Archive for the Cultural Matters Category

An Evening of Triumph and Travesty

Posted in Cultural Matters, Music Reviews with tags , , on February 14, 2017 by playthell

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 Beyonce In Performance!

 Reflections on Queen B and the Grammys

Last Sunday night Beyoncé experienced both triumph and travesty at the Grammy Awards. Appearing on stage visibly pregnant the popular music Diva performed a moving tribute to motherhood that was so spectacular even the language of Shakespeare, Chaucer and the King James Bible seems bereft of superlatives sufficiently powerful to adequately describe it! But thanks to the magic of this cyber medium you can witness Beyoncé’s  performance.*

It will no doubt go down as one of the greatest performances of all times on this show that has hosted countless great performances, where marvelous musicians of all genres display their gifts before their peers. Although Beyoncé won a couple of awards she should have won at least one more: “Best Album of the Year,” a view shared by the winner Adele, the gifted British singer / songwriter who sang beautifully and walked away with the lion’s share of the prizes, a total of five.

In an unprecedented gesture of generosity and grace, Adele turned down the “BEST ALBUM” Award. Calling Beyoncé “The artist of my life…my idol,” Adele said that Beyoncé should rightly have won the award for “Her monumental album Lemonade.” Her declaration left everybody in the vast Staple Center in LA speechless! A reaction that was no doubt shared by the millions of viewers around the world who also witnessed it. Adele would later ask of Beyoncé: “What the fuck does she have to do to win?” My question exactly!!!

Monumental is precisely the word to describe “Lemonade,” a major work that expands the boundaries of what we previously believed could be achieved in this popular art form. I think it is no exaggeration to say that the video version – which won the “Best Video Award” for one of its segments “Formation,” a highly political statement that sparked a furor when it was performed live at the Super Bowl last year – is a work of fine cinematic art!

Formation!

ATLANTA, GA - MAY 01: Beyonce performs during the Formation World Tour at the Georgia Dome on May 01, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia. Beyonce wears a custom lace corset and stockings by D Squared. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/WireImage )

(See Video at bottom of this essay)

However, the many faceted album was confined to the “Best Urban Contemporary” award. This is where the controversy arose and it raises many questions of sufficient depth regarding race, politics and art.  To begin with, like everything else in the USA, music marketing is segregated, with albums by black artists placed into certain categories that industry people recognize and this is how the product will be promoted.  Hence whether a record is promoted as “Pop.” “Rock” Rhythm & Blues,” “Urban Contemporary,” and so on.

Of course, white record company executives, promotion men and music journalists will deny that race plays any role in these designations; they will argue these categories are determined by musical styles alone. Yet if this were true you wouldn’t have black artists automatically assigned to the R&B category when their music sounds like Pop or Rock, and white musicians who are performing Rhythm & Blues classified as “Pop” or “Rock.”  Since virtually all popular music in the US and Britain spring from black roots – US or Caribbean – virtually all white popular music by artists from these countries contain black musical ingredients.  It’s just a matter of degree.

Even a cursory glance of US musical history will reveal the truth of that claim. From “Ragtime,” to “Dixieland Jazz,” to “Blues” to “Swing,” to “Modern Jazz i.e. “Bebop” to “Rhythm & Blues / Rock and Roll,” to “Hip Hop,” are all the creations of Afro-Americans.  Yet as soon as some white musicians learned to play it competently they were made “The “Original Dixie Land Jazz Band,” or “The King of Jazz,” or the “King of Swing,” or the “King of Rock and Roll,” or the “Queen of Hip Hop.” i.e.  Nick La Rocca, Paul Whiteman, Benny Goodman, Elvis Pressley and Iggy Azalea

White artists could get away with this cultural appropriation in the past because the white audience had no idea who the real original artists were.  Even after the advent of sound movies and television, black artist were so seldom presented in these media that this situation persisted to the extent that many white American Rock musicians with prodigious record sales said they had no idea that the Blues they were playing was invented by their black countrymen until white British Rockers like “Eric Clapton” told them so!

However, when it became no longer possible to deny the creative genius of Afro-American musicians the music industry came up with these different categories that allowed them to continue marketing their white artists to the lucrative white majority, while shunting black artists off into “Special Markets” departments.   All this tawdry history came to bear in determining how Beyoncé’s visionary musical masterpiece became confined to the “Urban Contemporary” category when it was clearly the “Best Album of the Year,” even in the eyes of the artist who was given the award!

Aside from “Lemonade’s” artistic excellence – the music, poetic lyrics, dazzling dance, splendid costumes, lush imaginative settings, stunning cinematography and excellent direction – the fact that it is officially Black History Month offers an additional rationale for presenting Beyoncé with the Grammy for Best Album.   The album is full of historical references and allusions to Afro-American culture and contemporary political issues.  However, let me hasten to say that this fact alone would not be reason enough to bestow this prestigious award on the record.

