Happy and Blessed Winter Solstice, Kwanzaa and New Year Everyone!
This season we have lost two pillars of our San Francisco Bay Area community, Samuel Fredericks and Upesi Mtambuzi. Our condolences to their families. Cedar Walton, pianist, also made his transition this year, along with Donald Duck Bailey, drummer, both men beautiful human beings. Duck was honored as a National Treasure last year at Oakland Public Conservatory. Upesi, Samuel, Cedar and Donald all brightened our world. Their unique hues and shapes and sounds will be missed … that last live jam.
Edward Samuel Fredericks
I remember visiting Samuel’s Gallery in Jack London Village with my class from Maybeck High School 16 years ago. They had never visited a gallery before that specialized in Black art, and Brother Samuel gave the kids a tour and talked to them about the artists represented in the gallery. For so long, his was the only such venue in the San Francisco Bay Area, a place where one could buy Black art at an affordable price without sacrificing value. His events, which were held in the larger salon located on the first level of the Village, just below, were star studded occasions that were filled with laughter as older established artists mingled with the curious and connoisseurs.
From a family of Garveyites, he and I spoke often of the book he wanted to write. I hope he wrote it (smile). His children attended private schools in Berkeley, college prep, and were quite accomplished. His more famous brother, Taj Mahal, loved him dearly. I’d hoped one day to get the two in conversation, but my attempts to make that happen did not meet with success. I hope someone has such a document.
When his gallery closed on Third Street after a 25-year sojourn in the area and moved to his home in West Oakland, a private gallery available by appointment only, I lost contact with him and only saw him infrequently when he’d be at the gigs his wife, Robin Gregory, held at the 57th Street Gallery in Oakland. The last time I saw him was at a concert there. He looked well. Cancer is a hard taskmaster. His family invites us to make donations, in the name of Edward Samuel Fredericks, to the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation. A community memorial service is being planned.
When I saw the announcement in my in-box that Upesi Mtambuzi’s homegoing was to be held at Heart and Soul, Thursday, Nov. 14, I knew I was hallucinating and immediately replied. A longer explanation followed with what I learned was not a mistake. So many people I know are dying. In a foreseeable future, the world will look significantly different as I look around and see empty space where friends were occupants.
The last time I saw Upesi, we were both at the airport in Addis Ababa headed for Tanzania. She was flying to Dar and then on to Bwejuu to meet her husband and I was headed for Mt. Kilimanjaro to see the O’Neals, Pete and Charlotte, at UAACC (United African Alliance Community Center). Until you have been out of the country surrounded by the sounds of a mother tongue you cannot translate (and people who remind you of other people you cannot readily call to mind) then look up and see someone from home, and not just any someone, but someone you know well – in fact I was going to be staying at her guest house later that summer – the joy I experienced in that moment might elude you.
For me it was indescribable seeing a homegirl in Africa, at the airport, someone who spoke my language, literally – not English, something deeper. It was comforting to see her after being present yet absent, seen yet for the most part invisible for the past two weeks as I traversed Ethiopia, just that morning getting dropped off at the wrong terminal after clearly stating where I was going to the taxi driver.
It was crazy that morning. Ethiopia had just won the world cup and teams from other places in Africa were returning home. I saw them in their home colors as I moved through security checks. Then got wrong information about where my flight was departing. The only saving grace was looking up and seeing Upesi’s smiling face when I called out her name. We went and sat at her gate for a bit. I told her about Addis and Lalibela and gave her greetings from the tour guide she’d recommended and the hotel owner who gave me her price. I told her about my trek to Gondor and Bahir Dar. She showed me photos of her heaven on earth, Bwejuu – the cows walking on the beach at dawn, which I saw with my own eyes about a month later.
I had her place to myself. It was Ramadan and the sister who ran the place was fasting. I wasn’t, so she set me up with some viands. I’d picked up fruit before I’d arrived. I’d learned to stop at the market whenever I was going to a new place to stay just in case I couldn’t eat what my host had prepared. So I arrived with bananas and mangos and papayas. Upesi’s place was really clean, no ant infestation, which was a welcome change, as the place I’d stayed at before was full of bugs – something I did not like too much.
Before I’d left for East Africa, Upesi had sent me a list of places and people to visit, a detailed list which included where I might get my hair done or relax to a foot massage (smile). She’d made lots of friends, so the list was exhaustive. I didn’t have a lot of guidance for Addis, so my stay there was not optimum, but it wasn’t bad either as I stumbled into good people.
