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Wanda’s Picks for June

June 5, 2009

by Wanda Sabir

Congratulations to all the graduates!

We remember …

Mother Wright prays over the Thanksgiving feast she served in 1985 at 10th and Jefferson. – Photo: Oakland Tribune
Mother Wright prays over the Thanksgiving feast she served in 1985 at 10th and Jefferson. – Photo: Oakland Tribune
Many trees fell during the month of May. We remember Ivan Van Sertima, Mother Mary Ann Wright, Father Jean Juste.

Remembering Ave Marie Montague

Ave Montague’s San Francisco Black Film Festival would be gearing up about now but, as most readers know, Ave passed earlier this year and there will be no Juneteenth Film Festival or San Francisco Black Film Festival this June. I’d like to sponsor a salon in the East Bay, perhaps early July, if not late June, to honor her work and look at how we can continue it. Let me know if you have a location and would like help get the word out.

Happy Father’s Day! and Happy Birthday!

Happy birthday to me and to other June Geminis and Cancers: Raymond Nat Turner, the late Sister Saadiqa and Sister Louise Muhammad, Sister Nida Ali, Alison Gates, Kokovulu Lumakanda, Genevieve Bayan, Yusef Najem

Mother Wright

Our beloved Mother Mary Ann Wright passed last month – she was 87 – after dedicating her life to service. She fed the hungry, clothed the naked and often sheltered those who were without shelter. Her life touched so many others here in Oakland that she lay in state for an entire day and multiple services were held in her honor throughout the city. Her reach was local and international. Rep. Barbara Lee called her “our Mother Teresa.” The ceremonial farewell May 27-28 reminded me of what it would have been like to attend the services for Coretta Scott King. Mother Wright was the Bay Area’s First Lady of Grace.

I remember when I read her booklet quite a while ago. It spoke of her early life in rural Louisiana, orphaned at 2 upon her mother’s death, teen marriage to a brutal older man and first husband, her escape to California and liberation, the trials of raising such a large family – 12 children – combined with her duties as a wife to a loving second husband, her strong faith and belief in God and her calling to feed the hungry – a dream which shook her from sleep in 1990.

Soft-spoken when not in the pulpit or behind her bullhorn holding church at her multiple food giveaway sites, frail-looking physically in her later years, yet always sharp, focused on her mission – to eradicate hunger – always internally strong. I marveled over this woman who’d done so much to comfort the poor, a woman loved by all who knew her.

Mother Wright spoke at my friend Joy Holland’s funeral two years ago. It was here that she mentioned her upcoming birthday party at Sweet’s Ballroom in downtown Oakland. I wish I’d gone.

At Joy’s funeral, she said to “give her her flowers while she could still smell them. They were of no use when she was gone.” I know Mother Wright received many flowers while she was alive from her loving children and other children – all of us – whose lives she touched. She received many proclamations and awards. One was given to her by the late, Diane Howell, Ph.D., at the Black Expo honoring “101+ Women Making a Difference.” There were/still are so many good women in the San Francisco Bay Area like Mother Wright quietly changing the world one life at a time. I was on that list too, and got a chance to take a picture with this great woman.

I first met Mother Wright when I was working at Acorn 2 Apartments in West Oakland and she gave away Thanksgiving groceries to residents. I later visited her organization and she gave me a tour. She could always be counted on to show up at Old Man’s Park on Jefferson – rain or shine – giving away hot food, clothing, good cheer, faith and hope. (I learned last week, OMP or “Lafayette Park,” its official name, was the site of the first Chabot Planetarium.)

She was the epitome of forgiving and selflessness. Her life was one of service, but she also knew how to have a life too. She celebrated her birthday, she loved her family and she showed up when she needed to show up for others, like, as I said, two years ago to honor my late friend, poet, artist, activist, Joy Holland.

Mother Wright is survived by 10 children, 33 grandchildren and 37 great-grandchildren. She was preceded in death by two sons. Visit http://www.mothermary.qpg.com/ and http://www.insidebayarea.com/obituaries/ci_12326298.

Remembrance for the Ancestors

It’s that time again, our annual ritual pouring libations for our ancestors. We join communities in Charleston, South Carolina, Panama, West Indies, Cape Coast, Ghana and Long Island, New York.

Stop what you are doing Saturday, June 13, at 9 a.m. PST and pour libations for our African ancestors who were taken against their will from Mother Africa. Ask them for strength and endurance. Freedom is a constant struggle. For those who’d like to pour libations in unity, join us at 8:30 a.m. We will pour precisely at 9 a.m. Bring your drums and other percussion instruments to celebrate our ancestors’ lives. Bring flowers, breakfast pastry and fruit to share. It is traditional to wear white but, for those who know me, bring yourself; it’s what’s inside that counts.

Feel the power of that moment as we recall their greatness of spirit and give thanks. Ashay!

Last year we met at the fountain at Lake Merritt in Oakland, across from the Merritt Bakery. We can meet there again this year. It is a nice spot, easy to locate and wheelchair accessible.

This is our fourth year participating in the international remembrance of the African ancestors who were bought and sold during the European slave trade. This is an opportunity to reflect on those subsequent ancestors like Mama Tubman and Baba Denmark Vesey and ancestors elsewhere in the African Diaspora. It is a prayer for our survival and an opportunity to greet and support one another in this important work: healing from enslavement – social, political and economic. It is also an opportunity to reclaim our personal and collective power, plus long overdue justice and equality.

