Info

Kalamu ya Salaam's information blog

Posts from the Neo-Griot Category

Choose another category?

ALL MY LIFE

 

“Joshua, you’re laying here wounded in a hospital bed and you’re worrying about what’s happening in Fallujah?”

 

Joshua looked at Vivian, a pained tenderness clouding her usually clear dark brown eyes.

 

“No, I’m worrying about humanity, about the species, and about my own personal humanity. If I can’t feel their pain, how human am I?”

 

Vivian bit her lower lip. Joshua momentarily paused when he saw the signature sign that she disagreed with something he said.

 

“Vi, they’re killing women and children, dropping 500 pound bombs. Those people, all they’ve got is rifles and grenade launchers, and a will to resist. They’re burying their dead in a soccer field cause the Marines won’t let them get to a cemetery. And why? What for? Cause four mercenaries got killed? Cause, to quote president Chavez, that ‘asshole’ Bush…”

 

It wasn’t good for his healing when Joshua got so agitated. Closing her eyes to dam the beginnings of tears welling up, Vivian softly kissed Joshua in an intimate attempt to halt his ranting. Joshua did not return her kiss.

 

Ignoring her unvoiced plea, Joshua raised the remote and clicked on the TV. Since the play-offs hadn’t started yet, all he watched was the news for as long as he could stand it, which was usually twenty-some minutes at the max. If his brain was a computer, TV was a virus. What was he to do: the radio was worthless, filled with twenty songs in constant rotation on the pop stations, right wing toro-poopoo on the talk stations, and liberal drivel from NPR?

 

Vivian took the remote from Joshua’s hand; he did not resist. She clicked the mute on. The surrealness of Joshua watching war reports from his hospital bed was too much. Thankfully, the efficient hum of medical equipment provided an unobtrusive aural wallpaper.

 

“They doing that mess in our name, baby. You know?”

 

“I know.”

 

“I don’t want my silence co-signing that.”

 

She was faring worse than he was. Even with bullet wounds in his lower right leg, in his right side and in his left foot, Joshua was still feisty; his inability to sleep peacefully did not seem to too adversely affect him.

 

When you have shared a bed with a person for over thirty years, you know their breathing, how they toss when troubled, which way they turn when upset, moreover, inevitably you know that person’s slumbering self better than the person knows that part of their own self. Almost two whole weeks of keeping watch over Joshua’s fitful, sometimes nightmarish sleep had exacted a heavy toll, and now here he was all wrapped up in this Iraq thing…

 

In the pastel gloaming of the sun setting in the distance on the other side of the city, panoramic as a postcard when viewed from this seventh-floor room, Vivian searched for something safe to say.

 

“Jamal’ll be here tomorrow.”

 

“I told that boy he didn’t have to spend that money to come out here. I’m alright. He’s just stubborn.”

 

“I wonder where he gets it from?” Vivian chided Joshua.

 

“Probably from his mama.”

 

Joshua returned his attention to the cool, color images flickering on the screen mounted on the wall facing his bed. What was Rev. Sharpton protesting now Joshua wondered without much interest. Then Kobe Bryant appeared. Josh reached for the remote. Vivian handed him the controller. The clipped but breathy tones of a female anchor gushed forth, “…charge that police did not read Bryant his Miranda rights.”

 

“Ain’t that something?”

 

“Joshua, please.”

 

“Ok. Ok.” Joshua clicked the TV off. “I’m just saying…”

 

“Joshua, we had this discussion already. Just because the police were wrong doesn’t make what Kobe did right.”

 

“You don’t even know what he did, Vi.”

 

“He admitted he committed adultery.”

 

“Yeah, ok.”

 

“Ok, nothing. He shouldn’t have never had that girl up in his room.”

 

“You’re right.”

 

Joshua looked up at the ugly ceiling. After twelve days of laying in bed, it seemed like he knew every inch of the room. In the corners, the wall, which once had been a sort of dark teal, now looked more like a putrid dish of lentil soup crusted over, molded and gone to some shade of brownish-green between tequila-laced, guacamole vomit, and the dirty brown of two-week-old road kill. Although he didn’t know what the name for that color was, he was sure there was a name and equally sure it was clearly delineated on Vi’s mental color wheel.

