Tag Archives: Music

White People Stories in Black Face

I recently expressed on my Facebook page that I wished Jay-Z would drop a new project from 4:44 every week for the rest of the year. Ya know, just to have something to balance out some of the absurd fuck shit of a nightmare taking place daily in the Whitehouse right now.

Having switched over from Apple Music to Tidal when 4:44 dropped, I get really excited when I tap on the app and see a new video or footnotes for a video from this brilliant project.

Now, I have to say, that although I love this album, Moonlight as a track on it’s own was always my least favorite. It’s the only track on the album I don’t ever really need to hear when I listen to 4:44, not because of the message, which I totally get. It’s just, as a music track, it doesn’t really move me. But see, that’s the genius of 4:44. The visual components to each track, present a deeper read of each one. And the video of Moonlight, which dropped this past week did just that.

A good friend shared the promo from Issa Rae’s IG account with me and I was really excited and delighted to see this tongue in cheek reimagining of “Friends” with an all Black cast, featuring Issa Rae, Jerrod Carmichael, Lil Rey Howery, Lakeith Stanfield, Tessa Thompson, and Tiffany Haddish. Their theme song was “Friends” by Whodini which I thought was greatness. I was all set to just sit and watch the cast act out word for word what I believe is an actual episode from the dominantly White casted hit show. Watching these actors go through the motions of playing a Black Chandler, Ross, Monica, etc., it became clear how this was also a satire of the show itself. But then it goes even further by following Charmichael offset after a break in the scene.  He discusses the questionable success of this Black Friends version with comedian, Hannibal Buress who doesn’t mince words about his feelings on how far Black people have come in their ability to tell their own stories from their own perspectives.

“You gonna do black ‘Full House’ next? ‘Family Ties?’ Why stop there? ‘Home Improvement?’”

This is where I believe Jay begins to asks the real questions. And it ties right into a conversation I was having with Khalilah this weekend about films like “Girls Trip,” which has received many mixed and conflicting reviews from the Black community (I haven’t seen it yet) and the Netflix movie, “The Incredible Jessica James” (I watched this weekend) which imagines a reality where class, gender and relationships issues are on tap but race is addressed zero times. It’s like the new formula is just put Black people where you normally see White people, be sure to keep some White people in there and wallah! EQUALITY!

We stuck in lala land. Even when we win, we gon lose was a line I didn’t like hearing. It’s a hard truth. I was so anti- “Lala Land” last year, it was ridiculous. I was disgusted that Hollywood was harkening back to the days of old in this day and age as if those good old days were good for anyone else but White people. The fucked up thing is, I like musical films from that time. But uhhh, I didn’t have to not live through that time. Musical films came about as an attempt to distract and entertain Americans living through a brutal depression.

CAN WE PLEASE MOVE THE GENRE FORWARD?

Doris and Lynching

In Peck’s “I am not Your Negro,” the solid case for White people delusion is made with scathingly juxtaposed old Hollywood scenes put up against images of lynching and Black civil rights protesters being beaten and of Dorothy Counts being spat upon by a bunch White children for attending on of the first schools in Charlotte, NC to be integrated.      At the same time that fucking Doris Day was singing in her pristine make believe kitchen set in front of a camera, Black people were literally being killed because they demanded the right to sit at the same food counter with Becky.

In 4:44, Jay Z has interrogated several key systems of oppression and has taken it a step further by questioning what our true voices are. Can everything we do to thrive, to be seen and heard and felt stop being a reaction to what White people do or think about what we do?

Can we see ourselves outside of the oppressors gaze?

 

Advertisements

The Get Down Gang

I’m not really sure how “The Get Down” turned out to be as good a show as it is. I haven’t had a chance to go through all the credits but I’m pretty sure Nas, Nelson George and Grandmaster Flash himself are among the list of producers.  I was pretty sure I would never watch it because I was not looking forward to what I felt was the dominant casting of light skinned Blacks in the leading roles in order to capture viewers. But I wanted to spend time with my husband and he invited me to join him to watch it. So of course I said yes, with reservations.

We’ve only watched the first episode, which is an epic hour and 45 minutes long and I’m already blown away, not so much by the characters initially, which take a minute to really grow on you because of creator, Baz Lurhmman’s traditional A.D.D. direction of editing. The attempt to crunch visual story telling, which mixes old 70s footage of the Bronx with set recreations of circa 70s Bronx, with what was going on in hip-hop, politics, the economy and the neighborhood, while also telling a young love story and the genesis of a rise to fame through mythical hip-hop iconography is dizzying and trippy as fuck.

