Archive for the Guest Commentators Category

Melting The Sun

Posted in Guest Commentators, Music Reviews with tags , , on April 20, 2014 by playthell

DSC05691

 Chris Pendergraft of space rock band Echocosmic

Cosmic Salvation Songs

Down around the back of a former iron foundry in east Oakland’s post-industrial wasteland, if you can find the door and know the secret knock, it is possible of a Friday evening to catch the lyric melancholy and faster-than-light travel of the band EchoCosmic at play. Synching digital beats and mixing board effects with live instruments, these musicians bring well-honed skills and a constant quest for meaning to their music.

In 1997 a quest for meaning through music produced Root Beer, the early band in which brothers-in-music Chris Pendergraft and Mike Blodgett began to work together. Through the writing and performance of the band’s signature protest rock songs, Mike Blodgett’s guitar style developed lyric eloquence, with bright sprays of descending sounds arcing like brief light pulses in the cold and indifferent openness of deep space.

Inherent in the name Echocosmic is the powerful sense of great distance and vast lapses of time.  Cosmic is defined as: the whole universe;immeasurably extended in space or time; vast; harmonious.   All of these elements have a place in the band’s compositions.  The word echo comes to us from the mythological Greek nymph who pined away for the beautiful, indifferent Narcissus until only her voice remained. With this etymology, it is no wonder that the echo carries an implicit sense of melancholy.

But an echo also relates to sound in a manner of interest to music-makers; it is uniquely produced by reflecting sound waves from a surface, where the returning sound may be only a fragment of the original.  And herein lies the heart of the matter, for in the songs of Echocosmic we hear the report of the interstellar traveler, returning across inhuman distance and still more inhuman time.

 These songs are evocative of struggle, mourning, and memory, chronicling the birth of black holes or the explosive nirvana of a star going nova.  ”Red Shift” with its desending chords and cascading shower of deep notes, feels like we are listening to the recorded end of some ancient civilization or an entire planet, perhaps as viewed by an anguished alien race of future spacefarers.

A red shift refers to a change in light wavelengths, moving toward a slower, cooler portion of the spectrum. The sun is a frequent, even baseline reference in space rock, and Echocosmic heeds this tradition.  Another of their songs is meant to communicate the point of view of bacteria colonizing a sun: in the heat of the solar flares, the space bacteria awaken, grow and make a new home.

In 1968, Set the Controls For the Heart of the Sun came out on the album Saucerful of Secrets by Pink Floyd, pioneering progressive rock’s shift toward what would be termed “space rock;” their solar fires and deep cold space attracted the attention of people ranging from NBA Hall of Fame star Dennis Rodman to Exorcist movie star Linda Blair.

Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun is a ten minute extravaganza of “out there” sound which builds to a violent end that actually comes, impossibly, as a climax. This distinctly disciplined approach to a pulsing momentum with abstract sound became a genre that encompasses much of Echocosmic today.

 Drummer Eric the Mover
 DSC05694
 Keeps the rhythm out there!

 *************

 Mike Blodgett
 DSC05700
Lead Guitar, a Sonic Space Cadet
 *******************
 Merging technology and Music
DSC05699 
Powering their Space Odyssey

 ******************

Their Rehersal  Space is Also a Recording Studio

 DSC05565

 Which Blodgett built to Free the Band from the tyranny of record companies
 ******************
East Bay Artist Susannah Israel and Ray Heywood

DSC05675

Are Mesmerized by the Music

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

 Text by: Susannah Israel
Photos by: Playthell Benjamin
April 20th 2014
Oakland, California

Dr. Lateef’s Spirit Dances with Ancestors

Posted in Cultural Matters, Guest Commentators, Music Reviews on December 25, 2013 by playthell

yuseflateef6_300

 The Master with his Horn

The Legendary Musician and Composer Steps off at 93

          At the close of his autobiography, Yusef A. Lateef, the renowned musician, composer, and Grammy Award-winning recording artist wrote, “My life has been a series of ‘warm receptions,’ and, after a while, it becomes difficult to separate them, to determine which was most rewarding and heartwarming.”  Lateef’s thousands of admirers will ponder now about which of his concerts and recordings were most rewarding for them in his highly productive life.  Lateef, 93, died Monday morning at his home in Amherst, Massachusetts.

Lateef, a versatile artist of global influence, made his transition peacefully, according to his wife, Ayesha Lateef.

“My dear husband was himself an extension of warmth and love towards others,” his wife said. “He saw every human being with the utmost value and respect. He approached all of us as he did his music, with enthusiasm, imagination and longevity.”

