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Detail from a book jacket for Marcelo D’Salete’s “Angola Janga.” (Fantagraphics Books)

I was in the middle of some street. Didn’t speak the language. Wasn’t hardly no one around. I was supposed to meet someone from samba legend Martinho da Vila’s camp. So I nodded at the occasional person I saw and waited. But not for long. Shortly the street was filled with members of the Vila Isabel carnival crew. They passed out the handbills for one of the songs they would perform on Mardi Gras day.

Mart’nalia, Martinho’s daughter,  arrived shortly and immediately identified herself to me; her father had told her I would be there. Through an interpreter, he invited me to attend the rehearsal and said that his daughter would meet me there. She spoke a little English. As promised she joyfully explained what was going on, translated the mimeographed small sheet of lyrics, and encouraged me to get with the program. I could sway and keep time with them, but their swift and fancy footwork was far beyond me. 

Yes, this was a celebration but also a whole lot more. The lyrics were political as hell. I don’t even remember the specifics, but do recall how serious and intentional the overtly expressed sentiments were. Once they got rolling, hey had literally well over a hundred people learning and shouting out the song. They might have been—check that, there wasn’t no might have been— they were definitely shaking their asses but they were also raising their fists. Talk about a party with a purpose! That’s when my impression of Brasil changed dramatically (they spelled the name of their country differently from the way we mangled the country’s name, us calling it Brazil with a “z”). 

Now, whenever I see or hear Brasil (or Brazil) I have a deeper appreciation for the landing spot of pirated people from Africa. I had not been aware of just how broad their resistance was and is. They remain conscious of their history, their struggle. I knew they, like Africans everywhere, had resisted and even during colonial times had established Palmares where they lived free for almost a hundred years, while most of us in the western hemisphere were laboring under colonial lashes and forced servitude. Intellectually, they were far more conscious than most of us were in the good ole USA.

Which is a deep realization. Because of our successful Civil Rights movement and our long history of resistance from Cripus Attucks in 1770, a Black man who was the first person to die in the American revolution, on up through Malcolm, Martin and eventually Obama, we often labor under the delusion that we are the leading Blacks in the western hemisphere. Totally unaware not only of other Black struggles throughout the hemisphere, but also oblivious to the fact that our social status is majorly due to our intimate proximity to the USA’s economic and political power.

Of course there is no doubt, we really have had a major impact internationally in terms of both political and cultural matters. But if we look at our impact comparatively we will realize that our alleged pre-eminence is not all that we think, or misconstrue, our position to be. For example we think our music dominates world culture, yet objectively reggae has a far broader acceptance world wide. And, of course, Carnival in Rio is the most celebrated expression of Black culture on the planet. (We can discuss the Blackness of Carnival at another time, right up next to when we discuss the Blackness of American musical culture coming out of the USA.)

Anyway, that one night on the street sufficiently opened my eyes wide enough to re-look at everything I had seen before, everything I thought I knew not only about Brasil but, indeed, concerning the broader history of Black resistance. This was back in the eighties. My brother spirit Jimi Lee had led me there. He and I would eventually spend hours, and hours, and days and deep times throughout the Caribbean and South America, including an especially harrowing but also immensely beautiful sojourn in Suriname. We were there when a coup attempt went down and it was not a certainty that we would all get out alive. Indeed, Jimi’s passport was confiscated and he was forced to remain while our group was sent home early. Fortunately, Jimi eventually was released about a week later.

Jimi was one of the first truly international Blacks I knew on a personal level. We went a bunch of places including Barbados (a personal favorite), Trinidad & Tobago, but especially Brazil. It helped a whole lot that Jimi was fluent in Portuguese and also that he knew people up and down the social structures of the various countries we went to.

At one of the many meetings Jimi brought me to, we conversed with cultural workers in Brasil discussing the ups and downs, potentials and pitfalls of what was then called “cultural tourism”. There was always a political undercurrent steady flowing through our travels and connections. And in Brasil, from the fabled Sugarloaf Mountain with the gigantic Jesus-statue on its crest, to the favelas where the poor were encased, everywhere we went there was a lot to learn.

Which brings me to Angola Janga: Kingdom of Runaway Slaves. (Thank you Ms. Lynn Pitts for bringing this book to my attention.) This is a graphic novel by Marcelo D’Salete focusing on Palmares, the historic Brazilian resistance movement. 

D’Salete is an internationally acclaimed illustrator born in 1979 who earned a master’s degree in art history from the University of Sao Paulo. Angola Janga is a powerful, richly researched, 432-page graphic novel translated from the Portuguese by Andrea Rosenberg.

