Thursday, July 31, 2008

Hugh Masekela

Tonight we had church. People were in the aisles, waving figurative handkerchiefs, rocking and swaying to the South African band. Baba Hugh was on fire...the pot on boil, simmer and then high. It was a terrific journey--all the band stateside except Fana Zulu who still resides in South Africa. I hear, Masekela's wife is Ghanaian and that he spends a lot of time in her homeland.

Playing many of his top hits, like Stimila and the OJ anthem about "uniting Africa," plus shake your tail feather tunes, the audience found it hard to sit through, a few dancing near the register and along the walls, it was the kind of concert one recalls with a smile on days that aren't so blue.

When the show was nearing its end, folks seemed happy to have an opportunity to stand and sing. Masekela ended with Bring Back Nelson Mandela, his anthem. I think he always ends with this tribute to the old gizzards who fought the good fight for liberty and justice for their people.

After the set, the band mingled with the audience, signing autographs and talking in the lobby. People bought the double CD and got it autographed. I took photos of the band members, mostly of Hugh Masekela with his admirers. I recalled seeing the band, different configuration, at UC Berkeley earlier this year, or maybe last year with guest artists, two singers, a man and a woman, and could they blow. Oh my goodness!

Then last summer, we were at Stern Grove, Goapele opened for Masekela, she was still pregnant--yes, she was. At the Malcolm X Jazz Arts Festival she wasn't anymore. Okay, so anyway, Masekela was phenomenal as usual.

One always knows what to expect, greatness...fine musicianship, history. So anyway, the pianist, who was great, had just joined the band, five days prior. His name is Rashid Lanie. Morris and Hugh had known each other since 1957, when they were 17 and 19. Baba Hugh said Morris always knew where the cool spots were to play, and they'd play in the same bands at a time in South Africa when whites and blacks were not supposed to perform together.

They are still performing together.

Morris was phenomenal on penny whistles, saxes, percussion, so was Fana Zulu on bass, such a cool instrument. I don't know if the cool instrument makes whoever touches it cool, or that only cool people play such. I'll get back to you on this after I begin my lessons and see if the cool transfers.

Ian Herman was on drums. I'd met Ian last year also at Stern Grove. It was his first tour with the band when I met him then. Now, he's a seasoned veteran. I was sitting next to Ise Lyfe, who was celebrating the release of his latest CD. Sister Ayanna was in the audience too, so was Greg and Dafina, Angela Wellman and Nii Armah. I'd just been looking at photos from last year when we were at the Grove and Greg told us that Ayanna's sons had been shot, and one killed. It will be a year August 4, Monday.

I remember the funeral. So sad, so unnecessary. Such a waste. Baba Hugh sent out a prayer for the senseless killing and waste of innocent life worldwide. He told us to send out a prayer when we are in those still moments--what Alice Walker calls: the pause.

I'd gone out to walk the Lake at 8:30 p.m. while it was still light. My legs were talking to me and I had to answer. I missed seeing the brother at EastSide, perhaps some other time. So as I rounded the Lake to my car, it was 10:00 p.m. and the show had started. I had to run by Walgreen's first and buy batteries for my camera. When I arrived at 10:15 p.m. the place was packed, but there was room for me. I just wanted to explain the casual clothing.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Doubt at TheatreWorks in Palo Alto; Karen's Birthday

Tuesday, July 29, was my friend Karen's birthday. It was a surprise party, more an ambush I'm told by those who were there. Although, she'd rather not have a celebration, her family wasn't having it and a gala it was. I arrived toward the end-- I found out about the party at the last moment and already had tickets for the theatre. I went to see Doubt: a parable, at the Lucie Stern Theatre in Palo Alto, a TheatreWorks production. Tamika White told me about her debut with the company and I made it out to see her, and she was great as the mother of a child in a parochial school where the principal suspected the priest had molested him, or had plans to do so. Doubt is where it starts.

