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Kalamu ya Salaam's information blog

It’s like we know. Somewhere deep in our bodies. Head. Heart. Guts. Groin. Beyond feeling. Deeper than thinking. We know. As close as we be to the earth, to where we were born. The people who brought us up. The ones we are around day to day. As close as all that is to us, we are still aliens in one sense. We are just passing through. Our earth days are limiting and so brief in the context of the cosmos. 

So we are here. But where was the “I” we are, before we were born? Where? Where is that same I after we die. Is whatever is between birth and death all there is?

Every part of your being is controlled by your brain.

You know how there are some people you just seem to vibe with? Are their brains similar to your brain? In some strangely fundamental, or essential way, are the people you vibe with, are they your twin?

Sometimes I hear stuff that makes me think of other stuff. Could be a random sound. Could be some music. Could be a woman who takes care of someone, or cleans someone’s house. It is early in the morning. Very early. She is walking to work. Coming down the street and singing to herself. A song she is just making up as she saunters along. Nothing special. Nothing she is remembering. It is music made in the now time. She has not heard it before. She will forget it as soon as she goes indoors. Like that.

There is so much. How much of the ordinary have we examined?

Which is all how I heard Ibeyi. I have been to Cuba. I have been to France. A couple of times. In both places. And I have come to understand I am not only my body. And deeper still, my body is porous and stuff comes to me. Goes thru me. And the world passing thru is a major part of what makes me be me.

It is amazing what we can think of when we allow ourselves to freely think. To have experiences. And reflect. Without judging.

But of course, we must decide. What to carry. What to leave behind. Yet we not only are what we are. We are also what we are not. What we decline to be, to see, to taste, whatever. What we decline to embrace nevertheless partially makes us be who we are. Our declination is not a rejection but rather a choice, and each choice shapes us.

Listen to Ibeyi. Their talk. Their music.

These twin sisters. Cuban father. French mother. Each parent with various heritages flowing through them. Listen how they manifest the mergers they are. The music they make.

Listen.

 

https://medium.com/the-aambc-journal/americas-breeding-farms-what-history-books-never-told-you-6704e8b152a4

America’s Breeding Farms: What History Books Never Told You

In 1808, America banned the import of slaves from Africa and the West Indies. The impact on actual slavery in America was almost non-existent. There was still some limited smuggling of slaves but the majority of new slaves in America came from what Professor Eric Foner called, “natural increase.” One could reasonably ask, “Why ban slave imports and not slavery itself?” The answer is because, for many of the proponents of the prohibition including Thomas Jefferson, the reason was not based on humanitarian concerns but on economics. The South was producing and selling enough slaves internally that the slave trade was reducing prices for slaves and cutting into profits.

In 1819, another act was passed allowing US ships to not only patrol its own shores but the coast of Africa in an attempt to stop slave ships at the source. Not for concerns about ending slavery but in protectionism for American slave owners. Everything was contingent on the fact that there was a “self-sustaining” population of about four million slaves in America at the time. Southern legislators joined with northern ones in passing both the acts that banned the external slave trading but ignored slavery.

Most of us are aware that slave owners often bred their slaves to produce more workers. We are taught almost nothing about the breeding farms whose function was to produce as many slaves as possible for the sale and distribution throughout the South to meet their needs. Two of the largest breeding farms were located in Richmond, VA, and the Maryland Eastern-Shore.

As far as cities I’ve never lived in, I’ve spent as much time in Richmond, VA as anywhere. I traveled there multiple times a year, often for a few days or a week at a time. Richmond is serious about most of its history. I’ve visited the Edgar Allen Poe Museum. Monument Avenue contains several statues mostly of Confederate Civil War heroes; Stonewall Jackson, Jefferson Davis, J.E.B. Stuart and Robert E. Lee are honored there as is the late African-American tennis star Arthur Ashe who was from Richmond. In August 2017, Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney said Richmond would consider the “potential removal” of the statues glorifying the legacy of the South after issues raised in nearby conflicts and protests involving white supremacists. One major part of Richmond’s history is barely remembered, hardly spoken of and taught publicly nowhere.

