Kalamu ya Salaam's information blog


red_dress OBAMA




(for the nite nia wore red to vera’s wedding, 

not just a plain red, but a really, really black kind of red)





by a black woman

high stepping


is a negroidal color 

that will stop 

yr heart



ing / make you

pause, fall

to yr knees


& thank every god

there be


for being alive

& able to see


the color red

worn by a black woman


—kalamu ya salaam











cannonball 03



Live in Switzerland & Germany ’63

cannonball 02

Live in Switzerland 1963
00:11-08:27 Jessica’s Birthday
08:52-19:21 Angel Eyes (Yusef Lateef on Flute)
19:33-30:08 Jive Samba
30:28-38:00 Bohemia After Dark
38:14-45:15 Dizzy’s Business
45:21-57:56 Trouble In Mind (Yusef Lateef on Oboe)
58:10-01:06:05 Work Song
01:06:22-01:11:23 Unit 7

Live in Germany 1963
01:11:38-01:17:39 Jessica’s Birthday
01:18:50-01:28:36 Brother John (Yusef Lateef on Oboe)
01:28:41-01:38:42 Jive Samba

Julian “Cannonball” Adderley (Alto Sax)
Nat Adderley (Cornet)
Yusef Lateef (Tenor Sax, Flute, Oboe)
Joe Zawinul (Piano)
Sam Jones (Bass)
Louis Hayes (Drums)




Call For Papers:

Landscapes, Sources and

Intellectual Projects

in African History:

Rethinking Historical Evidence

and its Interpretation


University of Birmingham, UK

12 – 14 November 2015

Photo courtesy of Anne Haour

Photo courtesy of Anne Haour

What types of evidence, data, and sources can we use to expand knowledge of the African past? How can different types of evidence be critically analysed – be they landmarks on African landscapes or faded texts produced by authors unfolding specific intellectual and political projects?

These are some of the questions that have animated the work of Dr. Paulo Fernando de Moraes Farias for five decades. On 12-14 November 2015 the Department of African Studies and Anthropology (DASA) and Centre of West African Studies (CWAS) of the University of Birmingham (UK) will host a symposium aimed at confronting these questions and speaking to issues that have been central to Dr. De Moraes Farias’ scholarship.

As a very special opening to the symposium, Dr. De Moraes Farias has accepted to give the third Fage Lecture on Thursday 12 November 2015 at 5pm. His lecture will be followed by a reception and the two subsequent days will feature workshop-style panels and plenary sessions. These panels will serve both as a broader reflection on Dr. De Moraes Farias’ engagement with these themes, and as an important opportunity for a renewed engagement with the sources for the African past at a moment of flux in African historiography.

We invite submissions of panels and/or papers focusing on any of the themes listed below or generally related to Dr. De Moraes Farias’ research.

Symposium themes

  1. Demythologising the African past:what are the enduring myths that distort the interpretation of Africa’s history? What explains the existence and endurance of these myths? What are their consequences for historical reconstruction and for knowledge of contemporary African dynamics?
  2. Historicising African myth: myths are filled with clues. They reveal moral values, aesthetic judgments, and salient themes in the popular imaginary of African societies that provide insights into a past often left unrecorded. What are the historical and cultural dynamics that influence the production, circulation, and transformation of African myths?
  3. Accounting for context: Beyond accounting for the language and culture of the authors of our sources, how can we integrate a consideration of other factors – such as the reckoning of time, awareness of landscapes, landmarks, and the material and immaterial world – in the study and interpretation of sources of the African past?
  4. Revealing the projects behind the sources: Paulo Fernando de Moraes Farias urges us to think of African sources – be they textual, oral, or epigraphic – as the products of the biographic, intellectual, and political trajectories of their authors. Can we use sources as avenues for reconstructing the intellectual projects of their authors, and the discursive fields in which these authors operated?
  5. Developing a historiographic ethics based on a genuine hermeneutical stance in historical exegesis. How can researchers write in a way that reveals the justification in the Other’s point of view (and makes us doubt our own)?
  6. Contributions related to any of the regional and theoretical lines of inquiry that have animated Paulo Fernando de Moraes Farias’ work, including Yoruba, Tuareg, and Songhay oral history; epigraphy; research in medieval Mali, Benin, and Mauritania; jihadist and non-jihadist Islam; Afrocentrism; critical reassessments of North and West African historiography; etc.

