Info

Kalamu ya Salaam's information blog

Posts tagged neo-griot

Choose another tag?

> Joy Denalane–Jazz Open Stuttgart 27 July 2006

Recently, I woke up one morning thinking about a jumble of unrelated dreams and realities. I do not know specifically from where a focus on Germany came. I have been to Germany twice, once for a conference and the second time to participate in a theatre production. I was in Munich for over two weeks and had a number of memorable experiences. Once, as I stumbled around trying to find an out-of-the-way site, an elderly man approached me. He asked could he help me, as he saw I looked lost. I thanked him and was directed on how to find the place I was seeking.

That was years ago, well before Katrina, but I have never forgotten the situation. I had been influenced by American culture to think of Germans in terms of Hitler and as promoters of white supremacy. Fortunately, I’ve successfully worked through my issues with pre-judging individual people based on group stereotypes.

One of my most enjoyable German experiences was musical encounters with Afro-German recordings. Of that cohort of musicians, Joy Denalane is my favorite. Her father is from Soweto, South Africa, her mother is from Berlin, Germany. She is a singer who does both soul music and German music, singing in German and English.  I used to get a kick out of introducing her recordings to friends. 

Here is a radio broadcast, Jazz Open Stuttgart July 27, 2006, shortly after Born And Raised, her third major label release. She’s not only deep into the music, Joy also relates her life story in this concert. Enjoy.

 

>> ‘It’s not enough until everything changes.”
On 2nd degree murder charges being brought up against Derek Chauvin in the death of George Floyd, Minneapolis protestor Zoe Schaeffer says, “I won’t be satisfied until I can wake up and have kids and have them not fear their lives for just being black, for being darker than other people … It’s not enough until everything changes.” — MSNBC

 

It is a cliche but it’s also a truism–everything must change. That’s the way of the world. Everything changes. Even this crazy moment.

Given the turmoil following the murder of George Floyd, what happens next is the more relevant and more pressing question. When will systemic change actually occur?

Political observers are calling June 2020 an inflection point. Classically, an inflection point is a moment of crisis engendering momentous change, the moment when the old authorities unavoidably must and will be overcome.

Can the old guard  hold on regardless of the undeniable reality of an uprising that is visible literally worldwide? Will the youth overtake the elders, especially those old (mainly white) men who are in charge?

Even though everybody seems to know that nothing can or will be as it was yesterday, nevertheless, despite what they might say for televised sound-bites, by calling for calm, civility and an end to rebellion, far too many police and politicians act like they favor moving back to the past rather than proceeding forward into a more equitable future. Regardless of the dangers, all across America there is an unstoppable mass of demonstrators who are demanding change. Caught in the middle of contending and contradictory forces, insistent citizens are marching on behalf of justice not only for George Floyd but, indeed, justice for all. 

Black. Brown. Yellow. Red. & White. America’s got to have it–and what is “it”–well, that’s the million dollar question. Back in the sixties the old order asked “what do they want?”–“they” being Negroes and hippies. Ultimately, “they” got a Black president but it now seems that people realize that was not enough. Regardless who is the titular head, if there is not substantial change, the president alone will not matter. Electing a new president is necessary but not sufficient to create the society we need.

Today, over arching contradictions are three-fold: public health, police brutality, and economic chaos. The combination of these three negative forces is too much. The yoke is too heavy. There is a difficult reality that necessarily must be dealt with.

In the first week of June 2020, the coronavirus has killed over 110,000 people. After massive demonstrations, health officials warn that there will probably be a major uptick in the number of virus deaths. People’s health is a priority and if healthy living is not made available to all, the entire society may fall ill to the virus.

Literally millions of Americans (as well as people worldwide) are grappling with the seemingly intractable conflict of the police against the people. Physical clashes have gone on for well over a week. This is not a battle of good versus evil. This is a battle against oppression, especially when the oppression is wielded by forces that theoretically are supposed to be forces of protection.