 

Joshua smiled grimly and then looked at Vi standing beside his bed, her left arm held across her paunch-less stomach and her slender right hand curled over her mouth–as usual, she was not wearing lipstick.

 

He really liked that she was not self-conscious about the faint, but unmistakable, sexy, facial hair above her full lips–at least he thought the ecru-colored, wisp of a moustache highlighting the plum dark fullness of Vi’s luscious lips was sexy as hell.

 

Funny, he had been able to resist the enticement of Vi’s kiss a minute ago, but now here he was, entranced by the tantalizing sight of her negroidal profile silhouetted by the twilight glowing through the two, large windows directly behind her. He was especially mesmerized by the way she pursed her mouth into a fleshy pout, and though it was concealed in the darkness covering her profile, he vividly imagined the deep dimple two-thirds the way up her jaw. Even in her fifth decade there were no hanging folds of flesh marring the elegant line that curved from chin to jaw to throat. Vi could have been the perfect model for a Dogon mask.

 

Vivian saw Joshua lick his lips and slowly work his jaw muscles, producing saliva which he casually swallowed.

 

“Here.” Vivian held a straw to Joshua’s mouth so he could suck a small sip of cool water. As the liquid trickled down his esophagus, Joshua closed his eyes, wondering how it was that this wonderful woman always anticipated his desires. There was a slight click when she sat the plastic cup on the Formica tabletop; then the unmistakable sound of a visitor in the hall–it had to be a visitor because of the click of hard-soled high heels on the linoleum (all of the nurses were stealthy in their rubber-soled sneakers); and finally there was the distinctive, hushed, musical jangle of Vi’s bangles quietly clanging.

 

“Hmmmm,” Joshua half-audibly hummed as Vivian rubbed his chest. Vivian was leaning against the bed, the head of which was elevated at a gentle twenty-degree angle. She had slipped her right hand between the top and the third button of Joshua’s pajama top after deftly unsecuring the second button to give a wider range of motion.

 

“That feels good.”

 

Vivian playfully pinched his left nipple.

 

“Yeahhhh.”

 

A nurse walked in.

 

Vivian did not move her hand.

 

The nurse said nothing, peered at the equipment connected to the patient, picked up the chart and made a few quick notations. “Do you need anything, Mr. Gibson?”

 

“He’s Ok.”

 

Joshua glanced from Vivian to the young, white nurse–well, at least she had reason to be in his room. Vivian continued lightly scratching her fingertips through his chest hairs, maybe scratching was not the word for it, perhaps “tingle-touching” was a better way to put it; whatever, it felt good. When the nurse left, Vivian withdrew her hand. Oh, so Vi’s touches had been a marking of territory, a sign to other females: hands off.

 

“What’re you smiling about?”

 

“Why yall always got to want to know what a man is thinking?”

 

“Why are you men so reluctant to share your thoughts?”

 

“Just like yall got secrets…”

 

“Ok. Whatever.”

 

The lamp’s florescent glare masking its departure, daylight was near completely gone from the room.

 

“Mr. Tucker called.”

 

Josh knew where this was headed. Thirty-three years and counting. “I told that fool I don’t work cause I got to, I teach cause I want to. The kids need me.”

 

“I need you.”

 

“Just wait til they let me out of here, I’ll give you all you can handle.”

 

“Joshua, I’m serious. You know you could volunteer in a community program. You don’t need the pressure of teaching every day.”

 

“Vi, haven’t we crossed and re-crossed this bridge?” Hadn’t they talked about why he wouldn’t retire until he did thirty-five years? Thirty-five–just like his mother. It hadn’t mattered that it was safer when his mother taught, much less stressful, the schools better. Actually there was nothing sacred about thirty-five years. It was just something Joshua wanted to do.

 

He had started when he was twenty-three. In two more years he wouldn’t even be sixty yet–he had plenty enough years left to enjoy retirement.

 

Vi kicked off her comfortable red-suede mules and half sat on the side of the bed, cozying beside her husband. She drew her knees up, careful not to touch his side, and lightly rested her head on his collarbone while smoothly slipping her right hand down his arm, that sensual motion culminating with her fingers intertwining his as she clasped his hand.