Submission of abstracts

Submissions of papers should include author’s name, affiliation, contact details, paper title, abstract of no more than 200 words. Panel proposals should be submitted by panel organisers and include complete information for all of the papers included in the panel.

The deadline for the submission of abstracts is 31 January 2015. There is no registration fee. The conference will take place in the University of Birmingham’s campus. Participants are expected to make their own travel and accommodation arrangements and to purchase their own meals. DASA will offer coffee/tea breaks and invite all participants to the reception that will follow the Fage Lecture on the evening of Thursday 12 November.

Please send your abstract(s) to Dr. Benedetta Rossi,

Submitted abstracts will be reviewed by the organising committee (Prof. Karin Barber, Dr. Toby Green, and Dr. Benedetta Rossi). Acceptance of selected abstracts will be confirmed in March 2015.



guernsey international poetry

Guernsey’s International

Poetry Competition 2014

Judge: Andrew Motion

Closing date for receipt of entries:
31 December 2014
Maximum length 14 lines
Entries should be in English, typed on A4 paper

The prize is open to anyone except those involved in organising the competition. Entries must be entirely the work of the entrant and must never have been published, self-published, published on any public website or broadcast, nor winning or placed in any other competition, as at 28 February 2015.

You may send as many entries as you like. Payments must be made by cheque or postal order, or if submitting by email you may request a PayPal invoice or Direct Transfer details. Cheques should be from a UK bank and made payable to Guernsey Literary Festival with the sender’s name and address on the back.

Please do not write your name, age or residency on the same sheet as your poems, as they will be judged anonymously.

Enter each poem on a separate page and enclose another separate sheet with your name, address, telephone number, email address, plus the title(s) of your poems. Winners will be contacted by 28 February 2015. Winning poems will become part of the Poems on the Move exhibition, and/or be placed on one of the 33 Guernsey buses, for a period of no less than 6 months, to coincide with the Guernsey Literary Festival on 16-20 September 2015.



Post to:

Poems on the Move 2014 Guernsey Literary Festival, P.O. Box 174,
St Peter Port,
Guernsey GY1 3LG Channel Islands, UK


Prizes and Opportunities:

Six finalists from each category, and a further 15 poems for the bus exhibition, will be selected by the judge. The decision is final.

Poems on the Move Exhibition 2015

Six finalists from the Open Category,
and the top three finalists from both other categories (printed poster size 845mm wide x 2000mm high).

Poems on the Buses Exhibition 2015

All 18 finalists, and a further 15 poems from the Open Category (printed poster size 1575mm wide x 356mm high).

Open Category 1st prize £600 2nd place £400 3rd place £200

Finalists will be invited to an Awards Event during the Guernsey Literary Festival on 16-20 September 2015, with an opportunity to read their poem.

More entry forms at: Competitions, Poems on the Move.pdf

Entries @£4 per poem or 3 poems for £10 Fees not refundable
Young People’s Poetry: entries FREE











FICTION OPEN guidelines

Open to all subjects, all themes, and all writers.

Most entries run from 2,000 to 8,000 words, but stories from 2,000 to 20,000 words are fine.

Held twice a year. Open to submissions in JUNE and DECEMBER.

  Next deadline: January 2, 2015*

Winners are announced in the September 1 and March 1 bulletins, respectively, and contacted directly one week earlier.

Reading fee: $20 per story. Please no more than three submissions per contest.


  • 1st place wins $2,500, publication in Glimmer Train Stories, and 20 copies of that issue.
  • 2nd place wins $1,000 (and 10 copies, if accepted for publication).
  • 3rd place wins $600 (or, if accepted for publication, $700 and 10 copies).

Please make your submissions at Glimmer Train’s online submission site. We look forward to reading your work!

