Wanda’s Picks for July 2015

by Wanda Sabir

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At last year’s Maafa Commemoration, on Oct. 12, 2014, Brother Tahuti first paid a visit to the Ancestor Shrine. – Photo: TaSin Sabir
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Brother Tahuti – Photo: Kimara Dixon

Libations to Ornette Coleman, musician, composer, March 9, 1930-June 11, 2015. Libations also for Brother Tahuti, a beloved elder who made his transition mid-June. We are waiting to hear what his family plans. He is from Mobile, Alabama.

Last year was Tahuti’s second Maafa Commemoration. In 2013 I picked him and Paradise up, but last year, I was running late and didn’t have time to run to Berkeley, so I asked Sister Adama if she could pick him up. She did. When he arrived, Tahuti stopped at the Ancestor Shrine and then came over to the circle for the meditation with Zochi.

I remember Brother Tahuti saying that he was officially Black, now that he had made it to the Maafa Commemoration (smile). I took this as a compliment considering Brother Tahuti’s uncompromising Blackness – Black consciousness, Black nationalism. A Southerner, he certainly knew what it meant to “represent Black,” and he did, unflinchingly. This 20th Annual Commemoration, we will pour libations for him. Ashay. I hear he went peacefully, in his sleep.

In his finery, he graced the 25th Annual African American Celebration through Poetry this February. In the photo, he is finishing refreshments. I remember when we went by to visit Elder Freeman one afternoon together. We met at Sister Upesi Mtambuz’s memorial. Another time he and I met at one of Elihu Harris and Barbara Lee’s Lectures Series and I listened as he spoke to one of the white panelists, a reformed racist, about Alabama. We also went to the Church for the Fellowship of All People together a couple of times.

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Brother Tahuti graced the 25th Annual African American Celebration through Poetry on Feb. 7, 2015, at the West Oakland Library in his finery. – Photo: Wanda Sabir

When I traveled to Africa, he told me about importing and trade. He was really concerned that I not end impoverished. He shared ideas on how I could become economically strong. Oh course, it goes without saying, his list of acquaintances was legendary. He took a stack of my business cards when I last saw him at Michael Lange’s funeral last month and introduced me to a few people to interview. I plan to get to them (smile). We went by the home of his friend, a singer, one evening, and his friend’s son shared some wonderful poetry with us.

Tahuti’s presence was like a breath of fresh air. He reminded me to breathe. I will miss Brother Tahuti.

International Coalition to Commemorate African Ancestors of the Middle Passage (ICCAAMP)

Those of us who commemorate our African Ancestors of the Middle Passage have formed an organization which took me recently to Washington, D.C. The website is RememberTheAncestors.com and at the site guests can learn about commemorations throughout the United States and beyond, as well as learn how to start a commemoration if there is none in your community.

Organizations that would like to join our coalition only need to fill out a questionnaire and we will add them to the world map with global locations highlighted. We have a Facebook fan page, RemembertheAncestors, so “like” us there, and a Twitter account, RemembertheAncestors@MaafaCoalition, so follow us.

Frederick Douglass’ Washington, D.C.

What to the American slave is the 4th of July? Frederick Douglass asks 163 years ago. Indeed, just a month after nine are shot dead in an historic Black church in Charleston and this nation’s first Black President Obama calls the incident everything except white supremacy, a disease which continues to afflict these disparate nation states post-Emancipation Proclamation, post-amendments to the Constitution, post-civil rights acts and other such flawed legislation. See http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-nation/wp/2015/06/26/transcript-obama-delivers-eulogy-for-charleston-pastor-the-rev-clementa-pinckney/.