Visit http://maafasfbayarea.com. Listen to Wanda’s Picks Radio Friday, June 5, 8-10 a.m. I have asked “Remembrance for Our Ancestors” founder Tony Akeem and long time supporter Osei Terry Chandler to be my guests that morning. You can listen online or by calling (347) 237-4610. The website is http://www.wandaspicks.asmnetwork.org.

Odunde Festival in Philly

Odunde Afrikan-American Festival, Philly
Odunde Afrikan-American Festival, Philly
I was going through my mail and Marvin X forwarded information to me about a celebration of our African ancestors which is older than any others I know. Each year, the second Sunday in June, Odunde, one of the nation’s oldest African American street festivals, takes place. Odunde will be celebrating its 33rd year in the traditional South Philadelphia location near 23rd and South streets.

Odunde Festival dancers
Odunde Festival dancers
Events include a banquet with invited ambassadors from throughout the African Diaspora – Nigeria, Brazil, Ivory Coast, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago – an African Business Roundtable, and the culmination, the Egungun River Procession Sunday, June 14, 12 noon to 1:30 p.m., which leaves from Odunde Cultural Center, 2308 Grays Ferry Ave., 23rd and South streets. The Egungun Procession celebrates the memory of our elevated and honorable African ancestors. Everyone is asked to wear white clothing. Bembe, a drum and dance celebration, follows the procession. Also on Sunday, June 14, 10-4, there is a cultural festival and African Marketplace. Visit http://www.odundeinc.org/Index.htm.

‘Porgy and Bess’

San Francisco Opera’s production of George and Ira Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess” is set, this production, in the ‘50s. Dubose and Dorothy Heyward’s play is the basis for the opera, which runs June 9-27 at the War Memorial Opera House, Van Ness at Grove Street in San Francisco. Bass-baritone Eric Owens and soprano Laquita Mitchell headline the cast as Porgy and Bess, an unlikely couple who manage to find love amidst the squalor of Catfish Row. Visit http://sfopera.com/press/porgyandbess/PorgyandBess.pdf.

To listen to a great interview with Eric Greene, who plays Jake, the Fisherman, recorded May 26, rebroadcast May 29, visit http://www.wandaspicks.asmnetwork.org.

Ethnic Dance Festival: Four weekends in June

The Obakoso Dance & Drum Ensemble will perform at the Ethnic Dance Festival. Photo: RJ Muna
The Obakoso Dance & Drum Ensemble will perform at the Ethnic Dance Festival. Photo: RJ Muna
African Diaspora dance companies featured by the Ethnic Dance Festival this year are Diamano Coura West African Dance Company June 13-14; Imani’s Dream, Obakòso Drum and Dance Ensemble and Las Que Son Son June 20-21; and De Rompe y Raja Cultural Association, Fua Dia Congo June 27-28. The final two days of the festival feature special storytelling performances. All of the shows are at the Palace of Fine Arts with two shows on Saturday, 2 and 8 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m. only. For more info, call (415) 474-3914. Tickets can be purchased at (415) 392-4400 or online at www.cityboxoffice.com or www.tickets.com or http://www.worldartswest.org/main/edf_index.asp.

Healdsburg Jazz Festival

John Handy will be performing at the Healdsburg Jazz Festival on Friday, June 5, at 8 p.m. in the Raven Theater, 115 North St. in Healdsburg. The festival has an interesting line-up in addition to John, including saxophonist James Moody on Sunday, June 7, pianist Randy Weston Saturday, June 6, and the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir Sunday morning, June 7. You can learn more at the festival website, www.healdsburgjazzfestival.org, or by calling the festival office at 1-800-838-3006.

Stanford Jazz Festival

Hear the James Moody Quartet featuring Benny Green on Friday, June 26, 8 p.m.: James Moody, saxophone; Benny Green, piano; John Wiitala, bass; Akira Tana, drums, in Dinkelspiel Auditorium. Tickets are $34 general, $17 students

Gonzalo Rubalcaba, solo piano, headlines Saturday, June 27, 8 p.m., at the Campbell Recital Hall. Tickets are $40 general, $20 students. Visit http://tickets.stanford.edu or (650) 725-ARTS (2787). For more information, visit StanfordJazz.org or call (650) 736-0324. Tickets to SJF events range from $20 to $40 general admission, depending on the concert, with a half-price discount for students with valid ID and children under the age of 18.

Early Bird Jazz: Crosspulse with Keith Terry performs a free concert featuring Keith Terry, Amber Hines, Tacuma King, Evie Ladin and Omar Ledezma. The event is Saturday, June 27. Kids 5 and under 10 a.m. for the Crosspulse duo and kids 6 and over 11a.m. for the Crosspulse ensemble at the Dinkelspiel Auditorium.

Dafnis Prieto Si o Si Quartet

Peter Apfelbaum, tenor saxophone; Manuel Valera, piano; Armando Gola, bass; Dafnis Prieto, drums, perform at the Campbell Recital Hall, Sunday, June 28, 7:30 p.m. Tickets: $36 general, $18 students.

