Archive for July, 2008
After 400 years of blood, sweat & tears + a few mo, I’m in Nawleans fo the Ess-endz Fest (a 3 day black invasion of N. Orleans, I’ve caught sight of only about 100 or so white folks). I’m here with Sarah Dash to sing a couple of Labelle songs in a Essence tribute to a ‘Living Icon’ Patti LaBelle, our sister and the glorious lead singer of Labelle.
3 years after Katrina, huffed & puffed and blew the house of cards, betta known as levees down and turned lives upside down & inside out and ripped the wool from the eyes of the world about the state of the Nation known as The United States of America.
Today I saw a old friend in Nawleans weep about the devastation from Katrina, 3 years on. A strong, can do kinda woman who’s heart has been broken and slow to repair.
Through my eyes…People are living life in ‘parallel universe’ matrices; artificial environments that humans see as real.
Politicians sworn to serve and lead, old and new emperors dressed in old and new clothes!
The Middle Class; A parallel universe said to be related to ours, that may contain extinct humans; non existent.
The Rich have money to balm their wounds and soothe their conscience, bury their dead and fly away to another reality.
(Another reality; The French Quarter, famous and infamous for housing and encouraging the seven deadly sins, the water never touched! God is…??????????????)
The poorest of the poor who had nothing left to lose were stripped of their dignity, in the Dome, in Fema trailers, in hospitals and morgues and now in a city starved of it’s life blood, it’s people, scattered not too unlike the past, only this time they didn’t use auction blocks but buses.
H.O.P.E, an organization that bussed about 1,000 youths in blue & red t-shirts with wheel barrels and shovels, plastic bags, etc from all over The United States of America. They were spending part of their summer vacation helping to clear some remnants of the huge devastation to homes and communities. They were singing along with a youth band, drinking water and cheering each other!
- Nona Hendryx
The skies are crying here in Gotham on this grizzlygrey 4th of July weekend. Somewhere Elmore james is smiling. Not because we’re looking at tears roll down the streets like the song suggests (no doubt washing out Foreman grills by the dozens and double dozens across the county of Kings). No Elmore is shining us on because we here at BRC Media have finally by hook, crook and induced insomnia gotten slavetotheism.com up and running wild like a viral runaway child across the donnybrooks of your funk-de-fide dreams. Let us frst give praise to our fearless dominatrix and taskmaster Vernon Reid–he compelled us two seconds ago to launch on the day we honor the war fought to insure all white male property owners created equal before god were spared indemnity for injun-killin’, slave-ownin’ and disavowing all knowledge of their mulatto offspring.
Next let us praise our ever-stalwart Director Of Operations Darrell McNeil for the site’s name–by far the best of an incendiary bunch put before the colective royal We the BRC Media people. Gracias to Board of Directors and all kinds of legend Nona Hendryx for providing her midtown offices, the meeting ground that got this party started right. Kudos also to the BRC’s indefatiguable Madame President Laronda Davis who always keeps our wits about us. Nothing but love and big ups to our newest edition, The Man With The Web Designing Hands from the Longhorn State, our noble Hi-Sheriff of Knotty Plug Ins, Mr Brian Hull. Peck, peck, peckpeck peckpeck. That double-clicking sound you hear is Brian burning essential midnight oils while hunched over a keyboard somewhere in Texas, being intravenously fed ribs and beer while eschewing major July 4 festivities to get this Ism Thang up and running.
FInally I’ve got to give all kinds of props to all the brilliant writers who fed us content old new borrowed blue at the drop of an applejack– several of whom beamed in while dashing about transAtlantic airports, or on outback family vacations, their globe trotting Blackberries and Iphones in tow–Daphne Brooks, Kandia Crazy Horse, Michael Gonzales, Miles Marshall Lewis, Michael Angela Davis, Douglas Kearney, Sun Singleton, Sarah Lewis, Vijay iyer, Makkada B. Selah. Go team. To the extent that SlaveToThe Ism articulates more than than we love Grace Jones and The Chronic it’s because of all y’all . Bravo. Stay tuned. More krazy deadlines, sooncome.
So I got an ISM she got an ISM he got an ISM, all gods chillun got an ISM.
Some article of faith belief system, crazednotion, manic obsession, or philosphical addiction of the mind body or soul we hold to be the gospel truth as tightly as Moses held his commanding and immaculatlely inscribed clay tablets. Just about anything can be an ISM–all it takes is that special something cozying up to us in a beguiling moment of clarity and declaring “If you want to be free, you got to come through me.”
