Wanda’s Picks for Dec. 5

by Wanda Sabir

First Fridays

It’s first Friday and the holiday season is in full swing. The usual first Friday haunts are hosting late night events: the Oakland Museum of California on 10th and Oak Street, Joyce Gordon Gallery on 14th Street near Broadway.

sister-souljah, Wanda’s Picks for Dec. 5, Culture Currents Sister Souljah is in town this weekend: in San Francisco tonight, Friday, at the African American Art and Culture Complex, 762 Fulton St., and Saturday, Dec. 6, at the East Bay Church of Religious Science on Telegraph near 40th Street in Oakland, not far from Marcus Books, the event sponsor. Preference is given to people who purchase their books from Marcus, but I’d show up anyway. Her new book, “Midnight,” is the sequel to the tragic story of Winter Santiaga.

Let’s see, other happenings tonight: Well, there is a pre-Kwanzaa event at Berkeley City College, 2050 Center St., 6-9 p.m. Ise Lyfe, hip hop poet, is performing, along with African drummers, The Funk Revival Orchestra, plus food and holiday vendors. It’s free. Hmm, what else?

‘The American Play’ at Thick Description

“The American Play” continues for another two weeks, closing Dec. 14 at Thick Description in San Francisco. It’s the theatre’s 20th anniversary – congratulations Tony Kelly, artistic director, board and all the staff – so why not reprise their 1994 hit? I can hardly believe it’s been 14 years since I saw the play at one of Thick Description’s mobile homes. I think it was my introduction to the work of Suzan-Lori Parks and I wasn’t certain if I liked it or her. Since then, I have come to love and appreciate her work, in no small part from “365 Days/365 Plays” and Cutting Ball Theatre’s insistence that her work remain in the forefront of modern American theatre.

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In 1994 Brian Freeman portrayed Brazil and Rhonnie Washington – what a name, right – was, who else but Founding Father. He is a prelude to “Topdog/Underdog,” a hit on Broadway with Mos Def. Parks is the first African American woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for drama. Her plays include “In the Blood,” which was a part of Magic Theatre’s Raw Plays or something like that, where it had a staged reading. What characters! I don’t know where Parks finds them. It was the 2000 Pulitzer Prize finalist.

“Venus,” which Thick Description mounted at the Langston Gallery, was wonderful. I hope that one is reprised. Maybe this was my introduction to Parks. I have been following Sarah Baartman’s story since I first learned of it in Elizabeth Alexander’s poem by the same title. Parks received the 1996 Obie Award for this one. Her “The Death of the Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World,” which was produced by Cutting Ball’s Rob Melrose, was phenomenal. I think I saw it at least twice and could have seen it several more times.

The “Imperceptible Mutabilities in the Third Kingdom” was another hit with me, critics too. It received the 1990 Obie Award for Best New American Play. And then we arrive at her first play, “The America Play,” perhaps not my favorite but then I don’t remember it well enough. I just liked the idea of the use of space to define consciousness. There were holes, and people who lived in them or, if not their abode, spent so much time below ground, they might as well call it an alternative address. Richard Wright plays with this metaphor in one of his short stories. His protagonist lived beneath the street. Ralph Elison’s “Invisible Man” and the protagonist in the “Spook Who Sat by the Door.”

“The American Play’s” powerful imagery, poignant metaphor and lyric prose drive Parks’ exploration of the American dream of greatness and the impulse – creative and destructive – to find one’s place in the pattern of history. The play closes Dec. 14 at the Thick House, 1695 18th St. on Potrero Hill in San Francisco. Tickets are $30-$15, sliding scale; to purchase, call (415) 401-8081 or visit www.thickhouse.org.

BWOPA-PAC’s Ella Hill Hutch Awards Ceremony and Holiday Mixer

Thursday, Dec. 11, 5:30-8:30 p.m., at the Wedgewood Banquet Center, Metropolitan Golf Course, 10051 Dolittle Drive, in Oakland, join Black Women Organized for Political Action for their Ella Hill Hutch Awards and Holiday Mixer. Visit www.bwopa.org. Tickets are $35 for BWOPA members and $45 for nonmembers. Dr. Julia Hare is the mistress of ceremonies. The 2008 honorees are many and not all women.

Other Shouts and Murmurs Around the Bay

There is a play at the Noodle Factory in Oakland. Can’t remember the name, but check back later today and when I return from Slim’s and Sister Souljah tonight, I’ll post it here. Don’t ask who I’m going to see at Slim’s. Visit their website. I am going to try to get by La Pena for the Women of Color Crafts Fair. I always like it and I’ve bought great jewelry in the past there. I have to run now and go sit in commuter traffic.

9th Annual Musical Night in Africa: Party for a New President

baba-ken-okulolo-300x203, Wanda’s Picks for Dec. 5, Culture Currents In its ninth year, Musical Night in Africa is a much-anticipated Ashkenaz tradition, this year featuring Baba Ken and Kotoja, West African Highlife Band, Nigerian Brothers and Ballet Lisanga. It’s Saturday, Dec. 13, 9 p.m., $15 or $12 for students with ID, at Ashkenaz, 1317 San Pablo at Gilman in Berkeley, (510) 525-5054.

Produced each year by Nigeria’s Baba Ken Okulolo, it is a musical tour of West Africa from teeming cities to remote villages that hold on to ancestral traditions. Music ranges from folk songs to the hottest African dance rhythms. Says Okulolo, “This year we celebrate a new beginning – the spirits of Africa and America are embodied in our new president. Let us join minds, bodies and souls to welcome this historic moment.”