Junius Courtney Big Band

The band is performing at the Ebony Boat Club Jazz and Wine Festival, Saturday, June 6, 1 p.m., San Joaquin Yacht Harbor, 3305 Wilber Ave., Antioch, (925) 727-4430, http://www.ebonyboatclub.com/. Visit http://www.juniuscourtneybigband.com/calendar.html.

‘Jazz Ambassadors: A Retrospective Conversation’

Thursday, June 4, “Jazz Ambassadors: A Retrospective Conversation” begins with a dinner from 5:30-7 p.m. at Yoshi’s Restaurant, 1330 Fillmore St. in San Francisco. This is followed by the discussion at the new state-of-art Media and Education Center hosted by the legendary jazz critic Dr. Herb Wong from 7:15 to 8:15. Randy Weston will share stories and insights from his 14-country diplomacy tour sponsored by the State Department in 1967. From 8:30-10 is the reception. The cost varies: A Platinum Pass gives participants “all access” for $250 and includes the dinner, discussion and reception. Those who wish to attend the discussion and reception only can purchase a Gold Pass for $100. For $50 a Silver Pass is also available for those who can only attend the reception. Everyone can save 20 percent off this event by registering to become a Friends of Jazz member. Visit www.jazzheritagecenter.org.

On the Fly

Visit www.reggaefestivalguide.com for information about the Sierra Nevada Music Festival June 19-21 in Boonville. Headliners are Femi Kuti, Michael Rose and King Sunny Ade. Reggae in the Desert looks fun, June 13. Featured is Gregory Issacs. San Francisco Shakespeare Festival opens next month everywhere but in San Francisco. Just kidding, but we have to wait until August before it arrives at the Presidio in San Francisco. Visit http://www.sfshakes.org/park/index.html. California Shakespeare Festival opens with “Romeo and Juliet” May 30 through June 21. Visit http://www.calshakes.org/.

San Francisco Mime Troupe’s “Too Big to Fail” opens 4th of July weekend at Dolores Park in San Francisco. Visit www.sfmt.org or call (415) 285-1717. Told in the tradition of the West African griots, this modern day epic follows Filiji, a man in love with his family, his village, and most of all, his goat, Bamuso. What more could a man need to be happy? How about two goats? Three? A flock? Turned down for a loan by the village micro bank, Filiji, now the self-proclaimed Goat Lord of Kanabeedomo, borrows from a new lender in town, a small subsidiary of a much bigger bank in a distant, mystical land called Wall Street. Greed is his new lover; the only problem is, he can’t afford her. Her baggage is too heavy and well … come see the play. Better yet, what’s the sitcom on CNN – how does American plan to get out of debt?

Yerba Buena Gardens Festivals are held between Mission and Folsom, Third and Fourth streets in San Francisco. Thursday Concerts are at 12:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays are the Children’s Garden Series June-August. Call (415) 543-1718 for the details or visit www.ybgf.org. Zap Mama is at Bimbo’s 365 Club June 18, doors open 8 p.m. Visit www.bimbos365club.com or call (415) 474-0365. “Applause for the Cause,” benefit for the Carol Ann Read Breast Health Center at Alta Bates, features Dionne Warwick and Sinbad, Saturday, June 6, 7:30 p.m., at the Oakland Convention Center. Visit www.investmentinmiracles.org or call (510) 204-1667.

Big Idea All Night Party at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Friday and Saturday, June 5-6, sounds fun. It’s free. RSVP at www.ybcafree.org. Abdullah Ibrahim is in San Francisco Friday-Sunday, June 5-7. Visit www.yoshis.com. See Nancy Wilson in Oakland June 4-6. Visit www.yoshis.com or call (510) 238-9200. Del tha Funky Homosapian is at the Fillmore in San Francisco Friday, June 5. Call (415) 346-6000 or visit www.livenation.com. Berkeley World Music Festival is Saturday, June 6, 12 noon to 9 p.m. Visit www.berkeleyworldmusic.org. Free Opera Simulcast of Puccini’s “Tosca” at AT&T Ballpark in San Francisco is Friday, June 5, 8 p.m. Sign up early for best seating at sfopera.com/simulcast. Kim Nalley sings Nina Simone, Saturday, June 6, 8 p.m. Visit www.sfjazz.org.

“Dream Girls” is at the Black Rep, 3201 Adeline in Berkeley. Visit http://blackrepertorygroup.com/. Lenny Williams is a special guest this month at selected performances. The play is choreographed by Reginald Ray Savage. Other special guests are Courtney “Goldie” Jackson from Flavor of Love and Danesha Simon. Donald Lacy’s back with his one man odyssey, “Color Struck,” at the Guild Theatre in Sacramento through June 21. Visit http://www.colorstruck.net/ and www.imagestheater.org. Pro Arts Open Studios is June 6-7 and 13-14 with James Gayles at Swarm Gallery. Visit http://www.proartsgallery.org/ebos/. SF8 preliminary hearing begins in San Francisco June 8, 8 a.m., 850 Bryant in San Francisco. Visit http://www.freethesf8.org/.

Visit http://www.priorityafrica.org/ frequently for updates on African-centered events. Don’t forget the Oakland Museum’s First Fridays and the African Presence in Mexico Exhibit up now. Visit www.museumca.org, www.lapena.org and www.ashkenaz.com and www.shattuckdownlow.com, www.theindependent.com, www.goldenvoice.com and the KPFA calendar, along with Hard Knock Radio’s calendar; www.pbs.org and www.itvs.org are other good sites to check. The film, “New Muslim Cool,” is going to be on KQED Channel 9 this month. Don’t forget to call Marcus Books frequently to see who is in town.

