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Wanda’s Picks for April

April 2, 2010

by Wanda Sabir

Don’t miss Wanda’s reviews following the list of upcoming events. – ed.

‘… and Jesus Moonwalks the Mississippi’

Artwork by Keba Armand Konte, www.kebakonte.com
“… AND JESUS MOONWALKS THE MISSISSIPPI,” a new play by Marcus Gardley, has added an extra eight additional performances and will now close April 25. Added shows are on April 15, 16, 17, 22, 23, 24 at 8 p.m. and April 18 and 25 at 5 p.m. Visit http://www.cuttingball.com/. You don’t want to miss this wonderful play full of all the magic and surreal nuances that Gardley is known for.

Candlelight Vigil

Victory Outreach Oakland presents “Hear the Cry Candlelight Vigil, Exposing Human Trafficking” as part of their “I Love My City” campaign, this Friday, April 2, 5-7 p.m. at 1 Frank Ogawa Plaza, the steps of Oakland City Hall. For more information, call (510) 482-4656.

Musicians Health Care Benefit

Join Bay Area musicians for the Second Annual Jazz Fest for Bay Area Jazz Musicians’ Self-Help Healthcare Fundraiser for Jazz Appreciation Month at Velma’s, 2246 Jerrold Ave., San Francisco, (415) 824-7646, or contact Eddie Gale, (408) 294-3173. Tickets are also available through Brownpapertickets.com. Search for Jazz Fest 2010.

Folks can listen to great music and help a worthy cause. Many musicians do not have adequate healthcare, so when they need a simple procedure like a dental checkup or a major procedure like surgery, often there are no funds or policies to draw from. This fund can be used to augment the costly emergency care bills that accompany life and death trips to the doctor. Hopefully it will help our beloved artists live healthier and longer lives.

We can all remember the fundraisers to raise funds for medical costs, and these fundraisers will probably not end any time soon, as there is one this month for Khalil Shaheed, Oaktown Jazz Workshop as well.

Friday, April 23, is drum night, with an opening performance at 7:30 p.m. Artists opening night are Donald Duck Bailey, San Francisco College Advance Jazz Band David Hadiman Jr., The African Roots of Jazz, E.W. Wainwright, Clifford Brown III, Will Nichols, Lewis Jordan, Wayne Wallace. On Saturday, April 24, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., are free workshops and instrument giveaways with Bobby Vega Life Force Jazz Youth/Adult.

The evening performances are at 8 p.m. with Len Wood, Quanti Bomani, Marcus Shelby, Doug Ellington, Valerie Min, Eddie Gale and Manny Cruz. Velma’s has a full bar and parking across the street. A portion of the funds raised will be donated to the California Jazz Foundation for Jazz Musicians Healthcare.

Harlem String Quartet Concert

Four Seasons Arts presents “W. Hazaiah Williams Memorial Concert,” Saturday, April 24, 2:00 p.m., at St. John’s Presbyterian Church, 2727 College Ave., Berkeley. The concert is free, but tickets are required for patrons who must be 6 years or older, two tickets limit. For information, call (510) 845-4444 or visit www.fsarts.org.

The program is Haydn: Quartet, Op. 76, No. 1; Schumann: Quartet No. 3 in A Major, Op. 41; and four movements from Winton Marsalis’s “At the Octoroon Balls,” “Rampart Street Row House Rag,” “Mating Call and Delta Rhythms,” “Creole Contradanzas,” “Hellbound Highball”; Billy Strayhorn: “Take the A Train,” arranged for string quartet by Paul Chihara.

Alice Walker at City Arts and Lectures

Alice Walker is guest at End of Season City Arts and Letters, Tuesday, April 20, 8 p.m., at the Herbst Theatre, Van Ness at MacAllister in San Francisco. Her topic: Overcoming Speechlessness, the Color Purple with Michael Krasny (KQED radio Forum). Visit www.cityboxoffice.com and www.cityarts.net or call (415) 392-4400.

Art Esteem Exhibit

“Self as Super Hero: 15 years of ArtEsteem” Craft and Cultural Arts Gallery, State of California Office Building, 1515 Clay St., Atrium, Oakland, continues through April 30. Visit http://ahc-oakland.org/events.html.

The 53rd San Francisco International Film Festival

The festival will run April 22–May 6. Visit the festival website: http://fest10.sffs.org/.

Cal Performances April 2010

Baaba Maal, living legend from Senegal, known as “the nightingale,” is in town April 20, 8 p.m.; Sweet Honey in the Rock make their yearly pilgrimage to Berkeley, Thursday, April 22, 8 p.m. They always sell out, so … Arlo Guthrie April 23, Pat Metheny April 24. Visit www.calperformances.org.

Charles Lloyd

The EMC Series continues with Charles Lloyd New Quartet with Jason Moran, Rueben Rogers and Eric Harland at the Palace of Fine Arts Theatre. This group is featured in Lloyd’s Rabo de Nube. The concert is Sunday, April 25, 7 p.m., at the Palace of Fine Arts. Tomasz Stanko Quintet perform Sunday, April 11, 2 p.m., at the Palace of the Legion of Honor, a great listening room, one of the best. Visit www.sfjazz.org.

