Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Ehirim Files Interview: Wadada, LA's Badass Everything Jam Session Man

Wadada lends a hand with his guitar to the Dian Wilson Jam Session at the World Stage Performance Gallery.

I would pop up in the village to see about the goings on, normally on the Sundays when the Najite-led Drum Church Circle Ensemble are yelping and hanging out to entertain the locals around the park on the Crenshaw Thoroughfare in Los Angeles. I have been seeing him all along I stopped by as a regular, to get a different air and feelings watching series of musicals and ensembles displayed on every nook and cranny of the village where tourists and visitors of all breeds in nature troop in sometimes to get a feel of original African rhythms vibrate from tons of motherland handmade instruments the world have come to know. It has been a routine Sunday events in the hood for folks who had been concerned about building community and helping each other in every aspect of engagement.

We did not exchange pleasantries for a while until we crossed each others path at an event that called for it. The event was a Wednesday night jam session put together by the "Ladies of Poetry" at the World Stage Performance Gallery capsuled by the historical Leimert Park Village "Black Township." He had been invited to lend a hand with his multi-instrumental talents for jam sessions to follow poetry renditions with some light refreshments.

I had watched him play various kinds of related instruments and had thought he'd  be of interest in the kind of performances I was looking for in the event of the usual summer gigs that would pop up.

We crossed path and exchanged pleasantries, eventually, and beginning to establish some form of friendship to identify how it adds up in what he does best and my passion of taking notes as he tells it, his life, the journey and the musician that he had become

I had thought he was indeed interesting based on the fact that he'd be the first of his kind I would encounter also in my journey to dig out the stuff in people like him for where my passion and craft had taken me - the world of literature, research, writing and the punks musical territory by way of conducting interviews and related publications.

Quite often, after bumping into each other on that poetry night for the first time, we express our feelings through gestures, of that touch while I check him out do his thing; his rendition on the sidewalk with his three piece band, selling his just released CD and prophesizing from his lyrical notes to his audience what the African continent needs to do to overcome its predicament.

It had been that way for a little bit. From shows at KAOS Network to series of events at The Vision Theater, we walked pass each other and observed the link to be connected for one reason or the other. I had picked one of his CDs, tipped him while he entertained his guests and related audiences on the sidewalk.

It wasn't until one day when I decided to know in detail about the area performer called Wadada and what he had been up to carrying his musical equipment along with him wherever he goes. He had figured I was up to something, too; thus, his acclaimed inner visions and psycho-analysis to read subjects and the issues that may arise at any given time. In my observations over time, he was typical of knowing problems in detail including what had hindered him from getting out of the box, ala, being shackled over the years by way of exploitation and what had been done to him by those who did not have any difficulty with his vulnerability and taking advantage of it. I had thought so myself, one of the reasons why I stayed aloof, that way, he'd not be assuming I was another batch of what he termed the "white boys" who set him up for a wild goose chase. Funny how I'm not a "white boy" and he had looked at me that way.

That was exactly how it turned out. I had also  moved with caution despite all that. As it had happened, I would engage him, and, a long haul of rigid discourse would follow with him at the defensive on a caseload of what had been done to him by the white boy and others who had noticed the weakness in him to have been every promoters guinea pig.

It had become difficult for him to trust anyone further based on his "bad experiences" over the years and for me to persuade him to adapt to the present form of situations and keep up with the flow was sort of cracking a tough nut. His aggressiveness which keeps him in touch and not to succumb to the cheap shots reflecting back to his days of being a sucker which had brought him to the level he found himself.

His aggressiveness with anger of the past did not dissuade me from getting closer and knowing much in detail about a man who carries a bunch of instruments with him, does his stuff and plays his gigs whenever booked at some show in the hood.

And then came a gig at OG's Place I had wanted him to play sessions with other LA's session men, in an attempt to get him closer for stuff like that to pop up in the future, to test his aggressiveness on stage in a different flow from his normal jams on my tab.

As it had also happened, assuming he had moved on and ready with a different flow, came the bombshell, the usual Wadada himself, recalling how the white boys thought he was an air head when he was used as a rubber stamp, and, that  he never obliged to whatever he was asked to do on the grounds of his being in need and was left with no choice but to carry on with his "slavish attitude," and getting paid peanut money while the "white boys" goes out there and use his name and talent to write all kinds of stories about him, pocketing the money and not even a dime for him. The rigid argument had erupted the moment I had told him I would be writing a story on him for my publication, which he had assumed  was another "white boy" kind of move that chased him down the hood after his flight from Venice Beach, the exotic beach city he had spent twenty years of his music career entertaining tourists from all walks of life, on the white boys tab, the beginning of his feelings of betrayal and lack of confidence in any creature.

Wadada would not trust any soul again. When I had met him and realizing he was going to get down with me on the premise of the "white boy" mentality and in reality that I was not a white boy. I was wrong. In wadadas country, white boy is anyone that is out there to take advantage of him in every aspect of his weaknesses "since they all know I ain't looking into what they are doing and they be using my name to write whatever pleases them and they be collecting all the money," wadada would rant.

"How am I going to make money blogging and promoting your music for my benefit when I'm actually doing you a favor?" I asked Wadada.

"That's what you'll say while I know the shit the white boy did. You see I am a thinker, I can think, man and I am spiritual, and I know better than you all," wadada chipped.

But most of Wadada's rantings can be traced from his beginnings at the exotic Vinice Beach where he displayed his acts for over two decades while his style of performance found its way from Venice Beach and swaggered into the area pubs and surrounding beach cities - Santa Monica Beach, Hermosa Beach, Redondo Beach - and that it was how bad he had been used by the white boy; that he had no doubt I was about to play the same game with him; that "you Africans think you're smart," that behind all the folks that performed during his years at Venice Beach, he was the best cast and the only original multi-instrumentalist, but yet, the white boy did not appreciate him, and looking at him "now," he shouldn't be blamed for not trusting anybody which had been why he relocated to the historic Leimert Park to engage with his "brothers," though what he had thought was wrong assumption, that the brothers can't get anything done and cannot work together, and that the problem with a brother had been individualistic, and that it cannot take we brothers anywhere "until we unite and start working together."

Wadada in occasions sub-contracts with the city on series of its cultural engagements during the summer jams and off season engagements all around Southern California. But Wadada's thing, indeed, lies on the corner of Degnan and 43rd Street, dressed in his usual tight-fitting stone washed jeans and assorted African beads hanged around his neck, sticks in his hands and about ready to entertain passersby and tourists.

The Leimert Park Village Wadada now calls home, from where the call sheet begins is one of the best places available for African cultural displays, considered the cultural heartland of Black Township on the Crenshaw Boulevard thoroughfare.

He dips in every category. Reggae. Jazz. Afrobeat. Country. He extracts his music from all the musical genre - Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Chuck Brown and the Soul Searchers, O'Jays and uniquely relying on the 70s "old school" jams which makes his jam sessions seem, entertaining and thrilling, especially with other cats in the neighborhood where he now calls home, and can always be booked without much ado that makes him the badass everything jam session man in Los Angeles.

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