Which brings us to a foundational problem: the majority of Americas are experiencing an economic disaster. Unemployment has skyrocketed. College educated, young whites, who have never even jay-walked in their life, are facing a bleak future and they are not silently suffering. The people–all genders, colors, religions, from a multiple of social conditions–people are rebelling.

Congress is at an impasse in terms of what to do about the dire financial conditions. At least a quarter of the workforce is unemployed. Bluntly put: many people don’t have enough money to live and have no prospects of obtaining substantial, long term relief. One stimulus check, even two more checks, won’t solve the problem. The problem is that living a good life under capitalism requires a stable and regular source of money. It costs more to live a good life than too many of us will ever earn.

No one should be a pauper! Every worker–and yes, that includes the unpaid labor of maintaining a home–in exchange for daily care giving and labor, every worker should receive all that they need to live. But the bosses will not just give it to us. We must fight the powers that be for our right to live a good life.

We must fight for our right to live a good life!

ONE: Resistance to oppression is the ultimate act of self love.

TWO: You do not have to know all the answer to righteously question authority.

THREE: The two necessary acts of love are 1. Love of self, which creates a healthy individual. 2. Love of others, which creates a healthy society. Moreover, the individual cannot be truly healthy if the society they live in is sick.

Zoe Schaeffer reminds us: a better world is possible if we are willing to care about others. Sometimes the future seems too scary to proceed but we must be brave enough to stand and fight regardless of our fears. Forward with love of and for each other. Forward for the health, well-being, and sustenance of each other.

Never go back. Forward for ever.

 

 

 

 

 

Zanj Bar (land of the blacks). East Africa, the island territory in federation with Tanzania. I was there in 1974 while attending the Sixth Pan African conference in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. I have many memories. Two of the most vivid–one is pain filled, the other beautiful; non-intuitively, both were in the same spot.

We were taken to the east side of the island, bordered by the Indian ocean. We  were shown and actually touched the boulders in the water that had iron rings driven into the tops of them. They were used as mooring points for Arab slave ships. Enslaved people were chained to those rocks in the water while awaiting shipment. The other image is from the same shore.

I have traveled literally around the world, New Orleans to South Korea, the Caribbean and South America, plus Europe. The most beautiful water I have seen is the blue/green waters on the coast of Zanzibar. It was an absolutely enchanting moment when we were driven to a shamba, a small farm on the east coast of the island. When we arrived, it was just a nondescript, small, white stucco building. But when we were led around to the back of the building, we were rewarded with the entrancing vista of the Indian ocean washing ashore.

At first we didn’t notice the food-laden tables. Indeed, a number of our brothers and sisters in the British delegation had on swim suits beneath their street clothes. Some, without any hesitancy whatsoever, shed their outer garments and dove into the water.

I just stood there, starring at the water. We also went on a tour –picture a romantic ramble through a casbah-like town, and a visit to a cigarette factory built and maintained by the Chinese government, along with a radio station. 

I’ve walked on the great wall of China, danced in a Cuban plaza, stood atop the citadel in Haiti, floated on the beaches of Barbados, and so forth. But the waters of Zanzibar. Those emerald waters, they were unforgettable.

Asante, the first born of the five Salaam siblings, next year you’ll be in Zanzibar.

 

 

 

Retired Marine general, and former secretary of defense, James Mattis spoke out via an essay published in The Atlantic magazine. After resigning from the Trump administration in December 2018, Mattis, the legendary “Mad Dog” Marine general, has written an astounding statement that specifically  includes a stinging and unprecedented denunciation of some of the recent 2020 decisions, declarations, and actions of President Trump.

Some commentators call the Mattis precis a major inflection point, a few say–or perhaps more accurately–a significant and vocal cohort hope that this marks the beginning of the end of the reign of a president who is up for re-election in November. While the election is less than a full six months away and many have already unalterably made up their minds, the more important question is what will happen between now and then. Will thousands still be in the streets? Will the virus significantly diminish? Will the national economy rebound?

So many critical questions. There are a multitude of individual political, health and economic questions each of us will have to confront, and hopefully overcome.

