Sunday, February 24, 2008

Come Home

I saw Jovelyn Richard’s play the evening before the film, Honeydripper, and the two stories resonated. Come Home is set in Arkansas where 26 black men went to war and 13 came home. The actress squeezes the life from Ms. Dee’s husband,, so affected by the loss of his friends they haunt the couple’s bed—their eyes Ms. Dee’s husband’s eyes when he looks down at her when they have sex.

The veteran can’t tell her about the horror, a horror that exists still in the town they live in, and the people of that town. Nothing has changed since they went away and sacrificed their lives for as country which respected it’s enemy more than its citizens.

The narrator describes Ms. Dee’s earlier relationship with her husband, first boyfriend. She counts his eyelashes. I don’t quite get the analogy but I like it the way one knows the “he loves me…he loves me not.” The actress sings with her body and voice—the chorus, three women: pianist, percussionist and violinist are ground that catches the beautiful actress.

Richards channels the spirit world, ancestors and the energy of the trees, which encircle her Ms. Dee at some point as she prays for her son’s safety. Lighting designer, Stephanie Anne Johnson is inspired as she fills the stage with town folk and just as quickly empties it as the narrator speaks. Come Home opens with a lynching of a young boy. Perhaps this was foreshadowing…I didn’t catch.

The couple have two children, Po Boy who is crazy about his mom and looks just like his dad. The younger child is Thunder. The family get along, because even in the silence and the hurt places, there is love. Jovelyn’s voice and the characters she portrays are so remarkably seductive. One can’t help caring and then it happens and one wants to wish it away. Hasn’t this family been hurt enough?

It is the same when Pinetop rescues Sonny when he recognizes the hunger in his face. It is the same with Possum who plays his instrument for certain people to hear, in this case, Sonny and Pinetop. It is the same with Miles and Nina, (Satellites @ Aurora) the baby a nagging reminder that something is wrong—something the parents need to fix inside. Come Home is such a luscious play. The souls of black people give it breath. One can hear the playwright’s conversations with relatives in Arkansas as a child. We can see the plough, hear the chickens in the yard and catch the door before it hits the frame, just in case someone is resting….

She said all her stories start in the same place: Arkansas. One can see Ms. Lucy who lives in all her stories. Ms. Lucy is a mysterious woman who lived with the playwright’s family when she was a little girl, then Ms. Lucy disappeared just as quickly as she came. “I think she was a victim of elder abuse,” Richards said as she recalled the woman who helped her mother for a year for room and board.

Jovelyn Richards’ work has an authenticity that is larger than any one community, unless we’re speaking of the human species. The way trauma can disrupt one’s life is certainly central to this story, yet, time really does heal sometimes when one is faced with a similar trauma.

When Thunder saw her brother carried off by a white mob, and ran home to her father, he seemed to wake up—the other 13 men seemed to wake up too, as they recalled a time before war when they claimed their dignity and reclaimed it in that moment and went to address the terror in Thunder’s eyes.

It was a beautiful moment in the story that reminded me of Zora Neale Hurston’s collection Spunk when in the piece Gilded Six-bits, the husband forgives his wife. In this case, the men forgive themselves and reclaim the love—not lost, but abandoned in their grief for the 13 men who didn’t return home and for a country which denied them their rights as citizens and as people. Come Home at The Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd Street), in San Francisco, runs Thursday-Saturday, January 31-March 8, at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15-35. The show runs an uninterrupted 70 minutes and really needs an audience. The actress plays for who’s there but I’d like to see what it feel like to have other energy present in the house. I am bringing my college classes next Thursday, March 6.

Bob Marley Day in San Francisco

Yesterday at the 27th Annuak Tribute to Reggae Legends in San Francisco, the weather and pending storm didn't turn folks away from what is certainly a Bay Area tradition: Bob Marley Day. The last stop on a multiple California city tour, beginning in Long Beach, the San Francisco show had less headliners than it did two years, even four years ago, but Gregory Issacs with Live Wyya, Anthony B., Midnite, the Aggrolites and Soul Majestic were plenty. Alpha Blondy and Barrington Levy who canceled would have been nice to see. However, the addition of Eek-a-Mouse as closing headliner was like two for one. No one seemed to mind and the place was packed until the very last number. There were no women band leaders or lead singers featured in San Francisco, though Queen Ifrica and Cherine Anderrson were featured in the San Diego concert stop.

It was the usual running around, even though I'd promised myself I'd sit in my seat and just watch, who can resist getting so close to the stage one can see the perspiration form on an artist's face? Not I, so I wasn't able to take notes, but I got great shots of Isaacs, Anthony B, and Eek-a-Mouse and a great interview back stage with Live Wyya, a younger ensemble who are keeping the revolutionary flame burning.

The concert felt more laid back and cool. The more important looking press, those with heavy video cameras, three and four lens swinging from their necks and of course the all-access bracelet, we independent media didn't have on. Some black reporters who were tired of the hoops, boycotted the concert, but my cousin Wyldflour from Chicago bought me a ticket and so I was going to be there regardless and as I said, I had a lot of fun.

Anthony B. was my favorite artist. His lyrics were conscious and covered topics like police brutality, ganja, and revolutionaries. Hi band was tight and his two women back-up singers were great as well. He jumped around the stage--full of energy. But all the performers were. I was surprised when he announced a campaign to get the Jamaican government to recognized Bob Marley as a national hero, which to date, hasn't happened. I wouldn't have believed this was so considering the stadium named in his honor in Kingston, stamp, and the monument status of his home in Trench town.