After 400 years of cohabitation, de-segre-mis-ceg-egration…Well, after all that, the sons and daughters of slaves and slaveowners alike–nearly identical twins in many American homes– seem to have become host to a whole hosts of Isms–I’m The Man-Ism, You The Man-Ism, She The Man Ism, Nigga Ism, Gangsta Ism, OfficerOverseer Ism, Clinton Ism Obama ism etc. Here at BRC media we suffer most from Black Music Ism–an Ism we share with most of planets other 9 billion inhabitants, who like us didnt need much coercing to get down. But there is a special relgiosity to our fervor for the Black Music Thang–with some of us seeming to have taken to heart (against all Sunday school teachings) our dearly departed Frank Zappa’s admonition that music is the only religion worth believing in because its the only one that delivers the goods. A loud flamboyant and abiding passion for Blacks Who Rock represents an especially acute form of our Ism. One most likely to bring out our capacity for slavish dedication to the cause. We’re often asked to define when not outiright defend the term Black Rock or Blacks Who Rock from various slings and arrows. Upon deep consideration we’ve come to realize we support a subculture defined by Feisty Negroes Who Refuse To Make Music They Know You’ll Like. If our Isms complememt your Isms we have a hunch you’ll find much to amuse, provoke and puzzle yourselves over here in the days weeks and months ahead.
- Greg Tate
“Elvis was the king of rock ‘n’ roll, huh? I guess somebody forgot to tell the folks up in Harlem listening to James Brown” — Black street comedian on 59th Street (circa 1986)”
Elvis Presley was my nigga: forget the fact that on his dying day on August 16th, 1977, the so-called King of Rock ‘n’ Roll was grossly overweight and popping more pills than a pharmaceutical student. Definitely, it might be best to ignore the oft spoken truths that to this day linger like an unchained melody that define the master of hypnotic hips and unmovable hair as a momma’s boy who boned teenaged girls years before R. Kelly was born, munched peanut butter and banana sandwiches, and blasted TV sets in the hallowed hotel rooms above the neon glow of Vegas.
Even if there are many folks that agreed with Brit-author Martin Amis when he wrote, “Elvis was a talented hick destroyed by success”, to me he was so much more. Like the other Caucasians in my then-personal canon of pop culture cool (which included Sean Connery, Elton John, Henry Winkler, Charles Bronson and Clint Eastwood), Elvis had a style, swagger, and charisma that radiated beyond the confines of the television screen.
Though too young to recall the red, white and blue tears people wept when John F. Kennedy was assassinated, or the shattered glass streets of chocolate cities across America when Martin Luther King was slain, the untimely announcement of Elvis’ last gasp rocked my world. Having dealt with death only a few times in my then young life (mother’s suicidal friend Thomas, grandma’s aged boyfriend Joe), I was devastated by the announcement of Elvis’ demise. As my first rock idol in the days before I realized that black dudes were supposed to reject Presley on principle, I watched with rabid interest as folks across the country cried while sharing their favorite Elvis memories with the newscaster.
In a Kodak flash, I relived those many late nights when me and baby brother would stay-up past our bedtime just to sneak peeks at the Elvis flicks that were broadcast occasionally in the midnight hour on the CBS Late Movie. From the fury of Jailhouse Rock to the kitsch of Viva Las Vegas to the goofiness of Speedway, we were both enthralled by the manic energy of Elvis. While mom had a monthly subscription to Ebony and Sepia magazines, and had even enrolled us in an after-school class in Black History, we never realized that we could be considered traitors to the race for digging the sounds of a guitar strumming bad boy standing on the hood of a stock car or tonguing down va-va-voom Ann Margret.
Spending the latter part of the summer of ‘77 at Aunt Ricky’s crib in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, where she, Uncle Ed and older cousin Denise were the only brown faces in the community, issues of race were never discussed. With the exception of the peaceful image of M.L.K. on Sunday morning church fans (a constant reminder that a mere few years before, down south brothers and sisters were still sitting in the back of the bus or being bitten by police dogs), there was no talk of integration, race relations or the countless student uprisings that still rumbled in colleges campuses.
In her late-thirtes, Aunt Ricky was a beautiful brown-skinned woman with a wide smile, a thick body (Uncle Ed called her “butterball”), and a voice that had a stern singsong lilt that she used years later for preaching in the pulpit of a various churches in the wilds of Pennsylvania. Dressed in a multicolored housedress, Aunt Ricky leaned back in a brown living-room chair, exhaling heavily. Gazing at my emotional reaction to the news of Elvis’ exploding heart, Aunt Ricky unexpectedly dropped a bomb on me. “You know, Elvis was a racist, right?” she declared. Without the hint of a smile, it was obvious she was serious as a bottle of moonshine.
Turning away from the tear stained faces being transmitted from in front of the pearly gates of Graceland, I was puzzled. “You know”, Aunt Ricky continued, “he once told a reporter, ‘The only thing colored folks can do for me is shine my shoes and buy my records.’ Now, if that’s not racist, you tell me what is”. In a low-talking voice that was damn near a Marlon mumble, I said, “That can’t be true. Elvis would never say anything like that”. Coming from the melting pot of New York City, I had never experienced, at least not to my knowledge, the kind of racism that still simmered on the other side of the George Washington Bridge. Other than a white cop, who had threatened to kick my black ass two years before (admittedly, I did call him a “pig” first, but that is a whole other tale), I had no idea that such strained relationships between the races still existed.
