Sunday, September 09, 2012

Way of the Doll at AAMLO; AfroSolo at 19 presents Black Voices; Soji and the Afrobeat Band at Ashkanez Music and Dance Center

I'd been looking forward to seeing AfroSolo's Black Voices, a presentation of solo performances this weekend, and I was not disappointed. I'd started the day with my granddaughter at the African American Museum and Library, at Oakland, located on 14th Street at MLK Jr. Street.

As a part of The Way of the Doll Exhibit, there have been a series of paper doll making workshops. Hosted by the American Black Beauty Doll Artists, these free workshops are open to adults and children, boys and girls, and have been a major hit if Sept. 8, the second workshop in the series is any indicator. The next one is Saturday, October 15, 1-3 p.m., so call (510) 272-9453 to sign up.

With patterns pre-drawn ready to cut out and bodies to assemble, colorful paper to use for outfits ranging from tutus to bell bottoms and tunics, Brianna and I had a really fun time making dolls. I can hardly wait to return to make my girl a few more outfits and complete another doll, the dancer, who is just body parts in a bag now (smile).

The two of us then went upstairs to look at the permanent exhibit and the new exhibition: Phoenix Rising: The Art of Cartoonist David Brown, up through October 20. Brown's work is politically astute and certainly applicable to what young black people experience daily in America, Oakland, San Francisco and the artist's Los Angeles county.

Late that evening I made it over to San Francisco for AfroSolo. My plans had been to attend the talk between Luis Rodriquez and Alex Sanchez, one of the persons responsible for how playwright Paul S. Flores shaped his work, Placas: The Most Dangerous Tatto, which is set in San Francisco's Mission District, yet has regional and even larger resonance when one looks at the central character, Fausto's place of origin, El Salvador. Sanchez was indited by the FBI in 2012 and after ten months in prison was recently released on parole. Both Sanchez and Rodriquez are peacemakers and the talk was, I'm sure, profound.

But I missed it (smile). But there is another talk this coming Saturday, same time, 6:30 at the Lorraine Hansberry Theatre, 450 Post Street. I am going to try to get to that discussion.

AfroSolo Black Voices

When I walked into the Burial Clay Theater at the African American Art and Culture Complex, Edris Cooper Anifowoshe was on stage setting the context for Black Gold 2012 style. Black Gold is the politically savvy nomenclature for black people, and most references take one back not forward in the continued exploitation of black persons as material resources; however, Cooper-Anifowoshe does neither.

In a soliloquy which serves almost as a preface to the larger genocide taking place in Ogoniland in Nigeria, she tells us about the Ogoni 9, nine men executed by the oil companies for their protest of the disregard for safety to both people and the environment by Shell Oil and other petroleum companies invested in the rich area on Southern Nigeria where now, the life expectancy is "less than 50" ( See also

The artist then began to dance and call the names of the Ogoni 9, each name its own gesture --elegant line, lift or pirouette. It was both a meditation and an embodiment.

Edris has such attitude in her presentation. There is an audacity that dares one to deny the truth of her statements, juxtaposed with the audacity of a nation which would sacrifice its people for fossil fuel, not to mention the global network of consumers which make such ventures profitable in 2012. Edris talks about the Exxon Valdez-like spills that happen routinely there. She links this environmental hazard and flawed prevention efforts to the British Petroleum spill in the Gulf and the recent Chevron oil spill in Richmond, California.

Dressed in a blue oversized tee-shirt and gold leotards, Edris packs a lot in this excerpt from a larger work, Traveling While Black.

Jovelyn Richards's Strippin' down to Story, featuring vocalists Kimberly Turner and Monica McCoy with Dennis Yep on guitar and percussion instruments was next.

The theme is race this season at AfroSolo. As such, each artist in some way uses the term as reflection in their creative process. I thought it interesting how during the discussion following the three performances, one of the artists, noticed that the only people responding to questions of race and power, were black.

But I am moving ahead of myself.

The war has ended and black people on a particular plantation have just found out they are free. One woman reflects on freedom in light of so much loss--her scarred face painful to look at. As she counts off the days we get to know her and the babies she bore to lose, except the last one, she has next to her body. All her babies are called Sweet Baby and as the story unfolds from her last sight of her mother running after the wagon carrying her child away to be sold, to memories of the only man she ever chose for herself captured and tortured to death.

