by Wanda Sabir
Sunday, March 10, 2013, marked the 100th anniversary of General Harriet Tubman’s passing. That day, my email box received quite a few emails about Walking for Harriet, http://lockerroom.girltrek.org/. This 100th anniversary coincides with the establishment of the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument as the 399th unit of the National Park System – to open in 2015. The new national monument is located on Maryland’s Eastern Shore and includes large sections of landscapes that are significant to Tubman’s early life in Dorchester County and evocative of her life as an enslaved person and conductor of the Underground Railroad.
These include Stewart’s Canal, dug by hand by free and enslaved people, including Tubman, between 1810 and the 1830s. Stewart’s Canal is part of the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge and, although part of the new national monument, will continue to be managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The new monument also includes the home site of Jacob Jackson, a free Black man who used coded letters to help Tubman communicate with family and others. The Jacob Jackson Home Site was donated to the National Park Service by The Conservation Fund for inclusion in the new national monument. Visit www.nps.gov/hatu.
I am reading a really fascinating book called “Harriet Tubman, Secret Agent: How Daring Slaves and Free Blacks Spied for the Union during the Civil War” by Thomas B. Allen (2006, National Geographic). In this book, beautifully illustrated, we learn of how Black people risked their freedom and lives to convey information from the Confederacy to Union officers.
Invisible and thought to lack intelligence, these Black men and women gathered important security information. John Brown is one of the cast, as well as Frederick Douglass. What is surprising are the women who singlehandedly right under the enemy’s nose passed top secret documents to comrades. This is just one of the many books one can purchase from Ashay by the Bay. I bought this on Umoja last year.
I attended the reception for the “Transformative Visions” exhibition at Studio One, 365 45th St. in Oakland Saturday, March 16. The exhibit will be up through April 5. It had been a heavy weekend and, while not light, the music and visual medicine helped to lift my soul a bit higher. I’d been to the plantation just a day earlier and didn’t possess the kind of currency that freed the bodies of those held behind bars. Spirits lighter? Perhaps, but this was of limited consolation when I thought about all the women left behind in California’s Central Valley, Chowchilla, when after eight hours the Sista-to-Sista team left.
When I arrived I saw people literally hanging onto the words of those in the concert hall performance. I eased into the building and took advantage of the empty halls and looked at the art before me, first downstairs where I saw the work of artists I knew and just met and then on to the upstairs galleries where more art, including my daughter’s and mine, hung.
This was a feast for a soul starving in that moment for salvation and she found it. I think I stood in rapture, listening to analysis, hearing praise, learning new things about my work – a part of what I call, “African Window Panes,” the two pieces – one photo taken in Touba City, Senegal, the other in Timbuktu, Mali.
I heard hypotheses about how I took the photo. Most thought it was photoshopped. I was impressed. “Inner chambers of the heart” was one comment. I probably should have jotted the comments down. Cheikh Amadou Bamba floats ethereally in one of the pieces. The pilgrimage happens around now. The film “I Bring What I Love” (2008), directed by Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, is about this pilgrimage and the Mouried Brotherhood.
This was a feast for a soul starving in that moment for salvation and she found it.
It always makes me feel great connecting with artists; we are a different breed. And then there was the music: Destiny Muhammad Project with Tammy Hall, wonderful woman, and EW Wainwright, whom I’d wanted to see with my own eyes, was great. Frederick Harris was on piano with the excellent bassist, Gary Brown, Destiny on the harp, of course. I hadn’t planned to stay, just to pop in and then I saw EW and Karen Seneferu and Portia Anderson and Marcus Penn, Dafina Kuficha and Rev. Liza, Ms. Transformative Visions, and I had to sit down and listen.
It was so lovely and soul satisfying.
I left as the building was closing and folks were stacking chairs. David Glover, storyteller, and I headed for Palo Alto to Sofia University for the Ritual for the Waters of the World. It was a really safe space with the creative goddess present with us in her many representatives.
