by Wanda Sabir
Race is the topic of AfroSolo’s 19th Season. The first event July 30 at the Commonwealth Club of Northern California looked at how art addresses these issues in a way the dominant discourse has refused to entertain for centuries.
Marcus Shelby, Sean San Jose, Joyce Gordon and Sherri Young, the moderator, spoke from personal experiences on how the institution or radicalized paradigm we all navigate to greater or lesser degrees depends on where we fall on the scale – favored or of ill repute, powerful or impotent.
No one opened the discussion or moved the discussion from the personal to the systemic use of race to exclude or devalue something or someone. I see this presently in the arts community when I think of access. We seemingly have come a long way baby when one thinks about Marian Anderson’s concert at the Lincoln Memorial, but have we really? Who are the Daughters of the Revolution today? What do the gatekeepers look like?
Black people are still anomalies in certain settings, even ones we have created. Look at the San Jose Jazz Festival Aug. 10-12, 2012. There are some great blues artists like John “Broadway” Tucker, and the Jazz Crusaders featuring Joe Sample. Wayne Henderson and Wilton Felder headline the vintage era of American classical music. Joyce Randolph, Dianne Reeves, Terrence Blanchard, Tia LaShawn Fuller, Avotcja and Modupue, Lula Washington Dance Theatre with Marcus L. Miller and Freedom Jazz Movement, Morris Day and The Time, Sweet Mama String Bean with ValLimar Jansen as Ethel Waters, The Spinners and many others round out the classical jazz scene. I haven’t mentioned the Afro Brazilian or Afro Cuban artists who have a significant presence as well at the festival. San Jose Jazz Festival is more a pop music festival with jazz thrown in for highlights. These are the Top 40 Picks – recycled between San Francisco and LA and New York. See http://jazzfest.sanjosejazz.org/.
One of the pleasant aspects of Stern Grove Festival in its 75th year is its innovative and creative programming. Sunday, Aug. 5, artists from Mali are on the bill with artists from California. It’s all legitimate. It’s all valued equally – at least by the presenters. Stern Grove also brings in community to collaborate in the pre-show talks and family activities. It’s all legitimate. It’s all valued equally – at least by the presenters.
I think the only community based, grassroots presenter in Oakland is East Side Arts Alliance with its Malcolm X Jazz Arts Festival and its other programming and concert series featuring creative Black music, ancient to the future. The community conversation at ESAA with Amiri Baraka and Reginald Workman on the state of Black art and jazz, a continuation of a conversation that launched the Bay Area Jazz Artists Collective, Baraka said to the youth who said he was interested in where the new aesthetic meets the old, that before one can extend or expand a tradition one had to know its history, that artists are also intellectuals; they study. See http://wandasabir.blogspot.com/2007/06/appropriation-of-jazz-music.html.
Why is it that Elyane Jones, San Francisco Opera timpanist, retired, was not able to hand her mallet off to another Black woman? Honored as a National Treasure last year at Oakland Public Conservatory of Music, Ms. Jones spoke about what it took to get to where she did: a pushy mother, optimistic family and preparation. She introduced the current National Treasure, Donald Bailey, a man who changed the direction of jazz drumming with his work with organist Jimmy Smith.
Calling in via video simulcast, the artist told the OPC audience Saturday evening that the key to his success was his attitude on the bandstand: Make the soloist look good, provide the ground or foundation for the music. Someone has to hold the form and Bailey confessed that the drummer’s task was to do this for the ensemble. I’ve heard this said by bassists too, so perhaps this role can shift among the players, especially when the drummer has an opportunity to tell his or her story, add a juicy tidbit to the conversation or take up where a comrade left off (smile).
Cal Performances presents AileyCamp summer performance
In its 11th year, AileyCamp concludes Aug. 2, 7 p.m., at Zellerbach Hall. Tickets for the free performance are available through the UC Berkeley box office. Visit http://calperformances.org/community/aileycamp/.
I dropped by AileyCamp Monday afternoon. I barely slipped in before the youth finished their day. They were on stage with Derrick Minter, modern dance teacher, rehearsing one of the pieces they will perform on Aug. 2 at the community performance. The 52 youth, dressed in black leotards and dance shoes, were on their Ps and Qs as the modern dance instructor took the kids through their literal paces as a large group and then in smaller segments. David W. McCauley, camp director, stood watching, occasionally offering suggestions or comments as group leaders assisted where needed. The performance certainly felt like a family affair up to the surprise cake for Mr. McCauley, which included a group hug – yes, it was a sweet moment (smile).