Check back online at http://wandaspicks.com for updates this month and listen to Wanda’s Picks Radio. I don’t repeat myself (smile). Call (347) 237-4610 Wednesday 6-7:30 a.m. and Friday 8-10 a.m. PST. I will be having special shows and some earlier shows on Fridays this summer, 6-8 a.m. Visit http://www.wandaspicks.asmnetwork.org. I didn’t get anything for Richmond Juneteenth or Sacramento Juneteenth or Berkeley Juneteenth, but if I do, I will add it. Don’t forget Joyce Gordon Gallery this Friday, June 5. Lorraine Bonner has an exhibit going up with another woman artist. Hansford Prince and Michael Torres are in the SF Playhouse production of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” opening this month.

Intersection for the Arts adaptation of “Fuku Americanus” is a bit too long and, while not confusing if one stays focused, it is certainly worth the journey if one is interested in the role of colonialism on identity. Besides that, it is not often that one hears the story of Haiti from the other side of the island, Santo Domingo or the Dominican Republic, which is where Junot Diaz folks hail from. The adaptation is comedic drama, with the more sobering moments captured in subtitles or choreography. The creative collaboration between Sean San Jose and Marc Bamuthi Joseph is evident to anyone who knows either of the men’s creative stamp or style.

I started the novel, which got the Pulitzer Prize for lit last year, and haven’t been able to wade through it yet, so for that reason I was happy to see a Fuku, which means “curse,” an inherited “curse,” one which can be eliminated once one faces it. This acknowledgement is what strips “fuku” of its power. America is in the trouble it is in presently is because its “fuku” has finally caught up with it. Make sure you’re not sleepy when you go check “Fuku” out. It’s up through June 21.The first act is really long. Thursdays are pay-what-you-can. Visit www.theintersection.org.

Don’t forget to visit http://www.priorityafrica.org/. This website gives you the hook up for all Africa events and if you don’t see it there, shoot them an email and they will add your event. I am not on all lists, so I rely on Priority Africa to keep me posted on what I might miss, such as events at MoAD. They do not include me in their press announcements or the SF Bay View for that matter. Other venues don’t give me access to the artists they represent and I get tired of listing events while being denied interviews and/or tickets to concerts. This listing represents almost 48 hours straight research, not including technical trouble where I lost everything and had to start from scratch.

San Francisco Juneteenth 2009 Comedy Benefit

Second Annual SF Juneteenth Comedy Explosion Benefit features some of America’s hottest comedians. Hosted by Speedy, the event stars Cool Bubba Ice, Smokey, R.T. and Ralph Porter. The benefit is Friday, June 19, 8 p.m., at J’La Chic Theatre 39, Pier 39, Fisherman’s Wharf, San Francisco. All tickets are $35.00. For more information, call (415) 433-3939 or (415) 931-2729. Tickets are tax deductable. Visit http://www.theatre39.com. All proceeds will be donated to San Francisco Juneteenth Inc.

Juneteenth Festival

The 59th San Francisco Juneteenth Festival will be held June 20 and 21 from 11 a.m.-7 p.m. at the Civic Center Park across the street from San Francisco City Hall. It is a free event. Visit http://www.sfjuneteenth.org/. There is a community reception on June 5 at City Hall, Youth Entertainment Auditions on June 12 and a Juneteenth Parade June 20, 11:30 a.m.. starting at Rosa Parks Elementary School, Post at Scott.

Stern Grove Music Festival, June 21-Aug. 23

The annual Stern Grove Music Festival is Sundays at 2 p.m. at Sigmund Stern Grove, 19th Avenue and Sloat, San Francisco. Admission is free. Visit http://www.sterngrove.org/ or call (415) 252-6252. Festival guest artists include Roberta Flack and Davell Crawford on June 21; Les Nubians and Rupa and the April Fishes June 28; and the San Francisco Symphony and Inouye Jazz July 5.

Films: Frameline 33, June 18-28

The Frameline Film Festival runs June 18-28. Visit http://www.frameline.org/. Interesting flicks: “Drool” (6/20 Castro); “Fig Trees” (6/21 Castro); “Hollywood je t’aime” (6/27 Castro); “Family” (6/24 Victoria); “Fiona’s Script” (6/20 Roxie); “Misconceptions” (6/24 Castro); “Mississippi Damned” (6/25 Castro); “Rivers Wash Over Me” (6/24 Castro); “We Are the Mods” (6/21 Roxie); “Free to Be … You and Me” (6/21 Castro);”The Baby Formula” (6/26 Castro); “Girl Seeks Girl: Chica Busca Chica” (6/23Castro); “Ghosted” (6/21 Castro); “Lion’s Den: Leonera” (9:30 Roxie); “City of Borders” (6/23 Roxie); “Edie and Thea: A Very Long Engagement” (6/21 Victoria); “Ferron: Girl on a Road” (6 Roxie); “Off and Running” (6/27 Roxie); “Standing-n-Truth: Breaking the Silence” (6/21Roxie); “Still Black: A Portrait of Black Transmen” (6/22 7 p.m. Roxie); “Straight-laced: How Gender’s Got Us All Tied Up” (6/26 Roxie); “Training Rules” (6/21 Castro); “Two Spirits: Sexuality, Gender and the Murder of Fred Martinez” (6/21 Victoria).

