Thursday, October 30, 2008

Black Rock Abundance....Vote for Change...826 Valencia

Over at Bold As Love... while I was woodshedding, Mr. Fields was hosting his own Black Rock Coalition co-sponsored CMJ show at BAMCafé on October 25th. Dang! How did I miss hearing about this?

Plus there are a few new interviews over at Bold As Love as well, with the Hendrix loving headliners Red Lotus for one, and Chewing Pics , another act on the Bold As Love bill (I'm digging the latter's "The Matter of Glass" at the moment). After listening to the interview with Red Lotus lead singer/guitartist Rozz Nash-Coulen (who is also a personal trainer; unh-hunh, how do rockers keep working it night after night, um...they WORK IT...) and guitarist Jean-Marx Sentel (the name definitely gives you cause to pause), where they spoke about influences, creative process, and working on an inclusive sound that results in a rich melange rather than an indescriminate stew, I was really intrigued about their music. Plus they appreciate the melodic and timbral aspects of Hendrix's writing--which doesn't get as much recognition as it should in relation to the sonic pyrotechnics. Listening on their MySpace page didn't really do it for me, but then I found the track that had Mr. Fields trying to see them live for two years, finally he just had to book them himself (Mr. Fields is dedicated ya'all...). Anyway, then I got it, yep, "Firecracker" (I think that's the name, there's no credit listed on the post) it reminds me of Sophie Ramos' work, songs that need to be out there complicating the musical/songwriting landscape.

I'm still waiting to hear all about the Bold As Love CMJ event. I hope that report is coming soon...(paging Mr. Fields...)

Speaking of BRC events Burnt Sugar Arkestra is going to have a post-election celebration in Brooklyn (because, they're in "Yes We Can!" mode, and "Either way, we're gonna rise up and make some noise.")

Wed. Nov 5, 2008
10:00 PM
Zebulon Cafe
258 Wythe Avenue (between Metropolitan and North 3rd St.)
Williamsburg, BROOKLYN, New York 10012
No cover -just a pass of the hat

Also, courtesy of J's Theater, the cast of The Wire reunites to urge North Carolinians to "Vote for Change":

Lastly, in the "Six Degrees of Separation" category, writer Tayari Jones linked to a TED video of writer Dave Eggers talking about 826 Valencia, the San Francisco-originated non-profit he started which is "dedicated to helping children with their reading and writing." Eggers was received the 2008 TED award. There are now 826 chapters in Chicago, Boston, Seattle, NYC, Los Angeles, and Michican, about 826 National the website adds, "826 is especially committed to supporting teachers, offering services and resources for English language learners, and publishing student work. Several locations offer unique retail experiences as well." Earlier this week Tayari Jones's "Lunch Break Links" also linked to my previous blogpost on Toni Morrison's new book, the AACM celebration, etc. which included a list of short story collections I have enjoyed or am now considering reading. One of these is The Book of Other People, edited by writer Zadie Smith (White Teeth, Autograph Man, On Beauty). All of the royalties from this anthology are being donated by the writers to 826 Valencia. I have only just started it, so I'm not saying anything, OK, I will say I really like Edwidge Danticat's story "Lélé". Smith's only direction to the 20+ writers she assembled was "make somebody up."

Dave Eggers' TED Award acceptance speech, and TED wish, where he talks about the community changing effects of helping children with their homework, and supporting your community's teachers in the work they do to educate the nation's children. Basically as Jone's blogpost title puts it "Dave Eggers Wants to Change the World"(one of the best parts are the unique storefronts a number of the chapters have set up, based on the original 826 Valencia model, meant to fulfill the building's zoning requirement) :

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Sunday, October 26, 2008

Slight Return...AACM + Toni Morrison + Black Bee Women + Short Stories to Live By

So I was woodshedding, and then I was hibernating, catching up on much needed sleep. It's bad when your body forgets how to sleep. Did my grandparents have those kind of experiences? Or is that a product of the modern/contemporary age?

In between I had the following wonderful experiences...

