by Wanda Sabir
It’s all about the ancestors, believe it or not. The invisible realm controls the outer. Those who believe in magic are in touch with reality – a truth, the initiated, those beings open to a creation story they participate in. Life is a collection of unedited stories; the end of a chapter does not mean the end of the book.
With that said, the MAAFA Commemoration is upon us once again, celebrating its 23rd anniversary. It is a time to recommit oneself to Black humanity and our belonging to a vision higher than that promoted in narratives we acknowledge yet do not occupy. In Marcus Gardley’s “Black Odyssey,” which is back at Cal Shakes for two weeks, Ulysses picks up his grandmother, whom he calls “Queen Mother,” in his arms and sets her on a throne. For those who know Homer’s tale, in Gardley’s hands not only is the diction Black or Ebonics, heaven is Oaktown back when International Boulevard was East 14th.
The MAAFA Commemoration gives the active mind pause to consider perhaps another tributary, another course of action, another opportunity to right the rhythms that remain untapped – those rhythms our ancestors play on hearts tied together across national borders, redrawn state lines, voting districts – amended constitutions, bills and rights, continents separated by seas and historic time zones … all of that we contemplate with urn in hand as the water touches the earth and we say Ashay – so be it, let the words have power.
Original custodians of the planet, we can never forget it is our duty to fight for the well-being of the creatures (plant, animal, mineral) who live here with us. We need to support and strengthen these relationships with our kinship beings, other earthlings, especially those who are so tiny we often forget they exist until it is too late.
This is a year for lifting up and calling the names of Black women and girls and demanding their right to life and liberty and safety especially in public spaces – but private too. We need to turn up the volume on value and we need to amplify the defense strategy in visible, tangible ways this coming year. There are performances and conversations listed here that are in alignment with this thinking.
MAAFA Commemoration 2018 – Ritual at Ocean Beach
The 23rd Annual MAAFA Commemoration is Sunday, Oct. 7, 5:30 a.m., at Ocean Beach, Fulton at the Great Highway in San Francisco. The Ritual is open to people of African Descent. For information, visit maafasfbayarea.com or call 641-715-3900, ext. 36800# If you need a free bus ride from Oakland to the beach, call Sister Lola at 510-879-7019. There are still seats left. There will be a gathering later in the month to share experiences of the MAAFA Ritual 2018. Visit us at https://www.facebook.com/maafabayarea/.
Film series at Joyce Gordon Gallery
Friday, Oct. 12, 6-9 p.m., at Joyce Gordon Gallery, 406 14th St., in downtown Oakland, we are showing the film, “Bound: Africans vs. African Americans,” directed by Peres Owino, who is flying up for the screening. The event is hosted by the MAAFA Commemoration Committee and will also have a panel discussion about themes that come up during the film. “Bound” looks at the misconceptions between Africans who are more recent immigrants to America and those African Diaspora Americans whose citizenship here is traced through bondage. Listen to an interview with the director last year when the film screened at the SF Black Film Festival on Wanda’s Picks Radio, June 15, 2018, http://tobtr.com/10833011. RSVP at 510-255-5579.
‘for colored girls’ at African American Shakes closes
African American Shakespeare’s recent production of Ntozake Shange’s “for colored girls who’ve considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf,” directed by Elizabeth Carter, couldn’t have come at a more apropos time. Salient, sexy and provocative, these seven characters spanning the breath that is a rainbow – the hope and promise present there. They speak to the resiliency that is Black womanhood – her belief in love and the forgiveness during recovery from toxic love she allows her heart to feel. I don’t think there are any examples of happiness ever after in “for colored girls.” Love is hard to find, hard to keep and harder to let go of when it ceases to work out right.
The poetry in motion that describes certain characters, the lyricism that is the speech embodied literally in the carefully crafted monologues and ensemble work makes this production one of the best I’ve seen to date.
Simple set – rolling frames imply a variety of scenes from apartment window to subway station as the women who live across the country compare notes on love and being in love as hopeful girls to mature women. Perhaps what one is left with as she sits in the theatre, the characters holding candles, an altar in the center where they have placed relics of the past, creating an altar – a burial of that which did not serve them, parts of themselves lost on the battlefield.
