by Wanda Sabir
This is the month we wear our Blackness with pride – so walk on, walk on. I want to thank Rhodessa Jones, Shaka Jamal, Pat Jamison, Elaine Lee, Walter Turner, Vera Nobles and Elouise Burrell for your leads and references for South Africa. Even if they didn’t pan out, I appreciate your support. I love the journey I have been on over the past several years meeting my family abroad, even those who don’t want to know me or claim me. That’s OK; it’s just a part of the rift that needs repair – I am not mad at anyone. Let’s spend this year looking at umoja or unity.
Saturday morning, Jan. 28, 2012, I called friends looking for someone to ride bikes with – remember my club, Ramadan Rides: Rides for Every Body? We should ride to San Quentin on Feb. 20 for the Occupy Action. Let’s talk about it.
Hamdiyah called me back and couldn’t ride – a meeting this morning at Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, but she told me that her husband, Brother Fred, and his youngest son, Bilal, visiting with his wife from Egypt, where he told me he is working with displaced Sudanese refugees, were feeding people at Rainbow Recreation Center, International and Seminary. Bilal studied law in Britain and is a solicitor.
I walked over to Rainbow, where each Saturday for the past seven years East Bay Educational Program has been giving away food to needy Oaklanders. With a line around the block when I arrived, Brother Fred and Bilal had a list with peoples’ names. As they gave them a bag of food, produce and dry goods like macaroni we spoke about food security and people served here weekly, numbering from 200 to 400 persons. At the beginning of the month, Brother Fred said the lines tend to be longer. There were people being served from all walks of life, all ethnicities and all ages and physical abilities. One woman I met told me that she picks up food and often gives it to neighbors who are not able to get to the site.
I love feeding people – there is a rush that one gets and a feeling of warmth when one satisfies this need which is basic to all one’s endeavors. Can’t think when you’re hungry. True, Americans do not know true hunger, but one can’t compare hunger in a Third World country at war to hunger in a First World city like Oakland, where we have our battles, but …
There is hunger and there is homelessness and unemployment and under-education here. It might not look like the Alexandra Township or Soweto, but for us it is cause for concern and I was so happy to find something in my neighborhood to smile about and want to participate in.
In case you haven’t heard, I do not like my neighborhood, my block or any of the blocks nearby. The feeling of a small town which I felt in West Oakland’s Oak Center before all of us were evicted and/or left when our bid to change the Oak Center 1 apartment complex into a cooperative was denied – was when I loved this city. Now, I just live here. I am a property owner who feels gipped. I know the few homeowners I share property lines with, unless the house is owned by a bank, the worse type of slumlord. These neighbors wave and say hi as they blast their music on weekends and late at night, operate illegal businesses out of their homes and take up all the parking on the street. None of the homeowners nearby are Black nor are the renters. I am not plugged in at all. All I like about East Oakland is the Bay Trail at Zone Way – once I hitch my bike to my car and drive to it. There I can let my worries about safety and poor city services pave the road behind me as I toss them over my shoulder.
I enjoyed Madagascar, perhaps more than Johannesburg, which is a city that is like New York, unfriendly. I met a few nice people through friends and a few expatriates who wanted to be reached – all didn’t return calls. I was like, I gave ten years of my life to free your nation – can’t I get a phone call response. It was weird. But the good people I met like Shaka Jamal’s friend, Tsakane was a great brother. He and his wife and little boy picked me up one evening when I was dying of boredom and took me by a friend’s who is a visual artist, a fine artist, to visit with his wife and baby girl. That was fun. We never got back over but it was great meeting Black folks and finding out what they thought on the eve of the African National Congress’s 100th anniversary Jan. 8 in Bloemfontein. I couldn’t find anyone interested in going – with 82 percent unemployment and most of the kids failing the Metric or high school exit exam that same week, the timing was kind of dismal – not to mention the controversy with President Jacob Zuma and Julius Malema, the leader of the ANC Youth League.
I thought it interesting that given the educational credentials of South Africa’s leadership post-Mandela and post-Tambo Mbeki, why is so much emphasis on European educational standards when the current leadership hasn’t completed high school and definitely not college?
