Saturday, August 25, 2007

Oda Oak Oracle

Oda Oak Oracle, this weekend at 7 p.m. at EastSide Arts Cultural Center, Thursday-Friday, August 23-24; and Mekane Selam Ethiopian Orthodox Church, 4100 Mountain Blvd., Oakland, August 25-26, and at Sonoma State University, Rohnert Park, September 8, 2 p.m.

There is so much we still don’t know about Africa, the dark continent—dark for its mysteries and it’s people; dark for it’s oil and land and deep cavernous places, dark for its enligtenment and ancient wisdom. Dark for its uncompromising blackness as the essence of all life. For these reasons and more, I have really enjoyed trekking down to Stanford University in Palo Alto over the past three-four weeks to see “African On Stage: Let Us Tell You a Story.” Last week eleven of us caravanned to Prosser Hall for the last play of the summer season, “Oda Oak Oracle,” directed by Aika Swai from Tanzania. Oda Oak is one of just two plays written in English by poet laureate of Ethiopia, Tsegaye Gabre-Medhin. The other plays are written in Amharic. This play is set in a fictional river valley where the son of the village, Shanka, is told he must sacrifice his first born to appease the ancestors. Shanka refuses to consummate his love for his bride, Ukutee. Ukutee and Shanka's best friend, Goa sleep together; she becomes pregnant. This dilemma lies at the heart of the play and is the basis of the last two acts. The Oda Oak Oracle world exists on multiple levels-- the world of the ancients or spirit realm in conflict philosophically with that of the west, exemplified by the formally enslaved Goa. This is portrayed well on stage in dance and musical accompaniment.

The range of work this summer has been thought-provoking and provocative both on and off the stage. Dan Hoyle’s “Tings Dey Happen,” kicks off the Stanford series. Tings is about the politics of oil in Nigeria’s Ogoni land, seen through the eyes of Fulbright scholar, Hoyle. He dons multiple characters in this work, which Yoruba natives have told me rang true, even though I had trouble with the presenter, if not the presentation when he portrayed black characters. The trouble was trying to stay objective when subconscious caricature polemics engaged almost automatically when confronted by Hoyle's white face. This did not happen when he portrayed Europeans or white Africans. This is one of the problems with color blind casting; there really is no such thing if one is aware of the context wherein the work was created. Certain characters have a look and a sound. When one disturbs or alters what culturally we know is true, this untruth is what we remember more than anything else. That said I was left with a desire to read the script so the physical distractions would be eliminated because the story was one I hadn't known.

Lorraine Hansberry’s response to “The Blacks” written by Bernard Jean Genet, with “Les Blancs” or The Whites was the second play in the series, directed by Harry Elam, Ph.D. This was another play where there is an intrusion; in Hansberry's case, her ex-husband's literary intrusion--he finished the play she left incomplete at her death. What one is left with here is more the story of the American journalist who is in Africa on assignment to write a book, than the story of two brothers at odds following the death of a patriarch and what the ancestors have decreed the elder brother to do. One wonders how much is Hansberry and how much is the ex-husband.

Yoruba playwright Femi Osofisan’s “Farewell to a Cannibal’s Rage,” a love story, directed by Stanford Ph.D candidate, Rachael Anderson follows. Ethiopian playwright Tsegaye Gabre-Medhin’s work, also a love story, this one fraternal love or that between brothers, is a wonderful way to end a summer.

After the death of so many beloved friends this month, a truly black August, in the worst sense, how refreshing it is to see two characters Goa and Shanka portrayed by actors, Howard Johnson and Cyril Cooper, embrace, laugh and cry together. Oda Oak rises above caricature of black man as hard and rough and brutal, especially toward one another. Even though there is conflict between the two men, the result of Goa and Ukutee's actions, one wonders in retrospect if this might have been avoided if Goa and Ukutee had asked the Oda-Man for advice before they gave into their desires. A friend of mine said sacrifice does not always mean someone has to die.
This play and others this summer presented an opportunity for guests to question what one knows about Africa—and realize that most of us are operating from a perspective far from the truth, that the tales we’ve been told are just that, tales far removed from the reality. A vast body of work never explored on the American stage exists and while one might quibble over the definition of “African play,” it is still a rare opportunity to travel on stage to these philosophical places it's hard to wrap a contemporary world-view around, especially an American view.
What makes an African play African, is a question Edris Anifowoshe-Cooper argued with a friend when I saw her at the Bay Area Playwrights Festival a few weeks ago. She said Hoyle’s play was not African theatre. The story was about an American experience in Africa, but African theatre is more than a “white boys experience in the bush.” (My paraphrase.)

Whether that implies content or character—are African plays the sole proprietorship of African people, anything else anthropology, remains unanswered in my mind. Yet there is something to be said for the indigenous interpretation. The last two plays had a lot in common-- all three wrestled with similar themes—love triangles, influence of Christianity on African society, slavery and/or colonial impact on individuals and society. “Oda Oak Oracle” questions traditions, while looking at how the woman is perceived in a majority patriarchal society, not just in the fictional Oda Oak, but most of the world.