While Lateef chose to define his music as autophysiopsychic, that is, “music from one’s physical, mental and spiritual self,” his critics and fans heard him as the embodiment of jazz and the blues, and that expressive quality, however termed, placed him among the finest performers and composers of his generation.

A Hard Swinging Tenor Man!
Yusef II
Blues and the Abstract Truth

Born William Emmanuel Huddleston on Oct. 9, 1920 in Chattanooga, Tenn., he moved with his family to Detroit in 1925, settling in the heart of the city’s storied Paradise Valley.   It was about this time that his father—for an unknown reason—changed their surname to Evans.

Paradise Valley was basically the entertainment enclave of “Black Bottom,” where the city’s black population was centered, and where William Evans (he changed his name to Yusef Lateef in 1948 and became a member of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community and for the rest of his life he remained a devout Ahmadi Muslim fulfilling requirements including the lesser and greater pilgrimage to Mecca) was immersed in a vibrant culture where a profusion of music was part of the daily routine.

He introduced Exotic New Instruments….
 Yusef Lateef-flute-bmboo
To the Art of Jazz
And made them sing the Blues
YUSEF LATEEF - Basson And Swang them too!

At Miller High School, he fell under the tutelage of John Cabrera and joined such illustrious future jazz immortals as Milt Jackson.  But it was a local saxophonist, Lorenzo Lawson, who most impressed and influenced him to set aside the oboe and drums and focus on the tenor saxophone.

Soon, he was so proficient that he had the first chair in Matthew Rucker’s Band, and given the band’s prominence, Lateef’s reputation reached across the city and all the way to Chicago where he was now a member of Lucky Millinder’s big band.  In 1948, along with his adoption of Islam, he joined the Dizzy Gillespie Orchestra, which included an array of world class musicians such as James Moody, J.J. Johnson, Ray Brown, Kenny Clarke, and the amazing Cuban conga drummer Chano Pozo.

Diz, Chano Pozo and James Moody
Dizzy and Chano pozo
Playing Rebopped Cubops!

By 1951, Lateef was back in Detroit with his first wife Sadie, a daughter Iqbal and a son Rasheed.  In no time at all he was back in the swing of things performing with a number of groups and at several of the top clubs in town.  Among the stellar leaders who requested his presence was guitarist Kenny Burrell.  When bassist Alvin Jackson, Milt’s brother, assembled a quartet, Lateef was featured on tenor saxophone and flute, which he had begun studying at the Larry Teal School of Music.  The group, including pianist Barry Harris and trombonist Kiane Zawadi (Bernard McKinney) was the house band at the Blue Bird Inn, a legendary jazz spot on Detroit’s Westside.

The Joint was Really Jumpin!
blue bird inn It’s what’s inside that Counts

Lateef was fronting his own ensemble by 1954 and began a five-year stint at Klein’s Show Bar.   Now with a steady gig he had to relinquish his job at Chrysler.  With Hugh Lawson (and sometimes Terry Pollard) on piano; Curtis Fuller on trombone; Ernie Farrow on bass; and Louis Hayes on drums; for two years the band worked six nights a week and became one of the most popular groups in the city.  So popular, in fact, that jazz writers began to spread the word.  They were extended a contract by Ozzie Cadena, a producer at Savoy Records, and their first album was “Jazz Mood.”  A succession of albums would follow, alternately between Savoy and the Prestige labels, and it was during this phase that Lateef was able to introduce an assortment of unusual instruments normally heard in various ethnic cultures.

“Where one relaxes on the axis of the wheel of life”
Cannonball Adderly
Great Virtuosos like Cannonball Adderly anointed audiences in Detroit’s clubs

From a veritable academy of musicians who were in and out of his ensemble during the nights at Klein’s, Lateef sharpened his musical knowledge which was bolstered even further by the classes he took at Wayne State University.  But by 1959, he was ready for a new scene.  “I had done about all I could in the realm of music in Detroit,” he wrote.  “There was a scarcity of clubs during this period and to make ends meet I took a part-time job unloading banana trucks. Whether you were a writer, painter, or a musician, it wasn’t a good time to be in the city.”

The Big Apple was the only option for him and by the early sixties Lateef was a regular at jam sessions, recordings, and concert dates with such notables as John Coltrane, Charlie Mingus, percussionist Babatunde Olatunji, and numerous homeboys such as Lonnie Hillyer, Donald Byrd, and Sonny Red.  But Lateef’s stature grew exponentially during his tenure with Cannonball Adderley’s band, and it provided him with additional experience to form his own ensemble by 1965.