Richmond is a port city and exported between 10,000 to 20,000 slaves a month to states further south and west. Slavery, not tobacco was Virginia’s primary domestic crop. You may have seen scenes of slaves being offloaded in New Orleans for example. They were more likely to have come from Richmond around Florida than from Africa.

You never hear the names of the industry leaders, Robert Lumpkin ran his “jail” which was a compound surrounded by a 12-foot fence with iron spikes. Should a slave escape, by law, The Fugitive Slave Act guaranteed they would be returned courtesy of the Federal government. The slave population of the breeding farm was mostly women and children not old enough to be sold, and a limited number of men whose job was to impregnate as many slave women as possible. The slaves were often given hoods or bags over their heads to keep them from knowing who they were having forced sex with. It could be someone they know, perhaps a niece, aunt, sister, or their own mother. The breeders only wanted a child that could be sold.

Richmond also had five railroads. Slaves could be shipped both by rail and boat which allowed slaves to arrive in better condition and thus fetch a higher price. Slavery was more than man’s inhumanity towards man. It was always about economics. Cheap labor that allowed America to compete with other nations. Much of America was literally built on slavery. Texas schoolbooks are now trying to make it sound not quite so bad. The breeding farms receive no mention at all.

None of us are born with words in our mouth. We learn to talk first by babbling to ourselves. Second by imitating those who are close to us. Third by expressing our inner feelings and outer observations. And, if we are fortunate, by making sounds that express life. Not just our own life but the life of all sentient beings, be they human or otherwise. A bird. A fish. An amoeba. A worm. Whatever has the sense to realize it is alive.

None of us are born poets. If we are fortunate we learn to become poets. To be wordsmiths.

Langston Hughes made me want to be a poet. And like him I’ve known poets. Female. Male. Makers of words that celebrate life. Sometimes fierce. Other times tender. Life. In all its complexity.

After Langston there were countless poets I admired. A number of them brilliant as stars in the night sky–or at least, if we live in modern cities, the beauty that we used to could spy before urban light pollution spoiled the midnight illuminations piercing the dome surrounding us.

Our dull days and synthetic feelings not withstanding, even when we don’t notice the stars, don’t sense the shinning of brilliant objects millions of lightyears away from us, nevertheless, there are poets who are able to turn words into starlight, who by the way their tongues shape sounds, they teach us to be fully human. Not simply by making mundane noise we call speech, but by finding and putting together words that express the deeptitude of our  humanity, that express the best of us, the beauty of our being; words that help us be more than mere things articulating random sounds. 

Nikky Finney is a poet. Tall. Proud. Fierce. Female. A poet. Someone who makes words that are more than mere sounds. Words that remind us, and inspire us, to be fully human.

Oh what a joy it is, to listen to a poet Black and hear her sing!

 

Like literally thousands of other people, I’m into Donny Hathaway. I regard the mystery surrounding his premature death as one of the lasting mysteries of life. Exactly what happened we will probably never know. But we do know that we miss him and revered him whilst he was amongst us. We were particularly smitten by his divine musical partnership with Roberta Flack.

Although it is a cliche to say that their collaboration was special nevertheless, as a duo, special is a precise description of what their collaboration was. They were the real deal. Roberta at her height would propel us to heaven but it was Donny’s ecstasy that would keep us in orbit. Roberta was a lyrical goddess but my man Donny, Donny was a musical monster.

One of the ways he is kept alive is by annual holiday celebrations. Probably his most well-known and widely-celebrated song is his famous “This Christmas” composition. Co-written with Nadine Mckinnon, for many of us this song defines modern Christmas music even if we don’t celebrate the holidays.

For me the ultimate Donny Hathaway song is “Someday We’ll All Be Free,” co-written by lyricist Edward Howard. This is an anthem for the ages, an inspiration for those who are oppressed and exploited whenever and wherever they are.

Long live Donny Hathaway.

 

Sometimes shit can get deep. Real. Deep. Psychology–both the basics as well as the complexities of human nature. Indeed, is there a singular human nature? Are we all just a composite (too often a clashing of contradictory impulses)–animal, intellect, moral judgment, each a major generator and/or governor of our being and experiences? Like I said: Deep.

Most popular music exists on the “Id” plane. Ya know how you have drives that move you; drives that were in you, way before your own conception of who you are had developed; drives like survival (which is after all an unsentimental and amoral taskmaster–you get hungry enough, you’ll eat anyone or anything to survive).