Getting to election day over this next half year of social activity will be a hell of a trek. There is a lot to think about. A lot that a lot of people will be forced to do.

Stay tuned.

Better yet, get involved. And at the very least, vote!

Vote your hopes. Vote your convictions. Whatever your views. Whatever else you do. Vote.

 

= = = = = = = = = = = = 

The Case for Letting the Restaurant Industry Die

Tunde Wey.
Tunde Wey, the New Orleans-based activist-artist and cook, has a radical vision of a more equitable culinary world.Photograph by Edmund D. Fountain

 

In late March, not long after the coronavirus brought America’s restaurant industry to a tense and precarious halt, the writer, cook, and artist Tunde Wey posted, to Instagram, the first part of an essay titled “Don’t Bail Out the Restaurant Industry.” “We’re on the cusp of something… ordinary,” it begins. “We’re on the cusp of everything remaining the same.” The piece, which Wey released in ten installments in the course of a week (and later posted in full in his e-mail newsletter), mounts a forceful, deliberately provocative case against the survival tactics that restaurants have turned to in the past two months. Wey, who is thirty-six years old, was born in Nigeria and moved to the U.S. as a teen; after his visa expired, he spent a decade as an undocumented immigrant before finally receiving his green card last year. He’s spent the bulk of his life in America working in and commenting on the restaurant industry; in his Instagram essay, he outlines its racial and economic segregation, its reliance on destructive agricultural practices, its central role in gentrification and community displacement—and argues that, after past destabilizing tragedies like Hurricane Katrina, the rebound of culinary culture only reinforced and deepened those inequities. 

Wey punctuated his essay with a refrain: “Let it die”—a phrase that also serves as the title of a video that he released, on May 9th, to kick off what he hopes will be a series about the restaurant industry at a time of covid-19-driven uncertainty. (“This is the first of a few episodes, or maybe this is the first and last episode,” he says in the opening voice-over. “We’ll see how this thing goes.”) In the eleven-minute video, shot by Wey and a producing partner, he visits the Oakland restaurant of Reem Assil, a Syrian- and Palestinian-American chef whose political activism has put her in a national spotlight. In virtually all respects, Wey and Assil are comrades in arms, both of them horrified by the injustices of capitalist white supremacy and passionately committed to fighting against it. But Wey hasn’t come to listen and nod—he’s come to fight. In front of the cameras, the pair argue about whether a rigged system can ever be changed from within, and whether the work of consciousness-raising is even work at all. Assil has faith; Wey is unconvinced: “If you … still can’t, within this framework, deliver anything more than important but incremental steps, then maybe is the whole project a wash?”

This sort of charismatic confrontationalism underscores all of Wey’s work. His multimedia œuvre comprises writing, videos, and an ongoing series of high-concept events and pop-up businesses that often blur the lines between commerce and performance art. A preferred medium is the price tag: in New Orleans, where he currently lives, he once ran a lunch cart that asked white patrons to pay more than double what he charged people of color, reflecting the city’s racial income disparities. In Nashville, he hosted a series of dinners where hot chicken was free for the neighborhood’s black residents, while white diners were asked to pledge a hundred dollars for one piece, a thousand dollars for four, and the deed to a property for a whole bird plus sides. Rather than provoking the ire of the culinary establishment, Wey’s events, writings, and criticisms have electrified and entranced them. In a 2019 GQ profile of Wey—a story that is currently a finalist for a James Beard Award—the writer Brett Martin described him as running “an abattoir for food-world sacred cows.”

Wey spoke to me recently on the phone from a public bench in the Uptown neighborhood of New Orleans. The city is a covid-19 hotspot, where, as in so many other cities, infection and mortality rates are dramatically higher among black residents. “Right now I’m in a park and people are smiling and taking walks, they have their dogs. This is next door to the reality of folks who don’t have work, who can’t apply for unemployment, who need to to put themselves in positions that are dangerous and unhealthy so they can survive,” he said. “That difference is the shit I want to address in my work. Not because I’m Superman, but because if I don’t, I’m going to be affected.” This conversation has been edited and condensed.