 

Joshua had felt a twinge of discomfort when Vi climbed aboard but that was quickly replaced by the pleasure of her softness: soft touch caressing, soft voice humming, soft spirit nurturing.

 

Joshua half-turned his face towards the crown of her head. The peach-flavored fragrance of the shampoo in Vi’s salt-and-pepper un-cut, longer-than-shoulder-length, natural hair delightfully tickled Josh’s nose. Once out of high school, Vi had never again permed her hair and after she retired from the Post Office in ‘98, she said she’d let her finger-snap-short afro grow until 2000. By the time 2000 arrived, Joshua had gotten so used to burying his face in the luxurious pillow of her black and silver mane that he begged her to keep letting it grow, like, what was her name, Sonia Braga, yes, Sonia, that gorgeous Brazilian mama with the flowing, au-natural hair. Vivian preferred to believe that her auburn hair and skin shade resembled Alice Coltrane like on the cover of Alice’s Transformation album, but she knew Brazilian beauties was Joshua’s thing and had long ago come to understand that Joshua’s fantasies and movie-fueled infatuations were no threat to their marriage.

 

***

 

“Aaahhhh.”

 

Even though Joshua’s cry had not been very loud, Vivian woke instantly. The nightmare was back; this time after only two-nights absence.

 

For the first week it had been very rough and then it got rougher–some inexplicable signal would rouse Vivian and she’d know immediately, Joshua was… was… well, was… what was it Robert Johnson sang? “Hellhounds” on his trail. Yes, that was it, Joshua would have that terrified look, the look of a runaway flailing through the swamps, vicious dogs about to leap on his back.

 

The first time Vivian saw Joshua cry she shrank back involuntarily for a moment before gathering her self and going to him. “Ssssshhhhh, ssssshhhh. It’s all right. I’m here.”

 

Joshua had shook.

 

“Ssssshhhh.” Badly as she wanted to, she had been afraid to hold him less she harm his wounds. She could only think to dab his forehead with a cool towel and to coo to him until he eventually quit shaking.

 

And, my God, that first time he hollered out, she was sure it was physical, probably his side or something like that. He wouldn’t talk. She rang for the nurse. They ended up sedating him. But it happened again a few nights later.

 

“Tell me. Joshua, tell me. What is it? Joshua?”

 

When he had turned to face her, his eye sockets were twin grottos, each filled with a glistening pool of tears. Vivian’s heart had raced at that point. She had never before seen him cry.

 

He didn’t have to say anything. She knew, from that first night when the police called, when they told her as near as they could figure it, some young thugs tried to car jack Joshua and a battle ensued over a gun and two people were shot, one was dead and “your husband is in the hospital. He’s wounded but the doctors say, it looks like he’ll pull through ok.”

 

Vivian had known the healing would be difficult but she was anxiously confident he would overcome. She remembered decades ago his struggle to master martial arts, how long it took him to get to black belt, how many times he damaged his hand trying to break wooden planks, but he kept at it…

 

“Vi, you know I been loving you since I met you…”

 

Vivian snapped out of her momentary hypnosis. It had only been three and a half seconds before she gathered herself and bent to minister to Joshua, but during that long interval, Vivian had remembered encountering this anguish for the first time.

 

“Sssshhhh, sssshhhh. Joshua’s it’s ok…”

 

She had also remembered Joshua apologizing for loosing the new, forest green, Toyota Prius that was found two days afterwards, burned out. The irony of getting jacked for an environmentally safe car and that car subsequently getting trashed; were it not so serious, it would have been laughable.

 

“…don’t try to talk. It’s ok.”

 

When Vivian bowed to rub Joshua’s brow, he turned his head away. She began humming “Naima.” Joshua loved her singing.

 

Vivian knew, neither the car nor his wounds was the issue, it was…

 

“Vi, you know, it’s like, I don’t see how we’re going to survive.” He spoke while looking at the wall. “What can we do? The shit has gotten so bad. All my life… well, you know.” Joshua paused, turned to face Vivian and then continued in a firm voice, “The sit-ins, the going to jail, the African liberation support stuff in Tanzania and hanging in the bush with the Frelimo guerillas in Mozambique, right down to supporting the Sandanistas in Nicaragua in the eighties, and, all that. You know?”