I agree with Mao Tse Tung in his “Lectures at the Yenan Forum on Literature and Art, where he addresses the role of art as propaganda designed to promote the goals of a mass movement for progressive change.  “All art is propaganda but all propaganda is not art,” Mao argues, “in order to be effective as propaganda it must first succeed as art.”

This explains why Beyoncé touched so many people with her album, which means it would be important as a cultural artifact in the Afro-America musical tradition even if had no higher ambition than making art for the sake of art.  And instead of condemnation she might well have been wildly applauded by those who do not wish to be emotionally disturbed by being forced to confront unpleasant realities that contradict the master narrative of American Exceptionalism.

After all, even the most racist white Americans have been seduced by the power and charm of Afro-American song and dance.   It is a strange paradox that compelled Dr. WEB DuBois to remark during the height of white terrorist attacks on innocent Black Americans in the early 20th century: “White Americans lynch the Negro while singing his songs.”

Hence so long as black artist just sing and dance but keep their mouths about the unpleasant realities of black life in the US all is well, but they are to be chastised if they dare to speak truth to white power.  I salute Beyoncé for not caving in to this well-known but unwritten rule: NOT EVEN A HUNDERD GRAMMYS WOULD HAVE BEEN WORTH IT!!!  The white cultural gate keepers may have denied her the Grammy but she has won the admiration and respect of her people…. and that is INFINITELY MORE VALUABLE!

 

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Click on links below to see:
Formation Performace at Super Bowl
https://youtu.be/c9cUytejf1k
* Beyonce’s Performance at the Grammy Awards
– http://www.independent.co.uk/…/grammy-awards-2017-beyonce-l…
The Album Lemonade
 https://youtu.be/gM89Q5Eng_M?list=PLxKHVMqMZqUSPF11Ghs0KqDfOGhB9Vw5E
 
Playthell G. Benjamin
 Black History Month
 February 14, 2017

Celebrating Kwanzaa at the Apollo!

Posted in Cultural Matters, Photo-Essays, Theater with tags , , on January 2, 2017 by playthell
apollo-at-kwanzaa-iii Forces of Nature

             Greeting the New Year With Forces of Nature 

In over thirty years of writing about the performing arts in New York City, the cultural center and arts mecca of the world, I have never witnessed a show as spectacular as the Kwanza performance put on by the “Forces of Nature Dance Theater” at Harlem’s venerable Apollo, which correctly bills itself as “The Soul of Black Culture.” Founded and directed by Abdel Salaam, whose sharp intellect and fecund imagination appears to know no limits; the company enjoys an embarrassment of riches in regard to gifted choreographers and dancers.

The company’s dance vocabulary ranges from traditional African dance to Modern, Post Modern, to Afro-American vernacular dance – the creative well from which all original American dance flows – to its latest expression such as Hip hop. The elements of great dance theater include music, costumes, lights, gifted attractive dancers, and daring imaginative choreographers who believe in the gifts of their dancers and are not afraid to challenge them with works of great complexity.

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Real Black Magic!

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A Complexity of Vision

The work was both old and new, innovative yet preserving the best of pan-African dance traditions recast and polished for theatrical performance. One of the highlights of an evening with many incandescent moments was when Forces of Nature was joined onstage by a Native American dance troupe. It was a revelation, the thoughtful observer is compelled to beg the question as to how Europeans, escaping the squalor to which the working poor were confined in European cities, could ever have denounced such magnificent people as mere “savages.

Afro-Indio

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Homage to a forgotten Relationship

The performance was serious political commentary and fun; it employed pathos and bathos – tragedy and comedy – without restraint. The works gave free rein to the most voluptuous creative impulses of the choreographers, who produced works that made maximum use of the fabulously sculpted black, brown and beige bodies that were the vehicles for their ideas. The wide range of musical styles to which the dances are set reveal the unfettered scope of the choreographers imagination.  The Drum Choir that accompanies some of the dances has reached a level of virtuosity that I have rarely witnessed in percussion ensembles – despite the fact that I have ben a drummer and student of drumming for over half a century!  It was Black Magic! A splendid exercise in rhythm and movement as alchemy; that hoodoo that we do so well.

The Drums Speak!

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Their conversation was superb

I am convinced if I spent a thousand and one nights in the theater my chances of catching a better show than this are about equal to a snowflakes chances of survival in a pizza oven. Rare and marvelous events such as this is the reason why I live in the Big Apple. At the bottom of this essay is an interview with the founder and creative genius Abdel Salaam, who along with his gifted wife Dyane Harvey Salaam, are the artistic inspiration and guiding hands that steer the course of Forces of Nature. 