“It’s true”, Aunt Ricky declared with so much conviction, one would have thought she had been in the room when the venomous words were supposedly uttered. “You know what they say?”
“What’s that?” I wondered.
“White is right”, she answered. Feeling betrayed by both Elvis and Aunt Ricky, I excused myself from the room. Personally, I didn’t want to believe it, but who was I to question the wisdom of a grown-up?
Years later, I wondered why none of the adults in my life ever bothered to school us kids about the early days of black music, when a rowdy Negro named Ike Turner (whose 1951 “Rocket 88″ was recorded at Sun Studios a few years before Elvis shuffled through those same doors) was considered the first true rock star. Not once did one of the elders put a copy of Little Richard’s “Tutti Fruitti” on the stereo and declare, “This is the true king, kid. Now, bow down”.
In his masterful Last Train to Memphis (1994), author Peter Guralnick, cites a piece that appeared in Jet magazine on in 1957: “Tracing that rumored racial slur to its source was like running a gopher to earth.” Some said Presley had said it in Boston, which Elvis had never visited. Some said it was on Edward Murrow’s show, on which Elvis had never appeared. Jet sent Louie Robinson to the set of “Jailhouse Rock”: “When asked if he ever made the remark, Mississippi-born Elvis declared: ‘I never said anything like that, and people who know me know I wouldn’t have said it”.
Robinson then spoke to people “who were in a position to know” and heard from Dr W. A Zuber, “a Negro physician in Tupelo” that Elvis Presley used to “go round to Negro ’sanctified meetings’; from pianist Dudley Brooks that he “faces everybody as a man”, and from Presley himself that he had gone to colored churches as a kid, churches like Reverend Brewster’s, and that “he could honestly never hope to equal the musical achievements of Fats Domino or the Inkspots’ Bill Kenny”.
“To Elvis”, Jet concluded in its August 1st, issue, “people are people regardless of race, color or creed.”
In 1985, five years before composing his satirical anthem “Elvis is Dead”, which featured a cameo from Little Richard, I met Living Colour guitarist Vernon Reid. Flipping through the cluttered bins inside Sounds record shop on New York’s sleazy St. Marks Place, I recognized the musician’s wild styled locks and funky attire from a recent band photo published in the arty magazine East Village Eye.
After introducing myself, we chatted for about 20 minutes about movies, science fiction novels, and of course, music. “What do you do?” Vernon asked.
“Well, besides working at Tower Records, I’m a writer that doesn’t write”, I confessed.
“Me and some friends have started an organization called The Black Rock Coalition”, Vernon said. “We’re meeting this Saturday in the Village Voice offices. Perhaps you should come by”.
“Yeah,” I answered, not really understanding what he could possibility mean; Jimi Hendrix was dead and Sly Stone might as well have been, so what was this strange beast known as Black Rock? With the exception of Prince and the Bad Brains, I thought, how many others of color are doing the wild electric on stage or vinyl. “But, I’m not a musician. The only things I play are records,” I said..
Chuckling, Vernon answered, “Don’t worry ’bout that. Yeah, it’s about the music, but it’s also about so much more. We got filmmakers, writers, all kinds of folks. Just come over to the Voice offices about two o’clock or so”.
Without a hint of irony, I showed-up at the B.R.C. meeting clad in sneakers, jeans, and a colorful t-shirt of Elvis’ face superimposed on a Confederate flag. Standing on lower Broadway outside the newspaper offices with a collective of folks, I was uncomfortable. Feeling less bohemian than the rest of the bunch, I leaned against the wall and waited until it was time to file into the building.
A soulful clique of spirited people who would have a major influence over a generation of new jack artists developing their own personal cult-nat-freaky-deke-nu-blax-aesthetic, gathered on the sidewalk. The tribe included cultural critic Greg Tate, bluesman Michael Hill, trumpet player Flip Barnes, poet Tracie Morris, singer Cassandra Wilson, guitarist Jean Paul Bourelly, keyboardist Bruce Mack, producer Craig Street, bassist Melvin Gibbs, future musical genius Me’Shell Ndegeocello and, of course Vernon Reid.
“Is that Elvis shirt supposed to be a joke?” asked a kooky looking dude with bugged eyes and dreadlocks. With a goofy voice that reminded me of Richard Pryor, he introduced himself as Darius James. A satirical performance artist who also wrote for lit-mag Between C&D, Darius would later pen the celebrated surreal novel Negrophobia and the semi-autobiographical history of ’70s cinema That’s Blaxploitation: Roots of the Baadasssss ‘Tude (Rated X by an All’Whyte Jury).
