free website hit counter Spiced Tea & Letters: June 2005

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Sexy Summer Jazz

Cassandra Wilson by Eric Elias

Cassandra Wilson; Tamar Kali – Sexy Summer Jazz

By Laylah Amatullah Barrayn

Cassandra Wilson's virtuosity as a vocalist, musician and bandleader is only matched by her uncut sexiness. Sex appeal, not of the frivolous kind; but that of the truly grown – nothing a 20something could ever claim. Her performance last Friday at Central Park SummerStage began at sunset, a crimson colored sky was her backdrop, along with her quartet of brothers. The set list made necessary stops along her discography, performing her most popular tunes like "Come On In my Kitchen" from her debut Blue Light 'Til Dawn; most of her show comprised songs from her latest records, namely Belly of the Sun.

During his solo, Wilson stared into electric guitarist Brandon Ross' eyes, not unlike a jazz musician would - seeking to gain synergy with her fellow band mate - but the gaze was borderline hypnotic and packed with seduction. Her sleepy eyes even more pronounced now that her blond hair and golden skin meld. The audience was definitely under hypnosis: Wilson gilded across her stage like a belly dancer with smooth undulating twists and turns and grinds. Her sheer, violet tunic hung off her shoulder for most of the night, and her purple sequined, fitted pants animated her strides.

The meandering solos were delivered with sharp, nuanced intellect. The quartet would burst into solos at unlikely times; and cheering them on, Wilson would ask her bass player or guitarist, 'can you love me' or 'stroke it good!' Wilson's rendition of D'angelo's "Brown Sugar" was one of the highlights of the night. Standing center stage and squatting she belted out the funk-tinged lyrics of this neo-soul classic. Wilson gave the crowd a beautiful encore performance of Bob Marley's "Redemption Song."

Percussionist, Jeff Haynes, kept the time with his invented drum kit that included a West African D'jembe drum, snares and bongo. Marvin Sewell sat furthest away from everyone else with his acoustic guitar, that he fantastically made sound like a DJ scratching vinyl.

With her Afro-Punk sound, Tamar Kali opened the show singing about love in a way only a grown woman could: with know-it-all insight and confidence. The Harlem native, who is also a belly dancer and grew up in the Gullah Islands of South Carolina, preformed the music from her latest, indy released CD, Geechee Goddess Warrior Soul.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005


During your 20s, you are figuring out what to say and getting the guts enough to say it.

Monday, June 27, 2005

I be lovin' this mans work...

Dude, I be lovin' this MAN's work

Can Hip-Hop Be?

By Mark Anthony Neal Music Critic

Is Be really all that? Talk about Common and hip hop music here!

"I look into my daughters eyes/ And realize that I'ma learn through her"—Common

My question of hip-hop these days is quite simple: can my young daughters listen to you? This is not a question about the language or violence or even misogyny or homophobia in hip-hop—this all comes with the territory—and the reality is that my "whurl-a-gurls" are usually in the minivan with me when I'm bumping the really good ish. No. This question is about whether 20 years from now, when this moment is well past gone, my daughters will understand what compelled us to embrace hip-hop in the first place. As Dream Hampton once described these desires, "I'm hoping hip-hop will help [my daughter] understand me and mine in the same way Revolutionary Suicide, Parliament and Iceberg Slim have me helped me understand my father and his pimped-out friends." Ultimately it will be our children who will stand in judgment of us and hip-hop, much the way the hip-hop generation currently stands in judgment of the Civil Rights generation.

I would like to think these are issues that Common considered as he was recording Be. If there is one thing that can be said about the Chi-town griot, it is that he has always tried to portray the big questions of life in ways that speak to personal demons and desires. This honesty is likely the reason why Common has always seemed more real to us than some of his other "conscious" cronies. Conversations about Common always seem to invoke the adjective "soulful," as much for his music as for his earthiness. It's about his honesty, or as my Duke homie John Jackson, Jr. might suggest, it's about Common's sincerity—a sincerity that has empowered him to dispense with the "formula," hence the wildly diverse body of work that he has produced, be it the breezy Chi-town two-step One Day It'll All Make Sense, or the big intellectual statement Like Water for Chocolate. For all those who decry the artistic excesses of Electric Circus (and I'm not one of them), you'd be hard pressed to think of another rapper (save Andre 3000) who would risk his reputation (and commercial viability) on such a project. And for the record, I do think Common is sincere in his attempts to distance himself from Electric CircusBe just finds him in another space.

Be is Common getting his "grown man" on—a metaphor for thirty-sumthin' male rappers finally getting comfortable in their own skin. How else can you explain the "Uncle Common" vibe on songs like "Faithful" or "Love Is." Respect due to the dramas that only age can allow one to appreciate—which is all some of us are asking of hip-hop in the first place. That respect begins for Common with the lead single "The Corner," which is as much a tribute to the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s as it is a tribute to the street corners where so many of that movement's voices plied their trade alongside every genre of hustler, be they pimps, dealers, store-front preachers or race men. Before "the real" was rendered a serial cartoon that pads the coffers of Viacom, AOL Time Warner, and Universal, "the real" could be found everyday on the corner among the folk. The ability to distinguish the between "the real" and "the everyday" is to discern the differences between the fiction of Donald Goines and the choreographed cinematic world of 50 Cent. Leave it to The Last Poets—in this case Umar Bin Hassan and Abiodun Oyewole—to make sure that we remember that there is indeed a difference. As Hassan describes it, "the corner was our magic, our music, our politics," a reminder that hip-hop—and all forms of great Black expression—existed well before cable television and the internet.

