Janelle Monae, the truth clothed in fantasy (some say the garb of Afro-Futurism) is what she sings. Listen to a 20-minute interview during which she talks about her life and her views / her weltanschauung.
It’s been about a decade since she been walking the tightrope. Without falling off. Indeed, she be skipping and hopping along as sure-footed as though she got some climbing mountain goat up in her hoofs. Yes, she can dance, what the old folks used to call hoofing.
What she has is a sense of celebrating her otherness. Without shame. Or hesitancy. Be yourself. Love yourself. Easy to say. Hard to live if you pay attention to what others got to say about you. Sister love understands, and so she is not afraid.
She ignores the shoo-shoo; and goes about her business of being, and loving, the Black. Woman. Artist. Queer. She is.
Being whomsoever you be is not a task for wimps. Walking a mile in our moccasins is no simple, happy trails. Y’all know what James Weldon Johnson witnessed: “stony the road we trod”. Our long march in life is full of twists and turns, unforseen and confounding dead-ends, and embarassing and hard-to-swallow U-turns.
Given the hard facts that too often dominate and even bring to a screeching halt our travels and travails, sometimes we just got to sit down a spell. Rest for a minute, or even hold up for a weary hour or two. Sometimes you just got to gather up your self, recoup your strength before traveling on.
What all this got to do with Janelle? Janelle is an example of what it means to keep on pushing. Pushing through the hard times. Not that we will ever really and finally reach the promised land. May not even be a promised land. What we should all realize, what we best remember is that our life is not about the destination but rather about the journey. The people we meet on the road. The experiences we have on the road. Cause in the final analysis, for all human beings, death is the ultimate destination. If we live, we die.
We all are going to die, so we best live the best we can. We best struggle to be our best. That’s what Janelle be about. The Black example of walking the tightrope. And like she says: “don’t judge me”. If you can dig it, cool. If it’s not for you, leave it alone.
Tell the truth and you never have to bite your tongue. Go head on sister love with your bad, bad self.
By the early sixties I was eating golden sardines. Filling up on verse I only vaguely understood. Maybe vaguely is not the word. Beginning. Only beginning to grasp. After all, everything starts somewhere. Crawl before you walk, and so forth. Regardless of when or where one is born, if you want to get somewhere, you’ve got to move.
I don’t specifically remember how I got to Bob Kaufman. Was not fully aware he was from New Orleans and certainly it didn’t consciously resonate with me that he had been a union organizer and a merchant marine. But, fully comprehend his scribblings, his life, or not, I was deeply inspired. So inspired that even decades later, I was greedily imbibing the ambrosia raining out of Kaufman’s Cranial Guitar (as the title of his 1996 anthology was titled).
After all, even though poets may come three for a quarter, nevertheless, there are wordsmiths whose anviling is quintessential. Necessary as air. Right as rain. (Again, those are literary and musical allusions. But fear not, even if you don’t know the provenance of those words, if you read Kaufman, you will still get wet.)
Poetic outlaw par excellence. He rode/wrote the reality fantastic.
I have a saying from when I use “Ghetto Logic”: It’s alright to call somebody a dirty motherfucker, but don’t write that sentiment down unless you are ready to go to war.
Implicitly, the saying recognizes the authority of text over talk. What was said can be denied or argued that the talk was misinterpreted. But when you write there is evidence that remains beyond the moment of the sounding.
With respect to Black folk, the “text vs. talk” dichotomy is much deeper than linguistic logic. Remember, not so long, i.e. prior to 1865 (which in 2019 was 154 years ago, which is on average at least three female lifetimes long, or maybe four Black male lifetimes long); any who, back before the Civil War, in the Confederate states it was against the law to teach the enslaved to read and write.
But it’s deeper that that. If you were Black you needed to carry “papers” that identified you and what you were doing away from the homestead, plantation, farm, etc., otherwise you might be a runaway subject to the Fugitive Slave law. I know, I know we don’t have to worry about that now, except we do. Try being Black, getting stopped by the police and be unable to produce government sanctioned identification.
Let me give you the context. I am currently reading She Came To Slay: The Life and Times of Harriet Tubman, a biography by Erica Armstrong Dunbar. Check it out. Our general did much, much more than lead well over half a hundred enslaved runaways to freedom in the north, some of whom went on to Canada to avoid re-capture and re-enslavement.