Berkeley Fellowship of Unitarian Universalists Friday Film Series

Five extraordinary, award winning films about Palestinians committed to resist nonviolently Israel’s occupation and Israelis who stand with them against injustice are being shown at the Berkeley Fellowship of Unitarian Universalists, Fridays at 7 p.m., April 2, 16, 30, May 7, 21, in Fellowship Hall, 1924 Cedar at Bonita. Money raised benefits the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund. Event co-sponsors are American Friends Service Committee, Arab Film Festival, BFUU-Social Justice For further information, phone (510) 841-4824 or visit www.bfuu.org. Donation appreciated. No one turned away for lack of funds. Wheelchair accessible.

April 2, “Encounter Point” (directors Ronit Avni and Julia Bacha): Portraits of Palestinians and Israelis who have known violence intimately and now see nonviolence as the only way. Shlomo left a settlement to live in Israel proper and work for interfaith dialogue. Ali, imprisoned at 16, brother killed by an Israeli soldier, struggles to teach Gandhian principles to angry young men injured by Israeli soldiers.

April 16, “Checkpoint” (director Yoav Shamir): The Israeli filmmaker spent three years filming at different checkpoints throughout the West Bank, capturing the distress of Palestinians awaiting permission to pass to attend to daily needs, as well as the arbitrary and arrogant behavior of the mostly young, heavily armed soldiers.

April 30, “Bil’in Habibti” (“Bil’in, My Love”) (director Shai Carmeli-Pollack): For a whole year, the filmmaker chronicled the weekly nonviolent protests of Bil’in’s residents against Israel’s land theft to construct the Wall. Joined by Israeli activists, the villagers confront tear gas, rubber bullets, beatings, arrests. Shai’s love for the people of Bil’in permeates the film.

May 7, “Jerusalem: East Side Story” (director Mohammed Alatar): Israel’s most extreme expansion has been the illegal annexation of Palestinian East Jerusalem and creation of a band of Jewish settlements cutting it from the West Bank. We see families watch their homes being demolished, spouses separated because of a discriminatory permit system, Muslims banned from reaching holy Jerusalem to worship.

May 21, “Slingshot Hip Hop” (director Jackie Salloum): This hopeful and sometimes joyous film shows young Palestinians in Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank using music to express their pain at living separated, occupied and treated as lesser beings. They succeed in communicating not only with each other, but, through this extraordinary film, with the world.

‘The Good Dance’

Choreographers Reggie Wilson and Andréya Ouamba in "The Good Dance – Dakar/Brooklyn" - Photo: Antoine Tempe
Brooklyn-based choreographer Reggie Wilson returns to Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco April 1-3 with “The Good Dance – dakar/brooklyn,” the culmination of a multi-year collaboration and cultural exchange with Congolese contemporary choreographer Andréya Ouamba and his Dakar, Senegal-based Compagnie 1er Temps. An evening-length program featuring movement, text and live vocal work, “The Good Dance” melds the rich art, culture and history of each man’s ancestral past, incorporating the rhythms of African, Caribbean and African-American dance to create a theatrical world that passionately reflects upon the connections, both intimate and metaphoric, of the cultures of the Congo and Mississippi rivers. Running time: 75 minutes with no intermission.

There is a master class with both choreographers, Wilson and Ouamba, on Saturday, April 3, 1-2:30, at the Malonga Center for the Arts in Oakland, 1428 Alice at 14th Street, $10. To register, call (866) 898-2722 (AAAPAC); post conversation talk with Reggie Wilson, Friday, April 2, free with performance ticket. There are 2 for 1 ticket deals if you attend the master class, wear a button, ask the box office, (415) 978-2787 and visit www.ybca.org to watch a clip and clarify the 2-for-1deals.

‘American Deco’

While the powerful media corporation American Deco gets rich off exploiting communities, an underground guerrilla movement builds in Oakland. We take a trip into the inner workings of American Deco. What keeps this corporation running, and what are the guerrillas willing to do to protect their communities?

“American Deco” is at EastSide Cultural Center, 2277 International Blvd., Oakland, 7 p.m., Friday, April 2, and Saturday, April 3, $5 for youth, $10 for adults. Get tickets at http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/103682.

International Museum of Women host attorney and human rights activist Liesl Gerntholtz

Liesl Gerntholtz, now executive director of Women’s Rights Division at Human Rights Watch, joined HRW in May 2008. After working for many years as a lawyer and in organizations dedicated to gender equality and the AIDS Law Project in South Africa, she most recently served as the executive director of the Tshwaranang Legal Advocacy Centre to end violence against women in Johannesburg. Here she provided regular briefings to the South African parliament and was involved in high impact strategic litigation – including a successful case to help change the definition of rape in South Africa.

Human Rights Watch is leading the charge on women’s rights around the world. Please join us to hear how Gerntholtz and her team are raising the cost of abuse to bring greater justice and security to women around the world.

