Modern Griots Interviews: Aisha Cousins and Brer Rabbit The Opera


Brer Rabbit: The Opera poster

On Thursday and Friday, Brooklyn-based artist Aisha Cousins will present her work-in-progress, Brer Rabbit The Opera: A Funky Meditation On Gentrification, at BRIC House Ballroom as part of their Fireworks residency program. Directed by Letitia Guillory, and in collaboration with Greg Tate and Burnt Sugar the Arkestra Chamber, the production follows “…a black middle aged cool marketer, at the tipping point in his battle to claim the American dream, mov[ing] into a notoriously dangerous black neighborhood that just happens to be at the tipping point in its battle with gentrification.” Confronting the modern issue of gentrification through the lens of legendary black folk hero, Brer Rabbit, and his home in the Briar Patch, Cousins’ production explores “tricksterism, techno-anismism, and urban survival techniques” through “music, performance art and community engagement.” Below is my interview with her about her upcoming opera:

1) Can you tell the readers about her background and how it contributed to the development of Brer Rabbit: The Opera?

I write performance art scores (do-it-yourself instructions for live art projects) that engage black folks from different cultures and backgrounds in exploring their overlapping experiences. So one of my favorite projects for the past few years has been this fictitious holiday I developed called “Brer Rabbit Day” where individual black folks make up their own holiday based on their family history with or personal connection to Brer Rabbit stories. When my collaborator Greg Tate and I were trying to figure out what to propose for BRIC’s Fireworks Residency, he really resonated with that project and said we should do an opera about it.

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The My-Stery: Manual for The Move Forward (Based on The Salt Eaters)


Toni Cade Bambara

For the first post of the new year, here is a short manual of lessons I was able to tease out from reading Toni Cade Bamabara’s The Salt Eaters. The Salt Eaters is a novel about a small Southern community of Claybourne who are searching for the healing properties of salt while also preparing for a carnival. The book centers on two characters, Minnie Ransom, the community healer and leader of a group of healers, and Velma Henry, who has suffered a nervous breakdown and near suicide, undergoes a healing session. At its base, The Salt Eaters is sankofic its nature — looking back, moving forward and every other way weaved in between. If you want to read more pieces about Bambara’s work, The Feminist Wire recently did a tribute forum for her.

1) “Are you sure, sweetheart, that you want to be well?” The opening question of the book and warning from the healer Minnie Ransom, reminds us that healing and moving forward takes work; it takes processing through a lot of hurtful trauma. Healing is proactive not reactionary. Not only that, when you are well, you are not done. There is responsibility after that (“a lot of weight when you’re well”) (10).

2) Everything is interconnected. One of the characters said, “the material without the spiritual and psychic does not a dialectic make” (64). All parts of life intersect and shape one another (laws of reciprocity, attraction and repulsion, supply and demand on 133). One of the reasons The Salt Eaters is a difficult read is that it cannot be read like a traditional linear novel. The book works more like a webbed-matrix, interweaving in and out of various stories, people, and signs who are all connected to Velma, the main center. The entire community is an extension of Velma and Velma is an extension of them, as we journey through the “master’s mind.” Velma’s healing will affect the entire community It also interweaves various aspects of life from myth to spiritual ritual to science that underpin the book as they are versions of each other and shape each other. If one area is sick or lacking it impacts the others.

Continue reading The My-Stery: Manual for The Move Forward (Based on The Salt Eaters)