Yusef and Cannonball
cannonball-with-yusef-lateef Masters of the Horns: Original voices on Alto and Tenor Saxes

Holding a band together while attending the Manhattan School of Music was challenging, but Lateef was equal to the task, earning his master’s degree and continuing to record at a phenomenal pace.  Under contract at Atlantic Records where producer Joel Dorn gave Lateef the latitude he needed to express the full extent of his artistry.  His “Gentle Giant,” recorded in 1971 was among his most memorable dates and featured bassist Bob Cunningham, drummer Tootie Heath, and pianist Kenny Barron.

Nothing was more eventful for him in the early seventies than his meeting and marriage to Tahira at Chicago State University.  Winning her hand and defending his dissertation were momentous occasions and the birth of his son, Yusef in 1975, completed a trifecta of jubilation.

From 1975 to 1980, Dr. Lateef studied in Africa, mainly in Nigeria where he undertook the mastery of the Fulani flute.  In addition to his research and teaching obligations, he was commissioned by the government to compose a symphony and to write a book based on his research.  Seeking new musical spheres after Africa, he embarked on a series of concert dates with Eternal Wind, an advanced group of younger musicians that included Charles Moore, Frederico Ramos, Ralph “Buzzy” Jones, and Adam Rudolph.   “Yusef was so open and accessible,” Rudolph recalled during a recent interview.  “There was always this love, peace and freedom about him.  And you could feel all of this through his music, which defined him in the same as Picasso’s art or Miles Davis’s music defined them.  We’re evolutionists, he would tell us and we have to keep on stepping.”

Invisible Wind
Eternal Wind
The Vehicle through which Yusef produced autophysiopsychic Sounds

 And stepping Dr. Lateef did, thanks to Eternal Wind and the tireless Rudolph.  Even so, there was time for teaching and composing, to say nothing of his other artistic ventures into writing and painting, and running his record and publishing company, FANA Music.

His beloved wife Tahira passed in 2009, Dr. Lateef later remarried  Ayesha, and his final days were as fruitful and productive as ever, and he leaves a remarkable legacy of cultural achievements.

“I daily and nightly thank Allah for continuing to bless me and to allow me to bring love, peace and joy to the world,” he wrote.  And that love, peace and joy resonates with all the conviction his formidable talent could command, and all we have to do is to listen to his music.

Dr. Lateef  is survived by wife Ayesha, his son also named Yusef Lateef, his grand-daughter Iqbal, and great grandchildren.  Funeral arrangements are in the planning stages.

The Master Sonic Alchemist left a healing sound….
Yusef images (2)

………A Gift that keeps on Giving

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

To watch Ahmad Jamal and Yusef Lateef
 Double Click on this link

http://youtu.be/X8DGIqgRF7Q

To Hear Yusef Perform “Stella by Starlight”
Double Click On Link Below

 http://youtu.be/X__EJMqQn5Q

By Herb Boyd

Special to Commentaries on the Times

A Post Racial America…Really?

Posted in Cultural Matters, Guest Commentators on December 12, 2013 by playthell

Barack Obama and First Lady

 The Huxtables are in the White House ….and All is Well

  Separating Myth from Reality

 In 2013 we have Barack Obama, a two-term African American President, hundreds of other black men and women elected to state and local offices, and a country that officially celebrates Black History Month. Even more, no white official would dare publicly use a racist slur. As a result, our intellectuals, our historians, and our media are all on board with a consistent message: “We live in a post-racial America.”

 Well, maybe. Bill Keller, who served for eight years as executive editor of The New York Times, and is the author of a children’s book on Nelson Mandela, recently wrote the Sunday Times Book Review of Books front page essay on Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book The Bully Pulpit, which examines Presidents Teddy Roosevelt and William Howard Taft. Keller extolled them as “politicians of stature and conscience.”  Really?  As Presidents neither made any serious effort to improve race relations or protect minorities from violence. Neither challenged the forces promulgating segregation, discrimination and lynching.

 The America of Roosevelt and Taft
 lynching Bee
 A Southern Carnival

Though their Republican Party controlled the House and Senate from 1900 to 1910, neither Roosevelt nor Taft paid more than lip service to Lincoln’s “new birth of freedom.” Neither enforced the 13th, 14th, or 15th Amendments that promised former slaves liberty, justice, and equality. Neither challenged “the new slavery”—the debt-peonage, sharecropping, and convict lease systems that ground down millions in the South.  Roosevelt spoke as a proud champion of “the Anglo Saxon race,” and urged his people to embrace “the clear instinct for race selfishness.” He advocated imperialism with the claim, “It is wholly impossible to avoid conflicts with the weaker races.”

Roosevelt and Taft vigorously courted southern “lily-white” members of both parties. During an era of weekly southern lynching carnivals, Roosevelt told a black audience the “rapists and criminals” among them “did more harm to their race than any white man can possibly do them.”