This year alone Human Rights Watch has shed light on rape as a weapon of war; pushed for greater accountability to monitor maternal deaths; and improved the lives of female domestic migrant workers on the ground. Gerntholtz is just back from an emergency mission to Haiti, where she uncovered sexual violence against women made homeless by the earthquake. Her work reminds us that women are vulnerable to different kinds of rights violations that too often are forgotten.

The event is Thursday, April 8, at 6:00 p.m. at 235 Montgomery St., 12th Floor, San Francisco. There is a registration and wine reception at 6:00 p.m., followed by the program at 6:30 p.m., which will include a Q&A. Tickets are general admission $15, IMOW and Human Rights Watch members $10, student admission $5.

For more information, email events@imow.org or call (415) 543-4669, ext. 27. Space is limited, so if you really want to attend, get your ticket early.

Grand Slam Finals at the historic Warfield Theatre

Celebrate the final 17 poets as they vie for a spot on the 2010 Bay Area team representing at Brave New Voices this summer in Los Angeles, Saturday, April 3, 7 p.m., at the Warfield Theatre, 982 Market St., San Francisco, (415) 345-0900, www.thewarfieldtheatre.com.

Hundreds of poets from throughout the Bay Area participated in the preliminaries and semi-finals over the last few weeks. Celebrate the incredible young people who’ve made it to the Warfield stage. Talk about transformation … this is the stuff you only find in Super Heroes!

The Grand Slam Finalists are Bryant Phan, Oakland, 17; Christsna Sot, Oakland, 17; Erica McMath-Sheppard, San Francisco, 17; Eugene Riley, San Francisco, 17; Hadeel Ramadan, San Bruno, 19; Jasmine Williams, Daly City, 19; Joshua Merchant, Oakland, 18; Maraj Judge, Pleasanton, 16; Simone Bridges, Oakland, 18; Dominic Nicholas, Oakland, 18; Mannie Rizvi, Lafayette, 19; Sofia Jimenez, Fremont, 18; Cassandra Euphrat Weston, San Francisco, 18; Natasha Huey, Berkeley, 19; Philip Enguancho, Hayward, 18; James Lane, Richmond, 18; plus Brian Yoo, the 2009 Grand Slam Champion. When I went to the finals last year, the girl left on the sofa, but the reality is family and friends need to believe in you.

On the fly

Catch the Caribbean All-Stars on Friday, April 2, 9 p.m., at Ashkenaz Music and Dance Center in Berkeley. Visit www.ashkenez.com. Dr. Moreno Marta Vega, director of “When the Spirits Danced Mambo,” hosts the film at the Museum of the African Diaspora on Friday, April 2, 6-9 p.m., and gives a talk at MoAD the following day, Saturday, April 3, 2-4 p.m., on “African Belief Systems from Africa to the Americas,” this in conjunction with the exhibit, “African Continuum: Sacred Ceremonies and Rituals,” photos by Bryan Wiley and altars by Dowoti Desir, through Aug. 28. MoAD is located on Mission at Third Street, San Francisco.

National Library Week will be observed April 11-17, 2010 with the theme, “Communities thrive at your library®.” National Dance week is April 23-May 2. Visit http://www.nationaldanceweek.org/index.htm. Earth Day is April 22 and International Day of the Child is April 11-17. National TV-Turnoff Week is April 19-15. Check out all the dates at http://www.cde.ca.gov/RE/pn/fb/yr10calendar.asp. World Health Day is April 7, the Week of the Young Child is April 19-25. Michael Rose is at Slim’s Sunday, April 11, 9 p.m. Retirement celebration for Professor Albirda Rose, Saturday, April 17, 8 p.m., features some former students. The concert is at the J. Fenton McKenna Theatre at SFSU, $20; for tickets call the SF State Box Office, (415) 338-246. Dancers are Kendra Kimbrough-Barnes, Laila Jenkins-Perez, Travis Rowlands, LaTanya Tigner, Roquisha Townsend, Ase Dance Collective and the University Dance Theater Company. Visit http://creativearts.sfsu.edu/events/1595/retirement-celebration-professor-albirda-rose.

Pharoah Sanders is at Grace Cathedral Friday, April 16.Visit www.sfjazz.org. Catch Ralph Lemon in the Screening Room at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Friday, April 23, 7 p.m. He’ll be speaking about his plans and see footage from the research and development of a new multi-media performance and installation, “How Can You Stay in the House All Day and Not Go Anywhere,” which will premiere at YBCA this October. Deeply influenced by Ralph’s eight-year collaboration with Walter Carter, a 103-year-old former sharecropper who has lived his entire life in Little Yazoo City, Mississippi, with his wife Edna. Free with RSVP http://www.ybca.org/tickets/production/view.aspx?id=10954.

Prevention International: No Cervical Cancer’s 5th Anniversary Celebration

PINCC is celebrating five years of service to women and medical centers in Africa, Latin America and India at Grace Cathedral, Gresham Hall, 1100 California St., San Francisco, Friday, April 9, from 6:30 to 9 p.m.