Joe Yang with Cal Performances filled me in on the background of the camp and Cal Performances partnership with AileyCamp over the past 11 years – for some reason I heard 12 years, but when I spoke to Mr. McCauley, he corrected my mistake (smile). It was great seeing choreographers and company directors I’ve known for many years, like Mama Naomi Johnson Diouf. I know her as artistic director of Diamano Coura West African Dance Company and as faculty member at Berkeley High School, whom I have seen many times on and off stage as my younger daughter had her at Berkeley High School, I have studied with her and when I taught her younger son, Stefon, at the College of Alameda. Stefon just graduated with his BA from Cal State East Bay.
Zari Le’on, jazz dance teacher, and LaTeisha Jones, Congolese dance, were a couple of other names and faces I recognized. I was really impressed by the seriousness the youthful group leaders imparted through their carriage, especially Dominique Fluker (2006 alum) and Spencer Pulu (2005 alum).
Mr. McCauley stated that the alumni return often, some yearly, as volunteers. Such is the case with Dominique, who studied ballet prior to AileyCamp, which she joined to expand her dance palate. Spencer, on the other hand, hadn’t been dancing seriously, but took the opportunity offered by Oakland-Berkeley AileyCamp to put behind him a negative situation. Six years later, Spencer is at City College of San Francisco studying dance and dancing professionally with multiple companies like Culture Clash. Dominique is finishing up her second year at Sarah Lawrence.
Though college is not stressed per se, the deliberate integration of the camp into the fabric of the University of California via scavenger hunts and other activities puts the idea of higher education on the radar of children who might have parents who didn’t complete high school. AileyCamp – true to the mission of the Alvin Ailey Dance Company founder’s philosophy that dance is not for the elite; dance is for everybody – chooses campers who might not have dance backgrounds but like to dance.
Dance is the hook.
What kid doesn’t like to groove to good music? Then after they are at the camp, the kids get exposed to professionals in all aspects of performance, whether that is choreography, lighting or set design. The camp has a values based curriculum where the whole child is nourished and nurtured. After the daily affirmations, where children are inspired to think without limitations, to respect each other and to believe in their infinite and perhaps untapped potential, are all a part of the program which is grooming children for active citizenship. See www.calperfs.berkeley.edu/community/aileycamp.
Each day children have two meals, the first breakfast before they start classes, which include personal development class and creative communication, along with dance and creative arts vocabulary woven into every aspect of the program. In the personal development class, children learn about sexually transmitted diseases like HIV/AIDS. There is also transportation to and from the camp on buses from Oakland and Berkeley.
All this and more is free per student – this means Cal Performances, which has raised funds for AileyCamp yearly since the camp’s inception 11 years ago, is seriously committed to East Bay families and youth. A quarter of a million dollars is nothing to sneeze at, especially in a shrinking economy, one where programming for youth and children is often cut. I am sure the AileyCamp experience for many children is their first exposure to performance and other creative art explored daily over the six weeks, such as writing, filmmaking, costume design and other art practice that varies from year to year.
Cal Performances, in its 106th season, didn’t have to take this on, but despite a UC board of trustees which has made it more difficult over the past 20 years for students of color to matriculate on its campuses statewide, programs like AileyCamp are a portal into these hallowed halls, space many of these children or their families would never have thought were theirs to claim. As taxpayers, as citizens, AileyCamp says, claim it, claim everything you want, for it is yours.
How can a child think otherwise if daily they are filled with a font of optimism carried in the affirmations which form the basis of the AileyCamp foundation: I am a winner. I am in control. I think before I act. I will pay attention with my mind, body and spirit. I will not use the word “can’t” to define my possibilities (five of 10).
There are so many great stories one could share, yet all the media space goes to tragedies and despair. Don’t forget to call for your free tickets: (510) 642-9988. I had a great conversation with Mr. McCauley last week: Visit http://www.blogtalkradio.com/wandas-picks/2012/07/25/wandas-picks-radio-show.