In 1909 President Taft told African American college graduates in North Carolina: “Your race is meant to be a race of farmers, first, last and for all times.” Taft had the distinction of being the first Republican presidential candidate to campaign in the South. He announced he would never enforce “social equality” and told black audiences that the white southern man was their “best friend.”   People of color could find little comfort, justice or even safety during the age of Roosevelt and Taft.

But this is a different time, and we as a nation wish to move toward “a more perfect union,” to follow the Constitution, and embrace its promises. Why then do some intelligent people still manage to distort our past to send a wrong message? Perhaps they do so because lying about the past makes it easier to dissemble about the present. As Richard Cohen wrote in the Washington Post in November:

 

“Today’s G.O.P. is not racist, as Harry Belafonte alleged about the Tea Party, but it is deeply troubled—about the expansion of government, about immigration, about secularism, about the mainstreaming of what used to be the avant-garde. People with conventional views must repress a gag reflex when considering the mayor-elect of New York—a white man married to a black woman and with two biracial children. (Should I mention that Bill de Blasio’s wife, Chirlane McCray, used to be a lesbian?) This family represents the cultural changes that have enveloped parts—but not all—of America. To cultural conservatives, this doesn’t look like their country at all.”

The Tea Ain’t Party Racist Dicky C?
 Tea Party Racism III

Really Dicky?

 Tea Party Racism

 If the Tea Party ain’t Racist……

 Tea Party Racism II

 Eggs aint poultry, Grits ain’t groceries…and Mona Lisa was a Man!

 Sadly, just as Cohen believes we are post-racial, modern influencers such as Keller would have us believe that Taft and Roosevelt were also not racist—they were simply Presidents who advocated for policies that would ensure that “traditional” values would continue to rule. Never mind that many of those values had racial animosity at their core. We can’t move toward the fulfillment of the Constitution—for the common good—if we either continue to see the past through a racial revisionist lens, or continue to misconstrue the racism in our present.

It might be more accurate to state some white American die-hards can’t help but choose to live in a post-Mandela world. While they may celebrate his courage and achievements in the abstract, they cannot fully digest this brave South African who sacrificed his freedom and life for a world where people of all races, ethnicities, and kinds will try to live in peace and harmony.

 ***************

William Katz
New York City
December 12, 2-13

Afro-American Jazz and Black South Africans

Posted in Cultural Matters, Guest Commentators, Music Reviews with tags , , on August 19, 2013 by playthell

 Hugh Masekela

Hugh Masakela: A South African Original

 

 On the Transformative Power of Black Jazz

Growing Up in Mantzi I have been Fortunate enough to come from a Township of Soweto that in the early sixties and all the way to the rule of the ANC had electricity and telephones in our community.  Why is this important?  I grew up with uncles who were playing 78 rpm dicks on a gramophone, and we gradually upgraded to what was called Pilot FM radio (big and huge like caskets which contained a turntable and a FM radio.  Eventually we came to be exposed to Hi Fi systems in the late 1960’s and 70’s and graduated to more sophisticated name brands like Marantz and the like.

Music was the driving force in the evolution and American Jazz was one of the most powerful influences that we were exposed to.  Our elders, uncles and big brothers collected all of the great artist such as Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Dizzy Gillespie, John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis and all the seminal figures Playthell Benjamin cites in his essay “Wynton Marsalis and the Great American Art, as the produced this music. And we sought to get in their favor by our recognition and approval of the importance of their treasure troves of LP vinyl Jazz albums.

Furthermore, we were living amongst musicians who played Jazz and formed big bands here in Mzantsi; we were also imbibing a lot of South African Jazz that embodied all the diversity characteristic of South Africa in its sound.  As we grew older we extended our listening and appreciation of the music by forming Jazz Clubs in the late Sixties whilst still in high school.

Our weekends were spent getting together bring new vinyl recordings we might have bought on Friday, and sample it with other members.  If they could not identify the record one was made Jazz Appreciation King for the day and it lasted the entire week until we met again.  Exposure to American Jazz was very important for us and it affirmed and solidified our beliefs that we were not mere “Kaffirs” (niggers) who were backward in all we did or were – African American Jazz told us, that those who looked like us, that those who looked like us, were the best in the world in this art form.

The Great Edward Kennedy “Duke Ellington”
Duke+Ellington - paragon of elegance 
Composer, Pianist, Bandleader, Paragon of Male Elegance
Dollar Brand
Dollar Brand
South African Pianist, Composer

This told us too, that we are the better people in the world, just from the Jazz perspective.  We imbibed art forms and so forth from our African American brothers, but Jazz was paramount in entrenching and embedding beliefs about ourselves.   Some of us went as far as to walk, talk, and dress like our Afro-American brothers.  Others named themselves accordingly.