Your Ego is the hunter that works to satisfy the needs of the “Id”. If your Id says ‘I Want’, your Ego says “I Will Get” (and does whatever is required to fulfill the yearning, to satiate the hunger). And your Super-Ego is the regulator, basically says “I should/I shouldn’t”. This is, of course, a greatly simplified, even simplistic, but not generally inaccurate, explanation of human nature.

So what does all of the above have to do with music? Nothing. Everything. Depends on who is doing what, and why are they doing the do. In 2001, three generations of lead voices collaborated on music created by Leon Ware. They were over in Amsterdam, a long way away from the USA where not only the music, but indeed thousands of miles away from where the artists themselves were created.

At the Paradiso venue working with a crackerjack band, plus a string quartet and a chanteuse chorus, the trio of headliners produced music that was simultaneously sublime and funky; the voicings were exquisite and the rhythms on the one.

Leon Ware (16 February 1940 – 23 February 2017), as both composer and lead vocalist was the anchor. This was a showcase of his musical compositions, but he was not alone.

The female voice was singer/songwriter Carleen Anderson (10 May 1957), a UK-based transplant from Houston, Texas. She was adept as both a lead vocalist as well as providing note-perfect harmonies. 

Rounding out the frontline was musician/rapper Michael Franti (21 April 1967), from the band Spearhead. His deep baritone and insightful/exciting lyrics offered a modernist complement to the classic R&B carrying-ons.

Although each of the three leads are wonderful in their own right, the confluence of talents simply clicks, a righteous combination that unlocks a treasure trove of aural delights. Perhaps it was a special night, the stars aligned, the merger of melodies, harmonies and lyrics was grand; the resulting music, ah, the music they made consisted of more than the sum of their individual parts; much, much more than any of them could attain alone on their own.

Enjoy.

 

Sometimes, for no particular reason, I think of people I have met during my sojourns thru this world. Bra Hugh is one of the great joys. We met a number of times, one memorable occasion was in the Caribbean nation of St. Lucia. We were at a festival. A long weekend if I remember correctly. I was producing a band from New Orleans and some kind of way Hugh and I ended up talking about everything and nothing. Just talking. And laughing. And enjoying the ambience of the scene. 

I have always thought of Masekela as one of the leading musicians of all time. He had a vivacious sense of humor as well as a deep love of African people worldwide. Before I go off reminiscing about his Los Angeles tales of being fitter than fit because they rode around on bicycles when he lived in Los Angeles. . . I’m going to have to do a Hugh Masekela special, but for now just enjoy this concert in New York.

 

 

Amilcar Cabral instructed us: “Tell no lies. Claim no easy victories.” In our rush forward into a hoped for future, we sometimes forget to check ourselves.

Proclaiming the great unity of being an American is easy to say in the 21st century, but the so-called self-evident truth on which our citizenship is based is far from accurate. The reality is that, when it comes to political and economic unity, our country is far from unified.

Regardless of the school-room pledge, the diverse states of America were never truly united. Both within and between states north, south, east, and west, and not to mention U.S. controlled territories abroad, within the body politic there were cracks and fissures from day one.

History does not lie. Ask the indigenous people of this land.  

Or, as one Mayflower pilgrim said to his companion upon surveying the coastline while standing on the deck of their ship approaching long-sought land: “You know, I may have come here for religious reasons, but I believe I really want to get into real estate.”

Today, as we approach 2020, commentators and pundits, especially those who oppose President Trump, are often heard to bemoan how divided our country is. Supposedly, we the people are more divided than we have ever been.

Ever been? How conveniently we overlook the Civil War in the middle of the 19th century. Although the four year internecine war between northern and southern states, often defined as conflict of slave-free versus slave-holding jurisdictions, concluded with General Lee’s surrender at Appomattox on April 9, 1865, statues and flags commemorating the Confederate forces were both officially and informally displayed and celebrated throughout many deep south states well into the 21st century.  

