Saturday, August 29, 2009

Summer Jam's Winding Down


The beginning of summer could be viewed as the opening scene of a movie. Shots into the night. The crews and casts. The concerts from every recreational park on the goodwill of every city or county's department of culture, and on the sponsorship of the big rollers in today's commerce -- Heineken, Lucky, Los Angeles Weekly, Downtown Long Beach Associates, Budweiser, Jack In The Box, Burger King, McDonalds, Sonoma Vineyard, CVS Pharmacy, Magic Johnson, Korbel, KLOX 95.5 Los Angeles, Amoeba Records, and so on -- throwing in the big bucks, making sure we party animals, pub-crawlers, concert goers and the Hollywood wannabes gets the best out of it. It is winding down and how could one explain it? Fun? Of course.

Besides all that summer jams and blasts, call it what you want, I somehow did something different during the course of the summer jams not letting anything block my way, no matter what. I read some fascinating books while the summerfest jammed all around. I combed through Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's The Thing Around Your Neck after my daughter reading it and concluding some of the short stories did not have an ending suggesting there might be a sequel as in a movie or to suspend her readers to figure it out. And, also, interestingly, I read Jeanette Hardage's Mary Slessor -- Everybody's Mother: The Era and Impact of a Victorian Missionary published by WIPF & STOCK taking me aback to the civics lessons of Colonial Mentality which destroyed our cultural heritage bringing about modernity that we see today as civilization, and which ultimately nullified our ancient customs rather than reform them. Remember when "witchcraft, trial by ordeal, the murder of twins" for one must be the offspring of a demon and when barren women were derided as ekwesu, evils in our society? As the story goes on, Mary Slessor, the Scottish Presbyterian missionary, at age twenty-eight dabbled into an agrarian and primitive society in Calabar and did all she could as a missionary to leave a mark in the history books.

I also read The History of Black Religion: Your Spirits Walk Beside Us by Barbara Dianne Savage published by Harvard University Press, which narrates the relationship between a prominent black preacher, Jeremiah Wright of Trinity United Church in Chicago, and his most famous congregant, Barack Obama, who would become the president of the United States. Savage wrote with style here beginning with the early studies of black religion by W.E.B. Du Bois, Carter G. Woodson, and Benjamin Mays and ending with a discussion of Obama and Wright. Interesting read!

Now the book is diverting my attention, so I must face the real deal and while summer is just fun. Nothing but fun, so to speak.

From Long Beach to Los Angeles, and from Hollywood to the San Fernando Valley, it's all about jazz and the summer jams. From Laguna Nigel to Ocean Side, the sweet breeze met the smooth jazz on several trips along the coasts of San Diego heading back North on the 405 Freeway onto the 5 Freeway jamming the farmlands of Central California. It also echoed on the playgrounds of California State University in Bakersfield, breezing through the beautiful smell of produce in Fresno. It's been a hell of a jam despite the "slowmo" economy. It's the economy really bad?

Then all along the 101 North, heading to Woodland Hills, Canoga Park Westlake Village, it's all about the summer jams.

For instance, the three day Long Beach Jazz Festival was one of its kind in the program's 22-year history. The lineup this year was another event that revealed there is actually no show like showbizness. The festival was dedicated to former NBA player and jazz musician Wayman Tisdale who passed away on Friday, May 15th, 2009. My girl, Los Angeles-based performer, Angie Stone, gave it her best with her fifth studio album "Unexpected" scheduled to hit record stores around mid-October and Stone taking her career to a whole new heights said, "people think there is a fixed sound for Angie Stone, but this will be something different across the board," and acknowledging "... there will be some collectible tracks in there. With the exception of Chuck, I'm working with all new producers. I also worked with Juanita Wynn, my sister in soul for the last seven years and she's incredible."