• Early October: Going to the A Power Stronger Than Itself, AACM Celebration at the Kitchen curated by George E. Lewis and performer/curator/composer Christopher McIntyre: including:

§ Hearing the chamber music of AACM musicians Leroy Jenkins, Roscoe Mitchell, Henry Threadgill, Wadado Leo Smith, George E. Lewis, and Nicole Mitchell performed by the Wet Ink Ensemble (accompanied by George Lewis on laptop for his piece, with video by the late video artist Kate Craig)

§ An improvised piano duet between Amina Claudine Myers--who moves her hands even when not producing notes, anticipating perhaps chord changes, counterpoint possibilities, rhythmic/harmonic accents?--and Muhal Richard Abrams, who hums louder than Cecil Taylor when playing and has a mean percussive left foot when he wants (and whose chamber work I missed)

§ A panel discussion on George E. Lewis' book and the legacy of the AACM with interdisciplinary scholar Brent Hayes Edwards, music journalist (and long-time AACM chronicler) Ted Panken, flautist/bandleader/current AACM Chicago-chapter co-president Nicole Mitchell, and AACM members composer/trombonist/scholar George E. Lewis, pianist/composer Amina Claudine Myers, and alto-saxophonist/composer Matana Roberts

§ A multi-movement improvisational collaboration between Nicole Mitchell (who pulled otherworldly sounds, and full conversations, whispers, mutterings, and elsewheres out of her flute), Matana Roberts (who was masterful, and intensely gentle with her instrument), pianist/composer Craig Taborn (amazing engagement with the piano), and drummer Chad Taylor (who did much with little). (pictured above, AACM circa 1960s)

• Early October: Toni Morrison reading from her forthcoming novel, A Mercy.

§ Some wonderful opening remarks from Morrison where she stated that she doesn't write novels to explore characters, or geographical regions, or historical period, but to answer a question: what would it be like if "x" were the case, what would it feel like, taste like, smell like. "It" being the world, and/or a life if "x" were a factor, an element, a truth.
(If you want to hear an interview with Morrison as well as the author reading from her forthcoming novel, check out the NPR Book Tour series which is having a 4-installment feature on A Mercy, October 27-30)

§ Getting to hear Morrison's reading before reading the Poets & Writers profile of Morrison which included engagement with the supposed conflict between writer Charles Johnson and Morrison over the appropriate content of contemporary black narrative. (Johnson's article, "The End of the Black American Narrative," published in The American Scholar [Summer 2008], which is credited with starting the apparent conflama: notably, Johnson and Morrison sound basically respectful of each other. From the sound of the article it's mainly their respective academic supporters who are stirring up a less than constructive rivalry).

• Early October: Hearing improvisational pianist Charity Chan

§ Amazing

• Late October: Hearing black gospel scholar/music writer/archivist Baptist deacon/drummer Robert Darden

§ Darden talked about his Black Gospel Restoration Project at Baylor University which emerged from the research done for his book. During that process he determined that 77% of the songs cited as major influences by the gospel artists he interviewed, have been lost. He also played some of the lost gospel songs located by the project that can't ever be released for purchase, or even accessed in their entirety on the archive webpage. This is due to the complicated copyright history that makes impossible verifying the true copyright holder of much of the gospel music from the golden age (1945-1965).

• Late October: Seeing The Secret Life of Bees

§ Not being horrified by what could have been a 21st-century mammy/"magic negro" picture was great. It's ostensibly the story of the white young female character Lila that's at the center of the film. Yet African American woman director Gina Pryce-Bythewood's (Love & Basketball, Disappearing Acts) script and direction made a huge difference in the realization of the lives of the African American women, and a few men too, who largely people her world. I'm sure we have producer Will Smith and executive producer Jada Pinkett Smith to thank for that as well. Perhaps for the first time we hear the a black woman professional caregiver talking about the complex relationship between herself and a white charge in the segregated south, with its unequal power relations and atmosphere of hate. We are aware that these women have lives outside of their dynamics with white people; they have complex family histories and desires. Not only does the film's narrative recognize the child Lila is an outsider to that world, but allows that her arrival precipitates particular choices on the part of each of the black women in the film, but those choices aren't about altering the axis of their world to enable its spin around Lila. From the time of her arrival to the end of the film, her relationship with these women is never easy and simple. Plus the work of Queen Latifah is solid, she can be quite good in understated moments and characters, as was evident in Stranger Than Fiction. Alicia Keys was restrained much of the time, appropriately for her character, and did well except in one instance when she had to be more emotive. Jennifer Hudson definitely proved she earned her Oscar; she doesn't need to sing to own the screen (what a sad time for her, I couldn't help but think about her loss watching the film given its subject). Sophie Okonedo is one of my favorite actors and I'm glad she's getting the recognition she deserves. Her character provides much of the heart of this film during her time on screen, Okonedo disappears into her. Her face is a wonder--what an instrument, and how Okonedo uses it, wow. There are also some amazing vocal moments enacted by Okonedo, ways she subtly, but decisively shifts the energy or focus of a scene with her line delivery. A reminder that as much screen presence as music stars have, that presence and camera rapport doesn't, cannot, consistently substitute for certain kinds of training. Dakota Fanning is turning into an actor, not a mid-career child actor, but an actor to be reckoned with--she already knows something important about acting: how to respect silence, and how to do nothing in a vulnerably human manner; which is doing everything without announcing it loudly and/or repeatedly. (pictured above L-R: Dakota Fanning, Sophie Okonedo (back to camera), Gina Prince-Bythewood, and Queen Latifah on the set)