 

The thesis of your essay is that the restaurant industry is so broken that it’s not worth saving. Did you already feel that way before the coronavirus shutdowns sent the industry into crisis?

I had never said those words explicitly—“let it die”—but I don’t think the sheer force of the idea is anything new.

I will say that with most of my work,  I’m always a little circumspect. So even though the sentiment has always been “let it die,” I had never said those exact words. And it wasn’t like I was super comfortable saying it! I have people who I care about who are part of that industry. So, in a way, the essay is euphemistic—only because I know it’s not going to happen, I know the restaurant industry is not going to actually die, so I have the space to be very forceful.

But it wasn’t just an essay about letting things die, it’s also about what can rise from the rubble. There is something better on the other side.

 

Is there something unique to the restaurant industry that makes it particularly deserving of death?

I don’t think there’s anything inherent about the restaurant industry that makes it more worthy of death than any other industry. But it’s an industry that manages to encompass all the different realities of United States life—and I say “United States” because “American” isn’t the right label to encompass all the folks who live here. I’ll be very specific: let’s say you walk into Momofuku at Hudson Yards. You have your transaction: you’re going to buy whatever they sell, and you’re going to leave. But your money is going to Momofuku, which is owned, in part, by David Chang, and owned, in part, by [the real-estate billionaire Stephen Ross’s investment firm] RSE Ventures, which owns multiple companies. The financing of Hudson Yards was done through private capital but also speculative capital, so there was debt involved. But not any kind of debt, a specific debt: commercial mortgage-backed securities. So, all of that is to say that what makes the restaurant industry possible is maybe different from, say, the airline industry, or mining, or some shit. It’s at the intersection of capital, finance, social life, food production, sustenance. It’s all those things. So I think it offers a very important lens to examine the choices that we make.

 

It makes me think of something the Minneapolis restaurant critic Dara Moskowitz Gruhmdahl tweeted in the early days of the coronavirus crisis, which has been on my mind a lot: she wrote that restaurants are the closest thing the United States has to a social safety net. If you lose your job, you try to find work in a restaurant. If you’re formerly incarcerated, you can get a job in a restaurant. If you’re undocumented, restaurants will hire you.

I don’t know if I like that. There’s a conflation there of a safety net with employment—and with precarious employment, at that. It’s sort of like saying that because we don’t have socialized mental-health care in this country, that prisons and jails are the closest things we have to that, and so if we close down prisons and jails, we’re leaving these folks no option but to be on the street. I’m not equating restaurant work to being in prison, but I think the biggest issue with employment in general—anywhere in the world, but especially in the U.S.—is lack of choice. The existence of precarious jobs is not the same as security. On the face of it, that perspective sounds like an excuse to keep an industry going that’s problematic. It sounds terrible. It’s like somebody saying, “Stay in this marriage, even though you are suffering terribly. Stay in it for your children.”

 

I think she meant it critically—critical of America, as well as sort of hand-wringing about the state of restaurant employment.

Oh, well, in that case—as long as it’s not being used as an excuse to save the industry, then I agree with her. I don’t think we should save anything that causes pain and destruction. I want to be clear that I’m only talking about the pain and destruction that restaurants cause. I don’t think they cause pain and destruction to the exclusion of everything else. They do contribute value.

 

In your hypothetical rebirth of the industry, are there affirmative ways you think we can lessen the pain and destruction, and increase the value?

There are things restaurants can do, but it’s hard to do them in a system that doesn’t already, to use your word, affirm those values.

It’s not like I care about restaurants or workers more than a restaurant owner or a chef, but I do think they are loath to see a future other than what already exists. That’s because of their investment in the current system, which benefits them. I don’t mean to say that the benefit they accrue is so large and so bountiful that they’re consciously trying to keep workers down, though I’m sure that’s true for some corporations. What’s more true is that privilege and power become invisible when you have them. Even restaurant owners who may care about their workers ultimately care more about themselves. Workers care about themselves, too, but they don’t have the power to act on that care. I’m losing my point. What was the question?