Enjoy food and wine and the rich voice of Melanie DeMore, who I last saw at Pistols and Prayers, Ise Lyfe’s collaboration with Speak Out. A new film by Emiko Omori documenting PINCC’s trip to Africa will be shown, along with the opportunity for all present to participate in a silent auction to win prizes gathered in PINCC’s world travels. RSVP to gwen6pincc@yahoo.com. Suggested donation is $20-$50. For more information, call (510) 452-2542.

Northern California Book Awards

Camille T. Dungy, who resides in San Francisco, is the 2010 recipient of the prestigious special recognition award for “Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry,” edited by Ms. Dungy, a SFSU professor, at the 29th Annual Northern California Book Awards, celebrating the Bay Area’s vibrant literary scene of 2009.

This year’s Northern California Book Awards takes place on Sunday, April 18, from 1 to 2:30 p.m., at the Koret Auditorium at the San Francisco Public Library’s Main Branch, 100 Larkin St. It is a free event. A book signing and reception with the authors follows the Awards Ceremony in the Latino/Hispanic Room from 2:30-4 p.m. Nominated books will be for sale by the Book Bay Main/Friends of the San Francisco Public Library. Admission to the Book Awards is free. The event is wheelchair accessible. For more information, telephone (510) 525-5476 or visit www.poetryflash.org.

‘Sins Invalid’ writing workshops

Leroy Moore in "Sins Invalid"
“Poemsong for Liberation: A Poetry Workshop” is facilitated by Vanessa Huang and Leroy Moore. Poetry is not a luxury: “It is through poetry that we give name to those ideas which are – until the poem – nameless and formless, about to be birthed, but already felt.” – Audre Lorde. This workshop will invite participants to deepen our truth-telling practice in community through poetry. We will explore and write poetry of necessity.

The workshops are Sunday, April 18, 3–6 p.m., at Brava Theater Center, 2781 24th St. at York Street in San Francisco. The workshops are free. This event is wheelchair accessible. Although presenters cannot guarantee a scent free environment, we ask that people please refrain from using scented products for this event. The workshops are open to anyone who is interested in exploring the intersection of disability and embodiment. Limit: 20 participants. If space becomes limited, we are prioritizing participants who identify as having a disability. For more information and/or to enroll, contact info@sinsinvalid.org or call (510) 689-7198.

We the Music: A First Friday Monthly Night of Eclectic Dance Music

Resident DJs: DJ Said (Fatsouls Records) and Le Charm. Live performance DJ set by special guest, Capitol A (2000 Black, Sonar Kollektiv, Galaxy Group). Friday, April 2, at 222 Hyde St. at Turk Street in San Francisco, 9 p.m.-2 a.m., $7, 21+ with ID. For information, visit www.222hyde.com or www.myspace.com/fatsoulsrecords.

Michael Rose

For over 25 years, Michael Rose has been recording and performing his brand of militant, hardcore Jamaican music to the delight of reggae fans around the world. As a solo artist, with Black Uhuru, and back as a solo artist, the “Ruff” Rose has achieved great success throughout his career, even as different Jamaican musical styles have phased in and out of popularity.

He’ll be at Slims, 333 11th St., San Francisco. R2D2 and The Reggae City Band open. Showtime is 9:00 p.m. Doors 8:00 p.m. Ticket prices are $28-$30 and are available on-line at slimstickets.com. All ages 6 and over are welcome.

Ana Moura

Ana Moura, Fado singer from Portugal, at SFJAZZ Saturday, April 24, 8 p.m., at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco. Visit sfjazz.org.

The San Francisco Green Festival

The Festival is April 10-11 at the San Francisco Concourse Exhibition Center, 635 Eighth St. at Brannan Street in San Francisco, Saturday 10 a.m.–7 p.m., Sunday 11 a.m.–6 p.m. This year marks the 40th anniversary of Earth Day. Over 225 visionaries, among them Chuck D and Alice Walker, will speak about how to make more planet-friendly choices. There are also hands on activities. The event is child-friendly. Visit http://www.greenfestivals.org/san-francisco-spring/.

Women’s History Month in San Francisco salutes Sarah Vaughan

Sarah Vaughan
Women’s History Month concluded with a wonderful salute to Miss Divine, Sarah Lois Vaughan, born March 27, 1924. She was appearing for one weekend in San Francisco only, so I was happy to be in the house when Ms. Vaughan left her heavenly duties to check out the Jazz Heritage Center in San Francisco’s historic Fillmore District.

She must have seen Susie Butler in her tangerine gown, matching earrings and a smile —”Sassy” with a dash of spice. I had to pinch myself when the lights came up and Miss Divine was still in the room. The show included birthday cake for Vaughan and the chocolate cake went quickly as the table was being set for the closing show at 5 p.m.

A wonderful documentary film, “The Divine One,” opened the show. Both the film and program were so wonderful, the intimate Jazz Heritage Center screening room cozy enough for the artist, Sassy Susie to interact with the audience.

It took a lot of nerve to follow a story like that, but Ms. Butler pulled it off and then some. The film featured interviews with Vaughan’s band members and friends like vocalist Billy Eckstine, whom, one might say, discovered her. He said her voice was one he’d never heard before. In an interview, the singer said she sang horn lines.

