to die, but regains that faith when she discovers a Yoruba religion that
allows her to embrace both her black and Jewish cultures, and is well on the way to making the final step in becoming a Priestess.  One senses she is at peace, determined to break the destructive cycles that propelled her parents, adamant that her daughter will not be bound by the mistakes of her own parents.  She is mother to a beautiful golden child named Lotus and one can see the connectivity and the love they share.

The documentary really is a tribute to her father.  When she mimics him, you see like a bolt of lightning, that she is her father’s child and his comic genius has indeed been passed through genes and rests firmly and comfortably on her shoulders.

As is becoming more and more common, with one party owning the images, music and rights to a deceased celebrity, there are no images of Richard Pryor in this documentary, but there is something even better, his daughter Rain represents him and one gets the sense that Richard himself is sitting quietly in a corner pulling on a toke and beaming from ear to ear – proud of his little girl Rain,

Rain Pryor has no shame to her game as she takes you on a journey charting her course from a young gauche girl coming into her own womanhood who makes a conscious decision to embrace her unique heritage with no apology.  That Daughter’s Crazy indeed, but not in the way you could possibly imagine.  This accomplished, actor, director and jazz singer continues to speak truth as she knows it and in doing so endears her to an audience who loves her in her own right.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Review: Talkin Dub - Michael ‘Mikey’ Smith 60th - Birthday Tribute

 Mikey SmithMichael “Mikey” Smith born 1954 in Jamaica was one of the early innovators of a new art form, combining music – usually in the form of a resonant drum and heavy bass line – and spoken word interwoven to form DUB POETRY. The popular and original artists in this new genre were Linton Kwesi-Johnson and Jean Binta Breeze from England and Oku Onoura from Jamaica.

Performing publically in the 70s and 80s at a time of political unrest, as evidenced in the partisan political climate of Jamaica or the police oppression taking place in England and excessive use of the ‘Sus’ laws, dub poets were seen as aggressive griots, calling out the establishment and exhorting their listeners to action.
Talkin Dub - Michael ‘Mikey’ Smith 60th Birthday Tribute
Mikey Smith a strident opponent of injustice was a talented performance poet whose tragic murder by an alleged politically affiliated trio who stoned him to death on August 17 1983 cut short what was definitely a promising career.

To celebrate what would have been Smith’s 60th birthday, the Caribbean Cultural Theater under the banner of their Poets & Passion series presented “Talkin Dub – Tribute to Mikey Smith” on Thursday September 18 in Brooklyn. Paying homage to the Jamaican dub originator, Aja from Barbados, YaBez, Ras Osaagyefo and Queen Majeeda all from Jamaica not only performed their own works, but collaborated in a tribute by reading the iconic ‘Mi Cyaan Believe It’. The evening’s presentation took on the form of live spoken word together with a video clip of Michael Smith himself performing Mi Cyaan Believe it as those in the audience witnessed firsthand the poetic prowess of the poet as activist.

In the open mic session that followed, local artists were encouraged to bless the mic with their dub poems, with outstanding performances from the female poets one from Australia, got a round of applause on revealing this was only her second day in the Big Apple, Nandi Keyi-Ogunlade (Trinidad) and Arielle John (Trinidad) energized the audience with their excellent performances. Whether celebrating Trinidad’s independence and the lack of parity between their Afro and Indo nationalities, or the reverent tribute to the women and children sacrificed on the slave ship – The Zong during one of many horrific tales of genocide on the middle passage and the banal insincerity of those who don’t understand the spiritual significance of not doing justice to the remembrance ritual.
A lively discussion followed where artists and the public exchanged thoughts on when and where artists should perform free to serve a greater good and how artists reach a wider audience and more importantly impact on the lives in their own communities.

It was an energetic evening; the landscape enhanced the ambience as one was able to browse the afro-centric jewelry, oils, books and clothes on display at Sister Kufunya’s Nicholas Brooklyn in the heart of the melting-pot that is Brooklyn.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Tribute to Maya Angelou

I've not been updating as frequently as I should.  Scouring through my unfinished scribblings, I came across a tribute to Maya Angelou and deem it fitting to post here on my blog......