I enjoyed Rachael Anderson’s direction and clever use of the chorus in telling the “Cannibal’s Rage” story, plus the fluid nature of characterization—men exchanged places with women and vice versa, even if at times it was distracting. The director of “Cannibal” told me that she’d never directed anything like this before and she nor anyone in the cast had ever been to Africa. I think the weaknesses were in the cast where the acting wasn't as strong. In a graduate program over the summer, I presume you take what you can get, thus the uneven production. Overall the writing carried the work and I loved the creative arch and resolution in the end.
Aika Masomi Swai, who also portrays the heroine, Ukutee, brought to Oda Oak an innate African perception and sensibility. She is from the region, so she knows the place, the people and the story. It’s one she’s lived. It also doesn’t hurt that she wrote her master’s thesis at Stanford on “Decolorizing the Mind” in 2004. Similarly, the actor who portrays the oracle, is actually a classically trained Ethiopian actor who knows Gabre-Medhin’s work. This is certainly a plus for the production.

The cast is huge (20) and includes musicians who double as villagers and elders and one who is a medium, Aika’s sister, Naike E. Swai, is everywhere at once. It's a dense world, one where the audience might need help traversing, especially a western audience not used to the nuances of African thought with all of its symbolism and thought, familiar, yet unfamiliar circumstances. There are very real consequences for disobedience to the ancestors in this world.

It would have helped the audience if Naike's role could have additionally been that of the narrator to give a recaps from time to time. (Hoyle employed this device to great effect in Tings Dey Happen.) I have so many friends who had to see the play more than once and even then missed key elements which would have explained so much. In the west we believe in individual freedoms and choice and romantic love, whereas in Africa one's duty is to the family and community first.

There is an authenticity present in the Siwa's production, present in Tsegaye Gabre-Medhin's writing, which grounds it in a tangible reality one can’t fake or imagine or conceive unless one has been or can go there—I’m speaking African spirituality. So no matter how close Hoyle got to that place, he is not African, and so one never forgets he is performing, whereas, with Oda Oak, by the time the play reaches its climax, we are there in labor with Ukutee, a labor the men also experience as the oracle tells the three—if they want to make the ancestors happy, they have to shed each other’s blood.

Photographs of ancestors resonate from the theatre walls –these photos pasted throughout the theatre above and below our heads. They surrounded us. In the center of the stage is a stool with the Sankofa bird on it, behind the low stool is a huge red tree with branches shaped like a man and women, hands reaching toward one another, fingertips barely touching.

The Oda-Man, Tesfaye Sima, appears out of the tree like The Wizard in Oz. He’s funny, but dangerous as he speaks this language most in the audience do not know, Amharic. The character Goa, who escapes slavery and returns home, tainted and ostracized by the people he loves is traumatized still from the experiences he can’t forget, those experiences which have scared him, those experiences his friend, Shanka is trying to help him heal from by loving him.

In Farewell to a Cannibal’s Rage by Femi Osofisan, the references to government intelligence and infiltration of black movements and the complicity of the indigenous Africans in granting this access echoes similar themes in all the plays. White supremacy and imperialism is the same on both sides of the Atlantic. In Les Blancs, rape is used as a tool of war, only the village doesn’t reject a child, whose face reminds his mother and her husband of the insult.

Farewell to a Cannibal’s Rage by Femi Osofisan, directed by Rachel Anderson, examines, as Oda Oak does blind obedience to tradition and one’s elders when the decrees take life rather than promote life. Clearly murder is wrong, and at some point Romeo and Juliet have to say enough. The symbol of hyena is one that eats the flesh of other living things. As a metaphor, people who have blood lust, who can’t forgive are beasts. Why were Sister Ayanna and Brother Shaka’s sons shot as they sat in a van August 4? When will black people stop selling lives for such a cheap price? It’s the cannibal mentality—blood lust. How does a person who is removed from traditional society as Goa was, as the two kids were who returned to the village to ask for their parents' blessings in Cannibal's Rage, serve as reliable guides when they were strangers to the ways of their people?
In “Cannibal’s Rage,” the mother tells her daughter how her father was set up by the government, so that he would kill his friend and they could in the confusion, take the fertile land the two men refused to sell. The government under COINTELPRO did the same to all the African Movements in this country starting with Marcus Garvey, whose birthday was last Friday, August 17, as was playwright Tsegaye Gabre-Medhin.