* There is always a one-week grace period.




shadow and act logo

December 20, 2014





Watch Nicki Minaj’s


16-Minute Short Film

Based on

‘Pinkprint’ Album 

Photo of Tambay A. ObensonBy Tambay A. Obenson



Pink Print

It’s a very rare occurrence that Nicki Minaj’s name is mentioned on this blog, even if only because her primary industry is music, not film or TV, which is what we cover; although she does have acting credits. 

But it’s Saturday, and I thought this was something worth bookmarking. 

It’s being called an “epic” breakup-inspired “Pinkprint” movie – “Pinkprint” being the name of her latest album (“The Pinkprint” is the full title). The short is essentially a trio of music videos edited into one, telling the story of a fractured romance, through to its tragic end. 

Minaj stars, along with pretty-boys, actor Boris Kodjoe and model Willy Monfret, in the 16-minute short film/music video, which is split into 3 chapters:  “The Crying Game,” “I Lied” and “Grand Piano;” all songs from the “Pinkprint” album. 

The stylized short premiered on Revolt yesterday (P. Diddy’s YouTube channel), and is embedded below (I’m sure there will be a few *think* pieces written about this):












eartha 01


womeninfandoms:</p><br /><br />
<p>The incredible Eartha Kitt as the diabolical Catwoman.  Can we talk for a minute about how badass Earth Kitt was? Not only was Eartha Kitt responsible for the best portrayal of Catwomen to ever be put on film, but she stood up to the Johnson White House and gave zero fucks.  In 1968, Kitt was invited to a luncheon at the White House.  During the question and answer session, when asked about the Vietnam War, Kitt had this to say:<br /><br /><br />
"The children of America are not rebelling for no reason. They are not hippies for no reason at all. We don’t have what we have on Sunset Blvd. for no reason. They are rebelling against something. There are so many things burning the people of this country, particularly mothers. They feel they are going to raise sons — and I know what it’s like, and you have children of your own, Mrs. Johnson — we raise children and send them to war."<br /><br /><br />
Reportedly, Mrs. Johnson left the room in tears.  When asked about the incident later, Kitt still was not apologetic:</p><br /><br />
<p>Sadly, Kitt’s career suffered a considerable setback because of her remarks.  Fuck yes Eartha Kitt.<br /><br /><br />

womeninfandoms:</p><br /><br />
<p>The incredible Eartha Kitt as the diabolical Catwoman.  Can we talk for a minute about how badass Earth Kitt was? Not only was Eartha Kitt responsible for the best portrayal of Catwomen to ever be put on film, but she stood up to the Johnson White House and gave zero fucks.  In 1968, Kitt was invited to a luncheon at the White House.  During the question and answer session, when asked about the Vietnam War, Kitt had this to say:<br /><br /><br />
"The children of America are not rebelling for no reason. They are not hippies for no reason at all. We don’t have what we have on Sunset Blvd. for no reason. They are rebelling against something. There are so many things burning the people of this country, particularly mothers. They feel they are going to raise sons — and I know what it’s like, and you have children of your own, Mrs. Johnson — we raise children and send them to war."<br /><br /><br />
Reportedly, Mrs. Johnson left the room in tears.  When asked about the incident later, Kitt still was not apologetic:</p><br /><br />
<p>Sadly, Kitt’s career suffered a considerable setback because of her remarks.  Fuck yes Eartha Kitt.<br /><br /><br />



The incredible Eartha Kitt as the diabolical Catwoman.  Can we talk for a minute about how badass Earth Kitt was? Not only was Eartha Kitt responsible for the best portrayal of Catwomen to ever be put on film, but she stood up to the Johnson White House and gave zero fucks.  In 1968, Kitt was invited to a luncheon at the White House.  During the question and answer session, when asked about the Vietnam War, Kitt had this to say:

“The children of America are not rebelling for no reason. They are not hippies for no reason at all. We don’t have what we have on Sunset Blvd. for no reason. They are rebelling against something. There are so many things burning the people of this country, particularly mothers. They feel they are going to raise sons — and I know what it’s like, and you have children of your own, Mrs. Johnson — we raise children and send them to war.”

Reportedly, Mrs. Johnson left the room in tears.  When asked about the incident later, Kitt still was not apologetic:

Sadly, Kitt’s career suffered a considerable setback because of her remarks.  Fuck yes Eartha Kitt.