 

Are there affirmative things restaurants can change to create a more equitable system?

The options available to workers are limited when this larger system exists as it does. It’s super strange right now to see all this energy around organizing for the benefits of owners and the ownership class. If there’s anything I think should be done, it’s that restaurant owners should abandon entirely their pursuit of a bailout specific to the industry, and focus on policy and government programs that support people generally. If everyone had access to health care, housing, leisure, education for their children, education for themselves—all these things I think are rights—and if all these things they had access to were of high quality, I’m sure some business owners wouldn’t even return to ownership.

The only truly affirmative and sustainable response is a governmental response—one that’s universal, that’s agnostic of industries, at least initially, and that focuses on developing a really robust social safety net, so we don’t have to rely on unfortunate, fake safety nets like poor restaurant jobs.

 

The “Let It Die” video was based on footage you’d shot pre-covid-19, for a different series. What was that originally supposed to be?

It was going to be a show—the working title was “Hard to Swallow: A Food Show Not About Food”—where we wanted to show the consequences of the production and consumption of food. Our first episode was going to be about New Orleans: how it’s a black city, the food is black, the folks that visit there come for all that black shit, but black chefs don’t get the attention. They don’t get the awards. They don’t get the same recognition as white chefs, which they are due.

But then covid-19 happened, and it’s such an overwhelming story, it touches everything—this is, in essence, what our show would have been about anyway. So we decided to re-cut some of what we’d already shot to tell a story about covid-19—one which is about more than the “resilience,” and I’m using scare quotes there—of the restaurant industry but instead is a larger story, one that’s historically grounded in other disasters that have affected communities and industries. What came from that? Who can we expect to win, who can we expect to lose? Spoiler: it’s the same people who win, the same people who lose.

 

Why did you choose to focus on Reem Assil—a Syrian-Palestinian chef based in Oakland, California—for the first episode?

I think Reem is interesting. Now that I think about it, in a way, she parallels Barack Obama. She’s an organizer, she’s someone who is an idealist and doing radical work, but who also thinks that the way to actualize her vision of the world is by working within a more conventional system. She thinks about it like, if she’s on the inside, she can change things from there. The first half of the episode, which we shot before covid-19, is the two of us dancing around that question: Can you renovate a burning house? Can you renovate a single room in a burning house?

I do think, after that conversation, I had convinced her to be less optimistic about working within the system. But, as she says in the show, she believes that you can have a dual existence, that you have to occupy multiple lives. One of the lives she occupies is running a business that sustains her and her family, and one of the lives pushes for a future that is abundantly equitable.

But then, for “Let It Die,” we interviewed her again—this time after the pandemic hit—and she’s now like, “This shit is crazy, and I can’t continue to do the work that I said I could do. You can’t make concessions, because any concessions you make will help you forget or ignore that a radical system can hardly exist in a conventional space.”

That’s interesting, to me. That’s a level of complexity, in a person, that’s hard to find.

 

In the video, after your initial conversation, you do say you think you’ve made her more cynical, but you also say that you might be a little more open to her belief in changing things from within the system.

I don’t think I was converted, though. There’s a difference between cynicism and pragmatism. With cynicism comes a certain dourness, and with pragmatism comes a more concerted choice to act. I guess what I was saying was that after our conversation I felt less sad. Not that I was any more convinced that what she was doing could work.

I definitely believe in making money so you can survive, and I would like to think that the work I do is grounded in numbers and lives. What I believe and what maybe Reem could believe—but she didn’t exactly say this—is that I don’t think money is a solution. I do believe that not having money is a problem. But the part where money is not a solution is so important. It takes us back to the idea of restaurants as a safety net: not having money is a fucking problem, and that’s why people need to work. But having money is not a solution, especially when you don’t have enough.

 

Money has been a subject of so much of your—what do you consider your work? Events? Installations? Public performance-art commercial actions?