Whatever it was, she was the only one doing it. Roy Haynes, her drummer, spoke about their gigs, as did colleague Joe Williams. George Caffrey, her pianist, spoke with reverence of her creative genius, and Marty Paitch, her arranger and friend, recalled Vaughan’s professionalism and mastery of her craft.

Truly wedded to improvisation, Vaughan allows her band a certain freedom all musicians were not ready for or could handle. Roy Haynes told a funny story of a musician who resigned before he was hired when he found out the band didn’t use charts.

Vaughan was also funny and beautiful when Black women who were dark complexioned were not looked upon as beautiful. Interviews also included her adopted daughter and her mother and members of the church she attended as a child in New Jersey. I remember when my brother took a date to see Ms. Vaughan and his report that he knew she was great but didn’t know exactly how to listen to her to get the most out of the experience. He said he should have taken me. I wish he had (smile).

Known for her ability to handle herself with the boys, Ms. Vaughan was said to have the mouth of a sailor and called “Sassy” for her salty linguistic choices. She was also known for her poor choice in men; she was married four times. She illustrated the book on the perils of mixing business with pleasure.

Initially a pianist and organist accompanist in church, Vaughan wanted to sing and a contest at the Apollo is where Eckstine met her and her professional career was launched first with her friend, Eckstine, in Earl Fatha Hines’ band, which seemed like a training school or finishing school for artists of that time. Trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, saxophonist Charlie Parker, playing tenor saxophone rather than the alto saxophone that he would become famous with later, and trombonist Bennie Green passed through his band, the list of stellar alumni a who’s who of musical shape shifters as Hines established and codified bebop as the new music. When Eckstine left Hines to start a band of his own, his personnel included Miles Davis, Kenny Dorham, Art Blakey, Lucky Thompson, Gene Ammons, Dexter Gordon and of course Sarah Vaughan. So after Vaughan left Eckstine for a solo career, she couldn’t help but continue climbing to the top.

Many of the musicians spoke of the singer’s octave range as operatic, reaching both the high highs and low lows. Vaughan pianist George Caffrey said you could feel her voice in the floorboards.

I was so happy to celebrate Vaughan’s life her birthday weekend. Butler said Sunday’s show was a teaser for a longer piece in the works for later this year, so stay tuned. Her director Abbie Rhone said the two pulled this show together in two short weeks; imagine that?! I am like so impressed.

Hold the Light for Haiti and Chile, Tenga La Luz para Haití and Chile, Tenir La Lumière pour Haïti and Chili

Hold the Light is a poetry fundraiser at the Islamic Cultural Center of Northern California (ICCNC), 1433 Madison St., Oakland, Friday, April 30, 6–9 p.m., hosted by Wanda Sabir, with a keynote address by Haitian poet Boadiba.

Bay Area poets who will be reading are San Francisco Poet Laureate Diane di Prima, former California Poet Laureate Al Young, former San Francisco Poet Laureate devorah major, Alameda Poet Laureate Mary Rudge, PEN President Floyd Salas, Before Columbus Foundation Founder Ishmael Reed, Michael McClure, Claire Ortalda, Tennessee Reed, Shailja Patel, Jack and Adelle Foley, Lucha Corpi, Maya Chinchilla, Oscar Bermeo, Meg Day, Amir Rabiyah, Sharon Doubiago, Kiala Givehand, Karla Brundage, Vanessa Huang, John Curl, Kari McAllister, La Tigresa, Joan Gelfand, Ayodele Nzinga, Nina Serrano, Mamacoatl, Rafael Jesús González, Andrew Hayes, Kirk Lumpkin, Kim Shuck, Ava Square LeVias, Daniel Y. Harris.

All funds raised will benefit the Haiti Emergency Relief Fund and Doctors Without Borders. Sponsors are the Islamic Cultural Center of Northern California,PEN Oakland, Before Columbus Foundation and the San Francisco Bay View newspaper, http://www.averynicedesignstudio.org, bcphotographyimagesoflatinamerica.com.

Suggested donation is $5-$10, but no one will be turned away for lack of funds. For more information, contact Kim McMillon at kimmac@pacbell.net or call (510) 681-5652.

CubaCaribe Festival of Dance and Music: From Katrina to Port au Prince

Three weeks of performances by master artists from the Haiti, New Orleans and Cuba, by way of the Bay Area: Fridays through Sundays, April 16-May 2, at various times (see the schedule at cubacaribe.org) at Dance Mission Theater, 3316 24th St., San Francisco. Tickets are $18.50 in advance, $22 at the door, $12 for kids 12 and under and $50 for a three week festival package. For information, call (415) 273-4633 and brownpapertickets.com.

Week 1: April 16-18, Friday-Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 7 p.m., features Adia Whitaker and Ase Dance Collective (Brooklyn); Afoutayi with Djenane Saint Juste, Mambo Florencia “Fofo” Pierre and Jeff Lastanoteguy Pierre (Haiti), and Ausettua AmorAmenkum (New Orleans).