Summer/Fall 2008






Kwame Dawes

Kwame Dawes







by Sassy Ross


SASY ROSS: There’s a vibrant history of collaboration among writers and artists from the Caribbean. Derek Walcott worked with Paul Simon on the musical, The Capeman. Michael Gilkes and Kamau Brathwaite collaborated on film productions of Sun Poem and Mother Poem. Brathwaite was always engaged with using music–especially Rasta drumming and pocomania drumming as part of his performances. No doubt others did the same during the seventies and eighties and continue to do that now in the jazz vein. Sistren Collective was closely associated with the School of Drama in Jamaica during that time period. My sense is that they worked with Blacka Ellis, Tomlin Ellis and the cadre of dub poets who were working at the time. Opal Palmer Adisa founded the performance duo, Daughters of Yam, with Devorah Major, with who she also published a two-poet anthology. Still, no one has the long and interesting track record of Kwame Dawes. There’s Brimming, a chapbook, which was presented not only as a live performance with musicians, dancers, singers and readers, but also as an art exhibit with the painter, Brian Rutenberg, whose art inspired the poems. There’s Bruised Totems, a collection of poems based on the African Art in the Bareiss African Art collection, which also included images. Wisteria: Twilight Songs from the Swamp Country, performed live at the Poetry International Festival. I Saw Your Face and Requiem, based on the art of Tom Feelings. So, I guess I’d like to start at the beginning. When did you first begin to collaborate, and was collaboration part of the literary scene at the time or did it proceed from your personal inclinations?

KWAME DAWES: I was a thirteen year old in high school when Dennis Scott was a teacher there. This was at Jamaica College in Kingston–a school that had an elitist history, but that, by the time I was there in the early seventies–the era of “free education” had become a public school with a wider cross section of people from all economic backgrounds. Scott, a poet and noted theatre director, introduced my second form class to a project that still remains a source of amazement to me. He had apparently decided to set some poems to performance, with music, movement and a lot of chanting (which worked well for boys) for a staging that as far as I can recall, did not have an audience, but simply had the reward of our going on a field trip to the Jamaica School of Drama, with its avant garde architecture–open spaces, a-symmetrical angles for the large concrete facades and a lot of levels set against a thickly bushed backdrop–there were no real doors, just sliding panels that allowed one to have the sensation of being constantly outdoors even when indoors. In retrospect, I suspect that Scott was just trying to get us to record on tape our performance for his use in a larger production that he may have been working on in the theatre. Whatever the reason, I remember being impressed by the slow, some chaotic, but always deliberate process of working with our voices, with song, with drumming, and with TEXT. All from text. Scott would help us understand the text and then use this understanding to guide what new innovation he would have come up for the class. We would try it and he would shape it until it was working well. This may have been my first experience with collaborative work, even if I did not understand what I was doing. I do know that I found the process exciting.

SASSY: How did you move from theatre into the literary world?

DAWES: Theatre was my entry into the literary world. I began to write plays and be involved with theatrical productions when I was eighteen and an undergraduate at the University of the West Indies. Because I was working with a Christian group, and because our mandate was largely evangelical (even as we theorized that in the tradition of Medieval and Renaissance Drama and poetry of 17th century Britain, great art could come the business of “preaching”) all the work we did was original. That plays existed were simplistic church plays that demonstrated no understanding of theatre to speak of and lacked sophistication of character, plot or staging potential. So I began writing for the stage and writing with a very clear sense of the company of actors, musicians, directors, designers and producers I was working with. This may have begun my process of collaboration. Beginning with my word, I was working closely with other artists to create something remarkable. My first play, “In the Warmth of the Cold”, was a musical and I collaborated with an Antiguan musician, Oswald Zachariah, to put the show together. The experience was a defining one to me and I was impressed by the pull and push and the give and take of collaboration, but mostly by the way in which the skills of someone else, when merged with your own skills, can produce something beautiful and decidedly new. I don’t think that this is a peculiarly Caribbean thing. I think that anyone who begins in theatre and spends time acting, directing, composing and building sets, will start to see the artistic process as fiercely independent and self-centered, and at the same time, profoundly collaborative. I have, since, always sought to work with others on my projects.