‘Fados’

“Fados,” Carlos Saura’s tribute to the art of fado, re-opens the SFFS Screen at the Sundance Kabuki Friday, June 5. Fado is a style of mournful singing which originated in Portugal in the 1820s, as well as a performance archive featuring legendary singers Mariza, Carlos do Carmo and Cemané alongside newer artists Lila Downs and Chico Buarque. Visit http://www.sf360.org/features/fados-finds-saura-on-his-toes.

‘Munyurangabo’

Muyurangabo
Muyurangabo
“Munyurangabo” (Rwanda/USA 2007 97 min.), Lee Isaac Chung’s debut film, opens on SFFS Screen at the Sundance Kabuki Cinemas on Friday, June 12. It is written and photographed by Chung, with Jeff Rutagengwa, Eric Ndorunkundiye, Jean Marie Vianney Nkurikiyinka and Edouard B. Uwayo, Rwanda’s poet laureate. In Kinyarwanda with English subtitles, the film is distributed by Film Movement. Visit http://www.sffs.org/content.aspx?catid=0&pageid=1058&TitleId=SCR_EV_000265l.

It is an unlikely friendship between two Rwandans, one Tutsi, Munyurangabo, the other, Hutu, Sangwa. The youth, armed with a stolen machete, set out for Ngabo’s home, with a brief detour to Sangwa’s village, which, after three years, is poorer than he remembered. Restless, Ngabo wants to continue his journey – he is looking for justice for the murder of his father, which he witnessed, and his mother’s demise shortly thereafter. He is young and has only his friend Sangwa in his life. The film is beautifully shot, set in a post-genocide Rwanda; the only atrocities seen are those in Ngabo’s mind. The landscape is lush, the people relatively happy, even if poor. The story hinges on the bitterness which drives Ngabo and the prejudice which still exists in the minds of Hutus towards Tutsis: Sangwa’s father and mother towards their son’s friend. The parents whisper to their son and try to separate the boys.

There is a lovely poem which captures the country’s shadowy history clouded by atrocious circumstances. On the eve of Liberation Day, the poet Ngabo meets at the store opens a space in the young man’s heart when he finally confronts the man he thinks is his father’s murderer.

His welcome home is very different from Sangwa’s. There is no one on his family land. No one greets him. It is a ghost town, the place he called home. At the end of the film, one wonders what will happen to this youth and hopes after all he has suffered, he finds love and home. I could certainly see Ngabo’s story multiplied many times when one thinks about how many Rwandan children were orphaned by the 100 Days of Genocide.

‘Who Does She Think She Is?’

A new film from the creative team who produced “Born into Brothels,” “Who Does She Think She Is?” explores the concept – unique concept – that women can be both mothers and working artists. “Who Does She Think She Is?” runs June 10-11 at Red Vic Movie House in San Francisco, 1727 Haight St., San Francisco, (415) 668-8999, http://www.redvicmoviehouse.com. Show times are Wednesday at 2:00, 7:15 and 9:15; Thursday 7:15 and 9:15. Regular admission is $9, seniors 62 and over and children 12 and under $6 at all times. Director Pamela Tanner Boll will be in attendance for Q&A following the screenings Wednesday at 2:00 and 7:15 and Thursday at 7:15.

‘Who Does She Think She Is,’ a review

I remember reading Alice Walker’s “In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens,” a book which explored the intersection between motherhood and art. It was an acknowledgement of a woman’s creativity and permission, I felt, to be both creative without guilt and a mother without hang-ups. It was possible to have a life and have children. I recall her reflections on mothers who made their best work while the children were awake and running around. I thought about my best creative moments and realized that my best work, some of my best work, was possible when my children and I were together. I learned to hold onto thoughts while I resolved issues, keep ideas tucked in the back of my throat until I could examine them. Then later on, when the children were older, I could ask them to hold their thoughts while Mommy wrote one last line. I kept paper handy, just in case the words were too slippery to hang on to much longer.

The women one meets in Pamela Tanner Boll’s new film “Who Does She Think She Is?” examine the sometimes conflicting roles of mother and artist. It also looks importantly at the way Western culture denies women artists entrance into the artistic realm. Women artists are invisible, even though women make up the larger population in art schools and produce more art, especially if one counts all mediums explored in Tanner Boll’s film, visual and performance.

Pamela Tanner Boll, co-executive producer of the Academy award-winning film, “Born into Brothels: The Kids of Calcutta’s Red Light District,” and editor and co-director Nancy C. Kennedy, also editor of the Sundance Grand Jury winner, “Why We Fight (2005),” have produced a nuanced film which looks at women who both have supportive spouses and those who don’t. Nonetheless, these women all find a way to feed or nurture their passion, which is their art.

Art is transformed from hobby or work into life as each of the five women profiled share the centrality of art to life. One artist, Maye Torres, spoke of how when she stopped making art, she almost died. Other artists, like Camille Musser and Angela Williams, come to art later on in life. I found it interesting how Musser’s family’s initial response to her reclamation of her Caribbean culture via her painting at 40 was supportive and then kind of shocked that this, what they saw as a “hobby,” was not to be confined to the home. For Musser, her painting was a way to reconnect to a dormant self she hadn’t realized she missed all her years abroad, first as a student and then as a wife and mother.