My mom’s always like, “How you gonna make money?” and I’m like, look, bro, God will help us all. You can call my work whatever you want.

 

Let’s just stick with “your work,” then. Your most recent event, in December, involved asking hospitals to buy packaged food at a high mark-up, and you’d give the profits to the communities they served.

It’s interesting, because it dovetails with what we’re seeing right now with the pandemic, because it was about racial health disparities. It was born from a conversation I had with a medical doctor who does social-justice work, Michelle Morse. Infant mortality in the black community is higher than white infant mortality, and one of the places where this disparity is especially noticeable is Kalamazoo, Michigan. So that’s where the work began—we called it BabyZoos, because of Kalamazoo.

If you look at what’s being done to address these disparities, all of the efforts are focussed on medical solutions, with a lot of urgency around improving access to care, improving delivery of health services. But the doctors working on these problems, at least in Kalamazoo, they’ll all tell you the issue isn’t just that, it’s a broad range of factors, the so-called “social determinants of health.” Housing, income, education—all these things actually impact the health outcomes of black folks. So what I wanted to do was focus my efforts on the most direct health-correlation factor I could, which is income. It’s about resource transfer to address racial health disparities.

That was the plan. What I found out was that hospitals didn’t care. Hospitals and health organizations didn’t care.

 

What will you do next?

I figure it’s easier to focus on individuals, so I’m going direct-to-consumer. I’m launching a pantry-staples brand in the next couple of months that does the same thing I was trying to do with BabyZoos: sell food products, and distribute the bulk of the profits to black communities. We’re not asking questions, we’re not putting folks who get the money on camera, we’re not asking for testimonials. There’s a tendency among folks who are engaged in charity work to trot out the beneficiaries of the charity, and I think that’s fucked up. We’re just going to say, “Hey, take this money, and use it.

We’re going to be selling salt. The salt is going to be called Lot.

 

After Lot’s wife, who turned into a pillar of salt?

Yeah, you got it. I’m also working with [the sustainable spice company] Burlap and Barrel on a condiment brand, Disappearing Condiments, which isn’t up and running yet. We’ll be selling fermented locust beans, which are indigenous to West Africa.

 

Will you be offering asymmetric pricing—charging more to white customers, for example—like you’ve done at some of your events?

No, not with the fermented locust beans. There are some things we’re thinking through with the salt, but I’m not sure if this is the right avenue for it. The idea is just to have a competitively-priced, high-quality product that competes with the more conventional condiments and pantry staples.

 

Like, it’s just a really good salt, and people buy it because it’s good salt—not because they’re going out of their way to buy it in order to exorcise a sense of white guilt?

What I’ve realized with the work I’m doing, hosting dinners, doing these—what did you call them? Public-performance actions? You have to convince the customer of your ideology before they divest of their resources. With the salt, I wanted to try to decouple the two. If you need salt, buy the salt. You don’t need to believe that you are anti-racist, or believe that you are racist, or even believe that the world is fucked up. You can just buy the salt.

I want to create viable products that can compete in the marketplace, so I can extract as much resources as possible and redirect them to communities that need them the most.

 

Isn’t this the same approach that you’re so skeptical of in “Let It Die”? That seems like exactly what Reem was trying to convince you of in the first half of the episode.

I guess! This is not an ideological question, right? It’s a material question. When you can’t buy malaria medicine, or you can’t put food on your table, it becomes about more than ideology. It’s a concrete, material battle. I mean, people are dying. Right now, people are dying. A month ago, in Lagos, where my parents live, there were young, able-bodied men going into neighborhoods demanding food from people under threat of violence. There were other people who formed a militia to encircle neighborhoods to keep those men away. This is reality. That’s not a consequence of Africans or Nigerians being incompetent or unprepared, it’s a consequence of a global system that extracts more and more from Africans, people of color, black folks, working-class folks. That needs to be addressed. If that means running a conventional business, I guess that is what it is. I’m conventional in that sense. I don’t want people to die.