SASSY: Was there a number of projects that involved the adaptation of poetry and fiction of Caribbean writers for stage or film during those early years in the theatre?

DAWES: I was constantly impressed by a number of projects. I remember seeing Michael Gilke’s treatment of Kamau Brathwaite’s Mother Poem and being impressed by the possibilities there. At the time, I was impressed with the work as a theatrical piece–and I saw it as a great opportunity for theatre. I also remember reading Kamau Brathwaite’s The Arrivants and being struck by the theatricality of the work, its readability and its intent on being a performance work with multiple voices, with music and with movement. It is all built into the piece. I am actually surprised that no one has staged a full-blown performance of this work. It is desperately needed. The sound track is already built into the piece, and the voices are well laid out. Brathwaite claims to have spoken the whole poem onto tape before transcribing it into written form. I am not entirely convinced by this claim, but to doubt it is quite churlish. I do believe, however, that the work, with its performative superstructure, has been a tremendous influence on me–pushing me to think comfortably about the book length poem of epic scope and work that is rooted in musicality, above everything else. Since then, I have been equally impressed by work by Derek Walcott and Lorna Goodison–to name just two–in this vein. But The Arrivants is defining for me. But equally defining, and perhaps more defining in practical terms, is the work of Ntosake Shange, whose choreopoem, “for colored girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf…” I discovered in the University of the West Indies library in 1981. I was in search of anything labeled poetry by women in a desperate attempt to immerse myself in the feminine poetic voice as I prepared to write a play with an all female cast (“Charity’s Come”). I had serious doubts that I could capture the voice of women in credible ways, especially since I knew I was writing a verse play. I read a lot of poetry by women, but when I found Shange’s book, I was beside myself with excitement–I wanted to read ahead and yet I was afraid that to read more would lead to disappointment. It was a strange kind of excitement. The work is simply brilliant, but I mention it here, because what it gave me was this model for the single poetic voice to be then shaped into a theatrical piece. Shange says she wrote the choreopoem as one long monologue–a lyric poem, even. Then she began to work on it for the stage with collaborators and started to find that multiple voices resided there even as they were all her voice at some level. I never saw that play until many years later, but I did not need to. I still have it riveted in my mind as one of the most important works for me as a playwright, and, more to the point, as a writer who believes that the poem can have a presence on the stage that is theatrical, powerful and ultimately its own thing. Shange’s work is perhaps the seed for all the collaborative work I have done since.

SASSY: Considering the varying nature of your collaborations, which involve not only text but painting and music, would you say that you’re equally inspired by what you see on the page as what you see on a canvas or hear in a record?

DAWES: As a writer I am always engaged in the work of other artists in various disciplines, and I can safely say that much of my work is prompted by what I see being performed on the page, on canvass, with music and so on. I have program notes for plays, recitals and poetry readings that are festooned with my handwriting–poems, stretches of theatrical dialogue, passages of prose, sketches, and much else that have been prompted by what I have seen. Often I am not writing to describe what I have seen, but trying to voice what the work is stirring in me which may have very little to do with the subject of the piece I am looking at. I have long known that art has been a tremendous source of metaphor and image for me. Specifically, when I was writing the poems for Midland, I remember going out of my way to purchase books of art by Caribbean artists, and then other classical artists like Van Gogh, to feed me images that I could write against and with. This kind of collaboration is quite private and may have little apparent presence in the poems unless I indicate this in notes for a book. When, for instance, I first encountered Tom Feelings’ book, Middle Passage: Black Cargo/ White Ships, I was floored by the power of the images. I really was. By the time I was finished going through the book several times, I think I knew that there was at least one poem buried there. But my first impulse was to write to Tom Feelings to thank him for the book. I did not know him at the time. The letter began, Dear Tom Feelings, and then the line broke. It was the first poem in a series of poems that essentially became my letter to him. When I had finished the letter of poems, I sent the thing to him and I was, in many ways, done. I had gone from image to image and responded to these images in verse. Tom was not a conscious collaborator with me in this instance, but his work had fed me the images and emotion to which I could respond in poetry. Some months later, my publishers wondered if I had any slave poems as the BBC was interested in airing some work about slavery. I sent the poems to him. The BBC changed their mind, but my publishers wanted to publish the poems as a unit. And this is how Requiem was born in 1996. Some years later, John Carpenter, who was then a graduate student in Shakespeare studies, came to talk to me about music. He had played for years with a really good reggae/ska/rock-steady outfit in Miami. He said he was a guitarist and wanted to jam with me one day since he had heard I played in a reggae band. At the time, my band Ujamaa had just had a reunion and we were realizing a live CD to commemorate things, and so I gave the CD to John along with some demo material. We met to jam and he talked a lot about the work. He said he would love to collaborate with me. So I gave him Requiem on a whim, and told him to see what he could come up with. When I heard what he had done, I was really impressed. Moved, even. I knew we had to perform it somewhere. And we worked together to turn it into a performance which was staged at the Columbia Museum of Art. Tom Feelings was generous enough to allow us to project images form the book as I read and we performed. Requiem was performed with a small trio of musicians and myself.