I stayed at a youth hostel in Melville. Melville is a college town, walking distance from Johannesburg University and the premier university of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg or Wits. While I was there, there was a stampede at JU, where the mother of an applicant was trampled to death, others ended up in the hospital where they described being impaled under foot as people stepped on their chests and necks, arms and legs trying to rush the gate which was pushed down by anxious enrollees.
In America people camp out on Black Friday for a good deal. This past November a person was shot in a parking lot over a TV. In Joburg people camp out in front of a university to get a shot at late admission. Not that a college degree guarantees employment, nope, but it is something constructive to do with one’s time. I met a college graduate in Soweto. He is recycling plastics. Another young man wants to be a doctor; he is a tour guide sharing his reality with others.
The tours set up by the hostel were really Euro centered – animals and buildings, not people. Of course there were people there but there was no opportunity to really connect. I didn’t do any road trips – next time. I want to see the parts of South Africa that don’t look like cloned America. The cost of living was similar to here and the Ashby Flea Market had better gifts and goods than I saw in Rosebank, a celebrated African marketplace in a suburb outside of Joburg proper. I saw many products I could get cheaper here. I heard there were African films, indie films and directors, but I didn’t see any such films in any of the theatre listings, which were playing American films.
The television had a lot of interesting African sitcoms and educational programs. Myesha Jenkins, a sister from here, proofs the English subtitles at one such station. Most people speak English, not all of course. When I couldn’t get to Blomfontein, I went to Regina Mundy church where our First Lady Michelle Obama spoke last year. The priest spoke Zulu, which of course I didn’t understand until he did the ask, which was in English. Mrs. Obama’s speech is still talked about in great detail by those who were there. They loved her. So while they loved our First Lady, I couldn’t understand the sermon; however, when it came time for the offering the pastor switched to a language I recognized – money is a universal language.
While in Joburg, I couldn’t find any African music or places to dance or hear poetry. I was near Seventh Street, a place known for its music and lively night scene, but nothing was happening. The time when I was there was between holiday and the start of school – a kind of limbo time. I thought of the irony of a Seventh Street in Joburg like the Seventh Street in Oakland. The weekend I left there was a concert with Pinise and Bheki Khoza at The Lucky Bean, which sold out before I could get tickets. I thought about walking down and just hanging out, but one doesn’t hang out in a big city alone. Selaelo introduced me to jazz singer Brenda Joyce, whom I spoke to but didn’t get a chance to meet this time. I think she’s been in South Africa for 17 years.
I can’t begin to know what it must feel like to live in a country owned by the colonizers. The SA government doesn’t own or control a third of the land, just public land where the railroad tracks lie. There are no more gold mines in Joburg, though the wealth is still tied up by multinationals – some African, most not. I saw many old mines where people sift for gold dust. Oprah’s school sits behind one such mountain. While I was in the country, her first class graduated.
Headlines in the local papers The Citizen, The Star, Sowetan, Mail@Guardian, Pretoria News, The Zimbabwean (published in Europe) and The Telegraph (published in UK) were: “Zuma Calls for New Leaders: ANC Needs to Enhance Its Moral Standing”; “Lover Teacher Keeps Girl from Exams”; “Hookers Flock to ANC Party: Call girls Stream in to Entertain VIPs and Politicians”; “People’s Poet Sues State for R10m”; “Freedom ‘Not Free’: Zuma Speaks to Dwindling Crowd at ANC Bash”; “Zuma Vows to Rebuild ANC: Two hour speech fails to rouse huge crowd at centenary rally”; “Reverend’s ‘Kill Whites’ Tweet a Shocker”; “Prostitutes Follow the Money”; “Workers ‘Turned’ into Baboons: Workers picture defaced in racist prank”; “Battlefield Joburg: Traders Targeted”; “Jump that Started It All: Frustration sparked deadly UJ Stampede”; “Dying to Learn”; “Rural Ritual in Contrast to Urban Pride: Study of Black female body”; “Murder, Rape: Hunt for Monster: Mutilated Mom Heard Son’s Pleas”; “Metric Results 2011”; “Hero Mom Busts ‘Monster’”; from The Telegraph: “Justice after 18 years: Gary Dobson and David Norris Jailed for the Murder of Stephen Lawrence”; “Judge tells Yard to Hunt Down Killers Still at Large”; “Eyes of a Monster: Inside the Modimolle horror”; “Oprah’s Girls Graduate”; “Mbeki is Back: Ex-president Is Fast Becoming Lighting Rod of a New Coalition of the Wounded”; “Dad Kills Son Then Commits Suicide.”
