Author Archive

Miles Marshall Lewis Rekindles His Love for Nina Simone

By editor • Mar 8th, 2009 • Category: news

Miles Marshall Lewis reviews a Valentine’s Day Nina Simone Tribute.

Spin Magazine Article on Black Rock

By editor • Oct 24th, 2008 • Category: news

The November 2008 issue of Spin Magazine (with MGMT on the cover) features a great oral history of Black Rock as told by the artists, journalists, and industry pros who made it happen. Check out the online excerpt from Spin - Black Rock: An Oral History by David Browne.

Living Colour @ Harlem Day 2008

By editor • Aug 21st, 2008 • Category: videos

Sophie Ramos at Afro-Punk

By editor • Jul 21st, 2008 • Category: videos

Reigning Femmes by Makkada B. Selah

By editor • Jul 13th, 2008 • Category: features

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

Neo-Hoodoo: Art of a Forgotten Faith By Valerie Cassell Oliver

By editor • Jul 10th, 2008 • Category: reviews


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

Val Cassell

Honoring Our Mothers by Sarah Elizabeth Lewis

By editor • Jul 10th, 2008 • Category: reviews

We often try to keep time positioned vertically, aligning our personal histories, created years or even minutes ago, to direct our new present. Our lineages remain straight up and down in our creative process too; mothers and fathers support children who might take collective dreams forward. Yet
vectors find strength if we torque their lines.

MacArthur winning Photographer and Photo Historian Deborah Willis and Photographer Hank Willis Thomas, a mother and her son, are showing us how it’s done. Creating photographs for the first time together after pioneering work on their own, “Progeny,” their current exhibition at Bernice Steinbaum Gallery in Miami, is more than a familial collaboration; it is honor paid through pictures. Not only does the show include work made by each individually, it pays homage to “mother wit” displayed below the lips of those who received it: “Believe him the first time,” “Kill them with kindness” and “Know what you are saying but don’t say everything you know.” One line in particular positioned next to a pregnant Mecca Brooks, a member of the Willis family, “They don’t tell you the water doesn’t stop,” takes on national significance given the tragedy of hurricane Katrina. It was there that our community had to lend support to one another, this show subtly remind us, mothers to sons, sons to mothers and on and on throughout the ages, throughout our world.

Sarah Lewis

Liza Jessie Peterson’s Performance Industrial Complex By Sun Singleton

By editor • Jul 10th, 2008 • Category: news


Actor, poet, playwright, teacher.  Liza Jessie Peterson’s activist spirit compels her to reveal human truths via a mash-up of mystic-artistic guises.

To poetry aficionados, she is Liza Jessie Peterson the tall bronze goddess of Def Poetry Jam fame, whose poem “Ice Cream Cone” exhilarates street-harassed women everywhere when, upon being told by a sleazy passerby to lick it, tells his ass exactly where to stick it.

To girls and boys in the New York prison system she is called Sister Liza, the committed outreach coordinator who has taught weekly creative writing courses to talented, incarcerated youth for over ten years.

Inmates at Rykers Island and Sing-Sing prison know Sista Liza as a lone storyteller who comes bearing her magical gift of theater. “The Peculiar Patriot” is Peterson’s dynamic one-woman play about Betsy LaQuanda Ross, a woman whose devotion to her imprisoned lover compels her to collect and sew together the inmates’ stories like a beloved family quilt. She’s performed the play an astounding forty-four times, and her audiences, from the OG’s and newbies, are often moved by her work in ways that still surprise her. “Once I did the show on a hot summer day with an auditorium of 300 guys, and I had been billed as a comedian. So these guys thought they were coming in to see a comedian, which I’m not. I’m like ‘Oh my God, this is gonna be problematic.’ But after I finished the show, they all stood up and gave me the black power salute.”

When the show is over, Liza conducts a Q&A session, personally transcribing the inmates’ feedback for “Voices From The Inside,” a program designed to give insight about prison life to her adolescent students back at Ryker’s. “I take [the older inmates] comments and have discussions with the youth, to then comment back to the OG’s”

“The Peculiar Patriot” is a multifaceted project that encompasses the play, a feature film, documentary and an erotic pin-up calendar featuring the former couture model, all to be released under her LJP Inc. banner. When asked the obvious question, “why a pin-up calendar?” the actress responds with candor: “The prison pin-up calendar is speaking the language of the current culture which is celebrating the hyper-sexualized black woman, and it is my answer to that, in bringing back the totality of the Goddess through these images. I’m putting honey on the blade.”

Liza is also clear about her purpose in performing “The Peculiar Patriot” for audiences too often forgotten by the outside world. “There are millions behind bars. We see the chaos in our community because the order is behind those bars. We need to restore order by bringing their voices back.”

Liza Jessie Peterson’s forty-fifth performance will take place at Sing-Sing prison on July 19th.

Grace Jones - Corporate Cannibal

By editor • Jul 10th, 2008 • Category: videos

Flag Wars

By editor • Jul 9th, 2008 • Category: news

Once  upon a time photographer and woman-in-the-global-streets Lauri Lyons shot her way into a book called Flag:An American Story (Vision On). Therein she gave diverse citizens across the republic an American flag to drape about and comment upon in their own inimitable styles. Critical comments on the books Amazon page range from  ‘  “I think Flag is a brilliant and beautiful book”   to “It seems that Lauri Lyons went out of her way to find the dregs of society to interview and photograph. There are many negative and hateful comments about the USA and I can’t imagine why any publisher would publish this book.’
Her even bolder new collection Flag International (Blurb) will surely divide the nation in half too. This time Lyons shows and tells how people of various ethnicities  in eight  European countries feel wholecloth about the whole red white and blue thing. As before Lyons gives random folk her traveler’s edition of Old Glory and let’s them work out whatever visual statement they deem appropriate. The results are generally nothing less than pointed and poignant, frequently stylish and unforgiving, and often as shocking as any commie-pinko-terrorist symp might long for them to be . Ditto goes for the freehand commentary all served-up to let the world know what sorts of feelings arise when they think Team USA.