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At the Annual Libation for African Ancestors of the Middle Passage in Washington, D.C., Oso Tayari Casel, founder of the African Martial Arts Academy, gave the keynote address at the river. He told us the adults were the ancestors our children would be consulting, so we needed to get healthy and strong for the task. – Photo: Wanda Sabir

Dr. Frances Cress Welsing sent a copy of her book, “The Isis Papers,” to the president. He has not responded yet, she stated to a capacity gathering in her honor at the Black Power Talks 2, hosted by Peabody Award-winning journalist Carl Nelson on Juneteenth weekend in the country’s capital. Dr. Cress Welsing was honored by the crème de la crème of Black America, among whom were Dr. Jim Clingman, Dr. Booker T. Coleman, Rev. Willie F. Wilson, Dr. Runoko Rashidi, Sister Merira Kwesi, Brother Ashra Kwesi, Brother Ray Fauntroy, Dr. Patricia Nelson, Dr. Umar Johnson, Atlantis Browder and her father, Dr. Tony Browder, Dr. Claude Anderson, Sister Ayanna Gregory and her father Baba Dick Gregory.

I was there. It was my birthday weekend.

Earlier that 150th anniversary of Black freedom or Juneteenth, I went to the Library of Congress for a Juneteenth and literary event, where I was able to attend a writing workshop with Marita Golden and share an elevator with Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, who spoke about her family’s history, her escaped ancestor and the Compensated Emancipation Act of April 16, 1862. This is the date Black Washingtonians celebrate.

In a panel, “Stakeholders of Black Literary,” we met Bomani Armah, aka “Mr. Read a Book”; Rahman Branch, first executive director of the Office of African American Affairs, Office of Mayor, District of Columbia; Dr. Brenda Greene, director of the National Black Writers Conference; and Bahiyyah Muhammad, Ph.D., assistant professor of criminology at Howard University and founder of Iron Kids. Dr. Muhammad shared a poem which unpacked the cognitive dissonance she encounters as a Black woman and a scholar—oh where oh where can she let her hair down? It is difficult navigating the boundaries between the “ivory tower” and the “hood.”

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Wanda poses with President General Senhor of the UNIA at the Annual Libation for African Ancestors. – Photo: Wanda Sabir

The final panel before I left for Anacostia and the Power Talk was titled “Independent Artists: Storytellers of the African Diaspora” and featured Haile Gerima, film director; Gabriel “Asheru” Benn, educator and co-founder of the Hip Hop Educational Literary Program; Beverly East, author and handwriting expert; Hafiz Shabazz, adjunct assistant professor and director of the World Music Percussion Ensemble; with moderator Eve Ferguson, former student of Gerima’s at Howard (smile). She now works at the Library of Congress, African Section, African and Middle Eastern Division. The panelists shared a philosophical essence one heard when Benn recited a poem inspired by Mr. Gerima’s film, “Sankofa.”

That Saturday afternoon, June 20, after the African Diaspora Ancestral Commemoration Institute (ADACI) led the Annual Libation for African Ancestors of the Middle Passage, I walked up to Frederick Douglass’ Cedar Hill Estate (1877), in the historic Anacostia neighborhood, what was then Uniontown in the southeast area of Washington, D.C. His was the first purchase in an otherwise segregated community. The view is spectacular; one can even see the U.S. Capitol, the Washington Monument, Virginia and the U.S. Air Force Memorial.

At the time of the purchase, Douglass was the United States Marshal for the District of Columbia under President Rutherford Hayes. His first wife, Anna Murray Douglass – already sick – died there. Her room remained unoccupied afterward. The next wife, Helen Pitts Douglass, his former secretary, a lot younger and white, had a smaller room on the opposite side. Douglass’s room was larger as well, with free weights next to his chair.

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Wanda took a tour of Frederick Douglass’ home in the Cedar Hill district of Washington, D.C., with a beautiful view of the Capitol and monuments. – Photo: Wanda Sabir

He added onto the home to accommodate his growing family (21) and to host frequent guests such as Ida B. Wells, Harriett Tubman and Mary Church Terrell. We visit his study, where his desk is situated in front of large glass-encased bookshelves. An assortment of walking canes is near the window. There are two sitting rooms, one for friends and family, the other for guests. There is a piano with a violin on it that we were told Douglass played. Fireplaces are in most of the rooms, and the art, portraits of Douglass and his children and wife, Anna, famous friends like the President of Haiti, Susan B. Anthony and others, cover the walls in the study, sitting rooms, halls and bedrooms.