“Come on board and ride the waves to honor the oceans, rivers and streams. Come, dive deep as we explore consciousness, body, emotions and dreams.” Yeye Luisah Teish was out in the water, waist deep. We were all quickly submerged and didn’t come up for air until the program ended.
Our first meditation took us deep into the sea, that part of the ocean beyond light, beyond sound, beyond thought. I saw a film about people who dive so deep into the water that they literally forget to breathe, their minds so full of moments too full to realize the danger. I wanted to go there in a shallow way. So I took a breath and swept the water swirling around my feet into my hands and passed them over my head baptizing myself over and over again.
Yeye kept telling us to stay moist, fertile, to stay open to new paths and ways that return and meet and fill each other before moving. We were blessed with the presence of healers and leaders who normally do not come out like Iya Nedra Williams, Olokun priestess, who evoked the orisha who lives in the deepest parts of the waters. Mambo Susheel Bibbs, Damballah initiate known for her Mary Ellen Pleasant solo performances, opened the way with fire early on in the ceremony. Leilani Bireley, Daughters of the Goddess, led us in a wonderful Hawaiian Hula.
Arisika Razak, goddess dancer, danced to the rain, and the wonderful Ancestral Voices Choir directed by Shy Hamilton got everyone on their feet spontaneously. Then there was Iya Uzuri Amini, who called on Oshun as she had us pledge to take care of the children. It was good to see her again. She repeated her message shared Dec. 19, 2012, at the New Beginning Ritual Theatre Ceremony at JFK University in Berkeley.
Our first meditation took us deep into the sea, that part of the ocean beyond light, beyond sound, beyond thought.
Ile Orunmila Oshun members had it going on, literally. At times folks just jumped into the water and started swimming across the room until the space grew thick with bodies co-mingling. Though the women certainly outnumbered the men, as we usually do, there was certainly a male presence with Vance Williams, Ifa priest and vocalist, Kaleo and Elise Ching, masks-artists, Tai Chi, Chi Gung, Bruce Silverman and the Orpheus World Music Ensemble and Hodari Toure, technician, community activist.
Life is sacred and all life comes from water – sweet water, the kind of flavor that whets the lips of creativity and inspiration even when exhales are trapped inside walls and other confined spaces. We hold these moments until we can freely express them. We hold them open for our sisters who cannot find capacity for the fullness that is within. The glass is never empty as long as one woman, one girl is trapped, bound, caged, compromised by nets with hooks too sharp to escape.
We thought about blowing up the prison – yes, it is easy to go there when one can only visit the plantation, not shut it down. We realized, however, that we had to work smarter than the enemy so our eventual liberation was one that would be eternal rather than fleeting.
Spirit Silence Retreat, facilitated by Dr. Liza Rankow and the OneLife team, featuring Destiny Muhammad, Harpist from the Hood, is Saturday, April 27, 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Replenish your soul in the gentle power of intentional silence. Open to inner wisdom through a guided visioning process. Walk the meditation labyrinth. Share in sacred community. Savor the healing properties of sound and music. Enjoy a Healing Oasis at Holy Redeemer Center, 8945 Golf Links Rd., Oakland, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. – 9:30 a.m. arrival and registration.
Tuition is sliding scale, $35-$100. Scholarships are available, and no one will ever be turned away for lack of funds. RSVP is requested for planning purposes. Bring your journal, a potluck item for our shared lunch – we will supply some vegetarian basics – a water bottle, and anything you need to be comfortable for the day. For more information or to register, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or (510) 595-5598.
‘The Dream Never Dies’
The Season of Peace concludes with a benefit for the East Bay Meditation Center, “The Dream Never Dies,” a conversation on “Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Beloved Community and Where We Go from Here” with Alice Walker, Jack Kornfield and Michael Bernard Beckwith, moderated by Konda Mason, this Thursday, April 4, 7 p.m., at Zellerbach Auditorium on the University of California, Berkeley Campus. There will be musical performances by Rickie Byars Beckwith and Raz Kennedy. Buy tickets online at http://tinyurl.com/av6pbk4.