 

Last year, you were profiled by Brett Martin in GQ—and now that piece is a finalist for a James Beard Award. That must feel strange, to see someone be rewarded for observing you closely.

It’s a mindfuck, on a couple levels. A friend pointed out that I myself write about my own life—and now somebody else is being recognized for writing about my life, even though I already do this. Her example—and I thought it was great—was that it’s like somebody going to [the legendary New Orleans chef] Leah Chase’s kitchen, watching her make fried chicken, working with her, taking her recipe, tweaking it, and then winning an award for that recipe. I was like, Shit, that is incredible.

But also Brett, who wrote the essay, is a friend, and he had become more of a friend in the course of the writing of the profile. As we started developing our relationship, I was very critical of his coverage of white people—white chefs, specifically. I remember saying to him, “Brett, this exploration of the minutiae of whiteness is problematic.” I was like, man, we don’t need to read another Sean Brock profile. The shit he’s doing is cool but, with all due respect, we don’t need to hear about him again. Can we get some other people on the books?

 

Do you hope your profile wins?

I hope Brett wins because I like Brett. But it doesn’t matter to me. I actually got e-mails and texts congratulating me, and I was, like, “No, dude, that’s not me, that’s not me at all.” I have a book coming out about my actual life, so maybe people can tune into that.

 

When is that coming out?

I’m still writing it. My editors are being very kind to me.

I do want to say, about the profile, that I’m ambivalent about media, but I also crave it. I need it, because my work is not tangible, and it’s small in scope. So I need these media milestones as reminders of my work, to myself and to others. It’s also my calling card. It lets people know what I’m about. When I introduce myself in an e-mail, I say, “My name is Tunde, I’m a Nigerian immigrant, artist, cook, and writer.” And then I hyperlink to the GQ article and something I wrote for the San Francisco Chronicle. People click on GQ’s Web site and they see my fucking oily face on there and they don’t even need to read the thing, they just know I’m for real and they give me a chance. I need that.

But I also recognize that GQ didn’t write the essay. It was a person. Brett Martin wrote it. By that, I mean that GQ is a network of people. Brett made the case for me, and then there’s an editor who is also a person—they put the piece together, and it came out. People made that choice. A lot of the time, when some article comes out about me—and I’m sure when this interview comes out, it will happen—people will be like “congratulations,” as if this came by divine force. But it’s people. Helen Rosner woke up one day and was like, “Let me talk to Tunde,” and that’s it: you make decisions, you have the imprimatur of The New Yorker. But The New Yorker is made up of people, and they’re people who are mostly white. So my ambivalence toward these institutions is my ambivalence toward the institutions of whiteness.

My work is no more or less worthy because it’s written about, but I’m so glad it is, because otherwise I would be more disposable than I am.

 

I wouldn’t say you’re disposable.

Shit, Helen, we’re all disposable. You’re disposable, too. The New Yorkercould be like Helen, we’re downsizing because people aren’t advertising anymore. That’s how this works. Same with me. We all have to find ways to keep ourselves indispensable, for the time being.

 

 

MINNEAPOLIS , MINNESOTA – MAY 31: The makeshift memorial and mural outside Cup Foods where George Floyd was murdered by a Minneapolis police officer on Sunday, May 31, 2020 in Minneapolis , Minnesota. (Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

“Peace on the left, Justice on the right!” is a chant that emanated from the George Floyd memorial program at the site of his murder.

Protests against police brutality and police shootings have reached a new level of nationwide outcries. Up to the response to George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis by policeman Derek Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck, the most famous, and too often most controversial, protest against police murders was the taking of a knee by professional football athlete Colin  Kaepernick. 

Digital technology, and specifically cameras on mobile phones often offer contradictory views from official police reports. Initially, the police report stated that Floyd resisted arrest. But camera footage by bystanders contradicted the initial police report. Specifically, the most damning footage was from a seventeen-year-old woman who posted to Facebook and emotionally distraught gave a statement about what she saw and what she videoed.

