Wanda’s Picks for May 2020

Dameion Brown plays Othello in the Marin Shakespeare Co. production in 2016. He was the first first-time actor ever to win “Best Lead Actor” from the Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle. – Photo courtesy of Lori A. Cheung

by Wanda Sabir

Happy Mother’s Day! 

I especially want to remember the mothers who are not with their families this year due to physical distancing. I hope you are still able to connect with loved ones via technology. We are going to have a special radio show Friday, May 8, featuring Mrs. Sadie Williams, 96, in conversation with other mothers. Listen in beginning at 8 a.m. by calling 347-237-4610.

Wanda’s Picks Radio Show

On Wanda’s Picks Radio Show recently, we have had a few really great programs highlighting events and projects you don’t want to miss. First, let me describe the show: This is a Black arts and culture site. We will be exploring the African Diaspora via the writing, performance, both musical and theatrical (film and stage), as well as the visual arts of Africans in the Diaspora and those influenced by these aesthetic forms of expression. I am interested in the political and social ramifications of art on society, specifically movements supported by these artists and their forebearers. It is my claim that the artists are the true revolutionaries, their work honest and filled with raw unedited passion. They are our true heroes. Ashay!

Wanda’s Picks Radio Show: Wednesday, April 29, 2020 

Clicking on the link will take you to the archived show. Melanin Magic Sessions Take 10: A special series of shows featuring healers who will leave us with tools we can use to strengthen ourselves during a time when isolation is encouraged while the soul cries for communion.

We’d like to open the show with something about jazz, and McCoy Tyner and the improvisational nature of life – Black life – and Muhammad B. Hanif, Charles Curtis Blackwell and Damu Sudi Alii join us to talk about it.

1. Mina Morita, artistic director of Crowded Fire Theatre, joins us to talk about Dustin Chin’s “Snowflakes, or Rare White People,” produced with the UC Berkeley Drama Department as a radio drama, May 1-10, 2020. I attended the performance via Zoom last week and loved it – story, acting, design, choreography – a delightful story set in the future that leaves one wondering if there is any hope for the species known as “white people.” Is the dysfunction genetic? If so, perhaps all we can hope for in the future is a way to isolate them until they cease to exist. For tickets,. visit https://events.berkeley.edu/index.php/calendar/sn/TDPS.html?event_ID=125989.

2. We rebroadcast a 2017 interview with Delfeayo Marsalis on the release of a new CD that features his father, Ellis Marsalis.

3. Jazz History Month concludes with a conversation with Damu Sudi Alii, Charles Curtis Blackwell, Muhammad B. Hanif. April 30, 2020, is International Jazz Heritage Day. 

Wanda’s Picks Radio Show: Friday, May 1, 2020

In the first conversation Michael J. Satchell and his editor, Marvin X, share the story of Tariq, a great Moorish general. Satchell has published his screenplay to raise funds to make the movie. 

Dameion talk[ed] about solitude (or isolation) and its benefits and how he learned to manage such, called by other names like Administrative Segregation (Ad-Seg), a long name for “the hole” or solitary confinement.

Then in our next half we speak to Dameion Brown, whom I met on stage last night at the Marsh in his role as the fictional Moorish general, Othello. Hadn’t planned it this way, but … Tariq meet Othello (smile).

Dameion agreed to join me this morning to talk about solitude (or isolation) and its benefits and how he learned to manage such, called by other names like Administrative Segregation (Ad-Seg), a long name for “the hole” or solitary confinement. I knew he’d drop a few jewels on us, and, eloquent and soft-spoken, he left the floor covered in salt.

The music was Archie Shepp’s “Revolution” and Duke Ellington and his Orchestra’s “La plus belle africaine,” Tivoli Garden Copenhagen, 1969, Harry Carney, baritone solo. 

1. Marvin X and Michael Satchell join us to talk about a new release, “Tariq, a filmscript” (2020). Black Bird Press says “it is proud to announce the release of ‘Tariq, a filmscript,’ by Michael Satchell. It is historical fiction on the life of General Tariq Ibn Ziyad, who led his army of Moorish and Arab warriors into Spain in 711 A.D. It chronicles his childhood and adulthood as a warrior. Gibraltar is named in honor of him (Arabic: Gebal = Mountain, Tariq). Because of racism, Tariq returned to Africa after two years, although the Moors remained in Spain 700 years. The script depicts Tariq’s relationship with his childhood friend and later wife, Umm-Hakim, who accompanied his march into Spain with her own army.”