SASSY: Tell us about your process. How have some of your other collaborative projects come about? Did you find someone’s photographs/paintings/music that you enjoyed and then approached them? Did you begin writing first and then shared the idea, or are there some ideas that were themselves collaborations?

DAWES: Typically, the process begins with the writing. But that is only a part of the story. The truth is that each project comes through a different path. Sometimes I am commissioned to respond with poetry to some already existing art. This happened when I wrote the poems for Bruised Totems, which is based on the famous Bareiss Collection of African Art. There, one could call this a passive collaboration. I was not working directly with the artists who created these works as they were all long dead. But a dialogue between art forms was taking place. Some years ago the Columbia Museum of Art had an exhibit of Urhobo artwork from the Urhobo tribe in Nigeria. They invited me to respond to the artwork. I did. While doing so I discovered that this tribe was one that my grandfather lived among when he served as a missionary in Nigeria for almost two decades at the turn of the 20th century. It was a wonderful connection to make and to write poems about. The performance of these poems was then organized with a local jazz musician who improvised as I performed the poems. We rehearsed briefly and pointed to mood signatures and cues, and then simply improvised in our performance–song, poetry and the keyboard and saxophone. It was a strong performance and a deeply collaborative one–at least in terms of the performance of music and poetry. Wisteria worked in a different way. Much like Requiem, it began with the poems, but the poems were based on interviews I conducted with African American women in Sumter. I then gave the poems to a musician and composer, Kevin Simmonds, who set the pieces to music. We then worked together to design the full production of voice, song, and instrumentation. The inclusion of the photographs by Robert Johnson came afterwards. This was an idea that Kevin Simmonds had and that completed the collaborative process on one level. Kevin Simmonds worked with his musicians in a collaborative manner and I did the same with some of the readers/singers. The work has continued to grow in this way. Brimming, another collaborative work, began as a commissioned piece. My task was to respond to an exhibition of the art of Brian Rutenberg, a New York based South Carolinian painter. I wrote a series of poems after viewing his work and reading about his process and his biography. The performance of the poems was then done as a staged work with dancers and a cellist. I directed the piece and did not read in the production. Brimming has had several performances. The artwork of Rutenberg is emblazoned on a screen as the poems are read. These are all collaborative efforts that come from different places, but they can be far more integrated in their collaborative process. I suspect that this will happen.

SASSY: Is the writing itself ever collaborative or is it the performance of the writing?

DAWES: My writing is often collaborative but I have not yet published or performed work that has been done collaboratively. And here I mean poetry. I have always regarded the work I have done with musicians (during my years in the band) and with theatre folks (during my years in theatre) as collaborative even in the writing. Often I am relied upon to generate text, but once the staging or rehearsing begins, I am constantly looking for help with language, with the form and with the structure of the work. In these collaborative arrangements, I find that there has to be some clear line about what roles each person has. My other more collaborative writing exercises have included multiple Renga writing projects with writers from all over. Often I treat the Renga as an opportunity to mentor newer writers, and also as a chance to be in dialogue with my peers. These are pure collaborations that generate rich work. I think I have completed almost a hundred of these over time. I have also worked closely with an Indian poet, Sudeep Sen, on a series of “letter-poems” between us which have appeared in various places separately but which we intend to publish as a joint text at some point. Here the dialogue is not unlike the renga, but does evolve through conversations that take place outside the writing. Nonetheless, we remain inscribed in the idea of the writer as essentially working in isolation.