Aika Swai is a wonderful director and the way she interprets the ending of the play where the two men are ordered to fight to the death is a strange, yet loving tribute to one man’s love for his brother. Goa and Shanka, as prototypes recalled Africans in the Diaspora returning home and the various ways they are received by indigenous Africans—sometimes it is “welcome home,” other times it’s as if we are strangers. Visit

The four plays share a lot thematically; it’s too bad playwrights and artists don’t rule the world. Perhaps then a United States of Africa would be possible. Rush Rehm, director of Stanford’s Summer theatre series, is to be commended for the theatrical choices made this season. It was outstanding! I wish more people from the North Bay had been able to get to the theatre, see the free African films and the wonderful African and African American art in the museum this summer: Gordon Parks and now the Art of Being Tuareg: Sahara Nomads in a Modern World, featuring the jewelry, clothes, and dwellings of Tuareg people. It’s up through Sept. 2. There are artisans there now in the gallery making jewelry from silver demonstrations. See

Photos are from the Stanford production after the preview. The cast had an audience talk-back and then everyone was invited to have fruit. We left there at almost 1 a.m. Aika Swai is pictured in two solo frames, in costume and as a portrait.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Happy Birthday Marcus Garvey, August 17 (1887-2007)

Garvey Sayings

"Up, you mighty race, accomplish what you will."
"Whatsoever things common to man, that man has done, man can do."
"One God! One aim! One destiny!"
"Africa for the Africans ... At home and abroad!"
"We Negroes believe in the God of Ethiopia, the everlasting God -- God the Son, God the Holy Ghost, the one God of all ages. That is the God in whom we believe, but we shall worship him through the spectacles of Ethiopia."
"A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots."
"Look for me in the whirlwind or the storm."
"A reading man and woman is a ready man and woman, but a writing man and woman is exact."
"There shall be no solution to this race problem until you, yourselves, strike the blow for liberty."
"If you have no confidence in self, you are twice defeated in the race of life. With confidence, you have won before you have started."
"Chance has never yet satisfied the hope of a suffering people."
"Do not remove the kinks from your hair--remove them from your brain."

Abyssinians @ Ashkenaz Concert Review

The San Francisco Bay Area has been blessed with great reggae music legends this month with Baba Lee "Scratch" Perry two weeks ago at The Independent and Midnite at the Shattuck Downlow, the Abyssinians last Friday, August 10 at Ashkenaz. Tuesday, August 14, Sly & Robbie & the Taxie Gang with actress/singer Cherine Anderson were at Slims and Friday, August 17, Jr. Reid is at the Shattuck Downlow.

Okay, reviews are supposed to be critical but after arriving before 10 thinking I was late and actually early enough to find a seat, I was ready for conscious raising music. We’d buried Chauncey, someone had stolen my favorite purple coat out of my trunk in San Francisco two days earlier and though I was a little nervous about parking in the neighborhood when our brother who normally greets us was absent—we later found out he’d died, I got everything I’d come for and more.

They were so good! I hadn’t known that they wrote "Satta Massa Ganna,” also known as the anthem which everyone was invited to sing along: "There is a land far far away, Where there's no night, there's only day, Look into the Book of Life, and you will see That there's a land, far far away." The three men borrowed heavily from older brother Carlton on this song. But the kinsman was generous, an attribute indicative of the ensemble which has weathered a few storms over its 37 year career. No one was killed and though some inequities remain unaddressed, Manning said in an interview he wasn’t going to let material things come between him and Collins. And Collins could probably say the same thing, as I read his version of the history on their official website.

The club was full. The stage crowded with musical instruments, Abyssinian re-releases on CD, the classic albums, plus tee-shirts and posters. It wasn’t everyday that these men came to town. I think the last time had been back when the Maritime was still open and you know how long ago that was.

Wearing all red, Manning was on stage right, while Collins stood center, David Morrison on the right, who wore red, black and green. They all had their heads covered and began the set with a prayer. The band was impressive also, even though they were too young to have been the rhythm section on tour back in the ‘70s or ‘80s. The salient character of the evening was transcendental—the musical language one better felt than spoken. The lyrical journey was sprinkled with warnings about the “love of money,” Collins sang. “Money we fight each other over.” “I try my best to pardon my brother,” was the choral response. “Oh, lord, good lord, everyone struggles.”

References were to the “king’s music,” as the men took a stroll down memory lane with their fans singing right along. Manning and Collins both danced with abandon, although Manning when not singing or even when he was, danced all around the stage. “Throw away your pride,” he sang. “Beat up yourself,” he sang as lead vocalist before turning the role back over to Collins.

It was a nice shared power. Easy without strife. Smoke billowed overhead like a vast cloud as the groove rocked-steady, the kind of groove one could hold all night. We weren’t exerting nearly as much energy as the men on stage, even when Collins sang about fighting for right as he did a quick left and right jab at an invisible foe.

One of my favorite songs given the week past, asked the question, “Why must the blackman stress and strain?” The band did one of those cool false starts that sounds like a car unprepared to stop when the light turns red, so all the bolts and screws fall into each other. The performance was a day after the anniversary of Nagasaki and my daughter was in Pearl Harbor. Funny where music takes the mind. It was also a day after Women’s Day, a day South African President Thabo Mbeki named in honor of Mama Sara Baartman when her remains were laid to rest there Aug. 9, 2002.