How quickly we develop amnesia about the Civil Rights struggles of the 20th century that culminated in the 1964 Civil Rights legislation and the 1965 Voting Rights legislation, which were based on the 14th and 15th amendment to the constitution. Voting rights remain a contested issue, often around the practice of political gerrymandering in which congressional and state districts are delineated in attempts to either concentrate or diffuse the voting results of selected populations.

A third major political struggle focused on the refusal to recognize the deep divisions engendered by the resistance to women’s suffrage. Women’s voting rights did not come to fruition until the ratification of the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1920.

How can it be that some of us so easily forget our history?

The dialectical truth is that on the one hand we the people are more politically free and unified than we have ever been, while at the same time we the people are more economically divided than we formerly were.

Two particularly troubling economic indications portend ominous conflicts. One is that the national debt is estimated to exceed $24-trillion and be 106% of GDP (gross domestic product). The other economic issue is that income inequality between the rich and poor has been expanding for the last decade and is higher than it has ever been. On September 26, 2019 The Washington Post newspaper reported on this disturbing trend.

The Gini index measures wealth distribution across a population, with zero representing total equality and 1 representing total inequality, where all wealth is concentrated in a single household. The indicator has been rising steadily for several decades. When the Census Bureau began studying income inequality in 1967, the Gini index was 0.397. In 2018, it climbed to 0.485.

By comparison, no European nation had a score greater than 0.38 last year.

Although unity is indeed a desirous outcome of this great-nation experiment, unity is still a long ways off and, moreover, will require hard work and honest struggle to attain, especially around economic issues. We will have to struggle for political and economic equality.

Listen to the words of our master poet, Langston Hughes in his stirring and defiant poem “Let America Be America Again“. Focusing not just on his own people but rather on all of us borne to and subsequently born in this fabled land, Hughes proclaimed:

Yet I’m the one who dreamt our basic dream
In that Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That’s made America the land it has become.
O, I’m the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home —
For I’m the one who left dark Ireland’s shore,
And Poland’s plain, and England’s grassy lea
And torn from Black Africa’s strand I came
To build a “homeland of the free.”

In his militant poem–a long, defiant proclamation of freedom, Hughes ends with these words; words which are as true today as they were when he first wrote them back in the 20th century.

I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath —
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain —
All, all the stretch of these great green states —
And make America again!

 

If we be wise we look, we listen, we learn and, through distilling various experiences, we mature and come to appreciate both the width of life in the world and how narrow our personal experiences are. I have been blessed to walk the great wall of China, marvel at the beautiful waters of Zanzibar, stride atop the Citadel in Haiti, dance in a plaza in Cuba, be mesmerized by Carnival practice in Rio, wander the maze of London streets, run up a mountain side in South Korea, and so forth. I’ve seen a few things and thereby have learned to embrace the fullness of life.

Thus, it is no surprise that although I might be a Coltrane freak at heart, I dig and relate to all kinds of African heritage musics. No doubt, Bob Marley and reggae hold a favorite spot in my ear, and by extension the music of his children strike some responsive chords. Although I was not particularly smitten by any one of them. Stephen’s sound was close to what I vibe on but I recognized Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley as probably the biggest hit-maker of the brood.

So, I do not have specific plans for any of the writings I share. One thing tends to lead to another. So, I was looking at some Joy Denalane, and wind up at Jr. Gong. So, I have learned to accept what comes to me and honestly share whatever.

Hence, we have this Jr. Gong stuff. And was delighted to find a good interview in which he speaks deeply about his life and music. And mate that with three or four tracks from recent music. Thus, we have reasonings with a distant relative.

When I heard him, my mind immediately flashed to walking around Trenchtown in Jamaica. Give a listen, this is a fascinating interview.

Enjoy.

 

Nkosinathi Innocent Maphumulo and a bunch of his friends, jammed into a car, were barreling down the street. Joyfully enjoying themselves. Then, like Frankie Beverly definitively knew, joy can quickly turn into pain. A car traveling the wrong way rammed into them head on. Nkosinathi survived. Well, most of him survived. His left arm was disabled. In one terrible sense, that was the conception of the future manual magician, mega-talented DJ, Black Coffee (his nom-de-musick).

Nkosinathi refused to surrender his position atop a mountain of DJs striving for the summit of being the best, just because because he now had only one working arm. My man went on to become an internationally famous music producer and ultimately the ultra-successful DJ, Black Coffee, literally working shows worldwide.

