Sunday, May 18, 2008

Malcolm X Jazz Arts Festival, Queenie Pie

Yesterday at San Antonio Park celebrants were reminded of the legacy of El Hajj Malik El Shabazz, as his name was invoked along with other revolutionaries like Martin King, Fred Douglass, and General Harriet Tubman. The day was warm but not unbearable...but as I was arriving Kiilu Nyasha was leaving. She's arrived at 11 to see John Santos. She said he was great! Yet, after 3 hours and no bathroom accress, when 3:30 arrived she decided to ride on over to the BART in her wheelchair and go home. I was getting out of my car as she rolled by. We caught up in her news, one her birthday, May 22 and a surprise party last week. It was her first in 77 years. (I need to check that number.)

The second bit of news was Kiilu is hosting a TV weekly show, Freedom is a Constant Struggle, on SF Live, Cable 76 in San Francisco on Fridays from 7:30 to 7:52 p.m. (PST). It is also on-line, at There is no archive.

As Muziki Robeson's Quartet closed out an outstanding program featuring some of the Bay Area's hottest artists, Dwight Trible called John Coltrane's name to bless the day and even sang a few choruses of Lift Every was truly a transcendental moment as the vocalist traded lines with the saxophonist. Earlier on the same stage, Howard Wiley lead the Freedom Now Band which was pretty awesome. My goodness Howard can blow that horn, makes one wonder if Gabriel played sax not trumpet. Although Ambrose Akinmusire Project with Goapele, makes me think that heaven has an orchestra where one can play a variety of brass and reed instruments--your choice. Ambrose was great on trumpet...and the organist and drummer were awesome also. Goapele might have been the draw, but the ensemble certainly upheld the standard John Santos opened the afternoon with four hours earlier.

I was walking around listening to the music from a variety of vantage points...Black Panther Alumni booth, with BJ and Gail; Malcolm X Grassroots; Clothing and Jewelry booths--there was a cute, Oakland Republic t-shrt, even a booth where kids were choosing henna patterns for body painting designs. I made the rounds, stopping to say hi to friends reclining on the grass on blankets or lounge chairs.

Ambrose's group sounded great. Between his set and Muziki's, I moosied over to the Electric Church with Black Dot Stage ---featuring folks from Hairdoo, Shaka Jamal and Adimu. But it was this sister, whose name I learned afterwards is Queen Deelah, who really captivated me with her song about stopping the violence. She's a part of Turf Unity and Silence the Violence, two iniatives out of the Ella Baker Center in Oakland. We spoke afterwards and she told me about a new CD dropping early summer, so look for it. There will be a release party in June, probably the second week. Earler, this was also the spot for the New Orleans Brass Band. Folks were cutting the rug literally as the boys in stage, pumped it up.

After Muziki's set ended a bit later, I hurried off to see Queenie Pie at the Oakland Opera. The only opera written by Duke Ellington, the music was fantastic, especially with the live orchestration and great singing. The story was sad. Set in a TV studio with a live audience, us, Queenie Pie was the story of a Harlem hairstylist who'd been winning the crown for her beauty secrets until Miss Cafe Ole comes to town and challenges the reigning queen.

There is an interesting twist, enchanted islands and life after prison. It reminded me of the Wizard of Oz, the part about Dorothy "wanting to go home" and the wizard facilitating that. Dorothy made a good choice; Queenie Pie, well let's just say, it's questionable. I won't spoil it for you, as it closes this weekend. Left incomplete at his death, and never performed while he was alive, Ellington's son, Mercer completed the work for Dad.

The theatre, located on 3rd Street, is a bit past Clay. When it's complete the theatre is going to be an impressive presence along the Oakland waterfront.


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