It’s like that when I travel. I meet people who become ambassadors for their countries, without official titles, just as Upesi was certainly an ambassador for Bwejuu and East Africa. She was the consummate travel agent, friendly, knowledgeable and with a sense for what brings happiness – simplicity and beauty and peace, which is what her oasis represented to me when, tired after multiple stops in my sojourn, I took a few days of respite to relax and recuperate before heading off for the next leg of my journey, Pemba and Dar es Salaam and Harare. I will miss her smile.
Film ‘Sweet Dreams’
Berkeley co-director Lisa Fruchman’s film “Sweet Dreams” opens Dec. 6, 2013 in Bay Area theatres. What is special about this film from Rwanda is the story it tells of Ingoma Nshya, Rwanda’s first and only an all-women drum troupe who become business owners of an ice cream shop – pretty remarkable, right? In a film which features the stories of women from various sides of the 1994 conflict and genocide, their use of art to heal the pain suffered during the massacre and the way, under the visionary leadership of one woman, Kiki Katese, and her invitation to Jennie Dundas and Alexis Miesen of Brooklyn’s Blue Marble Ice Cream to come to East Africa and teach her women how to make this sweet desert no one had ever tasted before.
And so they did and this is the story of that adventure, but more importantly, it is a story of triumph over sorrow. It is a story that continues and opening weekend there will be performances of Ingoma Nshya at selected theatres: Friday, Dec. 6, 7 p.m., at Opera Plaza in San Francisco, plus Q&A with filmmakers Alexis Miesen of Blue Marble Ice Cream and Kiki Katese, founder of Ingoma Nshya Drum Troupe; Saturday, Dec. 7, 1:30, in San Francisco at the Clay Theatre followed by a Q&A and special appearance of the Ingoma Nshya drummers; Saturday, Dec. 7, 7 p.m., at the Shattuck Cinema in Berkeley, Q&A and special appearance of the Ingoma Nshya drummers; Sunday, Dec. 8, 7 p.m., presented by the Grateful Dead’s Mickey Hart, Q&A and special appearance of the Ingoma Nshya drummers.
Visit http://sweetdreamsrwanda.com/info/screenings/ Listen to an interview with her Wednesday, Dec. 4, on Wanda’s Picks Radio show, 6-7 a.m. PT, at www.blogtalkradio.com/wandaspicks or (347) 237-4610.
East meets West
Diamano Coura, in collaboration with the Zimbabwean Chinyakare Dance Ensemble, presents East (Africa) meets West (Africa) Nov. 30-Dec. 1 at the Malonga Center for the Arts Theater, 1428 Alice St., Oakland. The event features astonishing performances representing the dynamism, vibrancy and diversity of Africa. Audiences will hear the beautiful sounds of the marimba, kora, balaphon and the many drums, including those that represent the sounds of the forest. A special Lunch and Market Place will open at 1 p.m. For more information, call (510) 508-3444 or visit http://www.diamanocoura.org/upcoming-events.html.
Gallery 1508 arts and crafts show and sale
Enjoy this opportunity to purchase gifts for the holiday season and spend time with four of Bay Area’s arts and crafts icons, Dec. 6-7 at Gallery 1508, 1508 8th St. in Oakland. There will be ceramics and jewelry by Nzinga Pace, paintings by Ben Branley, photographic art by Asual Aswad, and paintings and drawings by Jimi Evins. Friday hours are 6-10 p.m. and Saturday, 12-5 p.m. For information, call (510) 285-6497 or visit https://www.facebook.com/gallery1508.
Joyce Gordon Gallery
The Second Annual Holiday Art Salon Exhibit at Joyce Gordon Gallery opening reception is Friday, Dec. 6, 6-9 p.m. There will be a wide selection of unique art and gifts from over 20 local and national artists. JGG is located at 406 14th St., Oakland. For information, call (510) 465-8928 or visit www.joycegordongallery.com.
‘Let Us Break Bread Together’ with the Oakland East Bay Symphony
Celebrating holiday musical traditions in the most festive and non-traditional way has been a year-end hallmark of the 25-year-old Oakland East Bay Symphony and Music Director Michael Morgan since 1992, and this year’s edition of “Let Us Break Bread Together” promises seasonal sizzle Sunday, Dec. 15, at 4 p.m. at the Paramount Theatre, 2025 Broadway in Oakland. Joining Morgan and the Oakland East Bay Symphony will be Oakland Symphony Chorus, Mt. Eden High School Choir, Kugelplex, Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir, Linda Tillery’s Cultural Heritage Choir and Crystal Children’s Choir in a program that celebrates and festively fuses multiple holiday traditions, including the world premiere of new Gospel settings of Christmas favorites and, of course, plenty of opportunities for audience sing-alongs. Tickets are $20-$75. To order tickets and for complete information about Oakland East Bay Symphony, visit www.oebs.org.
