A Fantastic Voyage…

For the last post of this year, I will like to thank everyone who has joined me on this journey. This year has been great with new opportunities and new people coming into my life (for example, my first published review on Bold As Love), and you all have been wonderful. Let us sail on into the new year and here is to the new journey ahead. See you all next year! By the way, here is a song to take you back in time:


Alchemy of Ideas

A few days ago, I watched Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child documentary and one of my favorite quotations from Basquiat involved the. rethinking of influence and borrowing from the past, which everyone does. He described it as more of a transformation of ideas, taking old ideas and putting them in a new context.

Basquiat said, “If you wanna talk about influence, man, then you’ve got to realize that influence is not influence. It’s simply someone’s idea going through my new mind.” It reminds me of this quotation from Dave Macklovitch: “There’s no such thing as repetition because every time you repeat something, you’re repeating it in a new context.”

Modern Griots: Blitz the Ambassador and Terence Nance

The pairing of rapper Blitz the Ambassador and director Terence Nance for the short film for Blitz’s album Native Sun is a coming together of two visionary minds. Ghana-born musician, Blitz the Ambassador, first gained attention with his album, Stereotype, which featured the startling image of a radio man shooting himself in the head on the cover. He also released two other albums, Soul Rebel and Double Consciousness as well as a mixtape, On My Mixtape Shit, which included an introduction from Public Enemy’s Chuck D and songs like, “Memory Lane,” “Hands of Time,” “Revival” and “Aluta.” Growing up, Blitz was influenced by a number of American artists and combined them a variety of African influences in his music in order to create a pan-African dialogue about our histories.


“Remember the Future” from Stereotype

Terence Nance’s credits are just as impressive. As Blitz the Ambassador, he works with the multimedia collective, MVMT, and has worked on a number of film projects. The first project I came across was How Would You Feel, which Nance plans to release as a feature film. He has directed for several music artists, like Pharaohe Monche (“Clap“) and of course, Blitz the Ambassador (“Something to Believe, ” and “Native Sun”). Nance’s films tend to give a different look at the African Diaspora, such as in Native Sun, which portrays the young Ghanian boy, Mumin who is in search of his father after his mother dies. His latest work is An Oversimplification of Her Beauty, which he is raising funds for now.

An Oversimplification of Her Beauty teaser

Black Beau

The N-Word…

In light of the recent controversy over the Dutch Magazine, Jackie’s ignorant article on Rihanna, in which she was called “de niggabitch” (reminiscent of the term “negro wench“), I decided to give my two cents on how I feel about the word. When I was younger, I was completely against the use of the word. I thought that it should never be said, either with the “er” or the “a.” However, I have realized now that it much more complicated than simply not saying it and I can understand both sides. There is not a clear answer to how to use the word.

I understand those who are against the use of the word. It was a word that was used against black people; a word that was meant to degrade them. N***er was one of the last words a black person might hear before they were lynched or murdered. The word was probably a bastardization of “negro,” which means black, a word that was labeled as bad. I agree that the over-usage of it does desensitize us in some ways and changing the word slightly does fully negate that cultural memory.

However, I understand the other side as well. Since it is a word used against us, we have the right to take it back for ourselves and only for ourselves. I find it very irritating when other races wonder why they can’t say a word that we say because that statement shows a lack of cultural sensitivity and historical knowledge. My question for them is why do you want to say it so much when it is not about you. With globalization and commercialization, the cultural and historical context is often lost and without someone to educate other cultures inside and outside of America about it, nuanced discussions are hindered.

For example, the changing of the ending of the word from “er” to “a.” The story of the “signifying monkey” is often mentioned as an important part of black culture and language development. We like to play on words and often that play on words is how we deal with our situations. One of the jazz musicians who influenced rap music was Cab Calloway. Cab Calloway put together the Hepster’s Dictionary and it shows black cultural use of metaphors, double meanings, and other figurative language skills (“bad” equals good). From that viewpoint, it is easy to see why some of us find it okay to change the word to have a different meaning, but only within our own cultural context (the intention seems different from people within our own group versus people outside of it).

Moreover, I often feel that some of us are blaming ourselves by saying that we need to stop saying the word for others to stop saying it. It is a naive viewpoint. In the past, whatever we did, whether it was act more like the dominant group or act more like our own cultural group, did not change how others viewed us. It should not be solely our responsibility to make others respect us when the problem did not start with us. Often when people use that excuse of us saying the word, too, it seems like a cop out to avoid any accountability or questioning of themselves.

