Thursday, June 09, 2011

Say It Loud: I'm Black and I'm Proud

When I walked into the opening set, the band was in full swing on a tune I learned later called Soul Pride (1960). The horn section with Alfred "Pee Wee" Ellis on tenor sax, Charles McNeil on alto and Chad on trombone was swinging--the other members of the band, Peter Madison on organ and piano, John Mayer on traps, Ray on guitar, Papa Alassane on African percussion and Mark on bass, rounded out the ensemble which included Fred Ross on vocals and small percussion--and special guests this "Still Black, Still Proud" tour, Vusi Mahlasela and Meklit Hadero.

"Chicken" was next, another PW tune which had heads bobbing all over the intimate room--comfortably full. The band then eased into Tony Allen's "No Discrimination" --Fela plays on the album, and the drummer is a contender for the Afro-beat heavyweight title according to Brother Pee Wee, who might not physically tower over most of the guys on stage, but certainly is gigantic in his musical legacy. Visit

As we were grooving to the sounds of "Say It Loud, I'm Black and I'm Proud," (1968)the James Brown tune, co-written with Pee Wee Ellis, I reflected on the reason it was an anthem 40 years ago, is the same reason why it remains an anthem today--The affirmation or assertion grounds us in the space we occupy as a people here in America and elsewhere in global Pan Africa.

Africans were standing up and saying no more to invasions and invaders, theft and rape of land and its resources. Black people were embracing their beautiful blackness, a blackness they were taught to despise and reject. I'd never thought about the song politically until tonight when Fred Ross invoked James Brown's spirit and then in their various languages: Zulu, Amharic and Wolof --the artists and audience embraced our collective heritage in song.

Uh! With your bad self!

Some people say we've got a lot of malice
Some say it's a lot of nerve
But I say we won't quit moving until we get what we deserve
We have been bucked and we have been scorned
We have been treated bad, talked about as just bones
But just as it takes two eyes to make a pair, ha
Brother we can't quit until we get our share

Say it loud: I'm black and I'm proud!
Say it loud: I'm black and I'm proud!
One more time!
Say it loud: I'm black and I'm proud!

I worked on jobs with my feet and my hand
But all the work I did was for the other man
Now we demand a chance to do things for ourselves
We're tired of beatin' our head against the wall
And workin' for someone else

Say it loud: I'm black and I'm proud
Say it loud: I'm black and I'm proud
Say it loud: I'm black and I'm proud
Say it loud: I'm black and I'm proud

We're people, we're just like the birds and the bees
We'd rather die on our feet
Than be livin' on our knees

Say it loud: I'm black and I'm proud
Say it loud: I'm black and I'm proud
Say it loud: I'm black and I'm proud
Say it loud: I'm black and I'm proud (JB is performing Say It Loud on SoulTrain.)

Meklit who said she'd forgotten her Amharic when she came to America, called her papa and asked him how to say: Say It Loud, I'm Black and I'm Proud. His first suggestion had too many words and syllables; however, she worked it out and we sang along with her. Vusi, the rock star, already had us primed with his "Africa Sing," on "The Voice." I can't spell it, but I could sing it (smile).

The Still Black Still Proud tour, which has been all over Europe and is just getting to the United States a few years ago--I think this is its first stop in the San Francisco Bay Area--we hope it isn't its last, is an opportunity to reflect, and reflect Vusi did on African aide, something Africa needs and deserves after serving the needs of foreign nationals for so long. It's not a handout, he said. It's payback!

The artists sang many of Brown's songs, music often composed by Pee Wee, mixing it up with their originals. I don't know if PW composed "Try Me," which Vusi sang lovely. On "Cold Sweat," a PW tune, Meklit killed it, simliar to Fred Ross's surgical skill on "I've Got the Feeling." Not only did he sing well, he also had the moves--not JB, but close enough.

After that rousinh song, there was a drumming interlude with Papa Alassane on djembe and congas--joined by the drummer and trombonist, now on conch shells.

Vusi and PW changed into colorful shirts--PW's from the same kind of fabric I purchased in Djenne, Mali. Vusi, in a pretty indigo design shirt, brought out his guitar. Felt like Africa, folks hanging out. . . nobody sweating us about photos, the artists interacting with the patrons. It was pretty cool.

I should have stayed for the second set, but I had to get home to rise early in the morning, yet here I sit still grooving.

East Africa was in the house, South Africa, West Africa was kind of quiet . . . I didn't see a lot of folks from the western coastal areas, but maybe they're planning to rock the show out Friday.

Vusi came out for the finale dancing--reminded me of Ladysmith Black Mambazo--he was rocking it that close to the floor. The last time I saw him was in Dakar in the 'hood at a concert tribute to Mama Makeba. Angelique Kidjo was one of the other headliners. He and Kidjo and Youssou N'Dour will be at the Greek Theatre in LA next week, then Vusi comes back to the Bay for a few more gigs--The New Parish and I heard tonight Yoshi's too.

It is rare indeed to see the father of funk in the flesh up close and personal. Such a great band leader too--he just turns and faces the band and nods or tilts his horn a certain way--no big counts or elaborate gestures.

Smooth. His playing is like that too. . . slow acceleration he eased into the notes and then pulled out all their capital until there was nothing left. He is masterful like his mentor Sonny Rollins.

Charles McNeil is coming back with Little Jimmy Scott he said, so watch for the announcement.

Mr.Ellis and I spoke earlier this week about his work and career. Check our conversation out on Wanda's Picks Radio Show, June 9 & 10, 2011:


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