Inside the Beautiful Apollo Theater

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The most famous theater in New York

The ornately beautiful theater with it’s elegant gold leafing forming intricate patterns around the stage and balcolnies, was packed to the rafters and we could feel the good vibes as the highly regarded radio host Imhotep Gary Byrd, who was celebrating his 50th year on the air, controlled the mike like a Bronx B-Boy.

Imhotep Gary Byrd

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A Neo-African Griot Anointing the audience with glorious tales

Bedecked in flowing African robes Imhotep was more than a concert M.C. beguiling the audience from the stage where more world class stars were born than any other in this city of great theaters; he was a Neo-African Griot droppin soulful science about the meaning and history of Kwanzaa, the restoration of the Apollo by the late Percy Sutton, and our destiny as a people, as we grooved to the beats of Pan-African rhythms welcoming the new year.  And the magnificent show concluded early enough for people to make it to their Watch Night services in their churches…that sacred Afro-American ritual commenrating the abolition of the enslavement of Africans and their ancestors in the United States, which, curiously, was never mentioned during the Kwanzaa celebrations.

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Forces of Nature in Concert!

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These two videos capture the broad eclecticism of their Repotoire

An Interview with Abdel Salaam

An Revealing Discussion of the Sources of his Electic Art

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Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem, New York
January 2, 2016

 

African Beauties

Posted in Brown and Beige Beauties, Cultural Matters, Photo-Essays with tags , on September 18, 2016 by playthell
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Godesses from the Breast of the Earth!

As I select the images for these photo-essays on the beauty of black women – this is the second in a series of four covering the US, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean – I am constantly struck by two things: what an amazing treasure trove I have to choose from, and how Europeans manage to convince so many people of the superior beauty of white women.

Of course the answer to this riddle lies in the fact that by virtue of their dominence in the military, economic and technological spheres Europeans have been able to impose their cultural values on the rest of the world.   In fact, mastery of a major European language has until the last fifty years been essential in order to gain access to the tools a nation needed to achieve modernity.  Simply put, the learned texts that contained the scientific knowledge that is the gateway to the modern world were written in those languages – which also produced a prolific literature that was employed to indoctrinate the colonized populations in the ideas and values of their oppressors including notions of vice and virtue, beauty and ugliness.

The knowledge of modern science was not to be found in Sanscrit, Arabic, Japanese, Chinese, or Yoruba. Even our concept of time and place had been defined by Europeans.  The ancient wisdom of the great empires of Africa, Asia and Latin America proved impotent weapons against the onslaught of modern Europe.  This was not because Europeans were inherently superior, as they would claim, rather it was a function of the fact that “The Enlightenment,” an intellectual movement which separated the functions of church and state, priviledging reason over religion, science over mysticism, physics over metaphysics, ushered in the scientific revolution and the Industrial revolution which followed in its wake.

These dynamic developments in European society provided them with the technology to devestate the armies of the Third World and resulted in European conquest of the globe.  In the early twentieth century the little Island of Britian – whose King, George III, had been rebuffed by the Emperor of China as a “Barbarian” in an official rejection of his bid to establish trade relations around the time of the American Revolution in the 18th century – could boast that “The Sun never sets on the British empire” and had the audacity to call itself “Great Britian.”

The parts of the globe that was not controlled by the “conquoring Anglo-Saxons” were controlled by the other major nations of Europe, which exported their surplus populations all over the Third World, changing the physical characteriscs of the indigenous “natives” and implanting their language, literature and religious beliefs among them.  As a result of these historical events European values dominated the psyche of the subject peoples and convinced many of them that Europeans were superior in all things and and thus it was “a white man’s world” and the white woman became the ideal of feminine beauty.

The anti-colonial revolutions that burst out all over the non-white world in the aftermath of the second world war, was spurred by the fact these subject peoples had fought in the armies of their colonial master’s in two global conflicts within a generation and discovered that Europeans were not invincible and could be killed just like them.  Hence it is no surprise that the leaders of the anti-colonial movements in Afica and Asia, as well as the black liberation struggle in the US, were largely led by ex-military men.  This was true whether we are talkig about Franz Fanon and Abdel Gamel Nasser in Africa or Medgar Evers and Robert Williams in the US.

A major part of the liberation struggles of oppressed peoples of color, as the revolutionary psychaitrist Franz Fanon described so poignantly in hyis writings was to reclaim their personalities, their sense of self.  Nowhere was this process more in evidence than among the black peoples of the world – especially in the USA with the rise of a militant black conciousness that inspired the “Black Arts Movement” which challanged European standards of beauty.  I came of age amidst that movement and was an avid participant in promoting it’s ideas.

I was on the scene when the African Jazz Art Society – founded by a collaboration between visual artists and Jazz – that boldly promoted an “Afrocentric” esthetic view that celebrated au naturel hair styles and African inspired dress which accentuated the beauty of African women.  The four cultural visionaries that created AJASS were musicians Max Roach and Abbey Lincoln, along with the Braithwaite Brothers: Photographer Kwame and graphic artist/illustrator  Elombe.