Mbeki actually opened a conference, which began in Cape Town as I was leaving the country. It’s entitled: The Knowledge Conference.
The police were looking for counterfeit goods; the only problem was they were beating up pedestrians in the way of their SWAT operation, spraying pepper spray at close range, snatching cameras off witnesses filming the brutality and humiliating onlookers like a taxi driver who laughed. He was made to lie face down in a muddy puddle. The police used the fire department’s Jaws of Life to pry the bars from merchant windows closed when they saw the police coming. One woman said the police take her entire inventory.
I thought this attention to corporate profits was rather insane, yet typical in a world where corporations have more rights than flesh and blood people. The only response to the excessive force complaints was to make sure they were documented, that the operation wasn’t supposed to harm pedestrians.
The newspaper for the homeless community, like our Street Spirit or Street Sheet is called: Homeless Talk: Helping the Poor Help Themselves, www.homelesstalk.org.za. On the cover is “homeless babe,” a scantily clad woman with a whistle in her mouth. Looks like the kind of whistles women wear to alert the police – counter intuitive juxtaposition of images, especially given the high level of violence against women in South Africa, per the news coverage. This is why playwright Selaelo Maredi’s latest work is about violence against women. I was privileged to see the first staged reading while I was there at the Westend Theatre in a historic area of Pretoria called Tshwane.
Paepae Kenny Mmekwa, Usuthu Art Productions, invited me to hear his percussion group perform the following week, so that’s what took me back to Pretoria. We danced too. Paepae is also a famous choreographer in the Pedi tradition. This dance uses the movement of birds and other animals. It was really fun. Lulu or Abu Baker, who is a member of the Mouride Brotherhood (the Muridiyya), told me that the day I was visiting was the day of the great pilgrimage at Touba in Senegal, so he left to go pray after we dropped by a diner. He told me they chanted all night – sounded really nice. The fourth member of the group was Joseph Mmaphuti Kgomo.
The ensemble will be on tour later this year in Europe. It was so funny connecting with Motshepe, who had been in Senegal for FESMAN when I was there. I attended the play he did the music for, but we didn’t meet. I did meet the director of the State Theatre and of the play, Aubrey Sekqabi, who was away when I was at the State Theatre.
Motshepe, a member of the percussion ensemble, connected me with his uncle, Tlokwe Sehume, who for many years brought a cultural program to Pretoria that united the cultural traditions of the indigenous South African people from all the regions. Normally hosted in the past during Heritage Month, the absence of funding suspended the production for the past few years. With the ANC’s 100th celebration, it is back this year.
Sehume will be in Austin, Texas, at the University of Texas in March and when back in South Africa will host this highly anticipated and welcome collage of African culture. It shows how despite differences there is more the various ethnic groups share than they differ. This is also seen in the great Museum Africa. Visit www.medupromotions.co.za. He calls his work “music of the mountains.”
The whole divide and conquer strategy is alive and well in many of our Pan African communities. Cultural workers like Tkolwe Sehume are so important to the healing of the artificial tears in the fabric of our collective blanket. The worn threads need to be stitched, darned, reinforced, bound and covered. We can’t afford to allow any more of our lives to tangle in the web of lies masquerading as truth.
The enemy of the people in the past is the same enemy today: greed, power, self-interest. This enemy doesn’t have a particular hue, although in Africa, more often than not, he isn’t Black – he is green or gold or multifaceted. There are Black leaders who are keeping the people oppressed, but in South Africa the wealth never really changed hands. The Black African-led government is not really in charge of anything significant, which is why most of the people are still suffering.
I met a movie star at the local IT café which I hung out at and filed my grades one rainy afternoon. The rain was no joke in South Africa or Madagascar. Once one hears the thunder and sees the lightning, run for cover. The rain, which falls at an angle, wets you unless you have a large umbrella and serious rain gear. I took to wearing sandals and TaSin and I carried rain ponchos or plastic rain jackets.
I met Mike Mvelase, who plays Kaphela, Kethiewe’s husband, in the popular African show, Generations on SABC 1. He wasn’t going to Blomfontein either. I also met a sister who is a journalist, poet and jeweler, Faith Balaji. Her business is called negritude.