Of course, I kinda like that.

Just about every frame has something critical to communicate to the viewer. It appears to be cut specifically for the purpose of nostalgia and also drawing connections from the past to the present day sense of Black musical trends and the culture and style and politics that shape it.

I don’t know yet about the episodes to come but there are very few long takes in “The Get Down” episode one. It’s all about movement, color, story telling, and emotionally hyperbolic placement in the artifice, magic, substance fueled, kinetic, beauty of Black people and culture in 1970s Bronx.

Cadillac
Cadillac something what he wants

There is a dance scene where Cadillac, one of the main character’s opponents, shows everyone just how much power he has by claiming the dance floor. Wearing an all white suit, Cadillac attempts to shift the course of budding romance between lead character Ezekial and Mylene, the girl whose affections they both seek, through the power of dance. This incredible scene made us think about how dance is primarily social, tribal, spiritual and a form of communication that conveys celebration, love, intimacy, challenge, violence, domination, attitude, posturing and more.

There are many things that blew me away in this episode, like the way that the paths between the mythical Shaolin who scales roofs and jumps from building to building risking life and limb for an album and Ezekial, the young, unrealized wordsmith (MC,) converge to form the beginning of a life changing relationship.  It speaks to the importance of having a gang or a squad a team of people to support one another and to belong to.

Also, the dialogue tends to go from verbal to lyrical to musical at any moment and I was often left wondering if I was listening correctly or hearing correctly. “The Get Down” is not only a nostalgic and visual feast for the senses. I was uniquely impressed by the heart in it, particularly in the friendship among the young men. I really look forward to seeing how this energy, along with the pace and epic scope of such an ambitious first episode can be maintained for two seasons.

If I gotta slap a pussy ass nigga, I wanna make it looks sexy too!

So much of what I learned about Kendrick in this interview with Jay Rubin were things I suspected from having listened to this work thus far and from listening to DAMN like so many times since it dropped. I don’t even know how many times I’ve listened to it.

As a fellow Gemini, I recognize several core elements of Lamar’s personality off the bat. I can tell a bit about who his musical influences are. I can tell he loves film and visual mediums. By now I’ve heard him use his voice to morph into numerous different characters and personalities which is a very Geminian trait; exploration of self through multitudinous expressions, experimentation, ease with adaptation and emphasis on the craft of storytelling.

I’m fascinated by his ability to use his many voices so purposefully, to not get lost or overwhelmed or scattered which is often one of my greatest challenges with expression. I mean, I’m sure he’s challenged by it but at the end of the day he puts something out that is cohesive, wildly original, unapologetic, alive, authentic and uncompromising. As Rubin says, you don’t have to agree with it to be able to respect it because you know it’s something he truly connects to. That alone is deeply inspiring to me.

The first song of Kendricks that caught my ear was “Hood Politics.” It was playing in a small Black owned Wine store in Harlem that I had wandered into with my friend Cece  one evening. I remember trying to make out the words in the hook so I could file it away mentally so that I could look it up again later. I feel like he did three or four distinctly different things on that track that morphed into one another in unexpected and not altogether cognitive ways. Similarly to the structure of some Bjork’s tracks, I was excitingly jarred by the disjointedness of it. I wanted to hear it again. I wanted to listen closer, take it apart, decode it, ponder his choices. It’s really rare that I feel like I hear something new, which is not to say that that I don’t hear anything I like and even love. But new?

Of course nothing is ever really new upon closer inspection. But fresh new interpretations of the old are definitely worth examining deeply because they often signal the beginning of new movements, a shifting of collective consciousness towards what it means to truly not give a fuck about oppressive establishments, governments, systems and regimes. It makes those of us seeking out definitions of freedom, perk up and take notice. Someone understands. Someone else feels similar. Someone else has made the leap of faith that comes with baring your soul at the risk of perceived failure. Though it seems impossible to me that being authentic and vulnerable could ever truly be met with failure. How can you fail when you’re being real?

Check out out Rubin’s interview with Kendrick here.

 

Lemonade: The Visual Black Wombspace, Pt1

There will be so many different think pieces and stories, documentaries, study groups, conferences and courses spawned by the massive impact of Beyonce’s Lemonade and I have so enjoyed mining the internet and magazines and casual work conversations to observe the reactions and make note of themes that arise to compare and contrast them with my own as I process it all. I cannot even begin to really describe how phenomenal, how loving, how healing, how deeply moving and ground breaking the work is to me, or what a personal call to healing it is for Black women.

