Archive for the Photo-Essays Category

The Fall Of Turd Blossom

Posted in Photo-Essays, Playthell on politics with tags , , on November 13, 2012 by playthell

           

Karl Rove Busted!

 Bush’s Brain is Dead!

After engineering the election of George Bush, a Texas Republican dunderhead with little knowledge about the world, to the presidency of the United States over the far more capable Al Gore, political strategist Karl Rove was acclaimed a political genius and dubbed “Bush’s Brain.”  Although Bush’s pet name for his puppetmesiter is “Turd blossom.”

And when he did it again, after Bush had presided over the 9/11 attack – the worse national security failure in American history, and then attacked the wrong country – Rove took on the aura of a political oracle whose political advice was infallible, and Republicans regarded his pronouncements with the reverence with which the Catholic faithful receive the encyclicals of the Pope.  That’s why they are all shell shocked after President Obama’s crushing defeat of Mitt The Twit.

Turd Blossom’s  dramatic fall from the pedestal on which he had pompously perched began when he was commenting on the election returns on FOX News – that flagship of that incubator of Republican fantasies David Frum, a former Bush speech writer and genuine intellectual, calls “The Republican entertainment complex.” After FOX’s own numbers men called Ohio for President Obama, which gave him the election, Rove had a conniption and went into fumbling fit of denial.

Reflecting the tension between those who consider themselves “journalist” and the Republican propagandists who provide the commentary, the anchor woman, Megyn Kelly,  got up and walked back the room where the election results were being tallied and asked them to respond to Rove’s concerns.  They were steadfast in their conclusions.

This prompted her to ask Rove live on television if his calculations were real or  “just math that you do as a Republican to make yourself feel better.”  It was the most embarrassing moment I have ever witnessed of a major commentator on television in real time.  One can see why Rove went into shock and denial because he had just blown 300 million dollars on the election through his two super PACS American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS. 

Not only did Romney lose with two million fewer votes than John McCain garnered, but all but one of the Senate candidates supported by Rove also lost!  The Democrats retained the White House, added to their majority in the Senate and increased their numbers in the House. This colossal Republican defeat has reduced Rove to a figure of ridicule and contempt in and out of the Grand Obstructionist Party.

The venerable rightwing war horse Richard Viguerie predicted that Turd blossom “would never be hired to run or consult on a national campaign again.”  And the racist Blow hard Republican Buffon Donald Trump tweeted “congrats to Karl rove on blowing 400 million this cycle.  Every race Crossroads GPS ran ads in the Republicans lost.  What a waste of money.”

The Donald Was Really Pissed!
 
Yet his insane Racist Antics Help Bring the GOP Down!

Joe Scarboro lamented that the reason the Republicans were so shocked by their defeat was because the Republican media commentariat “lied to us!”  Indeed, the analysis of the various pre-election polls released today by Nate Silver – the numbers crunching wizard at the New York Times who called it all right – shows that the most inaccurate predictions came from two of the most prestigious albeit Republican leaning pollsters: Rasmussen and Gallup, who were off by 4 and 5 points respectively

The attacks cited above are but a sampling of the invective his fellow Republicans are heaping on the head of Turd. And other Republican prognosticators who had predicted a Romney victory – Newt Gingrich, Dirty Dick Morris, Michael Steele, et al – are publicly confessing the error of their ways.

However the most brutal public flagellations are coming from the television comedians.  There are certainly too man to cover here, but the Saturday Night Live Skit deserves honorable mention, but  Dave Letterman bit took first prize with me.  Assuming the dramatis personae of a Koch brother speaking to Rove, he says “Hey Tubby, how much will it take to but this election” as he shells out money.

Dave cautions us not to be surprised if we hear that the Koch brothers  jumped Rove and kicked his ass! The bloodletting in the Grand Obstructionist Party has just begun.  I shall watch from my front row seat with the jaded blood lust of spectators in the Roman Coliseum where Gladiators fought to the death, and everybody will get a thumb’s down!   I pray that Turd Blossom die the death of a pole cat and stink his way to hell!!!!!

*******************

Playthell G. Benjamin

Harlem, New York

November 12, 2012

Playing Mas!

Posted in Cultural Matters, Photo-Essays with tags , , , on September 30, 2012 by playthell

Struttin their stuff in the Road March

 A Bacchanal in Brooklyn

Once again Brooklyn’s beautiful Eastern Parkway was awash in colorfully costumed revelers on Labor Day. It is the biggest annual parade in the USA – although partisans of the Puerto Rican Day Parade dispute this claim.   On this day the Trinidadian tradition of road marches, playing mas and Calypso music is employed to celebrate the cultures of all the English speaking Caribbean.

Its Carnival time in Brooklyn and everybody “jumps up” for the sheer joy it brings.  No matter where I happen to be I make it my business to get back to the Big Apple for the Labor Day bacchanal, a restorative ritual that rejuvenates the Caribbean community through the joy of music and dance, breathes new life into the culture, cements a sense of community, and showers observers of all backgrounds with good vibes that makes the spirit dance!

It is a colorful and dynamic spectacle that is unique among public events in the US, except for Madi Gras in New Orleans, but is common fare south of the border.  Although Carnival serves many functions, social catharsis chief among them, the display of black bodies and the celebration of their beauty is a major raison d’ eter.  It’s one of the main things that attract revelers of both sexes to the Eastern Parkway “jump up.”

The big event of the day is the road march.  This is where those who dress up in costumes – which the Trinis call “playing Mas’ – stroll through the streets singing Calypso songs, strutting their stuff to the beat and trying to compete for the coveted road march prize.  The judge’s standards are demanding and the competition is fierce.  Groups are graded on costumes, floats and music.

This competition is taken so seriously that the different organizations work and plan all year in order to compete on this very special day.  This kind of serious effort is characteristic of organizations that participate in this public Dionysian ritual.  One need only look at the “Samba Schools” of Brazil or the Mardi Gras clubs in New Orleans in order to witness the intensity of the preparations.

Whatever else Carnival may mean it is an opportunity for narcissist of both sexes to display their assets; thus proving a visual feast for those who love human eye candy.   Here are some select images as seen through the lens of the internationally renowned art photographer, Ms. Lisa Dubois.

 The Joy of the Moment Beams from their Faces

 Jubilation!

 Winding!

 

Getting down and Dirty!

 

 The Art of Carnival

 

 The complexity of design is marvelous
The Goddess Oshun Personified!

 

 Elegant Erotica!

 
A Golden Gal

 

 Paint and feathers are pervasive in the costumes

At Carnival….

 

…..The Women Rule

 

Flying the Flags High….

 

 Celebrating their Island Homes
 
The Boy’s Rubbing Up!