“Er, no,” I answered. Slightly insulted, I lit a Newport.
“If I were you, I would tell people it was”, Darius snorted. Embarrassed, I wanted to melt into the concrete like a black Santeria candle. “So, I guess you must be a fan of Otis Blackwell, huh?”
“Who?” I asked. God, why did all the weirdoes generate towards me, I wondered? “Otis, who…”
“Man, you wearin’ that redneck on your shirt and you don’t even know the real deal”, Darius spat, droplets of spittle stained my glasses. Simultaneously reminding me of Daffy Duck and Goldie the Pimp, there was an endearing quality to his madness. “Otis was the bad piano playin’ Brooklyn brother who wrote ‘Don’t Be Cruel’ and ‘All Shook Up’”, Darius snickered. “Shit, I think your boy Elvis might have got them both for the price of a pickled pig foot, a fried chicken wing, and a bottle of cream soda. He might not have stole the soul, but he bought it mighty cheap”.
“You’re joking, right? ‘Don’t Be Cruel’ was written by…”
“A black man!” Darius screamed, sounding like one of the sugar high kids on the Stevie Wonder track (from Songs in the Key of Life, 1976) of the same name. “Yeah, and he also wrote ‘Great Balls of Fire,’ ‘Fever,’ and ‘Handy Man’. Dude had one bad songwriting mojo going down”.
“You’re serious, right?” I asked.
“If I’m lying, I’m flying and believe me, I ain’t no mothership. In fact, I ain’t dropped acid since I was in high school in New Haven”.
Upstairs, the dank meeting room was filled-up to capacity. Me and my new buddy Darius sat next to one another and listened to lengthy rants for the next few hours: record company politics, lack of diversity on radio, the underrated power chords of former Funkadelic ax-men Mike Hampton and Eddie Hazel, finding a venue for a BRC fund-raiser, the color problem at MTV, racism in New York nightclubs and the frustration of defining “what exactly is Black Rock, anyway?”
Like Amiri Baraka getting off the subway in Harlem to kick-start the Black Arts Movement in 1965, it was obvious that everyone in that room believed themselves to be a “pioneer of the new order”. Fighting a rhythmic revolution that challenged the mainstream’s fear of blackness (be it black music or black people), I was convinced the agenda of the Black Rock Coalition would change the world.
Twenty years later, though “Black Rock” is still a foster child fighting for acceptance, artists like Apollo Heights and Martha Redbone gives me hope for the future.
In a 2002 interview with rapper Chuck D., who dissed (”Elvis was a hero to most, but he never meant shit to me/You see, straight up racist that sucker was simple and plain”) Presley on the classic Public Enemy track (which also served as the opening theme to Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing) “Fight the Power”, said, “As a musicologist — and I consider myself one — there was always a great deal of respect for Elvis, especially during his Sun sessions . . . As black people, we all knew that. My whole thing was the one-sidedness - like, Elvis’ icon status in America made it like nobody else counted. My heroes came from someone else. My heroes came before him. My heroes were probably his heroes. As far as Elvis being ‘ The King,’ I couldn’t buy that”.
Certainly, the real issue is how come Elvis got anointed “the king”, while Little Richard is seen as a hysterical sissy, Ike Turner is better known as a wife beater, and Chuck Berry is a musical footnote who once sang about his ding-a-ling. Still, this cultural Apartheid goes back further than Elvis’ popularity: Count Basie vs. Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington vs. George Gershwin. Oh, and lets not forget the self-proclaimed King of Jazz, the aptly named Paul Whiteman.
Twenty-eight years after the pale-faced teddy bear Elvis suddenly slumped on the cold tiles, not much has changed on the pop-cult landscape. White is still right, which would surely explain why we’re watching Eminem’s 8 Mile instead of Live from Queensbridge: The Saga of Marly Marl, Justin Timberlake is considered more of a soul stirrer than Carl Thomas, a frump like Fergie is a bigger star than Res, and most minority music writers are still relegated to the rear review pages of Rolling Stone and Blender.
I just don’t understand how me acknowledging the brilliance of Elvis or wailing timeless tracks like “Suspicious Minds” or “Heartbreak Hotel” when they blare through stereo speakers is going to change Planet Pop’s perception of race and originality. Just be content that Elvis’ gritty message song “In the Ghetto” hasn’t been cited as the first rap record: the king is dead, long live the king.
She calls herself ‘The Voice of the Young People’. 18 year-old Lil Mama is your favorite female rapper’s favorite rapper, because she’s got her head screwed on mad tight. From a part of Harlem “where the streets look like Africa,” Ma, who hit it big with the 2007 bleacher-stomp “Lip Gloss,” is on some real talk, big woman shit.
“I did a record with Lil Mama for my album,” says Missy Elliott. “I got a chance to meet her and get in the studio with her and she’s incredible. She’s a dope MC to be young like that.”