In the Visitor Center, there is a life size statue of Douglass (who stood at least six feet tall). I watched a film about his life and then returned to the gift shop where I bought too many souvenirs (smile). There, I got a passport book for all the National Parks and several postage stamps to affix. I also bought finger puppet magnets, Harriett Tubman and Sojourner Truth. I already have Zora Neale Hurston.

It was exciting seeing where Douglass lived. Those of us on the tour couldn’t go into the Growlery, originally a construction shed, which Douglass used as a private retreat “complete with desk, couch and chair” (www.nps.gov/frdo). We also didn’t venture inside the caretaker’s cottage and croquet court built in 1922 on the grounds where Douglass played croquet. It was enough to walk where Douglass walked, view vistas he might have seen – all of which were pretty remarkable. I hope to visit Harriett Tubman’s home in Canada. I wonder if such a place exists for Sojourner Truth and other Black national heroes?

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The Earl of Plymouth (right) and Sir John Macpherson, governor-general of Nigeria, visit the oba of Benin, Oba Akenzua II, in Benin City, Nigeria, in about 1938. Oba Akenzua II holds the coral regalia of Oba Ovonramwen, which the British took in 1897 and returned in the mid- to late 1930s. This photo is in the Smithsonian’s Chief S.O. Alonge Collection. Chief Alonge was the official photographer to the Royal Court of Benin. – Photo: Chief S.O. Alonge

As I walked through Anacostia, I saw posted history facts. Some were near the Metro Station, others on the way to the Anacostia River earlier and on the way back. It was pretty exciting and amazing, how this area went from one Black homeowner to majority Black homeowners. The next afternoon, after I left Sankofa Video and Books where ADACI continued the Ancestors Commemoration weekend with tribute to Dr. John Henrik Clark, who would have been 100 this year, I took a taxi to the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art to see the current exhibit: “The Divine Comedy: Heaven, Purgatory, and Hell Revisited” by contemporary African artists.

Forty emerging artists from 18 African nations and the African Diaspora explore themes from Dante Alighieri’s 14th-century epic poem, “The Divine Comedy.” DJ Spooky was performing in another gallery across the way, but I had less than an hour to cover four floors of art. I started in the depths of Purgatory, where the work of Kiluanji Kia Henda, born 1979 in Angola, “Othello’s Fate Series (of 5 ) 2013” shows Othello, the artist, in various poses: He stands in an empty theatre. On another canvas he is behind a curtain (invisible), then he is captured on his wedding bed alone, lying across a table. In each photo it is the artist’s nude Black body that speaks the unspeakable. The medium: inkjet print on matte paper mounted on aluminum, each 110 x 170 cm (43 1/4 x 66 7/8 inches).

I watched a film, looked at photos and tapestries and other projected imagery. In one installation, I thought there was a dancer on the stage. Only at closer range did I realize that the dancer was a projection. There were skulls in a large oval cavity, while another sculpted work consisted of sharp edges one wanted to steer clear off.

The exhibit, extended to Nov. 2, is curated by Simon Njami, organized in conjunction with Savannah College Art and Design Museum of Art. When I left and crossed the street, I saw such a sign addressing Benjamin Banneker’s history in the District of Columbia and a plaza named in his honor. For information, visit http://africa.si.edu/exhibitions/current-exhibitions/.

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Dr. Umar Johnson spoke about special education and IEPs and called medication to control Black boys an “incarceration plan. Learning disabilities is an opinion,” he stated. ADHD is “Ain’t No Daddy at Home Syndrome.” He is currently raising money to build a school for Black children, and this month, July 14-22, he is taking Black boys on a Black college and manhood tour (http://www.drumarjohnson.com/). He said that if any parent wants to send their boy, he will work with the family financially. The tour is $800. He said to text or call him: 215-989-9858. – Photo: Wanda Sabir
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Dr. Claude Anderson speaks at Black Power Talks 2. – Photo: Wanda Sabir
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Dr. Frances Cress Welsing speaks at Black Power Talks 2 on June 20 in Washington D.C. She will speak in Sacramento on July 11. – Photo: Wanda Sabir

Power Talks in the San Francisco Bay Area

Dr. Frances Cress Welsing is in Sacramento July 11, 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., with Dr. Joy DeGruy. Visit aabh.net or call 877-491-AABH. There will be a caravan departing from the Ashley BART Station in Berkeley at 6 a.m. that morning. For information about this and the “Isis Papers” study group call 510-499-9349 or email riseinnerprize@gmail.com.