Continue reading Lemonade: The Visual Black Wombspace, Pt1

You say Goodbye and I say Hello: Prince

I’m into my 5th soul now. That makes me three hundred and twenty.

-Prince

Love Symbol Album

Even my therapist told me on Saturday morning that she had a special relationship with Prince even if he didn’t know about it.

LOL!!!

I laughed and shook my head. “Yes, I think I understand what you mean.” I absolutely understand. Prince was by no means the focal part of my session this weekend but his passing has made me realize several things, the most important being that: I want to be happy. I don’t want to stay too sad about anything for longer than is necessary.

Continue reading You say Goodbye and I say Hello: Prince

Time Stopping Thursdays: My Favorite video of the month

35 Bday

I viewed this amazing video posted on Facebook by Angela Laketa Tanksley for the first time several weeks ago but so far, no matter how many times I view it, it always gives me life. I mean it’s not just that she was bold and brave enough to take on creating a remake of one the best Beyonce videos ever, “Grown Woman” but also that she did it to commemorate her 35th birthday. And even more than that, she didn’t try to be Beyonce. She emulated some of the best things about the energy of Beyonce and Destiny’s child videos, like friendship, Black women together, beauty, motherhood, marriage, strength, sexiness, fun and laughter and she used the resources that applied to her life, like the baby carriages (oh God I loved the women dancing next to their baby carriages!!!!!!! I loved it!!) and her husband opening his door to see his wife and her friends raising a ruckus in the hallway inspired by Beyonce’s “7/11” video. The look on his face and the shake of his head was pure husbandness. LOLOL!!! He was like, I don’t want any part of this. Back to my X-Box. Omigod, I just loved it. It made me feel like I could actually make a video like this one day!

Duoble Baby
“Betcha I run this!”

Angela did do some literal depictions of her favorite parts of Beyonce’s “Grown Woman” in ways that I loved. She had her husband on the couch and was rubbing his knee, showing her pride in marriage and then had her kids on her bed all around her while she laughed and smiled as her son kissed her and then there’s a bit where her and friends are dressed in sexy black outfits doing the dance routine that Beyonce does with two back up dancers near the end of “Grown Woman.” Angela shot her choreographed piece in a neighborhood that looked like a suburb somewhere outside in natural light. They killed it.

It was like fun sleep over/dance party at a hair salon mixed with grown sexiness defined by some of the best things about being a grown Black woman, and just showing how versatile, how dynamic, how sexy, how fun, how beautiful it is. I think I’m gonna go watch it again right now!

I Like the Noises They Make…

If I was to ask you what sounds Michael Jackson and Prince make frequently when they sing you would know exactly what I mean. Michael used to do this heeeeheeeheee thing. And Prince does this high pitched falsetto thing like someone ran over his foot or he’s just climaxed or something. LOLOL!!! You know what I mean. Those noises are iconic.

Even before Venus and Serena came on the scene, we became familiar with deep guttural releases and grunts and sometimes screams emitted as tennis players lunged forward to serve, volley and connect with the ball. Every single sound is made in an effort towards a journey to victory. Bruce Lee and many master Martial artists make sounds when they practiced as well. Imagine a Kung Fu flick without human noise. No really, think about it.

One of things i love about the way Bjork makes music is that she relishes the primal sounds in nature and is always finding ways to incorporate them in her work. When she starts to scream or yell and let her voice take her, she’s not looking for a polished, finished sound, though she is a perfectionist about arranging everything that supports that sound. She lives for the raw, for the visceral, for the groan that it is emitted from an organic, unpracticed, yet purposeful place.

Drake is another artists who incorporates noises in his voice this way. He uses his yeahs, and uhs and other noises minimally and effectively to create this unconscious feeling of connection to his vulnerability even as he brags in various ways that he’s a Legend. That and he’s ALWAYS up in his feelings on every track. LOL!! But I’m a Drake addict for that reason so there’s no reasoning with me. His emo approach is on fleek.

When we are babies, before we grasp the art of language, we communicate through noises, through different pitch levels, through gurgles, laughters, scream, shouts, indecipherable streams of phonics meant to draw attention to our need to connect, communicate, get our needs met, be held, fed, touched, taken to the bathroom, shown the way, told stories, be instructed on what to do and what not to do and also to share what we ourselves are discovering. Before we can “talk” we react to everything we discover, feel, sense, taste, hear, with noises.