The focus on Palmares is a conscious choice by D’Salete. He also has another book translated into English, Run For It: Stories of Slaves Who Fought for Their Freedom. Together these two books are an important alternative celebration that illuminates a history of resistance that deserves to be more widely known.

Most of us may never get to Brasil, nevertheless all of us need to be aware of the struggles in the heart of this country that is the home of the largest population of Black people outside of Africa.

 

http://bamalovesoul.bandcamp.com/album/covers-8

Whatever. Enables us to carry on even when we don’t feel like going. No where. No how. Or conversely feeling good, walking along and singing no particular song, just a little something something we made up, a hum, a whistle, a whisper, a shout. Just something.

Why we be like that? Who knows for sure? Just sure we give thanks for the music in us, eternally coming out.

Here’s a collection of cover pieces. Yeah, I know. The originals was the jams, and most times covers be but pale imitations. I ain’t maintaining these are better than the songs’ debut appearances, just saying, sometimes, especially when no one else is looking, or only a certain special someone is near by, or, hell, we could be standing in some line somewhere, and the melody just tumble out across our lips, and whomsoever be around, we don’t care. 

I got a song in my heart and I just got to let it out.

You know what I mean. (That’s a declaration, not a question.)

Enjoy!

 

Art is a product of the human imagination, and as such, all humans make art. Moreover, even though specific cultures may invent ways of making art, humans can learn from each other and participate in each other’s art making processes. As simple as it sounds, what any subset of humanity does, another subset of humanity can learn to do.

What we don’t know, we can learn; what we do know, we can teach. We really don’t have to accept the supremacy of one group over another, whether on a political, economic, cultural, or gender basis. When we make meaningful art we uplift ourselves as well as set an invaluable example for others.

All of which leads me to Augusta Savage, a 20th century sculptor whose work is too often ignored, overlooked. She is unknown to most of us even though she was a stalwart of the fabled Harlem Renaissance. The ups and downs of her personal life in many ways personifies the story of her people. 

Augusta Christine Fells was born February 29, 1892 in Green Cove Springs, Florida. She was the daughter of a Methodist preacher who literally, physically beat her for practicing her art because he believed, as the old testament instructed, one should not make graven images before God.

On both a personal and a social level, how many of us come up in circumstances which are antithetical to our personal desires, our dreams? Fortunately for us, Augusta refused to succumb to pressures to cease and desist creative artwork.

By the time she graduated high school, encouraged by a principal at a school in West Palm Beach, where her family then resided, Augusta was actually teaching a clay modeling class. Think on it. When you were a child, daddy used to beat you for doing your art work, and yet, by the end of high school you are teaching an art making class to your peers.

Over the following years, numerous people recognized her talent and she won scholarships and fellowships. In 1921 she was admitted to Cooper Union in New York. The twenties was the Garvey Era, the watchwords were “Up you mighty race, you can accomplish what you will.”

Her will to both teach as well as create is a defining characteristic of Augusta Savage. She launched the Savage Studio Of Arts And Crafts. Among her students who would become world famous were visual artist Jacob Lawrence and sociologist Kenneth Clark. As an artist one of her most famous creations was Lift Every Voice And Sing, popularly known simply as The Harp.

Created on commission for the 1939 New York World’s Fair, the sixteen-foot plaster sculpture was often photographed and eventually copies were made. Ironically, Savage did not have the money to have a bronze casting done and the original was destroyed upon the close of the fair.

In later years Savage moved to the New York state countryside where she continued to both create her artwork and to teach students. She died of cancer on March 26, 1962.

An ardent believer in the beauty of her people regardless of the ugliness of the conditions within which we were often forced to live, Augusta Savage set a sterling example as a creative artist.

 

Lyrical funk from cross the water. For all the old souls of whatever age. It won’t take long for you to know whether you dig it or not. Jazzie B is an OG from an earlier era who was big back in the day

And although not frequently heard on the contemporary playlists, he is still very much taking care of catering the joyous noise of life. Happy, happy to hear his 2014 curated assemblage of late eighties era sounds and sound-a-likes.

Pat your foot. Nod your head. One more once again, we flowing back to life. Tee-total enjoy.

All three are about honoring soldiers who died in battle. (“One of the Earliest Memorial Day Ceremonies Was Held by  Freed Slaves”). Two of the views are about opposing combatants in the U.S. Civil War. (The contested Confederate roots of Memorial Day).

Today, in the late teens of the 21st century, the U.S. teeters back and forth as a politically divided nation. The political issues surrounding Memorial Day play out in numerous and fractional ways. 