The major vehicle through which they promoted the celebration black beauty was the Grandossa Models, who were presented in a series of cutural happenings in which Jazz, especially the Africa concious revolutionary music of the founders Max Roach and Abbey Lincoln – see video clip at the bottom of this essay – Visual Arts, and Poetry readings were also on display.

The Grandossa Models

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Setting an Afro-Centric Standard of Beauty

Max and Abbey

Max Roach and Abbey Lincoln
Kwame Braithwaite: Photographer of the Movement

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Elombe!
All Creator’s of the “Black is Beautiful” Slogan

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A Pan African soldier welcoming Nelson and Winnie to Harlem!

A statement explaining the raison d’etre for the show  billed as “Naturally 62,” held in that year proclaimed it was “created to show Black women (and the world) that our Black skin, kinky hair and full lips were a thing of beauty, not something to be ashamed of.  This photo-essay was created as an extension of that spirit!

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Vanity!

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A Regal Beauty

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The Source: Where Big Bootys Come From!
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Elegante

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 Academy Award Winning Actress

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Miss Ghana!

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Click on link to view Max and Abbey perform “All Africa”

 Compiled by: Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem, New York
October 17, 2016

The Most Beautiful Girls in the World!!!

Posted in Brown and Beige Beauties, Cultural Matters, Photo-Essays with tags on September 10, 2016 by playthell

LOS ANGELES, CA - JULY 13: Tennis Player Serena Williams arrives at The 2011 ESPY Awards at Nokia Theatre L.A. Live on July 13, 2011 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)

Serena Williams: Ebony Goddess

A Reality Check!

Harlem Sweeties
Have you dug the spill/ Of Sugar Hill?
Cast your gims/On this sepia thrill:
Brown sugar lassie, Caramel treat, Honey-gold baby
Sweet enough to eat./Peach-skinned girlie,
Coffee and cream, / Chocolate darling
Out of a dream. /Walnut tinted / Or cocoa brown,
Pomegranate-lipped / Pride of the town.
Rich cream-colored /To plum-tinted black,
Feminine sweetness /In Harlem’s no lack.
Glow of the quince /To blush of the rose.
Persimmon bronze /To cinnamon toes.
Blackberry cordial, Virginia Dare wine—
All those sweet colors /Flavor Harlem of mine!
Walnut or cocoa, Let me repeat:
Caramel, brown sugar, A chocolate treat.
Molasses taffy, Coffee and cream,
Licorice, clove, cinnamon/ To a honey-brown dream.
Ginger, wine-gold, Persimmon, blackberry,
All through the spectrum/ Harlem girls vary—
So if you want to know beauty’s / Rainbow-sweet thrill,
Stroll down luscious, 
Delicious, fine Sugar Hill.
By: Langston Hughes, Poet Laureate of Harlem

I am absolutely certain that I speak for most Afro-Americans…and some other folks of different ethnicities when I say that I am sick of witnessing the tyranny of the Caucasian female Image ad nauseum!   Ever since I can remember I have been inundated with images of white girls. In my forthcoming novel “Tall Tales from the Life and Times of Sugarcane Hancock: The Phallocentric Memoirs of a Sweet Colored Man,” The central character remembers the experience this way:

“White Girls….they seemed to be everywhere.  They beckoned to me from billboards beside the highways, and smiled from he pages of Sears and Roebuck catalogues inviting me to sample their wares.  They attempted to seduce my mind with carnal desire with their scantily clad bodies in girlie magazines, and attempted to infect me with a high heel and garter belt fetish on the covers of calendars and pin up posters.  They sashayed aroud our sunny Florida town in high heels and short shorts exposing tanned alabaster flesh thay I was forbidden to look upon let alone touch. They winked at me and hungrily licked their lips from the giant silver screens in dark movie palaces on Saturday afternoons; they even descended from the walls and stained glass windows of grand cathedrals and churches on Sundays….even black churches; blond blue eyed angels pointing the way to heaven!”

However even back in the day, when beautiful black female images were banished from the mass media, only overweight Black Mammy’s  – like Hattie McDaniel in the lavishly produced but sappy white plantation fantasy, “Gone with the Wind’ – got the nod.   Yet all of us who had eyes could easily see that it wasn’t so.  But given that the mass media was owned and controlled by white folks the beauties we saw in our daily lives – which were as common as water in black communities EVERYWHERE in America – were never celebrated in the images beamed into the psyches of millions of Americans.

This is the only plausible explanation for why white women are so widely promoted as the universal standard of beauty.  But I never bought the hype….as was the case with most of the black men I knew.  When I was a teenager the White folks said that Elizabeth Taylor was “The Most beautiful woman in the world; I thought Liz was pretty, but she paled like a fading flower when compared to Dorothy Dandridge.  And I also thought that Dorothy Dandridge looked a lot like my girlfriend Harriet Phoenix and was in a dead heat with my mamma…THE REAL QUEEN ELIZABETH!