Oakland Public Conservatory of Music presents La Voz del Cajόn, el Bajo y el Trombόn
There are many great programs for youth in the San Francisco Bay Area – among them, AileyCamp at Cal Performances, Destiny Arts, Oaktown Jazz Workshop, Dimensions Extensions and Oakland Public Conservatory of Music, founded by Angela Wellman.
Considering how much is going on at this place on a quiet corner in Oakland, I am just shocked that the buzz has not gotten out about this community treasure. I had so much fun watching the children prepare for the final session at the camp, which culminated Thursday, July 26, in a performance. The first day of camp each instructor introduced him or herself to the children and their guardians before they performed, which meant the dance teacher had the kids up dancing salsa or rumba to the Cuban instructor’s jam.
At the OPC Treasures Concerts, Donald Bailey, premiere drummer, honoree, and youth members of the Frederick Douglass Youth Ensemble were also honored as they prepare to leave this fall for college or university. The FDYE, under the direction of Kev Choice, will be performing at Art and Soul, Saturday, Aug. 4, 3 p.m., on the City Center Stage. See http://www.artandsouloakland.com/tickets.htm.
Also at OPC, located on the corner of 17th and Franklin – 1616 Franklin in Oakland – one can take Afro Peruvian culture classes on Saturdays, 1-3 p.m., with Juan Medrano “Cotito,” ambassador of the Cajon. Friday, Aug. 3, 8 and 10 p.m., there will be a concert featuring Steve Turre on trombone and David Pinto on bass. Visit opcmusic.org and listen to the show with AileyCamp director David McCauley. Ms. Wellman closes the show (smile).
National Night Out is Tuesday, Aug. 7, 7-9 p.m., http://www.natw.org/nno/. There are no Black love stories anymore. The leading man, if Black, always has a woman who is not. In Morgan Freeman’s latest film, “The Magic of Belle Isle,” the leading lady (actress Virginia Madsen) is a single mother of three girls. With divorce pending, the mother holds it together pretty well, considering her eldest child who wants to live with a father who doesn’t want her, a daughter who blames her mother for the separation and divorce.
Morgan’s character, Monte Wildhorn, is a Western novelist stuck in a wheelchair who grieves over his late wife. He hasn’t written since she died, and his grandson or nephew thinks some time away from the city will perhaps bring back his uncle’s imaginative spark and get him out of the bottle, where he has been unsuccessful in drowning his sorrows. Wildhorn is adopted by one of the girls, who pays him to teach her how to write. The story is really sweet and poignant and shows how this summer visit heals something aching in Freeman’s character’s heart, yet here is this Black man swimming in a tale surrounded by a white audience.
It is the same with another film opening Aug. 10, “Celeste and Jesse Forever,” with Rashida Jones and Will McCormack, directed by Lee Toland Krieger. Jones, who co-wrote this film with the director, her longtime friend, participates in an alternative universe where, once again, Black women do not know fall in love with Black men. If I hadn’t read Jones’ bio, I might not have known she was a sister (smile).
“Celeste and Jesse Forever” stars Rashida Jones as a take-no-prisoners career woman who has it all: home, successful business, even an ex-husband best friend, Jesse, actor Andy Samberg, who hopes she will realize she loves him as much as he loves her. She doesn’t. In the meantime, Jesse, a talented visual artist, lives in the back apartment in his ex’s house, eats popcorn and cries over wrestling matches while Celeste publishes a new book and has to take on a client she can’t stand: a successful artist without talent. Celeste’s job? Marketing, branding and developing an audience for the artist’s new album, something the co-writers created just for her (smile).
Life goes on literally and Celeste finds herself without a friend or a partner, Jesse. Slowly her life begins to unravel as she finds herself unsuccessful on the dating scene. Type As don’t do well when they lose control and Celeste doesn’t lose it completely, but comes close to it, as her mistakes work out, thanks to the fictional framework – film – and she learns that one cannot always hit “undo” when one enters the arena and the games begin.
The characters in “Celeste and Jesse Forever” are not people I know, but ones the writers Rashida and Will McCormack do. Yet even if this story is not set in the Black community, the only Black person in the film is Celeste and one doesn’t know she is – none of her friends are – and I guess “thankfully?” no relatives show up with melanin and out her (smile).