• Unfortunately, I missed all the CMJ Music Marathon goings on last week. But I hope to catch up on what I missed from Bold As Love, and other blog locales. I don't know if I'll get any music next week. It's probably back to woodshedding...


Short Stories to Live By?
Funny, now that I've listened to all this music (AACM as well as a bunch of contemporary classical and liturgical works). I find myself wanting to read: literature. Well, I did finally finish A Power Stronger Than Itself. After reading what Brent Hayes Edwards has called a collaborative/collective autobiography, I find myself wanting to read fiction; I think it's all those voices. But short works. I recently saw a short-story collection list compiled by Powells Books Q&A subject David Taylor whose collection Success: Stories, has just come out. I thought his compilation looked intriguing, but I didn't see any U.S.-based writers of color on it. So I came up with a list of my own of works I've enjoyed in the past and ones I still want to read:

Here’s My Multi-Culti List (brown, black, ochre, pink, gold, etc.)

Junot Díaz, - Drown (Riverhead, 1997, pbk)
Victor LaValle - Slapboxing with Jesus (Vintage, 1999)
Kristin Hunter (Lattany) - Guests in the Promised Land (Charles Scribner's Sons, 1973)
Toni Cade Bambara - Gorilla My Love (Vintage, 1992, pbk)
Dana Johnson – Break Any Woman Down (Anchor, 2001)
Tim O’Brien – The Things They Carried (Broadway, 1998, pbk)
Jhumpa Lahiri – Interpreter of Maladies (Mariner Books, 1999)
Achy Obejas – We Came All the Way from Cuba So You Could Dress Like This? (Cleis, 1994)
ZZ Packer – Drinking Coffee Elsewhere (Riverhead, 2004,pbk)
Edwidge Danticat - Krik? Krak! (Vintage, 1996)
James Joyce - Dubliners (Penguin/Viking/Signet, various publication dates)

Edited Collections:
Zadie Smith, ed., The Book of Other People (Penguin, 2008)
ZZ Packer, ed., New Stories from the South: The Year’s Best, 2008 (Algonquin, 2008)
Junot Díaz, ed., Beacon Best of 2001 (Beacon Press, 2001) out-of-print, still available used.

But I'm open to other suggestions....

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Sunday, October 05, 2008

Hair + Gender = Hair-a-Genda?

This past week I had two strange hair moments. If just one of these had happened I wouldn't have felt the need to write about it. OK, actually I wasn't going to write about it. But then I was looking for that old shampoo commercial where the tiled images of white girls with long shiny hair keeps multiplying as they chirpily intone "and you tell two friends, and so on, and so on..." I thought it was for Breck shampoo, but it turns out to have been a Faberge Organics shampoo (was it really "organic"? Uh, it had wheat germ and honey, but I don't think that really counts!) My commercial search had nothing to do with these two prior events, but yet on Youtube I found the below video made by some young girls who parents were perhaps their same age, or younger, when the Breck commercial spots were most ubiquitous in the early-mid-1970s. Commercials of these sorts elevated white girls with long silky blonde hair to some kind of goddess stature. Not a speaking, independent-thinking type goddess, but the kind that makes for a superficial ego-boosting acquistion among certain men, and envy-enducing arm candy among similarly-minded males across ethnic and racial lines.