SASSY: For the collaborations that have been performed, how have they been received and what do you account for that reception? Has there been any challenges in staging any particular performance?

DAWES: In terms of reception I can say that these collaborations have always been well received. Indeed, these performances have often been described by folks attending as some of the most moving poetry performances they have attended. No doubt, much of this is because of the way in which these performances touch on the senses–the music and the visual images can add to the experience significantly. I have had a few people express the wish that the music could be lowered in some sequences. But it is quite uniform that these performances have tended to be stellar ones and ones that have been well received. I say this without arrogance, as I am acutely aware of the fact that much of what makes these performances work so well is the skill and creative power of the people I have collaborated with. The greatest challenge of performances of this nature is the cost to mount them. Usually the team is a large one and it does cost money to house and transport so many people. Tom Feelings was present for the first showing of Requiem and he was deeply moved by it and pleased. Wisteria was performed before the family of many of the women who were subjects in the piece and in front of the few surviving women and they too were touched and appreciative of the work. I was nervous about that one. Brian Rutenberg has read the poems based on his art and has expressed pleasure at the work. These poems along with his art are collected in a chapbook called Brimming. He granted us permission to use the work. I mention these responses because I think that the great concern about projects like this might well be a feeling that somehow the art is being compromised by the poetry or the music. I have not seen that kind of response. Indeed, Tom Feelings would later give me some two hundred of his illustrations of children and ask me to write poems in response to those pieces. The result of that collaboration was the book, I Saw Your Face. Feelings designed the book after selecting one of the poems I had written as the basis for the book.

SASSY: You’ve certainly already touched upon this, Kwame, but I’d like to ask the question nonetheless. In addition to your interest in theatre why are you particularly interested in collaboration? How does collaboration push the possibilities of both your own art and that to which you are responding?

DAWES: I think that the collaborative process begins long before the thought of performance comes up. I tend to respond well to the work of others, especially visual arts. But I also respond to poetry by others and fiction by others. I am working on a massive project that is based on the work of a playwright. The poems are not retellings of the plays, but are encounters with the poetic possibilities in the plays. The poems, then, are lyrical and are rooted in my sensibility, but they have been pushed forward and fired by the plays. I have written poems that respond to music, to art, to other narratives and these are all part of the process of stirring the creative instincts. So in many ways, the initial creative impetus is decidedly rooted in the desire to write poems, to tell stories or capture moments through the process of language. There is then a secondary impulse related to the movement towards performance, which comes from the pleasure of watching others create, and create in response to my work. Often, these responses, especially when they are musical, tend to help me reshape my work and to see them work in quite different and often helpful ways. I have changed lines in poems and cut out lines of other poems in response to what I have seen a musician do with the poem. I relish that kind of dialogue. Finally, because I know that music has such a powerful impact on me, I like to share the full force of a poem–its inspiration and shaping–with readers and listeners, and that is part of what draws me to the collaborative act.

SASSY: Tell us about your latest project?

DAWES: The new project is called Hope. Like the other projects, Hope has grown out of a commission. I was invited by the Virginia Quarterly review to write a full-length article on HIV/AIDS in Jamaica. I mentioned that I would be interested in writing poems as a way of processing the experience of meeting with and talking to people in Jamaica who are living with HIV/AIDS. So for several months I wrote poems. The project was funded and produced in partnership with the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting–a media outfit in DC. They became quite interested in the poems, feeling that they could use the poetry as the basis for an elaborate and sophisticated web treatment of the HIV/AIDS reporting I was doing. Soon, our discussions began to revolve about the ways to really “present” these poems, and I suggested that working with a composer might be a good way to go, which could eventually lead to some kind of performance. This is how Kevin Simmonds was pulled into the project. He set the poems to music and designed a performance. At the same time, still photographers and web-designers started to work with the poems to begin a series of images around the issue in Jamaica. The final performance will take place on the website and on stage. The images, the songs, the poems will all feed into the final production which is fairly advanced. The music has been recorded. The same team that put together and performed Wisteria is performing in this piece. Hope will be staged in Jamaica, in Mexico, and in various parts of the US. Again, these are collaborations with rich possibilities.

