Modern Griots Review: Calling the Names of the Ancestors and Elders…

At the BAMCafe with Muthawit Orchestra and Leon Ware

Last Saturday was a packed day for me. I attended three events — Moving with MUV (Movement for the Urban Village) dance workshop, the screening of My Nappy Roots: A Journey Through Black Hairitage at The Brothers Speak On Natural Beauty and URB ALT Festival with Muthawit and Leon Ware.

Moving with MUV involved an exercise in the physical embodiment of names and roles, and a discussion in the importance of naming and name histories. First, through dance, we demonstrated roles of friend, leader and healer. Each role had its own special moves: hugging and handshakes for the friend role, fists in the air, march and gun-toting Harriet Tubman move for leader, and pulling from the air and ground, mix and add spirit moves for healer. Afterwards, we discussed the histories of our own names. One of the attendees, Al Boogie, mentioned a great point that even fragments of these histories are still important because they can be passed on, remembered and connect us with out past. Just f.y.i., my grandmother gave me my name (my middle name was her first name); she died before I was born.

The last section of the workshop was a preview of MUV’s latest work, Calling Names. It was a hauntingly beautiful set of performances that evoked the memory of those who have passed from the realm of the living and the spiritual significance of naming in “The Gospels” dances, including calling the names of well-known people who passed, and the “physicalness” of the roles we perform in the “role stroll.” In the discussion afterword, the performers spoke about the struggle of singing Christian spirituals, such as “I Told Jesus If It Would be Alright If He Changed My Name,” as people who are not Christian. I liked the answer  one of the singer gave that for her it was the energy behind the song and Jesus as an archetype along with the song as a representation of transformation.

Next, I quickly went to the New York City premiere of Regina Kimbell’s My Nappy Roots. Remember Chris Rock’s Good Hair? Well, this film was 10 times better. After two years of wanting to see the film, it was well worth the wait. Kimbell offered a more comprehensive, balanced and in-depth look at topics of Black hair with voices from all areas of the spectrum. The film, which was inspired by Kimbell’s daughter’s essay, included histories of hair practices in Africa and during slavery in America, the hair care business (ex. Annie Mallone‘s influence on Madame CJ Walker) in the United States, hair shows, histories of different hairstyles from dreadlocks to perms, personal hair stories and poetry and music about hair. The only problem I had was that I wished it was longer because it was so much packed into one film.

Sadly, I had to leave The Brothers Speak On Natural Beauty early so I could attend URB ALT Festival’s Muthawit Orchestra featuring Leon Ware at BAMCafe. But the show was a great end to the night. If I had to describe it in two words – smooth and sexy! For a guy who is older in age, Ware still knows how to get his groove on and mack. With the Muthawit Orchestra, Ware performed songs off of his album, Musical Massage, including the title track, and “Phantom Lover,” and songs he wrote for other artists like “Inside My Love” (Minnie Ripperton) and “I Want You” (Marvin Gaye) ending the show. To think of all the songs I know that Ware has written, it reminds me of all the people in my life and other lives who go unnamed or whose names should be given as much attention as possible and how events like these help.

Leon Ware – “Phantom Lover”

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