In the introduction to her rock-tinged break-up song “Emotional Rollercoaster”, in which she also sings the hook, she philosophizes
There are many girls. …going into womanhood… and they go through different emotional roller coasters and when you’re on a roller coaster in real life, you can’t get off in the middle of the ride. You got to ride it out until it stops. And at the end of that ride… that rollercoaster was fun even though it had a couple of twirls spins and drops that made you cry.
Homegirl don’t sound like she’s cried at all though, her voice hard as concrete.
“She got her own lil lane,” says Lady (Gangsta) Boo. “She came out with a little catchy song about lip gloss. I mean ABC. It’s like damn that shit was hot. I like the fact that she did something different when girl MCs aren’t getting the recognition and the respect that we should be getting she came through saying ‘what’s up. I’m still here—and my lip gloss poppin.”
And she’s like the hoodchick-next-door. In the album’s obligatory T-Pain track “What it is” she’s “sexycool,” while rocking to a Go-Go beat—-but it doesn’t go any farther than that. Lil Mama ain’t showin jack, yo—no skin no a-tall —nada— she bumps a turtleneck on her album cover, and kicks it mostly in hoodies and jeans in her videos.
“Oh, I’m so glad she decided not to go that route,” says Monie Love, “SO glad” referring to the raspy voiced young miss’s decision to keep her goodies in the jar.
As one of the few female rappers with a major label deal, hopefully she’s part of a movement to create a strong solid platform for more diverse female voices in hip-hop to be heard, to be marketed, and to be in a position to inspire young girls and women. Her father’s persistent push to get her single played on Hot 97 led to it blowing up the entire east coast and attracting the attention of Jive Records. Then she followed with a club joint with Chris Brown “Shawty Get Loose”. In one album soliloquy she says, “Now that it’s obvious that I’m true to the game, we gotta go deeper. We gotta get into the reality of life,” Homegirl is not playing.
“What she has to bring is necessary, “ says MC Lyte, to whom she’s often compared, because of Mama’s talent for telling stories from varying points of view, “She’s got some powerful songs. She’s got stories. She’s socially conscious about what’s going on around her… She has the capabilities to really turn heads and to really satisfy a culture of people with some hip-hop that lives.”
- Makkada B. Selah
Well, as y’all know, for the past few weeks the City has been aurally preoccupied with this year’s JVC Jazz Festival. The period was bookended for this worn out rock critic. On one end by by the viral sensation of Snoop Dogg – Willie Nelson duet “My Medicine” turning up in my inbox. On the other by and being queried about Jonah Weiner’s filing on Lil’ Weezy and The Afronaut in Slate. The sum of the newsflash: Negroes is still freaky-deak…an’ they jes’ cain’t he’p it! Fittingly, I was also summoned to this BRC digital par-tay by Gregory Tate, the brer who cheekily dubbed me The Redneck Negress.
I ran a column of the same name down South during my tenure in North Cock-It-Back until recently. It only seems meet and proper to bring a bit of sepia twang to these proceedings – better the honky-tonk than the hoes down. We Afro-freaks love porch pickers, once unabashedly ate our watermelon while riveted to Hee Haw, are now running amok in New Amsterdam.
YEP it’s been a busy heady time of exploring whether jazz still exists. Believe I found some at the JVC closing ceremonies this past Saturday.
I was also happy to make the scene at some of my friends’ shows last week amidst the hullaballoo – Kamara Thomas of Earl Greyhound & Larune; Dom Flemons, Justin Robinson & Rhiannon Giddens of Carolina Chocolate Drops. Through them I got to delve behind the glitz and potential cynicism of Snoop an’ Akon’s ‘n Nelly’s reach-out-and-touch to Nashvegas.
Leading Larune, Sister Kamara is inspired by Myth America–from our downhome girl Dolly Parton to one of my all-time favorite master funkateers, Neil Young. Her sound is cosmic country, full of darkness, drone, continental drift and always soul and mystery. At the Honky-Tonk Angels party last Tuesday at Banjo Jim’s, she and Brother Gabriel and her man Gordon in town from touring with Shooter Jennings held it down sho’nuff. It was after the Witching Hour and June was my addled month of bittersweet mourning, so I don’t recall any specific songs from Bulgaria…but Postcards From Bulgaria is Larune’s album available now from the Periodic Label.
It sports cover art by Jezebel conjured from the camera obscura where Kara Walker encounters Fragonard. Bulgaria is Kamara’s horse opera though it also featured songs from her devastatingly talented musical partner Matt Whyte. She describes it as theatre about “death, suicide and Black Sea vacations.” IT is a good deal more than that: harkening the arrival of a major Afrolantica artist come into her own voice. Bulgaria is as conceptually rigorous and sonically adventurous as such long heralded suicide meditations by Melvin Van Peebles, Gil Scott-Heron and the late great Arthur Lee.