President Obama decided to honor Harriet Tubman by putting her on the $20 bill. Subsequently, when Trump became president he slowed down that movement to a crawl by re-scheduling the monetary portrait to 2026, well after he’s out of office even if he somehow is re-elected for a second term.
Meanwhile, at the end of 2019 there is a major impeachment movement aimed at the punitive, modern day slave-cathcer, President Trump. Whether Trump is stopped and removed from office is doubtful, but a whole bunch of dubious and downright dirty Trump shit is being exposed, which is not surprising in one sense because Trump, well, he’s a dirty mo. . ., ah dirty, dirty man. And you can write that down.
Olivia Pope gets things done. Just flat out figures it out. We are used to seeing Liv figure it out, direct the gladiators, and stride off having accomplished the seemingly impossible. But don’t get it twisted. Kerry Washington is a Black female actress. She is not Olivia Pope.
Moreover, Kerry is not Kendra “Kenny” Ellis-Connor either, the lead character of the Netflix cinematic adaption of the stage play “American Son”. A Black woman professional, indeed, she is a college professor. Married to Scott Connor, a White man who is an FBI agent, played by Steven Pasquale, from whom she is separated, and when they are together, it is clear they will not be getting back together.
Set early, early in the morning around 3a.m. on a rainy night in south Florida, not too far from Miami. Jamal is the unseen son of the couple. Jamal is missing. He didn’t come home and Kenny is totally distraught.
All the action in this four person performance is set in the waiting room of the local police station. That’s the first sign this is not the average Black drama. Mama is not welcomed to occupy the local police station in the middle of the night, complaining to a nervous officer Paul Larkin (Jeremy Jordan), who is trying his best to be empathic, diplomatic, i.e. not your average White police officer confronting a Black woman who won’t shut up and who is constantly challenging your authority.
Like a character in “Waiting For Godot”, officer Larkin can only keep repeating that everything will get smoothed out when Lieutenant John Stokes (Eugene Lee) arrives for his eight a.m. shift. By the time Stokes arrives, it’s already too late. And then, surprise, surprise, he is Black. A tough, older Black cop who has not only been around the block a couple of times, looks (and sounds) like he has actually been to war in Viet Nam. He’s grumpy. No nonsense. And clearly in charge.
“American Son” is a film version of an original Broadway play written by Christopher Demos-Brown. The cast for the film is the same as the cast from the stage play. Director Kenny Leon does his best to shoot the one-set, four-character drama as though it were a dynamic movie.
Regardless of the limitations of transferring a stage play to the tv screen, the movie has a point to make. I like the ending because it avoids the usual and is much closer to daily reality.
If you have access to Netflix, “American Son” is worth seeing. Especially to contrast Kerry playing Olivia against Kerry playing Kenny. Check it out.
Brazil has a wide variety of musical styles, plus they run mob deep. My all time favorite is classic Milton Nascimento, but there are bunches of others whom I really dig, including Gilberto Gil and Paula Lima. But right now I want to focus on Luciana Mello, with a tip of the hat to her father, Jair Rodrigues, who is a noted performer in his own right, and to her brother, Jair Oliveira, who is both a contemporary musical colleague and a popular professional. In various combinations they often perform together.
Born January 22, 1979, in São Paulo, Luciana has both a contemporary and a traditional sound that is arresting as exemplified by one of her big hits, “Simples Desejo”, which she does both as a samba and also in what we would call a quasi-hip hop style.
What I find especially interesting is how easily she moves between different disciplines. She has done popular music with the verve of a teenager dancing and obviously excited about the opportunity to become a pop star. But she also expertly explores the traditional “roda” (assembly in a circle doing music and dance) with a focus on old and new songs in the samba tradition.
Apropos of the sociology of music, Luciana is a strong example of women who could easily pass into the mainstream based on looks, but who instead choose to be culture bearers. Look at her un-straightened hair. She chooses a big natural or braids, and does not present herself as a sex symbol on stage. These are conscious decisions that often run counter to establishment modes of success. She may never become a mega star with a massive fan base, but she will always live in the hearts of her people because she stays rooted in the culture and consciousness of folk from around the way.
I asked… really, I was only affirming a decision long, tall Peter had made: “so you coming out this year!” Meaning, in the way we talk amongst ourselves in New Orleans, he is going to be in the streets dancing in a suit that he sewed himself. A half-finished patch sat on his SUV’s back seat, silently expressing that Peter was preparing his suit for Mardi Gras 2020 even though it was still the autumn of 2019.