Williams was also a late bloomer, who was happy being a wife and mother until an experience rattled her cage and she woke to her true life’s work, acting. Once again, I found it amusing when she said her husband told her that he didn’t think that she was realizing all her human potential as his wife and co-founder of their church, yet, when he had to support her in her goal to sing on stage and act 10 years later, there was a noticeable tension in the relationship between the two – but I think they resolved it. Interviews with the artist’s mother provided an insightful aspect to Williams’ drive and strength.

Maye Torres is somewhat the centerpiece of the film, her life one which resonated with that of the director, Tanner Boll, who also has three sons and at the point she meets Torres is at a crossroads. After her escape into the business world and then mothering, a passion she has no regrets for, the director takes stock of her life at that journey’s terminus – sons grown. She sees how motherhood released the artist within her, an aspect of her life she’d feared entering given, she says, “the solitary, suicide-prone lives of women artists.”

Tanner Boll says Torres’ ability to balance parenting and art opened her eyes to other women who had not sacrificed their art for their new roles. She calls these women “contemporary heroines.” I agree they are, especially one artist, sculptor Janis Wunderlich, a Mormon, and mother of five children. This artist produces work fast, then sells it or sends it away. Her body of work is massive, huge, so large she says at one point that she doesn’t remember all that she’s created, yet she can’t slow down or keep the fragile creations around, because one of her kids might accidentally break it.

I heard a certain wistfulness in her comment – to risk this seemed like risking the life of one of her flesh and blood children. She said she was content to stay at home and take care of her kids while her husband worked.

Many of these mother-artists do their work when the household is quiet – early mornings or during a child’s nap. Snatching these moments or planning biological clocks to coincide with such moments is an interesting dance to watch.

Most of the women have bi-cultural or bi-racial marriages, with the same outcomes as those in mono-cultural relationships – which mean the absence of women artists in the cultural conversation is one not tied to such circumstances.

In this film, the woman artist emerges as a strong personality who often meets conflict when her identify contradicts societal norms. This is illustrated powerfully in the life and work of artist-activist Mayumi Oda.

Interviews in “Who Does She Think She Is” include scholars Maura Reilly, Tiffany Shulain, Leonard Shlain, Riane Eisler, Courtney Martin, Shawn McNiff and Layne Redmond, the only woman drummer listed by Drummer Magazine in February 2000 as one of the 53 top drummers. The list included Tony Williams, Roy Haynes, Zakir Hussain, Elvin Jones and Micky Hart. Her interview centers on her use of the drum as healing and honoring the sacred feminine. This is not to say, as the director, Pamela Tanner Boll, does say on the film website, that Redmond is the only drummer on the list whose work is dedicated to healing and spirituality. See http://www.whodoesshethinksheis.net/.

In interviews I conducted with Zakir Hussain, Roy Haynes, Cindy Black and the late Elvin Jones, not to mention Billy Higgins, all the men spoke of the healing aspects of their instrument and the sacred charge they were given when the instrument chose them for its use. One cannot detach the sacred from this instrument, which is ceremonial even when no one on the dance floor is aware of this fact.

I also noticed the absence of African people in the scholarly conversation on art and healing, art and spirituality. It is here the discourse falls down. For African people, there has never been a separation between art and life. The artist lives and works in the community – no one is expected to do one or the other because everyone dances, everyone sings, everyone draws, paints, sculpts, writes. As one young woman says when Camille Musser founds an art school and program on her native St. Vincent, African people were separated from their aesthetic during the European slave trade. Linguistic access to culture was just one of the many tragedies we experienced when separated physically from home (Africa). This severing from land, home and kinship rendered us mute. But Musser’s story, as well as Angela Williams’s story, shows how the right environment can untie the most comfortably bound tongue.

Don Reed’s ‘E-14th’

Don Reed in 'East 14th Street'
Don Reed in 'East 14th Street'
The story is a young man’s coming of age story in the most unlikely household. Blended families have nothing on Don Reed, whose stepfather’s conversion to Jehovah Witness means no more Christmas, while biological dad’s belief in a good time means initially that the boy-child has a bit more freedom than he knows what to do with, when he decides he is tired of the authoritarian rule in his mother and stepfather’s home.

What “East 14th” shows, however, is the space between stereotype and reality, the fact that a kid could have a father who the world sees as an outlaw – his occupation outside of the law – yet get trophies in debate competitions, go off to UCLA, have a successful career in screenwriting, film and acting, including a Broadway run of “East 14th.”

A pimp? Yes, Donnie’s dad was a pimp. I wish the actor’s mother hadn’t disappeared so quickly after the play opens; it runs almost two hours without intermission.

The set is deceptively simple: a white hat and a sign post with the infamous street name, “E-14th Street,” now “International Blvd” until one gets to San Leandro where the name shifts back to E-14th.

Energetic and engaging, Reed’s characters – two brothers, mother, fathers, school friends, dad’s girlfriends and his own – and the wonderful musical interludes which are used as segues in adolescent angst and conquest and peril make the theatrical experience memorable.

