Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Ultimate Dancer


That's the question one of my Facebook friends asked. As I jumped to the comment box ready to post my reply, the mental brakes screeched and I thought - “what a great intro to a story”, so here goes, fodder for my blog right at my fingertips. But where to begin?

Everyone knows that I was the consummate party person. I considered myself a late bloomer in terms of being introduced to the party scene, but when I discovered the joys of independent partying, there was no stopping me. In my heyday, I would think nothing of getting dolled up to go to a party by myself, spend the night just jamming to the music and dancing with the occasional bloke that caught my eye and knew how to dance! There's nothing as sensual as dancing with a man who takes charge as he steers you into the dip, slow grind and utterly steamy sexual experience that a good dance can engender.

There are a few memorable dancing experiences that come to mind, but there are two that most stand out. I'd gone with a friend to a local house party, I think somewhere in Brixton, South London, not far from my home in Dulwich. The place was jam packed with bodies barely moving to the thumping bass-lines. As I threaded my way gingerly through the crowd, out of nowhere, a hand grabbed mine and held on tight. I almost fell, totally off-balance as I pivoted to see who or what this impediment was. I caught my breath as an incredibly handsome guy smiled a cheeky grin and blew me away with his next words...”You don't need to go any further – you're staying with me”. Well, I'd never heard that pick up line before, I was intrigued at his brazenness. Never one to run from a challenge, I slid into the space by his side and that's where I stayed for the rest of the night. I spent the evening in heaven, not only was he a good looker, he could also dance extremely well. We ended up having quite a long relationship as a result of that first chance encounter and he's someone I'll never forget.

The other memorable dance encounter of course was with my ex, Everton. Let me tell you, he was a dapper don who could move in such a way that if you weren't careful you'd be carrying out all sorts of indiscretions on the dance floor! I need say nothing more than he had slightly bowed legs – lol. A connoisseur of music, he could always make a bad situation better by serenading me with a song, or taking me in his arms and dancing with me. Sadly, Everton was taken away from those who loved him earlier this year, when he succumbed to a fatal bout with Cancer, but he is someone I'll never forget, not least for the fact that boy, he was the best dance partner a girl could ever hope or wish for.

Martha's Vineyard

Lola's has been an institution for 17 years or so. The establishment is located on Martha's Vineyard in Oak Bluffs, not that far away from a stretch of oceanfront called "The Inkwell". Well known as the spot where slaves and then the free African American Community were relegated to enjoy the sea and beach 'The Inkwell' is that stretch at the bottom of Waban Park on Beach Road. The irony is that the name may have lost some of its stigma, but long after segregation – the tradition of African Americans using the Inkwell as a swimming hole still remains. In fact, there is a group of middle-aged women (the Polar Bears) whose ritual is to swim early in the morning throughout the season that typically runs from June through September.. They patrol the beach and act as a defacto welcoming committee to all who step on that hallowed shore.

Last year, the management at Lola's decided to lease their space to another restaurant "The Mediterranean". The idea was that the goodwill generated by Lola's would transfer to the new establishment. Noble intentions indeed, unfortunately the owners of the Mediterranean wanted to completely change the clientele which had previously been largely African-American, so much so, that a whispering campaign was launched with the sole purpose of discouraging patronage from black MV residents and vacationers.

Kathy and Paul Domitrovich, long time summer residents and owners of Lola's were perterbed by that and the fact that the terms of the lease were not being adhered to. They decided to wrest control of the premises back from the owners of the Mediterranean. Despite opposition and a refusal to transfer the liquor license (what some would see as a death knell to any music and dining establishment) Lola's reopened to much acclaim and support from its regular customers on Friday July 23. It's definitely business as usual with the traditional southern style of cooking and live music; key components that built the Lola's brand. Husband and wife team, Kathy and Paul were very much in evidence, playing the ever attentive hosts, greeting their customers like long lost family. The night I went to Lola's with my travel buddies, the soul explosion were in fine fettle with the lead singer belting out classic Motown cuts. Even though a dry club right back then, the liquor license was renewed so all those who like to drink while they dine and dance are back in seventh heaven.