Liz Taylor

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 Dottie Dandrige
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What was especially grievous about the comparisons of Dorothy Dandridge to Liz Taylor is that Dottie was so much more talented.  In the golden age of Hollywood, when film production was dominated by a few mammoth studios run by corporate dictators popularly called Moguls, every performer longed to be a “Triple Threat,” talented at acting, singing and dancing.  Dorothy was a Triple Threat par excellence.   She was a good actor, a moving singer and a spectacular dancer, who was good enough to appear in Hollywood films dancing with the Nicholas Brothers, the most spectacular dance team to ever appear in movies…the best in the world!   The only reason that she did not become the biggest star in American show business, including Hollywood is because of white racism!

It is amusing – in the sense of laughing to keep from crying – to witness these same attitudes expressed on the part of white Americans today, albeit far less than in my youth, when they seek to compare our beautiful, elegant, First Lady to Jackie Kennedy. Demonstrating yet again the bogusness of white feminist intellectuals who claim that racism is a male malady, that wicked witch of the reactionary right, Anorexic Annie Coulter, drew an invidious comparison between Jackie and Michelle and suggested that any attempt to compare the two in style, elegance and beauty was absurd: Jackie had it all around….hands down.

As is often the case with the pronouncements of this silly skinny amoral skank, when I heard what she said “I got tha ass” as the old folks would say down home in Florida.  And since one of my favorite sports is unmasking charlatans and chastising pretentious white sophist…especially the pugnacious ones, I responded to Crazy Annie with a photo-essay that demolishes her vulgar and tasteless claim.  She should be the last one to speak on this anyway, since she is a skinny booga bear who looks like she was in a gang fight and everybody had a hatchet or a ball and chain but her!  See: “The Best Looking first Lady Ever!” at www.

Michelle….Oh Well!

Portraits of our Stunning First Lady

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Raphsody In Blue

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Need I say More?

A Study in Elegance

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Day or Night….She’s the One!
***See Video on the elements of hers her Style below)
https://youtu.be/UzrvKIHWfDk

Jackie O

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 At the White House Ball
Jackie had Style 

First Lady Jackie Kennedy standing on the grounds of the Taj Mahal during visit to India. (Photo by Art Rickerby/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

But she literally pales beside Michelle

The essential point here is that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and to my eyes Michelle is a far more strunning figure than Jackie Kennedy.  I love her colorful style which has a special flare when contrasted with her beautiful chocolate complexion.  What ever color Michelle chooses to wear including Jackie’s favorite white, will look better than when it adorns Jackie’s pale skin.  Furthermore, whereas Jackie was a slave to fashion dictators Michelle is a trend setter who chooses clothes from a far wider range of designers…making reputations instead of seeking the safety of choices from the trendy houses of fashion.

Left to my own devices I wouldn’t be engaged in this exercise because I see beauty in all of the world’s women, but some white folks made this an important issue that must be addressed.  The beauty and taste of black women has been disparaged far too often, and like white Americans have always done, they just declare that it is true without presenting any evidence, or even defining a clear standard.

Having consorted with beautiful and refined women of various races and ethnicities, I believe that middle class and upper class black American women are the most stylish ladies in the world.  And I also believe black women, with their myriad complexions descibed so deliciously by Langston Hughes – a task only an able poet with a fertile imagination could hope to pull off  – exotic eye shapes, widely varied facial features, endlessly inventive hair styles, and spectacular bodies  are the most beautiful women in the world!

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Black, Brown and Beige Beauties!

The Girls of Sugar Hill Today

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Makeda Voletta
 Sports Scientist and Former Athlete
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Dancer
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 Photographer’s Model

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A Magical Moon Dance comjuring the spirit of Oshun
Queen Makeda!
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Actress/Producer Michele Turner
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A Sophisticated Lady
Satin Doll
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Sizziling in her Sixties!
Black don’t Crack!

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A Sexy Senior Citizen pushing 70!

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Light Bright to Ebony Black and All the Shades in Between!

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Lovely Leana Horn: Triple Threat!
Pick yo Flava

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Beautiful Bodacious Bootys
A Chocolate Delight 

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Oshun’s Daughter
A Pecan Tan Brivk House!

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 High Yellow

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Teasing Brown

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The Queen B!

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The Blacker the Berry

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The Goddess Oshun

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 A Movable Feast of Many Flavas!

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Dangerous Curves!

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Actress Meagan Goode

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A Stunning Bronze Afro-Amazon!