Week 2: April 23-25, Friday–Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 7 p.m. features Jacinta Vlach’s Liberation Dance Theater; Herve (Kayos) Makaya’s Tata Kaya Art; Las Que Son Son with Yismari Ramons Tellez; Alafia Dance Ensemble; Los Lupeños de San Jose; Paco Gomesa and Dancers.

Children’s Matinee: April 25 at 3 p.m., $10 kids 12 and under, $15 adults.

Week 3: April 30–May 2, Friday–Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 7 p.m. features Alayo Dance Company in a world premiere.

Reviews: Sowetu Gospel Choir, ‘Asylum,’ ‘King Tut, the Play’

Soweto Gospel Choir at Paramount Theatre, Oakland - Photo: Hubert Collins
I assumed incorrectly that the concert songs were listed in the program. Wrong. I was too into the music and performance to try to write in the dark. It was really dark and, well, I needed the spiritual upliftment too much to bother with keeping tab on all the songs, so, sorry folks, no set list here. But suffice it to say that the Soweto Gospel Choir are pretty awesome with 27 members, who sing and dance – there is even a skit at the start of the second half. While I love Voices from Heaven, perhaps the first recording on Shanachie, the artists who’ve won multiple Grammy awards for their CDs “Blessed” and “African Spirit” and for “Down to Earth,” a tune collaborated on with Peter Gabriel for the film “WALL-E” for Best Movie Song and was nominated for an Oscar, what could I possibly say, except, YOU MISSED IT!

But there were quite a few people who didn’t, the venue pretty full in the orchestra, many South Africans in the house singing along, getting to their feet in praise and my friends from Vukani Mawethu cutting up in the audience.

The ages ranged from 27 up, I was told by the youngest member of the choir, Warren Mahlangu, born the same year as my younger daughter, the day after me, June 21. Pretty cool. I don’t know how I happen to meet South African singers born in June – my friend Albert Mazibuko, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, is a June Gemini too. If you have ever seen a South African dance troupe, the choreography is pretty energetic; the men throw their legs straight up. With the Soweto Gospel Choir, women danced with the men, swinging their legs vertically as well. This was the first time I’d ever seen a woman dance this way.

I also saw within the choreography references to West African dance, so the ensemble was a Pan African mix, both lyrically with several renditions of African American songs, including a Negro Spiritual, as well as a Bob Marley song and even a regional classic, by Edwin Hawkins, “Oh Happy Day.” My friend and photographer that evening, Hubert Collins, remembered when the song was first performed and then recorded. He said he attended a concert with the Hawkins Family and Nina Simone. He commented on another concert where the song was sung by a Japanese choir – at Art and Soul – so Oakland is certainly traveling the globe with this song.

All of the first set was a cappella and the second set included a few musical numbers with drum, bass and piano. There were percussionists who also got up and danced throughout the concert. I can’t say enough about the synergy between the ensemble members and the tight moves and choreography. Everyone could dance and sing all at the same time and the costumes were colorful and as the artists moved on stage at times their gowns acted like paint brushes, each gesture a stroke on the canvas. The younger cast members did break dancing, a few spinning and falling back then scooting backward on the floor. They called each other out, sometimes a younger artist challenging an older artist or an older woman challenging a younger man. It was so fun!

Bay View Arts Editor Wanda Sabir and Warren Mahlangu, 27, the youngest member of the Soweto Gospel Choir. – Photo: Hubert Collins
I wondered when I looked at the names of the members and saw Vusimuzi Shabalala’s name; I thought that he might be related to Joseph Shabalala, musical director and founder of Ladysmith. I’ll have to get back to you on that one, but having missed the group this year, I was happy to get my South African music fix tonight with the wonderful Soweto Gospel Choir. Visit www.sowetogospelchoir.com.

Earlier today I was at Laney College Theatre for Destiny Arts Youth Performance Company’s “Asylum.” I don’t know what I was thinking, but I hadn’t thought mental hospital when I first heard the title of this year’s theatre performance. Met by kids dressed as clowns – one brushed dust off me with a magical brush – I was still kind of surprised when The Ringleader, also narrator of the show, Claire Seymour, played by Amber Espinoza-Jones, Marsha Newman, the therapist, played by Mesiah Burciaga-Hameed, and Courtney Courier, the news anchor, played by Courtney Nicholson, set the stage for the story about The Super Six: Superwoman (actress Sonia Mena), Loverboy (actor Omar Evans), The Mask (Talia Payomo), Imagination (Neenee Franklin), Flow (Ellen Kobori) and Inside Out (Arianna Butler). These innocents are locked in the mental institution because of their trail of good deeds. They have been so busy saving the world they get caught and can’t seem to save themselves.

As the tale unfolds, we meet the HMO executive director and her posse, The Super Villians: Dolores Domina a.k.a. Big Money, played by Alaysia Brooks, Ulysses Uziah a.k.a. Uzi, played by Morgon Grody, who has been at Destiny since elementary school (he’s a senior now in high school), and Skin Deep, the media liaison, played by Courtney Nicholson.