This rainbow is a trophy for making it through the storm. It is the sign in the window; it is hope for today and tomorrow. Though the play ends in the death of two innocent children – a story of trauma and abuse, we see in this final tale the need for a place within the Black community … a way to address the mental illness, economic hardships and parental support necessary for better outcomes. Too bad there was no Emotional Emancipation Healing Circle for these sisters to process their legitimate feelings of stasis or a safe place to escape for the mother whose partner, a veteran, suffered from PTSD.
Dance: Zaccho Dance Theatre and Bayview Opera House present: Picture Bayview Hunters Point
Zaccho Dance Theatre and Bayview Opera House present “Picture Bayview Hunters Point,” free performances that give voice to the community, Thursday-Sunday, Oct. 11-14 and 18-21, 2018, 8 p.m., at the Opera House, 4705 Third St., San Francisco. Listen to an interview on Wanda’s Picks with Zaccho Artistic Director Joanna Haigood, Sept. 21, http://tobtr.com/10986655.
Zaccho Dance Theatre brings the dreams and aspirations of local Bayview Hunters Point residents to life in this new full-length work. This interdisciplinary, site specific performance centered in, on and around the historic Bayview Opera House is a celebration of the community in which Zaccho has made its home for the past 28 years and a response to the economic and demographic changes impacting the neighborhood.
For more information and to register for the free performances, visit zaccho.org. Post-show discussion panels will be held Saturday, Oct. 13, and Friday, Oct. 19, with lifelong community residents, Memliek Walker and Toni Carpenter, and moderated by San Francisco City College African American Studies Chair Aliyah Dunn-Salahuddin.
Theatre: AfroSolo Arts Festival
The 24th Annual AfroSolo Arts Festival presents its Black Voices Performance Series on Thursday through Sunday, Oct. 18-21: “Our Stories Our Lives” at the Buriel Clay Theatre in the African American Art and Culture Complex, 762 Fulton St. in San Francisco.
Program 1: “Courage Under Fire: The Story of Elroy” is written and performed by Thomas Robert Simpson, on Thursday, Oct. 18, 8 p.m. General Admission is $20, seniors and students $15.
Program 2: Black Voices Performance Series: “Our Day Has Come” features Nina Causey, Marshal Jearreau, Ayodele Nzinga, Kathryn Seabron and Thomas Robert Simpson, Friday-Sunday, Oct. 19-21, 8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 19 (0-$20), Thursday through Saturday and Sunday, 3 p.m. matinee. There is a gala on Saturday, Oct. 20, at 6 p.m. Visit the website for the specifics: http://events.afrosolo.org/events.
Marcus Gardley’s ‘Black Odyssey’ at Cal Shakes through Oct. 14
Marcus Gardley’s “Black Odyssey,” directed by Eric Ting, is at Cal Shakes through Oct. 14 at Bruns Memorial Amphitheatre in Orinda. Visit http://www.calshakes.org/, call 510-548-9666 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
To listen to a recent interview with the playwright, tune into Wanda’s Picks, Friday, Sept. 28, http://tobtr.com/10986667. And listen to a special broadcast with Professor Aldo Billingslea, who plays Great Grand Paw Sidin’, on Wanda’s Picks, August 14, 2017: http://tobtr.com/10208983.
Aldo is back, and so is Margo Hall as Great Aunt Tina; Safiya Fredericks as Benevolence Nausicca Sabine (ensemble); Michael Gene Sullivan as Artez Sabine (ensemble); Michael Curry (Malachai); joined by new cast Cleavant Derricks (Great Grand Daddy Deus; ensemble); Velina Brown (Alsendra Sabine; ensemble); Santoya Fields (Nella Pell); J.D. Mollison (Ulysses Lincoln); Ruthie Price (drummer).