Dr. Nathan Hare turns 80
On April 9, Dr. Nathan Hare, the father of Black Studies in America, will celebrate his 80th year on the planet. The Bay Area will celebrate with the esteemed sociologist and clinical psychologist on Saturday, April 13, 3-5 p.m. The tentative location is Geoffery’s Club, 14th and Franklin, downtown Oakland. For more information, call (510) 200-4164. Dr. Hare and the audience will be treated to a piano concert by his wife of 57 years, Dr. Julia Hare. Marvin X, a longtime associate of Dr. Hare, will read from his writings. Tarika Lewis, Destiny Muhammad and Tacuma King are invited to perform with Marvin X.
Queen Rhodessa resurrects SHE
I’d been looking forward to seeing Queen Rhodessa Jones in “The Resurrection of SHE” up at Brava Theatre in San Francisco through April 7, since we’d had a great chat a few weeks, maybe a month ago on Wanda’s Picks. I was not disappointed. I made my entrance on Good Friday, but then every Friday is good when Ms. Jones is in the house. “SHE” defies description. It’s a party, an encounter session without the couch – with original music, lyrics by Rhodessa Jones.
We travel in time with Jones, who introduces us to the men in her life, which is an aspect of her story we do not know – well, I didn’t. Rhodessa or SHE is the first public person I know who has lifted the matrilineal line each time she brings her women, the Medea Project, together, so for her to call on the names of the patrilineal line starting with dad, Augustus Jones, was a change. She even later in the show asked us to call the names of the good men we know – right, it gives one pause. How often do you hear that?
I hadn’t realized that Rhodessa came from a family of eight, her dad a romantic who liked to see the world by rail. On one excursion he saw her mother walk by the car he was in and said to his companion, I am going to marry those legs, and he did. Rhodessa says her parents were married for 45 years.
They visit SHE on stage. The stories – those of strife and making do, like the one where Rhodessa’s uncle is told to leave town or face a lynching mob. The consequences of his absence means his family is re-enslaved, and it is 30 years before he returns home. SHE is Jones’ take on the whole Girl Scout campfire scene without the marshmallows and chocolate, but there is plenty of fire.
I’d been racing against the clock to Brava, to see “SHE”; with only 30 minute to cross the Bay Bridge I knew I was going to have to ask someone what I missed, but I made it in record time without speeding. I don’t speed, that is, in a car – my mind sometimes speeds though. I have to catch my thoughts before they escape. No, seriously. I was so happy to arrive before 8 p.m. By the time I made it down to my great seat, I almost fell into Destiny and Cristwell Muhammad’s laps – almost. I caught myself. Later Cristwell is invited to dance with Rhodessa, his chuckle lightening the moment of conception (Rhodessa’s and the character she was telling us about).
Vaseline is not an effective contraceptive, the teenage Jones finds out.
SHE enters the theatre ceremoniously, carried on the shoulders of Idris Ackamoor and David Molina, who provide a lovely landscape. SHE is as rich audibly as she is visually. In retrospect I think we should have stood as she entered, as in “All Hail,” right? I am glad I had on ritual colors. Laid to rest behind a curtain, in a lush visually rich landscape, the world was created and destroyed. Created and destroyed. Lots of fire.
Dressed in white, Rhodessa carries us along as SHE populates the New World, increases its wealth and then forgets her value. Ships and stolen lives populate this new place. SHE is a girl who tells us of ships and rapes, horror and resistance. SHE survives these and other atrocities. “The Resurrection” is both myth and fable, a bit of fairytale too.
In the second half of SHE, Queen Rhodessa has the house lights up as she joins us in the audience. We get to feel how theatre transforms lives, whether that is in the women’s prison in Johannesburg, a theatre in San Francisco, or San Bruno jail. SHE is too often locked up, keys tossed in rivers. The task Rhodessa has undertaken with the Medea Project, “SHE” and other incarnations is to peel away the layers of self-doubt, disbelief, fear, shame, hate – the barriers donned that keep SHE beyond reach, the reach of SHE.