 

Joshua stared helplessly at Vivian, she closed her eyes, bent low and whispered in his ear: “this too shall pass.” But even as she said it, she knew that neither she nor Joshua would ever reconcile themselves to the horrible guilt that Joshua felt for killing that boy.

 

“He told me to run. I said, take the car, man. He said, ‘run, nigga.’ Vi, I ain’t never run from nobody in my life, and I wasn’t about to start that night. I was already mad cause I had bought this car for your birthday and…”

 

“It’s ok, it’s ok.”

 

“Naw it ain’t. When he shot me in the foot, I knew I had to do something or at least die trying, even though it was two of them. I would’ve been alright, but the other one started shooting…”

 

Joshua stopped.

 

It was early, early, ‘fore day in the morning. The silence was awful. The sinister mechanical chirp of the medical equipment, awful. Joshua squeezed the morphine pump. Vivian blinked to keep her own tears from spilling as she bent low and slow-kissed away Joshua’s tears.

 

-end-

 

2020 is a very good year.
 
We will celebrate the life and work of my dear friend, steadfast comrade, and big-brother/mentor, Tom Dent. Kalamu will make a presentation on the important book New Orleans Griot – The Tom Dent Reader. This book is also the 2020 One Book One New Orleans selection.
 
We will also celebrate my 2019 collection of essays, Be About Beauty. This book is a winner of the PEN Oakland Josephine Miles Award.
Chelsey Shannon is the lead editor for both books and represented Kalamu ya Salaam at the PEN Oakland Josephine Miles Award ceremony.
 
Everyone is invited to join us.
 
Kalamu ya Salaam
 
################
 
Greetings, friends!
 
UNO Press cordially invites you to a turn-up-then-wind-down afterparty following Kalamu ya Salaam’s kickoff speech for One Book One New Orleans’ year-long celebration of New Orleans Griot: The Tom Dent Reader. 
 
In addition to celebrating the campaign, we will be toasting Kalamu for his recent PEN Oakland Josephine Miles Award for his book Be About Beauty.
 
The event is Thursday, January 23 in Room 407 of Earl K. Long Library. The schedule for the evening:
 

5-6pm   Hobnob & nosh

6-7pm   Kalamu’s keynote address, Q&A, & book signing

7-8pm   Move downstairs to the Press’s lovely new office (Room 221) for the afterparty
 
We hope you’ll all come celebrate Kalamu’s work with us!
 
Warmly,
Chelsey
 

 

“In sickness and in health” is what is often said when we get married. “I do” we voluntarily vow, however most of us never think of the troubles and trials the pledge can encompass.

If I remember the time correctly, it was October of 2018 when Nia had a third stroke. The result was that she was essentially bed-bound, which in turn meant that extensive care giving is a required daily routine.

I’m the only care giver in our home. Washing clothes and bed-linen. Changing gowns and underwear. Making groceries. Preparing food. Responding 24/7, sometimes at three or four o’clock in the morning. My blessing is that I’m physically and mentally up for the challenged of consistently completing the required tasks. Plus, on the infrequent days Nia is hospitalized or has a doctor’s appointment, I’m down for that too, usually with assistance from immediate family and close friends.

I really, really dislike hospitals, nevertheless I am at Tulane Medical Center visiting with Nia every day she is there. And me being me, I’m constantly checking out whatever environment I’m in.

From what I have seen, all of the people who clean and do daily maintenance are Black and they are also overwhelmingly female. Plus, they are clearly working class. The way they talk, their physical appearance.

The next level is the nursing staff, which is racially mixed, with the plurality being White. Plus, their profession requires them to be college educated.

The third level is technicians, such as X-ray tech, which is what Nia was before retiring.

The fourth level are the physicians, ranging from the interns to the heads of staff. The doctors are the most diverse grouping racially and heritage-wise. One doctor who treats Nia is an African from Cameroon. Another is an orthodox Jew who wears a yarmulke.

In total, the medical staff is reflective of our overall society. I’m not sure about the administrators, most of whom I don’t see or meet when I visit with Nia. Although the hospital has a distinct and specialized mission, nevertheless, its class structure, skill areas, and authority hierarchy are clear and unmistakeable.