SASSY: How did this go from a commission to write a 10,000 word essay to the interactive website,

DAWES: The Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting joined with the VQR to talk about ways to expand the project and I was invited to DC a few times to plot this. The interactive website is part of the work they do and they have done similar work on Haiti and on other issues in different parts of the world. This was their most ambitious and the first to involve poetry and music and so on. And the idea to incorporate music came from a suggestion I gave them to look at Wisteria. They liked it a lot and wanted to have the treatment, so Kevin Simmonds was commissioned. I have been deeply involved in the project all the way through and they have checked me for approval and for more text and so on. I wrote all of the text on the site. They have been good about that. I wrote a lot of words. Over forty thousand words of prose, along with the poetry and this has been the source. I still find it inadequate. Sometimes I don’t even feel as if the poems have done what they should do, but I always feel that way.

SASSY: I know that you’ve alluded to some of the challenges of realizing this project, including the hang-ups of the team that you were working with, particularly their assumptions about the Caribbean and about poverty, but did you have any personal concerns that you had to grapple with dealing with such a sensitive subject matter?

DAWES: I did quarrel with the crew, and we did go back and forth about some things, but I have to say that they were open and very generous and ultimately, understood what I was dealing with and what I was trying to communicate. I also struggled with my personal concerns about HIV/AIDS–the fear of the disease–not in that paranoia sense of getting it from touching someone or anything like that, but its implications to my life. I was hearing stories that were frightening for their ordinariness. And this is part of what feeds the poems. I was emotionally drained after each trip, listening to hours and hours of stories of struggle and resilience and hope. I was. What is in the site and in the articles is such a small fraction of what was experienced and heard and the hundreds of hours spent working on this thing. So that was a strain. It was all worth it, though, and I was moved by the openness of the folks who were willing to talk to me.

SASSY: Have you shared the project with the people whose stories and portraits are included on the website?

DAWES: Not yet. This was an issue for me. I did promise a few people that if I used their words and quoted them directly, I would let them see the context in which that was done before it was published. As it happens, no one quoted fell into that category. I promised everyone that there would be an event in Kingston in April for the Jamaican launch of the site and there people would get to see the whole thing in a safe environment. That is in the works. One of the longer poems was read at an HIV/AIDS benefit event during the Christmas by folks from the Jamaica AIDS Support for Life Office. The poem was dedicated to the key people from Portmore, and they really were moved by the poem. I was not there. The whole project had to find a balance between straight journalism and something more lyrical and personal, and I struggled to explain to the journalist in my collaborators that I wanted greater sensitivity to the lives of the people in the “story.” I think the message came across. And that means a lot to me.






hip hop dx

Friday December 19, 2014




cuba garcia

Revolt TV Presents

Coming Home: Cuba





Coming Home is a documentary film that follows DJ EFN and Garcia, two Cuban-American hip hop artists, as they travel to their ancestral homeland of Cuba for the very first time. The film chronicles their adventures and that of five friends accompanying them. Not only did DJ EFN and Garcia connect with their roots, they also found something very familiar to them: hip hop! The film features commentary from artists highly respected on both sides of the embargo.

Revolt TV presents “Coming Home” a documentary by Miami Hip Hop artists DJ EFN and GARCIA.

President Obama recently spoke on the relationship between the United States and Cuba changing and this documentary gives a great insight as to what the island has to offer and how their Hip Hop scene is thriving.

The film follows the duo and their crew to their ancestral home of Cuba where they explore the Hip Hop scene. The film features N.O.R.E., Dead Prez, Thirston Howl III, and many of Cuba’s top Hip Hop artists. The film is the first in a series that will follow DJ EFN and Garcia exploring countries through Hip Hop.

Coming Home is currently airing on Revolt TV – check your local listings.

For more information on the documentary series, you can check