The third, and currently popular view, honors U.S. soldiers in general. The historical record is skimpy and far from precise. As with all things involving humans, there are conflicting and even contradictory issues. You be the judge.

—Kalamu ya Salaam

 

At the turn of the century in the 1900s between Reconstruction and the first World War there was born a man who was one of America’s most significant musicians. Tall. Black. Poised. A leader. A soldier. An organizer. And ultimately a tragic martyr who died at the hands of one of his own men.

His name was James Reese Europe. Born February 22, 1880 in Mobile, Alabama. When he was 10, his family migrated to Washington, DC. When he was 25 he set up permanent residence in New York City. He died May 9, 1919 in Boston, the victim of a jealous drummer in his band. He was only 39 years old.

Most of us have never heard of him. Although, during his life time, he was often billed as a king of jazz and a maestro of ragtime, today he is overlooked. Under appreciated. His life and musical compositions seldom cited.

Indeed, I was not consciously looking for him when a reference flashed on screen while I was online searching for something else. Even though I had recently included him in an essay I wrote for a presentation at the U.S. Mint in New Orleans on Esplanade Avenue at the Mississippi river, I did not have him in the top of my concerns. I am ashamed of myself. How could I forget so important a figure in our musical history?

Jim Europe was in demand in the major East Coast metropoles. He was admired, sought after, and constantly employed. In 1910 he organized the Clef Club, an all Black organization for people in the music industry. The Clef Club not only sponsored performances, it also served as a musician’s union and booking agency. In 1912 he gave an historic concert at Carnegie Hall, over a decade before George Gershwin and Paul Whiteman. For the concert, Europe assembled a 125 member orchestra. In 1913 he was among the first Black ensembles to make recordings on Victor Records.

Look at him. In 1916 he enlisted in the New York national guard. During the war years, Lieutenant Europe not only organized and led military bands he is credited with taking ragtime and jazz to Europe as a member and officer of the 369th Regiment, aka the Harlem Hellfighters in which he was both a band leader and the lead officer in a machine gun squad.

As I sat scanning my computer, all it took was one mention in passing, and the seed that was planted deep in my subconscious sprung awake. In less that five minutes on the internet I was able to reclaim Mr. Europe’s legacy.

Here are three videos, arranged in order of significance.

First is a brief animated introduction that gives an overview of Europe’s life.

The second video features footage and period photographs focusing mostly on his World War I experiences.

And the third features pianist Jason Moran giving an informal lecture about the work of this great man with piano demonstrations and ending with a mini-concert that includes three students on flute, saxophone and sousaphone.

Don’t be slow. Get in step. Learn about the greatness of James Reese Europe.

 

This composition was on Ornette Coleman’s 1959 album The Shape Of Jazz To Come. Dig it or not, Ornette totally reshaped an approach to jazz. I have said before, in jazz, all the best vocalists want to sound like horns, and all the best horn players want to sound like singers. That kind of lyricism regardless of what they are playing. But with Ornette there was another element, his alto horn had a deep blues under flow. Whether his sound appeals to you is another matter, but there is no denying the blues inflections. And perhaps never more so then on one of his signature compositions.

I dug the song so much—and that’s what this composition was, a song—that I wrote a poem to it. Years later, I recorded the poem with Courtney Bryan on piano. I suggested she play off the melody and the feel of the tune. Only toward the end do we hear the distinctive melody, which I deeply love.

Here, let me step back a second. Up until 1959, most critics were praising the Modern Jazz Quartet as the most original jazz ensemble of the fifties era, and perhaps they were given the proclivity toward the so-called “cool” jazz stylings with their ornate, even at times baroque stylings. The MJQ, especially with Milt Jackson on vibes, was steeped in the blues, even though the majority of their Atlantic albums often were tinged, or sometimes even outright purveyors of classical music. But even then, Bags (as Jackson was affectionately known), although playing an instrument not associated with the blues, had a way of bringing the noise. There was jazz before Ornette, and certainly after Ornette, but the turn toward the classical was an MJQ forte, and that is what was being upended at the end of jazz’s fifth decade. Bags made it clear it was back to the blues.

But what was also clear is that the fixed notes of the piano, or the vibes, for that matter, made it difficult to master the blues, especially those flattened tones, all that whooping and hollering. Sounding like a black baptist preacher on communion Sunday, or better yet, somewhat like Reverend Gary Davis (and if you don’t know who he is, you best get yourself together and check him out), or even more better, Ornette be like a raucous Son House. And as if to make the blues references clear, even to those with tampered scales in their ears, check out Ornette in a trio format, actually mostly a duet with bassist Charlie Haden, who had been a member of Ornette’s trend setting quartet.

