bongani madondo remembers mama africa

By bongani • Nov 14th, 2008 • Category: Hnic-ism, features



 You Still a Black Queen, Mama 


Fate’s a bitch ain’t it? I mean here we are. Celebrating what the magic realist, essayist, poet, and literary seer of sorts Ben Okri, regards as “probably the first great historic moment with a positive charge in the 21st Century.”  


The man you are bound to hear about and from, possibly for the next coming hundred years, eight of which, straight from Capitol Hill, or somewhere about.

And then what happens? That beautiful, healer, diva, sizzler Miriam goes on die on us. 


I’m like, what, Mama? Why did they ask you to perform in an anti-Mafia concert in the first place when the Mafia had issued out death threats to all performers and attending audience in the South of Italy? Doesn’t matter now. 


A person of resolve and artist of extraordinary conviction and passion, you went to Italy, even when you were supposed to have retired by now, and performed to your heart and the audience’s content even when your life was in danger, Mama. 


Look, Mama; you are gone but you are still with us and I know I’m speaking for many when I say, you will still be with us for generations to come.


Yours was a sound straight from humanity, religion and the healers hearts. 

Yours was a voice somehow trapped between that of a pure, sinless child and a wise, old and experienced soul to whom mere age was but just a number. You could have been 5OO years old and living in the mountains, for all I care.  And I do. 


Your voice conveyed the spirit and message from the world beyond. The world that came before us and which await us in the beyond. But also, yours was a voice of those not quite born. 


I am not one of those fakes who’ll just heap praises when you are no longer here, unafraid of telling it up straight when you were able to respond for yourself. I cannot lie, that yours was my all time favorite, or your entire body of work got my heart pumping, cause it didn’t. 


Not all of it, at least. And that’s ok. Show me any artist who can fulfill all of their fans and critics’ yearning for love, insecurities, idealism, and that old perception of what a helluva written and performed should sound like. 

Sometimes we fans and critics expect a lot from artists. Sometimes the impossible. 

I know that’s childish. Churlish, even. Too “bad”- as in too beautiful: that’s the emotional pact the artist signs with us, the minute they walk on stage or slam their vocals down in the studio. Too bad. Too unfortunate. This love we extract from you. But you applied for the job, we didn’t.

Same applies to you. I loved you smacks and was even more critical of you. On all those moments of despair and neediness on my part, you fulfilled me to my wildest un-expectations. Like a lot of young black South Africans, I saw you, Hughie, Katse Semenya, Jonas Gwangwa and Letta Mbuli among others, as our true liberators when our leaders were in jail.  They tried to silence your voice, but we smuggled and exchanged your cassettes and LPs on the underground in the townships. 

Even as I write this, I can hear your teary voice on songs LPs such as Evening With Harry Belafonte, your live performance at Au Theatres Des Champs Elysees in Paris- which in my head matches Mack The Knife: Ella Live in Berlin, or better still, Ella Does The Cole Porter Song Boo !

I can go on and on. Talk about possibly – for me your most haunted and emotion demanding pieces, way beyond the level of classics, particularly the Katse Semenya produced album, A Promise. 

Often, I would like to fancy myself a blues connoisseur. . .you understand the topography: Mississipi to Timboctou. Blind Willie Dixon, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Blind Willie McTell, Howling Wolf, Bessie Smith, up to Nina Simone, Johny Cash, Ali Farka Toure, Lobi Traore, night crawlers who could elicit a painful scream of a slide guitar, mimic a lovers’ moan, replicate the sounds of blackness that refuses to be defined only by slavery and n’ver do-good hipsters in it.  

And yet, I’d never ever imagined you as a blues torch singer, until that day after my own momma Nomvula got wheeled six feet under, that rainy February day 1991. Too numb to cry, I rushed to a friend’s backyard shack in the village, and buried myself in your songs back to back. The symphonic strains of your wails! 

Did I say you weren’t my favourite voice? “ Compared To What ?” Brothers Les McCarn and Eddie Harries would have asked.  Better still,  “So What?”

There’s A Promise, you comforted me. There’s a city, Gauteng, known for swallowing men and children, never to come back, you told me. But also you cautioned me to Quite It now. And when the tears rolled down my cheeks, you winked at me: Show Me The Way, My Brother. 

But then I had to myself the way first. The way. Our way.  

Many moons later, we met. You cooked for me. Reprimanded me.  You told me personal, intimate tales about a cast of other tortured beauties: Nina, Nakassa, Hughie, Stokely, Coltrane, Aretha, Dolly, about Tsietsi, about your late and only daughter, Bongi. 

And then you wept. Gave me a hug. And dished for me. 

I left dizzier with love. Giddier with the sound of music in my head: Mas Que Nada, I remember. And I felt calmer. Slightly. I wrote the story.  You became both upset and ecstatic. Then I met you in Lagos, a city on perpetual boil. You called me around, whiling away time at the airport. Ordered me on your lap.  

“Sit ! ” you mock commanded. “Tell me, what’s new, what are the young artists doing?”  

I mumbled something. Bit my lip. What exactly is it that I could have told you, other than, I love you, Mama?