Pete Escovedo headlines Oakland Jazz Festival

Saturday, Aug. 1, the Fifth Annual Oakland Jazz Festival returns to the Pioneer Amphitheatre at Cal State Eastbay in Hayward. Doors open at 10 a.m.; concerts begin at 12 noon. This event is a full day of first rate entertainment, food and soothing sounds, featuring chart-topping headliners including KEM, Lalah Hathaway, Eric Benet, Euge Groove with Peter White, The World Famous Rick and Russ Show, with a special treat, the 80th birthday celebration for Pete Escovedo with Pete Escovedo and The Family!

For additional information, go to www.Oaklandjazzfestival.com; direct email contact is Oaklandjazzfestival@aol.com. Tickets are on sale now at the Paramount Theatre (with no service charge) and all Ticketmaster outlets.

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Pete Escovedo – Photo: Julie Gonzalez

Legendary percussionist Pete Escovedo broke down the barriers between Smooth Jazz, Salsa, Latin Jazz and contemporary music and has since performed for more than 50 years. Born in Pittsburg, Calif., his musical journey began while attending high school in Oakland. At the age of 16, he began playing the saxophone and then discovered percussion, which fulfilled his love of rhythm and his dream of playing Latin Jazz music.

He has worked with a wide range of artists such as Carlos Santana, Tito Puente, Herbie Hancock, Mongo Santamaria, Bobby McFerrin, Cal Tjader, Woody Herman, Stephen Stills, Billy Cobham, Anita Baker, the late George Duke, Boz Scaggs, Andy Narell, Al Jarreau, Ray Obiedo, Dionne Warwick, Marlena Shaw, the late Barry White, Angela Bofill, Arturo Sandoval, Poncho Sanchez, Chick Corea, Dave Valentine, Najee, Gerald Albright and Prince, among numerous others. Pete Escovedo has performed with his orchestra at the White House for President Barack Obama.

On the fly

San Francisco MIME Troupe presents “Freedomland” July 3-5 at Delores Park in San Francisco. Music starts at 1:30 p.m., show starts at 2 p.m. Visit sfmt.org/schedule for the summer run throughout California.

Labor Fest 2015 highlights: Concert, “I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill Last Night,” July 5, 7 p.m., ILWU Local 34 Hall, 801 Second St., San Francisco, next to AT&T Ball Park; Song and Story from Occupy, July 17, 7:30 p.m., ILWU Local 34 Hall, 801 Second St.; Angel Island Walk: Labor, Imperialism and Immigration, July 18, 10:45-3:45 p.m. (free), Angel Island at Ayala Cove, where the ferry boat arrives. For the ferry schedule, see blueandgoldfleet.com/ferry-services/ferry-schedules/. For information, contact jmsdxtr@gmail.com or 415-642-8066; 50th Anniversary of the Grape Strike, the Past, Present and Future, July 18, 6-8 p.m. (donation) at the Manilatown Center, 868 Kearny St., San Francisco; Hunters Point/Bayview History Walk, July 19, 2 p.m. (free). Meet at Bayview Plaza, 3801 Third St. at Evans, San Francisco. For the entire schedule, which includes films, see laborfest.net.

The 78th Annual Stern Grove Festival continues through August. Highlights include July 12, Amy Hanaiali’i and the Stern Grove Festival Orchestra. Halau‘o Keikiali’I, a traditional Hawaiian cultural group based in San Francisco, performs as well. The festival closes with Talib Kweli, Zakiya Harris featuring Elephantine Aug. 16 and Morris Day and The Time. Con Brio opens on Aug. 9. Visit http://www.sterngrove.org/home/concertsevents/78th-season/.