On Thursday last, I crossed the river even farther back into time and caught Carolina Chocolate Drops at Celebrate Brooklyn in Prospect Park. And a mighty fine prospect it was, tha Drops doing their thang before the largest audience I had witnessed thus far. Hailing from the Carolina Piedmont and Arizona, the trio’s blend of folk, bluegrass and the occasional nod to contemporary “urban” delights held everyone arrested. No surprise –they’ve been thrilling crowds from Merlefest to the Yay Area.
Rhiannon, Dom and Justin easily traded between banjo, fiddle, jug, kazoo, and a spot of freestyle Juba, rolling out songs from old-timey trad (“Starry Crown”) to Scottish standards sung in Gaelic (by she of many tongues Rhiannon) to sanctified blues (“City of Refuge”) and Blu Cantrell’s “Hit ‘Em Up Style” (no lie). If you’re unfamiliar with the glorious past of African American prewar string band repertoire and want to hear the chirren’s take on “Nobody’s Fault But Mine,” check out their MySpace and acquire Dona Got A Ramblin’ Mind post-haste. As Dom has recently relocated to Inwood, here’s hoping we might get a regular uptown hootenanny going for us sons & daughters of Ham.
Viacom has yanked Snoop and his western shirt from YouTube, thwarting our giggles and cyber contact high, but perhaps you kicked off your Emancipation weekend with a swift sojourn to Larune’s 3 July gig with the Basement Band at Williamsburg’s Spike Hill, and will peep Carolina Chocolate Drops online. [www.carolinachocolatedrops.com] (unless you’re swinging through Mizzou and Arkansas this weekend). Brothers and sisters, it would be healthy, hopeful and, above all, liberating to scoot yer boots before dropping the bomb at Afro-Punk. I will be riding six Jimi-purple choppers when I come.
-Kandia Crazy Horse
My regal 82-year old mother rang me the day after the BET Awards to let me know that she was through with Al Green. “I’ll listen to his old records, but Lord if I don’t know what has happened to him today. What a mess.” Moms couldn’t hang with the Reverend’s loopy streak, unveiled in all its finest glory during last week’s annual Negropalooza. I felt especially guilty for having encouraged her to tune back into the show to catch Green after the first 10 minutes had scared her so much that she’d already turned it off. “I’m honored and humbled by the Academy of the B.E.T. Awards… What you laughing at?” As generation Youtube “filmmakers” Mickey and CJ declare on their Chappelle-in-training wheels short short short “Al Green BET LOL”: “We laughing at you!” Reverend Al’s chitter-chatter and wide-eyed mugging (lifting his sunglasses-at-night, no less) amped up the talk of a “crazy” label that some have quietly attached to Green in the post-grits era, even as the nostalgic affection for his warm, rippling, post-juke joint Memphis soul has waxed and flowed among black folks for more than three decades now. Even white listeners have pledged their undying love for Green, especially after 1990s Negro-ologist Quentin Tarantino jacked up the volume on “Let’s Stay Together” while Bruce Willis stood idle in a Pulp Fiction barroom. Jon Stewart, several years back on The Daily Show, swooned over his soul legend guest, back in an era when even less black peeps were regulars on that show (two and counting, Jonny boy—yes, we can!). But actually listening to Al Green talk can sometimes lead you to wonder what is going on with one of the greatest R&B singers of the modern era. Non-sequitars, tangential allusions to God and well, God knows what else… It may be our own fault that we expect our classic soul men to deliver the gravitas 24/7—Sam’s aching, existential longing, Otis and Curtis’s Civil Rights striving, Marvin’s brooding social critique. But even Stevie, our long-running shining pan-Africanist musical prince, has played with the fringes of the goofy in and out of song. One of my good friends once noted how she occasionally has to hold back the laughs when Stevie adds “a little extra” to the bass in his voice late in the chorus of, well most of his uptempo songs… Stevie’s playfulness is a mark of the wonder-full richness and joy of black life that his music so brilliantly celebrates. So perhaps Green’s occasional conversational inanity can best be likened to a perpetual state of preacherly get-happiness. High on life and love of God, his meanderings are a reminder that Green long ago found permanent fuel in the ether-lightness of the spirit. Thanks be to Questlove and James Poyser for catching it in a bottle on Green’s new album Lay It Down. And Hallelujah! for a shorn Maxwell (where art thou, Embryanic tresses?!!!) for coming the closest to invoking the vintage Reverend’s balance of buoyant freeplay and sensual showboating during his electric silk cover of the exquisite “Simply Beautiful” for the BET Green Tribute segment. Maxwell’s genius crooning and prowling the stage (minus the over-the-top banter about “sexy shoes” toward the end of his performance) made fans like my Mom long for the old Al Green (“Now that little one at the end could blow!”). The Al that turned up at Carnegie Hall last Friday night was neither fair nor fowl. His madhatter mix of earnest balladeering (Green even semi-scolded an over-zealous fan who, at one point, threw him off his lyrical game at one point) while cutting up and leading a never-ending sing-a-long was clearly disappointing to some of the crowd who, like my Mom, fondly recall all that was magical about Al in his prime—especially his ability to find the warm center of a keyboard-drenched groove and massage it—and you—into pure release. The