But first a video that gives the social and musical context from which Black Coffee emerges. Rave and Resistance delineates how the club culture in South Africa evolved out of the immediate post-apartheid 90’s area. Through first-hand testimony, this forty-some minute documentary lays out the whole back story. Although the music ended up a long, long way from hand drums and manual turntables, or from the Chicago-based, queer-friendly genre known as “house music”, the musical sound remained African to its core.

Of all the artists rising out of South Africa, Black Coffee is widely known as someone who collaborates with damn near everyone. Plus, he is the epitome of what it means to be a creative DJ.

Black Coffee is a profound aural architect who is proficient at moving the sound initially generated thousands of miles away at the margins of society to now occupy and dominate the common ground of the entrancing discourse of popular music in South Africa.

His January 2018 set in Paris is an absolute killer. The music is superbly recorded and the visuals are a graduate course in revealing how he expertly works; yes, pushing buttons, twirling knobs, loading and unloading recordings, plus, strategically dropping in miscellaneous sounds, all while keeping the beat thumping, flowing, crashing and dashing, a veritable, irresistible sonic river.

Black Coffee is a wizard of sound. Twisting, turning, stopping, starting, chopping up long cuts, weaving together snippets. He makes maximum use of digital turntables and a mixing board, filtered by his unerring ear for both sound and sensibility. This is music. Categories be damned. You could call it techno-tribal but that would be a mere label trying to capture and contain sonic waves.

His Paris set both opens and closes with “We Are One“, a major collaboration-hit he had with Hugh Masekela celebrating the unity of the various peoples of South Africa.

In a video interview Black Coffee offers sincere insight into his life and music making. Succinct and to the point, the video proffers more than a mere peek at the music man. He says that the Africa Rising show was one of his most memorable. Although tracks from the DVD are available on line, the twenty-minute video behind the scenes look at the set up and the participants for the massively innovative concert  is an informative exploration of one of the largest programs of its era.

Despite the brevity of the introducing Midem Insights video, we get a total sense of where Black Coffee is coming from. And just in case you are as captivated as I am by his music, here is a little lagniappe for those still hungry for more of the entrancing digital music emanating from South Africa, or as the philosophers know: out of Africa, always something new.

Enjoy!!!

 

 

 

A bunch of young women, a truly gigantic bunch, see music as hopefully (cross their heart and hope to die) a road to fame and fortune. They be striving for that big hit that will lift them into the stratosphere of success. Most of them can sing. A few of them also have that thing, the elusive distinctiveness that makes them irresistible or, at the very least, makes new audience listeners and viewers curious enough to want to hear more.

Montreal, Canada-born of Haitian parents, Dominique Fils-Aimé is on the brink of firmly grasping the elusive brass ring. She both writes sharp new work as well as innovatively captures old material.

Some of her conceptions, without instruments, just over-dubbed voice, are both intriguing and truly creative. To think, relatively speaking, she is just getting started; if she can keep it up, keep exploring the crevices and creases that line out ageless expressions with a wonderful touch of the modern; if she can keep pushing the envelope, she will be a force with which to reckon.

And by the way, her visual presentation does not have even a hint of sex kitten trying to make it mainly on physical attributes, you know, bodily curves and promises of being easy to possess. In this age of weaves, braids, and long hair down to the butt, this child got nerve to show up with most of her hair shorn off: a brazen, bald-head look that is attractive in her own, healthily, steadfast way.

Plus she sings about the moments between ecstasy and ordinary, the moments that populate the majority of our days, but in the singing makes us appreciate anew all the day-to-day things we are, the things, on both the upful and the down-low, that we do regardless of what tales we tell others, as well as tell ourselves.

I don’t follow most of today’s popular female vocalists. In most cases I think they are wasting the talents that so many of them obviously have. They may really want to be taken seriously as artists, but that’s a hell of a row to hoe, so instead, whether consciously or not, they are striving for popularity, which is itself, too often, a long, long ways from seriousness.

Check out Dominique Fils-Aimé. She knows that being young, Black, and female in the music business ought not be synonymous with being just another pretty face and/or sexy body. As we used to say, back in the day, “this sista is for real!”