Gregory Issacs has been in the business so long, it was name that tune as the fans waited for him to begin their favorite song. I found myself saying, I know that one. Oh, I didn't know he wrote that one. My friend wanted to know why he cut a song from his favorite album--something about a Red Rose, short. The Aggronauts who proceeded Isaacs were so energetic, especially their organist. The group played a selection of oldies but Reggae goodies, plus many original songs. And I just love those Midnite brothers--one on vocals, the other on guitar. They followed Isaacs and I followed them. It's like trance. I could listen to them all day long, the groove they set is so pleasant.

Eek-a-Mouse's voice is a showstopper. I don't remember any of the lyrics, just when he'd slip into "the voice." No matter how often it happened, I never got used to the sound. Dressed very dapper: sports jacket, slacks, complete with hat. As the stage heated up, the jacket came off.

I don't remember seeing as many babies before. There were a lot of little babies, plus kids under 10 in the house. Seated in front of me, there were three adults and two kids. On the main floor a mother danced with her child. Two other parents played with their infant before getting up and walking around. I could imagine people meeting at the Ragga Muffin Festival and then letting the concert be like a bi-annual anniversary celebration, each year as the family grew, so would the entourage.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Congrats on 7 Years of Freedom

February 8, 2008, Robert King Wilkerson walked out a free man after 31 years in Angola State Prison, 29 of these years in solitary confinement. Two weeks ago I was in New Orleans to help him celebrate and continue the organizing work to free his comrades Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox who are in their 35th year of solitary confinement, the longest in US recorded history. Currently, a civil suit contests this punishment as cruel and unusual. The photos were taken at various gatherings that weekend. This weekend was also the presidential primaries, which Obama won. Visit and

Robert King
I think what I admire most about King is his commitment to seeing his friends freed. Unlike Yusef or the biblical Joseph's cellmates who forgot him when they were released until they reached the end of their knowledge and needed more, King has dedicated every waking hour to freeing his friends to the point of sacrificing his happiness or livelihood even, to be on call to whomever and whatever cause focused on the liberation of African people.

The phrase all of us or none, takes on another meaning when you live it as he does. It means that he is working day and night making Freelines, his sole economic support so his customer base remains happy so he can pay his bills and have a place to rest his head when he returns home to Austin, Texas. It means his companion Kenya sees her master –in a good month perhaps 21 days, more often 14. It means he has to revisit a traumatic time and place in his life over and over again. Imagine removing a bandage and cutting open a healed wound for spectators who still don't believe the wound hurts after they see the evidence—this is what his activism for A-3 means.

It means being patient and letting supporters find their way when he knows the direct route. It means being underestimated and second guessed, often by those who think they know better, when they haven't a clue. I'm speaking of the legal team which has evolved and continues to evolve, yet time is wasted second guessing King or not using political and moral urgency as guiding signposts.

The number 1 task is freeing Herman and Albert, but other things get in the way as the big picture gets eclipsed by the little one. How else can onen justify the wasted year Herman spent in prison when let a judge get away with not ruling on a recommendation that Herman be released in 2006. It was ruled on in 2007, now the case is moving again.

Now that Anita Roddick's team in her unfortunate absence is on board, there are more resources and King is no longer, along with a few others laboring alone, but like one person says, A-3 seems to have taken on a life of its own, the movers and shakers of yesterday retired.

Even now the civil case is stymieing the criminal one, or seems to be when the big picture, getting these men out of prison is overshadowed by getting these men out of solitary confinement. Again, the new kids on the block have taken the lead and forgotten that King was there recently and no matter how many visits with Herman and Albert, no matter how many hours on the phone, seated in the visiting room, or spent writing and reading letters—it really isn't the same as being there locked up with no escape.

It isn't the same. Don't get it twisted, it isn't the same. I've never picked cotton or cut sugar cane in the hot sun with a guard on horse back, gun in hand, trranslate: whip. King has. King has been beaten like our ancestors were beaten, like characters in films such as Sankofa or mini-series like Roots were beaten to break their spirits were physically constrained and tortured, yet like Robert and Albert and Herman survived. Like King on the outside continues to survive without hate, notice I didn't say without anger.

Empathy is often not enough to bridge the cultural impasse between people. If state sanctioned brutality and disenfranchisement is not a part of your history and you share the same land, constitution and government, then the question is: why didn't I know this? How come you and not me?

Racism, simply stated, is the reason, that and white skin privilege. America is not a class based society, rather it is one based on race and until America officially recognizes this and sets in motion on—going protocols to remedy this, nothing will change just as nothing, fundamentally has changed. 2008 marks the end of chattel imports in January 1, 1808 and there was only an op ed mention in the New York Times towards the end of the year.

At least Britain saluted it's 200th year (1807-2007) with pomp and fanfare—200 years too soon some African British citizens thought. It is the same in France and Germany and Portugal and Spain, none of the participants in the European slave trade escaped the residual effects of racism and its child, white supremacy.

Such was a prerequisite to involvement in the process, such is the legacy
which remains unchallenged by most if not all those in power, slavery's
beneficiaries, such is the reason why Herman and Albert sit under the prison, like so many others in Angola and elsewhere, awaiting justice.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Black History Month

Well the race is on. This year we get an extra day, so once again events like the deposing of Haitian president (February 29, 2004), Jean-Bertrand Artistide can be acknowledged and the resistance to global imperialism renewed. It's so cool that Barack Obama is offering us an alternative choice. The timing seems to be better and he seems to be taken more seriously than our formidable sister, Shirley Chisholm. I can see her cheering him on!

Everyone needs to participate, even the doubting Thomases. Participate anyway. Our ancestors died so that we could, and elsewhere in the world, like Kenya and Congo, people are still dying for democracy.