Margaret Makoka, Cool Arts founder, is a wonderful new friend. She is Malawi, raised in South Africa – choreographer, coach and educator. I met her through Selaelo. Her father, a banker, established Ned Bank in Southern Africa. I met another woman, a Hausa native, whose father worked for Ned Oil; she is a student at Wits. Margaret and I walked Pretoria and dropped by Black artists’ offices in City Hall and at the State Theatre. She pointed out the famous Union Building – no longer open to tourists – where in 1957 African women converged on the parliament regarding the new law concerning passes.
My last day in town I actually tasted South African food: a starchy item mixed with beans and some screaming cabbage, green sweet potatoes and pumpkin. We dropped by a fast food place, but the food was too spicy. The food at Woolworths was really yummy – funny, Woolworths isn’t owned by Black Africans, but they work there. Wal-Mart is on its way.
I went to a Black church on Martin King’s birthday, My Father’s House, but couldn’t get a lift to the program the American Blacks were throwing that afternoon for King’s Birthday, so I ended up working on my application for the World Cultures doctoral program at UC Merced, which was due Jan. 15. One great thing about being in Africa was getting an extra 10 hours. When I woke up later on the next day in Joburg, it was still Jan. 15 in California.
My last day in Joburg I spent at Artist Proof Studio talking to artists like Prince Newtown, who crafts jewelry from utensils. I bought earrings made from forks and he gave me rings from other cutlery. He also had really beautiful sterling work. He was quite flamboyant and fun. I loved his costume work, like the glasses made from scissors forks. He also made hats.
It started storming so I ended up spending the entire day at Artist Proof and left just in time to get back to the hostel, change clothes and leave for the airport – I thought my flight was Monday, when in fact it was Tuesday, so this was my second run. I had a rehearsal the evening before and still almost missed my plane when I spent too much time trying to spend the last of my rand. The attendant actually came looking for me, and then we sat in the hanger for another hour.
That weekend, I’d really wanted to take a dance class, but there were none. I met the company manager and rehearsal director, Sifiso E. Kweyama, of Moving into Dance, in Mophatong, Newtown Cultural Precinct; I also met a member of the company. There is a program next month called “Dance Umbrella,” which looks really good.
Gregory Maqoma, a choreographer who has performed here like Kweyama, who produced work at UC Berkeley in 2009, was here with his acclaimed solo performance, “Beautiful Me.” Moving into Dance is a part of what’s called the dance corner, where I believe at least three, maybe four companies are housed. Paepae went there – it is the second oldest dance company in South Africa.
Many of the institutions are not Black African founded, like Moving or the company next door or Artist Proof for that matter. The new South Africa seems to be a place where a homogenized population is the aim. Opening night for plays at the Market Theatre was so Berkeley as in bi-cultural and urban chic, although I did see Black men with Black women. The majority population is still Black, even if the directors for these works were not all Black and in the recent search for an artistic director the aim was to keep the leader Black.
Well, I’ve been back a week now and don’t necessarily feel like running around and have been lying low, teaching four classes and getting back acclimated to this time zone. For the first time, I actually have jet lag. I am taking an Afro-Haitian dance class with Colette Eloi, new adjunct faculty at Laney College. She just completed her MFA.
I am getting ready to start taking yoga with Dr. Marcus Lorenzo Penn again on Monday evenings and a Tai Chi class at Lake Merritt on Wednesday afternoon and hopefully Qi Gong on Saturday with Shekhem Samerit Kau, Ausar Auset Society West Coast Chapter, (510) 253-8120, email@example.com. It starts back Feb. 4, 11:30 a.m. in Berkeley at 10th Street Park between Addison Street and Allston Way.
I was looking through my business cards and ran into one with Yvette Hochberg’s name written on the back. She passed peacefully, I hear, the day there was a fundraiser scheduled for her. I got a letter from a brother with an herbal remedy – thanks, but it arrived too late.
Independent Lens ‘Daisy Bates: First Lady of Little Rock’
“Daisy Bates: First Lady of Little Rock” airs Feb. 2 on PBS at 10 p.m. (check listings). Director Sharon La Cruise’s excellent first feature film highlights the story of a wonderful self-made woman, Daisy Bates, whom Bayard Rustin introduces at the March on Washington as the organizer of the Children’s Civil Movement, referencing her organization efforts in the 1957 integration of Central High by the Little Rock 9. She and her husband owned the first Black newspaper, the Arkansas State Press, which certainly provided a platform for their politics.