Spying his handiwork, I knew immediately, Peter was dedicating himself to doing the cultural work some of us volunteer to do. Peter and I talked about the deeper aspects of masking. How a significant number of young men who would otherwise spend hours, days, and months fighting each other or doing similarly self-destructive acts, would literally consume days and nights hand sewing elaborate celebratory suits.
The majority of the revelers who traditionally come out only on Mardi Gras day and St. Joseph’s night, spend at least six months patiently hand crafting what they proudly wear. Constructing a beautiful suit kept them occupied doing productive work, absorbed in sewing. Yes, men, hand sewing.
Dudes and ladies, but especially the dudes, who otherwise might be engaged in nefarious actives, were dedicated to the needle and the thread. I say “especially the dudes” because they are the ones who fill up Angola state prison, the largest incarceration camp in the United States, and perhaps in the world. Yes, women go to jail too, to St. Gabriel’s between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, but relatively speaking, the majority of the women in our metropolis are invested in caring for their children and their families. But even they dance down the streets on Mardi Gras and at second line parades.
The paucity of women as major leaders in the Indian tradition is the downside of gender relations (another story for another time). The inequality must be recognized, even when the emphasis is on the dynamic beauty of masking Indian, that is the art of Mardi Gras in New Orleans, which has gender aspects, but also has significant international roots in Haiti.
Even though we often see each other, Peter had not told me beforehand that he was masking. It’s just what men like Peter do. They do not ask permission, or even acknowledgement, to do whatsoever they do. The Black New Orleans tradition requires no outside approval. If outsiders dig it, good. If they don’t, it doesn’t matter. This aspect of New Orleans–committed to being New Orleans regardless of what anybody or everybody else does–is key to both the longevity and the future of New Orleans culture.
When I saw this Krewe du Kanaval video, I immediately wanted to share it. I knew and had worked with tuba playing Ben Jaffe’s father, Allan, who many, many years before, moved to New Orleans, I believe it was from Pennsylvania or some place far, far away. Musician Allan Jaffe founded Preservation Hall, a venue in the French Quarter hosting traditional New Orleans music. Ben was carrying on, following, as the saying goes, in his father’s footsteps.
Krewe du Kanaval was just a vibrant manifestation of the multi-ethnic and multi-generational celebration of New Orleans culture including a specific focus on the Haitian roots of Crescent City culture. A culture promoted by people such as Ben Jaffe, and especially by people like Peter. People, whom the majority of folk worldwide who love and celebrate New Orleans do not know by name. People who spend half the days of their lives, patiently putting together, bead by tiny bead, colorful costumes that are symbolic flags they fly, celebrating the pride and serious beauty of this city they call home.
Whether or not I run across Peter singing and dancing on Mardi Gras day, doesn’t matter. Why? Because, once again in our common vernacular: I know you Peter.
Whether or not I see you, I know you going to be out there prettily dancing down the street on Fat Tuesday.
“I know you Mardi Gras” and all that that way of being means, has meant to millions, and will always mean, well into our future.
Because Doral is the best place to hold such an event.
This is madness.
New York for over a half century has been the location of the United Nations, hosting political leaders from around the world. They have experience. Doral has none in that regard.
And then, of course, there is Camp David and/or Washington, DC, where international gatherings are held month after month on the regular.
What we are facing is not merely a President out of control. Not merely a divided nation fighting itself. What we are witnessing is pure madness. The Doral decision is not the most important issue facing us at the moment, but no doubt, This Is Madness.
Once you hear her sing, it is impossible to forget her voice, especially the high notes she seemed to so effortlessly hit.
Plus, she could be funky as all get out.
She was a favorite of Stevie Wonder, who also added production expertise to her 1974 second album under the El Toro Negro pseudonym that produced “Perfect Angel”.
Riperton also made a cover hit in duet with Jose Feliciano’s version of “Light My Fire.”
Minnie Riperton (November 8, 1947 – July 12, 1979) performs on stage, New York, 1977. (Photo by Michael Putland/Getty Images)
She was so popular and her music so powerful it is easy to forget that there was controversy surrounding some of her songs, especially “Inside My Love”, that some radio stations refused to play because they said it was too graphic, too erotic, too. . . too “ohhhh”.