In Black Township's Leimert Park, the 2009 World Stage dropped its own line of programs on Sunday, August 09, on the Vision Theatre parking lot with a bunch of casts and fanfare even though the event and turnout was way below expectation. I was able to talk to a lot of the performers, and had looked forward to seeing Los Angeles Times veteran photo-jounalist, Francine Orr to show up for the historic community's event which unveiled some incredible talents.

I had also spoken to Leimert Park resident, hand drummer, Marvin "Brother Rock" Rock of the Leimert Park Drum Church founded by Nigerian-born Najite Agindotan. Najite was the Chief Priest, Fela Kuti's hand drummer at kalakuta republic. Najite Olokun Prophesy plays weekend at the House of Blues in Hollywood with his cast of Omo ogun, Rock Samori, N'gala, Sherwood Nat Nyema, Nate Morgan, Charley, Kpapko Adu, Phil Ramelin, Bobby Bryant, Alaah-Deen, Andrew Gerald, Chini Kopano, Ndugu, Makida Anderson, and Carol Abata. Bobby Bryant plays alto sax while joined by fellow windist Alaah Deen on tenor saxophone.

Sitting down with Najite and chatting on the course of Leimert Park projects in reviving its cultural landscape, he said the city hasn't done much to promote the historic park's cultural awareness despite all the efforts he had put to bring back life to the community and his own idea of the Leimert Park Drum Church was to make it a yearly thing as in all cultures and fests.

The summer fests is winding down, for sure, and the reamaining lineups seems to be tempting and would be overwhelming. In keeping funk alive, the Long Beach Funk Fest was held on the streets of Long Beach, on the corner of Pine and Broadway, and it was all explosive, featuring back in the day funksters' Mandrill. Dawn Silva, Charles Wright and The Meters' Experience popped up to sustain the future through pure funk. The jam was on till midnight, Saturday, August 29 to wind it down, and I probably have one more big event to attend depending on my schedule -- the one week two festivals at the 33rd Annual Russian River Jazz and Blues Festival featuring Al Jarreau, Neville Brothers, Rick Braun, my buddy Jonathan Butler, Dr. John and the legendary R & B Revue, also, featuring Tommy Castro, Bernard Allison, Rick Estrin and Janiva Magness. The Jazz and Blues Festival starts Sept. 12 for the jazz concerts and Sept 13 for the blues at Johnson's Beach in Guerneville, on the plains of the wine country of Sonoma County.

It's going to be fun, without a doubt, so stick around as there is more to come and time to deal with the nasty political issues of the day, home and abroad.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

DIARY: That Art & Soul Festival In Oakland, California

BY AMBROSE EHIRIM



The last time I was in the Bay Area, I did not pay much attention to the goings on, particularly Oakland from around which I hadn't been anywhere in the city for quite some time. It had been in and out, business as usual, so, not much to talk about in that regard. But this time around, a whole lot turned out differently. I wasn't aware of the turn around of things in downtown Oakland and for not to have checked in for a while, I was impressed. The city changed, indeed!

The raggedy, skid row, home of the Black Panthers and the classless sleep on your door step, ghetto-crawling neigborhood is no longer what it used to be. Oakland is totally transformed, and thanks to Jerry Brown who as Mayor of Oakland saw the necessary steps required to making things happen for folks long abandoned. The story of Oakland and its overnight transformation is overwhelming.

As it happened, the 9th Annual Arts & Soul Festival in Oakland had to be my calling since I have not seen the city in many years, and besides, each time I pop up in the Bay Area, Oakland never crossed my mind for I had thought of where it's jamming -- San Francisco, San Jose, Berkeley, Saratoga, Stockton, Santa Rosa, the farming-vineyards of Sonoma County coupled with other big recreational neigborhoods in the Bay Area, of the Woodstock and Coachella type -- for the groove and all that stuff.

But nevertheless, this time around, there was an event and I had to be focused to see how it unfolds. Quite fascinating.