Despite this, I liked the story. It is a great chick/guy flick – light, full of laughs with vegan moral values that don’t slam dunk its audience. It opens at Sundance Kabuki in San Francisco, Shattuck in Berkeley and elsewhere Aug. 10. Visit sonyclassics.com.
Art exhibits closing
“Mud Cloth Madness” at the African American Museum and Library, 14th and MLK Jr. in Oakland, has been extended through Saturday, Aug. 4. “Mudcloth Madness” is breathtaking. Though not large, I had to walk through it multiple times reflecting the creative ways artists used fabric in their design, whether that was a lamp shade and stem, a painting or a hat (smile).
April Martin Chartrand’s “Treasured Cigar Box, Assemblage Explorations of the African Diaspora” closes Thursday, Aug. 2, at the Afro American Center at the San Francisco Public Library, 100 Larkin St. at Gough on the Third Floor in the Afro American Wing – hours Monday 10-6, Tuesday-Thursday 9-8.
San Francisco Jewish Film Festival
SFJFF closes Aug. 8; see www.sfjff.org. I was surprised more Africans were not in the house at the Roda to see two films on Saturday, July 28: “Under African Skies” and “The Law in These Parts,” which looks at legalized Israeli Apartheid from 1948 to now and how the military court and Israeli court agree to disagree when justice for Palestinians jeopardizes its Zionist state or state of affairs. In the carefully deliberate film directed by Ra’annan Alexandrowicz, jurist after jurist shares the history of this legal system which has governed Palestine since the 1967 war.
One sees without a doubt why disenfranchised and displaced Palestinians have responded the way they have on the ground – Israel is no friend of theirs. I wonder how many Israeli citizens know this shameful and unjust history and, if they knew, what would be the result. Would youth who serve their country blindly after high school defect? I don’t understand how the most enlightened Israelis still allow themselves to be drafted into a war where they kill Palestinians. This is my question for Robi, the mother whose son was killed by a sniper in One Day after Peace. I didn’t get to ask her this when I interviewed her July 25.
The first film looks at the Paul Simon breach of the Artists Against Apartheid Movement, which asked international artists not to perform in South Africa; it also asked SA artists to refuse to perform as well internationally. I hadn’t known about the SA artistic agreement or request, which sounds, in retrospect, counterproductive. Well anyway, Simon slipped into SA and began making these clandestine recordings of the hot artists at that time, many whose politics were certainly anti-establishment, even if the lyrical content of the music was not.
Simon then slipped out as quietly as he’d slipped in – well, not really (smile). He produces an album, which no one notices, from that experience, only to go on and record on top of all these rhythms what is now seen as perhaps the biggest musical event in the history of the Anti-Apartheid Movement, Graceland and its subsequent tour. The film has really great archival footage of Mama Africa Miriam Makeba and Baba Hugh Masekela along with the legendary artists who were a part of those sessions.
Ladysmith Black Mambazo are introduced to America on Saturday Night Live and the rest, as they say, is history. Simon, a lot older and perhaps a little wiser now, speaks to then ANC President Oliver Tambo’s son, Dali Tambo, who called for the international artist boycott. As the two men reflect on that time, Mr. Tambo tells Simon why what he did was met with such resistance and Simon, who was admittedly rebelling against the advice of Harry Belafonte, who told him to run his idea by the African National Congress first, took his white privilege and threw it in the face of the major conflict occurring in South Africa.
South Africans thought he was an agent of the apartheid government; why else would he disrespect the people’s government, the ANC? One sees in Joe Berlinger’s shots of Simon how thoroughly shaken he was to SA once he returns to America. He realizes in retrospect that he’d been witness to a war and, within his studio, music was not often enough to free the Black and white musicians – especially the white musicians – from deep rooted feelings of superiority. Simon himself speaks to the effects of the dirty glass on his judgment, by far the highlight of the concert footage and the conversation between the two men, with its centerpiece Simon’s action 25 years prior.
The way the film resonates philosophically is in keeping with the spirit of reconciliation that permeates the new South Africa, a place where peace and justice, especially economic justice, do not necessarily walk hand in hand yet, but perhaps will one day. The film screens again, at the Rafael, Aug. 4, 2:05 p.m. Also recommended are “White: a Memoir in Color” at the Roda Aug. 1, 12:50 p.m., “One Day After Peace” at the Roda July 31, 2:05, and “400 Miles to Freedom” at the Roda Aug. 1 at 12 noon and Cinearts Aug. 2 at 12 noon.