The story of her presidency of the Arkansas chapter of the NAACP was a contentious one, as were most of her actions and victories. The director balances the criticism of Bates and her praise well. A beautiful woman, Mrs. Bates was accused of loving the camera too much, of being uneducated, which in my opinion made her work that much more remarkable. She took up with a married man for 10 years before he and she married; however, she never held her life up as an example of perfection for moral scrutiny – in fact, she would never have been the poster child for the Civil Rights Movement. Rosa Parks, Bates’s good friend, was, when in fact Emmett Till was the poster child literally for the start of the Civil Rights Movement. Mrs. Bates brought the movement full circle when once again she let the children lead.
She played not only a crucial role in the fight against segregation, but a thankless role, which cost her husband the newspaper he loved and Black people a major vehicle for liberation. She died almost penniless, and her grave remained unmarked from 1999 to about 2007.
La Cruise’s film is a wonderful treatment and long overdue tribute to a woman who up to now remained one of our unsung heroes. I don’t remember her story or photo in the “I Dream a World” exhibition, but I am happy the director was captivated enough to write Mrs. Bates’ attorney and, after two years, during which Mrs. Bates died, decide to step out on faith and make this wonderful film based on Bates’s memoir: “The Long Shadow of Little Rock,” containing much archival material and conversations with friends and colleagues who knew Mrs. Bates.
“Daisy Bates: First Lady of Little Rock” presents a woman whose complexity at birth is not lessened by her life, which is certainly more interesting than anything one could imagine as this woman keeps her peers and foes on their collective toes. Her relationship with her husband, Lucious Christopher “L.C.” Bates, an insurance agent and an experienced journalist, is one of teamwork. Certainly he was a man who was secure in his masculinity to the extent that he allowed his wife the freedom to be herself – certainly a more public persona than he, not to say that they were not without their tribulations. They never had any children; to a certain degree, the work – African liberation – was their passion and their child.
Born to a mother who was raped and murdered by three white men, who were never prosecuted, and raised by friends of the family after her father abandoned her, Daisy Bates was a woman who used her life to right the wrong she experienced as a child growing up in the small lumber town of Huttig, Arkansas.
Never a dull moment, one sees echoes of Zora Neale Hurston in Daisy Bates, also Dr. Dorothy I. Height. She was a fearless woman who held her own in all male assemblies, a woman racists called Mrs. Bates. Listen to an interview with the director on my radio show, www.blogtalkradio.com/wandas-picks, Jan. 27 and don’t miss the itvs.org national debut.
‘Mighty Be Our Powers: How Sisterhood, Prayer, and Sex Changed a Nation at War’ by Leymah Gbowee
“Mighty Be Our Powers: How Sisterhood, Prayer, and Sex Changed a Nation at War” is Leymah Gbowee’s challenging and exciting story about peace in Liberia, a country once at war. Liberia is a country with a complex history. It is the country where formerly enslaved African Americans were shipped once slavery ended and free labor was outlawed, which in itself created a dilemma, “Mighty” discloses.
African Americans brought with them a plantation mentality where American-born Blacks thought themselves better than indigenous Africans and over the centuries developed a class system based on a birthright despite the eventual blurring of concrete indicators as African Americans became more African. Gbowee’s story is really inspiring. Before the war, she’d planned to attend university to become a doctor, and war – the immediacy of war – changed all that temporarily as the protagonist became a mother and common law wife.
“Mighty” speaks to how dreams never really die as long as there is memory and hope and support. It also speaks to the great sacrifices a leader makes and the price these sacrifices exact on her, emotionally and physically, and on her family. The people whom the protagonist loves and whom she sacrifices much for often don’t stand by her in the end, as petty drama and jealousy eat at the fabric of their bond.
Excellently recounted, “Mighty” shows a woman whose life is a work in progress. At times I lose track of her age and then realize how young Gbowee is and what decisions she has to make concerning the lives of so many others. When the peace talk protests grow intense, she is awake around the clock. I am amazed she has time for debriefing and self-reflection. Her sister’s support and her children’s understanding is amazing. I love the aspects of the book that look at the culture she is a part of, which is clearly not Western. The end of the book is too quickly summed up.