The noises we make are primal and are the first language we know as human beings. Mammals and many other life forms use noises primarily to communicate effectively. Anthropomorphic characteristics only occur based on the level of integration into human life. Otherwise, animals speak the same language all their lives. They’re not like, hey do I write a letter, compose a tune, draft an email. sing a song, telegraph or draw a chart in order to greet someone this morning?

As humans we find ourselves in a world where communicating verbally can take on a myriad of forms, many of them meant to manipulate, deceive, falsify, hide, and self sabotage but very rarely do we communicate clearly, directly intimately. This is why forms of communion and art that allow people to make noises are so important. Noises bring the art of communication back to basics. When we first were taught the alphabet we had to sound out everything. We had to learn the sounds of each letter in order to understand the role they played in forming words, then sentences, paragraphs, stories, conversations. I read at high a level at a very young age because I was completely enthralled with the power of words, particularly in writing and books. I was lost happily in the world of books for years as a young girl. It was the way that a shy introvert learned to navigate the social circles of my peers. But there is a deep communication beyond words that occurs in noises and in silences, in a baby’s eyes, in Serena Williams yells, in Drakes, uhs, in Bjorks piercing Icelandic shrill.

Some noises we make effect us on an unconscious level we never fully understand or are aware of. Others we understand are necessary of our sanity and peace of mind. The sound a and tone of someone’s voice for me can often be just as important if not more than what they are saying. It tells me much more about the true intent than the actual words. Once I can trust the sound, then I can listen or rather I should say, I can hear.

It’s so important to really hear.

What Happened Miss Winehouse?

When Amy Winehouse was a girl she told her mother that she needed to be rougher with Amy, that she was too soft and that she could get away with murder around her. That was my first clue to Amy’s nature as I watched the documentary about her entitled “Amy” last week at Upstate Films in Woodstock.

Amy’s  father left her and her mother when she was still a girl. Her mother claimed she could not handle Amy’s overwhelming and intense energy. And Amy couldn’t handle the overwhelming and intense illusion of fame that came with her success as a pop singer. She was bold and brash, outspoken and seemed incapable of keeping her feelings in but at her core she was highly sensitive, a raw and open wound that needed more than anything else to feel loved, understood and protected.

I didn’t start to really pay attention to Amy’s music until after she had passed. But like anyone in the America I could not get away from her music when she was the height of her short lived career. It was everywhere, this old soul jazz vocalist in the body of a young Jewish girl and the face of a lead actress in a Pedro Almadovar film crossed with a Ronette. Where did she come from? Why was she like this?

Continue reading What Happened Miss Winehouse?

Miss Simone

When I look at Nina Simone, I see what is right with her, and what was wrong with the culture that surrounded her.

-Tanya Steele

When I was a girl, my dad would listen to Sunday Morning Classics with Hal Jackson every single weekend.  For many years, Sunday Morning Classics woke me early every Sunday and I have never been a morning person but I didn’t mind. Sunday Morning Classics is where I remember hearing Nina Simone’s “MY Baby Just Cares for me” for the first time. I was familiar with the tune because of the classic Channel commercial.  My adolescent imagination was enchanted by her voice and the sexiness it lent to this very French perfume. What she does on the piano in that song is beyond my words to describe. In fact, although the song itself is quite popular, it’s not her vocals but her piano solo that slays. She was after all a prodigy, classically trained in piano from a very young age.

I read her autobiography a few years ago and last night I watched the documentary “What Happened Miss Simone” on Netflix. I had problems with it. But I had problems with her autobiography as well.  I was disturbed to learn how her husband, Andrew Stroud had severely beaten her throughout their marriage as well as tied her up and raped her on one occasion. I was disturbed that she chose to stay with him but based on her mindset I can understand why she stayed.  It was also sad to see how Nina replicated this abusive behavior by beating her own daughter in later years. But again, I can understand why this happened as well.  It became apparent to me as I read her autobiography that Nina was perhaps not the most reliable account of her own life because she seemed only to pull selectively from the parts of her memory that did not require her to take any responsibility for her own negative behavior.

What disturbed me about the documentary was the reliance on her husband to describe her and her declining mental state without ever interjecting that he was responsible for so much of it. It was if you were listening to a perpetrator talk about the unfortunate abuse of their own victim. I was not against him being a part of the documentary but at no point was there any evidence that Liz Garbus sought to investigate him or what in his background had caused him to be such a violent man. Though the facts of his violence were stated, his character was never really called into question. He was called a bully for working her hard. Nina was called violent, angry, difficult, unpredictable, frightening, prone to mood swings and more.