You don’t want to miss this production. The production is over the top with costumes fitting the celestial plane that is Oaktown. Scenic design is superb and the lighting, while great by day, is best appreciated at night (smile). Linda Tillery’s compositions and direction have patrons testifying, while LaTonya Tigner and Kendra Kimbrough’s choreography makes perfection look easy.
Taking its form from Homer’s “Odyssey,” Gardley’s “Black Odyssey” is the story of every Black man who wants to do right for his family yet lacks the resources. Most men enlist because such careers promise entre into the middle class: education, home and work. The playwright said in a recent interview that he gives a nod to the veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD), the residual price so many men who came of age in the ‘60s paid to get in line for the American dream. Ulysses Jones thinks he’ll return soon, as three months stretch into 16 years.
Forgiveness is an inside job and war turns human beings into monstrosities they cannot face. Following a map etched in his hand, Ulysses meets ancestors who’ve been waiting for him to share stories of the family’s past, history their kinsman missed when his mother died in childbirth and the boy grew up in an orphanage. Great Aunt Tina even leaves the heavenly realm to make sure her nephew’s family keeps the faith despite his absence for so long. Questions such as atonement arise. How does one pay back a family for the loss of a loved one? While the two great grandfathers, Paw Sidin and Grand Daddy Deus, watch, Ulysses grows wiser as he tells his story, his adventures … each telling an opportunity to evolve, take responsibility for what is his and to let go what is not.
Sunday, Sept. 30, Cal Shakes treated its audience to a Second Line Dance Class, taught by LaTonya Tigner, and then after the show to a performance featuring Dimensions Dance Company and its youth company along with a live Brass Band. The audience and cast paraded out of the theatre – a fitting conclusion to this redemption psalm.
Lower Bottom Playaz’s ‘Protection Shields’
Lower Bottom Playaz’s “Protection Shields, The Prequel to the Magical Adventures of WolfHawkJaguar,” written and directed by Ayodele Nzinga, Ph.D., tells the story of men who want to change but don’t know what to do in a situation where they feel unsafe without carrying a gun.
Based on a film by the same title, the play is more elemental – the artist wants to live to fulfill his dreams as a recording artist, the father wants to raise his children and be a good example to them and the mother wants to ease her aching heart. Using video, narration and a hip hop soundtrack to tell the story – it is almost a fairytale set in West Oakland.
There are even dancers dressed in ethereal white who conjure spirit as they hover between realms. Omni and Tulani performed the evening I attended.
The set is a crossroads – red and black juncture where Esu Legba offers each character options.
WolfhawkJagur lies in his bed dreaming – he spends most of the story floating above the activities of the community below. He attends a funeral of a relative he can’t remember who left him a suitcase full of slips of paper with ancestor stories. Their chatter wakes him at night as the dead fill his head with dreams. While he is sorting out what all this means – again in his sleep – a Wise Old Child shows up on the doorstep of the grieving mother with a note offering his assistance in good not evil: “I will not lie or steal or kill,” his note says.
The two embrace with tears. She falls to her knees and the child places one of his cowrie necklaces on her head as a crown. Next he goes to his wagon and lifts a protection shield from it and gives it to her. She places it in front of her torso and then then the boy moves on. The child is carrying medicine for the sick and with each stop increases the peace.
Gayle Madyun’s “Protection Shields,” the inspiration for the film, play and song, are works of art with spiritual connotations – there is an auction right now at Lower Bottom Playaz on five new Protection Shields through the Oct. 6 closing performance at the Flight Deck, 1540 Broadway in Oakland. Shows are Friday-Saturday evening at 8 p.m. and a Saturday matinee at 2 p.m.
There is also a “Protection Shields” exhibit, Sept. 7-Oct. 26 at Oakstop, 1721 Broadway and a workshop, Saturday, Oct. 6, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., at the gallery. Friday, Oct. 5, 6-10 p.m., at Oakstop there will be a conversation between Gayle Madyun and Yeye Luisah Teish. Visit http://www.protectionshields.net/events and lowerbottomplayaz.com for tickets to the play.