 

She’s playing it off …chillin in the groove

 

 Salivating over the Pulchritude!

 

Intricate designs painstakingly executed

 

 A Trini Dougla Gal!

 

Africa and India meet in Trinidad

 

 Watch the Hands!

 

 Jewelry as Art

The Next Generation

 

 

 Passing on the Tradition

 

 At The End Road March

 A graceful stroll down Eastern Parkway

 

 The Masquerade is over!

 

 

Looking to next year

 

  “Da Mayor” of Harlem Leslie Wytche was There

 

 

Partying Hearty Jumpin Up in the Streets!

 

 

 ***************

 

Photos By: Lisa Dubois

Text by: Playthell Benjamin

New York City,

September 26, 2012

The Easter Parade in New York

Posted in Cultural Matters, Photo-Essays with tags , , on April 9, 2012 by playthell

                                                                                       

 This Cancer Surgeon is Sharp as his Scalpel!
 But he had Competition
 From Poet Don Raphel
 
  And Don Jaun

 

 

****************

 

The Ladies Made their Fashion Statements

 

 With their Lovely Easter Bonnets

 

 They Come in all Sizes and Colors
 

 Sisters!

 

A Different Angle 

 

There Was Drama 

 

Panache!

 

 

A Different Angle

Spectacle!

 

 

Spectacular

 

High Fashion

 

Chic! 

 

Sassy!

 

 

 Sometimes the Whole Family Wore Bonnets

 

 A Family Affair

 

 There Were All kinds of Bonnets

 

 

Fashion Eclectics

 

 

And Fashion Outlaws 

 

Free Thinkers 

 

Fashion  Subversives

 

 

And  Fantasy!

 Fashion Iconoclast

 

And Afrocentrists!

 

And the Bodacious Bonnets of Harlem Church Women

Yet for High Style and Male Elegence

Old School Ruled!  

  

The Easter Parade Was Bootylicious Too!

 

 

Eye Candy Was Everywhere

 

Everywhere you Looked one could see

The Object of the Commodores’ song: “Brick Hooouse!” 

They looked like Kinetic Ebony Sculptures

As they Promenaded About in Varied Costumes

DASHING DUETS!

 Jubilation

Grandeur

 

 Stand outs in the crowd

Free Spirits!

Only in New York

The Cavaleir and his Lady

In their own world

Shongo and the Dragon Lady

Representin on the Fifth

The Long and the Short of it

Double Click on likn to hear “Easter Parade” sung by the Great Sarah Vaugh and Billy Ekstine

http://youtu.be/eue1R0Gt86o

***************

P.G Benjamin

Harlem New York

Easter Monday 2012

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jazz Monday’s at the Dwyer!

Posted in Cultural Matters, Music Reviews, Photo-Essays with tags , on November 20, 2011 by playthell

        Craig Harris: Trombonist/Bandleader/Composer

 The Joint be Really Jumpin!!

 Every other Monday night at the Dwyer Cultural Center in Harlem you can hear some real Jazz.  Since most of the Jazz venues are downtown and charge hefty prices to see a show, the Dwyer has broken the pattern with excellent Jazz performance at a pittance: ten bucks!  The vibe is informal, the acoustics great, the room intimate.  It other words, it’s just the right atmosphere for Jazz Performance. And if you love Jazz you more than get your money’s worth.  In fact, it is no exaggeration to say it’s the best entertainment value in the Apple!

The Dwyer is a unique cultural institution that caters to the cultural needs of the Harlem community, and in a relatively short time it has become a new Mecca for a wide range of cultural activities.  Recently Esther Armah, playwright and host of WBAI’s morning drive time show Wake-Up Call, debuted a play that candidly explored the issues of racism, sexism and economic mobility in American society, and Visual alchemist Ademola Olugbefola is exhibiting a retrospective from his half century as a working artist in their gallery.  Every kind of creative activity can be found it this temple to art.

But Mondays are devoted to the art of Jazz, the classical art music of Afro-Americans and the quintessential American art that embodies in its philosophy and practice the most cherished ideals of American civilization.  The shows are held every other week and they have the atmosphere of an open workshop where new musical concepts are being explored.

Hence there is much experimentation and free expression within the organized ensemble concept.  When master musicians come together in this kind of environment magical things can happen, and there was much sonic alchemy produced in the Dwyer on the night I attended.  While I have long believed that no one loves their job more than musicians, there is a special joy in making music that allows for the maximum creative contribution of each player.  That’s why musicians like Bennie Goodman, Ron Carter, Hubert Laws and Wynton Marsalis gave up prestigious careers in European Classical Mucis to play jazz.

For dedicated musical virtuosos the joy of performance in collaboration with other masters is a natural high that no material reward can match.  That’s why serious musicians continue to play music when other career paths may offer more lucrative rewards.  While money has its virtues, it enables us to satisfy the material needs of life, creating great art elevates the soul.  Making music is feeling more addictive than dope, and nobody personifies this joy more exuberantly than Craig Harris.

With a broad smile that never seems to abandon his face, even Ray Charles could see the pure ecstasy that appears to engulf Harris as he strikes up the band  and swings his trombone like a magic wand.  He prances, dances, and plays all over the seven positions of the slide trombone making kinetic music that appeal to the eye as well as the ear, and thrills the musically tutored and untutored alike.

The other musicians in the band seem to catch the vibe and it inspires them to explore new ideas and attempt daring things.  One need only peruse the great variety of instruments on the band stand to recognize that they have come to explore new concepts of ensemble playing and expand the horizons of the small ensemble.  Unlike a lot on Jazz musicians Harris is no purist; like such master instrumentalists as Hubert Laws, Herbie Hancock and Branford Marsalis Harris appears to get off playing music whether in the spirit of James, Brown, John Coltrane or Sun Ra.

He is Master of all genres of Afro-American music, and slips from one to the other as easily as an actor changes costumes between scenes.  Thus Harris’ expansive concept of music making is an invitation to innovation, and the boys in the band make the most of it. Blending unique combinations of instrumental voices – alto and tenor saxophones blend with baritone sax, bass clarinet, trumpets and trombone – the musical performances at the Dwyer take on the aura of a revival meeting and you can feel it in yo soul.

When one listens to Harris talk about his conception of music and its purpose, it becomes clear that the deep spirituality one hears in the music is no accident. Harris is a profoundly spiritual guy and views music as a healing force that can shield one against life’s adversities; a balm to heal the sin sick soul.  He attributes the healing properties of instrumental music to the fact that it is pure sound, unencumbered by the specific concerns imposed upon it by adding lyrics.  Hence he believes that instrumental music can transcend the concerns of politics, philosophy, ideology and religion and provide a spiritual experience that is unique to each individual that hears it.