Other holiday fare
Pacific Mozart performs under the direction of Lynn Morrow, Dec. 13-14, 7:30 p.m., at the First Unitarian Universalist Church, 1187 Franklin St., San Francisco. Visit www.pacificMozart.org.
San Francisco Symphony
On Friday, Dec. 6, and Saturday, Dec. 7, the San Francisco Symphony presents the legendary Hollywood musical, “Singin’ in the Rain,” starring Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds and Donald O’Connor. The San Francisco Symphony Orchestra accompanies the film live and brings the classic score to life in performances conducted by Sarah Hicks. Tickets to the San Francisco Symphony’s presentation of “Singin’ in the Rain” range in price from $25-$80 each, available at sfsymphony.org, by phone at (415) 864-6000, and at the Davies Symphony Hall Box Office, on Grove Street between Van Ness Avenue and Franklin Street in San Francisco.
San Francisco Symphony Holiday Season Concerts
San Francisco Symphony Holiday Season Concerts include the “Preservation Hall Jazz Band: A Creole Christmas,” Sunday, Dec. 15, at 8 p.m. at Davies Symphony Hall; “Diane Reeves with the San Francisco Symphony,” Wednesday, Dec. 11, at 7:30 p.m. at Davies Symphony Hall; “Peter and the Wolf,” with special guest narrator actor John Lithgow in his San Francisco Symphony debut Saturday, Dec. 14, at 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. at Davies Symphony Hall; “The Colors of Christmas,” with host Peabo Bryson, with CeCe Winans, Melissa Manchester, Ruben Studdard with the San Francisco Symphony and the First AME Oakland Mass Choir, Monday through Wednesday, Dec. 16-18, at 8 p.m. at Davies Symphony Hall and many more. Tickets are on sale now at www.sfsymphony.org, by phone and at the box office.
Nicole Claymoon’s Embodiment Project presents “House of Matter,” Thursday-Sunday, Dec. 13 -15, at 8 p.m. at ODC Theater, 3153 17th St. in San Francisco. Tickets are $18-$38. Visit http://www.odcdance.org/events.php or www.embodimentproject.org. The Embodiment Project’s latest multi-media street dance drama features original live music by Valerie Troutt and her nine-piece band, MoonCandy.
‘Cinderella’ at African American Shakespeare Company
San Francisco’s African-American Shakespeare Company presents an enchanting production of this timeless tale, brought to whimsical, magical life in time for the holiday season, featuring all the pageantry, hilarity and charm of the original, but with a soulful twist. This heartwarming story finds Cinderella, a young, beautiful dreamer, toiling away as a lowly scullery maid for her evil stepmother and (oddly masculine) stepsisters. With a little bit of magic, Cinderella finds her Prince Charming and learns that anything is possible, even miracles.
“Cinderella” is directed by African-American Shakespeare Company Artistic Director L. Peter Callender, with original music and lyrics by Angel Burgess, Robert Michael and Taylor Peckham. Opening Saturday, Dec. 7, at 3 p.m., the play runs Dec. 7, 14 and 21 at 8 p.m. and Dec. 7, 8, 15, 21 and 22 at 3 p.m. Tickets $12.50- $37.50, $25-$50 for opening day. Performances are in the Buriel Clay Theater at the African American Art and Culture Complex, 762 Fulton St. at Webster, San Francisco. Call (800) 838-3006 or visit www.African-AmericanShakes.org.
Brothers Code: Technological Literacy for Teens
A free workshop called Brothers Code will be held Saturday, Dec. 14, at Laney College Technology Center, 900 Fallon St., in Oakland, across the street from Lake Merritt BART. Workshop times are 10 a.m.-12 noon for middle school students and 1-3 p.m. for high school students. The workshop will introduce young Black men to computer technology and coding. Register at http://www.eventbrite.com/e/brothers-code-tickets-8899712279?utm_campaign=BROTHERSCODE&utm_medium=email&utm_source=Kapor.
The Playwrights Foundation’s 2013 Winter Rough Readings Series concludes with readings of Rob Melrose’s adaptation, “OZMA of OZ,” are Monday, Dec. 2, 7:30 p.m., at Roble Hall, Stanford University, and Tuesday, Dec. 3, 7 p.m., at The Thick House, 1695 18th St., San Francisco. Readings are free of charge. A $20 donation in advance comes with a reserved seat and a drink! To RSVP, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (415) 626-2176.