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 Mahogony Fine II

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Cinnamon

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Poet Jessica Care Moore
Black And Fantasies

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Our women are like a flower garden/You can Choose any color you like”
My Grand Daddy, George Benjamin Sr.
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Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem, New York
Fall 2016

Freedom Music that Inspired South Africans

Posted in Cultural Matters, Music Reviews, You Tube Classics with tags , , on August 19, 2016 by playthell
Maz and Abey IIRevolutionaty Music: Background sound to the Liberation Movement

The Sound Heard Around the World!

The videos posted below  brings to mind the role both Max Roach and Amonata Moseka played in the arts movement of South Africa. I say this because I got to know about Max and Amonata as a very young boy. What they did for African Americans, they also did very effectively for the arts and music in South Africa. I actually learned and got to see Max’s influence in many drummers of the early fifties and sixties in South Africa, like Gordon Mfandu, Early Mabuza, Louis Mofolo, and countless drummers who collected his music, and played like Max, emulated and refined some of his licks and so forth;

Then there was the ladies who sang in the sultry notes of Aminata  Moseka, singers like Dolly Rather, Dorothy Masuka, Thandi Klaasen, and of the younger generation, Sibongile  Khumalo – daughter of Khabi Mgoma who was the conductor of the Ionian Choir of Africans in South Africa.  He would go on to become the Director and curator of Dorkay House, lcated on Elloff Street in Johannesburg.   Dorkay House was the Hub of African Jazz musicians and music students Dorkay House was situated next to BMCC, where all the artist – painters, poets, dramatist, et al were practicing their artistic endeavors.

Max Roach and Abbey Lincoln

Max and Abbey

Father and Mother of the Black Arts Movement

These institutions were very influential in spreading what Max and Abbey were doing for the arts and music world in the USA. Max’s 78 rpm’s and LPs were exchanged amongst the artists, and we, the children of some of these musicians, were encouraged to go to BMCC to learn about up and coming painters and sculptors. Some of my young friends took piano, drum and other instrumental lessons in Dorkay House.

Khabi Mgoma, after his creation of the Ionian Classical Music choir, went on to teach in Natal. But before he left he served as the Director of Dorkay House, and this was frowned upon by the Apartheid Goons who wanted to suppress any sign of modern cultural nationalism among blacks. We children from the townships who loved Jazz got to listen to and watch our African Brothers and uncles practice the new licks from Max Roach, while hanging out with many artists like Dumile Feni, Fikile Magadlela and Solly Bobela, and so forth.

They all came out of that mix.   BMCC played a major role in churning out these young musicians and artists.. Dorkay House was also a hangout for the Musicans /Artists, etc  who played Billiards at BMCC.   It is from such settings that I got to hear and know about Max and Amonata Moseka.

Musicians played his LPs on their gramophones and newly acquired Hi-Fi Radio system. Although we grew up listening to the great drummer Philly Jo Jones and other contemporaries, Max topped the bill for our listening pleasure. This was long before there were the Jazz Clubs that have become a staple since the coming to Power of the ANC. For us, Jazz clubs during my teenage years was hanging out with all types of artists and musicians, and it was from such esteemed people, that I developed a reverence for Jazz that has stayed with me to this day.

As For Leroi Jones, I got to know him from his book, “Blues People”, but I will reserve my comments for now regarding this book. Anyway, we did not read Jazz, only form Magazines like ‘Down Beat”, but the experience of living with, hanging out, and  listening to musicians from a very young Age.  The intoxicating sound of Jazz reaffirmed the oceanic connections that we had with our African bothers, specifically in the US.   I know the influence of the “African Jazz Art society” was certainly felt in South Africa because I remember that my father used to get information on them.

Living within the Jazz Milieu of Apartheid South provided a kind of spiritual refuge…where our souls could dance freely, transcending the physical oppressions of the House of Bondage that our beautiful country had become. Thus the powerful race conscious music of Max and Amonata – such as the “Freedom Suite: We Insist Freedom Now”- made life worth living for many of us here in South Africa.

Those who fought and defeated the apartheid regime are still affected by their cultural contributions more than I can put into words. Max and Amonata was it for us, especially my Age group.   I am older now, but I still listen to my pristine Vinyl recordings of their music and am still inspired by the art of the politically conscious Jazz Giants.  All one need do to understand why is to check out their performance on the videos below.

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Freedom Day!

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Cosmic Freedom Sounds!

Max Roach and South African Pianst Dollar Brand

May the Circle Remain Unbroken!

The Struggle Continues….
Skhokho 
South African Revolutionary
August 1, 2016

Wynton is The Greatest!

Posted in Cultural Matters, Music Reviews, You Tube Classics with tags , , on August 2, 2016 by playthell
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Maestro Marsalis at work

The Evidence on Video and Audio

The great composer, arranger, bandleader and trumpeter Gerald Wilson once told me emphatically during an interview: “Wynton Marsalis is the greatest trumpeter in the world!” And as a failed trumpeter who retained a passionate love for the instrument, as well as an acute appreciation for the formidable obstacles and treacherous pitfalls which confronted the aspiring artist that attempted to master it, I wholeheartedly agreed.