After the play I asked the actor if his character had "done it," and he wasn't telling. He said I'd have to ask Tamika at the close of the play. He said the playwright left it up to the actor as to whether or not his character was guilty. It's amazing where doubt places us. Doubt often makes one act with more certainty, isn't that strange? Doubt is crazy. The answer is open when we'd rather some semblance of finality or certainty. Doubt is the question when answered that makes us wonder if there were other ways of solving the equation.

When one wins the case, doubt spoils the victory.

I read an essay once in one of my textbooks about a father who encouraged his kids to realize there are no wrong answers, just different points of view. With Doubt, the playwright, John Patrick Shanley, shows us with the two principal characters that innocence is not certain when there is doubt. Just the suspicion ruins one's reputation irrevocably, so the priest, if innocent couldn't convince the principal he wasn't. Her mind was made up and once convinced they know the truth, there is nothing one can say or do to change it, so the wise man moves on. If he was guilty, then heaven help the next school unlucky enough to get him.

It was interesting seeing how the principal, Sister Aloysius Beauvier (actress Kimberly King) read the evidence and how another, in this case, Sister James (actress Kristin Stokes) read the same evidence and came to different conclusions that disturbed and troubled her. It didn't help that the child was black, in an all white school, that he was effeminate, his father beat him for this unmanly behavior that the only kind person in the school was Father Brenden Flynn (actor Cassidy Brown)the accused.

I'd heard of the Pulitzer prize-winning play a while back and knew what it was about; however, I really didn't know what it was about. This doubt that colors what entertains and occupies American minds. The playwright says we've moved from a celebrity culture to one of courtroom drama. I'd add reality TV, the more challenging physically or emotionally, the better.

"Doubt," he says, "is the subtle or violent reconciliation of the outer person and the inner core often [seen] at first a mistake, like you've gone the wrong way and you're lost. But this is just emotion longing for the familiar. Life happens when the tectonic power of your speechless soul breaks through the dead habits of the mind. Doubt is nothing less than an opportunity to reenter the Present" (preface viii).

As the principal became more certain, her certainty seemed to take on a life of it's own. Perhaps this is why she said when one tries to rid the world of evil, one steps outside the circle of good and is changed by the fight. It is easier to stay certain than to challenge our perceptions of truth. But the principal believes she is correct, that she is right and wants to save this child from harm, even if she has to harm him to do so. Tamika is superb here, with her New York accent, asking the principal why she wants to interject such doubts into her son's life and between her son and the only person he likes on campus.

It's only six months and then he'll be graduating. She tells the nun; leave it alone. In the meantime, the child gets beaten by his dad for drinking communion wine, and is not finding any love on campus from his peers. Imagine the sigma associated with inebriation--blacks and their wine, winos.

None of this matters, though. The principal is on a mission to convict the priest. It's like a witch hunt. He has no defense. I kind of liked him too. His sermons were great and I liked his little notebook where he was always jotting down notes for sermons.

I liked his shock at the accusation too, when he realized he'd been set up. His desire to break the fourth wall that separated the church from the community was not well received. He was of a different generation. Younger than the principal, he wanted to bring secular elements into the church if the addition of songs from the radio--Christmas songs for the pageant, would bring more people into the fold. He wanted the community to see him as a person, not unlike them.

Sister Beauvier wasn't hearing him or Sister James, whom she was grooming. But she'd been married, before her husband was killed in the war. How many nuns have lives before they devote themselves to service. This nun knew a bit about life and the world, which made one think, she could be right and that she knew something about pedophiles.

Doubt leaves one full of thought. The pacing and quiet deliberation, sprinkled with a few sermons, where imagined scenarios were used to illustrate lessons in honesty, truth and beauty.

Doubt is at TheatreWorks though August 10. Visit Photo credit: Wanda Sabir. Photos are of me and Tamika White and rest of Karen at her party, July 29.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Bay Area Playwright's Festival Reception: Marcus Gardley

Most, if not all of my photos are of Marcus and cast

Marcus Gardley's "every tongue must confess" at Bay Area Playwrighting Festival 31

Marcus Gardley Play
First Impressions—yes I plan to return August 3 at 4 p.m. at the Magic Theatre in Ft. Mason Center in San Francisco

The play, "every tongue must confess," opens in a church…the congregation, led by a woman, shifts between the heavenly and the profane as stories are bandied about—heat an ever present theme. I could certainly relate to the heat metaphor just returning from Mississippi where daily the temperature was 92 degrees. Learning to walk on water was my survival technique—otherwise I would have drowned.