But the violence began long before Andrew entered Nina’s life. And that I believe is what laid the foundation for her acceptance of his abuse. As a girl, Nina was “discovered” by two white women who witnessed her incredible piano playing talent in church where she lead services and followed sermons that her mother gave. Nina’s family allowed these white women to isolate her in their home for many hours a day in their home while they trained her to be that exceptional Black novelty, the first Black classical pianist in America.  Money was raised for her scholarship. Her lessons were paid for. She was treated well. But she was isolated, lonely, always on the outside of things and worst of all, she was forbidden by her parents to ever complain about racial prejudice or to admit that it had any effect on her life. I don’t know if it is possible to really grasp what a thing that is to endure for a black girl born in America in the 1930s but I do know that this was violence that began in the core of Nina’s emotional foundation. Being taken in by two white women who displayed human kindness while facing and witnessing the evils of racism by the same white faces in other situations,  feeling like an outsider in both Black and white circles because like a bird in a gilded cage, she was held to higher expectations, set apart from the group and worked so hard that she basically had no childhood and no healthy form of socialization with her own people.

In this White ruled world, Nina was chosen. She was supposed to feel lucky. But sadly she was tortured, angry and depressed for most of her life except for the rare moments on stage when she could as she said be “free.” And you could see it in her movement; hear it in her voice and the music she made. She was a force of nature and I don’t think she ever really felt understood by anyone. She only came close to being free when she was able to release her spirit on stage. And what she did on stage was beyond the result of careful rehearsal because she would change her performance up all the time. She was notoriously disciplined but she did not allow that to dictate her performance. It was as if she defied her own training or rather she would channel her classical training into something  deeply emotional and spiritual.

The music that made her a star was considered by her family and I’m sure to the two White women who plucked her out of seeming obscurity to be “The Devil’s music.”  How ironic. She had to change her name (her real name was Eunice Waymon) to protect her identity and fragment herself in order to do what came naturally to her. When Nina found deeper purpose as an artist in the Civil Rights movement and began writing protest songs, she was ostracized again by record companies who refused to play her records thereby cutting her off from means to support herself.

How do you not go mad in these circumstances?

So I was not crazy about this documentary. In fact, like Steele, I was disappointed even in the title, which seemed to suggest that Nina was somehow to blame for all that happened to her with no emphasis whatsoever on the impact of the culture of racism, denial and compartmentalization that eventually unraveled her. She didn’t go mad for no reason. No woman ever does. Certainly, no Black woman.

Sunday Morning in Bed with Two Geminis

kanyepaul

“I know you’re happy, cause I can see it

So tell the voice inside your head to believe it.”

Yesterday, one of my friends posted the story about Kanye fans not knowing who Kanye West is. I didn’t bother to read it but I thought my friends’ own written byline, “This is why we can’t have nice things.” Was hilarious.

This morning I discovered by chance that the story was the result of a song the two recently collaborated on together. I went to my itunes app just to see what was new and saw a photo of Kanye and McCartney representing a new single, “Only One.” I had a happy flip out, listened to a sample and then bought it.

I knew nothing about the song but I knew it was sung from the spirit of his mother the minute he began to sing. She is his heart. Tears came to my eyes as I listened and felt every word coming from a divine place. Later on, reading that his daughter was sitting on his lap when the words came to him was just the most incredible way to start off a rainy Sunday in a new apartment I could think of. Especially after talking with my own mother, an incredible woman I love, for hours last night.

So much about this collaboration is huge. The generosity of a music giant to fall back and support this Black Genius while he channels the spirit if his beloved mother while his beloved baby daughter sits on his lap. It’s just…beyond. The amount of trust that requires is just so deeply moving to me, so fragile and strong at the same time. Okay, I’m getting emotional again. Like I’m just overwhelmed with feelings I cannot put into words here which means that I might have to get a bit abstract and write a poem about it over on eternalista.

This is what I love about music! Its ability to mend, to build, to bring together, to heal and to channel the divine is just…hope giving. It’s magical, spiritual, miraculous and political all at once!

Geminis like to have their fingers in a lot of pots at the same time. As a typical Gemini sun, Gemini rising, I know this first hand. Sometimes it wears us thin and fizzles out, and sometimes it produces something unforgettable. But I’m starting to learn that what’s important is focusing on the process living a creative life, if you so choose and not the outcome. Dedication to the process ensures the outcome will always be what it should. Success has a multitude of faces.

Kanye and his mother are still together, still collaborating all the time. He’s always felt this. I feel it as well. Kanye’s fearless sharing through art is always an inspiration.