As a serious lover of complex instrumental music I had listened to many great trumpeters in Jazz and European concert music – the former a New World invention, a 20th century art that expressed the Afro-American love of freedom as well as the quintessential American ideals of Democracy, Personal Liberty and Innovation. The latter a great art music from the Old World of Europe that was already centuries old, and reflected the hierarchal and highly formalized character of the societies that produced it. And although both musical idioms employ the same instrument, and the music they make is based on the same system of melody and harmony – a European invention that produced sublime sounds by their great master composers – the two musical forms were profoundly different in instrumental technique, compositional structure and artistic philosophy.

In the classical music of Europe the instrumentalist is a vehicle for the ideas of the composer. And if they perform in symphony orchestras, operas or chorales they are also subjected to the dictates of tyrannical composers. Hence in European concert music the creativity of the instrumentalist is severely circumscribed. Everything from tempo, intonation and interpretation of the music is dictated the composer and enforced by the conductor with an iron fist.  Hence conformity to tradition and achieving excellence based upon well-established standards of performance is the objective to which the successful artists must aspire.

Conversely, the art of Jazz performance demands that the performer seek their own voice, follow their personal muse, and create something new under the sun.  Furthermore the music must swing to the clockwork rhythms of the unique machine age milieu in which it was born…the most modern civilization the world had ever seen.  Hence all Jazz is modern music.  That’s why visual artists from American Abstract Expressionist Jackson Pollard and Wilheim de Kooning, to European masters of Modernism such as Pablo Picasso and Salvadore Dahli lionized their music.

The difficulty of mastering both musical idioms is self-evident in the fact that of all the great musicians that have lived in the world there are so few that have achieved virtuosity in both that we can count them on our fingers and toes. Flautist Hubert Laws, Trumpeter Arturo Sandoval, pianists Chucho Valdez and Herbie Hancock, bassists Ron Carter, Carlos del Pino, Richard Davis and Ortiz Walton first among them. However Mr. Marsalis is the only musician on any instrument who has won the coveted Grammy for performances in both genres.  And he has achieved this impossible feat nine times!  Four were for “Best Classical Performance” and five for “Best Jazz Performance.”

For this presentation I have chosen one of the most difficult instrumental pieces from each genre where Wynton is featured as a soloist.  Added to this are two performances with Wynton as accompanist to a singer…a fine art unto itself.  For the instrumental Classical repertoire I have selected “The Carnival of Venice,” and for the Jazz performance I have chosen “Cherokee.” As to the difficulties posed by the first piece suffice it to say that when trumpeters auditioned for the great United States Marine Band, billed as “The Greatest Brass Band in the World” – under the direction of its founder and premiere composer Maestro John Phillip Sousa – who wrote such enduring works as El Capitan, Semper Fidelis, Anchors Away! And the immortal Stars and Stripes Forever – “The Carnival of Venice “ was the piece that they were required to play.

This is because Arbans’ Carnival presents the trumpeter with a series of obstacles that requires mastery of all the technical problems posed by trumpet performance: Legato and staccato phrasing; triple tonguing, circular breathing, fingering the keys, exquisite timing, embouchure and intonation. Cleary Wynton masters them all…and with ease!  This is a heroic achievement, because a trumpet after all is just some twisted brass pipes with a hard metal mouthpiece and only three keys!  Yet it is capable of playing all the notes in the musical lexicon.

This amazing feat is achieved by manipulating sound from the way one blows into the instrument, which is to say mastering embouchure.  It is such a marvelous feat the only reason that great athletes such as Michael Jordon and Russell Wilson attract more fans that Wynton is because more people understand the greatness of what they do. Everybody has had some experience playing sports – if only because physical education is a required component of every school curriculum…and sadly instrumental music is not.  However to grasp the brilliance of Wynton’s performance on Carnival, one need only read the comments of trumpet players from all over the world under the video and note their astonishment – one even said that “suicide” would be easier and a lot less painful that the epic failure one would experience trying to duplicate this performance!”

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 Cherokee, the Jazz selection, was the piece that the hep cats at Minton’s Playhouse threw on Charlie “Yardbird” Parker to prove his mettle when he showed up at Minton’s Playhouse from Kansas City “looking country” totin his alto-sax in a cardboard case.  But when he took out his axe and begin to “cut heads” with his complex, erudite and original musical statements, Bird astonished everybody who witnessed it.  Dizzy Gillespie, a key figure in the aggregation of musical rebels who congregated in Minton’s and experimented with new ideas, said when he heard Bird he thought: “There it is, this is the sound we have been searching for.”  He said that they had bits and pieces of the music that would become world famous as Be-bop, and Bird filled in the gaps and brought the whole thing together.