Yet on the other hand Harris also has a clear understanding of the power of music to enhance a lyric as well as inspire dancers.  He sums up this concept in the term “Total Artistic Integration,” and one can see it come together in his musical devoted to James Weldon Johnson’s classic text “God’s Trombones,” a series of epic poems based on the sermons of “old time southern Negro preachers” in the words of Johnson.  You can actually see the performance of Harris’s masterpiece by clicking the link at the bottom of this essay.

I was fascinated by the fact that Harris had chosen this work as a vehicle for his music because so few people make reference to this canonical text in Afro-American literature. In his explanation of what attracted him to this work we get a glimpse of a deeply spiritual man who views the integration of arts as a means of elevating the human condition. I can envision no nobler mission for art.

From the enthusiastic response of the audience, which ranged from open celebration and animated participation, to deep spiritual contemplation allowing the music to take your mind astral travelling, the evening was a joyous uplifting experience.  Our spirits danced to the vibes of magnificent   complex instrumental art music.  As I testified in the beginning, if you love great Afro-American music: Jazz Monday’s at the Dwyer is the best deal in town!!!!

 ***************************

 Portraits of the Band

 

Swinging the Bone

 

 Keepin it Funky!
Stomping the Blues

 Baritone Sax and Trumpet sing in Harmony

 

  Wailing!

 

Tenor Madness!

 

 Echoes of John the Prophet

And Fast Johnny Griffin Too!

 

 The Alto-Sang as the Tenor Thundered

 

 No Nightingale Can Sing So Pretty
These Cats are Master Musicians
Who Can Read Around Corners

 

 The Trumpeter Filled the Room

 

With Staccato Fanfare

 

 Dizzy’s Progeny

 

The Evidence is in the bell of the Horn

 

 Flutes Chirped…..

 

 Like Euphoric Birds

 

 As the Saxophonists Switched Axes

And Serenaded us With Their Flutes

 

 Where the Swing Comes From!

Pushing the Band to the Outer Limits

 

 The Piano Man!

 

An imaginative Soloist and Great Accompanist

 

The Funk Meister!

360 Degrees of Rhythm: From Bootsy Collins to Charlie Mingus!

 

  *******************

The Congregants

 

 In a Contemplative Mood

 

Astral Traveling: Bewitched by the Groove

 

 Great Musicians came out to hear the Band

 

Hammit Blueitt: Grand Master of the Baritone Saxophone

 

  Cultural Alchemists Lifting us Higher!
 Artist / Cultural Entrepreneur Ademola Embraces Music Makers

 

 ****************

Double click To see Graig Harris’s “God’s Trombones.”

http://youtu.be/SMoU01qX-IE

Text and Photos by Playthell Benjamin
Harlem,  New York
November, 20, 2011

Magical Realism!

Posted in Cultural Matters, Photo-Essays with tags , , , , on October 8, 2010 by playthell

Astral traveling with the Fire Goddess In Hawaii

Makeda Takes Her Female Empowerment  Message Overseas

 

Conducting Her Sensual Strength Training Seminar

Calling Forth the Goddess Sprits with Sacred Rhythms

 

Makeda Takes a Healing Message to her Costa Rican Sisters

Witnessing the majesty of Makeda – A Shaman/Scientist/ Artist/Athlete – and her sisters drumming in Costa Rico, I am reminded of all the male chauvinist nonsense I was taught about women being forbidden by divine prohibition from touching the drums by my male Afro-centric tutors. They were convinced that they were imparting ancient ancestral wisdom.  Drumming, whether summoning the Gods or inspiring kinetic poetry in dancers, was purely a male prerogative in their minds.

Of course, I came of age in a drumming culture, but of a very different sort – the world of precision rudimental snare drumming associated with military style marching bands.  Bands that played marches like “El Capitan” and “Stars and Stripes Forever,”  Songs made famous by the great United States Marine Corps band, and composed by its founder John Phillip Sousa.  In these bands the percussion section sounded like thunder!  And while I can recall no instance when a woman was prevented from playing the drums, either by divine decree or social etiquette, I can’t recall a good drummer who was a girl either.

Girls played the clarinet – which is both a reed and a woodwind – and is one of the most difficult instruments to play. And they played piano, the master of all the instruments in the orchestra; they also played the violin – a feat I still regard as some sort of inexplicable alchemy.   But they rarely, if ever, played the drums.  There was something about the drums that emitted a macho vibe…it seemed to me a manly thing to do early on.  In retrospect I wonder if, like my initial love for football,  I was  attracted to drumming because it provided me an opportunity to show off for the girls.  Max Roach, the greatest improvisational artist on the drum kit in the twentieth century once told that this was the impetus for his virtuoso drumming style, which featured extended solos.  “Man I got tired of the horn players getting all the girls,” he recalled, “so I put the drums out front!”

However, Makeda is not one to be quietly shunted off into what some misguided male may mistakenly believe is her “proper place.”  She is an intellectual iconoclast and irreverent free thinker who is smart as a whip.  Plus she as stubborn as a Tush Hog.  In this she is every bit my daughter in mind and spirit.  She is exactly how I raised her to be!  I am explicitly making this point because lately she has informed me that some of the dudes who play drums have criticized her for wanting to play, demanding that she respect ancient taboos.  When she greeted such suggestions like the absurd insults that they are, some of these jokers caught an attitude and accused her of having problems with men.

The Greatest Drum Line in the world!

 

At which point Makeda pulls their coats to the fact that her daddy raised her to be just the way she is.  And I just wanna say “The girl didn’t tell a word of a lie” as my grandmother would say.  Witha twin brother who is also smart and was a two sport athlete to boot, Makeda had a worthy male competitor all of her life.  When she came to me one day and asked if she could be a cheerleader, which seemed a natural progression because she had been formally studying ballet since the age of five,  I told her in no uncertain terms: “Later for being a cheerleader, be an athlete and let somebody cheer you!”

She went on to become a multi-sport athlete and ran the 100 and 200 meter sprints in Division One.   I am delighted to report that she got everything I wanted her to get from playing sports.  Although there are myriad virtues embodied in active participation in competitive sports: learning how to view both success and failure as imposters; chameleons that are subject to change at a moments notice; thus accepting each situation with grace, maintaining your cool no matter what; this is the greatest lesson for real life.  Thus one does not become deluded by success or demoralized by failure.

This is what I learned from playing football, and I wanted my daughter to be armed with these virtues.  Especially since I knew that because she is a girl most boys would always try to play her cheap.  There would of course be some exceptions, I told her, “but the general lot of them will always underestimate you.”   However, I also told her that it was no disadvantage being thought a fool unless you are a fool; but if you are not a fool her competitors had placed themselves at her mercy.  And Makeda Voletta is nobody’s fool!