This leads me to address a larger problem affecting Martha's Vineyard, again in the spotlight as President Obama has recently returned from his second 10 day vacation on the island. The issue that seems to be quietly swept under the rug is a premise that I've discussed with friends and colleagues - racism on Martha's Vineyard. I'm recalling the case blazed across news channels and splashed in media print of the 2009 arrest of Professor Chip Gates in his Cambridge, Massachusetts home. Now I know Martha's Vineyard is in the same region so why would it not be affected by the same prejudices of its predominantly Waspish residents. People I spoke with poo-pooed the idea, until I came across the best evidence to support my claim, which I reprint here.......

"I just wanted to point out to Dr. Gates one comment he made during his essay. He referred to Martha's Vineyard as (let me paraphrase) a mulch-racial society. I must draw an exception to his view. Though I respect Dr. Gates I must call him what he is-a summer person. As a year round resident of the island for 14 years I am more acquainted with the social structure here. The island during the 8 months out of the year that it reverts to a small New England community is not a representative of the US socially. It i s overwhelmingly white. Coming from Brooklyn NY it was something I found I had to adjust to. Though many different people live here most of them come from small suburban white communities and that's what they have created here. During the summer months the population swells seven fold and becomes much more representative of America at large. However, the races for the most part do not interact. Both professionally and socially I have had much more interracial interaction in Brooklyn than here. Truth be told I come from area of Brooklyn where that was more often the case. (Passive?) Racism is alive and well on Martha's Vineyard if only because of the lack of interaction. It is something I am constantly aware of." (Christopher Mara, Vineyard Haven, Ma, chrismv@vineyard.net)

When the band packs up and the doors close for the night and the last patron gets into their car and the taillights fade in the distance, will the spirit of love, unity and camaraderie that reigns supreme at Lola's remain on the rest of the islands that are called Martha's Vineyard.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

A Path to Persue

Memories, the first track on the debut album from Brooklyn based recording artist Oral Splicerr Ras Williams is a haunting homage celebrating the lives of loved ones. Whether those loved ones have gone because of death or just moved on in life, the poignant lyrics and uncluttered arrangement will stay in your mind. It's fitting that this first track on the album sets the tone with Splicerr's heart tugging vocals and lyrics. The single beat of a Bongo drum on the undertow reflects the beating heart connecting the past with the present.

Definitely easy listening from the happy go lucky Searching, whose lyrics run deep in the never ending discussing of the meaning of life to the final track Sweet Baby Girl which has Splicerr crooning to his woman giving thanks for his baby girl. There's something for every taste, whether you like hard hitting rhythmns and lyrics or need something to set the mood to serenade your loved one

What this album has going for it is the kicking rhythmns used on each track combined with thought provoking and sensitive lyrics. Better Days and Got it Going On utilise the popular Studio One sound – updated and relevant in 2010 with clever, articulate lyrics. All tracks are written by Splicerr, with the exeception of Hurted Inside a Bob Marley adaption.

Path to Persue, the album's title track is a melodic love fest praising Jah making the listener just feel good to be alive. I'm sure I hear Ed Robinson's signature drumming on this track. Road so Foggy is more uptempo with biting social commentary to match the faster pace. You n Me will please the ladies for sure as Splicerr sings just for them. The Anthemic Holding On is a call not to give up the faith; and most of all to live upful and right under the Almighty's sight. In a nice touch, Splicerr pays tribute to his mother and mothers everywhere delivering his song Mama in singjay style with a punchy edgy rhytmn. The penultimate track on this quality album, Promise is another slice of homage to the fairer sex, which will definitely be a hit with its sweet melodies supporting sweet words uttered by the Ras.