Ok, that’s enough for one session.

—kalamu

 

 

“The basic confrontation which seemed to be colonialism versus anti-colonialism, indeed capitalism versus socialism, is already losing its importance. What matters today, the issue which blocks the horizon, is the need for a redistribution of wealth. Humanity will have to address this question, no matter how devastating the consequences may be.”
Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth

 

Here is a short documentary about Frantz Omar Fanon. You need to see it.

Especially because in the 21st century, most of us do not read. We are consumed by and with the convenience of the internet. And if not consumed, we are oriented toward the internet for the bulk of both our entertainment and education; to enjoy ourselves and to learn about the world we live in. But if one is serious about life, we ought to supplement the easily accessed internet with selected literature that both exposes us to what we don’t know as well as challenges us to struggle to learn more than we already know.

To most of us Frantz Fanon is just a name. There are few pictures. No generally available recordings that I know of. And, although lionized in selected intellectual circles, as far as the general public is concerned, in the 21st century there are only superficial mentions of Fanon’s ideas in contemporary publications. So here are both a video and a recent collection of Fanon’s writings, to supplement his major works popularly available. The video and book combination also serve as critical tools for those interested in a serious study of Frantz Fanon the writer beyond Frantz Fanon the t-shirt icon.

The man from Fort-de-France, Martinique became a psychiatrist for the world. Not just the so-called third world, mind you, but the entire of this spinning blue and green spheroidal-shaped cosmic object we call planet earth. Fanon trained as a physician focusing on the mentally ill. While serving in the French administration he was assigned to Algeria. He eventually joined the Algerian liberation movement and became an ambassador of the tri-continnetal struggle of Africa, Asia and Latin America. At the same time he was adopted as a prophet among radical European and American intellectuals and activists.

Fanon’s name, work, and writings rivaled any theorist of revolution, including Marx, Lenin, and Mao. His intellectual depth was staggering in the mix of philosophical profundity and revolutionary relevance. He was the one who taught us that when guided by conscious theory grounded in social reality, violence could be revolutionary and not just reactionary.

His life was short. July 20, 1925 – December 6 – 1961, not even a proverbial forty years. It is even more shocking that he died in Washington, DC, which he considered the heart of worldwide imperialism. When cancer struck he reluctantly traveled there for leukemia treatment.

 

He was the author of three impressive analysis of the social and psychological conditions of third world people: Black Skins, White Masks (1962) which ripped the covers off the psychological damage done to victims of colonialism; A Dying Colonialism (1969), grounded in his medical work and subsequently revolutionary work on behalf of the Algerian revolution; and The Wretched Of The Earth (1961), his magnum opus often described as the handbook of the revolutionary movements of the sixties and seventies.

The reaction to his output was universal. He literally was studied worldwide in both formal schools and indigenous huts, on industrial streets and in agrarian fields, throughout both metropoli and backwaters. Everywhere the poor, the oppressed, and those who resisted their birth conditions existed, that is where Fanon was sought and studied.

In the anglophone west his writings were not published in the chronological order in which they were written. Moreover, he wrote far more than is generally known. Fortunately there is a massive collection now available in English that offers a more fulsome appreciation and cataloguing of Fanon’s significant body of literary work. Frantz Fanon Alienation And Freedom (2018, initially published in Paris, France 2015) is 796 pages with sections on Fanon’s scripts for the theatre; his psychiatric writings; his political writings; his correspondence in France and Italy; and, concluding with a cataloging of Fanon’s library plus a brief but revealing chronology of key dates in Fanon’s life.

“What matters is not to know the world but to change it.”
Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks

 

Samm sangs — yall know what that means; “sangs” means another step beyond merely singing; means going into the deep self (both conscious and subconscious, as well as the unconscious)  and pulling up a sound that springs from the four major areas that provide fertile ground to root, grow and enable your sound to flower. The total locus and motion of that is located in the head, heart, gut, and groin. And don’t forget, we are considering all of this within the context of music by Samm Henshaw.

The head part is the expression of all your thoughts. Some people are expert at making clear the logic, and possible inevitability of all their ruminations, their ponderings, their meditations, analyzations, conclusions, hunches, intuitions, all the things that run through the brain and can be expressed in word and/or sound (sometimes there are no words but there is a sound that perfectly expresses whatsoever be going on). I do realize in some cultures, sight is the way, might even be smell and the taste/texture of good food. There are many ways to express ourselves. Could be a dance, or something else entirely. Anyway, that’s the head part.