There is too much left to cover; I hope this is just Part 1 of the story. I’d love to read the story from the perspective of Gbowee’s children, adopted and ones she bore. I’d love to hear the story from the perspective of the wonderful friend she had in Tunde.
“Mighty” isn’t a love story, unless perhaps it is the story about a young woman coming to value herself and that love’s growth. “Mighty” addresses the stress or pressures a leader faces and how unhealthy habits escalate and grow. True to form, we learn that Gbowee is stubborn and learns her lessons the hard way, whether that is as a girl or a more mature woman. She is not one to be pushed.
Luckily we know the end of the story – that she survives. “Mighty” fills in the details as we count the casualties along the way. It is a sad and triumphant story. No one wants the hero’s journey. Those who jealously pulled at Gbowee’s glory didn’t really want what she suffered, though in many cases her comrades suffered as much or more. I wish there was more regarding the strategy the organizers used and more information about what their handbook covered. It would have also been great to hear more of the women’s stories, perhaps in another book we will.
“Pray the Devil Back to Hell,” directed by Gini Reticker, produced by Abigail E. Disney, shows the courage of the Liberian women who defeat the Charles Taylor war machine with prayer and nonviolent resistance. The women, led by movement spokesperson Leymah Gbowee, assemble along the road where the president’s caravan passed twice daily. Dressed in plain white garments, these women – from the city, from the countryside, rural women, educated and uneducated women, Christian and Muslim women, women who called on the ancient indigenous spirits and goddesses – sat or stood together in the oppressive heat and in the summer storms getting wet and growing dark and weak as they became the key voice for peace in a country that was violently spinning out of control. The film is on-line at http://www.pbs.org/wnet/women-war-and-peace/full-episodes/pray-the-devil-back-to-hell/. There are also links to other films in the “Women, War and Peace” series, as well as to interviews with Ms. Gbowee.
Unlike her memoir, the film “Pray the Devil Back to Hell” is a heroines’ story, the story of a nation which is confronted by its most vulnerable population, its women. Liberia’s quest for peace is a story, a story which ends as it begins. The film could be a miniseries; the culminating event is not the end, rather the beginning, which we’d never know unless we read 2011 Nobel Peace Prize winner Gbowee’s tale of triumph and personal sacrifice.
I am happy Abigail Disney told me about the memoir when we last spoke in a radio interview – what a wonderful journey it has been this weekend. I am just disappointed I wasn’t able to meet Ms. Gbowee when she was here on tour last year.
22nd Annual African American Celebration through Poetry
The 22nd Annual African American Celebration through Poetry is Saturday, Feb. 4, 1-4 p.m., at the West Oakland Branch Library, 1801 Adeline St., (510) 238-7352. I started this event 22 years ago, and I host it. This year the theme is great Black women. All are welcome to attend. There is an open mic at the end of the program.
Tim Wise is touring with his new book, “Dear White America: Letter to a New Minority,” with a stop at Cal State East Bay Thursday, Feb. 2, 7 p.m. It is a free event. Visit http://csueastbaytickets.universitytickets.com/user_pages/event.asp?id=164&cid=26. The location: MPR, New Union, Cal State East Bay. Contact ASI Diversity Center at CSU East Bay, (510) 885-3908 for more information.
At Stanford University, Tuesday, Feb. 7, 7-9 p.m., in the Black Community Services Center there will be a screening of a “We Still Live Here – Âs Nutayuneân.” The director will be there as well as linguists. The film is about an indigenous nation which revived a “sleeping” language. The Wampanoag nation are the people who welcomed the Pilgrims and helped them through that difficult first winter in the New World. Remember that first Thanksgiving? Listen to our interview Friday, Jan. 27. She is my second interview. Visit http://www.pbs.org/independentlens/we-still-live-here/film.html and http://www.makepeaceproductions.com/screenings/201201-stanford.jpg.
Community Works presents the Bay Area Premiere of Daniel Beaty’s “Through the Night,” Feb. 11 at Brava Theater, 2781 24th St., in San Francisco, 7 p.m. This is a celebration of Community Works’ 15th anniversary. Tickets are $40 with $100 VIP tickets, which include preferred seating and entrance into the Sweet and Savory post-show reception with the playwright-actor Beaty and honorees. Visit brava.org and communityworkswest.org. CW produces work that empowers youth and strengthens families impacted by incarceration.