(Sara Baartman is known as the Hottentot Venus, and her genitalia was pickled after she died in a museum. See

There was a pop quiz towards the end of the set, which even I passed when Collin sang the verses in Amharic, after a volunteer gave its name in the microphone. The microphone was more in the audience than on its stand toward the end as clearly the men were jazzed over the enthusiasm that greeted there songs and spirit. I was seated next to a man who’d brought his son and another couple who had a babe in arms. This was historic and I’m happy to say the black folks were in the house which is not the norm for reggae or Ashkenaz. It was one of those beautiful moments. One could imagine these guys as younger men hanging out in Trenchtown after work jamming, Bob Marley and other friends dropping by Mannings’ house or Studio One where like Stax Records and Motown there was a renown studio musician stable, available to sit-in if needed. After the set, which ended with drumming, Manning and Morrison, I spoke briefly to Manning, but I can’t do justice to it, so I will just convert it to a sound file and let you listen to it.

San Jose Jazz Festival Review

The new highway certainly makes travel to the South Bay faster; no longer do the lanes drop to two when one gets to Dixon Landing, so despite leaving late then having to go back home for my camera, I arrived in San Jose in under an hour, which was great because I wanted to hear the United Alto Summit with host Red Holloway, featuring Frank Morgan, Charles McPherson and the much younger Greg Osby. They were awesome and so was the fabulous rhythm section with drummer, Jerome E. Jennings, bassist, Corcoran Holt and pianist Luke O'Rielly. When I walked in Frank Morgan was soloing on "All the Things," followed by McPherson’s lovely wistful "Body and Soul." Greg Osby was featured on "Ash," and the band went out on "Blues and Boogie," which was an opportunity for the drummer to strut his stuff. The rhythm section was impressive and it was the first time they’d played with these awesome cats, so it was as special for them as it was for us. I also found out that Red Holloway is a Gemini, May 31, like me. He’s 80 now, a milestone he’s celebrating all year.

Lee Ritenour and Friends featuring Alex Acuña, Patrice Rushen, and Brian Bromberg, were good, their set unique as they shifted between hot and smooth R&B tinted jazz on Memeza from Smoke-N-Mirrors, Boss City, Lil Bumpin, Party Time, 4 ½, Water’s Edge—a cool Forget Me Nots, featuring Rushen on vocals, and the closing Herbie Hancock classic, Cantaloupe Island.

Ritenour was the perfect party host spending time with all his friends, trading licks and occasionally smiling before responding to a member of the group. He was all over the stage, often in close proximity to the musician he wanted to speak musicially to in any particular moment. One of his favorite spots was at the piano with Rushen “baby fingers.” He also jammed frequently with Acuña on drumset and cajón. He and Brian Bromberg were a great foil for one another--the dueling strings picked up by Rushen on piano, her chords often matching theirs.

Considering the huge stage that separated the four musicians, the ambient sounds unavoidable at an outdoor concert, it was amazing how intimate the set felt, quite unlike the big band stylings of the weekend closing event: The Latin All Starts: A Tribute to Hilton Ruiz featuring Jimmy Bosch, Stave Berrios, emcee Ray Vega, Yunior Cabrera, Arturo O’Farrill, and Juan Escovedo.

Ritenour and Friends are at Yoshi’s Thursday-Sunday, August 16-19. Visit or (510) 238-9200.

Pete Escovedo was recovering from surgery and wasn’t able to make the Ruiz tribute, the first concert he’d ever missed in 50 years. I didn’t catch the name of the timbalist who replaced him. He was really good too; however, Bill Summers who performed the day before with his Headhunters was awesome on chekere and other percussions, especially when he sang a song only Yunior could follow which preceded the entrance of special guest Armando Peraza, the legendary Afro-Cuban percussionist who was sought after when he arrived in New York in 1948 on the bebop and Latin jazz scene.

Ray Vega was so funny as he teased the Puerto Rican fans in the audience sporting their flags and tee-shirts. A man near me has these really cool maracas in the red, blue and white Puerto Rican colors with autographs from famous percussionists. Puerto Rican composer, Don Pedro Flores’ "Obsession"--(the thing) that gets you put in jail, Vega joked as he pronounced the title in a lilting and tempting Spanish.

It was here that my memory cards were both full so I returned to my seat and watched my friends capture the shots I wanted. I took notes so I could ask for copies. Ray Vega could really blow that trumpet. Photographer, Kamau Amen Ra told me he’d seen Vega the day before on the Latin stage, and the musician was awesome during that set too. As the sun began its retreat, Yunior Cabrera Terry continued to demonstrate his commanding presence as his bass was both a string and percussive member of the ensemble. One of the songs performed was one of his originals.

Everyone kind of went wild on "Obsession." Juan Escovedo solo was strong as he traded some killin’ licks with the timbalist. It got so hot Bocsh came back with a swinging response to his friends as he boogalooed in front of the microphone, horn reaching skyward. When Vega came up for air he asked the audience: “Did you like that? We’ve given you a whole lot of Latin, now some jazz.”