As we became more mature and refined in our understanding of the wide world of Jazz, we began to travel overseas to Jazz concerts all over the states, Canada and Europe.  This expanded our horizons beyond the brutal apartheid world of South Africa.  We became well marinated in the Jazz Milieu, which knew no national boundaries because of the recording industry.  What has all this to do with Wynton Marsalis, the subject of Playthell’s recent essay?  Everything!

Playthell’s analysis of the heroic role of Wynton in the advancement of Jazz as a vibrant art form supports the fledgling arguments of those among us here in South Africa, who have been insisting that Wynton has advanced Jazz beyond what the hard core Jazz classist here in Mzantsi think of a real Jazz, in fact they insisted that Wynton was not playing Jazz at all.

Wynton Marsalis

0827969262023
The Most Versatile Trumpeter in the World

I think the fact that he came from the Baroque side of classical music was lost to these detractors here for they knew nothing about the fact that Wynton had become the Master Jazz/Trumpeter /Composer/Innovator of the art and literally lifted and elevated Jazz into the 21st century.  They just couldn’t wrap their minds around that fact.

I also suspect that they have lost touch with what Wynton was doing and saying, and hung on to the old ways of understanding Jazz.  Wynton blew some of us away when he merged modern Jazz with African drummers on the same stage.  We were amazed and fascinated as we watched his rehearsal sessions with these Africans, especially the way that he was able to show the similarities and the origins of Jazz as an African art form.

Conducting the performance of Congo Square
DSC_0224
The Lincoln Center never witnessed anything like it!

Soul to Soul

DSC_0444

The Rhythmic circle remains unbroken

DSC_0106

The drum choir blended perfectly with the band

This edified us and lifted our long held beliefs that the music we were listening to called Jazz had melodic signatures which can be found in our own traditional songs and Jazz music here in Mantzsti.  Playthell’s essay “Wynton Marsalis and the Great American Art,” is for me and Jazz Aficionados of kindred spirit, is so filled with erudite analysis about the art of Jazz and Wynton’s role in preserving and advancing the best of the tradition, that I feel compelled to post it on all the African sites I have access to.

There are some pretentious self- proclaimed Jazz gurus and avid fans who cannot accept anything new in Jazz.  Not since Babatunde Olatunji took his “Drums of Passion” orchestra to Carnegie Hall – industrialist Andrew Carnegie’s gift to New York City and the art of music –has anyone achieved that.  Wynton, however, took it a step further; many levels higher in fact, by merging both ensembles – African American musicians and a choir of African master drummers – on the same stage as part of one group.  To me it was one of the things Wynton did that silenced the howling jazz dinosaurs in the Appreciators here in Mzantsi.

THE GOAT

DSC_0250 

 Greatest of All Times!

I concur with all that Playthell wrote about Wynton Marsalis….and then some.  I have learned so much from reading this article that I immediately went over to my collection of Wynton’s records and have been following on some nuggets he doled/dropped in the essay.   This kind of study will upgrade one’s understanding, appreciation and listening skills; enabling you to better grasp the techniques Wynton is employing to make such marvelous music.  I am happy to have found Playthell’s article, for it confirmed what we had long believed.   Jazz is an African art form and it resonates loudly with us here in Mzantsi and wherever it is played.

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

Double Click to see Dollar Brand 

http://youtu.be/FSPq4AZ2GAI

Double click to see Dollar Brand in a clearer video

http://youtu.be/UcBHhkw8_fQ

Click to see Hugh Masakela  perform tribute to Mandela

http://youtu.be/h9JTuaC-x2Q

Double Click to see Wynton conduct Congo Square with Orchestra and African drums 

http://youtu.be/sKmaWqKV5aA

Double Click to hear the Winston “Mankunzu” Ngozi Quartet

http://youtu.be/Rt-rlAHEE0M

 

Skhokho Sa Tlou

Mzantsi, South Africa

August 19, 2013

 ** All Photos of Wynton and Congo Square Concert 

by: Frank Stewart, official photographer for JALC

Reflections on the Zimmerman Trial

Posted in Guest Commentators, The Travon Martin Trial with tags , , on July 20, 2013 by playthell
  Trayvon Benjamin Martin 
Trayvon-Martin-2 Murdered for being a Black Male in America

 A Commentary on the Slaughter of Innocence

 The Trayvon Martin murder case has created a national outcry, while generating a critical conversation on race and gun violence in America. This case is a reflection of the nation’s true racial identity and society’s every shifting posture on acceptable gun violence.

Racial elements cut through every facet of this case, fostering the many assumptions that were made beginning with George Zimmerman’s racial profiling of an innocent black 17 year old on his way home from a Skittles run and the value he put on that young life because of the assumptions he made.