August 14: I arrived Oakland and checked into the Ambassador Hotel on the corner of Franklin and 13th Street. A little bit tired, I made some calls to see who is around town. Not much, though, and for Friday night, I couldn't figure out what's it I was going to do before the festival kicks out the next day. I decided to go to bed and get some rest. No, I did not go to bed immediately; I popped up the news networks to see what's happening in my neck of the woods and what the Republican airheads are talking about.

However, it turned out to be the same old song -- the mud-slinging so-called conservatives who only think for themselves and how to protect their ill-gotten wealth negating the fact that under any circumstances in a democratic fabric, that there are people, underprivileged, who will always need help of some sort to overcome their predicament. It is natural and the Republicans and the newly coined Blue Dog Democrats, whatever that is, don't seem to realize and unfortunately they are not getting it. I still don't get it myself and I am not going to be part of a debate that does not make sense at all in a situation a desperately dying fellow should be allowed to die on the grounds of having no medical coverage.

What are we talking about here?

An organized society?

Well, since politics, they say, makes strange bed-fellows, let's believe in the rule of law, upholding and respecting democracy; and hopefully the Republican airheads would come to terms with reality and do the right thing. Cable News Network and all that news-related channels, including Fox, had become a bore.

August 15: I got up fresh and ready like Freddy for the festival. There wasn't much happening on the streets of the high-towered downtown Oakland when I peeped through the window of my hotel room.

At 10:45 AM, I was already on Broadway and 14th Street checking out the vendors, the area's local press and patrons who had showed up with delight for the festival's 9th year anniversary. The streets and sidewalks had already been flooded with the four stages ready to explode with performances of the day. On the stage at 12th and Clay, Loquet, BoDeans and Grammy Award winning artist, Shawn Colvin, were scheduled to perform. The stage in front of Oakland City Hall scheduled Abby and the Pipsqueaks, Jump Street and some local voices. The stage on 12th and Broadway had a Gospel showcase presented by Edwin Hawkins and the Community of Unity featuring Bishop Walter L. Hawkins of the Love Center Choir, Terrence Kelly and the Oakland Interfaith Choir,Sharon Wynn Davison, Sunny Hawkins and the Music Department, Men of Edurance, Derrick Hall and Company, while on 12th and Jefferson it was an all out jazz enssemble. The crowd was awesome and with summer almost winding down the vendors and organizers did the best they could to go with the flow especially in a 'slowmo' economy.

I walked around the four points of the festival and bumped into an artist whose booth had displayed all her finest works with the husband setting up the gallery. We chatted for a moment before the festival rose for the day. She was optimistic the festival "will eventually" be one of the big shows to be talked about in the near future despite its 9th-year of existence. I strolled down to the Oakland Convention Center on Broadway and 14th Street which is about 12 minutes away from the Oakland International Airport. Going inside the Convention Center sits Oakland China Town, The Preservation Park and some shopping complexes. A few short blocks took me to the Waterfront, Jack London Square and the Paramount Theatre which also is blocks away from my hotel room.

At about 7:45 PM, I checked back to my room for some rest before my buddy, South African-born, Berkeley-based sports freak, Johnson Boipelo Andile, comes around for some crazy sports talk and all that follows in a night of showdowns and pub-crawling. Andile had arrived late and we still hanged out anyway, talking about boxing which turned out to be his favorite sports, and he is really crazy about it going back to the heydays when boxing was real and very entertaining.

He talked about how boxing "is" no longer what it used to be and that all the fuss about Dominican Republic born undefeated Fernando Guerrero who now fights out of Salisbury, Maryland, is being overrated towards his upcoming fight August 29, when he meets Louis Turner in the middleweight division at Fitzgerald's Casino in Tunica, Mississippi. I'm not sure if I have been following up nowadays in what's been going on in boxing ever since it was commercialized nobody takes the sport seriously anymore. I had no idea who Gurrero was until he popped it up and on a critical note, he agreed with me "boxing ain't longer what it used to be."