Life is Living Festival
Life Is Living, Saturday, Oct. 13, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., at DeFremery Park aka Lil Bobby Hutton Park, 1651 Adeline St. in Oakland. Life is Living is a free celebration of Oakland life through hip hop, intergenerational health and artistic expression.
40th Anniversary of Cultural Odyssey
Brava for Women in the Arts and Cultural Odyssey present “When Did Your Hands Become a Weapon?” by Rhodessa Jones and the Medea Project: Theatre for Incarcerated Women, Thursday-Saturday 8 p.m., Sundays at 3 p.m., Oct. 25-Nov. 4. Special Gala Saturday, Oct. 27, at Brava, 2781 24th St. at York, in San Francisco. Visit brava.org or call 415-641-7657.
‘Spirit and Bones’
The world premiere of “Spirit and Bones,” choreographed by Artistic Director Sarah Bush, features an intergenerational cast of 15 dancers ranging in age from 23 to over 70, starring such Bay Area dance luminaries as Joanna Haigood, Elvia Marta, Priscilla Regalado, Joan Lazarus and Sue Li Jue. Inspired by Clarissa Pinkola Estés’ book, “Women Who Run with the Wolves,” national large-scale protests and the movement of wolves, birds and systems of the body, “Spirit and Bones” is an evening-length production highlighting female resilience in times of darkness, the tenacity of the solo woman, and the ferocious love and strength generated by community. These performances of “Spirit and Bones” mark the 11th season of Sarah Bush Dance Project.
Performances are Friday, Oct. 26, and Saturday, Oct. 27, at 8 p.m., and Sunday, Oct. 28, at 7 p.m. at Taube Atrium Theater in the Wilsey Center for Opera, SF War Memorial Building, Fourth Floor, 401 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco. For tickets, visit www.sarahbushdance.org/tickets.
On the fly
Sounds of Africa is at Ashkenaz Music and Dance Center, San Pablo Ave. at Gilman in Berkeley, 510-525-5099: Zimbabwe with Piwai plus Adrian West Band on Friday, Oct. 12, to West African with Baba Ken and his West African Highlife Band. Then on Friday, Oct. 26, soak up the sounds of Northern Africa’s deserts and beyond with Mamadou Kelly.
The Dynamic Miss Faye Carol Residency featuring pianist Joe Warner is at The Back Room in Berkeley, 1984 Bonita Ave., Sundays at 5 p.m., $25 cash at the door or in advance at backroommusic.com.
Ninth San Francisco Dance Film Festival is Oct. 4-14 at Brava Theater Center and other venues in San Francisco. Featured are “American Tap” (90 minutes), directed by Mark Wilkinson; “The Town on Notice” featuring Dimensions Dance Theatre (5 minutes), directed by Umi Vaughn and Sonia Pina; “Too Many Bodies” (5 minutes), directed by Reena Dutt, choreographed by Nancy Dobbs Owen, http://www.sfdancefilmfest.org/2018.
Epiphany Dance Theater celebrates its 15th anniversary of San Francisco Trolley Dances, a two-day free (with Muni fare) public performance curated by Epiphany Dance Theater artistic director Kim Epifano, pairing artists and ensembles with specific sites along San Francisco’s Muni route, where they are invited to create an 8- to 15-minute piece in response to the physical environment, architecture and history of the area. “Night Trolley” is Friday, Oct. 12, 6 and 7:30 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 20-21, 11 a.m. to 2:45 p.m. Tours are every 45 minutes. Tours start both weekends at Fourth and Channel Street, Mission Creek Park. Tours end at SFMOMA’s Howard Street Entrance. Free with Muni fare along the N-Line. Visit http://epiphanydance.org/san-francisco-trolley-dances/.
Lynn Nottage’s “Sweat” is at the Geary Theatre in San Francisco; “Barbershop Chronicles” by Inua Ellams at Zellerbach Hall, UC Berkeley, Oct. 26-28; “The Routes of Slavery: Memories of Slavery” (1444-1888) by Jordi Savall is Nov. 3, also at Zellerbach Hall, UC Berkeley. Visit calperformances.org.