The assumptions continued at the Sanford Police Department, which from the beginning saw young Trayvon as the suspect and George Zimmerman as the victim. A police department that accepted Zimmerman’s portrayal of this violent black youth that fit the images they already carried. A police department that buoyed by that acceptance failed to do their job and conducted no real investigation of the actual crime, the fatal shooting of a 17-year old boy.

No forensics were gathered from the obvious suspect, George Zimmerman. There was no examination of Zimmerman’s clothes, or hands; no toxicology report and no medical examination to determine the true extent of his injuries. This was perhaps the worst criminal investigation since the “good ole days” when in certain parts of this country, Florida included, whites murdered blacks with impunity and without fear of the law, which was always expected to turn away. How far we have come?

“Trayvon Martin Could Have Been Me 35 Years Ago”

Barak Chillin

Does he look like a criminal to many whites?

These same racial assumptions permeated the District Attorney’s office as a decision was made that no charges whatsoever should be made against George Zimmerman, a decision that would never have been made had Trayvon been white and Zimmerman black. It is interesting that when defense attorney West was asked if things would have been different if Trayvon had been white, he chose to ignore that question and rather respond to his belief on what would have happened if Zimmerman had been black.  And no one associated with the trial on either side asked the question the President raised on Friday: “Would Trayvon have been justified in shooting Mr. Zimmerman because he felt threatened because he was following him?”

The Prosecution Dropped the Ball

The Prosecuter

 They didn’t ask the obvious questions

When after great public outcry a special prosecutor was appointed resulting in the indictment of George Zimmerman and his consequential trial, race continued to play its role in the selection of a jury which contained not even one black person.

During the trial in order to extricate their client the defense painted a picture of young Trayvon Martin as an angry black man, physically superior to the defendant, who with little provocation attacked George Zimmerman and beat him to a point where he so feared for his very life that his only recourse was to shoot and kill him.

The prosecution failed to convince the jury otherwise, partly because of their own failed strategy, but largely due to the racial stereotype this jury had to subscribe to in order to accept Zimmerman’s version of what happened in spite of the series of lies and inconsistencies in the Zimmerman story exposed by the prosecution.

The reality is, despite a black man rising to the Presidency of the United States, and the countless examples of black men doing great things in this society, there remains a deep seeded image of the black thug, a basic criminalization of the majority of black males by many whites who do not see themselves as racist and who outwardly are not. This image has substantiated by the unbalanced incarceration of black males nationwide and the images commonly seen on the nightly news, and those projected by Hollywood and a gangsta hip hop culture that permeates our airwaves.

Interestingly the Treyvon Martin case is also perhaps the most profound gun violence in recent history. Yes Newtown, Aurora and Ft. Hood were all tragic with greater loss of life, but what is unique about this case is that it is the only gun violence case where the loss of innocent life has been socially justified. It is the only case where the rights of the killer were held above the rights of the victim; where the law gave more protection to the killer than to the victim.

A law advocated by the NRA which seems to be hell bent on creating an America where every citizen has a right, no a duty to carry a gun and to evoke their God given and Constitutional right to vigilantism. Are we to literally digress to the days of the OK Corral where the citizenry along with officers of the law were regularly engaged in shootouts in the streets?  And why?  Liberty? Second Amendment Rights?  No, just increased gun sales, as the NRA now represents gun manufacturers far more than they do gun owners.

One must be struck by the poise and graciousness demonstrated by the parents of Trayvon Martin. Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton have exhibited true Christianity and instead of revenge have sought only justice and even now instead of hatred, offer George Zimmerman prayer.

Their wish is that Trayvon’s memory not be tarnished by violence, but honored by change, a change in attitudes, a change in the laws that would allow such a legal travesty to follow the tragedy of the death of their son. They seek the type of change best represented by the group led by “Dream Defenders” that now protest at the Florida State Capitol Building with a clear agenda for change!

This spirit for change, this demand for change must spread throughout the nation. State to state and to Washington’s doorstep where real gun reform must finally be addressed and Democrats and Republicans alike must see through the veil and challenge The NRA’s real agenda and their vision for America.

We as a nation must now sympathize with Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton whose wish is that their son should not have died in vain and that we all benefit and move to taking what steps we may towards eradicating racism and gun violence in America.

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

 By: Kwaku Leon Saunders

Atlanta, Georgia

July 20, 2013

The Obama’s Address Black Graduates

Posted in Cultural Matters, Guest Commentators with tags on June 1, 2013 by playthell

President-Barack-Obama-Morehouse-College-2013-Joi-Pearson-Photography-2-RO

Three Wise Men: A Great Moment

 Stressing the Virtues of Education and Family

Both President Barack Obama and First Lady Michele Obama chose to give commencement addresses at historically black colleges.  The President spoke at Morehouse College and the First Lady addressed the graduates at Bowie State University.  Presidents and First Ladies are bombarded with requests to speak at commencements and the selection of historically black colleges and the messages conveyed dramatizes the symbolic significance of having a black family in the White House.

