Two for Tuesday

July 26, 2016

I often think my taste in music is schizophrenic. It encapsulates everything from Americana (aka American roots music) to the Roots, Rock, Reggae of Jamaica; the punk of Patti Smith to the grunge of Nirvana; from the punk of Bad Brains to the virtuoso of Nina Simone; musical storytellers from Bob Dylan to Wu-Tang Clan. Therefore, I decided a weekly post where I highlight the connections musicians themselves have made between their disparate musical forms.

First up: Ring of Fire

June Carter Cash’s Ring of Fire

Ray Charles’ Ring of Fire

Anyone whom I’ve allowed to truly know me knows I love the Beatles and more specifically, John Ono Lennon.

Flashback to December 9, 1980: I was exactly a week shy of my thirteenth birthday when I walked into the classroom to find my teacher crying buckets and pressing rewind on her tape deck. I had no idea what was going on that would make my normally stalwart yet compassionate teacher forgo teacher-student protocol but it made me curious to say the least.

As John himself said, his last album, Double Fantasy, was about him and Yoko and was also oriented to people of his generation, which I, almost thirteen, 27 years younger than him, was not. Still, as an alienated, immigrant teenager struggling to find my way, what I managed to read about him, Yoko and the Beatles in that pre-Internet age, spoke to me in such a way it still resonates to this day, when I am older than he was allowed to be.

Yes, I am in my feelings about the Beatles and John Lennon. So here are videos:

As I wrote above, I am 27 years younger that JOL (John Ono Lennon) which means that I am, partly, of the (real) punk generation.  What does that mean? It means that this is one of my favorite songs of “his”. It means that I not only don’t have a problem with Yoko’s vocals in this song but actually, truly, enjoy it.

 

This.

As someone who has shut a significant amount of doors (aka just had to let them go) in order to raise my son in a way that will allow his black nerd self to thrive in this nation which has consistently refused to respect life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, watching the wheels go round and round is devastating and heart-breaking. Yet the fact that the wheels go round and round means that what is up will come down and what is down will come up and in that vein, it doesn’t significantly  matter, that people (family and friends) call me lazy because I, currently, do not work outside the home (folks don’t consider blog posts and writing poetry to be “actual” work).

 

I include this one because JOL could be a perfect asshole lyrically when he was enraged. In other words, he was not perfect and I embrace his imperfections (especially because time has proven “Sir” Paul to be a perfect wanker). I could, possibly, embrace “Sir” Paul’s imperfections except I can’t bear to listen to him. So it goes. I am not perfect, either.

 

This…because I’m a womanist and because JOL “perfect assholeness” includes how he treated women. And also, because he recognized that he needed to acknowledge, publicly, that, yes, he profoundly loved Yoko but also that their relationship broke him out of the prison that was Beatlemania. Before Yoko, he expressed his angst about Beatlemania with semi-trite songs like Help and Nowhere Man. After he met and got involved with Yoko, it was All You Need is Love and Imagine, etc. She was his muse in ways that Beatlemaniacs still don’t acknowledge or respect to this day, 36 years after his death. Kudos to Yoko for staying her path.

 

 

Prince

April 22, 2016

I don’t remember the first time I heard him. I was too young, even though he was only 8 years older than me.

My mother and I had left the 1st household we lived in this country as a result of my aunt’s Imam husband’s directive that my mother stop seeing my stepfather. We moved into a house that my aunt owned and there started my  (as opposed to my mother’s) first introduction to the African diaspora. In my poem Blood Will Tell (My Mother’s Song), I referred to them as “block mothers” but that was poetic license. There were black men there as well. They played whisk, gin rummy, etc but when they played Prince, we children were ordered to leave. Because…Head and Do Me Baby.

Flash forward a few years and there was Chaka Khan and I Feel For You (written by the Purple One Himself, in case you, dear reader, are not old enough to remember/know).  

A few years after that, there was high school: Purple Rain; Sinéad and No One Compares to You (also written by THE Purple One.) Purple Rain was all the rage. We giggled about Dirty Nikki and “masturbating in a magazine”. We knew (and sang) every single word of When Doves Cry.

What I’ve written so far is just to show that Prince has been a mainstay of my music listening life for…forever. There is not a period of my life which is absent of Prince and his influence.

The first college I attended, I became “friends” with a white girl who I remember saying “it takes a real man to wear heels”. She meant Prince. She may (or may not) have been familiar with (or cognizant of)  James Brown wearing heels but regardless, Prince spoke to her enough that she recognized something about HIM that spoke to her and enabled her to speak out when her friends said he was gay (back when that was a “bad” word).

I could write more and probably will but for now, let His Purple Highness speak for himself, as he did so, so well!

 

Older than Hip Hop

February 18, 2016

Before 16 bars imprisoned words,
before rhymes were as predictable
as a cop’s nightstick upside your head,
my pen positioned itself
in the continuum of black words.