At first I was confused by the multiple images—church benches and interlocking stories of mistaken identity, murder, and grace or its absence. Certainly there were consequences for evil, even evil misguided. A son denies his father and lives while his father is killed, his soul haunting the earth as he searches for his child, and a girl child—Benny, named after her grandfather, who stops speaking after her mother is almost kills.

Both father and daughter, who have never met share guilt, the guilt of speaking or holding one’s tongue—the difference is subtle, yet consequences are shame.

I am reminded throughout the play of May Angelous’ I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. In her autobiography, Margarite (young Maya) is struck mute when she tells who raped her and the man is found and killed. She realizes that words are powerful and that telling has consequences and she doesn’t want her words to be used to take life, so she writes and reads and stops speaking until she meets a teacher who helps her unlock her tongue.

It’s the same with Benny Pride (actress Rebecca White). She says a bird took her voice. Humm...bird imagery. Spirit often takes the form of birds. The reverend tells her that the bird doesn’t know what to do with the girl’s voice, that the burden of carrying the child’s voice is keeping her from being able to sing her own song. To take it back, and Benny does.

The child freezes up again when her dad…starts to speak, this stranger whom has so much in common with her. Pain and loss and hurt and guilt. It’s what he does with it-the shame, that differs from his daughter's choice.

Then there is the road Jeremiah (actor Robert Hampton) has paved, the bible he finds in a grave and a red string—there are four pieces of red string that tie the ends together-the ends of the story together. "The narrator" or lead "chorus director", actor, Myers Clark plays and "Sophia," "the Holy Ghost," and "reporter," actress Pjay Phillips plays, which help us stay on track...sort of, as the tale dips and turns as only a Marcus Gardley pen can imagine. Bravo!

It’s interesting…I don’t understand it all, but I roll with it. I trust the journey and know from literary experience (with Gardley) I will understand everything in the sweet bye and bye. And if I don't, I can ask questions. This is an opening reception perk, which I highly recommend. I recommend all opportunities to talk to the playwrights and cast. BAPF offers many such opportunities. (I wish the venue was a little closer to BART though. I like The Marsh for this reason, even though I understand the sentimental value of The Magic. Driving and parking is such an expense and a drag I am trying to overcome :-)

I learn later about Jeremiah and why he wants the pastor to lay hands on him. In the bible Jeremiah suffers for god. He paves a road past Bennie and her dad’s place. Benny’s dad, Stoker Pride (actor Michael Oakes) tells him to stop, but he ignores him. He tries to keep her from attending a black church up the road, she ignores him. The pastor frees her voice, just as Jeremiah frees her dad.

Jeremiah reads the bible. Later on we find out why he has to die.

Okay so I’m thinking the play is about church burnings in Alabama, when in fact the murder mystery is about these interlocking relationships and secrets and gossip and the truth in these stories which are somewhat biblical.

I met a woman in Algiers whose work was teaching others to use the bible as a guide to teach them how to live their daily lives. Marcus captures this concept in his play…Jeremiah is real, as is a man they call Blacksmith (actor Mujahid Abdul-Rashid). He lost his true name and can’t recall his son’s name, but he’s looking for his family. He had an accident, a fall and is bleeding when he shows up on the pastor’s step (actress C. Kelly Wright), sits uninvited at the table and begins to eat the food, complaining all the time.

The pastor, Mother Sister Madkins, a prophet and a healer, is bitter because she couldn’t save her husband—guilt. Guilt is a theme here. Good people who just don’t have to capacity to save the one’s they love. It’s like those who devote their lives to the world forget those at home—this is not the case with the pastor. She loves her son Shadrach, she just ignores him and what he wants until Blacksmith comes.