The story is tight, the cast well rehearsed, whether they were the baby martial artists or dancers or the more seasoned cast of high school seniors, everyone knew his or her cues, on equal footing from the smallest and youngest dancers and martial artists to the eldest. All the performances were outstanding.

One of my favorite scenes, which was also an eye-opener, was “Welcome to the Madhouse,” where I think I finally got it – this is a mental hospital and the setting is a psychiatric ward. Ding!

The parallel between prison and mental institutions is uncanny. “Everything (really) is turned upside down,” I think a line went, the aerial dancers literally upside down. Not overly didactic but certainly a “morals play,” scenes were dedicated to themes which encouraged the audience to look or dig deeper when falling for the commercials that create desires, make one feel incomplete, especially the women who wants to purchase beauty or happiness.

Many characters are in recovery from something America peddles and the shopaholic buys or tries to, like self-respect, self-confidence or self-reliance, usually found in a bottle in liquid or pill form.

Gwendolyn Gadoe, a.k.a. Inside Out, played by Arianna Butler, holds a mirror and helps people see themselves as they are and to accept that. A retired top model, she was in recovery from high fashion and the shallowness of that world and her former life when we meet her as super hero. Butler’s solo is another outstanding number in the show.

The groups therapy sessions were also great, especially the session which began with Melanie McCully or Superwoman, who was a brilliant scholar as well and had a split personality – the choreography behind a screen shows two dancers, Melanie’s two selves, as one and as multiple, is both clever and creative. The audience can easily visualize the split or schizophrenia as Mena and Ellen Kobori dance, their silhouette fractured.

Everything Princeton Maharam choreographed was awesome and then when he danced and sang on “Stop Callin’,” the costumes and the lighting and his ability to solo and dance too was pretty amazing! He had CDs for sale afterward. No, I didn’t buy one, but you can. Money is short, which is why I am teaching this summer, to augment my salary for the rest of the year (smile). No, seriously, after all the creditors subtract their monthly amounts from my back account, there is nothing left.

I liked “Asylum’s” ending: We all have super power; we just have to recognize it and rise to our potential. A party followed – by party I mean the story ended – but the show was by no means over. The finale was one Destiny Ensemble piece after another, which I think was a great way to go out.

This is a fundraising season; Destiny is buying a building – which is great! They will have a dance center similar to dance companies in San Francisco like ODC and Alonzo King – space is the place if one wants to grow and not worry about tomorrow. I haven’t found out where this theatre space is, nor do I remember how much money was raised the evening before the matinee I attended (I know, no help, right). Nor do I recall how much is needed, but Destiny would be a great place to send your tax refund check. Just sign it over. With kids like these, our future is secure. For answers to all your questions, call (510) 597-1619 and visit www.destinyarts.org.

‘King Tut, the play’

Last night I went to see “King Tut,” the play, at the Bayview Opera House. It’s written and directed by Farah Dews, a Bayview Opera House alumnus, whose resume reads like what else hasn’t he done!? From set design to acting classes at the American Conservatory Theatre to dancing with the San Francisco Ballet and training in African and modern dance, plus film making, Dews is the consummate artist, who is now training youth back where he started.

No longer a resident, Dews works in the Bayview neighborhood and wrote “King Tut, the Boy King,” many years ago. It debuted at the de Young Museum, where the exhibit closes the same day the play does. Uncanny. isn’t it. Unlike the exhibit, though, one does not have to travel to Egypt to see it. Dews says he hopes to mount it again in the East Bay and perhaps again in San Francisco.

Terri J. Vaughn and Farah Dews: two Hunters Point youngsters who dare to dream.
With a large cast, many of them kids themselves, the playwright and company have a lot of heart. There are several remarkable scenes, most in the second half, and those involve Tut’s gentle and quiet rule. The boy king doesn’t argue, and his trust in his friends, who are the ones who love him, shows his intelligence.

The actor in this role looks like he’s 19; in fact, most of the cast looked like they were highschoolers. The ones not in public school are probably in college. The audience was full of proud parents, teachers and noisy friends.

Dews’s choreography was outstanding and the dancer in the role was a show stopper. There is live drumming and the set looked just like the artifacts from the young king’s tomb I’d just seen. I felt like I was still walking through the treasures in the tomb … the last couple of galleries filled with “bling.” I guess the young pharaoh had planned to keep up appearances in the afterlife, this before he was robbed.

What does a homeless spirit look like?

Back to Destiny, I really liked the dance “Ascension” as well. One of the aerial dancers scaled a back wall, which she then flew across. The choreography was really lovely throughout the show, and then there were moments like this which took away what little breath one had left.

The story has a really cool twist, but the tragedy is how though this is theatre, there are many good people who are persecuted for wanting to help make the world better, to save others. Patients are beaten, medicated against their will – if ever there were a modern take on “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” “Asylum” is it. “Cuckoo’s Nest” as a musical. Hum? Alaysia Brooks’s Dolores Domina certainly finds her match in Nurse Ratched. Instead of one Indian, there are six Chief Bromdens and all need busting out and the narrator institutionalizing herself as the Ringmaster certainly did Randle McMurphy, “Cuckoo’s Nest’s” protagonist Randle McMurphy, the big gambler, con man and a backroom boxer, proud. Mesiah Burciaga-Hameed’s Ringleader was suitably hardcore, bottom line, no nonsense, unlike Randle who had more of a sense of humor. She was a take no prisoners guide through the nut house.