Hospitals, like most aspects of social living, are a reflection of the society along class and racial lines; lines that tend to separate rather than merge personalities while also maintaining easily identifiable areas of concern and lanes of responsibilities.

This hospital is located near the downtown business district. Unlike medical centers across the city away from downtown, in those hospitals and clinics you aren’t required to pay for parking. Both the cost of direct and ancillary treatment (such as parking) are expensive and damn near exorbitant in terms of both time required and money demanded. Capitalism drives the rules and ultimately drives the whole system.

Most of the medical personnel, especially the doctors, don’t directly deal with the “filthy lucre”, don’t receive their payments with each visitation. No. What happens is you get a bill—I should say a “whopping bill” and if you don’t have health insurance or are not a military veteran receiving service at the VA Hospital, that bill is way beyond your means to pay.

It is well known that doctors are high on the pay scale in terms of the cost of their services and at the same time most doctors are not money grubbing hustlers. They genuinely do all they can to help a patient. In fact the doctors seldom think about money–not just what the treatment costs, but also not how much is specifically charged for their services. One of the beauties of capitalism is that more and more often the charges for goods and services are impersonal and indirectly assessed.

We pay with debit and credit cards, infrequently with checks, usually not with cash. Even when it’s a $3.00 parking charge, we often pay with plastic. What this means is that there is a middle-man, or more accurately, a middle-machine, between what we pay and to whom we pay, not to mention who collects the payment and what happens when we can’t afford to pay.

Although we often can make a choice about what we buy, hospitals have us over a proverbial barrel: when you are sick or injured, you really, really need to get well, get back to work, or at the very least get your health back.

Hospital treatment is not a choice, it’s a necessity, albeit an extremely expensive necessity. The ever rising costs of health care far outstrips the rise in our paychecks or in our retirement or social security payments. You want to receive treatment, you want to get well? Well, you’ve got to pay.

Dr. So-and-So is not personally charging you. We do not place a thousand dollars directly in the out-stretched hands of medical providers. Indeed, more and more, you don’t actually put out hard money. To pay bills you use financial instruments, chiefly the debit/credit card. For the privilege of using plastic to pay your debts, the banks charge you a fee for using a financial instrument. From a money-making perspective, it’s a beautiful system that charges you to spend your money. C’est la vie in modern societies.

Yesterday as I stood at the ATM-like machine to validate and pay my parking-ticket, I looked up and walking through the sliding, glass front doors is Shardae Womack who was a former student almost a decade ago. She does more than wave, smile and drop a welcoming “hello”. She is genuinely glad to see me. We hug a greeting and end up conversating for close to twenty minutes.

Shardae is a lawyer now—passed the bar on her first attempt, which is not easy. Louisiana is reputed to have the hardest test in the nation, partially because our lawyers not only have to master national requirements but additionally have to conqueror vagaries of the Napoleonic code that is only used in Louisiana.

“You just have to put aside everything and buckle down for three months to pass the bar.” Shardae believes that being in our Students at the Center writing program in her junior and senior years of high school was a major boost to her academic preparedness but I remind her she was gifted with a can-do attitude.

“I wrote a book. I never thought I would, but it just happened.” She smiles and her eyes light up as she tells me about the book she authored and thanks me for helping prepare her to write her own book.

I explain to her, all students are offered instruction but not every student builds on what they learn. She wants to help young women gain control of their lives.

Taking charge of your life, being a leader rather than simply being led is what Shardae is about. She’s also about helping others, that’s the critical part of Shardae’s story. She wrote the book to share what she has learned with others.

After being inspired by Shardae I head back across the river to Algiers, on the West Bank of New Orleans where Nia and I live. Even though we are less than a block away from a major catholic parish church and down the street from an elementary school, our neighborhood is ultra quiet.

I really enjoy solitary work, especially in our home, where I’m generally on my computer day and night. When I’m not writing, or reading, I watch and listen to programs via computer with earphones on, and seldom watch the television. 

When I’m writing, I am annoyed by being disturbed, nevertheless I really prefer a recuperating Nia being here and requesting this or that, rather than the silence of being home alone.

 

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.