It was a perfect segue into the quieter Ruiz favorite “What’s New.” The evening closed with Coltrane’s mellow Afro-Blue, with Baba Bill Summers and Yunior Cabrera Terry doing the African call and response. By the time the special guest Armando Peraza hit the stage, O’Farrill was killin’ on piano. (I was so happy I’d seen him with the Afro-Latin All Stars from Lincoln Center last year at Davies where he was also remarkable.) Jimmy Bosch was the mystery man, dark shades and serious demeanor belying a serious groove he kept laying down as he danced and played. I’d never seen a trombonist do the limbo before that afternoon. Bosch was too cool and I’m happy to say he’ll be back with Anthony Blea y su Charanga in the North Bay August 30 at Karribean City, 1408 Webster Street, Oakland, (510) 251-0769. Visit there’s free parking at this 21+ with ID event. Fito Reinoso with Ritmo y Armonia is on August 23.

What is great about the SJJF is its eclectic appeal. Certainly for presenting forums with an educational policy, like San Jose Jazz Society and Stern Grove Festival in San Francisco, and the former Koncepts Cultural Gallery in Oakland, the goal was and continued to be audience development, to grow audiences. What better way to do this than by appealing to a variety of pallets simultaneously. It’s similar to what maestro Michael Morgan does at the Oakland East Bay Symphony. He has an orchestra that even plays jazz, which is not a stretch when one remembers that the music one calls classical, whether that is American classical, "jazz," or European classical, it was all, at one time dance music. People who talk about how they don’t like smooth jazz or Afro-Latin jazz, or hip-hop jazz, are trying to pigeonhole the definition which is fluid. It’s all black music, it’s organic, it’s alive and like all art forms, it reflects the content of its artists and their audiences. Life is mutable. Change is the only constant, so, as long as the music is honest and real and stays connected to its origins, that is, these innovators know where the music came from and don’t abort its African American ancestry; I don’t think it can go wrong. Well yes, I can. What would be wrong would be a situation where the direct descendents of this great art form, jazz music, don’t get to hear the music, play it, or see themselves reflected in the artists’ performing it. Jazz education is a great tax deductible contribution to people like Rhonda Benin, Khalil Shaheed, Angela Wellman, Raymond Nat Turner, Ronnie Stewart at Bay Area Blues Society, E.W. Wainwright, Tacuma King and Tarika Lewis. All these artists and others are teaching black children about music and its connection to African Diaspora heritage.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Sunday at the Grove

For many this concert was the event of the season, not just Stern Grove's 70th season, but the summer season. And from the looks of the hillsides, full tables, and picnic area outside where latercomers sat and listened once the Grove officially closed, most people agreed. The Hugh Masekela and Goapele musical experience almost defies words, but I'll try to convey a sense of the afternoon for fans who were unable to make it. For those who were there, we can just say ashay.

The afternoon was just as cold as had been predicted, and if its hadn't been predicted, it was kind of expected given the traumatic week Bay Area residents had lived through--nine people shot, seven killed in Oakland alone. I knew four of them and was in the vicinity where someone was stabbed just the evening before in San Francisco. A young man was stabben to death near Columbus Park, walking distance from Jazz at Pearl's where my weekend ended at Pearl's with Andy Bey.

Bey can certainly iron out the kinks in a person, even when warming up, flippin' through a songbooks and skipping lyrically through the keys as he decides. "The first set is hardest," he said modestly.

I was just happy to be in the same room, a napkin throw across from the piano bench, my table in front of Bobby and Rosemary Hutcherson. Bey spoke about being nervous; if he was it soon dissolved as his love potion began to work its magic on the room.

But I'll talk about Bey in a moment.

I'd been trying to get to Stern Grove for 12 noon, 11:30 to be exact for the pre-concert talk, and I just made it. Masekela was as eloquent as he always is. Such a generous man, he always has time for his fans no matter how long the line. At the end of the concert the line for autographs was minimally 50 people deep and there he was, after coming into town to perform without a chance to rest signing autographs like he hadn't a care in the world.

When my friend and I walked in there was a percussion workshop happening which I watched for a moment, before looking for my table. I have grown addicted to taking photographs now. I gave my notepad to friends who jotted down the set list as I went down front to the pit where I could reach out and touch the musicians feet if I'd cared to; they were that close, which means, the photos were that spectacular. But I'll let you be the judge.

Goapele looked fantastic; one wouldn't have known she recently became a mother if she hadn't told us. She was in a mellow acoustic space that afternoon, with a keyboardist, bass guitarist, guitarist and drummer, and a back-up vocalist.

Her first song was an acapella "A Change is Gonna Come," followed by "Long Way from Home." Her arrangement of Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine," affirmed the cloudy day which sent drizzles down on us periodically. But nothing could squash the vibe in Stern Grove--it would have been all good if it had poured people just moving in a little closer for warmth.

