Sorry I have been away for a while; I was working on a big book festival project that was supposed to be scheduled for this year, but due to unforeseen conflict, has to be postponed to next year. So, now I have some time to make a comeback, including an upcoming recap of the Afrofuturism conference I attended last weekend at The New School (that will be posted next week).
So my first post will be some great music that has come out since I was gone, some music to take you to a higher level! But first, here is a small tribute to Ben E. King who wrote one of the greatest love songs about a love that could survive even apocalyptic situation, and also a love that is “supernatural.”
From its beginning almost 40 years ago, Hip-Hop culture has had afrofuturist tendencies, from costumes and sounds of artists like Afrika Bambaataa and Ramellzee to later Missy Elliot and her videos with Hype Williams; to the hacking of street lamps to power sounds systems and other innovative rewiring to create the music; to the otherworldly movements of breakdancers and the artwork of graffiti. Well, choreographer and leader of the Renegade Performance Group, Andre M. Zachery, decided to pay homage to that spirit of Hip-Hop culture highlighting the power and politics of graffiti culture through dance. In the first work of Renegade’s AFROFUTURISM Series, called The Inscription Project, the piece takes inspiration from the art and philosophy of Ramellzee; it seeks to reignite the original purpose of the art movement as a politically empowering means to give voice and shed light on those who are on the margins of society and the social injustice they face everyday.
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.
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.
If you have been following the news, you most likely have heard about Azealia Banks’ interview on Hot 97, in which she gave an honest critique of appropriation of the cultural forms that originated in black cultures: “I feel, just in this country, whenever it comes to our things, like Black issues, or Black politics, or Black music or whatever there’s always this under current of a ‘Fuck you.’ Like ‘Fuck y’all niggas. Y’all don’t really own shit. Y’all don’t have shit…Like you’re trying to smudge out…it’s like a cultural smudging is what I see. And when they give these Grammys out all it says to White kids is ‘You’re great, you’re amazing, you can do whatever you put your mind to.’ And it says to Black kids, ‘You don’t have shit, you don’t own shit, not even the shit you created for yourself.’ And it makes me upset in that way (Source: Madam Noire.).
She continued: “What bothers me is when you have the media [which] is really evil. I told you that undercurrent of like “fuck you” and the sensationalization that comes around it. There was this time in the summer where I picked up the New York Post, and the cover was ‘Hip Hop Is White.’ They do that on purpose. They’re trying to erase us. They’re trying to erase all of our books and scripture. Everything that we’re supposed to know about ourselves is gone. Completely fucking gone. Never to be seen again.
The fact that metallurgy was started in Africa – agriculture, all those things that created the world are ours. It’s really upsetting when you read your social studies textbook and all you see is stories of you under some White person’s foot or you failing… I don’t wanna share [Hip Hop] with y’all. I’m sorry I don’t…This little thing called Hip Hop that I created for myself, that I’m holding on to with my dear fucking life – I feel like it’s being snatched away from me. It’s not, but they do that just to fuck with you. Why y’all trying to fuck with me?” (Source: All Hip Hop).
But as others have said before, this is nothing new. We have had to confront cultural exploitation for a while now. The only issue I had with what Banks said is I wanted her to continue putting it in a larger context of the twinning of white supremacy and capitalism not give personal attacks. White supremacy favors whiteness over everything and everybody else, and with capitalism, it can suck dry the cultural traditions and productions of local cultures like an invasive species, breaking them from their origins and deeper meanings for empty shell trends to sell to the highest bidder. It is through these erasures of origins and decontextualization of cultural art forms that we have difficulty claiming our cultural traditions, that they were cultivated in our communities. The mainstream will quickly disregard our right to claim and benefit from them for their own greedy, personal gain. As Greg Tate said “black culture matters” and so does black contributions.
The Azealia Banks interview fit well with a recent panel I attended about our communities moving forward our presence into the future, whether it is our art forms, our rituals, our values, or our institutions, and below is the recap from the event:
I met Janluk Stanislas at a recent Caribbeing event and found out about his 2005 Caribbean futuristic short film, Trafik d’Info. As someone of Afro-Caribbean descent, I am always looking for speculative works from the Caribbean and so this excited me. Trafik d’Info, known as the first science fiction film from the Caribbean, centers on a 20th century organization of rebels who are illegally trading information despite censorship from authorities. One of the agents of the organization, Jouwa, hunted the militia, is attempting to save important information so that people in his generation and future generations can receive it. Later in the film we see the effects of the efforts of this organization in the future. Below is my interview with Stanislas about the film:
1) Tell us a little about your background and how it influenced you to be a filmmaker.
I’m French Caribbean, born on the island of Guadeloupe. I’m part of that generation that grew up with the values that our parents and grandparents instilled, but also grew up with the beginning of advanced technology. My parents had a TV when I was one, and I remember going to the movies with my father later on every weekend. My mother influenced both my brother and I to play the piano and always found a way to document the family. I guess that the essence of my art form today was always surrounding me since my young age.
During the past few week after witnessing the no indictments of Darren Wilson,for the killing of Mike Brown and Daniel Pantaleo for the killing of Eric Garner, in addition to the numerous cases of police violence, brutality and negligence acted upon black people before and after the two incidents, I have wondered how do we move forward and find hope and refuge in the face of so much destruction.
The one thought that came to mind over the past few weeks has been that we need to value ourselves and our own stuff with more force. I have seen efforts such as #NotOneDime, #BlackoutBlackFriday, #BlackonBlackFriday and #BlackDecember. I have seen several posts on The Anti-Intellect Blog about how we don’t as a whole value our own schools, like HBCUs, and our own awards and recognitions. I was watching News One Now and Roland Martin was having a similar discussion with Cornel West with Roland mentioning that someone had told him that they needed to get him a “real show” on a “real network.” Saturday I attended the Afrikan Poetry Theater’s Buy Black Market. But it wasn’t until Sunday at J.P. Howard’s Women Writers in Bloom Salon where poet Amber Atiya led the workshop and introduced June Jordan’s essay, “Nobody Mean More to Me Than You and the Future Life of Willie Jordan” that it clicked fully in my head.