So here’s this stranger come to town who has the pastor speaking in tongues and the tongues of the congregation wagging.

The heat is not just the weather. The day is hot…but there is passion and also real danger. Someone is burning down churches and soon we find out who this is.

Jeremiah paves the road and then is killed—his death a beautiful dance. The actors are superb but the incineration of this humble man. I believe he was 82 or so, is horrible and horrifying and beautifully rendered. In the absence of smoke and trees and a visual landscape, he dances like the ashes floating into the air—the crackling flesh—the pain and agony a silent pantomime.

I don’t know how it will appear when the play is produced, but I’d never seen anyone die like this before—I called out to a friend at intermission—he’s being lynched. I nudged my friend as I watched in horror as he was set on fire—he’s being lynched. I don’t know what I expected—someone to run on stage and stop it, put out the fire. No one moved. And it took so long for him to dies too. when we watch lynchings on TV we just see the end…the popcorn bags, the retreating mob, the charred remains, not the actual event.

It takes a long time for a human being to burn, a long time. The actor captures this, he also captures the fascination the horrible images can evoke. I could see why people would take photos to send to friends, why people would watch, why people would stay and look—sickened yet transfixed.

Shadrach (actor Roy Ellis) was another character I had to find out more about afterwards. I knew he was important to the play, but I didn’t remember the story. I asked Kelly, the pastor, afterwards and she told me about Shadrach and his two brothers who were put in a fiery furnace and God saved them from it.

I was like, oh, so his presence guaranteed the congregation’s safety when the arsonist set fire to the church with people in it.

I’d neve heard of churches burned while occupied; I liked Gardley’s introduction of this twist. I also liked the way, by the time the church was burning through the interlocking stories, we had a personal relationship to the principles involved: Bennie, her mom in a coma, her dad, the pastor, Jeremiah, the grave digger and road paver, Shadrach and the stranger named Blacksmith who fixed stairs—repaired things.

Oh, I also wanted to mention that this play was about legacy—what we give our children, what we want them to have and what they end up keeping. Sometimes what they keep is what they should discard. Benny’s mom, Bernadette, (actress Julia McNeal) in a coma haunts the space her daughter occupies. She can’t rest until she knows her child is all right. This is so African a concept. This is why we don’t call on the recently departed because they are making their ascent and if we call them –if we pour libations for them –the invocation causes them to tarry. In this case, though, the mother is on life support and her spirit wanders freely…she knows her daughter and wants to relieve her conscience. What she doesn’t know is her husband.

I love the earlier conversation between the two before she is shot by her black boy friend. I was so happy the story wasn’t going to be a typical interracial tale, that appearances were deceptive. I wonder how much the mother knew about her child’s dad.

The language was rich and the layers of story and symbols and imagery are so fantastic…oh my goodness. I just loved it. I guess following an evening featuring the work of three playwrights: Gertrude Stein, Suzan-Lori Parks and Eugenie Chan in Avant GardARAMA! at Cutting Ball theatre, directed by Rob Melrose, kind of prepared the way for my instant immersion in this world…one where clarity is not easy when perspiration is dripping down one’s brow into one’s eyes. Again, I carried a towel in my purse. Tissue was useless.

I’m still trying to get used to this cool –read “cold,” California weather.
Just the evening before when I learned a now way to engage text…well it wasn’t new, I do it all the time with poetry, but one doesn’t turn off the analytical as quickly when in the theatre. I stopped looking for meaning and just let the words do what they wanted. The images helped at Avant GardARAMA! I don’t remember the art in Gardley’s play. I usually do, but I was so captivated by the characters and the actors embodying them to notice—really notice.

It was pedestrian. I was so into my head making images, seeing roads and red string in Bennie’s hair, birds snatching voices, the lame walk, ghosts and burning churches—consumption, crosses and more death—even walkman’s. The other “real” scenery or images just didn’t compute. How it all fit together was a place I didn’t have time to go because I was having enough trouble following the red thread and I didn’t want to get lost.