From that musical communion came a genre of Jazz that would change the way musicians heard and played music all over the world. The artistic challenges Bop presented intrigued musicians from the great to near great to apprentices.  If I had to sum up Bird’s achievement I would say that he did for the world of music what Einstein did for theoretical physics: change the relationship between time and space forever.

The great writer Ralph Ellison, a well-schooled trumpet player competent in both the classical repertoire – he was a music major at Tuskegee, where he studied with the outstanding Afro-American composer in the classical European style but with an Afro-American voice. William Dawson – and was also grounded in the hard swinging blues style of the “Stomp” that was popular among the “Territorial Bands” that played in his native Oklahoma City – bird hailed from nearby Kansas City.

Ellison, was so astonished and overwhelmed by what he head in Minton’s that he wrote “They were playing be-bops…I mean re-bopped be-bops.” The drummers had abandoned the steady bass drum pulse that was so essential to the dancers who got down to the Stomp, that Ellison was horrified by the seemingly free form complexity of their rhythms and described them as “frozen faced introverts dedicated to chaos!”

The experience of hearing this new music called “Be-Bop” invented in Harlem’s Minton’s Playhouse by players like trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, pianist Thelonious Monk, bassist Oscar Pettiford, drummer Kenny “Klook” Clarke and others that he gave up playing the trumpet and became a writer -.one of the greats.  So music’s lost was literature’s gain.

When listening to Cherokee, remember that essential to the genius of Jazz is not only the requirement of virtuosity on the part of each instrumentalist…but one must be able to compose complex music while swinging the blues over chord changes  at the SPEED OF THOUGHT!!!  Hence the speed at which Wynton is playing adds to the magic of it all!  So Kick back and check out the marvelous vibes from the horn of Maestro Marsalis…THE GREATEST TRUMPETER IN THE WORLD!!!

Chillin Back Stage
Wynton in Berkley After a triumphant concert at U-Cal Berkeley
Click to see: THE CARNIVAL OF VENICE

Click to see: CHEROKEE
https://youtu.be/3blL4v-cY18
Boroque Duets: Wynton and Kathleen Battle

Watch Wynton Accompany Jazz Great Sarah Vaughn

Watch Wynton Warm up before a Concert

The concert featured legendary pianist Ahmad Jamal with the JALC Orchestra

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Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem, New York
August 1, 2016
***Cover Photo by Frank Stewart
U-Cal Berkeley Photo by: Playthell Benjamin

On Blacks in the White House

Posted in Cultural Matters, You Tube Classics with tags on July 25, 2016 by playthell

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President Obama and the First Lady

A Must See Documentay by Professor H.L. Gates

Serious students of history have a different, and deeper, understanding of the present. Indeed, as the great Afro-American historian Benjamin Quarles – a long time professor of history at Morgan State University and author of “The Negro in the American Revolution,” warned: “He who would understand the complexities of the present need the added dimension of historical perspective.” The video below supplies that mush need historical perspective what the election of Barack Obama as President of the USA tells us about how far we have advanced in America.

This is a much needed perspective because there are far too many black people, especially the so-called “radicals,” who evaluate everything in terms of political victories i.e. the achievement of specific policy goals. Yet the election of Barack Obama has a significance that goes beyond politics and speaks to a pscho-cultural revolution in race relations that has opened up possibilities that were unimaginable when I went off the college at Florida A&M University in the fall of 1959.

The student sit-ins began that spring of 1960, and a brash young boxer named Cassius Marcellous Clay danced himself to a Gold Medal in Rome a few months later. He would go on the become a powerful symbol of the revolt of my generation. We set out to change race relations in ths country by destroying the de jure (legal) racial caste system in which the subordination of black people and white supremacy was the law!

There was no shame in those crackers game. Well we did destroy it! And while we have not solved all of the problems confronting America, and others gave arisen over the last half century:We have come a long way baby! I know first hand of which I speak because I WITNESSED IT!!! I watched these events unfold as an activist; a soldier in America’s nuclear strike force; a professor of history; an award winning journalist; music and theater critic; broadcaster; bandleader and boxing promoter. I saw it from ALL SIDES!

This film below, produced by “The Root” and narrated by Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., Professor of the Humanities at Harvard, is a brilliant, succintly rendered, history of Afro-Americans in the White House. This is a GREAT CONTRIBUTION to the full understanding of our history in this Republic, and Professor Gates – a cultural treasure – presents a learned and moving narrative accompanied by a splendid array of photographs and paintings.

http://theroottv.theroot.com/embed/player/container/1366/667/?layout=&content_type=content_item&playlist_cid=&media_type=video&content=RNYV4J3G2YCX7N72&read_more=1&widget_type_cid=svp&referrer=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2F

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A You Tube Classic
Selected and posted by: 
Playthell G. Benjamin