Friday, May 19, 2006

Dellums for Mayor

May 6/May 20

The Oakland mayoral race is approaching its Tuesday, June 6 finale soon. With just under 3 weeks to go, politically it looks like Ignacio De La Fuente, currently Vice Mayor, City of Oakland, and former Congressman, and native Oaklander, Ron Dellums are the two candidates with the best chance at winning, De La Fuente ahead, not because Dellums is the lesser man for the job, rather it's because De La Fuente has a stronger and more visible presence.

As I drive to work in San Antonio District, past Laney College, I don't see any Dellums' posters anywhere, yet I see De La Fuente everywhere. I also see plenty for Aimee Allison, Gulf War Conscientious Objector, a sister running for City Council, Second District, which is good. This is De La Fuente's stumping ground; perhaps she might upset the race. Visit

Whether people acknowledge it or not, De La Fuente is a presence in Oakland, whether that is his interest in the Raiders and corporate deals to support big business expansion, or his interest in public education and support for programs like the African Roots of Jazz, an organization in schools in Fruitvale and San Antonio which offers kids alternative strategies to gang violence and delinquency, strategies which promote wellness, peace, pride and dignity.

Dellums, on the other hand, is a folk hero in Oakland, the celebrity son returning home. He has an historic presence, unmatched by any. His run for office was at the request of his constituency, residents tired of 8 years of Brown, people who know De La Fuente will be more of the same. Nancy Nadel could have been perhaps a breath of fresh air if her tenure on Oakland's City Council had been a bit more forceful. Perhaps if the strong mayor policy had passed, extending its madate past Brown's tenure then she might have had more clout. As it is, she has a strong local constitueny, Dellums might lack, as a new man around town to some. At the debate, Nadel and Dellums agreed quite a bit. It's too bad there isn't a way both can win, like in presidental campaigns.

At the debate at Holy Names University last month, Nadel mentioned several occasions where she'd introduced policies for housing, environment, etc., which were not passed. What passed was her bill for more police, something De La Fuente is strong on too, law enforcement.

Dellums, to his credit, didn't fall into the trap of penalizing the poor for their poverty whether that was economic, educational or spiritual. Dellums is a quiet campaign, when the squeaky wheel often gets the votes, the visible candidate the person people remember when s/he goes to the polls. I saw no Dellums posters on the thoroughfare, 14th Street near the African American Museum and Library on either side of the 980 freeway -- not a one in any of the windows. Before I left out of the house on my way to AAMLO a few weeks ago now, I got a call from Dwayne Wiggins of "Tony Toni Toni." I thought he'd read my review of the Keyshia Cole concert, I was surprised when he endorsed John Russo for State Assembly when Sandre Swanson is also running and he's been endorsed by Congresswoman Barbara Lee and many other African Americans of stature.

What's in it for Wiggins?

(I had an opportunity to ask Wiggins this past Thursday evening at James Gayles' exhibition, Blues Masters at the gallery inside the Elihu Harris State Building Gallery, in Oakland. He said that he hadn't known Swanson, even though he'd known of him for years. Wiggins stated that Russo had helped with several projects he'd proposed and thus the endorsement. The telling statement though was: "No one approached me, or asked me," Wiggins said, and coming from a man who is 100 percent Oakland and for the people, I wonder why the oversight.)

Nonetheless, when do -- let me put it this way, since when do white people represent black concerns better than a person from the community like Swanson, a man with a verifiable and proven track record? The Laney College graduate, commencement speaker last year at his alma mater, a man who served as chief of staff for the Hon. Barbara Lee and worked with the Hon. Ron Dellums, has endorsements from both, spoke that morning about his commitment to the community which means "us."


No one has called me to ask me to vote for Dellums either, or De La Fuente or Nadel, for that matter. When I asked a colleague at the AAMLO book event on Jews in Exotic Places by the way, there is another event this weekend too, Saturday, May 20, with J. Othello: The Soul of Rock N Roll, who she was voting for, she said Nadel was her friend.... My response was "What does that have to do with anything?" At the debate at Holy Names University last month the candidates were cordial and though they numbered four, the fourth, Ron Oz, a former policeman, I'm not certain if the other two mattered. Sorry Nancy.