–Bongani Madondo

Dear Rosa

By Nona Hendryx • Nov 9th, 2008 • Category: Hnic-ism

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Dear Rosa; As a child growing up in New Jersey I went to the farm every summer and picked a variety of fruit and vegetables, string beans, tomato’s, potato’s; blueberries, strawberries, peaches.  It was hot and it was work.  We went to earn money to live not as a fun outing for the family.  Yes, it was hot, the hot sun beating down, turning the skin a deeper shade of colored than it was the day before. The dust created by the trunks picking up bushel baskets and of vegetables and fruit covered our heads and work clothes.  But the heat of the midday sun, the kind heat that makes you day dream as you inch along the row of beans, dreaming of jumping into a swimming pool, dreaming of air conditioning or just holding a cold bottle of coke to your forehead or neck while lying under the shade of a tree and longing to hear the lunch whistle blow.  Tired and longing to sit down.

Tired, Rosa Parks was tired and must’ve longed for a seat, to sit down on the bus that day.  A seat, her mind and feet could rest in on the ride home.  A seat to carry a worker from a day of labor to her home and family.  A seat has many important meanings; a place in which administrative power is centered, the seat of the government. A part of the body considered as the place in which an emotion or function is centered; the heart is the seat of passion.  The office or authority, etc, right to sit as a member in a legislative or similar body, a right to the privileges of membership, cause to sit down, to install in a position or office of authority.

Rosa Parks did not desire any of the previous meanings from the seat she chose, it was just her right to ride seated from one destination to another and it’s denial that became the spark that lit the flame that turned into a fire that consumed segregation in America.

A Letter From The Editor

By Greg Tate • Jul 13th, 2008 • Category: Hnic-ism

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 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

Here’s My Take On…Everything

By earldouglas • Jul 9th, 2008 • Category: Hnic-ism

Between the launch of this site and the overall state of the Black Rock universe, I can’t help but get really excited.  The best part of it all is that it seems to be coming together at almost a cosmic kind of level.   I was spending some down time in New Orleans when I got the call from Jim Farber of The New York Daily News about a piece on Black rock. That piece comes out at the same time The Source and Essence both ran cover stories on the same thing.  Gnarls Barkley puts out The Odd Couple.  Santogold put her solo debut (but if you don’t have it, pick up her old band Stiffed).  Solomon Burke puts out another gem.  Shine For The Black Madonna puts out a double disc opus,PARADISE AND INFERNO.  The Smyrk, Swear On Your Life (How much do we LOVE THEIR FIREPLUG OF A FIREBALL LEAD VOCALIST Militia?  Lots), Pillow Theory, Apollo Heights, Dragons Of Zynth, The Bellrays, Alice Smith, The Student Body Presents Arts & Sciences, Kenna, K-os, Noah Sow & The Hemlich Manuever, Hypnotic Brass Emsemble, Burnt Sugar.
Suffrajett, Rachid, The Dirtbombs - I do believe we have a movement going on here!  Add to that Myspace, You Tube, and Itunes - you have no excuse to say ‘I didn’t know.

This  Black Rock Reloaded phenom is  also NOT limited to our immediate circles.  What about Jay Z doing ‘MTV Unplugged’ (remember when the channel actually played music?) with The Roots, jamming with Phish out in Brooklyn, then teaming up with Linkin Park on stage and on wax? And how about more recently when Jay silenced those uptight British critics (lead by Oasis leader Noel Gallagher), who thought hip hop was a bit too ghetto for Glastonbury? Coming with an electric set that included a  mocking cover of  Oasis’ ‘Wonderwall’. A cheeky move Jay and hiss merry bunch of men in black followed with a  rousing  version of O ‘99 Problems’ (and presumably a bitch named Noel Gallagher aint one  of’  ‘em) that segued into a guitar-shreding live remix of AC/DC’s Back in Black’.  Futher proof that when it wants to be, hip hop is the new rock n roll. As in when Dave Chappelle threw a monster Black Rock jam (in Brooklyn no less) and caught it on film with ‘Block Party’, giving us the 21st century  East Coast version of ‘Wattstax’.

Lest we forget long time BRC friend and supporter Stew added some much needed color to The Great White Way with his hillarious, poignant and straight up fun musical, ‘Passing Strange’.  The first half of the show is about as good as Broadway gets and the new soundtrack album loses none of the energy that you feel in the live performance.

Still not convinced?  King’s X, one of the most criminally underrated bands EVER, has a new CD, ‘XV’, that’s just as solid as anything they’ve ever done.  Free Form Funky Freqs, lead by the BRC’s own Vernon Reid  is a jammer’s delight.  ‘The Scene Of The Crime’ by Ms. Bettye LaVette is sublime.  I dare you not to be moved when you hear her sing Elton John’s ‘Talking Old Soldiers’.  She takes it there.   The Family Stand, Seal, Erykah Badu, Bad Brains - all of their recent CDs are amazing.  This is indeed a movement and a moment  for all those who like to rock Black.

I got my scorecard - let the games begin!

Earl Douglas, Black Rock Coalition Executive Director.