Some of the places Jones goes, the stories SHE lives to tell are quite harrowing. Yet from the opening ceremony – SHE lying in state carried from a place past to a place present – we know SHE will win. I remember one Medea season, the play ended with the women picking up shoes, using their fists, whatever they could get their hands on to fight the demons that haunted them, many three dimensional.
Attitude is everything and one thing one learns in SHE is one has to fake it until it becomes real.
The task Rhodessa has undertaken with the Medea Project, “SHE” and other incarnations is to peel away the layers of self-doubt, disbelief, fear, shame, hate – the barriers donned that keep SHE beyond reach, the reach of SHE.
Jones illustrates SHE. We see the young mother, the lithe woman dancing nude, the matron who has still got it despite the “hot flashes” – remember that play? Billboards and programs from past shows span the breadth of SHE with co-collaborator, Idris Ackamoor, Cultural Odyssey, founder and director of “SHE.” At a certain point the clock stops ticking – SHE all that matters, SHE the molecular link to what’s past is present.
“We are we,” Jones says. Peter Callender says it too. “We is we.” Yet in this fuzzy warm axiom, Jones keeps it real and asks specifically, “Who has your back? Who can you call when you need help?” The point is, none of us is alone or should be alone. Build your army; know where your allies are. You might need to call on them.
SHE survives the Atlantic journey. Rhodessa as SHE survives Japan with a crazy boyfriend who tries to kill her, but Daddy comes to the rescue with an ax – Egun. Spirit is real and life is bigger than anything we can count, longer than a slide rule and bigger than any container. It is in these moments that Jones says theatre saved her life and we are glad because SHE has saved so many of ours.
“The Resurrection of SHE” is Ms. Jones at her most fabulous. She (Jones) says she is writing her memoirs. “Resurrection” is a preview. Don’t miss it. It is up Thursday-Sunday, April 4-7. Brava Theatre Center is located at 2781 24th St., San Francisco, (415) 641-7657, www.brava.org.
Resurrection Day found me looking for a clear space in the sky so that I could cycle down to the beach for a moment with the ancestors. Because I spend a lot of my life behind doors, under roofs away from direct sunlight, the appeal of indoor activities when I am away from work lessens as I get older. I’d rather ride my bike or climb something hard – hum, I mean something made of granite or fossilized matter, than sit idle while others entertain me.
The ancestors were calling me Sunday, March 31, Cesar Chavez’s birthday, and we found a spot of sky and rode 10 miles before the rain came tumbling from the skies. I was on the porch when the drizzle began.
The weekend was full of surprises like the double rainbow arched over the Ferry Building in San Francisco – it was a perfect arch. As TaSin and I made our trek toward the Bay Bridge on Embarcadero, the light show on the bridge span began as well – waves of lights and clouds moved between the sections. It was really lovely. We’d had dinner at Elephant Sushi, Tamir and Nisa’s restaurant in San Francisco on Hyde Street in Russian Hill. My hair was wet, and I was not dressed for rain – it was sunny when we left the East Bay headed for our floatation appointment.
What’s floatation? It is a chamber where the subject experiences both sensory deprivation and isolation as she floats in a solution of salt. It was pretty cool after I got used to it. First I was afraid to lie down and then I grabbed onto a pipe I noticed before the door was shut and as I held on I was able to lie on my back and feel the sensation of weightlessness. I thought about my African ancestors and the darkness they must have experienced on the ships carrying them away from home. When I stretched my arms out to my sides, I imagined flying away like Africans fed up with the brutality must have done. In another chamber, TaSin wasn’t doing as well as me, so she left early.