Reflecting on the reflection on King Tut

Closing night was a Community Evening at the Museum, which meant the hours were extended to 9 p.m., I believe, and included art activities like making Tut crowns, an Egyptian play with live music and an open quilting studio, connected to the “Amish Abstractions Quilts” through June 6, plus a lecture. There was a no host bar and the cafe was open as well. All these activities were included in the admission. It was a great farewell party for the king.

I kind of stumbled into the extended hours after I emerged from the Tut exhibit four or five hours after I’d entered at 2:30 p.m.

Unlike the exhibit with Queen Hatshepsut, which allowed scholars outside the museum community to lead tours, Tut did not and I really miss the opportunity to have had Professor Manu Ampin’s insight on the king and this period in African history.

Certainly the de Young has learned from the work of scholar and artist Fred Wilson about museum spaces and how they artificially manipulate realities to create new ones, often attached to power. King Tut’s remains, though contextualized within the landscape of discovery, were not centered in ritual. Often on the many plates mention was made of how an object was used, but what did it mean that the object was in San Francisco now, to King Tut’s eternal life?

How long does it take a spirit to travel through the Afterlife to its final destination? I certainly don’t know and I’m pretty certain the bling got in the way of such considerations. I’m reflecting the tomb’s initial discovery.

When the de Young opened its doors to the new facility, there was ritual. In the African galleries, practitioners were invited to bless the space. I remember the procession began with a lecture and then continued up the stairs to the galleries. I left the museum that evening at midnight, spent the night in San Francisco and then returned the next day.

I remember wondering why so many non-Africans were involved in the ceremony and being told by someone in the procession that race didn’t matter. It might not matter to them, but if something is African, I want to see indigenous Africans or Black people.

From the King Tut exhibit at the de Young Museum a mirror case in the shape of an Ankh
I think King Tut deserved something similar. Spirit is real. It’s surprising that the Museum of the African Diaspora wasn’t a satellite for any Tut-related events or activities or even the African American Art and Culture Complex or the Bayview Opera House. I wonder who is on the museum’s advisory committee and how connected are they to the constituency that is Black San Francisco?

In the future when the museum brings in Pan African exhibits, the community should insist that we have a say in its presentation. There was a big corporate sponsor, who, as money often does, shaped input; however, for the part of the deal that was public funds, that is, tax dollars, the people should have been able to override its objections.

When one looks at presenting organizations – I’m speaking of visual art here, but it includes performance art as well – Velma’s Place is one of the only Black clubs left in the Bay Area and the Fillmore Jazz Heritage Center and the Bayview Opera House are two of the only places for both visual and performance art consistently connected to Black culture.

The Museum of the African Diaspora (MoAD) looks Black, but the mission is so watered down, inclusive of any ethnic opportunist who chooses Blackness like a garment needing dusting off, that Black people – the ones without a choice (if they care to defect) – are not the target audience, even those who can afford the admission. I heard a sad story of a family who came into the museum opening week of the new exhibit (March 20, 2010) to buy something from the gift shop. When the father asked the admission price – $10 adults, $5 students and seniors – as he looked at his wife and two kids and clearly couldn’t afford it, then asked if there were a family price, he was told no.

The door keeper told him no, when all day long she’d been admitting white patrons from the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) whose members received free admission to MoAD that day.

How many Black people have subscriptions to SFMOMA?

Exactly.

The woman could have given the family a pass and no one would have been the wiser, but more importantly it would have been a great opportunity to develop patrons for the venue. I wonder if the dad regretted his purchase, since he couldn’t afford the museum. His kids would have loved it. There were art activities – kids were making jewelry in the colors of the orishas and in the community room there were Yoruba creation stories being told. This is the day that Dowoti Desir gave a tour of the gallery speaking about her altars in “Dancing on the Hips of Gede.”

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, just across the street, does more to connect the dots between Africa and its children in the Diaspora than MoAD and its outreach is to people like you and me.

I was listening to some of the pod-casts on the de Young Museum website on “Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs” about how the exhibit came to San Francisco in the first place. One of the people responsible is interviewed and he mentions the Egyptian government asked how much money they could expect from the tour. The museum representative said $1 million and the tour actually raised something like $8 million. I wonder how much was raised this time? What was interesting was Egypt’s request that the museums sell tickets 30 years ago, when some museums didn’t charge admission at all. I think all the museums in Washington, D.C., are still free. The money was to be made from souvenirs in 1979, this time, tickets and souvenirs – at least here in San Francisco.

Related exhibits

There is a mummy on display at the Palace of the Legion of Honor through Oct. 31, 2010, in the exhibit “Very Postmortem: Mummies and Medicine.” Visit http://www.tutsanfrancisco.org/category/tags/irethorrou.

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.

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