Threads and spoons, the notion that in the country there could be a girl who refuses to eat anything with eyes; a boy who cooks for his mother, and the concept of laying on hands…a third eye that sleeps after dark, bigots and racists, and the question: why is the object of our disdain or hatred, most often ourselves?

I also saw elements or influences of James Baldwin: The Fire Next Time and because Kelly and Mujahid were in the cast, in was reminded of Amen Corner, where Mujahid played the errant husband returned home to die. Here again Blacksmith returned home to die. Kelly was the angry woman, a woman robbed of an opportunity to be with the one she loved. Gardley's names for his central characters--"Pride" and "Madkins" make a lot more sense once the play is over and one thinks about the journey. Pride definitely was the reason for Stoker's fall and Mother Sister was certainly angry at God, while again Pride was angry at his father and Benny was angry at her kinfolk too, her mom for her naivete and her mom's boyfriend, and her dad.

Marcus Gardley’s “Every Tongue Must Confess’” takes us on a journey to explore this issue. I think this was the first play I’d seen of his set outside Oakland, and I loved it. I loved the way the director and dramaturg worked with the language to bring out the inherent imagery in the work, minus props which would have clarified so much and made our work as audience so much easier. But I liked working for my supper or dessert or good time. I will feel so vindicated with I see the play produced and can just sit back and allow the images to cascade of me. I don’t think I have ever seen a Gardley play in full production and I know there has been at least one produced in the Bay Area. I am not on the A list—boo hoo hoo.

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Cutting Ball's Advant GardARAMA! photos

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Monday, July 21, 2008

Home in sight

Well it's been lovely returning to the land of my birth, but there is something about the place that nurtured you...the place where most of my development as a human being took place...and that's California, San Francisco. My dad's remains are there, and my mother and siblings live there also.

For the person behind bars though, if asked where their home is, few would say San Quentin or Angola or Pelican Bay, so what should a descendant of those Africans traded or lost in places like New Orleans say? Am I really a citizen of either place since I am still far from home?

Philosophically I am still temporary home for the past several decades has been California, but I hope one day to be reunited with family, long lost family in the Motherland, just as I am always happy to meet long lost relatives in Mississippi and Louisiana. It feels weird meeting second cousins who played with my dad as a child for the first time at his aunt, my great aunt's funeral...I wish I'd known them a long time ago. I wish I could have grown up with their kids, but hey it's better to know them now than to not know them at all. So I am thankful.

Family reunions, weddings and yes, funerals are an opportunity to do this. There was a funeral July 13 and wedding party, July 19 and a wedding July 26.

With roots here and there I guess I'll always be lost in a sense. Maybe this was the lesson. I will always be a stranger, there will always be pieces of myself that remain an anomaly. Perhaps this journey is an attempt to put the puzzle together... there are so many of us interested in knowing our ancestors.

Perhaps the more we know the better we will be? Certainly I am inspired by my people, especially the elders who lived through Jim Crow over and over again, most recently August 29, 2005.

They keep getting up. Pearlington looked magnificent compared to the place I visited Spring 2006. Even Slidell is looking better from the coastline. I wish I could say the same for New Orleans, but even throughout the city which looks war torn, shelled and abandoned...there is hope, smiles and will.

I am happy my soul sprung from such a place and divides itself between here and there. It's wonderful that souls are not bound by material or matter, they are all that matters...all that lasts, all that keeps us present when we need to be--what connects us as a species to other species and life forms.

We need to remember this.

I am trying to squeeze a little sightseeing into the schedule before I take off. I've been walking at Audubon along St. Charles, across from Loyola University. I mentioned somewhere that I feel close to my dad when I'm there, plus I know how to get there from the highway and get home afterwards.

My cousin's wife works nearby too, so I can send here a symbolic wave when I drive by Touro Medical Center.