When I lived in West Oakland, I tried to get a house through the City's First Time Homebuyer's Program, ACORN, CWOR or other connections. I had after living a participatory life in District 3, for 13 years, erroneously assumed my volunteerism would grant me audience with someone who could give me tangible assistance when I was in a crisis....

I was forced out of my affordable housing because my income increased $100 over the limit. I was evicted along with many other professionals who were also living there. Some of the elder residents were so traumatized they got sick and died. Families were split up, relatives who were also caretakers, if college aged, were forced to move out.

Yes, I am still sore and I am still renting five years later.

I believe Dellums could make a difference, but at the rate his campaign is going, I wonder if enough voters knows it. I thought there was something happening at de Fremery Park this weekend, Saturday, May 20. I got a flier with upcoming activities on it, but when I visited the Dellums' website for details earlier in the week; it wasn't there, though its there now, plus a lot more.

I hope for Oakland's sake the brother starts making some noise!

Barbara Lee, our courageous Congresswoman arrested this week in Sudan for protesting the genocide in Dafur, has launched One Voice, an initiative whose goal is simple: to identify and support progressive Democratic leaders to take office at the federal level. Through identifying viable Democratic candidates and supporting them in the primaries, One Voice increases the number of progressive candidates on democratic tickets around the county. One Voice makes it possible for progressive leaders to act on the basis of conscience not in response to the financial demands of an election campaign. Visit

Although I think sensible people need to organize an independent party and support those candidates who reflect the needs of a constituency which supports the ideals of democracy and freedom, and have personal integrity, no matter what the party affiliation, so far those politicians on the left are still playing the Democrat/Republican game.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Blues Masters Opens May 18

Beverly Stoval seemed to walk off the canvas...Gayles' portrait of her one of my favorites: seated at the piano, her hands sitting just at the top of the keyboard as if she were playing, the music scoring the silence – the actual instrument just below. It was a real treat to see her step out of the frame and join the Bay Area Blues Society Caravan of All-Stars at the Blues Masters opening reception -- one woman who could hold her own.

It certainly felt like a man's world that evening, but Gayles' work certainly celebrated the creative feminine, his body of work featuring many besides Stoval: Big Mama Thorton, Sugar Pie DeSanto, and others.

Blues Masters will travel to Old Oakland when it leaves downtown, but you don't want to miss the marvelous series of paintings in their present setting. The curator did a wonderful job at The Craft & Cultural Arts Gallery. The exhibit is up through June 28, at 1515 Clay Street, Oakland, (510) 622-8190. Visit Admission is free.

More Blues

The Hayward/Russell City Blues Festival: The Gents & Ladies of Russell City, July 8-9, 11:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., 777 "B" Street, Hayward City Hall Plaza. Ticket prices are $15 in advance, $20 at the gate. Two day tickets are $26 in advance, students and seniors (62+) are $10. Groups rates of 10 or more are $10 each. For those under 12 years old admission is free.

Forward to Exhibition Catalog
"Blues could not exist if the African captives had not become American captives." Amiri Baraka states in Blues People. The blues was the Black community's measurement of its reality – a yardstick which did not lie. James Gayles’ "Blues Masters" is a notch in that stick, 27 pieces of art, 20 included in this catalog evidence that such a tradition exists. Fluent in the liquid colors spoken so articulately, Gayles’ canvasses are witness to the shared artistry: a visual and musical union.

Etta James, Johnny Lee Hooker, Sugar Pie DeSanto, Jimmy McCracklin, Big Mama Thornton, Etta James… the men and women portrayed in the exhibition loved to sing and perform – it was their daily bread, warm butter and steamy milk.