One-Minute Play Festival
The Fourth Annual San Francisco One-Minute Play Festival will take place for three performances only, on Saturday, Dec. 14, 8 p.m., and Sunday, Dec. 15, 3 and 8 p.m., at The Thick House, 1695 18th St. on Potrero Hill in San Francisco. Space is extremely limited. General admission is $18 online and $25 at the door. VIP tickets for $36 include the best seats and drinks in the house. Tickets are available at http://www.playwrightsfoundation.org/.
Kenya’s Golden Jubilee – 50th anniversary celebration
Saturday, Dec. 7, 5 p.m. to 12 midnight, Kenyans will celebrate their independence at Rancho Cordova City Hall, Prospect Park Drive, Rancho Cordova (north of Sacramento). Special guests include the Honorable Julius Ndegwa, M.P. Lamu and Peggy Mativo. PACE Kenya will give the keynote address. Meet Kenyan runners Japhet Koech and Shadrack Cheyego and enjoy live entertainment, a fashion show and more. Tickets are available at the door are $10 for adults and $5 for children. For more information, call (916) 995-9808 or visit http://ushirika.net/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=48&Itemid=56.
There will also be a free basketball event and all are welcome to play and/or watch. Registration will be at 12 noon, and the competition will begin at 1 pm. Call Ian at (916) 239-9599 for details.
Tanzania’s 52nd Independence Day
This year’s guest of honor for Tanzania’s independence celebration will be the retired president of Tanzania, His Excellency Ali Hassan Mwinyi. The evening will include dinner, cultural performances, fashion, dance and more. Tickets for this event are selling fast. They will not be sold at the door. The event is Saturday, Dec. 7, 6 p.m. to 1 a.m., at the California Ballroom, 1736 Franklin St. in Oakland. Tickets are $50, advance purchase only. For more informationa or tickets, call (510) 334-9598 or (510) 325-5959 or visit http://www.uzalendo.org/activities.htm.
SHN Golden Gate Theatre presents the American Repertory Theatre’s production of ‘The Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess’ through Dec. 8
Porgy and Bess opened Nov. 13, 2013 at the Golden Gate Theatre in San Francisco with an impressive creative team both on and off the stage – the cast on tour now after a stunning New York run on Broadway performs in what is certainly a smaller, tighter rendition of the George and Ira Gershwin-DuBose and Dorothy Heywood American folk opera classic set in a rural southern fishing town, Catfish Row. At its center is a love story between Bess and Porgy, a tramp and a cripple (smile). Despite my reductionist terms, the work is of course about so much more.
I’ve seen the opera many times, more recently at San Francisco Opera and don’t recall feeling quite as sympathetic towards Bess as I do in this version of the work. It could be the fact that Suzan-Lori Parks’s work allows Bess’s interior life to have a more nuanced life than that experienced in the larger work. I don’t recall an opportunity to observe Bess’s internal struggle and how the Catfish Row folk let her drown. Porgy is perfect for Bess, as he is patient and forgiving and knows with time his Bess will unlearn her distrust and attraction to people, ideas and products which are her undoing like angel dust, gambling, alcohol and fine, fast-talking men.
She is just building a new life with Porgy when he is taken from her. No, I am not giving away the story – at least I hope not – but when a community has a weak link, we don’t have to leave it alone to perish. In the wild, perhaps, but Catfish Row isn’t the Serengeti – we saw the weaker sickly animals bringing up the rear of the herd. Mother zebra abandoned her young if he or she couldn’t keep up because of illness.
It seems as if, in the end, Bess was left by the side of the road, so what happens to her is the community’s fault. Her neighbors, more importantly Porgy’s neighbors, didn’t try hard enough to help her develop a stronger constitution, one resistant to evil suggestions.
Alicia Hall Moran’s expressive countenance and voice convey the internal struggle Bess wages and loses then wins again only to lose again and again.
It’s that time of year when such stories become the fare whetting nostalgic appetites for the simple yet full lives of the past, lives seemingly uncomplicated yet rich. iPads, iPhones and other digital extensions of our lives –prostheses which occupy so much of what was flesh and sinew.
Belva Davis and her husband were out along with the Black media and theatre set, like Stephen Anthony Jones, artistic director of Lorraine Hansberry Theatre, and his lovely wife, Brenda Payton. It was cool to see Suzan-Lori Parks, writer and adapter of “Porgy and Bess,” along with composer Diedre L. Murray, the director, Diane Paulus, everyone except Ronald K. Brown, choreographer, Evidence Theatre. His choreography in the second and final act and throughout the work is awesome.