38th Annual Bay Area Playwrights Festival, July 17-19 and 24-26, at the Tides Theatre, 533 Sutter St., Second Floor at Powell St., San Francisco. Highlights: Saturday, July 18, 4 p.m., “Hooded, or Being Black for Dummies” by Tearrance Chisholm, and 8 p.m., “Welcome to Fear City” by Kara Lee Corthron. The organization Hip Hop for Change will be conducting a workshop. Check the website or call for details www.playwrightsfoundation.org, 415-626-2176. To listen to a conversation with Festival Director Amy Muller and playwrights Kara Lee Corthron and Tearrance Chisholm, visit http://tobtr.com/7721843.

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Mama Geri Abrams pours a libation at the Ninth Annual Libation for the Ancestors at Lake Merritt in Oakland June 13. – Photo: Wanda Sabir

On July 29, 6:30 to 8 p.m., the Museum of the African Diaspora, Mission Street at Third in San Francisco, celebrates Peru’s independence with a lecture and performance, Atajo de Negritos in the Afroperuvian Culture.” Free for MoAd members, $10 general, $5 students and seniors. Visit http://www.moadsf.org/.

Brava! for Women in the Arts, Black Artists Contemporary Cultural Experience, Edris Cooper-Anifowoshe and Marvin K. White

“So Soul San Francisco: Blackbirds Boogie and other gumbo grooves” is a Black art salon that celebrates the extraordinary work of the late great queer poet and writer Wayne Corbitt, arguably the most influential and prolific Black Gay artist to come out of San Francisco. Marvin K. White leads local performers in a performance tribute with performances and readings of Wayne’s work, including “Crying Holy,” original songs, poems and rants inspired by Wayne’s legacy, communal writings and other interactive happenings – and on Sundays there will be food. Each weekend a new topic and new artists!

“So Soul San Francisco: Blackbirds Boogie and other gumbo grooves” is at Brava Theater Center, 2781 24th St. at York, San Francisco, July 18- Aug. 9, 2015 – Friday and Saturday 8 p.m., Sunday 2 p.m. Tickets are $20, available at www.brava.org. Curated and hosted by Edris Cooper Anifowoshe and performance poet Marvin K. White, “So Soul San Francisco: Blackbirds Boogie” is modeled in the tradition of the Sugar Shack Performance Gallery, of which Wayne was a part, and the legendary living room and back room gatherings in Wayne’s home. So bring your poetry, your song, the records – we will be playing vinyls – the performance, the stories you have saved, the recipes and food you think of, as well as the salacious and low-down dirty tales.

‘Choir Boy’ extended through July 5 at Marin Theatre Company

Playwright and MacArthur Genius Tarell Alvin McCraney’s “Choir Boy” is a story which, like all McCraney tales, twists and turns as it makes its way to a conclusion or perhaps collision – all completely unexpected. It is an ensemble work – the men certainly rise to the occasion to tell the story of Pharus – certainly not the least of them, but definitely one to watch over. Wonderfully directed by Kent Gash, the play is not for children, especially ones who have never seen a nude man (smile).

The setting is the Charles Drew Preparatory School, where its seniors are excited about the choir they all belong too. The choir is one its board of directors boasts about and the community appreciates. When we meet Pharus (Jelani Alladin), a junior, he is confident, yet definitely a team player. He will not tell the headmaster which boy(s) heckled him as he sang the school anthem for the graduating senior class. He is gay and though the name calling has continued for the entire four years he has been a student at the Charles Drew, Pharus, in his final year, can still hold his head unabashedly high.

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“Choir Boy” features a plethora of talented young Black men. – Photo: Ed Smith

“Choir Boy” is a collection of many smaller stories, that of the boys on scholarship and the legacy kids or those with privilege; there are stories of budding relationships and the stigma of same sex love; there are also the stories of institutional bias and inflexibility and the losses incurred when there are no second chances.