‘Word Becomes Flesh’ at Black Choreographers Here and Now
Marc Bamuthi Joseph’s “Word Becomes Flesh” at Laney College, 900 Fallon St., Oakland, Feb. 11, 8 p.m., Feb. 17, 8 p.m., and Feb. 19, 4 p.m., at Dance Mission in San Francisco, $25 general admission, $15 students and seniors. It is a collaboration between La Peña Cultural Center, Black Choreographers Here and Now, and the Living Word Festival.
Formerly a solo performance, this male soul journey is now danced by multiple men. In the work the characters question their masculinity, approaching fatherhood, relationships with their baby’s mama, not to mention their fathers and father’s fathers. It is a fluid tapestry that traverses landscapes above and below plane surfaces.
Bamuthi is a lovely choreographer and writer, so the poetry is in his character’s feet as much as in the words one hears from their mouths. I don’t remember if they speak; when it was a solo work, Bamuthi spoke. I have only seen the work as a company performance once, and alas, that detail escapes me. When I met the choreographer perhaps 15 years ago, it was as a poet. He was in a film screening I attended called “Slamnation.”
This work is not as abstract as his last, performed at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, “Red, Black and Green,” which was physical theatre as well as a visual art work, similar to site specific works used by Joanna Haigood’s Zaccho Dance Company and Alonozo King’s LINES Contemporary Ballet.
“Word Becomes Flesh” is a fluid evening-length choreopoem written in the form of a narrative verse play. Presented as a series of performed letters to an unborn son, the piece uses poetry, dance and live music to document nine months of pregnancy from a young single father’s perspective. These performed letters incorporate elements of ritual, archetypes and symbolic sites within the constructs of hip hop culture. Directed by Marc Bamuthi Joseph, it features Daveed Diggs, Dahlak Brathwaite, Dion Decibels, Ben Turner, Mic Turner and B.Yung.
Second Annual Ubuntu Awards Dinner
Saturday, Feb. 11, 5-9 p.m., is the Second Annual Ubuntu Awards at the Lake Merritt Hotel, 1800 Madison St., Oakland. Dr. Yao Graham, Third World Network, Africa, will give the keynote. Linda Burnham will be the mistress of ceremonies. Honorees include Adam Hochchild, Christine Chacha, Jacqueline Copeland-Carson and Mutombo Mpanya, Dr. Robert Scott (posthumous), The Allen Temple AIDS Ministry and Dr. Wangari Maathai (posthumous). For tickets or more information, call (510) 663-2255 or email PriorityAfrica@priorityAfrica.org.
The Indie Film Festival is in San Francisco Feb. 9-23.Visit http://sfindie.virb.com/. The African Film Festival continues at Pacific Film Archive, UC Berkeley, 2575 Bancroft Way, Berkeley, Jan. 26-Feb. 29. Visit http://www.bampfa.berkeley.edu/filmseries/african_2012. Friday, Feb. 3, at 9:30 a.m. on Wanda’s Picks Radio we speak to the director of the New York based African Film Festival on tour. Some of the films I have seen and recommend are “Kinshasa Symphony” and “Viva Riva,” which I have a love/hate relationship with. As the first feature to come out of Congo in decades, it is too bad such an unsavory character stars. It is Melvin Van Peebles’s “Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song” set in Africa, with bloody African sensibility and a boogyman that looks just like the protagonist.
Also at PFA, Saturday, Feb. 11, 3 p.m., is “Screenagers: 14th Annual Bay Area High School Film and Video Festival” (U.S., 2010-11, c. 90 mins.). The artists will be there in person. Witness the future of film in this innovative program of works by local high-school students, curated by their own peers.
Also at PFA, on Wednesday, Feb. 8, 7 p.m., is “The Green Wave,” by Ali Samadi Ahadi (Germany/Iran, 2010, 80 mins.). It’s introduced by Jeffrey Skoller. This riveting documentary for the 21st century combines powerful animation, minute-by-minute Twitter feeds, blog accounts and cell phone footage with conventional on-camera testimonies to recount the abortive 2009 antigovernment Iranian youth revolt. Dubbed “the Green Wave,” it was a revolution in flux, yet evergreen with hope.