I’d just assumed I’d spend the 60 minutes exploring options until my time was up, so I went from thinking I might have to sit up for the entire hour to wanting to stay a bit longer once the time was up. The next day, the pain I often have in my shoulders was absent, so perhaps I did relax and let go of the tension I often hold in certain parts of my body.
This is where my hair got wet and after I washed it, there was no sun in the sky with rays aimed at drying my locs. Luckily, Elephant Sushi has heat and Nisa turned it on me.
We were racing back to the East Bay for the Fatoumata Diawara-Oliver Mutakutzu double bill. What a fantastic show the two of them put on. The two artists are back in the Bay Area this summer in June.
Pharoah Sanders is in town this weekend in San Francisco, Thursday-Saturday, while Stanley Clarke is in Oakland on overlapping dates. It doesn’t get any better, does it? Now add to that the 11th Annual Human Rights Film Festival at the University of San Francisco (USF), Thursday-Saturday, April 4-6, in Presentation Theater, 2350 Turk Boulevard (at Masonic), FREE and open to the public, http://www.usfca.edu/artsci/hrff/.
The 11th Annual Oakland International Film Festival is Thursday through Sunday, April 4-7, from Oakland to Berkeley to San Leandro, often in the same day: http://www.oaklandinternationalfilmfestival.com/film-schedule/. also April 4-7. One can only hope these films have theatrical releases. Oh, the Alvin Ailey Dance Company will be in Berkeley April 23-28. See http://www.calperfs.berkeley.edu/. The 56th Annual San Francisco International Film Festival is April 25-May 9, http://www.sffs.org.
Masjidul Waritheen presents its First Annual Halal Food Festival, celebrating healthy lifestyles by showcasing halal cuisine, Saturday, April 6, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., at 1652 47th Ave., Oakland. There will be children’s activities, health screenings, family fun, art and music. For information call (510) 992-3540 or email email@example.com. Third Saturdays 7-9:30 p.m. at Bacheesos Live Arabic Music presents beloved Egyptian classics, April 20, May 18 and June 15, featuring Sarah Michael, Qanun, Mary Ellen Donald and Terry Holgate, percussion with dancers Stasha and Brynn Mercedes, 246 Grand Ave., in Oakland, (510) 891-1496.
Lula Washington Dance Theatre presents “The Little Rock Nine” Tuesday, April 9, at The Gallo Center for the Arts, 1000 I St., downtown Modesto, (209) 338-2100 or www.galloarts.org. Tickets start at $10. This story of the nine African American children who risked their lives by enrolling in an all-white, segregated school and whose courage changed America is a legacy Ms. Washington knows well, as she was born near Little Rock in 1950.
Duniya Dance and Drum Company and the African Advocacy Network present “The Madness of the Elephant,” a West African dance and music theatre performance exploring the reign of Guinea’s controversial first president and benefactor of traditional arts, Sekou Toure, nicknamed “The Elephant,” with performances Friday-Saturday, April 5-6, 8 p.m., at Kanbar Hall at the Jewish Community Center, 3200 California St. at Presidio in San Francisco. For tickets, visit www.jccsf.org/arts or call (415) 292-1233. Tickets are $15-$30.
UniverSoul Circus is back! The 2013 Mash It Up Tour will be at 633 Hegenberger Road, near the Oakland Coliseum, April 4-14. Visit universoulcircus.com. For group discounts, call (888) 605-9997.
‘Journey of the Shadow’ opera
The world premiere of the opera “Journey of the Shadow,” based on an Andean folk tale, tells the story of a boy who writes a letter to his father, a soldier in Afghanistan. At the heart of the story is the boy’s shadow which slips into the envelope and gets into trouble at a distant post office. History and politics and innocence of children affect this story set against the backdrop of war. “Shadow” features music by San Francisco Chamber Orchestra Composer in Residence Dr. Gabriela Lena Frank, with text by Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Nilo Cruz. Monday, April 8, 7 p.m., in Knuth Hall, Creative Arts Building at San Francisco State University, is a reading workshop with the composer. Gabi will talk about her new work and discuss its nuances with the SF Chamber Orchestra. Maestro Benjamin Simon and SFCO musicians will bring Gabi’s notes to life for the first time, while Gabi reads Nilo Cruz’ story as a narrator. Visit www.sfchamberorchestra.org.