TV REPORT ON FLOYD VIDEO

 

Three days later, one of the police officers was charged with third-degree murder. There is nevertheless a long way to go. Jailing and conviction of police officers who shoot or otherwise brutalize and murder civilians, particularly Black men.

Check out this powerful analysis by Trevor Noah, the host of the Daily Show on television.

Stay woke. A luta continua (the struggle continues).

 

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 20the year 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.

 

 

 

 

Literally ‘more than nothing’, colloquially ‘this is what I mean’–us, our culture, what we do, what we sing, how we are. Brazilian musical genius Joe Ben gifted this to us during a period of great political turmoil in the early sixties, which was also a time of beauty and activism. Get out our way, we coming through. The force of our music makes us move, will make you move, we always, always move on. Mas que nada!

 

Lakecia Benjamin “Presents Pursuance-The Music of the Coltranes” on January 11th, 2020 at Le Poisson Rouge in New York City as part of the New York City Winter Jazzfest. I believe this is an Alice Coltrane theme. The core band is Lakecia Benjamin, alto saxophone, Lonnie Plaxico, bass, Darrell Green, drums and Zaccai Curtis, piano joined by a guest flutist.

Lakecia has found her sound. She was never really lost. Has been resolute. Moving straight ahead. Young and bold but also wise enough to know she had to study, had to work at attaining the goals she had in mind. Had to be around. Others. Veteran musicians and music lovers. People in the industry. Fellow sound slingers.

Being popular helps one get work but popularity alone is not enough to make a major contribution to the art. To the long tradition of jazz history. To making a mark on the wall of creators who made a difference.

You have to last more than a minute. She has. You have to achieve originality. She has.

She cracked the code of figuring out how to forge forward by reaching back. And at the same time, not to merely imitate what others have done, what your teachers, your heroes, those you admire, what they did. How they sounded in their sounding. After all you can only become part of the sacred whole by being yourself, not by being someone else.

For a minute, one might have thought she was going to settle for being just another among many who were content to be popular for a time period but of no great impact on the future, no major contribution to extending the tradition, but she had other goals in mind.

Lakecia plays alto saxophone and decided to step into the light of the greatest saxophonist in jazz history: John Coltrane. And not just Coltrane the man, but rather Coltrane the family man whose consort, Alice Coltrane, was a composer and instrumentalist in her own rite. Lakecia embraced both of them as a model for what she wanted to achieve.

And thus was born Lakecia’s new release. Thirteen tracks of Coltrane music. Clearly this is the music of today; informed but not confined by the aesthetics of classic/contemporary jazz with a taste of hip hop. Especially the rhythms. She is never merely an imitator. She has her own fire. And brings that noise.

You know it is not Trane (or Alice). And it’s not just that she plays alto instead of tenor or piano. You know this is not music twenty or more years old, even though the compositions are from a much earlier era. Even though some of the cast of musicians were contemporaries of Trane, a couple even performed with Trane. Indeed, the assemblage could even be considered a who’s who of jazz musicians past and present.

With alto saxophonist Lakecia Benjamin, drummer Darrell Green, bassist Lonnie Plaxico, pianist Zaccai Curtis, vocalist Charenee Wade, and special guests: vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater, bassist Reggie Workman, alto saxophonist Steve Wilson, and violinist Regina Carter.

On one recording, Lakecia brings together Reggie Workman, Ron Carter, Gary Bartz, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Meshell Ndegecello, Regina Carter, Bertha Hope, Las Poets, Greg Osby, Steve Wilson, John Benitez, Marc Cary, Marcus Gilmore, Keyon Harrold, Marcus Strickland, Brandee Younger, Georgia Anne Muldrow and Jazzmela Horn.

One might think this is a can’t miss grouping but the truth is at every instance, on every cut, Lakecia is not only the leader, she is instantly identified as a guiding light, the sonic laser and leading force. You hear this and know: this is Lakecia Benjamin.

She has that hard (won) sound of surprising intensity and elegance. Pursuance is a recording not to be missed.