court-jester reverend comes off more as part non-sinister Joker and part English-speaking Pootie Tang, chuckling at his own jokes, flirting with mischief, and speaking earnestly on a completely different wavelength to his audience. Much of this makes Green something of a puzzle to incredulous younger listeners like my ex-partner (10 years my junior) who asked me on more than one occasion why I liked Al Green (he also gave me an amazing Japanese import DVD of Green in the studio… so thanks if you’re out there…). That’s a question that threw me off at first, but eventually it inspired me to think more closely about how to respond to him. The answer hit me over the head while watching Green’s truly old school/new school brother dancers studiously coming forward to do their thing whenever the beat crept higher than on “For the Good Times.” Sporting tuxes, meticulous cornrow dos, and some easy-as-summer breeze choreographed moves, Green’s dancers were all business about their play while the Reverend bobbed and weaved around and through singing (some? most?) of the verses of his string of classics. I’d never laughed with a singer so much at a show—even if I wasn’t sure half of the time what we were laughing at or for or about. The sheer pleasure of living? The miracle of making music? How ‘bout the fact that the Reverend, in his own special way—is continuing to teach us some new tricks about our emotional selves—by hamming it up, and reveling in the ridiculously ineffable, illogical language of love and happiness. -Daphne Brooks
Just the facts, ma’am. Last night: Erykah Badu at the Palais des Congrès. Awesome… though I’ve seen the analog girl at least seven times live (the last: Jones Beach 2005 w/Jill Scott and Queen Latifah) and it wasn’t my absolute favorite set. But, very New Amerykah heavy, very funky, very 90 minutes late. Went a lil’ something like this.
The six-man band jammed for ten minutes alone before her entrance, doing solos off of Herbie Hancock’s “Chameleon.” Chesty backup singers Keisha Renée Williams and Eugenia Bess began chanting “hold on, my people” as Erykah emerged from stage left. With her striking poses at the microphone, the band cranked up “Amerykahn Promise” (derived from the old Roy Ayers Music Project tune, “The American Promise”) and funked out until segueing into “The Healer/Hiphop.” She’d brought out two tuning forks – they make vibrations, no? – and clinked them together at the appropriate moment in the song, but the mic didn’t pick up the space/time continuum rift that one might’ve expected to hear. A few songs later, she brought out an African drum under her arm to bang, bringing in the chant/song “My People.”
I could go song by song, but I’ll put the track listing below. Instead, the highlights. For a few tours now (and this one is officially The Vortex Tour), Erykah has been playing a beat machine onstage that’s sort of like a sophisticated Japanese-engineered version of banging on a lunchroom table to produce hiphop boom-bap beats, but it’s also capable of making space-age atmospheric effects. So at one point, she got the electrofunk beat to Afrika Bambaataa’s “Planet Rock” going, which the band picked up, and performed “Apple Tree” over it. She similarly merged the music to Michael Jackson’s “Off the Wall” to the end of Worldwide Underground‘s “I Want You,” and A Tribe Called Quest’s “Bonita Applebum” in-between “Love of My Life (An Ode to Hiphop)” and “A.D. 2000” from Mama’s Gun. Badu turned her back to the audience at one point and gave drummer Raphael Iglehart what I’m sure was a deadly look for missing his cue.
Other little musical borrowings made the night interesting; the sold-out audience was also treated to James Brown’s “The Payback” at the end of the night, somewhere between “Tyrone” and “Bag Lady.” Same with the beat to “Top Billin’” bringing on “On & On.” And the late Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s “Shimmy Shimmy Ya” appeared as a petite encore with Common’s “The Light,” and thousands of Parisians waved their cellies in the air from side to side with the house lights down. The only notable Baduizm of the night might’ve been her explanation of vortices, how Paris was located nearby a (presumably spiritual) vortex, and that areas near such vortices produce greater creativity. Knowing Badu, she kept it light considering the language barrier. She jumped into the audience (protected by her security) at one point, cavorting with fans real friendly-like. Then she broke out for the next tour stop in London, leaving us with some prerecorded crunk to dance ourselves out. Now, the track listing:
“On & On”
“… & On”
“I Want You”
“Otherside of the Game”
“Love of My Life (An Ode to Hiphop)”
-Miles Marshall Lewis
So N*E*R*D’s back, flaunting all the appropriate characteristics for the ideal postmodern pop-rock band: an effortless mélange of hiphop, rock, and 80s synth music married to an ironic attitude. The description sounds a lot like Gnarls Barkley (a duo likewise hard to characterize), but N*E*R*D predated that group by four years with their first record, In Search Of… (overrated, but “Rock Star – Poser” and “Lapdance” rocked on). Off the new record Seeing Sounds, the retro-sounding “Windows,” with Motown-like handclaps and “do do do” harmonizing, is the only song that might bring Gnarls Barkley to mind. The rest is far too energetic and futuristic to be anything but pure N*E*R*D. It’s the perfect soundtrack for the jumpy girls with coke joneses playfully satirized on the first single, “Everyone Nose (All the Girls Standing in the Line for the Bathroom).”