We had talked extensively about the good-old days of boxing when all division were powerhouses. The days of Jeff Chandler, Azumah Nelson, Roberto Duran, Mustafa Hamsho, Salvador Sanchez, Eddie Mustapha Muhammad, Mathew Saad Muhammad, Dwight Braxton, Cornelius Boza Edwards, Michael Spinks, Sugar Ray Leonard-Thomas "Hitman" Hearns' "The Showdown," Marvellous Marvin Hagle-John "The Beast" Mugabi duel, Larry Holmes-Gerry Cooney race war, Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Ken Norton, Ernie Shavers and numerous other superb pugilists of the day.

After all these talks on boxing greats over some drinks at the hotel lobby, we drove out on San Pablo running through University Avenue where it meets Oxford at UC Bekeley. We found a spot, a bar and hangout, kind of, continuing our discourses on boxing retrieving "The Spinks Jinx," "Thriller in Manila," "Rumble in the Jungle," "Aaron Pryor-Alexis Arguello 1 & 2," and things like that related to boxing of the profound era when boxing had class.

August 16: It's been fun all over the previous day and I'm already up to deal with the happenings around downtown Oakland. The show continued with style and the performances were all great. Smooth jazz artist Bobby Caldwell had played and the crowd he had pulled was unbelievable. A night of jazz. The two day festival reached its climax.

August 17: I had traveled to Concord meeting Emmanuel Onyeador at his friend's ranch and vineyard. We talked more over some fine wine. David Iphie who lives in Pittsburg had stopped by to join us. Iphie picked Onyeador and myself and we drove to his house in the embrace of his wife and uncle, UC Davis trained agronomist, Humphrey Ezuma, who was visiting the shores of this land for a moment. The usual local politics popped up which I will be writing about in a different essay, while Iphie's wife prepared a delicious ofe olugbo, bitter leaf soup with varieties of meat and dried fish. We talked more and I enjoyed the company.

August 18: Back to the crazy-dubby Los Angeles-Hollywood where every 'damn' soul is really freaking out, and business as usual, I guess. It was indeed a trip to remember, and Oakland, for your excellence in the arts, I think I would like to visit again.

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Meaning Of Igbo Resistance And Survival

By Herbert Ekwe-Ekwe

A major preoccupation of an aggressor/conqueror state is to seek to effectuate a process of memory erasure over its overrun nation and land. This is the opportunity for the conqueror to begin to construct a bogus narrative of possession and control of the targeted society that arrogates it to the fictive role of primary agent of the course of history. The enduring success of Chinua Achebe’s Things fall Apart is that the classic not only anticipates this conqueror’s predilection but it subverts the triumphalism of the latter’s pyrrhic victory. Despite the District Commissioner’s bombastically-titled anthropological treatise at the end of the novel, heralding the latest European “possession and control” of another region of Africa, this time Igboland, the future direction of history here neither lies with the administrator nor his evolving occupation regime – nor indeed with his conquering capital back home in Europe! To locate the source for change and transformation in Igboland, subsequently, we need to examine carefully the import and circumstance of historian Obierika’s address to the administrator on the life and times of his friend and people’s hero, Ogbuefi Okonkwo, who had recently committed suicide. We are reminded that as he speaks, two full sentences into a third, Obierika’s voice “trembled and choked his words”, trailing off into gasps and silences of deep contemplation. It is precisely within the context of these kaleidoscopic frames of Obierika’s recalls and introspection that we discern the sowing of the nation’s regenerative seeds of resistance and quest for the restoration of lost sovereignty. It is therefore not surprising that Okonkwo’s grandchildren would spearhead the freeing of Nigeria, to which Igboland had since been arbitrarily incorporated by the conquest, from the British occupation.