Cultivate Empathy for All: Because We Are Interconnected, Berkeley Candidate Forum, is Saturday, Oct. 20, 5-8 p.m., at the North Berkeley Senior Center, 858-776-5557 or cultivateempathyforall.org.
Oakland Black Cowboy Parade is Saturday, Oct. 6, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., at DeFremery Park, 18th and Adeline Street. There will be music, horse and pony rides, and educational exhibits. Visit Blackcowboyassociation.org.
Jess Curtis of Gravity presents Beyond Gravity, featuring jose e. abad, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Abby Crain, Gabriel Christian, Rachael Dichter and Mira Kautto, Thursday, Oct. 25, at 8 p.m.; Friday, Oct. 26 at 8 p.m.; Saturday, Oct. 27, at 8 p.m. with ASL interpretation. On Friday, there’s a Pre-Show Haptic Access Tour at 7 p.m., and live audio description is available via headset. Reservations are required. Call 415-483-5996 or email email@example.com at CounterPulse, 80 Turk St., San Francisco. Visit the box office at http://counterpulse.org/event/beyond-gravity/ or call 415-626-2060. Tickets are $15-$30, and more information is available at www.JessCurtisGravity.org.
The 41st Annual Mill Valley Film Festival is happening in a variety of locations on Oct. 4-14. Visit https://www.mvff.com/ or call 415-383-5256. Of interest to African Americans are “Green Book” on opening night; “The Hate U Give,” with a spotlight on Amandla Stenberg; “If Beale Street Could Talk” on closing night; “Little Woods: Long Time Coming,” a 1955 baseball story; “Obey”; and “Charm City.” There are also concerts, talks, awards, workshops and other special events.
Matatu Film Festival
Matatu Film Festival is a place to have conversations about Blackness and Black people within a Diaspora where Blackness is topical. Sept. 26, the festival opened with a conversation between Saul Williams and the brilliant Zoé Samudzi. They discussed literature and politics and entertained questions from the audience. It was a provocative and stimulating evening of art and thought. Visit http://www.matatu.co/.
Matatu is a festival that integrates the arts – the through line is nonhierarchical; there is poetry and live music at many or most of the screenings. When one leaves, she is full and ready for revolution. It is a decolonized space where we are too busy loving Blackness in all its melanin facets to worry about “other.” Michael Orange, the quiet presence behind the greatness happening at these spectacular events, shared a bit of the history behind this year’s theme, “TransAfrica, Building a Foreign Policy Library” and the legacy of Randall Robinson. His mother, Satia Orange, is and was an ambassador. We get to see Zoé Samudzi again Nov. 4, 7 p.m., as a part of the “Notebook: The Living Archive” at Red Bay Coffee.
The festival this year has launched a new campaign, “Pay What Makes You Smile,” which perhaps allows for a diversity previously absent. It also means shows sell out quickly, but I would still show up, just in case. I also suggest folks go to the website and watch trailers and read the descriptions, which are too well-written, to cut or post here. I will say that Saturday, 7 p.m., there will be a film and then live East African music at Red Bay Coffee and Roastery off Fruitvale in Oakland.
On Oct. 3, “Jinn” (2018), directed by Nijla Mu’min (93 minutes) screens at the Grand Lake Theater at 7:30 p.m. Mu’min is a director to watch. The 2013 dual-degree grad from CalArts with a MFA Film Directing and Writing Programs degree was named one of 25 New Faces of Independent Film by Filmmaker Magazine in 2017. You probably know her short, “Dream” (2017), with 70,000 views; “Queen Sugar,” her directorial debut for television; and now her debut feature, “JINN.” See http://www.matatu.co/routes/jinn-film.
Synopsis: Summer is a carefree teenager whose world is turned upside down when her mother abruptly converts to Islam and becomes a different person. At first resistant to the faith, Summer begins to reevaluate her identity while falling for a Muslim classmate. As she and Tahir build a connection based on laughter, curiosity and beef pepperoni, a budding sexual attraction ignites, causing a major conflict between physical desire and piety.
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 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.