It is easy to see why this woman is leery of freedom.

The rise and fall of the narrative is punctuated by the chorus and musician who contextualize the protagonist's journey, cushioning the past and softening the present. It is a heartbreaking lovely prelude to a much larger work.

Byb Chanel Bibene's Skin Talk Skin Mood which closed the evening was outstanding! The choreographer and I had spoken on the air, just a day before about the work, but the work defied description, which means you really should have been there, but I will try my best to render my experience through words.

From Congo, Byb starts the piece talking about his life and travels, dancing by himself the way one catches a groove on the radio and has to move--he invites Chris Evans and then Jeff Bennett to join him in the reminiscences, before we get on the plane and travel to Europe where Byb encounters a difference connected to pigment.

At home, the races don't mix. The French stay to themselves, attend their own schools--the only place these boundaries are challenged in any way is through the arts where race and culture are not passports to privilege or exclusion.

The lighting which has been bright and sunny takes a dip as Byb dons a wig and adds sexual ambiguity to the mix. The choreography which is fly and hip follows a scene where bananas are thrown at the artist's feet--

Chris Evans translating into English Byb's narrative in Europe where he can't get a cab and is literally invisible until the waiter notices his white girl friend.

Skin Talk Skin Mood shifts from the personal to the political, and this contraction expansion, somewhat like inhale exhale is reflected in the solo dance pieces and the company performance aspects of the work like the chorale reflection on the word "race." Chris, Jeff and Byb each hold a script with they read from as they stand on the chairs, step down and then lie on the floor perpendicular to the chairs.

The form here is stunning.

Another part I like is the toilet scene where the audience is invited to the stage to use it--the idea, there are aspects of our humanity that are shared. One is elimination (smile).

Byb discards his shirt and pants and dances in the twilight to Chris Evans's cello solo. It is poetically beautiful.

The evening ends with a conversation on race, facilitated by Thomas Simpson, with the artists on stage with him. I wonder what good these kind of conversations do for those present, when there are no strategies in place to change anything. I like the idea of intradialogues, black people to black people conversations. We had a few of those during Maafa Commemoration Month in the past. We called them Diaspora Talks.

In the Flow

After I left AfroSolo, I headed over to Berkeley for Soji's CD release party at Ashkanez Music and Dance Center.

I thought I'd boarded a plane and was in Kalakuta at The Shrine, Fela returned from his sojourn in the Bush of Ghosts so completely did his disciple Soji Odukogbe call him home. Others who knew the music like drummer, Tosin Aribisala, said the horns, multiple percussionists, vocalists and of course Soji on lead guitar and vocals, captured the true essence of AfroBeat.

And let me tell you, it was funky! Co-creator of various Bay Area bands with Baba Okulolo, we knew he could play well, dance and sing, but In the Flow, featuring Soji and the Afrobeat Band was an entirely different experience.

I was so surprised that more Afrobeat aficionados were not in the house. Maybe they all had gigs or something? Yorubas are not in short supply in the Bay--so where were they? How did they decided to miss perhaps one of the best concerts I have attended this year--

Why was it so great?

Perhaps it was the uplifting messages in the music sung in Yoruba and English--pidgin: Gulusoa song that describes the antlion whose undulatuing motion inspired a dance Soji performed really well (smile). Leaning forward, I am not certain when the antlion began and the dance highlighting the African butt began (smile).

My favorite song is "Sorrow Today", "Joy Tomorrow." "Oniyangi" is a cautionary tale, based on a Yoruba proverb that warns against "insincere flatterers." "No Limit" speaks to one's endless potential. "'Moyege' celebrates overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles." "Kurukere" describes the "persistent gnat-like behavior of the person who is more calculating than caring."

Perhaps it was the wonderful musicianship overall-- Soji and the Afrobeat Band's rocking beats and colorful riffs that turned San Pablo and Gilman on its side (smile).

Perhaps it was the sweat pouring off artists and audience alike at the end of the two hour set?

All I know is, it was great! The band, many who were also on the album were even better in person, which was no easy feat considering how well mastered the product, In the Flow. Visit

Catch the wave. . . . I am still grooving.


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