Michael Satchell worked on the script 20 years. Marvin X edited the script as a book. This limited edition is for possible backers. The estimated film budget is $150 million. Your support and donation of any amount will be appreciated. A donation of $99.95 is requested for the book. A script reading is planned soon. For more information, please contact Michael Satchell at 415-756-2146 or email satchellmichaelj@gmail.com

2. Dameion Brown had his first ever public performance as the title role in Othello at Marin Shakespeare Company in 2016, achieving what has never been done before by a first-time actor: the honor of “Best Lead Actor” from the Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle. Since then, he has appeared in “The Seagull” at Utopia Theatre Project, “Waafrika” and “The Farm” at TheatreFirst (winning another BATCC award), “Dance of the Holy Ghost” with Ubuntu, and Benedick in “Much Ado About Nothing” last summer at Marin Shakespeare. He formerly taught parenting classes at the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department for at-risk youth. Now he is a teaching artist and mentor at the Alameda Juvenile Facility and Youth Prison at O.H. Close and Chad facilities in Stockton.

Wanda’s Picks Radio Show, Friday, April 24, 2020 

Melanin Magic Sessions Take 9: A special series of shows featuring healers who will leave us with tools we can use to strengthen ourselves during a time when isolation is encouraged while the soul cries for communion.

We open the show with Tosin Aribisala, drummer, percussionist, singer, composer, who hails from Lagos, Nigeria. He joins us to talk about his single, released earlier this year, and “Africa Rising” (2016) and other projects.

This is the final Friday of National Poetry Month. It has been really lovely sharing the airwaves with poets throughout the country. Thanks so much to Kim McMillon, Ph.D., poet, playwright, scholar, for curating with her friend, Lucinda J. Clark, who is the founder of PRA Publishing and the Poetry Matters Project from Augusta, Georgia. We close with a bang, an all women set featuring Bay Area poets: Joyce Young, Adrienne Oliver, Kathryn Takara in Hawaii, and Karla Brundage. Co-hosts Kim and Wanda will close the program with a poem.

Wanda’s Picks Radio Show, Wednesday, April 22, 2020

We open with guests Deborah A. Wright, a retired reference librarian and administrator from the College of Charleston’s Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture in Charleston, S.C.; Dr. David L. Horne, the international facilitator for the Sixth Region Diaspora Caucus (SRDC) and the Pan African Diaspora Union (PADU), an international umbrella organization of Diasporans, and Nvasekie N. Konneh, a Liberian writer, poet, magazine publisher, community and cultural activist. We will talk about SEHWAH Liberia, Inc., a local Liberian NGO and the Sixth Region Diaspora Caucus (SRDC) its United States based Pan African counterpart’s Proposal for COVID-19 Awareness and Food Assistance in Liberia beg. 4/20 so that families can stay safe during the crisis. Donations can be sent via Cash apps or Zelle at $KDonzo or 571-237-9159, or to Mr. Nvasekie Konneh, 267-826-3952.

2. Zarinah Shakir is the producer and host of the award winning Perspectives of Interfaith, a TV program taped and aired at the Arlington Independent Media studios in Arlington, Va., over 16 years. It airs at DCTV, Washington, D.C., Manhattan Neighborhood Network and other markets. She is also the former producer and host for six years of Islamic Perspectives, the longest running TV program about Islam and Muslims in the Washington, D.C., metro area. Ms. Shakir joins us to talk about Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting, which begins this week.

3. Queen Hollins, Earthlodge Center, closes the show. Rafael Jesus Gonzalez‘s poetry for Earth Day is another highlight of today’s show.

Sankofa 2020: A Transcontinental Poetry Reading

Saturday, April 25, West Oakland to West Africa (WO2WA) hosted its first international poetry reading celebrating the release of its new anthology, “Our Spirits Carry Our Voices: West Oakland to West Africa Poetry Exchange.” Almost four years ago, Karla Brundage, at Mills College at the time, created a vehicle to hold true reparations between Africans and African Americans. The boat, not unlike that folded from Aunt Ester Tyler’s Bill of Sale, was a vehicle made of parchment. In August Wilson’s “Gem of the Ocean,” the boat was for Citizen to take to the City of Bones, so that he could wash his soul (56). In Karla’s boat, we folded words into notes on canvas carrying music across telepathic sound waves into cyberspace.