Black Choreographers Here and Now
Black Choreographers Here and Now will be performed in two locations, in Oakland and San Francisco, Feb. 10-26. Visit www.bchandn.org.
Museum of the African Disapora events
This month the MoAD, 685 Mission St. in San Francisco, will host films on Thursday evenings, 6-8 p.m. and for the month of February will offer a two for one admission. Visit moadsf.org/visit/calendar.html.
Joanne Griffith discusses “Redefining Black Power” Wednesday, Feb. 8, 7-8:30 p.m., at MoAD. Griffith, an award-winning international broadcast journalist, examines how, or if, the first Black presidency has helped people of color. A new book for which she was editor, “Redefining Black Power: Reflections on the State of Black America,” is part of a multimedia project that has gathered the thoughts of African Americans ahead of the 2012 election. This program is co-presented by Museum of the African Diaspora and City Lights Publishers. Catch a Griffith preview on Wanda’s Picks radio Friday, Feb. 3.
Thursday, Feb. 9, 6:30 – 8:00 p.m., Joanne Griffith will be at Marcus Books, 3900 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Oakland, with guests Hodari Davis, national program director for Youth Speaks, with Dereca Blackmon, social justice activist, to discuss “Activism in the Age of Obama” and her new book, “Redefining Black Power,” at Marcus Books in Oakland. For more information, call (510) 652-2344.
Alliance for California Traditional Arts 2011 Apprenticeship Program
Master artist Patricia A. Montgomery and apprentice Helen Anderson discuss the work and process for the three quilts Helen Anderson will have on display Feb. 4, 1-3 p.m., at Eastbay Church of Religious Science, 4130 Telegraph Ave, Oakland. In the work, Anderson uses the adinkra symbol, the Sankofa bird who is looking over his shoulder, to literally retrace the European slave trade as a way to heal the trauma of post-traumatic slave disorder. The intended six month art-making journey ended up taking a year, a year in which Anderson learned quilting techniques and discovered in the art-making process keys to her own pain unlocked by the stitching, piecing, matting, placing, covering and uncovering process within the textile – the fabric and the quilting metaphor where nothing is ever really lost or discarded. Hum, so what does that mean for a people sold and purchased, disrespected and abused?
Initially the plan was to create six quilts – one per month. Anderson completed three quilts. This means the journey is not over – rather it has just begun – but then that’s the way life works, isn’t it? Healing is an on-going process. Patricia said of Helen that her Sankofa journey was material and spiritual, that her stitching was experiential, a different process than her own. The vitamin one takes today serves this moment; one has to keep taking supplements, keep drinking water and washing oneself in the river of remembrance. Both the master teacher and student will join me on the air Friday, Feb. 3, 8:30 a.m., so tune in: blogtalkradio.com/wandas-picks.
SFJAZZ Spring Season
For all the SFJAZZ events January-June , visit www.sfjazz.org.
Art at Jazz Heritage Gallery
James Knox, Jim Dennis and James Gayles have work on display at Jazz Heritage Gallery. The reception is Thursday, Feb. 2, 6-9 p.m., with a panel discussion in the Jazz Heritage Center Theatre, 1330 Fillmore St., San Francisco, from 6-7 p.m. This will be followed by a reception from 7-9 p.m. in the Lush Life Gallery with live music provided by guitarist Calvin Keys. The photography exhibit runs from Feb. 1 through March 4.
Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company at Cal Performances
On Friday and Saturday, Feb. 24 and 25, at 8 p.m. at Zellerbach Hall, UC Berkeley Campus, Bancroft Way at Telegraph Ave., Berkeley, Bill T. Jones brings his new work, “Story/Time,” to Cal Performances for its West Coast premiere. The work is based on more than 70 very short stories from Jones’ life. This work features a collaboration between Bill T. Jones, choreography, and writer and director Ted Coffey, music and moving images. Tickets are $30, $40, $46, $52, $60 and $68, available through the Cal Performances Ticket Office at Zellerbach Hall. Call (510) 642-9988 to charge by phone, visit www.calperformances.org or buy your tickets at the door.
Bay View Arts Editor Wanda Sabir can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit her website at www.wandaspicks.com throughout the month for updates to 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., can be heard by phone at (347) 237-4610 and are archived on the Afrikan Sistahs’ Media Network.