Wanda's Picks July 6, 2012
Today we speak to Dr. Tescia Evans & Mrs.Tiana Jones-Bey about Ross Dance Company's Second Annual Praise Dance Festival in Davis, July 7, 2012, 7 PM at the Veteran's Memorial Theatre. Visit www.rossdance.com
Mr. Jesse Brooks joins us to talk about the debut on PBS's Frontline World, award-winning filmmaker Renata Simone's End Game: AIDS in Black America, 10 p.m. PST, Tuesday, July 10 (check local listings). Visit: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/social-issues/endgame-aids-in-black-america/aids-in-black-america-the-worlds-16th-worst-epidemic/
We close with a rebroadcast of an interview last Nov. with Rachelle Ferrell, singer, composer, musician, who is in town this weekend, July 6-8, 2012 in San Francisco at Yoshi's. Ms. Ferrell, from West Philly and I laugh through much of the hour long conversation, interrupted by a phone call from her "dad," Mr. Bruce Lundvall, President/CEO of the Blue Note Label Group. She introduces me and the three of us talk--I listen to the two friends talk about Rachelle's early years and the gift she is to the art form born in America.
As Ms. Ferrell and I speak myths are dispelled as I recite research masquerading as fact (smile), like the legend that she completed college in one year. She attended college for one year, where she did the course work for two, but financial assistance didn't accompany the admission and she had to leave.
The artist spoke about her voice and games she'd play as a child like sing-a-long with the siren, where she'd try to reach the pitch fire trucks made, not to mention vocal analysis of the birds and bees.
"I like science and physics, especially quantum mechanics," she shared. "I love relating the abstract to the concrete. When I was young and sung with the birds, no one told me I couldn't do this or that." She said as long as she wasn't breaking any rules, did her homework and was home before dark, the adults left her alone with her unique and perhaps quirky curiosity (smile).
Her wanderings took her lyrically to places that made time stand, a place her music teacher encouraged the gifted child to visit again and again.
"I like to play and be stupid," Ferrell said. By stupid she said she meant "silly and open to possibilities. When we stop playing, we stop learning," she said. "The energy of playfulness or youthfulness facilitates learning."
She spoke about Dizzy Gillespie, a true star, as we laughed once again about the synchronicity of this conversation on many metaphysical levels: our shared love of literature and authors like Khalil Gibran and Octavia Butler.
Our talk was interrupted by her "Dad," record executive Mr. Bruce Lundvall, President/CEO of the Blue Note Label Group. I close with her live recording of "I Can Explain" recorded in a live concert in France http://rachelleferrell.com/and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w2uD_MUu55U
Music: Babatunde Lea's "African Tapestry" (Prayer for a Continent), Umoja's "Feeling My Way," "Wunmi's "Oya O."
Reflection on Today's Show
The way this show came together was rather organic. I received two emails--one from Jesse and other from Dr. Evans Thursday morning. I'd only one potential guest and an archived interview with Rachelle Ferrell scheduled. I called the gospel artist I'd met at the Summer of Peace Concert three weeks ago--she'd been a soloist with Emmit Powell & the Gospel Elites. She'd told me she was interested in being on the show to talk about her gospel concert July 7. While I waited for her response, Jesse got back to me and so did Dr. Evans, so I moved Ross Dance Company to the first spot. Jesse to second (smile).
I left Jesse with that confirmation and a promise to try to get the director and other subjects on the show the next day. He connected me to the publicist shortly afterward and we hoped to get Renata Simone, director of End Game: AIDS in Black America on the air too, but well, some celebrity improvisation is not completely in one's control. I got an email this morning that the window in Simone's calendar last night was actually closed (smile).
No worries though. Jesse and I had a great conversation this morning, and I have a phone interview with Ms. Renata Simone, Monday, June 9 for a Tuesday broadcast. One of the publicity team, working late in New York sent me press materials, the link to the film inactive, so it was great that I'd picked up the film (rough cut) from Jesse late yesterday afternoon, as back-up, 'cause I ended up needing it (smile).
While watching the film I was reminded of Damon Russell's film Snow on Tha BLUFF, which features the subject Curtis Snow, who was born and raised in West Atlanta in a neighborhood known to the locals as Tha B.L.U.F.F. which stands for Better Leave You F-cking Fool.
In Simone's film, END GAME, the director profiles two activists who have a needle exchange, this scene is connected to the one way ticket black men are getting to a prison system where HIV/AIDS is not treated and where condoms are illegal contraband, cause for termination if medical personal or prison staff are found giving them to prisoners.
Jesse told me of the innovative project at the San Francisco County Jail where condoms are available through vending machines. The spread of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases has been reduced, Jesse reported. END GAME looks at the contraband law back in the '70s which made possession of needles illegal and pushed the injection drug addiction industry into "shooting galleries" where needles were shared multiple times, a place many transmitted and/or received the virus.