So today I'm off to Meterie to see my cousin and then for a walk at Audubon, and dinner with friends. Tomorrow I'm going to try to get back to Audubon for a last walk and maybe the zoo. I don't like zoos, cages --even ones close to the natural habitat are still cages. Why should animals be subject to display because we can subject them to such? Where are the animal protection folks? I think it's hypocritical to have zoos and be against circuses with animals. Aren't the two one in the same? The same with aquariums. They are all prisons and need to be abolished. It's the more modern form of freak show, slavery.... If people want to see "wild animals" I don't know, look at a nature film or go on a safari. Just our presence in the world ruins natural habitats, so I don't think we should go visit them, because we are often the death of species that let us get too close.

I really want to go by an African Diaspora art gallery and look at art. Tonight I also want to walk in the French Quarters. I haven't done this yet either.

I am trying to avoid mosquitoes.

I watched a great film this morning, "Hitch," with Will Smith. I think perspective dates should watch this before going out. What I liked about the premise of a man who had his heart broken and subsequently became a love broker, is his honesty and the premise that one should be him or herself, yet, be prepared.

Love is not about the sex, it's about the relationship if one wants something lasting. if one wants a booty call then Hitch was not interested in the business.
His clients were decent men, men who didn't know how to package themselves so the women they were interested in would notice them.

Good things don't just fall in your lap, you have to prepare for them.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Lost in New Orleans at a glance

These are photos of the Nelson Mandela 90th Birthday party Friday, July 18 at Ache (pron. ashay); the South African films at The Porch Thursday, July 17; a walk along the Algiers' levee with Malik Rahim Tuesday, July 15 and in Malik's backyard tree house and on the front porch, Audubon Park...Katrina disaster shots in the 7th Ward.

Lost in New Orleans

Whenever I walk in Audubon Park in New Orleans, it's for my father. My mother tells me that as a child I asked my dad to swing at the park which was segregated. He couldn't grant my wish. The shame associated with his political impotence ended our stay in New Orleans. In 1962 we were heading cross country where we stayed, never visiting New Orleans or the south as a family ever again.


At the family reunion I noticed the friendliness of relatives towards one another. I'd met some of them in January at my great aunt's funeral, but I didn't know them, know them. I was missing the context and even after writing it down, several times, I still get the relationships confused.

If ever black people needed another tea or coffee party, Jim Crow was it. The irony is Crispus Attucks, the first to die in the Revolutionary War, his ancestors are still fighting the same battle.

New Orleans is evidence, post-Katrina, post levees, that somethings in America don't seem to change, and if they do, don't change for long.

Yesterday, I went to visit my friend who lives in the rich area of town, where he said, not long ago, the only black people you saw were chauffeurs and maids. Loyola and Tulane are out there, along with million dollar homes. It's ritzy--but not flashy. The homes are antebellum palatial--with the requisite columns.

I'm not lost in New Orleans. How can one be lost at home, but I am lost in the sense I am still working out the details of what happened to place me here...why I'm still here and what I'm supposed to be doing. Am I a messenger or is there a message? I have been establishing relationships with artists and strong women in the New Orleans community, which is always good.

The Community Book Store is one such place; really cool I had fun talking to the sister about a book I was reading Edward P. Jones' The Known World, a fascinating tale about black people who owned slaves; one of the principal characters, Henry, a former slave himself.

The term, "known world," frames what each character thinks and how he or she acts, what choices they make or don't based on the limits of "their world" and what they know about this world-- it's interesting to see certain characters slip between the two worlds. A character names Alice does this as does Henry's brother-in-law, Calvin. There are so many characters too, the book gives us a recap at the end; I wish I'd known about the addendum earlier.

It often seems as if the behavior of both enslaved African and free person, black and white is bond by the rules of the known world--white people have certain privileges and black people, free and enslaved can only go so far up the food chain, so when one sees characters like the sheriff who applies the law to both black and white, enslaved and free, if not equally, pretty conscientiously, his eventual murder is not unforeseen when one sees how unsupportive the known world is of such consideration.

Edward P. Jones' Know World plays out like a chess game, only pieces get up after they've fallen or been taken away. Pieces like Moses, who is crushed early one when his only family is taken from him, followed by his only friend.