Shaka Zulu and Uhuru
are the main threads of my weave
so there’s no need for me to loom
larger than sacred life.

I’ll leave that to you and you and you
while my words through the needle go
attempting to be part of the quilt
reconnecting the unraveled threads of black life.

I’m not a superstar.
I’m just a star shining alongside my fellow stars.
Together, we illuminate what’s right
and I like it like that.
So you and you and you
can keep on masturbating to finger snaps
while I read ngugi
trying to decolonize my mind
so that my words can turn into wombs
breeding the fire next time.

Throwback Thursday (1)

February 19, 2015

Several years ago, I, along with fellow members of an online poetry group agreed to participate in a poetry challenge. I don’t remember the exact perimeters of this particular challenge. I remember it had something to do with music. I remember I chose the song below

and wrote the poem below that for the challenge.

Song: History of Africa by The Classics:

Poem: Blood Will Tell (My Mother’s Song)

While my older cousins were upstairs
doing the hustle and other disco dances
I was downstairs, ingesting
with all the delight my seven yr old self
could muster
the nice history of Africa.

Then my mother and I moved
and the song got packed away
lying dormant in the quiet storm of my blood
while I gravitated towards Michael Jackson
and the music flowing at neighborhood block parties.
i joined one nation getting down
just for
the funk of it
and learned how to dance under water
without getting wet
from swim instructors/block mothers.

but my blood knew it wasn’t a done deal
knew I would find my way back
to the nice history of Africa

and I did

some twenty years later
when I took one of my bi-annual trips
back East and raided
my mother’s closet for my history.

And there it was, my mother’s song
carried all the way from London
more than twenty years ago,
still in pristine condition.

I stowed it away, carefully
and when I arrived back in Cali
quietly deposited it between Prince albums
and 12 inch versions of Rapper’s Delight
and I Feel for You.

Never listening, only reading
the nice history of Africa
until my Jekyll and Hyde man
knew that, this time, I was serious
about leaving him
and stole my record player
in preemptive retribution.

I told myself that’s it
no more music for me
and donated all my records
to a community store;
too distraught to realize
I was also giving away
my mother’s song
the nice history of Africa

and when I awoke, it was too late
and I was never able to find
the song again
until one day, I did a blood-driven
internet search and there it was
the nice history of Africa

and my blood settled
coming full circle
with all the delight
a thirty-seven year old
could manage.

Excerpted from my book In the Whirlwind

No Woman, No Drive

October 26, 2013

Sometime in the late 1930’s, the government in another of its persistent and futile attempts to suppress African cultural survivals, decided that the colony would more easily be governable if drums and other traditional musical instruments were outlawed. The colonials must have sensed, and correctly, the importance of music in the cultural independence and political resistance of the African masses. I would, of course, encounter this phenomenon again in the American South. But at least the George Wallaces and Ross Barnetts of that world never tried to outlaw our spirituals and freedom songs. Though I’m sure they must  have often wished they could have.

So in Trinidad by legislative fiat an African could be jailed for possession of drums and other musical instruments? Not a gun, not a grenade, or some dynamite, but a drum? I have often tried, and failed, to visualize the campaign to enforce that law. In implementation of this policy, did armed police and soldiers–the governor’s minions–surround African communities and conduct house-to-house searches? And for what, those threats to public order, drums, tambourines, maracas, and marimbas? Did they kick  down the doors to shacks with guns drawn: “Freeze. You’re under arrest. Seize that drum!”

So, suddenly deprived of their traditional instruments of musical expression, Africans resorted to their creativity and whatever materials lay to hand. In this case, the fifty-five-gallon steel drums used to store oil at the refinery.

These they took and cut to varying depths. Say nine inches down for an alto pan, two feet deep for a tenor pan, and twice that for a bass. Then on the top they would heat and pound out a number of raised areas, each of which when struck would produce a precise musical note of a certain pitch. Over the years the brothers experimented with ways to refine the basic instruments and to create others. The result is what is today known the world over as the Trinidad steel band: an ensemble of musical instruments of great range and flexibility, capable of playing not only calypso and other forms of local popular music, but the most complex and demanding of jazz compositions or any form from the European classical tradition you care to name. A sound immediately recognizable in the distinctive, liquid purity of tones and the fluency of its musical lines.

Hey, as you may have noticed, I can’t pretend to be an ethnomusicologist. I’m a revolutionary. But that description should give you a fairly accurate sense of the accomplishment represented by the creation of the steel bands.  And remember, this unique innovation and the musical tradition it evolved into came directly out of the determined and indomitable will of Trinidad’s African’s to resist colonization and to maintain their culture.

Excerpted from Ready for Revolution: The Life and Struggle of Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture)