Archive for the Guest Commentators Category

It’s A New Day in Canada!

Posted in Guest Commentators, On Foreign Affairs with tags , , on October 23, 2015 by playthell

Justin Trudeau gestures while weighing-in for a charity boxing match against Conservative Senator Patrick Brazeau in Ottawa March 28, 2012. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

 Justin Trudeau Newly Elected Canadian Prime Minister

Reflections on the Canadian Election

We Canadians know only too well how rarely U.S. citizens think of us. In fact, we’re pretty much convinced that you’re only mildly aware of our existence. A friend who played hockey in the States was travelling north to Canada on a bus full of U.S. players who seemed sure that they would cross the border to immediately encounter snow squalls and moose crossing the streets in major cities. We’re quaint, but honestly, living in Toronto is much like living in New York, which is one of my favorite cities.

We’ve just finished a major election which will bring sweeping change to the ethos of our whole country, and as your neighbor, I thought you might like to know what’s going on up here. Canada’s Parliament, modeled on the British form, is made up of locally elected Members from many districts across Canada. For a national election like the one we just held on the 19th of October, 2015, when you vote for a local Member of Parliament, you’re voting for the leader of his or her party, and the leader of the party that gains the most seats in the House of Commons becomes our Prime Minister for four years.

Conservatives are blue, the New Democratic Party, or NDP, are orange, and the Liberals are red. Last night, a crimson tide swept across our nation with an unprecedented number of people flocking to the polls from East to West as the day went on. Advance polls saw a 70% increase from the 2011 election. First Nations people from many tribes, who have traditionally avoided voting, showed up in car pools. Muslims, immigrants and the young people of the nation raced to their polling stations by the busload. Justin Trudeau, the Leader of the Liberal Party became our Prime Minister, utterly ousting the Conservatives. Trudeau’s Liberals, coming from third place, got 4.2 million more votes than in 2011. We were desperate for change, and I’ll tell you why….

First Nations Peoples of Canada
First Nations People
They turned out and helped drive the right-wingers from office

 For the past 10 years, our Prime Minister (Canadian code for President) Stephen Harper of the Conservative Party has led Canada down a dark road of increasing exclusion, lightly veiled homophobia, racism and passive/aggressive Islamophobia, all the while pumping out a rhetoric of fear of anyone other than whites of European descent – a rhetoric that has Canadians locking their doors.

Did you watch Bowling for Columbine? If you did, you’ll know that we’re usually more trusting than that up here. He’s infamous for muzzling journalists and scientists, for making Canada the laughing stock of international efforts to improve the environment, and for openly stating that the 1,182 First Nations women who were murdered or went missing in recent years was not a priority for him. He was too busy protecting us from evil foreigners to demand action on resolving the cases of these women; cases which had been tossed aside and neglected for years.

Stephen Harper’s Last Hurrah…

Harper

He got Smacked down by the Liberals

Harper insulted Muslims by insisting that a woman should not be allowed to wear her Niqab while being sworn in as a Canadian citizen. He openly used code phrases like “Old Stock Canadians” to assure those Old Stock Boys that his consistently divisive leadership would continue to favor them above others. He put forward laws to decrease health benefits for refugees, and the list goes on. Ralph Nader, in a guest spot last week on CBC Radio, said that he hardly recognized Canada any more – it used to be a leading country in quality of life and evolved compassion, but that he now felt embarrassed for what we had become under Harper’s regime of fear.  This is not the country I grew up in – this is a country I no longer recognize. Let me tell you why this election was so important to Canadians.

I was a little kid sitting in the back seat of the family Volkswagen, and to my father’s astonishment, I was writing an election campaign speech. I had caught “Trudeau-mania”. For the course of my young life, politics had been austere, gravely serious and mostly about men making decisions for the rest of us. And along came Trudeau. Pierre Elliott Trudeau, Prime Minister from 1968-1979 and from 1980-1984, is the late father of our new Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau. We called him PET. Trudeau created a country that welcomed immigrants from all over the world with open arms. America represents itself as the famous “Melting Pot,” where people of other cultures blend in, but Canada became a “Mosaic” where other cultures, languages, customs and traditions were accepted and celebrated.

Canada was a fabric made of thousands of individual brightly-colored threads representing nations far and wide. That was our trademark – you could come here and feel welcomed, but you didn’t have to give up your culture or heritage – you could still benefit from the blessings of democracy, an advanced Medicare system and endless natural resources. PET was a breath of fresh air, bringing a forward-thinking new platform on women’s rights, equality and inclusion. PET put us on the map internationally, gaining the friendship and respect of foreign leaders. He brought us in leaps and bounds into a future of promise, where people of all races and religions worked together in harmony and felt safe. That’s the Canada he built. That’s the Canada I knew and loved. That’s the Canada Ralph Nader remembers.

Pierre Elliot Trudeau
pierre-trudeau
Pater-familias of Todays victorious Liberals

An acquaintance from Iran who fled to Canada in the 1979 Revolution, often spoke of his alarm and dismay at how complacent and indifferent he found North Americans in terms of their engagement with politics. In a world where many have to walk miles, dodge bullets and navigate devious practices in order to place a vote, I tend to agree with him. But in yesterday’s election, my faith in Canadian citizens was restored. In the final weeks of the campaign, we waited, almost in a quiet panic, to see how this election would turn out. Various groups sprung up across the country to study the trends and provide local statistics on the best way to unseat the Conservatives.

People all across the country shared social media posts and links to tell the truth about Conservative policy and approach, and thousands upon thousands realized that no commentary was needed – one needed only to post the actual decisions, laws passed, policies and quotations, to tell the story of how Harper attempted to turn trusting, open-hearted Canadians into frightened, racist and suspicious people who thought they saw a terrorist hiding at every corner. The truth spread so far that even generally indifferent Canadians became fed up with this reign of fear, and they too wanted their Canada back.

Justin Trudeau Courts Muslim Vote

Trudeau meets with muslims

Building a winning Liberal Coalition

 The Liberal Party sent out volunteers in droves, and during the 78-day campaign, I was telephoned at least once a week by Liberal Party members looking to answer any questions, make sure I would vote and offer me a ride to the polling station. They were out on the streets in droves, knocking on doors and giving solid, clear answers to peoples’ questions. My experience in my own riding of Etobicoke South / Lakeshore left me deeply impressed with the integrity and hard-working team of local Liberal Candidate James Maloney, who won the riding. A casualty of the landslide vote in favor of the Liberal Party was the New Democratic Party, which lost many good Members of Parliament to the strategic vote.

In areas where a Liberal win was likely, staunch NDP members abandoned their representatives – the lesser evil if it meant ousting the Conservative Party, which was the goal of so many Canadians.  I was moved. It was like going to church last night, watching the Conservative blue disappear in a sea of Liberal red. I marveled at the well-oiled machine composed of dedicated Canadians who loved their country enough to work together as one to reclaim it from the reactionary conservatives.

Justin Trudeau, our new Prime Minister, is only 43 years old, and the campaign television ads used to try and diminish Trudeau said, “He’s just not ready.” But they were dead wrong. There was much negative speculation about how this very young man would handle the first debate, but the morning after, the pundits and journalists were singing his praises, impressed and inspired by his strength, knowledge, confidence and political savvy. During the weeks of the campaign, his opponents often suggested that Trudeau would run out of steam, not being used to the rigors of the road. Again, they were dead wrong. Justin’s energy and vitality increased as he continued to rise to every occasion. He was in good physical, mental and emotional condition and he remained consistent.

Justin Trudeau makes his Case

Justin Trudeau makes his case

And the Canadian people put the reins of power in his hands

Here’s the thing – Trudeau has not been mindlessly spouting some party line. He grew up immersed in the kind of belief system and world view of which the Liberal Party is so proud – a world view that is inclusive and positive and that welcomes the stranger and embraces the ‘other’ – a belief system that chooses to challenge the increasing gap between the rich and the poor – an outlook that values the hard-working middle class and resists favoring corporate giants at the expense of the ordinary person. Young Trudeau has already made some statements that are commanding our attention. He wants to focus on the important environmental issues which the Conservative government put on the shelf. He promises that he will name an equal number of men and women as Cabinet Ministers. Already, there are 26% more female representatives in the House of Commons than in the previous House.

Indigenous people who have been ignored and side-lined have hope that they will be included in infra-structure improvements that will finally bring them clean water and a trustworthy safety net. The list goes on, but the point is this: Canada lived through an increasingly negative decade wherein our progressive identity was insidiously being eroded, and we finally woke up.

Our new leader has a heart, and we can sense that he genuinely cares about the average Canadian.  It’s in his DNA to have compassion. He got it from his parents. As he joined his supporters for his speech, with his beautiful wife, Sophie on his arm, they chanted his name in ecstatic joy. And he promised to give Canada back to the Canadians who love it and serve it. He restored hope to an increasingly cynical nation.  He closed with a reminder that the Conservative Party members are not our enemies, but rather, they are our neighbors, and he urged us to work together to make Canada stronger. And there it is – there’s the big difference we worked so hard to bring back.

So why should you, my dear American neighbors, care about this Canadian election? First, you should probably know about the unprecedented shift that has taken place in a country that is attached to you for thousands of miles along your northern border. And second, you too have a major election coming. You too have an opportunity to raise awareness of the issues that are most important to you. What kind of a country do you want to be? What is it that other nations say about you? Is that okay with you? Would you like it to be something else?

I’m no politician – I’m not even a journalist. I’m a divorced Anglican (Episcopalian) Priest, a proud mother of two young adult women, and – yes, I have to own it – a sort of middle-aged hippie. I have always believed, like Jesus, Gandhi and Mohammed, that the sign of a truly good country is how well it cares for its most vulnerable citizens and brings justice to all people. I want to remind you of the dynamic power of one; because the action of the one, when added to the actions of many, becomes an immensely powerful force for change. We did it – we changed the whole ethos of our country, and you can too.

 

******************************

 

Reverend Susanne McKim
Tronto, Canada
October 20, 2015

 

 

 

Melting The Sun

Posted in Guest Commentators, Music Reviews with tags , , on April 20, 2014 by playthell

DSC05691

 Chris Pendergraft of space rock band Echocosmic

Cosmic Salvation Songs

Down around the back of a former iron foundry in east Oakland’s post-industrial wasteland, if you can find the door and know the secret knock, it is possible of a Friday evening to catch the lyric melancholy and faster-than-light travel of the band EchoCosmic at play. Synching digital beats and mixing board effects with live instruments, these musicians bring well-honed skills and a constant quest for meaning to their music.

In 1997 a quest for meaning through music produced Root Beer, the early band in which brothers-in-music Chris Pendergraft and Mike Blodgett began to work together. Through the writing and performance of the band’s signature protest rock songs, Mike Blodgett’s guitar style developed lyric eloquence, with bright sprays of descending sounds arcing like brief light pulses in the cold and indifferent openness of deep space.

Inherent in the name Echocosmic is the powerful sense of great distance and vast lapses of time.  Cosmic is defined as: the whole universe;immeasurably extended in space or time; vast; harmonious.   All of these elements have a place in the band’s compositions.  The word echo comes to us from the mythological Greek nymph who pined away for the beautiful, indifferent Narcissus until only her voice remained. With this etymology, it is no wonder that the echo carries an implicit sense of melancholy.

But an echo also relates to sound in a manner of interest to music-makers; it is uniquely produced by reflecting sound waves from a surface, where the returning sound may be only a fragment of the original.  And herein lies the heart of the matter, for in the songs of Echocosmic we hear the report of the interstellar traveler, returning across inhuman distance and still more inhuman time.

 These songs are evocative of struggle, mourning, and memory, chronicling the birth of black holes or the explosive nirvana of a star going nova.  ”Red Shift” with its desending chords and cascading shower of deep notes, feels like we are listening to the recorded end of some ancient civilization or an entire planet, perhaps as viewed by an anguished alien race of future spacefarers.

A red shift refers to a change in light wavelengths, moving toward a slower, cooler portion of the spectrum. The sun is a frequent, even baseline reference in space rock, and Echocosmic heeds this tradition.  Another of their songs is meant to communicate the point of view of bacteria colonizing a sun: in the heat of the solar flares, the space bacteria awaken, grow and make a new home.

In 1968, Set the Controls For the Heart of the Sun came out on the album Saucerful of Secrets by Pink Floyd, pioneering progressive rock’s shift toward what would be termed “space rock;” their solar fires and deep cold space attracted the attention of people ranging from NBA Hall of Fame star Dennis Rodman to Exorcist movie star Linda Blair.

Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun is a ten minute extravaganza of “out there” sound which builds to a violent end that actually comes, impossibly, as a climax. This distinctly disciplined approach to a pulsing momentum with abstract sound became a genre that encompasses much of Echocosmic today.

 Drummer Eric the Mover
 DSC05694
 Keeps the rhythm out there!

 *************

 Mike Blodgett
 DSC05700
Lead Guitar, a Sonic Space Cadet
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 Merging technology and Music
DSC05699 
Powering their Space Odyssey

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Their Rehersal  Space is Also a Recording Studio

 DSC05565

 Which Blodgett built to Free the Band from the tyranny of record companies
 ******************
East Bay Artist Susannah Israel and Ray Heywood

DSC05675

Are Mesmerized by the Music

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 Text by: Susannah Israel
Photos by: Playthell Benjamin
April 20th 2014
Oakland, California

Dr. Lateef’s Spirit Dances with Ancestors

Posted in Cultural Matters, Guest Commentators, Music Reviews on December 25, 2013 by playthell

yuseflateef6_300

 The Master with his Horn

The Legendary Musician and Composer Steps off at 93

          At the close of his autobiography, Yusef A. Lateef, the renowned musician, composer, and Grammy Award-winning recording artist wrote, “My life has been a series of ‘warm receptions,’ and, after a while, it becomes difficult to separate them, to determine which was most rewarding and heartwarming.”  Lateef’s thousands of admirers will ponder now about which of his concerts and recordings were most rewarding for them in his highly productive life.  Lateef, 93, died Monday morning at his home in Amherst, Massachusetts.

Lateef, a versatile artist of global influence, made his transition peacefully, according to his wife, Ayesha Lateef.

“My dear husband was himself an extension of warmth and love towards others,” his wife said. “He saw every human being with the utmost value and respect. He approached all of us as he did his music, with enthusiasm, imagination and longevity.”

While Lateef chose to define his music as autophysiopsychic, that is, “music from one’s physical, mental and spiritual self,” his critics and fans heard him as the embodiment of jazz and the blues, and that expressive quality, however termed, placed him among the finest performers and composers of his generation.

A Hard Swinging Tenor Man!
Yusef II
Blues and the Abstract Truth

Born William Emmanuel Huddleston on Oct. 9, 1920 in Chattanooga, Tenn., he moved with his family to Detroit in 1925, settling in the heart of the city’s storied Paradise Valley.   It was about this time that his father—for an unknown reason—changed their surname to Evans.

Paradise Valley was basically the entertainment enclave of “Black Bottom,” where the city’s black population was centered, and where William Evans (he changed his name to Yusef Lateef in 1948 and became a member of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community and for the rest of his life he remained a devout Ahmadi Muslim fulfilling requirements including the lesser and greater pilgrimage to Mecca) was immersed in a vibrant culture where a profusion of music was part of the daily routine.

He introduced Exotic New Instruments….
 Yusef Lateef-flute-bmboo
To the Art of Jazz
And made them sing the Blues
YUSEF LATEEF - Basson And Swang them too!

At Miller High School, he fell under the tutelage of John Cabrera and joined such illustrious future jazz immortals as Milt Jackson.  But it was a local saxophonist, Lorenzo Lawson, who most impressed and influenced him to set aside the oboe and drums and focus on the tenor saxophone.

Soon, he was so proficient that he had the first chair in Matthew Rucker’s Band, and given the band’s prominence, Lateef’s reputation reached across the city and all the way to Chicago where he was now a member of Lucky Millinder’s big band.  In 1948, along with his adoption of Islam, he joined the Dizzy Gillespie Orchestra, which included an array of world class musicians such as James Moody, J.J. Johnson, Ray Brown, Kenny Clarke, and the amazing Cuban conga drummer Chano Pozo.

Diz, Chano Pozo and James Moody
Dizzy and Chano pozo
Playing Rebopped Cubops!

By 1951, Lateef was back in Detroit with his first wife Sadie, a daughter Iqbal and a son Rasheed.  In no time at all he was back in the swing of things performing with a number of groups and at several of the top clubs in town.  Among the stellar leaders who requested his presence was guitarist Kenny Burrell.  When bassist Alvin Jackson, Milt’s brother, assembled a quartet, Lateef was featured on tenor saxophone and flute, which he had begun studying at the Larry Teal School of Music.  The group, including pianist Barry Harris and trombonist Kiane Zawadi (Bernard McKinney) was the house band at the Blue Bird Inn, a legendary jazz spot on Detroit’s Westside.

The Joint was Really Jumpin!
blue bird inn It’s what’s inside that Counts

Lateef was fronting his own ensemble by 1954 and began a five-year stint at Klein’s Show Bar.   Now with a steady gig he had to relinquish his job at Chrysler.  With Hugh Lawson (and sometimes Terry Pollard) on piano; Curtis Fuller on trombone; Ernie Farrow on bass; and Louis Hayes on drums; for two years the band worked six nights a week and became one of the most popular groups in the city.  So popular, in fact, that jazz writers began to spread the word.  They were extended a contract by Ozzie Cadena, a producer at Savoy Records, and their first album was “Jazz Mood.”  A succession of albums would follow, alternately between Savoy and the Prestige labels, and it was during this phase that Lateef was able to introduce an assortment of unusual instruments normally heard in various ethnic cultures.

“Where one relaxes on the axis of the wheel of life”
Cannonball Adderly
Great Virtuosos like Cannonball Adderly anointed audiences in Detroit’s clubs

From a veritable academy of musicians who were in and out of his ensemble during the nights at Klein’s, Lateef sharpened his musical knowledge which was bolstered even further by the classes he took at Wayne State University.  But by 1959, he was ready for a new scene.  “I had done about all I could in the realm of music in Detroit,” he wrote.  “There was a scarcity of clubs during this period and to make ends meet I took a part-time job unloading banana trucks. Whether you were a writer, painter, or a musician, it wasn’t a good time to be in the city.”

The Big Apple was the only option for him and by the early sixties Lateef was a regular at jam sessions, recordings, and concert dates with such notables as John Coltrane, Charlie Mingus, percussionist Babatunde Olatunji, and numerous homeboys such as Lonnie Hillyer, Donald Byrd, and Sonny Red.  But Lateef’s stature grew exponentially during his tenure with Cannonball Adderley’s band, and it provided him with additional experience to form his own ensemble by 1965.

Yusef and Cannonball
cannonball-with-yusef-lateef Masters of the Horns: Original voices on Alto and Tenor Saxes

Holding a band together while attending the Manhattan School of Music was challenging, but Lateef was equal to the task, earning his master’s degree and continuing to record at a phenomenal pace.  Under contract at Atlantic Records where producer Joel Dorn gave Lateef the latitude he needed to express the full extent of his artistry.  His “Gentle Giant,” recorded in 1971 was among his most memorable dates and featured bassist Bob Cunningham, drummer Tootie Heath, and pianist Kenny Barron.

Nothing was more eventful for him in the early seventies than his meeting and marriage to Tahira at Chicago State University.  Winning her hand and defending his dissertation were momentous occasions and the birth of his son, Yusef in 1975, completed a trifecta of jubilation.

From 1975 to 1980, Dr. Lateef studied in Africa, mainly in Nigeria where he undertook the mastery of the Fulani flute.  In addition to his research and teaching obligations, he was commissioned by the government to compose a symphony and to write a book based on his research.  Seeking new musical spheres after Africa, he embarked on a series of concert dates with Eternal Wind, an advanced group of younger musicians that included Charles Moore, Frederico Ramos, Ralph “Buzzy” Jones, and Adam Rudolph.   “Yusef was so open and accessible,” Rudolph recalled during a recent interview.  “There was always this love, peace and freedom about him.  And you could feel all of this through his music, which defined him in the same as Picasso’s art or Miles Davis’s music defined them.  We’re evolutionists, he would tell us and we have to keep on stepping.”

Invisible Wind
Eternal Wind
The Vehicle through which Yusef produced autophysiopsychic Sounds

 And stepping Dr. Lateef did, thanks to Eternal Wind and the tireless Rudolph.  Even so, there was time for teaching and composing, to say nothing of his other artistic ventures into writing and painting, and running his record and publishing company, FANA Music.

His beloved wife Tahira passed in 2009, Dr. Lateef later remarried  Ayesha, and his final days were as fruitful and productive as ever, and he leaves a remarkable legacy of cultural achievements.

“I daily and nightly thank Allah for continuing to bless me and to allow me to bring love, peace and joy to the world,” he wrote.  And that love, peace and joy resonates with all the conviction his formidable talent could command, and all we have to do is to listen to his music.

Dr. Lateef  is survived by wife Ayesha, his son also named Yusef Lateef, his grand-daughter Iqbal, and great grandchildren.  Funeral arrangements are in the planning stages.

The Master Sonic Alchemist left a healing sound….
Yusef images (2)

………A Gift that keeps on Giving

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To watch Ahmad Jamal and Yusef Lateef
 Double Click on this link

http://youtu.be/X8DGIqgRF7Q

To Hear Yusef Perform “Stella by Starlight”
Double Click On Link Below

 http://youtu.be/X__EJMqQn5Q

By Herb Boyd

Special to Commentaries on the Times

A Post Racial America…Really?

Posted in Cultural Matters, Guest Commentators on December 12, 2013 by playthell

Barack Obama and First Lady

 The Huxtables are in the White House ….and All is Well

  Separating Myth from Reality

 In 2013 we have Barack Obama, a two-term African American President, hundreds of other black men and women elected to state and local offices, and a country that officially celebrates Black History Month. Even more, no white official would dare publicly use a racist slur. As a result, our intellectuals, our historians, and our media are all on board with a consistent message: “We live in a post-racial America.”

 Well, maybe. Bill Keller, who served for eight years as executive editor of The New York Times, and is the author of a children’s book on Nelson Mandela, recently wrote the Sunday Times Book Review of Books front page essay on Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book The Bully Pulpit, which examines Presidents Teddy Roosevelt and William Howard Taft. Keller extolled them as “politicians of stature and conscience.”  Really?  As Presidents neither made any serious effort to improve race relations or protect minorities from violence. Neither challenged the forces promulgating segregation, discrimination and lynching.

 The America of Roosevelt and Taft
 lynching Bee
 A Southern Carnival

Though their Republican Party controlled the House and Senate from 1900 to 1910, neither Roosevelt nor Taft paid more than lip service to Lincoln’s “new birth of freedom.” Neither enforced the 13th, 14th, or 15th Amendments that promised former slaves liberty, justice, and equality. Neither challenged “the new slavery”—the debt-peonage, sharecropping, and convict lease systems that ground down millions in the South.  Roosevelt spoke as a proud champion of “the Anglo Saxon race,” and urged his people to embrace “the clear instinct for race selfishness.” He advocated imperialism with the claim, “It is wholly impossible to avoid conflicts with the weaker races.”

Roosevelt and Taft vigorously courted southern “lily-white” members of both parties. During an era of weekly southern lynching carnivals, Roosevelt told a black audience the “rapists and criminals” among them “did more harm to their race than any white man can possibly do them.”

In 1909 President Taft told African American college graduates in North Carolina: “Your race is meant to be a race of farmers, first, last and for all times.” Taft had the distinction of being the first Republican presidential candidate to campaign in the South. He announced he would never enforce “social equality” and told black audiences that the white southern man was their “best friend.”   People of color could find little comfort, justice or even safety during the age of Roosevelt and Taft.

But this is a different time, and we as a nation wish to move toward “a more perfect union,” to follow the Constitution, and embrace its promises. Why then do some intelligent people still manage to distort our past to send a wrong message? Perhaps they do so because lying about the past makes it easier to dissemble about the present. As Richard Cohen wrote in the Washington Post in November:

 

“Today’s G.O.P. is not racist, as Harry Belafonte alleged about the Tea Party, but it is deeply troubled—about the expansion of government, about immigration, about secularism, about the mainstreaming of what used to be the avant-garde. People with conventional views must repress a gag reflex when considering the mayor-elect of New York—a white man married to a black woman and with two biracial children. (Should I mention that Bill de Blasio’s wife, Chirlane McCray, used to be a lesbian?) This family represents the cultural changes that have enveloped parts—but not all—of America. To cultural conservatives, this doesn’t look like their country at all.”

The Tea Ain’t Party Racist Dicky C?
 Tea Party Racism III

Really Dicky?

 Tea Party Racism

 If the Tea Party ain’t Racist……

 Tea Party Racism II

 Eggs aint poultry, Grits ain’t groceries…and Mona Lisa was a Man!

 Sadly, just as Cohen believes we are post-racial, modern influencers such as Keller would have us believe that Taft and Roosevelt were also not racist—they were simply Presidents who advocated for policies that would ensure that “traditional” values would continue to rule. Never mind that many of those values had racial animosity at their core. We can’t move toward the fulfillment of the Constitution—for the common good—if we either continue to see the past through a racial revisionist lens, or continue to misconstrue the racism in our present.

It might be more accurate to state some white American die-hards can’t help but choose to live in a post-Mandela world. While they may celebrate his courage and achievements in the abstract, they cannot fully digest this brave South African who sacrificed his freedom and life for a world where people of all races, ethnicities, and kinds will try to live in peace and harmony.

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William Katz
New York City
December 12, 2-13

Afro-American Jazz and Black South Africans

Posted in Cultural Matters, Guest Commentators, Music Reviews with tags , , on August 19, 2013 by playthell

 Hugh Masekela

Hugh Masakela: A South African Original

 

 On the Transformative Power of Black Jazz

Growing Up in Mantzi I have been Fortunate enough to come from a Township of Soweto that in the early sixties and all the way to the rule of the ANC had electricity and telephones in our community.  Why is this important?  I grew up with uncles who were playing 78 rpm dicks on a gramophone, and we gradually upgraded to what was called Pilot FM radio (big and huge like caskets which contained a turntable and a FM radio.  Eventually we came to be exposed to Hi Fi systems in the late 1960’s and 70’s and graduated to more sophisticated name brands like Marantz and the like.

Music was the driving force in the evolution and American Jazz was one of the most powerful influences that we were exposed to.  Our elders, uncles and big brothers collected all of the great artist such as Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Dizzy Gillespie, John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis and all the seminal figures Playthell Benjamin cites in his essay “Wynton Marsalis and the Great American Art, as the produced this music. And we sought to get in their favor by our recognition and approval of the importance of their treasure troves of LP vinyl Jazz albums.

Furthermore, we were living amongst musicians who played Jazz and formed big bands here in Mzantsi; we were also imbibing a lot of South African Jazz that embodied all the diversity characteristic of South Africa in its sound.  As we grew older we extended our listening and appreciation of the music by forming Jazz Clubs in the late Sixties whilst still in high school.

Our weekends were spent getting together bring new vinyl recordings we might have bought on Friday, and sample it with other members.  If they could not identify the record one was made Jazz Appreciation King for the day and it lasted the entire week until we met again.  Exposure to American Jazz was very important for us and it affirmed and solidified our beliefs that we were not mere “Kaffirs” (niggers) who were backward in all we did or were – African American Jazz told us, that those who looked like us, that those who looked like us, were the best in the world in this art form.

The Great Edward Kennedy “Duke Ellington”
Duke+Ellington - paragon of elegance 
Composer, Pianist, Bandleader, Paragon of Male Elegance
Dollar Brand
Dollar Brand
South African Pianist, Composer

This told us too, that we are the better people in the world, just from the Jazz perspective.  We imbibed art forms and so forth from our African American brothers, but Jazz was paramount in entrenching and embedding beliefs about ourselves.   Some of us went as far as to walk, talk, and dress like our Afro-American brothers.  Others named themselves accordingly.

As we became more mature and refined in our understanding of the wide world of Jazz, we began to travel overseas to Jazz concerts all over the states, Canada and Europe.  This expanded our horizons beyond the brutal apartheid world of South Africa.  We became well marinated in the Jazz Milieu, which knew no national boundaries because of the recording industry.  What has all this to do with Wynton Marsalis, the subject of Playthell’s recent essay?  Everything!

Playthell’s analysis of the heroic role of Wynton in the advancement of Jazz as a vibrant art form supports the fledgling arguments of those among us here in South Africa, who have been insisting that Wynton has advanced Jazz beyond what the hard core Jazz classist here in Mzantsi think of a real Jazz, in fact they insisted that Wynton was not playing Jazz at all.

Wynton Marsalis

0827969262023
The Most Versatile Trumpeter in the World

I think the fact that he came from the Baroque side of classical music was lost to these detractors here for they knew nothing about the fact that Wynton had become the Master Jazz/Trumpeter /Composer/Innovator of the art and literally lifted and elevated Jazz into the 21st century.  They just couldn’t wrap their minds around that fact.

I also suspect that they have lost touch with what Wynton was doing and saying, and hung on to the old ways of understanding Jazz.  Wynton blew some of us away when he merged modern Jazz with African drummers on the same stage.  We were amazed and fascinated as we watched his rehearsal sessions with these Africans, especially the way that he was able to show the similarities and the origins of Jazz as an African art form.

Conducting the performance of Congo Square
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The Lincoln Center never witnessed anything like it!

Soul to Soul

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The Rhythmic circle remains unbroken

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The drum choir blended perfectly with the band

This edified us and lifted our long held beliefs that the music we were listening to called Jazz had melodic signatures which can be found in our own traditional songs and Jazz music here in Mantzsti.  Playthell’s essay “Wynton Marsalis and the Great American Art,” is for me and Jazz Aficionados of kindred spirit, is so filled with erudite analysis about the art of Jazz and Wynton’s role in preserving and advancing the best of the tradition, that I feel compelled to post it on all the African sites I have access to.

There are some pretentious self- proclaimed Jazz gurus and avid fans who cannot accept anything new in Jazz.  Not since Babatunde Olatunji took his “Drums of Passion” orchestra to Carnegie Hall – industrialist Andrew Carnegie’s gift to New York City and the art of music –has anyone achieved that.  Wynton, however, took it a step further; many levels higher in fact, by merging both ensembles – African American musicians and a choir of African master drummers – on the same stage as part of one group.  To me it was one of the things Wynton did that silenced the howling jazz dinosaurs in the Appreciators here in Mzantsi.

THE GOAT

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 Greatest of All Times!

I concur with all that Playthell wrote about Wynton Marsalis….and then some.  I have learned so much from reading this article that I immediately went over to my collection of Wynton’s records and have been following on some nuggets he doled/dropped in the essay.   This kind of study will upgrade one’s understanding, appreciation and listening skills; enabling you to better grasp the techniques Wynton is employing to make such marvelous music.  I am happy to have found Playthell’s article, for it confirmed what we had long believed.   Jazz is an African art form and it resonates loudly with us here in Mzantsi and wherever it is played.

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Double Click to see Dollar Brand 

http://youtu.be/FSPq4AZ2GAI

Double click to see Dollar Brand in a clearer video

http://youtu.be/UcBHhkw8_fQ

Click to see Hugh Masakela  perform tribute to Mandela

http://youtu.be/h9JTuaC-x2Q

Double Click to see Wynton conduct Congo Square with Orchestra and African drums 

http://youtu.be/sKmaWqKV5aA

Double Click to hear the Winston “Mankunzu” Ngozi Quartet

http://youtu.be/Rt-rlAHEE0M

 

Skhokho Sa Tlou

Mzantsi, South Africa

August 19, 2013

 ** All Photos of Wynton and Congo Square Concert 

by: Frank Stewart, official photographer for JALC

America, the Bewildered Civilization

Posted in Guest Commentators with tags , , , , on August 10, 2013 by playthell

 Detroit Slums

The Once Great Motor City

     What Happened to the American Dream?

To the rest of the world, America remains a bewildered and troubled civilization.  Often poets have a far more profound understanding of civilization than social scientists or public intellectuals.  The African American poet Langston Hughes wrote in his poem:

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore–
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over–
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

 There are signs that the American dream has been deferred not just for black folks but also for the struggling white working class.  There is much evidence that the bodypolitic has become a festering sore that is chronically infested.  Historically, nothing seems to even get settled in America.  The bodypolitic fell apart in 1860 and the question of slavery was settled by a bloody civil war that left over 300,000 Americans dead on the battlefield and even more shattered by wounds sustained in that catastrophic war.

          The thirteen, fourteenth and fifteenth amendment to the constitution was to settle the issues of slavery, citizenship and the right to vote. With the compromise of 1877, the Union troops were drawn from the South and the defeated Confederate racists were allowed to create the Jim Crow segregated structure that re-institutionalized white supremacy and white privilege.  The Jim Crow system confined the newly unchained black sharecroppers and laborers to an immiserated position in the division of labor.  That dastardly system prevailed, particularly in southern states until the rise of the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s.

Some degree of restoration of rights which were lost after the collapse of Reconstruction in 1877 was restored in the 1960s.  Black folks now could exercise the right to vote and to exercise the human dignity of access to public places. The Jim Crow era lasted from 1877 to 1965, approximately 78 years.  Now the restoration of constitutional rights and the Voting Rights Act are currently imperiled.  The Roberts Supreme Court, over-riding Congress, has struck down the extension of the Voting Rights Act.  The same Jim Crow- inclined court has dismantled affirmative action and given us Citizens United that has allowed corporate money to undermine the democratic process.

The backward notion of state rights has raised its ugly head with a new vengeance.  State legislatures controlled by pea-minded Republicans have used their power not to create jobs, to rebuild the infra-structure or to reduce poverty but to pass legislation on abortion to restrict a woman’s right to choose that was settled in 1973 in the Supreme Court decision, Roe vs Wade.

The same state legislatures have sought to undermine the Affordable Care Act and are oblivious to the benefits of a healthcare system that would include the working poor and the millions of uninsured.  In the same vein, the new Jim Crow political mentality is designing new ways of excluding minority voters from participating in the democratic process.  These measures were adopted by some states like Ohio, Florida and Virginia but the United States Attorney General was able to thwart the undemocratic practices.  In the absence of certain provisions in the Voting Rights Act, state legislatures are already seizing the opportunity to restrict the people’s right to vote.

This bewildering state of dysfunctionalism was vividly manifested in Boehner’s House of Representatives when the Republicans had to appease the Tea Party elements by passing the farm bill bereft of the nutritional programs that feed the working poor and children who benefit from school lunches.  The Tea Party elements in the Republican Party want to gut the food stamp program in an age when inequality is at its zenith in comparison to the decades 1930-1970 that Paul Krugman calls The Great Conveyance.

As we write, the Trayvon Martin jurors have exonerated George Zimmerman.  That case, which resulted in the death of seventeen year old black male, has split black and white America.  The atavistic nature of race in America did not evaporate with the election of Barack Obama to the Presidency of the United States of America.  Like the Civil War of the 1860s, like the post-Reconstruction period in America, white racism is ingenuous in reinventing itself.  It is a persistent theme that recurs at intervals in US history like the chorus of a song.

The same racial dialectics raised its head in the battle for immigration reform.  An onerous bill has been passed by the Senate but the Republicans, inside and outside of the House, are adamant about giving the eleven million undocumented workers a pathway to citizenship.  Nonetheless, the America of the nineteenth century is not the same America of the early twentieth century or the late twentieth century.  The coalition that elected Barack Obama in 2008 and again in 2012 is the America of the future.  The Phyllis Schlaflys represent a dying America.  The Republican Party that has cultivated and benefited from white privilege from 1968 is like a dinosaur that is on its way to becoming extinct.

As the African American poet Langston Hughes exhorted “Let America be America”.  An America, based on the new demographics, will extricate itself from the lingering racism and establish a genuine multi-racial democracy.  That will not be accomplished overnight but it is inevitable.  In the meantime, in the words of the poet, Robert Frost, “We have miles and miles to go before we sleep”.  And there are epic struggles ahead.

A Harbinger of the New America?
Barack's Brown Babies 
What are they Dreaming?
 

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By: Basil Wilson
 August 9, 2013
Queens, New York
Originally published by the Carib News, 7/17/13

Reflections on the Zimmerman Trial

Posted in Guest Commentators, The Travon Martin Trial with tags , , on July 20, 2013 by playthell
  Trayvon Benjamin Martin 
Trayvon-Martin-2 Murdered for being a Black Male in America

 A Commentary on the Slaughter of Innocence

 The Trayvon Martin murder case has created a national outcry, while generating a critical conversation on race and gun violence in America. This case is a reflection of the nation’s true racial identity and society’s every shifting posture on acceptable gun violence.

Racial elements cut through every facet of this case, fostering the many assumptions that were made beginning with George Zimmerman’s racial profiling of an innocent black 17 year old on his way home from a Skittles run and the value he put on that young life because of the assumptions he made.

The assumptions continued at the Sanford Police Department, which from the beginning saw young Trayvon as the suspect and George Zimmerman as the victim. A police department that accepted Zimmerman’s portrayal of this violent black youth that fit the images they already carried. A police department that buoyed by that acceptance failed to do their job and conducted no real investigation of the actual crime, the fatal shooting of a 17-year old boy.

No forensics were gathered from the obvious suspect, George Zimmerman. There was no examination of Zimmerman’s clothes, or hands; no toxicology report and no medical examination to determine the true extent of his injuries. This was perhaps the worst criminal investigation since the “good ole days” when in certain parts of this country, Florida included, whites murdered blacks with impunity and without fear of the law, which was always expected to turn away. How far we have come?

“Trayvon Martin Could Have Been Me 35 Years Ago”

Barak Chillin

Does he look like a criminal to many whites?

These same racial assumptions permeated the District Attorney’s office as a decision was made that no charges whatsoever should be made against George Zimmerman, a decision that would never have been made had Trayvon been white and Zimmerman black. It is interesting that when defense attorney West was asked if things would have been different if Trayvon had been white, he chose to ignore that question and rather respond to his belief on what would have happened if Zimmerman had been black.  And no one associated with the trial on either side asked the question the President raised on Friday: “Would Trayvon have been justified in shooting Mr. Zimmerman because he felt threatened because he was following him?”

The Prosecution Dropped the Ball

The Prosecuter

 They didn’t ask the obvious questions

When after great public outcry a special prosecutor was appointed resulting in the indictment of George Zimmerman and his consequential trial, race continued to play its role in the selection of a jury which contained not even one black person.

During the trial in order to extricate their client the defense painted a picture of young Trayvon Martin as an angry black man, physically superior to the defendant, who with little provocation attacked George Zimmerman and beat him to a point where he so feared for his very life that his only recourse was to shoot and kill him.

The prosecution failed to convince the jury otherwise, partly because of their own failed strategy, but largely due to the racial stereotype this jury had to subscribe to in order to accept Zimmerman’s version of what happened in spite of the series of lies and inconsistencies in the Zimmerman story exposed by the prosecution.

The reality is, despite a black man rising to the Presidency of the United States, and the countless examples of black men doing great things in this society, there remains a deep seeded image of the black thug, a basic criminalization of the majority of black males by many whites who do not see themselves as racist and who outwardly are not. This image has substantiated by the unbalanced incarceration of black males nationwide and the images commonly seen on the nightly news, and those projected by Hollywood and a gangsta hip hop culture that permeates our airwaves.

Interestingly the Treyvon Martin case is also perhaps the most profound gun violence in recent history. Yes Newtown, Aurora and Ft. Hood were all tragic with greater loss of life, but what is unique about this case is that it is the only gun violence case where the loss of innocent life has been socially justified. It is the only case where the rights of the killer were held above the rights of the victim; where the law gave more protection to the killer than to the victim.

A law advocated by the NRA which seems to be hell bent on creating an America where every citizen has a right, no a duty to carry a gun and to evoke their God given and Constitutional right to vigilantism. Are we to literally digress to the days of the OK Corral where the citizenry along with officers of the law were regularly engaged in shootouts in the streets?  And why?  Liberty? Second Amendment Rights?  No, just increased gun sales, as the NRA now represents gun manufacturers far more than they do gun owners.

One must be struck by the poise and graciousness demonstrated by the parents of Trayvon Martin. Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton have exhibited true Christianity and instead of revenge have sought only justice and even now instead of hatred, offer George Zimmerman prayer.

Their wish is that Trayvon’s memory not be tarnished by violence, but honored by change, a change in attitudes, a change in the laws that would allow such a legal travesty to follow the tragedy of the death of their son. They seek the type of change best represented by the group led by “Dream Defenders” that now protest at the Florida State Capitol Building with a clear agenda for change!

This spirit for change, this demand for change must spread throughout the nation. State to state and to Washington’s doorstep where real gun reform must finally be addressed and Democrats and Republicans alike must see through the veil and challenge The NRA’s real agenda and their vision for America.

We as a nation must now sympathize with Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton whose wish is that their son should not have died in vain and that we all benefit and move to taking what steps we may towards eradicating racism and gun violence in America.

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 By: Kwaku Leon Saunders

Atlanta, Georgia

July 20, 2013

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