"I have a deep and tremendous respect for the Blues and its place in the musical landscape of the world." Gayles said. "This tradition was carried by the slaves into the new world and transformed into field hollers and calls sang by the slaves while working on plantations.

"The story of the Blues is a story of how a downtrodden people in the face of oppression rose up and triumphed through their music." Gayles continues.

If one can imagine the life of the enslaved Africans in this strange land – among even stranger people, it is amazing how this creative outlet is not only still here, it is everywhere else conceivable in the world now, much too often credited to someone else.

If we were in Africa, let’s say Senegal or Mali maybe Congo or Sudan, families groomed as historians would sing their communities’ praises, extolling the virtues of their leaders. Such djalis or griots made encyclopedias unnecessary, as the history of nations was imprinted on their collective hearts.

So it is with these 20 blues artists in this show. Many of them performed because their sanity was wrapped in the chords, seated alongside notes on the sheets, the words slipping off their tongues into the night... a forgiving night just before a breaking day.

The blues is the story of the rough and tumble lives African slaves met when freedom rang and no one heard the bell chiming or if they did, they certainly didn’t care enough to push this government to fess up and pay the enslaved Africans back wages.

It was a lonely time then, and blues singers captured that isolation, fear and desperation– a desperation relieved when someone picked up a jug, a harmonica, a tambourine or just clapped. Indigo is not the color of sorrow. It is actually the color of hope, the color of oceans -- Mama Yemeya, the color of taking stock, measuring one's steps and starting out anew.

After the bustle of day, Black people often looked forward to the evening when they could gather and listen to a blues artist sing them into a better place the same way Negro Spirituals transported the holy to glory come Sunday.

Black Americans are blues people… it’s in the water, the DNA… the way we walk, the ideas we claim and even those we dismiss. Blues is something unique to Black people. Others may make all the money, try to cheat an innogaddingike Bob Geddins, the father of West Coast Blues of his fame— even put a white man’s face on Big Mama Thornton’s hit single: "Hound Dog," but there’s one thing about being original… it needs no explaining.

Wanda Sabir
Arts Editor, San Francisco Bay View Newspaper,
Professor of English, College of Alameda,
Co-founder and CEO, MAAFA, San Francisco Bay Area

Friday, May 12, 2006

Hugh Masekela

Opening night, May 11, at Yoshi's for Hugh Masekela was packed. I arrived early for a change and got a great spot. Cabaret seating hadn't been this tight in a while; just the evening before at the Carmen Lundy gig, I had plenty of leg space, but cramped or otherwise, Baba Hugh was worth it.

The band opened the set with a cool number, Ibala Lam, a song of racial pride: "This brown color is a winner, its my shining armor."

Afterwards the ensemble launched into After Tears, Masekela's shirt the color of sunny skies at dusk, blues streaked with reddish brown, silver flugel horn at his lips, as congero Francis Fuster, played timbales, with stronger accents by drummer Sello Montwedi.

With groove set on continuous play-- the evening moved from fantastic into phenomenal!

Other songs performed were: Woman of the Sun, introduced with a little Fela Anikulapo Kuti -- "She no say...." The original AfroBeat musician, Masekela's show was as much a history lesson as it was a "booty shaking" tour of African musical traditions with talking drum, talking saxophones... Brother Hugh dancing, soloing ...talking much smack 'cause he could, 'cause it was expected.

"We haven't greeted you yet. How you doin' Oakland?" He paused between songs to ask, then commented on how quiet we were... rolled the moment back and asked the question again.

"How are you Oakland?" The roar lifted the already levitating roof.

Completing the ensemble were two men on keyboards positioned on opposite sides of the stage -- one, Arthur Tshabalala, had so much equipment you could barely see him, the other Ezbie Moilwa, standing; also saxophonist/flutist, Khaya Mahlangu, bassist Fana Zulu, and guitarist John B. Selolwane (Jazz Epistles).