To go back home is more than a wish for many African descendants in the West. We think of Africa as home because this place, the place of our birth and our parents’ and their parents’ births, might be where we live, but it doesn’t always feel like home. African Americans feel tolerated at best, certainly not welcome, not since we got an upgrade and are no longer tax deductible. 

Now, this does not mean that Black labor is not economically viable or that slavery ended in 1865 with the passage of Amendments 13,14,15. Convict leasing might have ended, but COVID-19 shows us how little the thinking has changed as dead Black bodies are stacked in tents in open fields and the virus spreads unchecked in prisons and detention centers throughout the nation even as borders reopen and “normal” is recalibrated.

So the idea three years ago of going home, for the African Americans in the group, was a welcome idea. Karla said that she hadn’t thought about traveling to Ghana as a culmination of the project, but she was game and began planning the trip in 2017. We raised money in a variety of ways: We sold chapbooks with unique sewn covers, asked friends to sponsor us, hosted an Art Auction, a Speakeasy Poetry Reading … lots of planning meetings and parties. I remember one time we met at Karla’s house at 7 a.m. on Mother’s Day for an Oakland-Accra via Skype meet-up, then on a bright day in May, found ourselves at San Francisco International Airport flying not sailing home.

After a stop in Amsterdam we arrived in Accra, where the brothers met us with a school bus. It was nighttime, yet their smiles lit the evening with a special sunrise. You can read about the journey and the various places we went on the trip in Ghana in “Our Spirits Carry Our Voices.” Karla opens each section with a short essay which gives lovely context to the trip from Agoo Hostel in Accra to Cape Coast Slave Dungeon and One Africa Spa in Elmina Village. We had quite the adventure.

It wasn’t my first time in Ghana; however, I usually travel alone, so it was fun with a group, both WO2WA and Ehalakasa. My favorite day was the morning we all met. That morning at Agoo Hotel it was really pouring rain. May-July is rainy season in West Africa, yet everyone came and we sat in the lounge and talked. We introduced ourselves to each other, shared stories, poetry and talked about the recent journey juxtaposed against another, more historic reference(s) and how we returned.

Sankofa is a term everyone knew, because it is an Andinkra symbol, indigenous to the Akan, in Ghana. However, I am not sure if its impact was realized before we were seated next to each other. The Doors of No Return were swinging in the opposite direction. Until we arrived for many present, African Americans were an intellectual concept – not a flesh and blood reality. Really, the projections are not one-sided.

Ramadan started while we were in Ghana two years ago too. In Ghana, especially in Nima Village, Accra, when Ramadan starts there are no more late night parties at clubs. So before everything went into lockdown, we walked to a nearby restaurant with a band and met Karla’s friends from the US Consulate whom we’d met earlier that week on a tour. The band was really good and we had fun dancing.

We read of captive African ancestors walking home and even flying to freedom . . .

Zakiyyah fell into a hole on our walk there from Agoo –yes you heard correctly. We were walking along and then I looked back and she’d disappeared. There was a huge hole in the center of the sidewalk. We helped her out and she put ice on her hand at the club. She felt well enough to stay. This would not be the last fall—I ended up in a hole too. I wrote a poem about it. It was dark and I didn’t know there was no ground there. I stepped off the bus into air.

Karla had spent years in Africa, first as a Fulbright scholar teaching in Zimbabwe, then more recently in Côte d’Ivoire, where she taught at a high school. On holiday in Ghana, she went to a poetry event where she met Yibor Kojo Yibor or Sir Black, who co-founded Ehalakasa.

Coined from three terms – “Eha,” which means song in Ewe; “La” which means Sing in Ga; and “Kasa” which means Talk in Akan (Twi) – it is a call, the response: “It lives in us!” The Ehalakasa concept is “it,” the solution to whatever ails family, community, society, lives in the collective wisdom of those gathered. Ehalakasa poet teachers (like Youth Speaks in the Bay) give workshops in high schools, where the youth are taught how to write poetry. The organization hosts a monthly Poetry Slam at the W.E.B. Dubois Center in Accra where the big poetry slam between the Americans and Africans took place in 2018. WO2WA and Ehalakasa made local headlines.