Splicerr has been careful to produce music that offers upliftment, enlightenment and reaffirmation. The theme that runs through the entire album - 'though life may be a mystery – the path to persue (sic) is one that should be travelled with gusto, go out and live it'. Solid Positive Life Interesting Candid Educating Relentless and Real; SPLICERR, certainly lives up to his name in providing music that listeners will find satisfying, edifying and entertaining. Musical backing is superbly provided by Derick Barnett (Bass), Karl W. Wrifght (drums), Ed Robinson and Junior Jazz with backing vocals provided by Charmaine John, Ed Robinson and Myrrh-ce Gayle,

The album is available at kingstonpo.com, e2onair.com or 0z1artsnentertainment.com.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

The State of Reggae

The New York reggae scene – specifically concerts, promoters and the paying public seem to be in a flux. The last spate of shows did not go well. Does the problem lie at the feet of greedy promoters, lackadaisical artists or a jaded public? Recently held local events failed to generate the kind of buzz guaranteed to keep all concerned happy. In fact, the word on the streets is that the award-winning Irie Jamborie; normally the biggest outdoor reggae festival in the east will not take place this year. One can only surmise that the cancellation comes hot on the heels of the visa clamp down which has affected many Jamaican dancehall artists.

In Europe, and London in particular, there is no shortage of reggae performances. There, the winning formula seems to be concerts featuring no more than three or four popular acts on each show. I can see where this would appeal to the New York set. You do the math! You see your favorite artist perform a full set of say 90 minutes. The promoter reduces his costs by having fewer ‘artists’ together with their ubiquitous followers comprising the entourage; and the paying public is satisfied with a less hurried show which in the past has seen the main acts somehow getting squeezed out. Having three or four artists on a stage show is definitely preferable to the shambles of dealing with numerous performers whose egos are sometimes bigger than their stage presence or catalogue of hits. The stage manager’s task consequently becomes more manageable. It’s also easier for one band to support the headline acts and encourages attendance at rehearsals if you know you only have to support three performers. Immediately you knock out the interminable delays that accompany band changes – of course, it goes without saying that it’s also financially preferable to not have to pay each performer to transport their individual band!

Venerable reggae and international artist Freddie McGregor puts the onus on the promoter to organize and take control of the time element – a key component in planning a successful event. When asked how he feels as an artist whose set is cut short, he expressed empathy for his fans who get shortchanged, he’s willing to give the people what the want, but says you can’t argue with the police when they say the show has to end. His advice, “promoters have to be more professional and run the show”.

Sharon Gordon of TSO Productions who has been promoting events since her college days at Baruch says an influx of ‘hobbyists’ in the industry has led to a drastic lowering of standards. “Deep pockets may guarantee entrĂ©e to the business, but do not necessarily guarantee adherence to the level of integrity or professionalism that is needed. TSO Productions operates outside the shady financiers who may be using the venture to white-wash a money paper trail”. She tirelessly promotes quality entertainment and has branded the Reggae Culture Salute concert which celebrates its 6th year this October 30.

Gordon confirms that her signature events, Reggae Culture Salute and Reggae Cabaret have always produced concerts featuring no more than three artists and patrons have always received value for money.

Louie Grant of Irie Jamborie Promotions confirms that Irie Jamborie’s summer event was cancelled partly because of the travel restrictions and incarceration woes of the current crop of headline reggae acts. In response to whether that situation could force a sea-change in the artist line up, he explained that what works in Europe will not work in New York. Different demographics dictate patron’s expectations. The fact that Jamborie has also evolved into a formulaic event, means patrons anticipate a certain line-up and this expectation has lessened opportunities to experiment.

Dhaved Levy is quoted in an article appearing in the Village Voice as saying: "When your fanbase doesn't have the opportunity to see you, they want you more and more," he says. "Whoever brings a Vybz Kartel or a Beenie here first (after their visa is re-issued) is going to be paid."

Perhaps promoters need to focus more on customer satisfaction and not just returns on investment!

If live reggae shows are to survive – a change has to come. I wonder how long the public will put up with high prices and shady practices by those who have been around long enough to provide high quality and value for money events. The world-wide economic downturn has forced folks to be more cautious about where they are spending their money so promoters and performers need to take stock. In all walks of life ones brand and reputation have been important barometers of integrity and influence for those who do business with you. Your brand and reputation, like true love, cannot be bought.