Reading “I know Why the Caged Bird Sings” was a revelation to me and further solidified my love of reading, but - this author was someone special, in the UK I had grown up with Buchi Emcheta, but this woman Maya Angelou was raw, fresh and real.
I can honestly say that I read all her autobiographic materials, and loved every one.  For the last book she published, I was in the audience at the flagship Barnes & Noble at 14th Street and bought two copies of her book Mom & Me & Mom, hoping to have her sign both, but the crowd and the volume of frustrated fans wanting to get next to her was just too much for me so I decided I’d send one copy away for her to sign….I never did, but not having her signature in a book pales in comparison to knowing that she’s gone.  No longer will I see that smooth yet weather beaten face or those huge sunglasses she’d taken to wearing in later years, there’s a lump in my throat and an ache in my heart.   
“Aunty Maya” was so many things to so many people.  Dining with princesses, presidents and kings, she kept it real and through her writing became a friend to those who never even ‘knew’ her.  Her writing was more than inspirational, her quotations became the code by which to live a fulfilled life.  An avid civil rights activist – she fought injustice wherever she found it and showed the way for countless young girls struggling with unprettiness.  Maya was an amazon among midgets, she blazed trails where ever she went, fearless in kicking down doors and forcing recognition of her talents.  An accomplished journalist, broadcaster, dancer, singer and actress Maya did it all.  Living life to the fullest she travelled the world and realized that we are all one, no matter where we come from – we are all Africans.  Aunty Maya, I’m not ready to let you go and I shan’t - not just yet, I’m vowing to re-read your works (especially the autobiographies) and crying as I will no doubt cry when my mother passes, coz that’s how much I rate you.
Condolences to her family – a Great Woman Passed this Way!
by Maya Angelou

The free bird leaps
on the back of the wind
and floats downstream
till the current ends
and dips his wings
in the orange sun rays
and dares to claim the sky.
But a bird that stalks
down his narrow cage
can seldom see through
his bars of rage
his wings are clipped and
his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.
The caged bird sings
with fearful trill
of the things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom
The free bird thinks of another breeze
and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees
and the fat worms waiting on a dawn-bright lawn
and he names the sky his own.
 But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams
his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing
 The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Tasha T - Keeping it Real with REAL TALK!

Tasha T, the Canadian reggae princess hosted the launch of her second album Real Talk under the auspices of Chip Smith’s Caribbean Billboard Magazine at Tafari Tribe café in Brooklyn on Friday July 20.  The Media was invited to attend an early pre-event from 7-10 pm and  had unfettered access to Tasha T without the usual crush of eager fans who would arrive later that evening.

Tafari Café is building a nice name as a place where good things happen, whether it’s the hospitality of business partners Sandra and Steadman or the ambience, it’s a great music hang-out spot on Flatbush Avenue.

Looking elegantly trendy in her black lace dress, Tasha T graciously answered questions about the album and mingled with the crowd, with not a trace of diva behavior to be seen on her countenance.

This is a full roots reggae album with 17 tracks each offering a different vibe and telling its own story, already Bed of Fire is #1 in her native Canada and climbing the Italian Charts where it stands at #14

The VP distributed album is produced by some stellar names in the reggae industry - Mikey Bennett, Bobby Digital, Computer Paul, Syl Gordon, Orville 'Rorey' Baker, Paul 'Patchy' Wright and Danny Maestro.  With her catchy rootsy, ragamuffin singjay style, Tasha T brings her talents as DJ, Mike MC and vocalist into play.  Tasha T’s music always has a message, whether it’s about upliftment; better days or lessons of redemption.  Singing songs of praise to her Rastafari faith in Ethiopian Liberation, the Burning Spear inspired Ethopia, Jah Jah Children, Halamese Selassie and the powerful docusongmentary Bible Talk.
Social commentary is addressed in Real Talk, Bed of Fire, In a De Jungle, Mouth a Matic, Prescription, Preacher Man, Family Reunion, Firm Meditation, Long Distance Relationship, Educate Yourself shows her concern for youth education, and reinforces why she was chosen as an Ambassador for Read Across Jamaica in 2012.   Tasha T doesn’t forget that which makes the world go round and slows the pace to get into a lover’s mood with Today is the Day and True Love. The award-winning Tasha T continues to demonstrate her great stage presence whether she performs in Canada, Jamaica or New York.  With the release of this new album, she strides from strength to strength, a future force to be reckoned with.

There is something for everyone on this wholesome album the message of Rasta is after all one that resonates the world over with its tenets of livity and love. 


Thursday, July 3, 2014

An Extraordinary Opportunity - Marcia Griffiths and Judy Mowatt

Opportunity knocks sometimes when we least expect it.  Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with two legends in the reggae music industry – Marcia Griffiths and Judy Mowatt.   