There are also moments of tenderness. Pharus, choir director for the senior class, rooms with a jock, AJ (Jaysen Wright), a football star who loves his friend Pharus and is not afraid of their differences. He doesn’t cave to peer pressure. AJ is not intimidated by what others think of him sharing a room with a gay kid. He knows that Pharus respects his choices, and is comfortable with the smart youth, who is so talented that, even though they ostracize him, the bullies and haters secretly admire him.

Same gender attraction is not something one can talk about to just anyone, especially at Drew Academy. When one of the boys feels attracted to another, he feels ashamed. This inability to share his confusing feeling with a parent or teacher to sort things out leads to one of the many unexpected conclusions “Choir Boy” is full of, like retired teacher, Mr. Pendleton (Charles Shaw Robinson), who teaches a class on critical thinking. Pendleton is hailed for his civil rights work with Dr. King, yet in a charged moment we see how close the events of the ‘60s still weigh on the scholar. It is a beautiful moment in the play.

We don’t think enough about the war that was the Civil Rights Movement. We call the survivors “veterans,” yet act surprised when they suffer from the lingering effects of post-traumatic stress disorder. His trigger is the boys’ use of the n-word.

In his class, the boys choose a theory to deconstruct. Pharus takes on Negro Spirituals and comes to the conclusion that there was no coded language used by enslaved persons or captives to plot their escapes. Besides the fact that the sky is one large map and it certainly helped many escapees get north to freedom, there is ample evidence of the coding, seen recently in Taiwo Kujichagulia’s “Go Tell It,” the story of Harriett Tubman’s Christmas rescue in 1864, http://www.gotellit.info/#!about/c139r.

This unexpected twist is just another point where the audience is thrown a curve ball. Violence, homophobia, poverty, wealth, spirituality are all themes crisscrossing the terrain that is senior year at Charles Drew Preparatory Academy. McCraney writes no stereotypes, although his Pharus is almost a bit too good to be true; perhaps he is just a god moonlighting with mortals, stirring the pot, riling things up, questioning principles which perhaps need adjusting?

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In “Choir Boy,” Pharus, the choir director, is played by Jelani Alladin. – Photo: Kevin Berne

In the marvelously directed and staged “Choir Boy” extended an additional week, now through July 5, there are showers with real water and the boys use soap. The space on stage a shifting terrain, from commencement dais to dorms. With so much in the news about Black boys, it is a rare opportunity to meet so many Black boys, to hear their stories, to listen to their souls sing … and cry without interruption.

Pharus is engaging, especially in Alladin’s skilled hands. His resilience is amazing, as is his optimism. One has to ask herself, does such a kid exist? (I know, I already asked this, but so will you). This boy carries a lot and at Drew, his burden is not at all lightened. Headmaster Marrow comes to understand how much Pharus bears near the end of the senior year, but by then it is too late.

Drew Academy is prime for anti-bullying trainings for faculty and students. If this story resonates for anyone in the audience, I would hope he or she would take steps to change the outcome for both his or her “Pharus” and his potential assailant. School is not the real world. It is a place children and young adults get to practice or rehearse for a life that gives no second chances. When Pharus is attacked, both he and the child who harms him lose.

We might not get to heaven in this McCraney production, but it won’t be for lack of trying to travel on the friendly skies of Drew Airlines, powered by its angelic chorus (smile). Listen here to a great interview with Kent Gash, director, and Jelani Alladin, the actor who plays Pharus: http://tobtr.com/7570689. The Marin Theatre Company is located at 397 Miller Ave., Mill Valley, 415-388-5200, info@marintheatre.org. For tickets, visit http://www.marintheatre.org/.

Paying to be insulted

From the first song out of the Africans’ mouths, F-God, to the last note, “The Book of Mormon” is an insult to African sensibility. White Jesus, cursed Black gods, ignorant starving diseased backward Africans who are cutting women’s clitorises off and raping babies to cure AIDS. All the saviors are young white men in white shirts and dark slacks. The only time you see a big performance number starring the natives, it takes place in Elder Price’s head when he dreams he is in hell, and guess who the devil is? A Black man in red, playing guitar like Jimi Hendrix. There were a lot of Black people in this hell, celebrities too. One was Johnnie Cochran – I almost walked out.