In Michele Obama’s commencement address to the Bowie graduates, she was critical of a certain aspect of black culture that is anti-intellectual.  The First Lady mentioned that the notion of a black child with a book was behaving white and was counter-productive.  She encouraged the graduates to struggle against that kind of negativity and stressed how vital it was for a higher percentage of members of the black community to be attending college.

President Obama in his Morehouse address highlighted the need to break the cycle of broken families.  He mentioned that even though his mother as a single parent was heroic and his maternal grandparents paid an important role in his upbringing, he regretted the absence of a father in his life.  The President of the United States revealingly stated that on his death bed, he would not be thinking about the legislation that was passed during his presidency but the quiet moments that he spent with his wife and his two daughters.

Barack and his Beloved Girls!
barack_obama
A Quintessential Family Man

There is an unquestionable thirst in the black community for higher education.  Prior to the democratization of higher education in America around the 1970s, the black historical colleges like Bowie, Morehouse, Spelman, Howard and Fisk played the predominant role in giving African-Americans access to higher education.  During those years, Caribbean students benefited from the existence of these black historical colleges.  Institutions like Howard University were instrumental in providing Caribbean scholars, like Eric Williams, the necessary education that made them into historical trail-blazing figures.

Our brilliant First Lady

imagesCA5C1MGT Telling the truth and inspiring the youths

The First Lady is correct that a greater number of African-Americans need to attend college but despite the rising cost of higher education those numbers have been growing.  For students graduating with associate degrees in 1999-2000, there were 60,221 and by 2009 to 2010, that figure increased to 113,905 which amounted to 10.9 percent of the associate degrees conferred in that year.

For the four year degree, from 1999 to 2000, 108,013 African-Americans completed the course and from 2009 to 2010, that figure was 164,844.  That latter figure amounted to 9.0 percent of the bachelors degree conferred during that period.  From the vantage point of gender from 1999 to 2000, 69.6 percent of the degrees conferred were females and from 2009 to2010 that percentage was 60.7 percent.

Traditionally, black enrollment on the graduate level tends to fall off precipitously but that has changed.  In the 1999-2000 period, 36,696 master’s degrees were conferred on African-Americans.   By 2009 to 2010, there was remarkable growth as 76,468 master’s degrees were conferred amounting to 12.5 percent of the distribution.  Again, one sees the potency of the black female that from a gender perspective in the latter years, 71.1 percent of master’s degrees were conferred on black women.

Julius Nyerere was fond of stating in respect to the Third World and the First World “While they walk, we must run”.  In the world of higher education, black men are not marking time but black women are outpacing them.

The President and the First Lady were stressing the importance of higher education as its acquisition has become nigh indispensable in competing in the increasingly competitive labor market.  The American economy has become more high-tech and low-tech jobs are either disappearing or do not pay a living wage to raise a family.

The Bureau of Labor statistics provides us with the data that correlates education to weekly income and to unemployment.  The higher the level of education, the less likely that an individual will be unemployed; the unemployment rate for a high school drop-out is 12.4 percent and average weekly wage is $471.00.  For a high school graduate, the rate of unemployment is above the average at 8.3 percent.  A college graduate had an unemployment rate of 4.5 percent and aweekly earnings of $1,066.00.  With education the chances of a worker earning a living wage is greatly enhanced.

Neither the President nor the First Lady addressed the troubling issue of stagnation of wages and the severe problem of inequality.  The graduates have been exhorted to further humanize American society. If Bowie and Morehouse educated their graduates properly, they will know the “civil rights” struggle of their generation is to put the Genie of inequality back into the bottle so more Americans, educated or uneducated, can achieve the American dream.

***********

Dr. Basil Wilson

Queens, New York

June 1, 2o13

Our Oracle Shuts the Door

Posted in Book Reviews, Cultural Matters, Guest Commentators on May 16, 2013 by playthell

Achebe Elder

The peerless scribe and Master Teacher at work

 A Brief Tribute to Professor Chinua Achebe

I wouldn’t like to describe Professor Chinalumogo Achebe as an Iroko tree.  No, he was mightier than that.  In a thick forest of copious trees, one tree always stands out: the Uzi tree. It is taller than the Oroko.  The Uzi is always rare; sometimes, only one appears in an entire forest.  But there could be many Irokos in a forest.  They even stand on the streets, everywhere.  No, Achebe was not that common.  He was loftier than his fame.