Lead singer Pharrell Williams is celebrated mainly for his phenomenal talent as a producer; his distinct touch is famously all over most of Madonna’s latest, Hard Candy. This makes sense, because his lack of singing chops sometimes makes N*E*R*D harder to appreciate. Poor vocals weigh down certain songs — “Yeah You,” for example — like an anchor; because of his voice, it’s hard to know if he’s seriously seducing or just fuckin around. N*E*R*D’s lyrics are also trite and secondary to the music. “Everyone Nose” takes coke use as its subject (“cut you open and you’re all white,” Pharrell sings), but most of Seeing Sounds deals with hookups and partying.
Beats redeem the album though. The agitated triphop drumming on “Anti Matter” complements the song’s New Wave guitars nicely, creating a standout. “Kill Joy” uses the old-school Sugarhill Gang-like rhymes of N*E*R*D’s Shay effectively and, like most of Seeing Sounds, the bridge contrasts the original melody sharply. More than anything else, N*E*R*D continues to be a fly storage room for the more experimental sounds that producer Pharrell Williams can’t hawk elsewhere.
Miles Marshall Lewis
Neo-Hoodoo: Art of a Forgotten Faith
The Menil Collection, Houston
June 27 – September 21, 2008
With this second major exhibition at the Menil Collection since his arrival in 2006, Franklin Sirmans has reignited the conversation surrounding art and spirituality. Drawing its inspiration from Ishmael Reed’s novel, Mumbo Jumbo written in 1972, Sirmans traces the vestiges of an African spiritual sensibility throughout the Americas and over two generations of art-makers.
The beautifully installed exhibition that features thirty-three artists mostly working in installation, opens with a sculptural work by Nari Ward entitled, Liquorsoul (2007) a repurposed metal neon sign whose inverted letters have been reordered to illuminate the word, soul. Ward’s wall work juxtaposed with Marepe (Marcos Reis Peixoto)’s lighted floor sculpture, Aureolas, (2007) and James Lee Byar’s gilded brass free-standing sculpture, The Halo, (1985); sets the overall tone for the exhibition. Primarily an ode the religious syncretism created by Africans brought to the Americas, there is also the celebration of artistic practice that have fused the intuitive impulse with that of formalism. The result is an alchemy of sights, sounds, and smells that evoke the palpable traces of spiritual, political and artistic awareness.
While much of the work was culled from existing collections (including the Menil), others were either created or re/created specifically for the exhibition. Most striking are those works that have the innate ability to viscerally induce the syncretism of a formalist approach to art-making and the resonance of spirituality. A new installation work by Amalia Mesa-Bains, The Curandara’s Botanica, (2008) envelops the viewer’s senses with the strong scent of lavender and the gleaming of glass beakers and stainless steel. The work suggests an updated conjure house whose modern day curandara (conjure woman) retains the power of her ancestors. Jose Bedia, Las Cosas que me Arrastum (the things that drag me along), 1996/2008, a large wall drawing connected to two wooden canoes filled with bones, glass, cloth and wooden objects also draws upon the ancestral world and the spiritual traditions of this Cuban roots. Radcliff Baileys’ Storm at Sea, (2007), a floor installation of undulating piano keys upon which a model Spanish carrack -the sailing vessel used during the Atlantic Slave Trade - is precariously poised. In the background a wooden sculpture of Chango looks on longingly for those taken from the shores of Africa. For their simplistic buoyancy, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Untitled (Go-Go Dancing Platform) 1991 and William Cardova’s la casa que frank Lloyd wright hiso para atahualpa, 2008 are standouts as well as works by Terry Adkins and Kcho. The likely artistic shoe-ins for such an exhibition like this, Ana Mendieta and Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons do not disappoint particularly when juxtaposed against the photographic work of Rebecca Belmore and 2007 performances of Regina Josè Galindo. Overall, this exhibition is a must see and its catalogue with essays by Robert Ferris-Thompson, Arthur Danto, Julia Herzberg, Greg Tate, Quincy Troupe and an interview between Sirmans and Ishmael Reed, is a must-read for anyone interested in a unique twist on politics, spirituality and their presence in contemporary art practice.Neo-Hoodoo: Art of a Forgotten Faith,The Menil Collection, Houston,June 27 – September 21, 2008