I can certainly empathize with the struggles they must have faced in those early days of women making inroads in a male-dominated world as I recently found myself up against an ignorant and egotistical man whose brain seems to reside in his nether region!  Anyway, both women were influenced by reggae icon Robert Nester Marley with whom they sang back-up and lived in close proximity.  Both  have remarkable stories to tell, Marcia speaks of her longevity in the industry, she remains a stalwart when many of her compatriots have been felled by illness or untimely death and Judy Mowatt with her revelations about Bob Marley's conversation to Christianity before his death from cancer on May 11 1981.  Mowatt herself converted to Christianity and now sings gospel music, but will return to the secular stage on June 29 at Roy Wilkins Park at the Grooving in the Park event in support her friend of 40 years Marcia Griffiths as the latter celebrates 50 years in a sometimes unforgiving industry.

 The questions posed in both interviews are solely mine and the rapport and ease between these two ladies and myself can only be attributed to a meeting of pure hearts and minds.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

White Sugar - Red Blood

Out of the blue one Friday evening, a friend and I decided to travel to Williamsburg to see Kara Walker’s exhibit – “A Subtlety* – The Marvelous Sugar Baby, an Homage to the unpaid and overworked Artisans who have refined our Sweet tastes from the cane fields to the Kitchens of the New World".  I’d seen details of the exhibit in one of the free papers you get in Manhattan and made a note to visit, but time constraints meant that tonight was the first time I had an opportunity to go.

The exhibit is sited in the old Domino Sugar factory built in 1927 to house cane sugar before its whitening process, the factory closed for about ten years now is slated for demolition, to make way no doubt for some fancy smanchy high-rise water front exorbitantly priced condos, so I’m glad I had a chance to see this relic that’s steeped in history, my history.  The first jarring fact hit me in the description that’s inscribed on the outside of the old factory.  The word that jumped out at me ‘Artisans’ immediately set my blood boiling and pulse racing.  For the life of me I couldn’t believe that a black woman would refer to those who were responsible for bringing sugar to the ‘free’ world as ‘artisans'.  Since when did those enslaved Africans become ‘artisans’.  Even though this word left me with a less than sweet taste in my mouth, I decided to continue my foray into the depths of the cavernous space that once housed a thriving throbbing heaving industry fueled by the blood sweat and tears of my ancestors.

The first thing that hits you is the smell.  A sweet, sweaty, sticky, oppressive smell that pervades the very walls blackened with molasses, age and one can imagine the heat of long extinguished furnaces.   There’s a sense of foreboding and oppression that descends like a shroud and no matter the shrill twittering and what seems false gaiety of the throngs who’ve come to see the exhibit – it’s a feeling that I can’t seem to shake.  The preamble to the exhibit is the strategically placed ‘picaninnies’ that seem to usher a path to the magnificent statue at the end of the great hall.  The children, I imagine the referenced ‘sugar babies’ are holding baskets, bananas, or other items, but the thing that struck me most was that they are disintegrating and the dark pools that drip down onto the floor uncannily resemble red streams of blood.  I shudder at the sight as my primordial memory remembers the blood spilled in the cultivation of the cane refined to that sweet white almighty sugar, the rich man’s delicacy and the black man’s denouement.  One of the ‘babies’ has lost an arm, the symbolism is not lost in this space, where countless limbs no doubt were mangled by menacing and hungry machines being constantly fed with the substance that would produce that pristine poison.

As we get closer to the main attraction, my steps are slowed and tears well up, there she is - the great mammy, exaggerated negro features, the wide full lips and flared nostrils, the turban, the voluptuous breasts and round hard nipples, she sits on haunches like a great blindingly white Egyptian Sphinx.  The irony of her color doesn't immediately hit home because after all - this is an old sugar factory!  Walking slowly along her length, I’m assailed by so many emotions, slowing down, taking pictures, when I reach her rear end, I’m breathing hard as I see her backside, with the exposed labia and my heart bleeds as my friend, her facial expression as pained as my own whispers “the rape of the African nation”.  Exposed, defenceless, open – this is just too much for me and I make my retreat, brushing away the tears that are falling unchecked.  I’m aware that people are staring at me, but I can’t help it….I just can’t help it.

* Subtleties were old fashioned sugar sculptures adorning the dining tables of the wealthy.
NB:  The Exhibit runs until July 6, on Fridays through Sundays at the Domino Sugar Factory in Williamsburg.