The cast was gifted and talented and Black (smile). Bess and Porgy of course the centerpiece, yet the ensemble and other featured characters like the sweet couple, new parents Clara and Jake, Sportin Life and Crown, whose worldly ways tempt poor Bess, who wants to be good, but has no faith – none in herself and, therefore, none in Porgy.
This Porgy could stand and walk with a cane and a leg brace. He was also more handsome than any Porgy I’d ever seen over the past 20 years. I love the music composed by Gershwin with Heywood, whose story forms the basis of the work adapted for the stage. However, this musical version has the added input of two very special artists, Suzan-Lori Parks, who adapts the book, making the opera more musical theatre, and Diedre L. Murray, a composer known for the jazz idiom, who makes subtle changes to enhance the immediacy of the work.
The story is simple. Bess is a fast girl who drinks and snorts Happy Dust and hangs out with the notorious Crown (Alvin Crawford), who controls Bess even when she wants to do better – again no backbone. I wonder why Porgy doesn’t just let her go. He is in love and, well, Bess says she is too, if Porgy can save her from her demons.
Porgy is a crippled man who begs for a living. He is loved and respected on Catfish Row, where he lives alone, his vices the occasional crap game on Saturday night and an infatuation with Bess. He sticks up for her in her absence. She probably doesn’t even pay him any attention until there is a murder on Catfish Row and she needs to hide.
She finds shelter in Porgy and so she stays. However, Bess is drama on stilettos. She attracts flies like Sporting Life (Kingsley Leggs), who tempts her with drugs and dreams of the highlife elsewhere, and the more Porgy tries to swat them away, the more honey she pours into the mix. Porgy is not blind, just so in love with Bess. Life on Catfish Row, late 1930s in Kittawah Island, Charleston, South Carolina, is never the same again.
There is a beautiful scene with one of the story’s casualties, Robbins (James Earl Jones II) lying on the cooling board. The chorus moans and wails, then processes around the body which has a bowl on its chest for donations. The undertaker is present ready to take the body to his shop once enough money is raised. Robbin’s widow, Serena (Denisha Ballew), hopes they raise enough.
The police come by and harass the mourners, who say nothing about the killing even though everyone knows who did it. Almost with silent consent, they decide to handle the business of justice themselves. What is paramount is to raise money for the burial so the police will not take the body away the next day. The two white officers use excessive force and intimidation to try to get the community to talk, but the people refuse to cooperate to the very end on both occasions when the police come into the village to investigate a killing.
It’s an earlier version of “Don’t snitch,” but unlike street codes here, these police clearly were not interested in justice, just solving a case, never mind the subtleties, the nuances which make killing a man justifiable homicide. Nathaniel Stampley portrays Porgy in the current production of the opera at the Golden Gate Theatre through Dec. 8. There is a discount code for selected performances. Enter AfroSolo1 in on-line purchases at www.shnsf.com/online/porgy or call (888) 746-1799.
To listen to the interview with Nathaniel Stampley, visit http://wandasabir.blogspot.com/2013/11/wandas-picks-radio-show-wednesday-nov.html.
‘Shellabration, a Ritual Theater Performance in Honor of Olokun, Owner of the Deep’
“Shellabration, a Ritual Theater Performance in Honor of Olokun, Owner of the Deep” is Saturday, Dec. 14, Sofia University Auditorium, 1069 East Meadow Circle, Palo Alto. Doors open 6:15 p.m., marketplace is 6:15-10 p.m., performance is 7-9 p.m. Ticket prices, in denominations of seven in honor of the ocean goddess, Olokun, are $7 for students and $14 general admission. No one will be turned away for lack of funds but will be asked to donate in the denomination of the number 7. Purchase tickets at http://tinyurl.com/shellabration. For more information, email email@example.com.
On the fly
First Friday spectacular! Imagine Affairs Art Lounge presents “Word and Deed Art Exhibit and Book Party,” 408 14th St., Oakland, (510) 788-0197, Dec. 6, 5 p.m. until, featuring Nedra Williams-Conjure Collage and “On Holy Ground: Commitment and Devotion to Sacred Land” with Luisah Teish and Leilani Birely.
Revolutionary Nutcracker Sweetie returns to Dance Mission. Visit www.dancemission.org. “Riddim Time,” featuring Val Serrant, Sikiru Adepoju, Saminu Adepoju, Peter Fujii, Deszon Claiborne and Joel Smith, is Dec. 13-14 at the Dance Palace and Community Center at Pt. Reyes Station and the River Theatre in Guerneville: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/512450. Listen to an interview with Val Serrant at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/wandas-picks/2013/11/15/wandas-picks-radio-show-healing-the-community-through-art.
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.