Then it got worse.

I don’t know how conscious Black people told me they liked “The Book of Mormon.” It is a play about missionaries; these missionaries are from New York. I don’t know if I knew the history of this church, but frankly, proselytizing has really stepped it up. Imagine an entire theatre full of people paying to be brainwashed? The times must be hard for white supremacy. Perhaps the musical’s appeal is the fact that it supports the mythology of Black inferiority and heathenism. One of the closing songs is “We are Africa.” Guess who sings it? The white boys.

Jokes about the devil being yellow and how Africans need to watch out politically and economically is correct; China is buying up Africa. I can even see the first Chinese president in a continental African future if nothing changes, but look who is telling the story – missionaries who are also the enemy to African sovereignty. Up to 1978, Mormons believed all Black people were devils. Now Black is in. In the San Francisco Bay Area, there are many Black Mormons. There was even a Black bishop in charge of this region, but let’s get back to the plot.

From the first song out of the Africans’ mouths, F-God, to the last note, “The Book of Mormon” is an insult to African sensibility.

The reason this African village is so violated and economically stressed is that Western nations have exploited its resources and kept the indigenous peoples at odds with one another. They are so busy fighting each other, no one recognizes the true enemy.

One of the white boys (Elder Cunningham) has the nerve to like the chief’s daughter, Nabulungi (Alexandra Ncube). He cannot pronounce her name, yet she answers to all his ridiculous attempts. Dogs do the same. You can call a dog by other names and she will answer. It is the intonation. Nabulungi sees Salt Lake City as the Promised Land, the Mormon missionaries her ticket there, if she and her people believe. She convinces her village and other villagers nearby to give these missionaries a chance. Maybe these white men will be different. Up to that point, the villagers were not interested in Mormons or their religion.

I don’t know how conscious Black people told me they liked “The Book of Mormon.”

What makes Cunningham’s approach different is that he mixes folklore with truth, so that the god of his book agrees with the values he is promoting. He crafts a tale that addresses the ills these Ugandans face. What he tells Nabulungi’s people is not on its pages, so in the end, Cunningham has to rewrite the Book of Mormon. He even cures AIDS with a green frog –remember the green monkey theory of infection?

Cunningham and Price, two teenagers from NYC, are introduced to a people supposedly without values or regard for life, not to mention god. These false ideas just further a stereotypical primitive Dark Continent scenario. Obviously, these Black people need saving from themselves. The village chief is a mockery; so is the physician who complains about bugs in his genitals – it is all slapstick humor. Remember “Scottsboro Boys,” the vaudeville musical?

When Cunningham and Price are robbed just as they arrive in the dusty little village, its chief teaches them his people’s favorite saying when things go awry, F-god, Infidels? This is the same type rumor or mythology that started the trade in human beings, my ancestors, 600 years ago. The creative trilogy that wrote and produced this trash – Robert Lopez, Matt Stone and Trey Parker – should be tarred and feathered – not literally, just boycott the play.

The music might be catchy and the choreography cool, but what these catchy tunes do to the souls of its listeners is not worth the risk. At the end of the play, the villagers are gone. In their places stand imposters, Black Mormons ringing the bells of other Africans. Even the warlord is converted – gone are the African cultural garments, all artifacts destroyed. They even speak English. The converts may be Black or Brown on the outside, but inside they are brainwashed – Joseph Smith, Brigham Young on the inside. Latter Day Saints is just another sweet bye and bye tale. Don’t worry about today; let the multinationals steal, pillage, rob your nation blind. God’s going to take care of you … later. Entire theatres of people since it went up in New York City March 2011 have been converted.

There is even a finale after the ovation. I couldn’t take it anymore and left before the final bow. There is a reason it took me three years to go see this play. Be forewarned. Don’t do it.

Bay View Arts Editor Wanda Sabir can be reached at wanda@wandaspicks.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 7 a.m. and Fridays at 8 a.m., can be heard by phone at 347-237-4610 and are archived at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/wandas-picks.