These are the attitudes that made her a division I athlete, Science Merit Scholar, and Dean List student.  It is also the reason why she has decided that she wants to possess the power and experience the ecstasy of playing the drums for dancers. I was surprised when she told me that she wanted to learn how to drum.  To tell the truth, I didn’t take her seriously because she had never shown any particular interests in playing a musical instrument.  But, of course, her interest in the drums grows out of their organic relationship to the dance traditions that most intrigue her.

Katherine Dunham and master drummer Ladji Camara

Two Legends Collaborate

 

Makeda Dancing Haitian Ra Ra

Like Katherine Dunham, Sevilla Forte and Pearl Primus – her God Mothers in the tradition – Makeda is a serious student of the dances of the African Diaspora throughout the Americas.  But she alone among these seminal figures in Afro-American dance has decided to learn to play the drums that so inspire them to dance.  I believe this is because Makeda never accepted the prescribed “place” set aside for women.  She has always pursued her dreams and ambitions without regard to the conventional wisdom on gender relations.

Makeda’s attitude toward life’s challenges can be summed up in Robert Kennedy’s favorite adage “Some people view things as they are and ask why? / I dream of things that never were and ask why not?”  That’s what she tells the women she counsels.  In studying traditional dances with a ritual function in society, it is also necessary to study the belief systems of that culture.  As a person raised free of religious dogma of any sort, delving into the spirit world of Shamans, Voodoo Priests and Priestess, Babaloshas and Babalaos,  Gods – Goddess are more her speed – has been a mind expanding experience.   By some inecpilcable alchemy she has managed to integrate these non-rational beliefs into her scientific view of the world and the human condition to arrive at a place I, as a cold and sober rationalist, cannot fully enter.

But for those who can go there – most especially women in search of a holistic experience of mind/ body/ spirit development – Makeda has a life enhancing message.  She is rigorously trained in the sciences of fitness and nutrition – she holds a degree in Sports science with a specialization in exercise physiology and a minor in nutrition from the University Of Delaware, plus graduate study in nutrition at Columbia University – Makeda holds certifications in Olympic style weight training and Sports Nutrition among others.  Beyond this she is a serious student of ancient spiritual beliefs that center on the Goddess figure in ancient cultures.

From this body of highly esoteric information she has devised a system for empowering women that strengthens them in mind, body and spirit.  Since she is in the process of trade marking her method, a necessary step in a field where everybody is looking for a new angle; I will say no more about it here.  What follows is a series of pictures and a couple of video clips showing her in action with the women in Costa Rica, as well as some pictures from her recent trip to Haiti, a country whose culture she has developed a profound love and understanding.

Makeda says her trip to Haiti was a spiritual sojourn in which she engaged in healing rituals centered around sacred dances and dispensing scientific information about fitness and nutrition based upon the resources available to the Haitian people in this time of national crisis.  Needless to say, as a Pan-Africanist for virtually my entire life, I am immensely proud of my daughter and her work.  However, as an Afro-Indio woman Makeda has passionately embraced her native American roots also.

In Search of her Seminole Ancestors!

Standing Outside the Castillio de San Marcos in St Augustine Fla

 

 

Standing In Front of War Chief Chief Oceola

Look At Their Faces: An Afro – Seminole Member of the Tribe?

 

 

Communing With Her Latina Sisters

 

 

Sharing Warm Vibes

 

 

Full Moon Ritual

 

 

Earth Mothers!

 

 

Conjuring the Rhythms of Life

 

 

Jubilation!

Moon Vibes!

Possessed!

 

 

Good Food Was an integral Part Of the Training

Like This Scumptiuous Soup

 

 

Or These Exquisite Delicacies

 

 

Fish and Rice Costa Rican Style

 

 

At the Edge of the Rain Forest

We could hear the monkeys chattering in the Trees

 

 

Poster Art In Public Places is Still Au Courant here

A Community Bulletin Board

 

 

Costa Ricans Are Beautiful

Rainbow people:  Black, Brown and Beige

And

They Showed Makeda Much Love!

She got the whole front page!

Her Visit Was Well Covered In The Press

 

 

And When her Healing Work Was Done

They Bade Her A Warm Farewell!

 

Her mother went down to Observe and the women thanked her…

for birthing Makeda!

Praying to The Fire Goddess Pele in Hawaii
Evoking The Feminine Powers Of Earth’s Flaming Bosom

I Believe She Can Fly!

No running start; no special effects; just a straight vertical leap!
****************************
Double click to watch Makeda on Costa Rican Television
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yTGvNkANhvY
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xSF-k_JaTd0
Text by Playthell Benjamin
Photos from Coasta Rica by: Makeda Voletta
Excepting the ones in which she appears.
Cover Photo by: Tim Ormand
Other Photos will be credited later.
Harlem, New York
October 8, 2010

Makeda Voletta At Club Camarada!

Posted in Cultural Matters, Photo-Essays with tags , , , on August 25, 2010 by playthell

 

 Dancing The Mambo In Spanish Harlem!

 

 A Note On Cultural Fusion

There is much talk about the phenomenon of multi culturalism in the United States today, and those who oppose it view it as an ominous threat to the national identity of the nation.  Some of this fear is based on a long standing misperception of what the USA actually is…and is not.  You can see it most clearly in the signs and slogans of the so-called “Tea Party” movement,” an incoherent social formation composed of an untutored mob fueled by rage, racism and ignorance of the political realities contrived and stoked by professional Republican lobbyists  who call themselves “Freedom Works,” and financed by reactionary corporate plutocrats. 

Their most impressive effort at “Taking our country back” thus far is the Arizona anti-immigration law and the “Birthers,” those racist imbeciles who are trying to convince the American people that Barack Obama’s presidency is illegitimate, because he was not born in the US.  For these crackpots it is a recurrent nightmare every time they see Barack carrying out his constitutional duties as the Chief Executive of our government, and Commander-In-Chief of America’s mighty armed forces.  However, they are anachronisms, because cultural fusion and diversity is a reality in America today.  Nowhere is this truer than in America’s greatest City – New York.  Makeda Voletta, a native New Yorker, is an example of this cultural trend, for she is a true Multi-cultural American.

Although her family is African and native American, she was raised in the crucible of African American culture with no acknowledgement of her native American heritage.  This she would later discover as a result of conducting  research into her family history after she began dancing with Hispanic companies and the Latino’s – who are far more connected to their indio roots – began too inquire about her native American kinships; of which she was cluless but they were sure existed.  Makeda’s intellectual foray into her murky family past has enlightened us all about our American heritage, and made her ever more curious about the diverse strains of humanity that make up the American people. 