But that was simultaneously not only the beauty of Minnie but also the forward thinking that was at the core of her being. She challenged many of the gender, racial and political standards of her era.
Minnie’s song “Memory Lane”, rather than being backward looking as the title implies, is actually a song memorializing the beauty moments in our lives that may be behind us in time but are still very much an emotional aspect of our present, and probably will remain so in all of our future.
Here is a Japanese documentary that presents her story. Enjoy.
The weather was cold. Gray. Snow on the ground. A typical London winter. Somewhere in the metro north of the city. No nearby metro or bus stop. I had never been in that neighborhood before nevertheless I kept marching forward. Eventually I found the flat and met the ANC (African National Congress) representative. This was the late seventies or early eighties.
We had a welcomed and warm meeting. Literally in front of a flaming fireplace. At one point I enthusiastically acknowledged that we in the United States were inspired by the South African struggle. He stopped me. I don’t remember his name but he insisted that rather than them inspiring us, the truth was our struggles in the sixties had inspired them, our far away cousins.
I was an activist with a long history of take overs at SUNO (Southern University in New Orleans), sit-ins at the New Orleans city hall, and as a delegate to the 1974 Sixth Pan-African conference in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. I was not a star struck political neophyte.
After years of both study and struggle I was impressed with a number of resistance movements including Amilcar Cabral’s PAIGC and Nelson and Winnie Mandela’s ANC. I was offered the opportunity to meet with a senior representative of the South African liberation movement, which was why I had trekked to this meeting with a previously unknown person. We sat, just the two of us, in an impromptu but unforgettable tete-a-tete.
Decades later and well into another century, I no longer consider myself a Black nationalist. I have seen too much as both an activist and a journalist to believe in limited solutions to international political, economic and gender problems, particularly in the Middle East.
When I became aware of the Peshmerga (“those who face death”) branch of the Kurdish struggle, I was struck by the high degree of female participation as fighters and leaders in their fight for independence.
Moreover, the ups and downs of their decades long movement was an example of indigenous organization that was not based mainly on either religion or one-state ideology. Approximately 30 million stateless Kurds were spread out over four separate Middle East countries, all four of whom had both internal problems as well as differences with each other.
What really struck me was the degree of female participation in the Kurdish struggle. Based both on the ground-level reports from the trenches and foxholes on the battle field to intellectual analysis offered by committed pro-Kurdish advocates, my resulting understanding of the Kurds impelled me to write and share my views.
Historically, the main leaders of African heritage armed struggles in the western hemisphere have been women. Whether talking, for example, about Nanny in Jamaica or Harriet Tubman in the USA, women were not only fighters in individual struggles but were indeed locally, nationally, and even internationally recognized leaders.
In more contemporary times I had been blessed to spend time with Assata Shakur in Cuba. Life experiences and study have predisposed me to favor female participation as an indispensable element of anti-establishment activism. Like many who initially were strong advocates of Black nationalism, worldwide realities led me to move beyond race as the major ideological definition.
In our seventies organization, Ahidiana, we had a saying: “if we are wrong reality will contradict us, and if we are serious we will correct ourselves”. The volatile Middle Eastern struggle, and particularly the example of guerrilla women, spurred me take the Kurdish struggle seriously.
Make no mistake. The female Peshmerga women are a committed cadre of soldiers who were among the leaders in active battle against ISIS. The Peshmerga are a military force from the northern region of Iraq founded in the 1920s. They have been fighting for generations and even when betrayed, they are not about to surrender.
They do however face daunting odds. They have no heavy weapons, e.g. no tank squadrons, no major artillery, no air force, and most significant in the long run, no atomic bomb (plus, no way to make or deliver atomic weapons even if they had them).
The Kurdish army is basically an infantry during an era of modern warfare, which is why they are no match for the Turkish assault. They can not hold territory, can not defend towns and cities for any length of time against enemy encroachment. They are unable to protect large civilian populations. While it is true that they were leaders in the fight against ISIS, that struggle was predominately house to house, hand to hand combat between infantry forces. What the Kurds have is a will to resist, to fight to the death.
In October 2019 when Trump announced that he was abandoning support for the Kurds that was a major turning point in this conflict. A turning point but not an end. The Kurds have literally seen nations come and go. They deserve our support. But with or without diplomatic and military support, they will continue to struggle. They are an inspiration to the world.