In Snow on Tha BLUFF (2012), a docu-narrative that tells the story of infamous Atlanta crack dealer and robbery boy, Curtis Snow. In Damon Russell's film, we see how drugs are used and sold in West Atlanta.
Snow, a crack dealing Robin 'Hood, steals drugs from his more affluent competition to add to his supply. "Both of Snow’s parents were crack users and while most kids his age where learning to multiply and divide, Snow was being schooled in how to cook up drop glass crack cocaine. He started out selling nickel bags of crack to feed himself and his three brothers. He later graduated to stealing cars, robbing and other things that he says he rather not get into too much detail about. Curtis served three years in prison where he honed his skills as a criminal and hustler. This movie is a culmination of his life’s struggles, the good, the bad." It is amazing that he is so frank with the director on camera. Some of the footage Snow had been collecting on his own. In the end one thinks about Snow's little baby who is watching his dad, cut the rocks and package the drugs (SFIndie re: http://snowonthabluff.com/).
Russell, director, is also Atlanta native, yet the Atlanta he knows is nothing like Tha BLUFF. Visit http://www.blogtalkradio.com/wandas-picks/2012/02/10/wandas-picks-radio-show
End Game: AIDS in Black America is a call to action on many fronts: drug use and addiction and what pushes people into such lifestyles. END GAME is the finale to an epidemic with a cure. END GAME pulls the covers off the board where pawns sit ready to fight for changed circumstances.
The pawns could be the children born with HIV/AIDS whose mothers' died from AIDS contracted through their intravenous drug use and/or concurrent sexual behavior. The children shown on camera exhibit a resourcefulness and a forgiveness that fills the screen. When they could be bitter, instead they choose to focus on the positive, pun intended, as personal liberation. With shortened time, these young men and women have learned to push past the stigma, even when it stings and hurts--they are bigger than the disease, and they refuse to let it consume them.
Stories of an older woman (60s), newlywed, who contracts AIDS from her husband, a deacon in her church shows how pervasive this disease is in our community. The grandmother and mother, finds out that her husband knew before he dated her that he was infected, yet never told her, never told their pastor. It is a criminal offense to infect someone with a disease knowingly, but this woman does not press charges. I don't think I'd be as compassionate. What if the man woos another unsuspecting woman and infects her as well? This interview, early in the film, is a story I was not expecting. The frankness that the pastor exhibits when stating that he had to find within himself a place to draw forgiveness for the wayward parishioner, so he could minister to him as well.
Other stories that "got" me were Jesse's--how he turned to drugs to mask his unhappiness and my friend, Joe Hawkins, who speaks about the club scene and how it was the black gay community's what I'd call a tipped hat to our Social Aide and Pleasure Clubs with historic links to black community institutions, post-antebellum south and Jim Crow America, with a twist. The club scene was a place where black gay men could relate to one another without fear. Unfortunately, the myths of AIDS transmission did not include the fact that some of the disease's early victims were black men. This omission created a window where black men believed they were safe.
31 years later in Alameda country we see that is so untrue.
Simone's film opens with a gala in 2001, where the keynote speaker takes an assessment of HIV/AIDS in the black community with dismal numbers. What works so well in ENDGAME is the directors ability to interweave history with personal stories that stay with one long after the film ends. Simone has a way of putting her subjects at ease, whether this was in someone's home or at a recording studio. This ease is reflected in the frank and honest voices, Simone elicits to tell the story of AIDS in the black community in America.
I Am an Emotional Creature
I'd hoped to have a guest on from Berkeley Rep's staging of Eve Ensler's I Am an Emotional Creature through July 15 (I think). No one got in touch with me--don't ask, this is an on-going dilemma.
While I enjoyed Ensler's current work, with a stunning cast of six actresses who give a riveting performance, the stories these young women enact, make me wonder where Ensler gathered this material. I didn't see or hear stories of girls I know: Girls who live in South Berkeley, North Richmond, East Oakland, LA, San Francisco's Bayview Hunter's Point.
Stories of peer pressure and self-mutilation and juvenile sexual identity crises, juxtaposed with stories of abduction and sexual abuse of girls in Congo or female ritual cutting elsewhere in Africa made the long opening monologue about boots, frivolous or nonsensical.
I never want to tell "the girls" to get over it, but I know in many of the instances portrayed on stage, taken from interviews Ensler collected for this production, that the girls will get through "it"--a real or perceived dilemma.
The stories of the girls at risk along the sex trafficking corridor--International Blvd. not far from my house in East Oakland, are not that hopeful nor are the stories of girls I know who are locked behind bars facing 25 years to life in California prisons.
For this reason the piece is imbalanced, though the lighting, staging, warm solos and feisty dance numbers, make the work work for Ensler fans (smile).
Today's broadcast had the highest live listening audience. I am in three digits now (smile).