The festivities begin at 9 p.m. with Okulolo leading a traditional African welcoming libation ceremony. The audience is encouraged to bring percussion instruments and join the subsequent village drum circle led by Ghanaian master drummer Pope Flyne. Making its Ashkenaz debut, Ballet Lisanga was created in 2004 to preserve and promote Congolese performance traditions and to carry on the work of the members’ teachers. Artistic Director Renee Puckett was a member and assistant director of the late Malonga Casquelourd’s cherished Fua Dia Congo Dance Company, as well as the Ceedo Senegalese Dance Company.

The Bay Area’s leader in the World Beat and Afrobeat scene, Kotoja was created by Okulolo and features band members from West Africa and America playing a bubbling brew of African highlife, juju, jazz and world dance rhythms, with driving guitars, riffing horns and persuasive percussion. Kotoja was the inspiration for New York clothier Dan Storper to create Putumayo Records, the popular world music label.

West African Highlife Band includes master musicians from several West African countries and the United States. It draws on folk traditions combined with modern stylistic elements, played with acoustic and electric instruments, and revives the infectious classic highlife dance hits of Ghana and Nigeria. The band features musicians who have played with such African masters as Hugh Masekela, King Sunny Ade and Fela Kuti.

The Nigerian Brothers bring to life traditional folk music and highlife songs. Although they’re not blood brothers, nor do they all come from Nigeria, they do share the experience of growing up hearing the songs they sing together in Yoruba, Urhobo, Itsekiri, Hausa and Pidgin. They recreate the sweet, lilting sounds of their earliest village memories through their harmonious voices, African guitar stylings and hand percussion instruments. This gentle but rhythmic music is a special treat for those who seek an authentic African sound that is fast disappearing from its homelands.

Wanda’s Picks Radio Dec. 5

devorah-major-at-mic-202x300, Wanda’s Picks for Dec. 5, Culture Currents Today’s radio show, at http://www.wandaspicks.asmnetwork.org, started out with guests devorah major, former poet laureate for San Francisco, and Kim McMillon, publicist for the Josephine Miles Pen Oakland Awards, Dec. 6, 1-5, at the Rockridge Branch of the Oakland Public Library. Other guests included John Handy, musician, scholar and composer; Peter Fitzsimmons, executive director of the Jazz Heritage Center; Raja Rahim, jazz vocalist; and Lewis Watts, photographer and historian.

They spoke about the opening of the JHC’s Koret Heritage Lobby exhibit at 1330 Fillmore St.: “Harlem West … Revisited.” The lobby exhibit is inside Yoshi’s jazz club.

The lobby exhibit expands the original exhibit, first mounted in 2006 at the Museum of Performance & Design, next door in the Lush Life Gallery, 1320 Fillmore St.: “Harlem of the West … Revisited,” take two. Both open to music and much fanfare Dec. 6, 1-6 p.m.

Next week, Raja Rahim is featured in the Winter Concert at the College of Alameda, Thursday, Dec. 11, 7-10 p.m. The Small Ensemble Improvisational Class, is directed by Professor Herbert Mims Jr. COA is located at 555 Ralph Appezzato Memorial Parkway, Building F, Alameda. As Raja sang on the air, John surprised us by accompanying her on piano on the air. It was a special moment.

Professor Manu Ampim, who will deliver the keynote address at the Western Regional Conference for the Association for the Study of Classical African Civilizations, had been waiting in the wings for about 15 minutes to speak. This year at the conference, the theme is: “Fearlessly Forward as We Build for Eternity.”

boots-riley-300x300, Wanda’s Picks for Dec. 5, Culture Currents An interview with Boots Riley of the Coup closed out this morning’s show. Like all great conversations, he and I really started talking after we went off the air and the show stopped streaming. And then my computer died and my power cord broke and I have nothing but this slow functioning machine which has none of the writing I was working on or the images I needed to upload.

My conversation with Boots concluded about 10:30 a.m. Boots and the Coup, a double bill with bassist Meshell Ndegeocello’s band out of D.C., the GoGo musicians, are at the Fillmore, 1805 Geary Blvd. at Fillmore, in San Francisco, Sunday, Dec. 7, doors open at 7, show at 8, (415) 346-6000.

The conversation came full circle; we began with writing and the craft of poetry and prose and the importance of the writer’s voice in society. This discussion segued into the topic of place and practice, public spaces and where one is allowed or one takes the space necessary to tell stories, the stories often edited out of the history books. John Handy, in answering the question of why jazz is important, spoke about the great gift to the world jazz is – it’s the story of Black people, but it is also the story of a nation.

Professor Ampim acknowledged this contribution, when he spoke of the reluctance of Western European descendants here and elsewhere to accept a Black god, a Black origin, thus the destruction of artifacts and the tampering with artifacts which contradict their pseudo-scientific claims to the contrary.

ASCAC begins tonight at ASA Academy and Community Science Center, 2811 Adeline St. in Oakland, (510) 290-4531. Tonight is 7-9, tomorrow 9-9, and Sunday, Dec. 7, the program moves to Wo’se Community House of Amen Ra, 8924 Holly St., in Oakland. Conference donation is $25 and, for children 17 and younger, it is free.

Bay View Arts Editor Wanda Sabir can be reached at wsab1@aol.com. Visit her website and blog at www.wandaspicks.com for an expanded version of Wanda’s Picks, her photos and her radio show.