We’ve Got the Jazz (Style)

Jazz musician Etienne Charles speaks about how today’s hip-hop style is borrowing a lot from yesterday’s jazz style– the suits, ties, fedoras, jackets. Check out more from iRock Jazz.


Spirituality in Africa…

Ancestral Voices: Esoteric African Knowledge

A educational documentary, spanning two continents, opening up a much-needed debate about traditional African spiritual systems; their cosmologies, ideologies and underlying ethical principles.

Modern science no longer refutes the origins of mankind being in Africa and similarities in the cosmological ideologies of African esoteric systems with those found many established world religions today, suggest that it was not only people that migrated, but also concepts and themes that then provided bedrock for the formation of other systems of belief.

The documentary aims to shed light on a topic shrouded in much mystique, negativity, superstition and ignorance, to allow for informed discourses on the subject without fear of persecution or oppression.

Through video interviews, a range of individuals of different faiths in the United Kingdom share their experiences and knowledge of these esoteric systems and their perceptions of them in light of other established religions and mainstream media coverage of these esoteric systems.

Traditional shaman from the Greater Accra, Eastern and Ashanti regions in Ghana, West Africa, are also interviewed to provide authentic accounts of their cosmologies, practices and esoteric spiritual systems.”


This documentary reminds me of John Henrik Clarke‘s “Concept of Deity” in which he talks about how a people are oppressed when they are convinced to reject their own concept of god.

Purchase the documentary here and check out other films from Longbelly Entertainment.

Interviews with filmmakers Verona Spence & Dalian Adofo


Last week, I saw Eve’s Bayou again, a film I have not seen in years. As much as I love the entire movie, the monologue at the end always stands out most to me because she speaks on how perspective can influence memory, the past and truth.

“Like others before me I have the gift of sight. But the truth changes color depending on the light. Tomorrow can be clearer then yesterday, Memory is a selection of images. Some elusive, others printed indelibly on the brain. Each image is like a thread. Each thread woven together to make a tapestry of intricate texture and the tapestry tells a story and the story is our past.” – Eve

Modern Griots: Valerie June

Valerie June feat. John Forte- Give Me Water

Valerie June is an music artist that caught my attention months ago. The “Organic Moonshine Roots” (a term she came up with) singer mixes together aspects from roots music, including the spirituals, blues, folk music, soul, and Appalachian music, and puts it into a modern 21st century style. Coming from Memphis, taught herself to play guitar and learned from different influences, such as songwriters like Bob Marley. June was originally part of the husband and wife duo, Bella Sun, releasing No Crystal Stair (referencing Langston Hughes’ poem) in 2004, before the marriage fell apart. The singer can play a number of instruments- the guitar, banjo, lap steel- and has released three other records, “The Way of the Weeping Willow” (recorded in parlor room of old farmhouse called The Stanton Depot) and “Mountain of Rose Quartz” (recorded at legendary Ardent Studios in Memphis) and “Valerie June and the Tennessee Express.” For more on June, watch the Alan Spearman documentary, “$5 Cover Amplified” and her kickstarter page for her upcoming album, “Manifest.” One of her latest singles is the neo-blues song, “Give Me Water” with John Forte. Also, below are some of her other songs:

From “$5 Cover Amplified”


“Work’n Woman Blues”

No Draws Blues

“Mambo Nights in Hollywood” Mini-Review

So, I did attend Bobby Sanabria directing the Manhattan School’s Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra, and I must say it was so worth my $5. I would’ve payed more if it cost more. Once again, I must applaud how Sanabria is not only a drummer, but a genuine historian and performer who loves what he does and has an energy that spreads to the orchestra and the audience. Performing Afro-cuban jazz arrangements of memorable songs of theme songs from films like “The French Connection,” “The Odd Couple,” “The Wizard of Oz,” “Austin Powers,” “The Thomas Crown Affair,” “Laura,” and “West Side Story,” the orchestra had the audience tapping their feet, bobbing their heads and clapping to the beat. They also did a tribute to Celia Cruz, whose birthday was Friday, performing “Bemba Colora” from the film “Salsa.”

Some of the performers who stood out were jazz vocalist Charenee Wade, who gave her own take on “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” including a fun call and response scat section with trumpeter Ben Benack, Rachel Kara Perez, who was stealing the attention with not only her voice but her dance skills, and saxophonist and flutist, Patrick Bartley, who put a lot of emotion into his playing. No wonder this is a Latin Grammy-nominated orchestra. If you want to hear some of their music, go get their records, “Tito Puente Masterworks Live,” and “Kenya Revisited,” and all the money will go back to the school to provide scholarships and support for these musicians.

Modern Griots: Gerald Watson, DJ 2-tone Jones and Shaolin Jazz

Yesterday, I wrote about the Festival of the Nw Black Imagination and one of the speakers was DJ 2-tone Jones. The idea for Jones and Watson’s project started with the graphic designer Logan Walters‘ project called, Wu-Note, in which he redesigned Wu-Tang Clan album covers as if they were original jazz Blue Note Records albums. Teaming up with artist Gerald Watson, Jones blended jazz instrumentals with the Wu-Tang Clan’s rhymes to create the mixtape, “Shaolin Jazz- The 37th Chamber,” which they released in April 2011. Gerald Watson has also worked on The Classics album cover art project and this is Capital Bop’s article for more on the project. Also, this is the April NPR article  and Revivalist article on the “Shaolin Jazz” mixtape.