The band was tight, musicians all from South Africa, except guitarist Selolwane from Botswana.
Since Masekela didn't introduce any of the numbers...many from the Revival CD, I discovered later when I got home (Chisa Records 2005), all I could do was give myself up to the rhythms of Africa as Brother Hugh took us on a train ride to the mines where men worked and often died -- the classic Stimela opened with the clanking of the cowbell...the sound of train wheels turning, levers pumping steam, whistle blowing...the musician's imitation of the slow acceleration flawless as his hand pulled on the imaginary lever announcing the train's passage through the hinterlands into Johannesburg so far away from miners' homes -- Whoo Whoo!

I was seated with Avotcja, her friend, and Karen Henderson, who has a lovely sculpture in the "Black Artists' Expressions of Father" exhibition at the San Francisco Main Library in San Francisco, 100 Larkin Street, and the Richmond Main Street Initiative 1101 MacDonald Avenue, Richmond, CA, through June 29.

Avotcja, poet, multipercussionist, with Francis Wong, tenor sax, Jon Jang, piano, and Eugene Warren on bass, has a a gig at Bistro Yoffi, 2231 Chestnut Street, at Fillmore, San Francisco the fourth Tuesday of each month, this month May 23, 7 p.m., no cover. Visit

Whether it is 1969 or 2006, when Baba Hugh performs a song, reenacts the drama of its inception, it is as if he just wrote the song yesterday and its performance the first. For this reason, as audience favorites were played, people couldn't remain in their seats, scattered shouts of "We love you Hugh!" filling the space between breaths as Hugh joked with the Oakland audience, thanking the Bay Area for staging boycotts against the former Apartheid regime, April 27 the 13th Anniversary of his country's first free independent elections for all, where Nelson Mandela became the country's first Black president.

My favorite song, Marketplace (maybe?) was a flirtatious tale of a man who meets his amour, an attractive Congolese vegetable vendor one afternoon. Before picking up his horn, Baba Hugh dramatized the tale, taking both parts...his voice an octave or two higher for the woman. His pantomime complete with choreography... six of the band members dancing in a line....

The Boyz Were doin' it in Oakland Thursday night. These same folk doin' it in Lusaka, Nairobi, San Francisco, polyrhythms, lyrics caught midair by the saxophonist as Masekela shifted from flugelhorn to tambourine, the crescent shaped instrument white against the blue sky of his chest, silver horn rejoining the constellation as the saxophonist solo ended.

...They were doin' it in Cairo, Juba, Sowethu, New York, Philadelphia.

Then on a song I called Daddy's song, because I didn't know its title, Masekela (b. April 1939) sang a combination of rhythms then the guitarist responded in kind. It was awesome! You really had to have been there, especially when Masekela did this again -- horn turned sideways, singing flute riffs, which the flutist, Mahlangu, matched flawlessly, as did Selolwane once again!

We were invited to stand, those who were able, to honor the "old gizzards," who went into prison for principles they were willing to die for and exited, 27 years later like Mandela, other dying in the harsh conditions at Robben Island.

Masekela's autobiography released a couple of years ago, Still Grazing, with a companion musical retrospective by the same title, is one my all time favorite stories, because like other great stories of a life in process, like Ready for Revolution: The Life and Struggle of Kwame Ture, both reflect a time in African Diaspora history when so much was happening. It takes a life lived often extreme ends of the human spectrum, to give those who were there food for contemplation, and for those who weren't there -- such books are an opportunity to glean a perspective often lost in the retelling when biographers lose sight of what is important: the personal is always political -- Masekela's life is an example of the indivisible nature of the two. History's relevant lies in its connection to the lives of those who lived it and are still around to tell the story in their own voices.

Art is a mighty tool.

Bring Back Nelson Mandela is a song many in the audience knew, the additional voices filling the air with sweet melodies. Though disappointed Masekela didn't play Grazin' In the Grass, there really was no cause for complain, his show more than any could have asked for, then afterwards he came out and signed autographs, took pictures, before the lights went out on us and everyone had to go.