I love Henry's father, Augustus, who when sold as a free man back into slavery refuses to work for anyone else and how dignified and absolute he is. I love the way his spirit travels to his wife and touches her heart and she feels it and runs outside, the house too small to contain her sorrow. The strangeness of this world is also an aspect of the tale that make it most intriguing. The characters make one wonder where Jones found them all, yet their world could easily be ours with different challenges.

The dilemma of white men and black women, their attraction to black women, even children, one character, the sheriff struggles with his attraction to a black girl whom he and his wife raised as a child, while his cousin would rape her if he had a chance-- the contrast between the two men in this world the author (Jones)has created is an aspect of the book that lends credibility to the complexity one has to consider when looking at chattel slavery and it's impact on the perception on black women's sexuality, as well as black humanity and human rights.

Last night at The Porch, an organization located in the 7th Ward in New Orleans, an area still devastated by Katrina's aftermath. Houses falling down...debris piled up, businesses boarded up, there was an African Film Festival. The celebration was planned to coincide with Nelson Mandela's 90th Birthday celebration today. The South African director, Zola Maseko, was in the house...really yard, and entertained questions between films which explored colonialism's impact on Africa and how the economics of neocolonialism is reflected in France's claim to the body of Sara Baartman, the Khoisan woman who forms the basis of the pseudo-science which uses brain size and other anatomical aspects of this African woman to prove the inferiority of women and black people.

This was a film I really wanted to see and I wasn't disappointed. Documentary style, I wondered how the director was able to capture so much of the story which spanned two continents. He never spoke of budgets, but no expense seemed to be spared once he knew the Sara Baartmaan story and her significance to the African feminist movement. I thought how strange when I'd known her story from art and literature, for a long time. Suzan Lori Parks play, Venus, which I saw a long time ago; Elizabeth Alexander's book length poem...there are so many references. I don't know how I found out, but I've known about her and other Africans, like Obenga, for a long time.

Europeans are just sick--their history is sick. I don't know of anyone outside of Europe that has exhibited such aberrant behavior towards other human beings. In South Africa, colonizers made handbags from people's flesh. The scientific use of Sara Baartman's remains is not inconsistent with the use of a certain black woman's DNA after her death, without her permission to research cures for disease. Her family was never consulted or compensated to date (UCBAM).

Baartman's burial and her trip back to South Africa was so beautiful. It reminded me of another film, Banished (, which looked at African Americans who were ran out of town by white vigilantes at will from the early 17th century through the 20th. These citizens often escaped with just the clothes on their backs and anyone caught home after sundown, were killed. Homes were burned and then white people sold the property or took it. One profile was of two brothers who wanted to get the remains of their relative, and were refused.

The deputy character tried to do this in the novel, The Known World, but the courts made him give everything he took from the house back, not before he burned the house to the ground though.

I don't know where the mentality comes from that makes one person think he or she can own another person. I don't understand the thinking that makes a person give away their power so easily. A little dog was approaching some geese at the park yesterday, and before he arrived all of them had crossed the road when they could have stood their ground and scared him away. It is the same with enslavement. When one looks at the numbers of how many Africans were here in New Orleans, compared to how many French, the Africans outnumbered the French several times, yet they didn't take over. Henry's father Augustus tried to get his black captor to join him in liberty, the captive was afraid. He hadn't known freedom and couldn't think outside his known world.

The films were great. The first one, The Foreigner (1997) was about xenophobia, the second, my favorite, about art and the discourse it opens even in a situation where there is no active interracial or intercultural dialogue. A Drink in the Passage,(2003), shows how art transcends such artificial stratification because it speaks to the heart and the heart doesn't lie.

Earlier that day I drove by the clearing where the projects stood--football field size. Other portions of the projects occupied--it's a similar story in the Lower 9th Ward where houses sit next to empty lots, weeds almost taller than me occupy the spaces houses stood. Occupied homes are sprinkled sparingly among its apparitions. Mwalimu said he could smell death...dead bodies decomposed. I had to watch where I walked so as to not disturb contaminated matter.