(Continue below videos)



Pharoah Sanders- Astral Traveling

Killa Tape/Astral C.R.E.A.M. (samples Sanders)


Both Watson and Jones also have recently released their tribute to Gil Scott-Heron,called “The Gil Scott Suite.”

From the Top: Recap of Festival of the New Black Imagination

Saturday was jam-packed with lectures, panel discussions and readings and I am still trying to process it all. Lasting from 10 in the morning to around 6:30 in the evening, the festival started with the futurist and professor of management, Nat Irvin II, discussing the importance of futuristic thinking. His son is actually Nat Irvin III, who works with Janelle Monae in the Wondaland Arts Society. Irvin, who is blind in one eye, asked us whether or not we were thrivals, people who thought about and learned about the future. Going through the history of technological and scientific advancement of the world, he said we have come to the hybrid age, where man and machine are coming together. He said we have also come to an age where we have to pay attention more to ourselves because we have such a major effect on the rest of the world. Next, he gave us a quiz to see how much we knew about the world and what has already happened and it was an eye opener. So much of the things that we thought would have happened in the future has already happened and ideas that we thought would never have happened have already come to pass or are in question. The whole discussion culminated in him asking us to change our view of the future and identity, and using vision, insight and connecting with other’s ideas to open our eyes to the future. Read his work, “The Arrival of Thrivals.”

Then the panel discussions began. The first one was with writer Marcus Dowling, comedian Elon James White, musician Vernon Reid (check out his podcast with W. Kamau Bell, “The Field Negro Guide to Arts and Culture“) , playwright Dominique Morrisseau and writer Sierra Mcclain. Their topic was how to be progressive and still pay rent, focusing on how to insert oneself into a capitalistic economic structure, which doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, and still be true to onself. The panelists discussed the importance of stronger lines of communication between independents, being stubborn and passionate, thinking outside the box, accepting failures, connecting with audiences and supporters and using the basics of business, like marketing and planning but tailoring them to your business. Also, the panel mentioned that the audiences’ have a responsibility to support the artists with monetary support beause as White said, “I gotta eat.”

Next, was a reading to promote the New Black Fest, called the Black Literature ringshout. Axel Avin, Jr. read a passage called “I’d Rather Go Blind” from the book A Taste of Honey by Jabari Asim.The next lecture was from DJ 2-tone Jones and his work on the “Shaolin Jazz” project (more on that later this week) in which he combined the vocals of the Wu-tang Clan with Jazz samples. He spoke about how the project originated Gerald Watson’s project,” The Classic Series,”  and the various parallels between hip-hop and jazz. After, poet Tyehimba Jess did a fascinating presentation of his arabic poetic form, ghazal, based on the two minstrel performers, George Walker and Bert Williams.

Festival organizer, Rob Fields

After a short break, we were back with writer and musician, Greg Tate, who had a conversation with visual artists, Wangechi Mutu and Sanford Biggers, about their influences in their art and how their background, as an East African and an African-American, respectively, impacts their art. Some of the main points of that discussion were the concept of pan-africanism, the african diaspora reaching a larger platform, the politics and poetics of ethnicity and identity, code-switching, shifting identities and the collage nature of identity (reconnection, re-healing, renaming and remixing). Howard Duffy, an urban designer, gave us a lecture on going hyperlocal and making sustainable communities that provide neighborhoods with most of what they need.

After we listened to another reading promoting Black Fest. Danielle Brooks read an excerpt, “The Bridge Stories” from Tiphanie Yanique’s “How to Escape a Leper Colony” (the first major publication from an author from the Virgin Islands). A. Sayeeda Clarke, who I posted about earlier, showed her short film, “White” and had a small discussion with Shadow and Act‘s Tambay Obenson. During the discussion, Clarke mentioned that the lead actor, Elvis Nolasco, will be one of the leads in Spike Lee’s new HBO show, “Da Brick.” Sian Morson, Wayne Sutton, Crystal Campbell and Kenyatta Cheese did art and technology in which they discussed how technological advances can be disguised as art and how new media art differs from old art. Cheese also brought up an interesting point about hip-hop music being a precursor to hacking because people were taking what they have and “making do” with it (by the way, his cousin is DJ Cheese, who made scratching popular).

The day came towards an end with a panel discussion with Amanda Seales (aka Amanda Diva), Toure and Baratunde Thurston about “How to Be Black.” Toure read an excerpt from his book, “Who’s Afraid of Post-Blackess” and Thurston gave us a preview of his upcoming satirical book, “How to Be Black.” In the discussion, they spoke about the multiplicity of identities within blackness, how different generations dealt with blackness and racism, and  what unites black people. The second to last presentation was from Ali Muhammad, previously from Vibe and now of 21st Century Hustle, spoke about the entrepreneur mindset and the importance of “seeing it, doing it and being it” when it comes to starting a business. Finally, we ended with Lynette Freeman’s reading of the excerpt, “The Land of Beulah” from Danzy Senna’s “You Are Free.”

As you have read, this day was a long day, and I was too tired to even go to the after party. But I will say that I will definitely go to the festival next year; I learned so much!