Listen to an interview


Photo: James Rich, Wanda Sabir, John B. Selolwane, Hugh Masekela. Photo credit: Wanda Sabir.


Thursday, May 11, 2006

Carmen Lundy and her all-star band, featuring the incredible Bobby Watson on alto sax, Robert Glasper on piano, her brother Curtis Lundy on contrabass, Jason Brown on drumset, Phil Upchurch on guitar, tonight was bittersweet. Funny, when I walked in and sat down, the music, especially Glasper's solo moved me to tears...Lundy standing still, swaying to his dancing fingers...other band members gazing at one another -- the ensemble charged because Glasper was charged...all of them plugged into the same socket.

So, I'm sitting there, almost within touching distance of the brother on guitar, his turquoise and silver accessories gleaming as our feet danced to the same drumbeat, wondering why I'm feeling this meloncholy. Was it the wistful song about love lost and promises hoped for.... Something to Believe In?

When Lundy dedicated a song to John Hicks, the wonderful pianist who died Tuesday, May 9, it all made sense. How could he die before I got a chance to interview him? How could he die before I had a chance to tell him how much I loved his work...say it again that is.

Hicks, a great friend of violinst Billy Bang, is featured on Bang's album, Vietnam: The Aftermath. All the musicans are Vietnam veterans. Curtis Lundy is also on the album.

Hicks' death made me tick off the names of other pianists I enjoyed like the late Tommy Flanagan. I didn't want to think about musician friends in frail heath, but I couldn't help myself...death exposes what's important to life -- remembrance and time.

Afrasia began with a wonderful percussion jam session featuring Sister Mayra Casales, who is working on a solo venture to be released soon. I last heard Casales with Regina Carter...the band was hot!

In another selection Lundy set Langston Hughes' I've know Rivers to music on One More River to Cross.

Slender, and not at tall as she looks from the stage, but taller than me, Lundy was jamming so hard on one tune, I just expected her to start dancing the rumba...her gestures suggesting such. In rhinestone covered slippers, Bobby Watson coming out of his shoes by the end of the set, Lundy was relaxed...singing songs from her lastest double CD, Jazz and the New Songbook, the lovely Old Friend dedicated to John Hicks on disc 2.

The rocking Vu Ja De closed the evening.

I can't believe I won't see Hicks anymore. It was always such a pleasant surprise to see him on stage. "Born in Atlanta on December 21st 1942, pianist John Hicks spent his early childhood in Los Angeles. He began piano lessons with his mother at age 6, and by the time his family moved to stowaway (John was 13), he was already playing for the choir and for Sunday School at the church where the senior Hicks was minister.

"In High School new musical challenges and influences were brought to the fore, he became active in the band and choir and some of his schoolmates were Phillip Wilson and Lester Bowie. Hicks next attended Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Missouri and Berklee College of Music in Boston before moving to New York in the early 1960's. There he began working with Art Blakey, Hank Mobley, Lee Morgan, Woody Herman and others."

I guess Lundy's news isn't widely known yet, no information about Hicks departure was not in any newspapers on-line.

"The audience with Betty Carter" with Betty Carter, Verve 314-591851-2
"Journey to the One" with Pharoah Sanders, Evidence ECD-22016
"Morning Song" with David Murray, Black Saint 120075-2
"Sketches of Tokyo", DIW 812
"Beyond Expectations", Reservoir RSR CD 130

From (May 11, 2006)
Photo: Carmen and Curtis Lundy after the second set, May 11, 2006. Credit: Wanda Sabir.

Thursday, May 04, 2006


The recent sentencing of Zacarias Moussaoui for the 9-11 attack is such a farce, a sentence which is not given much credence in France where Moussaoui is a citizen.Sentenced in the US where verdicts have nothing to do with justice, I wonder what's the point. Don't people see the strawman with Tourette syndrome?And while people vent and applaud -- Moussaoui's comments purposely incendiary, the real criminals are still free.