Anyway, I was walking down the street a little after the local grammar schools let out, and a group of boys were behind me challenging each other: "I'm going to race!" "I'm not racing!" etc. One started to race but his less-interested friends were in the majority and they ended up a substantial distance behind me. Then I started to hear shouts behind me, "Nice 'fro!" "Hey dude, nice 'fro!" In rather sarcastic tones, I shook my head realizing they were likely addressing me, and kept walking. This was followed by the inexplicable, "Hey, you should eat some tater tots!" My mind absurdly lept to a vaguely remembered descriptive passage by E. Lynn Harris, and I turned around shocked to find four boys maybe the oldest was ten years old, and two of them--the shocking part for me--were of African descent, with 'fros of their own, but much shorter than mine. I stood there for a moment, speechless, as the boys slowly inched their way behind a narrow tree, as though it could hide them from view. This would have been hilarious if the whole thing weren't so sad. I didn't want to shame those two boys in front of their white friends; clearly they were dealing with some internalized issues already, and I didn't want to add to that. Instead I called out "Is that how your parents taught you to speak to strangers?" and then turned on my heel and walked away, feeling mighty sad for those little boys and their parents, and a little for me too.

Two days later I'm walking down the street a few streets up, but in the same direction and I see two grown white women having a conversation. Where I live people do actually say hello to each other. White and black. (But some younger black folks haven't quite gotten the hang of the black people saying hello to each other thing yet.) The women were coming in the opposite direction, I smile, no response. Not a big deal. I see two little girls maybe 5 and 6 years old far behind them, like about 25 yards behind them, but I get the sense they're all together. That sort of thing makes me nervous; anything could happen when your kids are that far behind you--it's like a movie-of-the-week in the making--but it's also none of my business. Anyway, as I get closer to the little girls I'm smiling as I normally do with kids, and the older one moves herself and the younger one off the sidewalk--quite gracefully--into the grass in order to get away from me. I look back at them incredulously, and then look ahead again as I shake my head ruefully and my eyes lock with those of a young Asian woman who I can tell has seen the whole thing. She smiles back at me. And I telegraph my thanks to her--y'know: "thanks bearing witness to that mess, and for seeing my humanity." I don't know if you should have to thank people for seeing your humanity, but you surely can be thankful that they do.

You gotta wonder what people are telling their children about big afros and black men--lately with my bigger hair I've been getting mistaken for one.

If I had short-Obama length hair would I be OK?

But, gee, then maybe no one would mistake me for a guy? Cause when I think back to an episode last month, I seem to be getting this treatment predominantly from little white kids, and then secondly from white women. Last month's last little white kid however was just enthusiastically announcing her notice of my big hair, to her mother's slight embarrassment, and her older sister's amusement--she was laughing at her younger sister's mistaking me for a guy, despite some obvious (on that day) evidence to the contrary.

Here is the Breck commercial remake, just a little reminder of how disparagingly some people are taught to view nappy hair. BTW, the little girl who is initially wearing a wig is identified as "_____ (in the afro)" (I'm not going to name the child here).

• Oh, and what about the Faberge Organics Hair Shampoo ads? You can find them on YouTube, (one even stars Heather Locklear) along with a host of comments that read: "Happy Fat N****r Day!"
• Draw whatever conclusions you will. In the meantime, I'll be writing a note to Youtube.

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Saturday, October 04, 2008

Van Lier Fellowships for African American & Latino Composers

The age cut-off for this fellowship is 32 (believe me, I resisted the urge to make a cartoon about that). But for all those younger folks who are New York City residents (any borough), aren't enrolled as students in a degree-granting program in an institution of higher education, and can demonstrate need (ahem, you're living in NYC) here's your chance:

"The Edward and Sally Van Lier Fund of the New York Community Trust provides support for talented, culturally diverse young people who are seriouslydedicated to a career in the arts. Meet The Composer administers the Van Lier Fellowship on behalf of the Van Lier Fund of the New York Community Trust.

"The purpose of the Fellowship is to provide financial support for young composers in the early stages of their careers, working in any style of music or sound art. Funds can be used for any purpose including the creation of new work, the purchasing of music/tech equipment, travel, or research and development.