The bark of an Uzi tree is medicinal. Many herbalists, experienced and upcoming, approach it with machetes to cut off a portion to cure diseases, yet the tree stands unscathed. It does not shed its leaves. It does not bleed. It only exudes its sap when the herbalists immerse the shredded bark in a keg of alcohol or water, in order to have the medicine seep out. During windy, fierce hamattan seasons, irokos could have their branches broken. This deficiency does not apply to Uzi. And whenever there is need for wood, people hack irokos down, but the Uzi is revered, with its lush, swanky green leaves attracting a large pilgrimage of avian animals. Achebe’s fiction is medicinal, undeniably sacrosanct.

It has cured the world of many diseases of the mind: racial discrimination, religious intolerance, mental slavery, subjugation of thought, entrapment of black intellects, disdain for Africa’s indigenous cultures and religions, among others. Chinua Achebe, through his extraordinary defensive literature, gave Africa a new positive interpretation. Africans became proud of Africa, although there are still islands of mental and religious slaves around the continent. His rare shrewdness detected every prejudice against Africa, no matter how nuanced, and he reacted appropriately.

As a young boy growing up in rural, southeastern Nigeria, I did not have the privilege of reading foreign books. Even as a toddler, I never read illustrated children’s books. They were not available in the village. I depended on indigenous African literature, which I didn’t buy, couldn’t buy, but I read as much as I could borrow from friends and neighbours. I realised that each time I went borrowing, I was offered a Chinua Achebe book. One of my primary school teachers once lied to me that the Bible was written in heaven and flung down to the world.

I started to wonder whether Achebe’s books were among those things that God had created in the sky and thrown down, because the books were ubiquitous in the village—and understandable. When I went to the stream to fetch water, students from secondary schools discussed Achebe’s fiction with joy. I could identify with the things written there: our village foods, our masquerades, our family system, our method of farming, our animals and many other native valuables embellished in his stories. It was as though the stories were set in my own village. It became normal, for me, that one must read Achebe so as to be considered educated.

In the village, the ability to speak a speck of correct English was applauded. We, the village children, gathered around city boys and kids who had returned home for Christmas, listening to their English, willing ourselves to speak asupili supili like them, a fact that made us almost detest our native Igbo Language. Our inability to speak English early enough caused a sort of inferiority complex in us. We spoke English with fear and conservative dignity because we thought it difficult, full of strict rules of grammar that one could not break. I later figured out, my ribs bashing with amusement, that the city people’s English was odiously ungrammatical, a local contrivance to achieve fluency: pidgin. Achebe, through his books, demystified the English Language for me. The books are simplified with supple details. Achebe made English approachable, configured it to taste like Igbo in my mouth.

I comprehended that one could speak English with a stocky Igbo mouth, found out that English is not better than Igbo; they are both equivalent in all ramifications. As an adult, I did not have the grace of meeting him, face-to-face; it was not necessary because I meet him daily through my stack of his books, my treasures. The human mouth is full of lies, but Achebe’s fiction is full of truths, undeniable facts. The immortality of his writings is unquestionable. Some men shouldn’t die!

Today our oracle has shut the door, but he still remains inside the holy shrine. In Africa, people don’t catapult themselves to unknown destinations when they die; they stay (in the spiritual world) around their families to plan and supervise the affairs of the mortals, sheltering the humans with divine protections of all sorts. Chukwu chebe muo gi!

Professor Chinua Achebe has joined the league of worthy ancestors, a dynasty of international literary forefathers and mothers whose works remain perpetual: Eudora Welty, William Shakespeare, Cyprian Ekwensi, Edith Wharton, Charles Dickens, Zora Neale Hurston, Amos Tutuola, Ernest Hemingway, Margaret Mitchell, Thomas Hardy, Flannery O’Connor, Willa Cather, and many others. Achebe will stay in the land of prestigious African ancestors to inspire new pieces of fabulous fiction in the new generation of African writers. We are all waiting for his inspiration.

Writers don’t die. Has Chinua Achebe died? No! The Uzi tree does not die like that. The Igbo say uwa bu ahia—the world is a market: you come, trade and step aside, and not necessarily die. Achebe lives in every creative mind, solidly.

Father of a Tradition

Achebe III

 He set the standard for African Novelist

 ****************

Jekwu Anyaegbuna

03/26/2013

 Originally published in the Massachusetts Review.  Reprinted with permission of MR.

Jekwu Anyaegbuna is a Nigerian writer. He won the 2012 Commonwealth Short Story Prize for Africa. He has just completed his first novel. His story “The Waiting Stool” appears in the current
issue of MR.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,136 other followers