Growing up in New York Makeda heard the Afro-Latin music of the Spanish Caribbean, especially it’s most dynamic and influential sound – The Afro-Cuban Son Montuno.  That’s because Makeda is my daughter, and I have been playing conga drums for very near half a century.  Which means that I have been playing all of her life, over twenty years before she was born in fact.   I am crazy about the Son Montuno style, and the Latin/Jazz -New York Salsa styles that it inspired; I introduced Makeda to this music at an early age.

From the outset I identified the music – which is now universally called Salsa – as “Afro-Cuban music.”  This is because when I first heard it performed it was by the black Cuban students attending Florida A&M University, which had a world famous music program, having produced the likes of “Cannonball” and Nat Adderley.  It was clear that the Son was as much an Afro-Cuban  invention as  Jazz is the creation of African Americans – this is why when Mario Bauza and Dizzy Gellespie put their heads together they created Cu-Bop – Dizzy introduced the conga drums into jazz by hiring Chano Pozo – which is the true  father of all “Latin-Jazz.”   I loved the piano and the bass rhythms and I dug the singing – although I had not a clue what the lyrics meant; it was just music, like scat singing, and it was all good – but I was indifferent to the drums. 

Dizzy and James Moody

With Pioneering Afro-Cuban congero Chano Pozo

 

That’s because I was a rudimental trap drummer and was also studing the drum set, so the Conga drums seemed like crude Tom Toms to me, and I did’t quite know what to make of the Timbales.  But I liked the music a lot.  I began playing a few years later when I was living in Philadelphia and fell in love with a beautiful Puerto Rican Lady who was a dancer, and she introduced me to the conga and bade me play it.  I couldn’t even get a sound out of the skin at first.  A few days later she took me to see the Great Afro-Cuban virtuoso Mongo Santamaria…and my life has never been the same.  I became good friends with Mongo, and a life long devotee of the art of the conga – as a performer and avid fan.

 

kadiejah!

The Dancer Who made Me a Congero

 

That was in 1962.  By 1966 I was good enough to subsitute for the great Mongo Santa Maria with his magnificent Orchestra.  The gig was at Pep’s Show Bar, a famous Philadelphia  Jazz Club in the Mid twentieth century, and I got to play with the band because Mongo was having his hands treated.   Since I know that the many variations my life has taken – Political activist, History Professor, Boxing Promoter, Journalist, journalism Professor, Congero,  Band Leader – are hard for many readers to believe if they don’t know me; I have provided a picture of that performance below.   And one can see my recent performances on Conga by checking me out on You Tube. 

The band in this picture is one of the greatest Latin Jazz Orchestras ever!  If you look to my far right( the readers left) you will see great Hubert Laws – the greatest flautist of the twentieth century.  Hubert was more versitile on woodwinds and reeds than Wynton Marsalis is on the trumpets and cornet – and that’s saying a hell of a lot, considering the fact that Wynton is the greatest trumpet virtuoso on record!  Hubert also played the tenor saxophone in the band and he was as soulful as his gifted brother Ronnie Laws.  The guy standing right next to me, to Hubert’s left,  is Bobby Capers; the younger brother of the great pianist and Professor Of Music, Valarie Capers. 

Which means that, like the Laws family – Bobby also came from a musically gifted clan.  Valarie’s genuis as an instrumentalist is all the more impressive because she is blind.   Marty Scheller is on trumpet and he was also the band’s principal arranger and Music Director.  Rogers Grant, who was also Afro-American, was the pianist; the great Dominican showman and virtuoso Timbalero Carmello Garcia rocked the Timbales as he executed dramatic dance steps, and the Mexican bassist Victor Venego held down the bottom as the pulse of the band. 

Thus Makeda grew up in a household where Afro-Cuban music was played as often as Rhythm&Blues or Jazz.  As a trained dancer – she began the formal study of classical ballet at the world renowned Dance Theater Of Harlem at Five years old and studied for nearly ten years – she naturally noticed all dance oriented music.   Acutely aware of the brazen racism against black ballerina’s, I introduced Makeda to modern black dance; taking her to see “Cityscapes, ” a modern black ballet performed by the Garth Fagan Dance company with music by Wynton Marsalis and his Orchestra.  That opened up her mind to possibilities outside of classical ballet; and as she was always a big fan of Afro-American vernacular dance, it didn’t take long before she began to be infected by the bewitching rhythms of the conga, timbales and clave! 

 Makeda, like her father before her, soon fell under the spell of this magical Afro-Latin sound…and the pictures below document the result of the kind of cross-cultural fusion that can happen when we approach each other’s culture with respect, and are willing to do the necissary study that will allow an outsider to participate fully in the experience – to speak the cultural language without accent.   The Mambo,  aka Salsa, is a dynamic, elegant, romantic, passionate mating ritual that allows women to be sexy with class, and men to be macho and graceful at the same time – like a bullfighter without the danger. 

Here, the worse fate a male can encounter is to prove uninteresting to your partner, since the man controls the dance.  It is the last living dance tradition in America where men and women truly dance together as partners, and Latin clubs are surely the last dance venue where you can actually dance to a live band on the stand!  Viva La Musica!!

Note: This dance, when properly executed, is improvisational; with the steps choreographed in the moment.  The stiffs on “Dancing With The Stars,” who pass off those awkward, mechanical, esthetic atrocities, as the Mambo – often without even using authentic music – should take note.  For in their cultural arrogance they are profaning a grand dance tradition.   This is the real deal…this is how it’s done by it’s authors, and only they can set the standard of authenticity and excellence.  On this night, in club Camarada, a Puerto Rican night club in Spanish Harlem, Miguel and Makeda tore the dance floor up!  If you listen carefully to the video clip at the end of this photo-essay, you can hear the salutations of approval from the crowd.  I just happend to have my camera and started taking pictures.  The whole thing happened on the spur of the moment…and they were magic moments.  (For maximum viewing effect of this essay, expand your screen  to 150%.

 

Playing Mongo’s Congas

In My Master’s Chair!

 

 

On The Clave!

 

Twirling On A Dime!

 

 Creating Geometric Complexities

In And Around the Beat!

 

Moving In Sync

Like Swiss Clockworks 

 

An Afro-Latin Pas de Deux!

 

 Workin It!

 

 Matching Each Other Step For Step!

 

 Without Skipping A Beat!

 

 Miguel Is Masterful!

 

Directing The Dance Of Magic!

 

 Dancing With Dad On His 67th Birthday!

 

Makeda’s First Tutor In The Art Of Mambo

 

Below are three video links:  The first is of the Chappotin Allstars, an Afro-Cuban cojunto performing A Descarga.