"The Fellowship is open to African-American and Latino composers thirty-two years of age or younger. The applicant must be a full-time resident of New York City (any borough) and show financial need. The applicant must not be enrolled in a degree-granting program at the time of application (i.e. no students). The one-year fellowship award is $8,500. Additional monetary support will be provided if the composer develops and participates in an educational outreach program with students and/or youth groups. This educational component is optional.

The next deadline for applications is December 8, 2008.

Download the guidelines and application from the fellowship description page.

This year's recipients are Gilbert Galindo and Majid Khaliq.

Gilbert Galindo is an emerging young Mexican-American composer that is increasingly being performed across the country. He has received commissions from the Chicago Fine Arts Society, Duo Petrarca, and the Lone Star Brass with additional premieres and performances from the Midland Odessa Symphony, Northwestern University Symphony Orchestra, Bard Institute Composers Orchestra, and the ai ensemble of dal niente group. Read more at .

Majid Khaliq is a musician native to the New York area. His musical palette ranges from the roots of American-jazz music through the greats of the European-classical tradition. Mr. Khaliq has been described by legendary musician Wynton Marsalis as having "a unique blend of improvisation, groove and technical sophistication." Composition and arranging are serious
interests of Mr. Khaliq. His compositional teachers are Mexican composer Samuel Zyman and great American violinist/composer Jonh Blake, Jr. Not just a performer and composer, Mr. Khaliq is a teacher of the highest caliber. He has written many essays on the art of violin playing and has recently finished the first volume of a method book detailing the topic.

Past recipients of MTC’s Van Lier Fellowship include César Alvarez, Cristian Amigo, Valerie Coleman, Mario Diaz de León, Dafnis Prieto, Sherrise Rogers, Daniel Bernard Roumain, Julio Santillan, Manuel Sosa, and Emilio Teubal.

• To keep your wits about you in this age-a-rama-competition-whirligig, go to writer Tayari Jones' previous post about these award age-cut-offs, here.
• To keep your sense of humor about you (rueful though it might be) in relation to the same, go to writer Erin Fitzgerald's cartoon post, here (substitute "composer" for "writer" and "32" for "35").
• And to tie it altogether with a bit of history check out Malcolm Gladwell's New Yorker article, "Late Bloomers: why do we equate genius with precocity?"
• If you need a musical example check out the life of French composer Erik Satie (1866-1925) who went back to school at 40 years old to study composition and counterpoint after having been labeled as "'the laziest student in the [Paris] Conservatoire'" in his youth. School reports characterize Satie "as a gifted pianist who was utterly lacking in motivation and poor at sight-reading." But apparently as a self-motivated adult Satie's progress was "impressive." Tellingly the composer's recollection of the Paris Conservatoire where he studied for seven years (partly to decrease a mandatory stint in military service) was as "a sort of local penitentiary." Presently, Satie's work is considered a major influence on various contemporary musical genres and aesthetics, and to have foreshadowed the development of film music. The most accurate online biography is at Oxford Music Online, unfortunately only available to subscribers, but if you can find a hard copy of Grove Music Dictionary (which was purchased by Oxford) you can read it there.

The Canadian "electro/ambient/alternative" band Patrick Watson, fronted by musician/vocalist Patrick Watson performing Satie's composition for piano Gnossienne No. 1 (written 1890-1893) live in Edmonton, Alberta, December 1, 2007 (Watson sounds eerily like Jeff Buckley on some of the band's recordings).

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Sociologist Walden Bello's "Primer on the Wall Street Meltdown"

For those of us who still don't fully comprehend the details of what occurred--even if we're not surprised, but still horrified at what has come to pass.

Walden Bello writer/activist/scholar, "is president of Freedom from Debt Coalition, senior analyst at Focus on the Global South, and professor of Sociology at the University of the Philippines" where he teaches political economy. Bello's article was originally published in "Philippine News for Filipinos" on October 1st, and reprinted "for educational purposes" in the Monthly Review's online publication on October 3rd, as well as on Focus on the Global South's website. (Of course once you have a better grasp of globalization, it becomes plain that Philippine news isn't only relevant for Filipinos.)

Check out the primer here. Bello does a great job, using a Q&A structure with the questions most people are likely to ask, and his responses for the most part accessibly identify all the threads, and explain how they've combined to tear the US economy apart; and how it isn't over yet. (If you want more you can also read Bello's "The Wall Street Meltdown: the View from Asia".)

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