"Chasing" was next with her back-up vocalist, a Berkeley High graduate, my daughter recognized when I showed her her picture. "You Bring It on Me" featured her pianist Mike Auburn. Her classic, "Getting Closer to My Dreams" had everyone on their feet singing along, if they hadn't joined in before.

The concert which she'd been looking forward to also was rather bitter sweet, her father, from South Africa also, having died this year. He and her mother met in East Africa, her mother a student in South Africa. The soundtrack of their love was Masekela, Goapele said as she wished all the summer children happy birthdays: Geminis, Cancers and Leos. She's a Cancer.

At the end of the concert Masekela came out and played on her last song. What a highlight. If anything Goapele is just as strong a singer than ever, maybe stronger, her range perhaps a little further now that she'd walking for two.

The audience was mixed. Some were there for Goapele and others for Baba Hugh, the chance to create new audiences was certainly evident in this programming choice. Baba Hugh even had a drummer on stage who lives here: Ian Herman. The rest of the band he'd been playing with for anywhere between 17 and over 25 years.

His new CD recorded live looked good, especially the liner notes and photos. He has another album coming out later this year and he'll be back in February at Cal Performances at UC Berkeley.

Three on Chauncey Bailey: Wanda Sabir, Vern Cromatie, Marvin X,

Greetings Marvin and Vern, this is my response to your essays.

Spoken Words
By Wanda Sabir

I didn’t hate Yusef Bey, certainly not the members of the community, and even though I was raised in the Nation of Islam—Temple 26 in San Francisco, I didn’t understand all the guns and bravado and threats and exhorting, but I had a few friends who were members and former members of Your Black Muslim Bakery; one brother had graduated from law school but couldn’t pass the bar. He’d been put through school by Dr. Bey. A sister friend had a child with him. He liked high yella women, and she fit the bill. I also had a student one summer in an English class who was best friends with Bey’s son who’d been shot and was suffering a slow death in a hospital bed. Back home after being away at college, she spoke about cheering her friend up who was threatening to take his life.

When a friend told me about her clients who’d been raped by Dr. Bey and the threats that met their parents’ attempts to report the crimes, I stopped shopping at his bakery for years. My brother said Bey might be a criminal, but most of the people we transacted business with probably were. So after a few years, I began to buy fish sandwiches again. I still wondered when he ran for mayor, why the black clergy embraced him. How could a known child molester and rapist possibly be good for the City of Oakland?

The man’s empire reminded me of Jim Jones’ Peoples Temple and Charles "Chuck" Dederich Sr.’s Synanon. All three of these communes had charismatic leaders with noble aspirations. But as they say, absolute power corrupts absolutely. The organizational structures which they founded did much good especially for young men and women, single parents, especially single female heads of household who need help raising their children. A former member of Peoples Temple, who escaped the murders in Jonestown, said the community Jones’ founded was wonderful, it was the man who was mad. Perhaps it’s the same with Bey. Perhaps madness is a casualty of power—look at George W. Bush. Perhaps it’s as Marvin X suggests errors of youth.

Peter Pan’s trouble in Neverland as leader of the Lost Boys was that he was too young. He had no guidance. No matter how much children protest and act as if they know how to run things, like their lives—clearly such is not the case. The demise of the Your Black Muslim Dynasty is because it lacked institutional vision and guidance, the kind that comes with maturity, and maturity is not intelligence, it’s wisdom. Maturity denotes an ability to weigh options against one’s experiences and another’s experiences to develop a problem solving mechanism that doesn’t always dictate action. Energy at rest is still energy. By this I mean, inaction is action, and sometimes, when one is angry or frustrated, inaction—a pause until clear thought is possible is the best response to ideas which shake one’s equilibrium.

Words are powerful and just like bullets words are not retractable once they are spoken or written. Words can kill. I think of Edsel Matthews’ heart attack when he found out he was loosing Koncept’s Cultural Gallery offices and was evicted. However, unlike bullets, one can negotiate when words are fired off tongues, leave lips, fly off the edges of keypads or Internet signals in cyberspace.

Unlike bullets words contain buffers. Unlike bullets they aren’t random, and the specificity of the language allows one to address another person, even one, one might see as antagonist or enemy. With knowledge and reason the battle is waged and the best argument wins out when all is equal, when all is fair. The problem with bullets is that the conversation is happening in one person’s head, the antagonist’s. The target might be aware of the danger, but even if any of the nine persons shot between August 2 and August 5 in Oakland knew they were the object of scorn, none had the opportunity to address this fact whether earned or misguided.

The best marksman is nothing compared to the most articulate orator. Look at Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglas, Boukman and Fatiman, James Baldwin, Ida B. Wells, Fanny Lou Hammer, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Bayard Rustin, Marcus Garvey—they made the most violent men among them stay their hands even though eventually when the battle moved from street politics to national policies the government had many of them killed; this does not mean that their weapon of choice—words, was not, in the short and long run, the stronger of the two.