The second video is of Makeda and Miguel dancing

The third is of Myself dancing with a partner on the 4th of July.

*************

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KT9CHjchGII

Double click to see the Chappotin Allstars

 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aT_kceLb_PI

Double click to see Miguel and Makeda Dance

  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZJsZe6smYbs

Double Click and Watch Poppi Dance the Mambo!

El Chocolate Dances to Zon Del Barrio

Live in Central Park July 4, 1010

 Old School Mambo Moves!

 

*************************

 

Playthell Benjamin

Harlem, New York

August 24, 2010

* Photographs and Text by: Playthell Benjamin

*Except for the picture of Dizzy and Chano and the picture he appears in.

Carlos Del Pino In Concert!

Posted in Cultural Matters, Music Reviews, Photo-Essays on July 30, 2010 by playthell

 

  

An Afternoon With the World’s Greatest Conta-Bassist

Before leaving for the concert at St. Phillips Episcopal Church I watched a concert on PBS performed by the great virtuoso violinist Joshua Bell. As I listened to his eclectic repertoire – which ranged from Rachmaninoff to George Gershwin to the Beatles, I naturally thought of Carlos Del Pino, whose performance I would be attending within the hour.  Both Bell’s eclectic program and his dazzling virtuosity conjured up comparisons with Carlos, whose concerts are also eclectic and wide ranging, and his virtuosity on the double bass violin is unparalleled.

A Contemplative Moment

 

The calm before the storm

From the opening selection we were treated to a composition that ranged from European classical music to jazz combined in exquisite proportions and with the greatest care to preserve the idiomatic nuances of each musical genre.  Carlos dazzled the crowd with his blinding pizzicato riffs.  Although the art of pizzicato playing on the double bass violin is the unique contribution of Afro-American jazz men to the art of double bass performance, as an Afro-Cuban Carlos del Pino was naturally drawn to it because the pizzicato converts the bass from a violin which is bowed to a rhythm instrument, a bull fiddle which is plucked and holds the pulse for the rhythm section.   Afro-Cuban music, like jazz, is a poly-rhythmic neo-African music that was wedded to the dance

Making difficult passages look easy

Lost in the Ecstasy Of Making Music

 Photo by: Hakim Mutlaq

Yet Carlos belongs to a tradition of Afro-Cuban musicians who have been extensively trained in European classical music; it is common place for them to play in both idioms without accent.  Hence the music performed by Carlo’s conjuntos requires special musicians who are conversant with both languages.  This becomes obvious early on when Anna Bermudez is featured on the electric cello, then switches easily to the claves and sings Cuban songs with great power and passion.

Anna Bermudez Makes The Electric Cello Sing!

Plus she is a fabulous vocalist too

Although my ears have long been attuned to the warm sound of viols produced by vibrating strings echoing inside a box constructed of carefully selected and varnished woods by master artisans, Carlos and Anna by some special sonic alchemy have managed to produce the same warmth with electrified solid body instruments.  Some of Anna’s passages were so lyrical and moving they felt like sound waves to the soul and made our spirits dance.

From the composition of his ensembles one thing is clear: the only criterion Carlos employs in selecting musicians to work with is their musical talent; neither race, nationality nor gender matters.  In his last band the Conga drummer was French, the violinist was Afro-American and the pianist was Japanese and a woman.  In the present ensemble there are two women and three men, with a male singer featured on select tunes. 

The pianist Chemi Nakhai is the only member of the last band who played this concert and her contribution to the overall sound of the group is indispensable. Like Carlos she is a paragon of versatility who is fluent in three musical languages. She is a product of what is evidently a top notch musical education system.  I am constantly impressed with the young Japanese musicians who pop up in New York; they are universally excellent.

Chimi Nahki: a consummate keyboard artist *

 

 Photo by: Hakim Mutlaq

Chemi is an impressive player whether she is performing on acoustic or electric piano. Small of stature with an unassuming personality, she becomes a ball of fire once she sits down to the keyboard.  She is a brilliant accompanist and soloist whether she is swinging the blues in the Afro-American tradition or playing sizzling montunos in the Afro-Cuban tradition. And she can interpret Bach or other European composers with authority.  The enormity of her talent can be measured by the extent to which she makes it all look so easy.  If you heard her on a recording and didn’t know who it was you would never suspect that she wasn’t a native player in the tradition she is performing.

 

 

True to his Cuban roots Carlos provides a prominent place for the drums in his arrangements.  And on this occasion he had two excellent drummers.  One of them was Afro-Cuban, and he was extraordinary, playing drums in combinations and rhythmic configurations that I had never witnessed before.  But in any case this is par for the course.  Every Carlos Del Pino concert is full of musical surprises, featuring great instrumentalist doing fantastic things. And Carlos, the man behind the sound, a master of three major musical languages – Afro-American complex instrumental art music Jazz, European Classical and the Afro-Cuban Son – is the most fantastic of them all.

A Rare Performance

Playing Congas and Bata in Unison

Or the Trap Drums

Accompanying The Congero

 

The Bongolero

 

Photo by: Hakim Mutlaq

 

The Dancers!

 

Grooving On the Clave

 

 More Dancers!

 

 Going with the flow

 * Photo by: Hakim 

The Bill Of Particulars 

 

***************

 

* To see Carlos in Performance click this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nLwLPseckQ4

 

Text and all other Pictures by: Playthell Benjamin

Harlem, New York

July 30, 2010

The Amazing Ramon!

Posted in Cultural Matters, Photo-Essays with tags , , on June 29, 2010 by playthell

 Beguiling the crowd with his conjurations

 

Magic Moments In Central Park

    On warm summer days Central Park becomes a wondrous place. It is first and foremost what its creator, Frederick Law Olmstead, wanted it to be: a beautiful arboretum where people from all backgrounds could meet on common ground. Its reputation as one of the world’s great public spaces is well deserved.  Aside from its great physical beauty, its location in the middle of Manhattan makes it easily accessible, and the fame that attends its name makes it a magnet for tourists from all over the world. Hence Central Park is an excellent venue for open air theater of all kinds and performers flock to its hills, meadows and walkways to showcase their acts for monetary donations from the spectators.

       However in a city where world class performances can be seen in the subway tunnels, in order to attract an audience in Central Park the artist must be good at their craft.  I was out in the Park on Father’s Day on my way to meet my daughter Makeda at a smoking concert in the Summer Fest series featuring bands from Haiti and Mali, both part of the World Music scene.  Although I was racing against the clock to be there when the first band hit, I stumbled upon a magic man, and got so carried away watching the fantastic feats performed by Ramon that I missed the first band altogether.