Declaring the word dead or saying that we should not say it at all, sweeps that history under the rug. Earlier this year, a huge uproar over the removal of the n-word from Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn was all over the news. What was the point of removing the word from the book? It is a part of history and the best way to handle it is to have dialogue about it and educate others about it. Censoring the word is not going to stop others from thinking it, and believing the prejudiced views that created the word.

If you want some other views on the n-word and language censorship, click on the links.

“He’s Making a List, And Checking It Twice, Gonna Find Out…

… who’s naughty or nice.” Although “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” may seem like an innocent Christmas song, could there have been subtle motives to its creation. Last year, I read Mark Anthony Neal‘s post about the song that I found interesting. Here is a sample of it and you can read the rest here.

“Santa Claus is Coming to Town”: 
Some Notes on Christmas and State Surveillance
by Mark Anthony Neal

It was one of those Hallmark Mahogany moments; we were all in the living room in front of the fireplace, the Christmas tree was lit, Christmas carols on the stereo as my youngest daughter played Mancala and my oldest finished up her homework. As The Temptations’ stellar version of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” played in the background my oldest gave a curious look and blurted out, “Santa sounds like a stalker.” She was referring specifically to the lyric “he knows when you are sleeping/ he knows when you’re awake,/he knows when you’ve been bad or good/So be good for goodness sake. ” My daughter was on to something. Every holiday season millions of American embrace a seemingly innocuous symbol, that is in truth a powerful reminder of the reality of State surveillance in everyday life.

As citizens, we are practically trained to never fully interrogate the dominant symbols that circulate within American culture, including Santa Claus. I remember, as a child, wondering how Santa traveled down a chimney that my family—or anybody else in the South Bronx for that matter—did not possess. In my youthful nationalist days, it was easy to reject the idea that some “fat white man” would be honored for providing gifts that hardworking black women and men, like my parents sacrificed to provide for their families. These critiques largely spoke to the obvious cultural ramifications of Black Americans embracing symbols that did not reflect our heritage. The relative explosion of Ebony Santas and heritage consumables like Hallmark’s Mahogany greeting card line (even Kwanzaa essentials can be purchased at Pier 1) were blatant attempts to respond our need to see our heritage celebrated during the holiday season. But even this heightened sense of multicultural reflection get us further away from the more troubling aspects of Santa Claus.

The obvious critiques of capitalism and crass materialism aside, Santa Claus is but a user friendly symbol of the State’s capacity not only to engage in blatant forms of surveillance, but to essentially police behavior in the absence of actual surveillance. Indeed how many parents have exploited their children’s knowledge that Santa “knows when you are bad or good” as a means of reigning in bad behavior. When you consider the proliferation of Santa Claus imagery in popular media in the post World War II period, much of which targeted children, one gets an inkling of the ways that Americans are socialized at very ages to accept and expect certain forms of State surveillance. 

Rethinking Black Studies…

Professor of Sociology, African American Studies and Library and Information Science, Abdul Alkalimat, has recorded several lectures about theory in black studies. The five lectures are available at the eblack studies website. In his lectures, Alkalimat discusses ideology, methodology, history, tradition and debate. So far, I have seen only the tradition lecture in which he speaks about black tradition and retention, and the constant improvisational transformation of those traditions for survival. He also discusses how these theories can be of practical use to African-American communities today. It is a very interesting lecture that I recommend you watch. Other videos from Alkalimat are available here.

Thoughts for Food…

I was listening to the podcast Blacking It Up yesterday and documentary filmmaker Byron Hurt was there discussing his new film, Soul Food Junkies. Lolis Eric Elie, who came to my college Baruch in September to discuss the show Treme, is in this film, too. Not only is he a jazz journalist, but he is also a food journalist.

Coming from a West Indian background myself, I know the importance of food in African Diasporic cultures. One  of the common aspects of African Diasporic food is bricolage (it applies to the music as well), which is the taking various materials that are available and making something out it. This can be seen in the dishes gumbo and jambalaya in the Southeastern United States and pilau (pilaf), or cook-up rice as my mother calls it, in the Caribbean. Actually many cultures around the world make these types of bricolages dishes as well.

The food website, Old Ways, came up with a African Heritage Diet Pyramid, to encourage healthy eating practices in African Diasporic communities using our traditional staple foods because many of our dishes use a lot of greens. This is an important first step, especially in poorer neighborhoods that experience food deserts and an abundance of fast food restaurants as well as some of the unhealthy products in our traditional foods. So, please check out the pyramid and support Hurt’s documentary through his kickstarter campaign.