We read of captive African ancestors walking home and even flying to freedom; however, those technologies were a bit beyond our capabilities. So, like Aunt Ester, WO2WA poets use paper – not necessarily a bill of sale but words nonetheless – these words too made flesh.

For her community engagement project at Mills, Karla created this boat – a WO2WA waterway, an exchange utilizing a Japanese poetic form called Renshi. Renshi, like a jazz riff, takes the last line of poetic verse, which becomes the first line of the respondent. We were throwing linguistic preserves across colonized water, similar to Morse code, yet a bit more primal … familiar – the language echoing a refrain … ancestors on both sides of the Atlantic bridging what was assumed lost: DNA memory, a durable profundity. Citizen asked for passage to the City of Bones to wash his soul – that paper boat, words … the right words were all he needed along with two+1 (for Esu) shiny pennies.

Get on board, little children …” For how many African descendants in the Diaspora is finding one’s way back more philosophical than an achievable reality? Poetry – Renshi, to be precise – was the way home for us.

I remember the conversation that October in 2016 with Karla the day before the Maafa Commemoration. We were at the flower market in West Oakland buying white roses, carnations, daisies and other blooms for the Ancestors who’d be honored at the Ritual the next day. I hadn’t seen Karla since she’d been back from West Africa, and there she was. I think we planned to meet, but it was nice seeing her there. She agreed to recite a poem at the ceremony. Besides buying flowers, we were to talk about her project. I thought it was great and I encouraged her to continue with her plan even if advisors didn’t fully grasp the concept yet – West Oakland to West Africa, WHAT?! Clearly a concept only a Diaspora Citizen could birth.

Karla asked me to recommend poets I knew and to introduce her to the librarian at the West Oakland Library, where I have hosted poetry readings for the past 30 years. WO2WA workshops were at both Mills College and the West Oakland Library. The poets I recommended shared the call with other poets. Maestra Brundage then took the names of these poets and asked Sir Black aka Yibor Kojo Yibor to match American poets with West African poets, most, if not all Ehalakasa members.

Karla Brundage, editor, ‘Our Spirits Carry Our Voices’

I think we had about eight topics to explore, at which time, the project was to end, but the African American poets were like, hold up, of course we have to travel to Africa to meet our poet partners. For many poets, this was their first time to the Motherland. What better way to travel home for the first time than to have friends there to meet you?

The love affair continues. One member of the WO2WA, Mama Makeda, now lives in Ghana. When the borders closed, she was stateside and is here now. With WhatsApp and Zoom we are now able to do more like have a virtual book tour, since COVID-19 made travel to Ghana in June for a performance at the National Theatre impossible.

WO2WA hosted its first transcontinental reading April 25 with hosts in Virginia and Accra, poets in Detroit, Brooklyn, Oakland, Alameda, Richmond, San Francisco and Hawaii. That Saturday, April 25, featured poets, WO2WA and Ehalakasa, had an opportunity to begin sharing the cloth woven with words that continues to carry our voices back and forth across the water. There was an open mic too. 

The next poetry reading is Saturday, May 23, 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. PT. It is a free event, but donations are welcome. Sign up in advance for the open mic. Buy a book, sales benefit Ehalakasa, which is developing a community center. You can purchase books on Amazon. For information, visit the website: https://westoaklandtowestafrica.com/.

At the Weekend of Words! Friday, May 8-Sunday, May 10, Karla and Sir Black and Tyrice will be on a panel discussion at the poetry exchange, Saturday, May 9, 2020, 10 a.m. PT. Visit https://wow.shuffle.do/talks/west-oakland-to-west-africa-facilitating-an-international-poetry-exchange/. 

Other highlights at the “Colossus: Home” reading on Sunday, May 10, 7 p.m. PT, the collection looks at “home” as a theme and the funds raised by the book, co-edited by Karla Brundage and Sara Biel, will go to Moms 4 Housing. Visit https://wow.shuffle.do/talks/colossus-home/.

Wanda Sabir is facilitating the panel, “Writing for Social Justice,” Saturday, May 9, 4:45 p.m. PT, with Aya de Leon, director, June Jordan’s Poetry for the People at UC Berkeley, and San Francisco Poet Laureate Kim Shuck. Visit https://wow.shuffle.do/talks/panel-writing-for-social-justice/. 

For the entire schedule visit: Weekend of Words! https://wow.shuffle.do/.

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 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.