For the aggressor state with a clear genocidal goal, memory erasure of the crime scene at the targeted nation is even more frantically pursued. On the morrow of the conclusion of its execution of the second phase of the Igbo genocide in January 1970, genocidist Nigeria wheeled out pretentious cartographers to embark on erasing the illustrious name, Biafra, from all maps and records that it could lay its hand on! During its meetings, the Gowon genocidist junta in power banned the words “sun”, “sunlight”, “sunshine”, “sundown”, “sunflower”, “sunrise” or any other word-derivatives from the sun that unmistakably reference the inveterate Land of the Rising Sun. This task and symbolism of “sun-banning” and “sun-bashing” were of course bizarre if not daft as the junta itself was to discover much sooner than later – and from a most unlikely source indeed. At the time, a British military advisor to the junta, who was out dinning with a senior member of the council in Lagos, unwittingly compared Igbo national consciousness and tenacity with that of the Pole. The advisor, who had studied modern history at university and was a great admirer of the exceptional endurance of Polish people in history, stated that the Igbo had demonstrated similar courage in the latter’s defence of Biafra and that a “rebirth of Biafra was a distinct possibility in my lifetime” – unlike the 123 years it took the Polish state to re-appear after its disappearance from the world map! The advisor was then in his early 30s and the obvious implications of his Igbo-Polish analysis were not lost on his host. The junta member co-diner was understandably most outraged by the advisor’s crass insensitivity on the subject which he readily shared with his junta colleagues. Predictably, the immediate consequence of the hapless advisor’s impudence was an early recall home to Britain.

There were other bouts of farcical treats on display in Nigeria during the period aimed at erasing the memory of the Igbo genocide. Junta and other state publications and those of their sympathisers would print the name Biafra, a proper noun, with a lower case “b” or box the name in quotes or even invert the “b” to read “p”, such was the intensity of the schizophrenia that wracked the minds of the members of the council over the all important subject of the historic imprint of Igbo resistance and survival. The Awolowoists and Awolowoids on the junta even toyed with the idea of abolishing money altogether in the economy of the resourceful and enterprising Igbo. They reasoned that this would deliver the final solution that had eluded them during the “encirclement, siege, pounding, and withering away” strategy of the previous 44 months… They ended up with the “compromise” pittance of £20.00 per the surviving male-head of the Igbo family – a derisory sum, which, they reckoned, stood no chance of averting the catastrophe of social implosion they envisaged would occur in Igboland subsequently. We mustn’t fail to note that the £20.00 handout excluded the hundreds of thousands of Igbo families whose male-heads had been murdered during the period… Dreadfully, the accent placed by Nigeria on this third phase of the genocide, starting from 12 January 1970, was the economic strangulation of the 9 million Igbo survivors… 3.1 million Igbo had been murdered in the genocide between 29 May 1966 and 12 January 1970.

Celebration

Igbo survival from the genocide is arguably the most extraordinary feature for celebration in an otherwise depressing and devastating age of pestilence in Africa of the past half of a century. Few people believed that the Igbo would survive their ordeal, especially from September 1968 when 8-10,000 Igbo, mostly children and older people, died each day as the overall brutish conditions imposed by the genocidist siege deteriorated catastrophically… The Igbo were probably the only people in the world who were convinced that they would survive. And when they did, the aftermath was electrifying. In spontaneous celebration, the Igbo prefaced their exchange of greetings with each other for quite a while with the exaltation, “Happy Survival!”: “Happy Survival! Nne”, “Happy Survival! Nna”, “Happy Survival! Nwannem”, “Happy Survival! Nwanna”, “Happy Survival! Nwunyem”, ‘Happy Survival! Oriaku”, “Happy Survival! Dim”, ‘Happy Survival! Kedu?”, “Happy Survival! Ndeewo”, “Happy Survival! Ke Kwanu?”, “Happy Survival! Odogwu”, “Happy Survival! Okee Mmadu”, “Happy Survival! Dianyi”, “Happy Survival! Umu Igbo”, “Happy Survival Ndiigbo”. Igbo survival, at the end, does represent the stunning triumph of the human spirit over the savage forces that had tried determinably for four years to destroy it. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s description of her majestic tome on the subject, Half of a Yellow Sun (this sun, yet again – odi egwu!), as a “love story” couldn’t therefore be more appropriate.