“Searching for Sugar Man,” the story of Motown artist Rodriquez, whose album, “Cold Fact,” rocked South African white youth, politicizing them in a way he would have never known but for the detective work of South African fans like Stephen “Sugar” Segerman, who tirelessly looked for his idol transcontinentally until they found him alive in Detroit, where the story begins, opens Aug. 3. What is cool about this film is Rodriguez’ tour, which is in the Bay in September at Bimbo’s 365 Club in San Francisco.
“Searching for Sugar Man” is a story about a man who changes the world with his songs, yet remains nonplused about it – instant fame doesn’t change him. He told me in an interview on his birthday in San Francisco, with director- producer Malik Bendjelloul, that often people think he’s stupid, but the former candidate for mayor in Detroit, philosopher, father, grandfather and artist, says it all when one looks at his reaction to fans at the concert in Capetown in 1998. This film is a classic without the labeling (smile). See http://www.sonyclassics.com/searchingforsugarman/.
On the fly
The next Stern Grove concert is Aug. 5: Ozomatli and SMOD. The Malian group SMOD formed in 1999 with childhood friends Sam, the son of Malian musical duo Amadou and Mariam, Mouzy, Ousco and Donsky. SMOD is an acronym of their first names. Inspired by early ‘90s hip-hop icons like Tupac Shakur, Notorious B.I.G, and The Roots, the four friends created their own hybrid sound; they dubbed it “Afro-Rap,” a melding of Afro-centric instrumentation and rhythms with the lyrical flow of American hip-hop. At Stern Grove on Aug. 12 are Al Jarreau and The George Duke Trio; Oakland neo-soul vocalist Mara Hruby opens.
AfroSolo’s 11th Annual Jazz in the Gardens program features Kash Killion and the Killion Trillions and the Destiny Muhammad Trio, 1-3 p.m. at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Third and Mission Streets in San Francisco. Visit www.afrosolo.org.
“The Grove!” a play to benefit the MoAD Youth Media Program, is Saturday, Aug. 4, 5-7 p.m., $5 donation. “The Grove!” written by exceptional new playwright Mfoniso Udofia, follows American-born Adiagha as she struggles to honor her Nigerian family and its deeply steeped traditions while fighting to come into her own voice and individuality. Alongside a compelling story, “The Grove” combines traditional Nigerian song, spoken word poetry and strong vocal rhythms to make a truly unique and exciting piece of theatre. Visit www.mfonisoudofia.com. RSVP at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“The Frog Prince” at the Black Rep in Berkeley, Aug. 4-19, is a modern day retelling of the classic story. The Black Repertory Group Theatre is located at 3201 Adeline St., Berkeley, (510) 652-2120. Visit http://www.blackrepertorygroup.com/.
Soul Box Vol. 1 presents “Kindred the Family Soul” Aug. 11, 5 p.m. and 8 p.m., at the Malonga Arts Center, 1428 Alice St., Oakland.
On Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Aug. 6 and 9, 1945, 67 years ago, the United States dropped the first atomic bombs on civilians. Pandemonium Press presents a poetry reading to mark this tragic event and to support peace on Monday, Aug. 6, 7-10 p.m., at Casa Latina, 1805 San Pablo Ave., near Delaware, Berkeley. Featured readers are Rafael Jesús González, Kirk Lumpkim, Robert Pesick and Joyce Young. Open mic follows. Poems need to be on the theme of peace.
Friday, Aug. 24 at 8 p.m., “Mama Juggs” and “The Men in Me,” two plays for one price, will be presented at the Fellowship of Humanity Hall, 390 27th St., Oakland. Call (919) 914-0104 or visit www.humanisthall.net. Tickets are $20-$50. For ticket purchases, go to BrownPaperTickets.com or call the Ticket Hotline, (800) 838-3006.
La Peña Cultural Center presents “Mrs. Pat’s House,” written and performed by Jovelyn Richards, Friday-Sunday, Aug. 10-12. Tickets are $12 in advance, $15 at the door. All shows are at 8 p.m. at La Peña Cultural Center, 3105 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley, (510) 849-2568 and www.lapena.org
Bay View Arts Editor Wanda Sabir can be reached at email@example.com. 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.