Remember when wars were waged on the fields in combat? Remember when soldiers returned home traumatized by memories of those they’d slaughtered in hand to hand combat? Remember when war was dirty, a soldier actually could and did get bloody? Now the battle is sterile. Murderers often don’t even touch the person killed—the gun an extension of their hand. It’s a wildcard—the bullets free agents without allegiance. Bullets don’t love anyone. Bullets honor no one.

This is the analogy between bullets and words. Language is personal. Words bring the combatants face to face. The goal, understanding if not victory. The victory is understanding that in the case of black on black violence, African people have the same enemy, and the feud predates all of us.

It’s scary talking. Many people especially young people are so choked up they no longer speak, they grunt like animals. The easier response to terror or insulted valor is violence. Violence is the non-thinking response. Violence is the default act. Violence has become like breathing; one doesn’t have to think, the autonomous nervous system keeps the systems functioning for the health and well-being of the body like any well made program.

So what about an autonomous system where violence is breath? When it’s connected to the lymphatic system and circulatory system – the beating heart and the immune system?

What this means is the body is conditioned to act without thought. If thoughts were a part of the schema then violence would be replaced with words, the best mediating tool, the true blood of a healthy nation. We are a nation within a nation. I wonder how many black youth know this?

I was listening to Democracy Now and KPFA this morning and last week. They were playing work from the archives dating back 50 years. This morning Paul Robeson was speaking about how he ended up in Britain, that it’s a different kind of racial violence, while James Baldwin spoke about how people live up to one’s expectations of them, especially if one respects the other’s opinion of oneself.

Thursday’s murder of Chauncey Bailey and the other less famous youth killed in the subsequent days over the same weekend, (seven in total) is a trend we need to halt before anymore people are killed whether that is over an article about to be written or archived or a random response to random history lessons one never learned in school.

“Without Sanctuary” is a catalog of photographs of lynchings in America. I am developing a course on the Poetics of Rap looking at Tupac Shakur’s body of work and the politics or aesthetics of the genre, genre meaning discourse community and the language of such discourse. Is what’s going on in Oakland, just a reflection on the language of such discourse or is the violence a symptom of the miseducation of black youth and a culture where children no longer have words at their disposal? When did we start lynching each other?

Baba Hugh Masekela spoke about the war in Dafur yesterday at a free concert at Stern Grove in San Francisco. He said Dafur is a global catastrophe. Kids are getting killed on the streets of Soweto and Johannesburg everyday also. After the wonderful concert, people mingled and were feeling hopeful and powerful and joyous. I saw friends, among them Greg Bridges who asked me if I’d heard about Sister Ayanna’s sons, who’d been shot the night before, one killed. I told him no. Sister Ayanna and Brother Shaka had already lost one of their sons not two years ago, now two shot and one dead?! Khatari Gant was sitting with his brother and friend in a van near his house when someone shot multiple rounds into the driver’s side of the vehicle killing him and wounding the others.

His parents are former members of the Black Panther Party and the Republic of New Afrika, so I know Khatari led an articulate life. Given the chance, he might have been able to resolve the conflict. Given the chance, but for some words are too risky—one word could change one’s life. It could change the direction of one’s life and for many, this is scary. This may be the reason why the language of bullets has taken the place of words as tools for liberation.

In a message dated 8/6/2007 10:23:32 AM Pacific Daylight Time, J. Vern Cromatie writes:

Brother Marvin,

Once again, you have demonstrated great insight about a crucial problem which has plagued Black social movements since the days of Marcus Garvey, namely brothers killing brothers over disagreements. History indicates that Noble Drew Ali, a leader of the Moorish American Temple was killed by brothers; James W. H. Eason, a former leader of the UNIA, was killed by brothers; and Malcolm X, a former leader of the Nation of Islam, was killed by brothers. We also know that the infamous split in the Black Panther Party led to the death of Samuel Napier and Robert Webb being killed by brothers.

As you have said, the time has come for brothers with opposing points of view and from opposing parties to sit down to reason together and not let things get out of hand and break down into Black-on-Black violence. It is clear that Black men and Black women with social consciousness must practice nonviolence with each other and one another as we interact and address the issues of the day. As Black men and Black women, we must learn to agree to disagree on some issues and not want to kill each other and one another over a disagreement. To do otherwise is to continue to perpetuate the slave mentality which reduced proud African people into self-hating caricatures who believed the folk saying that, "A N----- ain't s---."

Clearly, we must learn from the mistakes of the past and build a new future for our people that will allow the descendants of Chauncey Bailey and the descendants of Yusef Bey to be able to have a viable future inside the belly of Amerikkka.