Forty years on, first and second generations removed from their parents and grandparents respectively who freed British-occupied Nigeria in 1960 and survived the follow-up genocide, Ogbuefi Okonkwo’s progeny are once again tasked and poised to restore Igbo lost sovereignty. Everyone knows of their firm resolve and ability to achieve this goal. Surely, the successful outcome of this endeavour is the most eagerly awaited news in Africa of these early years of the new millennium.

Herbert Ekwe-Ekwe is the author of Biafra Revisited (African Renaissance, 2006)

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Leimert Park Buzz

Whew, yes, it's summer time and I'm just having a blast. Guess what? It's Leimert Park week and the showdown is few days away. The line up, too, is interesting.

First, I ran into Swiss-based Congolese model, Songia Poupee, whose concept of a new women's handbag had been on display at African Treasures Gallery bargained on Melrose Trading in Hollywood, attracting curious-minded businessmen with the possibilities of funding to promote an exceptionally, unique, creative product which should be popping up on the runway sooner or later, here in Los Angeles. We spoke at length and the elegantly dressed Poupee told me she had came up with the idea in order to put something entirely different out there in the fashion world. The handbag is a three set piece clutched together in different colors with the larger part in Leopard skin hanging on a gold-plated chain.

Leimert Park, off the Crenshaw thoroughfare in the Black Township, and a place to hang out on Mondays especially with the jam sessions, notably at Babe's & Ricky's Inn known for its absolutely blues Monday nights. Before breezing in to Babe's & Ricky's, I bumped into classical bassonist and jazz enthusiast Rudolph Porter whose wealth of experience in jazz is quite telling. Porter has got a whole lot going on, and just turned 60 "I'm gonna be taking life to another level and I'm so excited I have made it this far and have never been sick. I feel good, and seriously, I do," he would say. I have encountered him in many occasions -- at jazz concerts and festivals -- but nothing much in our encounters until yesterday, August 03, 2009, when we spared some moments to talk extensively about music, jazz scholarship and what's been going on over the years.

While we stood on the sidewalk on Degnan, we talked about the big band era, be-bop and how jazz music changed dramatically over time. He talked about John Coltrane Septet (Pharoah Sanders on tenor sax, Alice Coltrane on piano, Jimmy Garrison on bass, Rasheed Ali on drums, Algie Dewitt on bata drum and Jumma Sanders on percussion) performing "Ogunde" at the Olatunji Center of African Culture in New York City on April of 1967. He spelled out the best jazz performers of the day, and Coltrane, without a doubt is among his best. The more we talked, the more we took a walk closer to Babe' & Ricky's for the open night blues session which had been jam packed by USC students who normally troop in there on Mondays for the blues. I saw some good performances and the last two jams were the best of the night.

Before then, I had gone to World Stage Performance Gallery to watch their rehearsals for Sunday's World Stage Jazz Festival to be held in the Vision Parking Lot of the historical Leimert Park. The line-up would include Phil Ranelin Jazz Ensemble, pianist Bertha Hope, violinist Yvette Devereaux, the Afro-Latin rhythms of the Estrada Brothers and The World Stage All-Stars Band featuring Charles Owens and Cornel Fauler. It's going to be a whole lotta fun and I sure will be there live, having a blast.

Opposite the venue of the festival on Sunday, August 9, 2009, is my normal hangout for a delicious rice and beans with curry flavored goat meat and oxtail at Ackee Bamboo Jamaican Restaurant owned by Marlene Beckford and whose new joint Adassa's Island will be opening soon for live entertainment, poetry and spoken word.