      In order to be a good magician it is not enough to master the tricks, no matter how spectacular.  The great magicians have a complete act, which means it is paced and nuanced to build suspense.  Central to his act is verbal dexterity; the performer must be able to capitivate the audience with his rap and the tricks are like magnificent arias.  Ramon, who was trained by an uncle and began studying the art of magic at six years old, is a master of all aspects of his trade.  His non-stop rap, which is sprinkled with risqué double entendres that titillate the adults, soars over the heads of children, and never becomes vulgar or offensive.  In fact, it is a marvelous display of verbal virtuosity, wit and imagination.

 Slight Of Hand

 

 

        Then there are his fantastic feats of magic.  All through his performance, A guy with a heavy Russian accent was standing directly behind me and kept saying “This guy is good…he’s very good.”  When I finally turned around and spoke to him he explained that he was a magician trained in the Moscow Circus – one of the best in the world – and he assured me that he was uniquely qualified to evaluate Ramon’s act.  And then he repeated “He’s very good.”

 Spinning Illusions

 

       There are various kinds of magicians: grand Illusionists like Doug Henning, escape artists like Harry Houdini and the contemporary master David Blaine, and slight of hand virtuosos like Ramon.  Most magicians can do several kinds of tricks besides their specialty; for instance David Blaine is also an excellent slight of hand artist.   Ramon is also a fire eater but he didn’t devour any flames on this occasion.  However his slight of hand tricks were spell binding, and I am a long time fan of magicians who has attended magician’s conferences to watch them work their splendid alchemy.

 Now You See It Now You Don’t!

 

 

 Making Magic With Cigarettes

 

 

      Among Ramon’s repertoire of tricks is the ability to make you believe that he can stick a cigar in his ear and spit it out of his mouth, and with a switch of his hand removes the photographer Hakim Mutlaq’s watch from his wrist and deposited a dollar in his hand.  He did it so smoothly it actually took Hakim a minute to figure out what happened.  It became clear when Hakim saw Ramon fastening his watch on his arm.

 The Big Switch

 

 Smooth As Butter!

 

 A Moment Of Confusion

 

Whaaasssup Yo?

 

 Ramon Displays Hakim’s Watch

 

  The Crowd Is Flabbergasted!

      Every magic act must have a climax, or perhaps finale is a better word because there are many climaxes in this well designed act.  There’s never a dull moment as he moves along in triple time. However his finale is worth the wait.  The fact that he allows the crowd to come up close and stand in a circle makes Ramon’s act   all the more exciting. 

Drawing facinated spectators into the act

 

  The sorcerer weaves his spell

 

The Sorcerer’s  Apprentice pay’s rapt attention

 

 

And We Were All Bewitched!

 

 

In his improvisational repartee he skillfully builds up the crowd’s expectations with a repeating refrain about the trick that took him five years to learn: placing a quarter in a coke bottle.  Every trick he did led to this one, and when he performed it we were all right up close.  I kept shooting with the camera, trying to capture his every move in order to see if I might discover what he was doing when I ran the pictures as a slide show.  But I am as clueless as before!

 After showing his apprentice The Right Position

 

         In order to pull this off, Ramon says he must practice several hours a day.  He says that he practices with mirrors all around so that he can see what the spectator sees from all angles. He also points out that although the grand illusionist are more spectacular, what he’s doing is the greater art.  This is because the grand illusionist employ machinery and the control the angels that the audience sees. To be able to pull off these tricks surrounded by spectators determined to catch you in the act is…well….Magic!

 Ramon points to precisely where the quarter will pass

 

 

Then He Took Aim and…

 

Drove the quarter through her hand into the coke bottle!

 

 Bravo!

 

The trick worked like a charm

 

 ****************

 

Photos and text by:

Playthell Benjamin

Harlem, New York

June 29th, 2010

At The Puerto Rican Day Parade!

Posted in Cultural Matters, Photo-Essays on June 16, 2010 by playthell

 Cover Photo by: Playthell

 Fifth Avenue Becomes Borican Boulevard!

 

A  Borican Celebration!

Every year near the end of spring, just before the first burst of summer, Puerto Rican New Yorkers turn out on Fifth Avenue for one of the largest and liveliest ethnic parades in the nation.  Actually I believe this celebration has only two rivals: When the Irish takes over Fifth Avenue on St. Patrick’s Day and The great West Indian Bacchanal on Eastern Parkway during Labor Day in Brooklyn.  Although it is hard to ascertain which parade is actually the largest, it is commonly agreed that all of them attract over a million people -which, of course, is no picayune achievement.

What do these great ethnic celebrations tell us about America, and why do they happen in New York?  Well, this phenomenon obviously speaks to the poly-ethnic and multi-racial character of the United States – although the dominant political institutions are Anglo-Saxon and its culture Anglo-African – there are other cultural inventories that are shaping the character of contemporary American society. And among the most influential is the Hispanic community.  The Puerto-Ricans along with the Mexicans have the longest tenure in this country. Hence they have well developed American identities: Tex Mex, and California Chicanos out West, and Nuyoricans in the Big Apple.

I cannot imagine New York without the Nuyorican Salsa sound. When I first started coming to the City regularly in the 1960’s one of my favorite things to do was to go out and hear these bands perform.  I had a beautiful Puerto Rican girlfriend who was a dancer, and she introduced me to the conga drums, which I had begun to seriously study.  And since the roots of Salsa is the Afro-Cuban Son, I eventually fell so much in love with the music I married a Cuban woman.  So when I go out on Fifth Avenue to celebrate with my Puerto Rican peeps, it’s straight from the heart. I got nothing but love for these beautiful, soulful, rainbow people.

     

 Representin!

 

Photo by: Playthell

 

It Was An Outpouring Of Love!

 Photo by: Hakim

A Rainbow People Celebrate Their Heritage 

 

Millions Turned Out

 

 To Represent On El Cinco!

Photo by: Hakim

They Were All Ages

 

 

 And Colors

Photo by: Hakim

The Politicos Were There

 Photo by: Hakim

Adam Clayton Powell III Salutes The Crowd

 

And Queens Of All Ages

Photo by: Hakim

Waved The Puerto Rican Flag

 

There Were Spectacular Cars!

Photo by: Hakim

 

And Fly Bicycles Too!

Photo By: Hakim

 Music Filled The Air!

Photo by: Hakim

Zon Del Barrio

 

 

The Great Oreste Rocks The Congas

Photo by: Playthell

Set It Off!

 

 Sammy Gets Down    

 Photo by: Playthell

 Partying With A Purpose

 

 

 

Aurora Droppin Science and Enlightening the Crowd

Photo by: Playthell

 

Children Frolicked About

 

 

 

 

 

Photo by: Hakim

And Grownups Danced In The Street!