Yours in the struggle,

J. Vern Cromartie

The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea
(In Memory of My friend, Chauncey Bailey)
By Dr. M (aka Marvin X)

How does it feel to get caught between the devil and the deep blue sea? How does it feel when a friend is murdered and the suspected murderers are someone you know as well, ever since they were children. It is a feeling of immense sadness, grief and disappointment. It is a feeling of guilt even, for we wonder why we didn't mediate the situation, force the opposing parties to sit down to reason together before things got out of hand, before a brother had to join the ancestors, as in the case of our friend and colleague, fellow writer and journalist, Chauncey Bailey. Yes, Chauncey was seeking the truth to tell us all, but it is possible he was working on the wrong story, or maybe the wrong aspect of the story, if it is true he was working on a story about the financial situation of Your Black Muslim Bakery, a family business that appears to be in the process of having its doors closed, the result of criminal activity, tax liens and creditors, but more importantly, moral issues, beginning with its founder, the late Dr. Yusef Bey, who was a friend that worked with me on many community projects, someone I miss dearly, though I am thankful I never had to experience his dark side, and I am genuinely sorry for those who did, especially the children. He fathered 43 children and it appears the sins of the father have visited some of them. One son was killed trying to rob dope dealers, another killed when someone car jacked him, and the current CEO, Yusef Bey IV, faces multiple charges, although someone else at the bakery has confessed to killing Chauncey because of his past articles and planned story on the financial situation. The suspect was a handyman at the bakery, so we are supposed to believe handymen are capable of plotting assassinations afro solo.

But as per Chauncey, the financial situation should not have been a priority, rather the essential and critical story should have been about how this family, especially its children and mothers, could be healed from its shame and trauma, and the business saved as a community asset. Tell me where one can find a loaf of bread baked by black people in the Bay or across these United Snakes of America. Where can just released inmates from jails and prisons find immediate employment, housing and food? Where can broken down dope fiends get their lives together and never look back. Where can the community find the example of a successful black business? I know the media loves sensationalism, but the positives of YBMB outweigh the negatives, and this is where Chauncey went wrong and it cost him his life, and with the bakery closed, it will affect many other lives, including the community in general so desperate for natural food and examples of do for self enterprises, i.e., independently operated businesses, especially family run so that children can see a future beyond a wage slave job at a white supremacy corporation more interested in outsourcing for cheap labor rather than securing a future for American workers of any ethnicity.

So we have here a double tragedy that approaches the best Shakespearean drama: what happens when the king dies or struggle for succession rights (rites), and what happens when the court jester or truth seeker seeks too much truth, especially from those who are supposed to be champions of truth, but have corrupted truth due to flaws in their moral character, resulting in the virus infecting the king's children to the degree that they self destruct, demolishing the kingdom, destroying all the good.

But is this the end of the drama or merely a necessary phase, since there are 43 children and perhaps the good children are yet to be seen and heard, especially the women who may now be forced to the front of the line to take authority over certain posts of whatever remains.

We love you Chauncey, we love you Dr. Bey--maybe ya'll can work it out in heaven.

Now this drama has villains more sinister than even the murderers, for as James Baldwin said of those who killed Malcolm X, "The hand that pulled the trigger didn't buy the bullet." Isn't it strange that with a plethora of unsolved murders in Oakland, this murder was solved in less than 24 hours--Chauncey was killed around 7:30am, by 5am the next morning, the police had a confession and murder weapon, as though they knew exactly where to go to apprehend the killer. Is it likely they knew beforehand what was planned, especially since they had the suspects under surveillance for over a year. Couldn't they have prevented Chauncey's murder--perhaps they too wanted him dead since he was also investigating police corruption. There is no doubt they had undercover agents and/or snitches at the bakery who kept them abreast of planned activities. The killer himself could have been a police agent. These are possibilities any serious thinker should consider.

Again, I want to say that the community failed the Bey family for decades by not treating them with healing love, especially after they gave so much to the community. Their isolation only deepened their trauma and of course things go from bad to worse. The children were traumatized but left to drift into madness and psychosocial pathology. When I spoke at the bakery a few months ago, they were happy and elated that adults had come by to visit their meeting, for nearly all of those present were young people associated with the bakery. They were even happier to discover the other adults at the meeting were my longtime associates and friends of their father. They let us know how pleased they were that we took the time to visit with them. We must reach out to the Bey children because they are our own. Their negative actions have now impacted the community in a big way--for Chauncey was no ordinary Negro but a very special guy doing a very necessary work. And as the community mourns his passing and heals, let us not forget the children at the bakery who need much healing as well--and certainly they contributed much good to this community and therefore deserve our unconditional love.

--Dr. M (aka Marvin X)
8.4.07 Oaktown

Dr. M (aka Marvin X) is author of the just released HOW TO RECOVER FROM THE ADDICTION TO WHITE SUPREMACY, A PAN AFRICAN 12 STEP MODEL FOR A MENTAL HEALTH PEER GROUP, BLACK BIRD PRESS, 2008, 111 PAGES. Foreword by Dr. Nathan Hare, afterword by Ptah Allah El (Tracey Mitchell), $19.95. Black Bird Press, POB 1317, Paradise CA 95967. Available at De Lauer's News, 14th and Broadway, Oaktown