By the end of the play, Donnie’s dad is a hero, a hero because he let his son believe he had free rein, when actually Donnie’s moves were planned, choreographed, his dance and the music on the radio prerecorded. Other stars in the huge cast, all performed by Reed, were his brothers, who morphed into Frankenstein’s monster or flaming queens who could kick butt, at the drop of a kid brother’s hat.

“East 14th” is also a love story, that between a son and his father. It’s a tribute to the folks no one gives credit for moral sense: drug dealers, pimps, prostitutes and the kid who misses the glitter for the substance. Donnie doesn’t see what law enforcement sees or what the social critics see either, at least while he is a child. “E-14th” is not a tale glorifying street life; it is a story which shows how roses grow from gardens created from nails and string, glass cylinders filled with Christmas ornaments.

It’s not a “Manchild in the Promised Land” tragedy, because unlike the protagonist in that story, Claude Brown, Donnie has a father, who cares and gives him guidance. He also has a community that watches over him, like the drug dealer who refuses to let him throw away his life when he has options – college.

Donnie’s household, four men when he arrives, is one where everyone is free to be himself – no judgment, just love – and with such ingredients a child can’t help but grow, although I’m not certain I’d recommend the combination – LOVE plus an aberrant lifestyle. But children are sturdy and are pretty smart too as Donnie shows as he matures and develops confidence. Watch his great dance moves.

The story we don’t see is his school attendance and excelling in academics. We don’t see the family at meals. I think “E-14th,” like Brian Copeland’s “Not a Genuine Black Man,” also produced by the Marsh, would make a great memoir. I hope he writes it, but as a tribute to his fathers and brothers and community who raised him, “E-14th” works even with unanswered questions.

The play is up at the Marsh, 1062 Valencia St., in San Francisco, Fridays-Sundays, 8, 8:30 and 3 p.m.; the run has been extended for more than a month, through July 18. It’s not suitable for audiences under 17 years old. Visit www.themarsh.org or east14.com and call 1-800-838-3006. The Marsh, by the way, is celebrating its 20th anniversary and produces 400 shows a year; that’s one active and hardworking theatre!

‘Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs’

More than 3,000 years after his reign and 30 years after the original exhibition opened in San Francisco, Tutankhamun, ancient Egypt’s celebrated “boy king,” returns to the de Young Museum. In the summer of 2009 the de Young presents “Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs,” a glorious exhibition of over 130 outstanding works from the tomb of Tutankhamun, as well as those of his royal predecessors, his family and court officials.

“Tutankhamun” opens Saturday, June 27, and will be on exhibit through September 2009, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., in Golden Gate Park at the De Young Museum, 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Dr., San Francisco, (415) 863-3330. Visit http://www.tutsanfrancisco.org/content/about-exhibition.

All of the over 130 artifacts from the 18th Dynasty king’s opulently appointed tomb and other ancient Egyptian sites are at least 3,300 years old. Many of them have never traveled outside of Egypt before this tour. They document the life, times and postmortem enshrinement of the “boy king,” who died at age 18 or 19 in 1323 B.

I’m sure Professor Manu Ampin will have a lot to say about this exhibit, so stay posted and if he offers a tour, I’ll let you know. Visit http://www.manuampim.com/index.html.

On the fly, take 2

There is a lot going on like the opening reception for “Landscapes for Our Souls”: Susan Almazol and Lorraine Bonner at the Joyce Gordon Gallery in downtown Oakland. The reception begins at 5:30 p.m. with enough time to also get over to the Oakland Museum to catch photographer Tony Gleaton in conversation with AAMLO director Rick Moss about “The African Presence in Mexico: From Yanga to the Present,” up through Aug. 23. The Oakland Museum is open First Fridays from 5-9 p.m.

This is also Pro Arts Gallery’s first weekend of the Open Studios, so patrons of the arts can meet the artisans where they make the lovely work we all admire. James Gales is participating at his Swarm Gallery this weekend, June 6, 11 a.m. Swarm is next door to Pro Arts Gallery, 550 Second St., near Embarcadero in Jack London Square.

A new exhibit at Studio One opened Thursday evening, but I wasn’t able to get over there. There will be an Open Studio there both weekends, June 7-8 and 13-14, most of the day, featuring the artists whose work is in the galleries. The work of Karen Oyekami, fabulous soft sculpture artist, is there and she will be there this weekend and next also.

Nancy Wilson is in town, along with Abdullah Ibrahim. Kim Nalley is singing Nina Simone as a part of SFJAZZ.org Spring Season. She’s at the Great American Music Hall.

Kim Shuck is reading her poetry at Gathering Tribes tonight in Albany, Solano Avenue at Sante Fe, 7 p.m. Kim is also hosting “The Art of the Basket” at the de Young Museum next Friday, June 12. This is the day before the “Remembrance for the Ancestors,” a global libation taking place in Oakland at Lake Merritt, East 18th and Lakeside Drive at the fountain. There are photos on Wanda’s blog.

Hole in the Head Film Festival also began this week, running June 5-18. It’s for the sci-fi junkies. Some of it is a bit too gory for me, but there is a history of sci-fi – “Monsters from the Id: Science is Mankind’s Last Great Hope,” which I recommend. The review will follow later. Visit http://www.sfindie.com/.