As an artist, Samm Henshaw is a shifty halfback with the power of a fullback. He goes where a lot of songs don’t go. Most so-called love songs be focusing on lust and sex. Samm has a more profound understanding hence he also emotes about agape and companionship, or like the old Jackie Wilson R&B song go — he wants “a woman, a lover, and a friend”, which all collectively profiles his particular gender preferences (i.e. woman), his sexual desire, (i.e. lover), and ultimately his need for companionship (i.e. friend).

> “BETTER” — The Sound Experiment – EP

The heart is the art of feelings, of expressing feelings, sometimes a gesture, or a deed, not always a word, or a letter written to or about a person, but could be a moment, maybe an especial experience, whatever righteously generates a serious emotional reaction. We don’t necessarily know how come or where from, we just feel the thing is real, because as any fool know and the wise certainly understand, ain’t nothing like the real thing. And guess what, stuff that’s plastic (regardless of plastic’s seemingly inexpensiveness or its convenience, still) ain’t nothing like. . .

By the way, there is an important book, A General Theory Of Love, that offers a fuller understanding on the multifaceted aspects of this thing we call love — uses scientific observation and deduction to explain the metaphysical and spiritual elements of love, I think you will dig it.

Now the gut, well, the gut is not just a hankering to satisfy a physical hunger. The gut be about survival and what any of us will do to keep on keeping on. Survival is a mean master, will have you up early in the morning looking into somebody’s mirror and asking that reflection is that me? Am I really here cause I crave a tasting of whatever or whoever bees up in this here room?

The fourth center is the groin, which is deeply misunderstood, deeply diminished in terms of its full function in the human context. I once heard the groin crassly described as a sewerage plant and an amusement park combined into one. Except physical elimination is absolute necessary for the health of the human body; and, of course, procreation is necessary for the survival of the species. If you think about it, that viewpoint puts another kind of spin on the groin.

Philosophically, music is a serious upliftment when we deal with the totality (head, heart, gut, and groin) of human existence. For a fuller understanding thereof, some of us go to church, some to the mosque, some to the synagog, some to the temple, some just commune with nature. All of us be seeking something outside of ourselves to complete the inside of ourselves, the thoughts and feelings of ourselves, the yearning for communication and embracement, to communicate with the force beyond ourselves, indeed, the force that created the self (even though our individual consciousness might be totally sui generis). In any case, those who are seekers seek a reciprocal relationship, i.e. to embrace and to be embraced. Love, then, is actually a quest for howsoever we fulfill that need, that yearning to embrace and be embraced; embracement far beyond just someone’s warm and welcoming arms. When you listen to the sweep of Samm’s striking sounds, the way he sangs, you can hear and receive aspects of all that.

 

> “CHURCH”

By the way, my man sound like he must be Otis Reddings’ second cousin’s grandson, or something like that. He got that river deep all up in his voice, and then come to find out he of Nigerian heritage, living up in the UK, doing music that often employs that bad, Black (African American) back-beat. This must be what heaven sounds like. Or maybe, might even actually be heaven when we sound like this.

 

P.S. — Ok, O-Kaaayyyy! Here’s a little lagniappe, some solo Samm. If you’re of a mind to, do so deeply enjoy.

 

—Kalamu ya Salaam / May 2019 – New Orleans

Lupita Nyong’o Is Tethered To This Genius ‘Us’-Themed Tap Dance Routine

The Academy Award winner was impressed with this dance routine that taps into the Jordan Peele horror hit.

Lupita Nyong’o received critical acclaim for her performance in Jordan Peele’s “Us,” and now the Oscar winner is applauding another performance inspired by the movie.

The “Black Panther” star shared a video on Instagram on Friday showing a group of tap dancers performing to a film-score version of Luniz’s ’90s hip-hop classic “I Got 5 on It,” which was featured in the movie and trailer

“Talent!” Nyong’o wrote on Instagram. 

The tap dancers are a part of a Los Angeles group called the Syncopated Ladies. The dance, choreographed by Emmy Award-winning choreographer Chloe Arnold, incorporated the movie’s theme of living among doppelgängers, who are referred to in the film as the “tethered.” 

The Syncopated Ladies have previously made headlines for their dance routines. In 2016, their performance to Beyoncé’s “Formation” was widely shared on social media ― even by the Queen Bey herself.  

“Us,” which hit theaters March 22, had the largest ever opening weekend for an original horror film, according to Variety. 

 

> https://www.huffpost.com/entry/us-movie-lupita-nyongo-tap-dancers_n_5ccda08be4b04e275d4b0e24?ncid=tweetlnkushpmg00000067