 

 

Photo by: Hakim

The Cat Lady Prowled!

 

 

Photo by: Playthell

The Cat Lady In Hindsight!

 

Photo by: Playthell

A Swirl Of Gold!

 

Photo by: Playthell

Jubilation!

 

 

Photo by: Playthell

A Dance Of Magic!

 

Photo by: Playthell

Latina Alchemy!

 

Photo by: Hakim

Seeing Is Believing

 Photo by: Hakim

I Believe She Can Fly!

 

Photo by: Playthell

Up, Up and Away!

 

Photo by: Hakim

 

There Were Pretty Little Girls

 

Photo by: Playthell

And Big Beautiful Women!

 

Photo by: Playthell

 Borican Beauties

 

 

Photo by: Hakim

Were Everywhere!

 

Photo by: Hakim

 

Salsa Dancing in the Street

 

Photo by: Hakim

Or Just Struttin Their Stuff!

 

 Photo by: Hakim

In High Heels and Daisy Dukes!

 

 

Luscious Gams

 

Photo by: Hakim

Bouncing Boobs

 

Photos by: Hakim

And Jaunting Derrieres

 

Photo by: Hakim

Photo by: Playthell

 Were Ubiquitous!

 

These Beautiful Borican Babes

 

Photo by: Playthell

Proudly Display Their Assets!

 

Mui Caliente!

 

Photo by: Playthell

Well, If you’ve Got It…

 A Latin king and his Queen

Photo by: Playthell

Flaunt It!

 

The Civil Servants Turned Out

 

 Photo by: Hakim

 While Jesters And Queens

 

Photo by: Playthell

Floated By

 

 

 And In Spite Of The Rains

 

Photo by: Hakim

 We All Had A Ball!

 

 Singing In The Rain

 Photo by: Hakim

 

Vaya!

 

Photo by: Hakim

 Things Got Mucho Loco!

 

But Stalwart Men On Spirited Horses

 

 

Kept da Thugs In Check!

 

Photo by: Hakim

****************

 

 Viva La Musica!

 

One Of My Favorite Things

 

Playthell “”El Chocolate Caliente” Benjamin

Harlem, New york

June 16, 2010

* It was a great pleasure to collaborate with Hakim Mutlaq, a fabulous photographer, my  mentor, and  a member of the New Harlem Renissiance photographers.

A Night at the Brainwash!

Posted in Cultural Matters, Photo-Essays with tags , , , on June 6, 2010 by playthell

 Hangin Out at Frisco’s Avant Garde Comedy Club

 

 A Hip Young Chinese Comic

 

 One does not often get the opportunity to hear Chinese American comics in New York, so it was delightful to hear a couple of really talented Chinese comedians in one night.  I saw their show at the Brainwash, an off beat comedy club in San Francisco, where wisdom weed is freely consumed on the sidewalk café and the comics border on blasphemy and treason in their acts. 

Like all comics, the young Chinese draw from their cultural experiences in creating their material.  But what makes them different from ethnic humorist such as the Jewish Borscht Belt comics, is that they are thoroughly integrated into American society. The Borscht Belt comedians fashioned a tradition that was deeply rooted in inside Jewish Shtick because they were addressing audiences that were not far removed from those who had attended performances of the Yiddish theater. 

Milton Berle in Performance

Anybody who ever saw these comedians perform in the Jewish resorts up in New York’s  Catskill mountains will recognize the dramatic changes in the American Jewish comedic tradition when it crosses over to goyim audiences.  While they used some of the same comedic devices they employed in the Borscht Belt – such as maledicta and one liners – the cultural differences are dramatically different. There is a reason why comedians are always the last group of performers from minority groups to cross over to the main stream audience.

 This is because comedy is an intellectual art and dares to speak about the unspeakable.  If the life’s blood of drama is conflict, the currency of comedy is irreverence and irony.  Hence telling jokes in cross cultural milieu, especially when there are class and race issues involved, is a risky business.  One way of dealing with this is the way Bill Cosby did it: build your act around universal themes.  While there was no doubt that the Cosby Kids were black, it was not the central fact around which their characters existed.  So it was with the Chinese comics in Frisco.  While they made no attempt to obfuscate their Chinese heritage, the situations they address in their comedy speak to what Andre Malraux called “La Condition Humaine.”

 The black comics were more edgy, one talks about how he wants to be a down black thug and race man…but he likes fucking white girls in the back seat of cars in shopping malls and skate boarding!  The other’s humor centers around being a struggling black dude with an attitude.  His humor conjures up the art of Steppin Fetchit and Red Fox.  Thus it is more risky, because it speaks directly to questions of race, class and black anger.  Although at first glance it seems incongruous to speak of Stepin Fetchit and Red fox in the same breath, a closer look will reveal that both traditions can be seen in Walden Jordon’s art.  

Like Stepin Fetchit, he assumes a dramatis persona that would be totally cool in a black club, but becomes problematic – for blacks and whites in the audience – when his act is performed before a racially mixed audience.  And like Red Foxx, he frightens or titillates the whites who suspect that he might just be the real deal: the “bad nigger” who haunts their nightmares.  Red Foxx used to dare white audience not to laugh at his jokes, threatening to lay for them in the ally with his black jack if he lost his gig.  And there were hints of that in Walden Jordon’s act, and like the guy Malcolm X remembers as the hustler “Chicago Red,” Jordon was funny as hell!

Thursday night at the Brainwash comedy Club

 

  

Walden Jordon and Renaldo Ricketts After His Act

 

Like Salesmen Stand Up Comics Must Win Their Audience With their rap

 Stepin Fetchit

A Misunderstood pioneer

 

 Red Foxx

 

 

 Blacks and Asians Have Complex Relations in Frisco

 

In Fact, They Are Creating A New Race Called “Blasians”

 

A Classic Blasian Cutie

 

 Asian Eyes and African-Booty

 

Mikiko!

 

 Another Blasian Beauty

 

The Reluctant Gangsta/Race Man

 

 This Guy Was Hilarious!

 

Is Something Wrong With Me?

Bemoaning The Fact That He Was Not Molested As A Child!

 

 Fired Up Off Spirits and Cannabis

 

 

The Discerning Audience Demanded Excellence

 

 Their Love Didn’t Come Easy…

 

One comic fled from the stage in fright!

 

 Although Rumored To Be Talented

 

 

Some Artist Never Made It To The Mike

 

 The Master Of Ceremonies

 

 Was Funny As A Muthafucka Too!

 

***************** 

 

Playthell Benjamin

Harlem, New York

June 6, 2010

  All Photos by: Playthell

* Except for Milton Berle, Stephin Fetchit and Redd Foxx

 

 

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