Rhonda Benin is at Anna’s Jazz Island in Berkeley tonight, and Kenny Washington is at Healdsburg with John Handy and then at Anna’s on Saturday, June 7. There are also a couple of music festivals happening locally: Temescal on Sunday, June 7, noon to 6 p.m., www.temescalmerchants.com, and Laurel on Saturday, June 20, noon to 6 p.m., www.laurelvillage.org. I just got the schedule for the Vision Festival in New York, which starts June 9, the day after the SF 8 preliminary hearing to determine whether the Black Panther elders must stand trial for murder in a 37-year-old case based on torture -what a waste of taxpayer funds. Check out the ad in this week’s SF Bay Guardian and add your name to the list by going to the SF 8 website, www.freethesf8.org. I missed the entire San Francisco Arts Festival 2009. I’ll have to do better next year. Have a great weekend!

‘Deadman’s Cell Phone’

I saw a couple of really great plays this week, one closing and one opening: I’ll start with the one which is closing soon, “Deadman’s Cell Phone.” Oh my goodness it is so wonderful: the writing, the acting and the premise, that a man could live on if someone kept answering his phone. I wish I’d seen the playwright’s “Vibrator Play” at Berkeley Rep, but I’m happy I saw this one by Sarah Ruhl, directed by Susi Damilano at www.sfplayhouse.org. It closes June 13.

Note: I wanted to see this play for a kind of morbid connection. I’d been calling Ave Montague’s cell phone since she died in January each month, often more than once, to listen to her outgoing message. I even taped it, just in case the call was the last one. Well anyway, just recently, as in May, she stopped answering. I never got a live person, which would have been nice. I even left her a message after the lovely memorial in February. So when I saw this play was being mounted, I had to see it.

The protagonist in “Deadman’s Cell Phone” is nothing like Ave, his occupation is mysterious and, we find out, sordid, whereas Ave Marie Montague, as her names suggests, was a light. It’s funny, what happens to a cell phone when someone dies in a public place? Are cell phones worth killing someone over? Oh, did you ever think the spirits in the afterlife can actually still hear cellular conversations?

‘Mauritius’

The other play I saw was “Mauritius” at the Magic Theatre in Ft. Mason Center in San Francisco. My attraction to this play was also personal. It is about stamp collecting. Well not really, but the philatelic connection is like the frame in which these other characters come out to play. They are a motley crew; one character says that it’s the “flaws which give the stamps value.” The metaphor is clear here and Theresa Rebeck’s play, directed by Lorreta Greco, is an opportunity to see who or what has the most value … what is on the page of the album or who is standing before us asking for an audience.

“Mauritius” asks its audience to question what it values through examining several relationships, the one between the two sisters reunited upon the death of their mother and the shyster, Dennis (James Wagner), who tries to cheat younger sister, Jackie (Zoe Winters), out of her inheritance, the disinterested expert, Phillip (Warren David), the older sister who escaped an unnamed tragedy, Mary (Arwen Anderson), who team up, and Sterling (Rod Gnapp), the rich crook who wants the stamps.

The play is surprising, clever and never what one expects. It is tight, like dynamite before it explodes, like life before it happens or in retrospect. Wow, how did I fit so much living into a weekend or how did I waste so much time? “Mauritius, a remote island off the coast of Africa near Madagascar, colonized by the Portuguese, Dutch, French and lastly the United Kingdom (1965). Now it is a republic within the Commonwealth (1992).” I also found this fact interesting; stamps are like that. Similar to coins, they allow the collector an opportunity to travel to distant lands and their people – not that this is the topic of the play. No, I digress. Visit www.MagicTheatre.org.

Destiny Arts Year End Celebration

Destiny’s Year-End Celebration performance featuring youth dance, theater and martial arts performers from the center and school outreach programs, delicious homemade BBQ, face painting, music by DJ Fuze and fun for the whole family is moving for peace this Saturday, June 6, 12 noon for BBQ and DJ in the park at 3 p.m. plus the performance in the park right in front of Destiny Arts Center, 1000 42nd St., between Market and Adeline streets, Oakland. Admission is free.

Music in the Parks

Lenny Williams kicks off free Music in the Park, Sunday, June 7, 2-4 p.m., at Arrojo Viejo Park, 7701 Krause in East Oakland, off 73rd Avenue. He is also singing in Berkeley at Black Rep’s “Dream Girls” this month at selected performances. Call the theatre to find out or visit them online, (510) 652-2120 or www.blackrepertorygroup.com.

2009 Superfest Classics International Disability Film Festival

Superfest Classics runs this weekend, Friday, June 5, 12-4 p.m., and Saturday, June 6, 12-4 and 5-9 p.m. Venues are wheelchair accessible. All films are captioned. Both afternoon screenings, 12-4 p.m., will be audio described. Braille and large print screening schedules and programs are available. Please refrain from wearing perfume and other scented products. For more information, call (510) 845-5576.

Bay View Arts Editor Wanda Sabir can be reached at wsab1@aol.com. Visit her website at www.wandaspicks.com for an expanded version of Wanda’s Picks, her blog, photos and Wanda’s Picks Radio. Her shows are streamed live Wednesdays at 6-7 a.m. and Fridays at 8-10 a.m. and archived on the Afrikan Sistahs’ Media Network, http://www.WandasPicks.ASMNetwork.org.

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