We passed volunteers cleaning up, cutting weeds, gutting houses. As we drove through the huge area, street after street, Mwalimu spoke of the history and grew angry as he thought about his displacement and that of others not as fortunate as him to still reside in New Orleans.

I missed Geno Delafonse in concert. I was looking forward to dancing last night, but we finished at The Porch at 11:40 p.m. and I went back up to N Claiborne to I-10 W to cross the river. I stopped by Malik Rahim's in Algiers first to meet Kone, whom I hadn't seen yet this visit.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Ethnic Dance Festival reunion of Petite la Croix with Blanche Brown, Kotoja, Jimmy Carter and Henry Butler

This past weekend, I attended the Ethnic Dance Festival, its 4th and final week, specifically to honor Blanche Brown, founder and choreographer of Petite La Croix, a Haitian Dance Troupe here in the San Francisco Bay Area. I think they were my introduction and love for all things Haitian. They made me proud of my Afro-Caribbean legacy as a child of New Orleans: Vodun country.

Blanche Brown received the Malonga Casquelord award for her excellence in dance and her legacy in the preservation and guardianship of an important African cultural expression. I hadn't seen her dance in a long while and when the alumni company joined Alafia on stage in their dramatic purple and white, white face paint covering half each of their countenances, it was a sight to behold. I love Gede, the deity of the cemetery and the dead, among other things...I recall my introduction to him when Marc Bamuthi Joseph evoked him when he performed one of his narratives, this one a question about what it means to be a father. He spoke of how hiw grandfather told him he met his great grandson...and as he told the story, Marc relayed how the torch was passed as his grandfather exited this dimension into the next as the child was born. His son is named for his great granddad. It was pretty deep. I hadn't known up to this point that Marc was first generation Haitian American from New York.

So it was a treat to see the company Ms. Brown founded and its leader get props. Another company I enjoyed was the Hawaiian one and the Filipino one. The Mexican company had the most lovely gowns that the women dancers used like fans.

Sunday evening I went to see James Cotton and Monday night I went to see The Five Blind Boys featuring lead singer, Jimmy Lee Carter. The band was pretty awesome. Henry Butler came back stage to say hi, and it was nice to see him also. He's a handsome man.

Saturday night I went to see Kotoja. They were great as usual. When I was too tired to stand, I leaned on my partner so I didn't have to sit any songs out. Early Saturday, I went by the Museum of the African Diaspora to look at the exhibit "Double Exposure," which is African American photographs looking at the image as subject and object. Carrie Mae Weems was the inspiration for the curator, who has assembled work which takes in Hank Willis' work, which has him in a bonnet, a caricature of the Mammy on the pancake box, tried to shift the perception along its axis or comfort level just enough to make his audience question the truth of the statement as they gaze at its inversion. Hank's mother, Deborah Willis imposes or prints her childhood and family photos on her dad's neck ties which are sewn together in a quilt. I just thought about the inference of family hanging on her dad's neck. I wonder if he saw them as a burden? Next to Hank, Carrie Mae Weems uses stereotypical images (4) and has a film of red coloring the presentation. The one word labels on each of the four women, like Hank's portrait...calls into question the role of judgement in accertaining the inaccuracy or accuracy of one's perceptions and ultimately what one calls the truth.

I ran over to Yerba Buena Center for the Arts to see The Way We Rhyme before heading over to the Palace of Fine Arts for the Ethnic Dance Festival.

The next day, Sunday, June 29, before I rushed back for the James Cotton show from Palo Alto, I quickly ran through the art exhibit at the Cantor Art Museum at Stanford. The exhibit was a collection of ceremonial masks from Zambia. Quite a few were ancestral and carried power. There was a video patrons could watch to see the masks use in ceremony.

James Cotton, on blues harp, was awesome Sunday evening as were the Blind Boys Monday night and Gilberto Gil Wednesday evening. Gil put on an amazing show....I am still tired from all my running. I am debating whether or not I am still going to the alternative July 4th event that UpSurge Jazz and Poetry is hosting at the Oakland Public Conservatory of Music. It was really fun last year.

I think I'll take a nap and think about it.