The 9th Annual CubaCaribe Festival of Dance Music: Tributes to our Teachers
Enjoy three weeks of performances by master artists from the Caribbean Diaspora. Featuring special guests, Afro-Cuban modern dance company, Teatro de la Danza del Caribe from Cuba, is appearing in the U.S. for the first time, April 12-28, at various locations in San Francisco and Oakland: Week 1 at Dance Mission Theater, 3316 24th St., San Francisco; Week 2 at the YBCA Forum, 701 Mission St., San Francisco; and Week 3 at Laney College Theater, 900 Fallon St., Oakland. There are also special lectures and classes. Visit www.cubacaribe.org for all the details. Tickets, $10-$35, are available at www.brownpapertickets.com and the door.
Theatre: ‘The Whipping Man’
Imagine it’s the end of the Civil War, 1864. The Southland is trashed, the wounded owner’s son, Caleb (Nicholas Pelczar), a captain in the Confederate Army, returns home to find the elder, formerly enslaved Simon (L. Peter Callender) tending the home, waiting for his master’s return. The two men are joined by John (Tobie Windham). It is the season to remember the Jewry’s liberation from slavery with the Seder meal to mark Passover, which is actually April 3 this year. The irony of the situation is not lost on the three Jewish characters either, especially John, who is young, smart and inquisitive.
John reads a lot and loves books, even though if caught that meant a visit to the whipping man, an ordeal one does not want to experience, let alone witness. The scars to John’s body remain long after the physical wounds heal. And so the play meanders along, each man holding his council and with the silence secrets spill out like a sieve in a conclusion one doesn’t expect, even if one can imagine.
It is interesting thinking about enslaved Jews, but then enslaved Christians are an anomaly as well philosophically when one thinks about why a free man would carry anything from the old world into the new, but Simon thought he knew his former owner. The duplicity of the men who dare own another man, what that does to their souls is evident in “Whipping Man.” We never see the owner, yet his spirit hangs like a shroud over any happiness the three, especially John or Caleb, can hope to expect.
I interviewed Tobie on my radio show a few weeks ago about the role and the run in West Virginia historically not far from where the play is set. We also talk about “Django,” the film. I read the play, but haven’t seen it at this writing. Tobie’s interview closes the show: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/wandas-picks/2013/03/27/wandas-picks-radio-show. “The Whipping Man” by Matthew Lopez is at Marin Theatre Company through April 21. Visit http://marintheatre.org/.
“Mental,” directed by P.J. Hogan, Australian director known for “Muriel’s Wedding” and “My Best Friend’s Wedding” and “Confessions of a Shopaholic,” looks at sanity and how those within the asylum are often more sane than their keepers. This is not a new premise – “One Flew over a Cuckoo’s Nest” is a classic in such genre. What makes this story about white suburbia worth a second glance is how Shaz (actress Toni Collette) puts it all in perspective. Well known both in and outside the mental hospital, the new nanny treats her charges to a romp through Australian history founded as not just a penal colony, but one where the mentally ill were also dumped.
The Aussies come by their craziness naturally, the girls soon learn, as they climb a mountain one night with Shaz. The five girls’ father looks a lot like George W. Bush and the mother (actress Rebecca Gibney), who loses herself in the fantasy of the Family Von Trapp in “The Sound of Music,” teaches us that sometimes a musical fantasy is just what the doctor ordered, that and Prozac. “Mental” is about political corruption, philandering, loss and reclaimed identities. There is also an element of payback plus lots of suspense and laughs here as well. It opened March 29 at Sundance Kabuki in San Francisco.
Bay View Arts Editor Wanda Sabir can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit her website at http://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.