Modern Griots Reviews: Aja Monet’s “Inner City Chants and Cyborg Ciphers”


Last weekend, spoken word poet Aja Monet debuted her works from her upcoming collection, Inner City Chants and Cyborg Ciphers, at Kraine Theater, and it was an intimate exploration of Monet’s own personal stories and those stories extending out beyond herself to the cities of new York and Chicago, Paris, the Caribbean and the rest of the world.

Monet’s stage set up for the intimate atmosphere — a room of her own filled with her belongings — a chest box filled with family pictures, albums and other items, behind it a table alter of sorts, old street signs (a deli and no standing anytime), wall posters and photographs of James Baldwin and Zora Neal Hurston along with an African-styled mask drawing, on the floor various album covers and posters, a step ladder filled with books and a typewriter on top and an old wooden chair. With this and the jazz soundtrack, the audience situated into Monet’s innerverse.

Opening for the show was Monet’s current collaborator, Shayfer James with his melodic songs and gothically haunting lyrics, followed by the poetic wordings of juju angeles of Baby Mamahood, “We Always Come Back to Water,” about the returning back and reclaiming nature, the feminine, our past and our own magic to combat the mechanization and fixed constructions of our societies. Monet also included two of her students from Urban Arts Partnership to showcase their spoken word talents. As she said, one of the powerful things she does as a poet is to inspire someone to say a word that they have never said before and it shows in her students.

When Monet stepped onto the stage, the work she presented incorporated all those who prepared the way for her, on stage and off, that night and in the past. In her upcoming poetry collection,  Monet explores the double consciousness, or two realms, that she as a poet and those who are oppressed, especially women of color, manage everyday —  confronting the everyday physical realities of their situations and imagining outside of that reality and oppression, the mental travel needed to cope, survive and transform bleak situations. With her mellow yet passionate and rhythmic recitation of her poems, like “For My Mother,” “For Judy,” “Manifest, “I Write You,” and “Something Beautiful,” we witnessed her working through the tensions of family and self, memory, loss and remembrance, past and future, responsibility to home and the journey away from home to find one’s self, the possibility and power of words to imagine more but also its inadequacies. She did all this while also staying down to earth and honest including anecdotes about her family life growing up in East New York, her mother’s illness, her father’s drug dealing, her funny stories about her Cuban grandmother telling her she wants to be everything, both Sammy Davis Jr. and Elizabeth Taylor, and questioning whether pigeons are robots or what do they think of the city, and the power she found growing up in church, but also her disillusionment from it.

Besides being a poet, Monet is stepping more into her musical side in a similar styling of a Tracy Chapman or Meshell N’Degeocello, collaborating with opening artist, Shayfer James. She performed a few works that she has released or she will be releasing soon, “Handful of Hurricane” and “Dear Little Firefly” and “You Make Holy War.”

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Aja and Me

Towards the later parts of her show, Monet extended her personal out more to the social, since it is all related, highlighting the issues of gentrification, a colonization of our neighborhoods, and new neighbors’ lack of commitment to communities who previously lived there, police brutality, violence within our communities and violence put upon our communities, our lack of imagination when it comes to the different ways we can educate and treat young people. Monet ended with a powerful poem on our need to imagine and recreate a society and culture that would be healthy for everyone within it. One of the interesting responses she gave in the Q&A was about the discussion between Maya Angelou, who recently passed, and Dave Chapelle about the N-word, where Angelou talks about bottle of poison, Monet said she would respond with what if the same bottle of poison did not have poison in it, but alkaline healing water, and that stress her strength as a poet to imagine outside the box, outside the conventional thought, work through the complexities of past, present and future, and transform from it.

Aja Monet will be performing with Shayfer James as an opening act for Robert Glasper at Celebrate Brooklyn on July 5th and keep a lookout for her upcoming e-book.

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Barbados Cultural Fact of the Day: One of the most celebrated poets and writers from Barbados is Edward Kamau Brathwaite. Some of his collections include Elegguas, Slow Horses, Ancestors, Middle Passages, X/self, and Black + Blues. His first three collections, Rights of Passage, Masks, and Islands were gathered into The Arrivants: A New World Trilogy. He also authored several cultural books and essays, Our Ancestral Heritage: A Bibliography of the Roots of Culture in the English-speaking Caribbean,  Barbados Poetry: A Checklist: Slavery to the Present, Caribbean Man in Space and Time and Gods of the Middle Passage. One of his most famous poems is “Limbo,” which gives the true meaning and history behind the Afro-Caribbean Limbo dance.

Please donate and/or share my fundraiser for Atlantic Impact’s Abroad for a Cause Challenge in which the organization is inviting two bloggers to travel with them to Barbados this summer. Atlantic Impact is an organization that helps at risk youth by giving them opportunities to travel abroad. I ONLY HAVE THREE DAYS MORE TO RAISE AT LEAST $250!!!!

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