Nine of the eleven tracks on Be were produced by Chi-town's current favorite son Kanye West. In many ways, Common is the ideal person for Kanye to work with because Common's strong personality (like Jay) keeps Kanye's formidable ego in check. As witnessed by tracks like "Real People" and "Go," Be ain't about Kanye, it's about the music. One gets the impression that Kanye digs in the crates, not just for the thrill of unearthing another obscurity on vinyl, but out of a real appreciation of the "soulful" value of a record, whether it is Bobby "Blue" Bland and Tom Brock for Jay, or in the case of Be, the woefully forgotten D.J. Rogers. It's Good to Be Alive, Rogers brilliant 1974 recording is one of the great Soul albums from that era, largely on the strength of tracks like "Say You Love Me," "Bula Jean" and "Faithful to the End," the latter of which Kanye samples for Be's "Faithful." The song is pedestrian in some regards (the chipmunk thing), but it is brought to life by the tag-team background vocals of John Legend and Bilal (one of the real stars of Like Water for Chocolate). The duo—who I'll dub the "Soul Brothers"—need to find themselves in a studio together some time soon.

When asked about the choice of producers for Be, Common told AOL Black Voices that he wanted to work with those who could give him the "boom bap," and the mercurial Dilla (Jay Dee) is a nice compliment to West, though in my mind it's Dilla's production that stands out (as it did on Like Water for Chocolate—"Thelonious" remains one of my favorites). If hip-hop production could be described as "thoughtful," Dilla's work on "Love Is…" (which cascades vocals from Marvin Gaye's "God is Love") and "It's Your World (Part 1 & 2)" is just that. Both songs provide Common with the sonic space for the kind the reflection that grounds the best of his work. The latter track continues Common's long practice of featuring his father and it might be the most affecting of all of "Pop's Raps" in part because of the multi-generational point of view.

Common's dissertation on the "everyday" in the opening section of "It's Your World (Part 1 & 2)"—"man to man, I'm good with my hands/My generation never understood working for the man/And of being broke…"—is an ample retort to Bill Cosby's "bash the poor" tour. "It's Your World" finds Common and his pops having the conversation that Mr. Jello doesn't really want to have. Ultimately it's the kids themselves who have the last word—"I want to be the first African-American female president…I want to be a superstar." And when Pops responds, "BE…Be boundless energy," it struck me as one of the most beautiful things that I could tell my daughters. The fact that our conversation would be premised on the Common track—the rap song—playing in the background is what makes all the difference in providing a glimpse of this generation, this music and these times.

Common's Like Water for Chocolate was the product of a beautiful moment that gave us Mos Def's Black on Both Sides, Badu's Mama's Gun and D'Angelo's Voodoo and that moment is just gone—no need to reminisce. Electric Circus pushed the boundaries of hip-hop by imagining what could come after the "boom bap" was done. Be just finds a world-wide Common back home standing on the corner. But you can't go home again and no matter how much he wishes, the Common of Can I Borrow a Dollar? is not the same Common of Be—and thank God for that.

— June 1, 2005

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Water Get No Enemy

Come with me as I revisit one of my favorite artists.

Fela Anikulapo Kuti Tribute

July 31, 2003

In the summer of 1997 the requiems seemed peculiarly endless: Gianni Versace, Princess Diana, Mother Teresa, and Betty Shabazz. But the death of Fela Anikulapo Kuti resonated throughout the black musical community like none other. When he lost his battle against AIDS on August 2, Nigeria mourned the passing of their “Black President” and the world grieved the death of a political icon. Over one million gathered at his funeral procession in his homeland.

Jump to today: AIDS is considered a pandemic and Kuti is being honored as one of the most influential musicians and leaders in African history. For instance, the tribute album Red Hot and Riot compiles remakes of his material recorded by a dynamic cast of contemporary artists including D'Angelo, Sade, Cheikh Lo, Les Nubians, Res, Kelis, and Common. The fourteenth of its kind, the CD was released by the Red Hot Organization, an institution that incorporates popular culture into its AIDS annihilation message.

With a career that spanned well over three decades, Kuti excelled as a singer, songwriter, composer, dancer, musician and activist. He fronted the vanguard that is the Afrobeat sound. With his anti-establishment stance, he lit the political world on fire and begat album after album that sonically flogged the Nigerian government.

From his youth, it seemed that Kuti was set to defy the status quo. Born in 1938 in Abeokuta, Nigeria to parents who were committed nationalists during the colonial movement, the soon-to-become musical master went to London to study medicine. It was as his parents intended, but his own mother, Funmilayo, was a feminist and labor organizer. Surely she inspired her son's own fiery brand of nationalism. Soon after his arrival in London, Kuti enrolled in Trinity College, immersing himself in music, and eventually mastering the saxophone, trumpet, and piano. This is also when he united an energetic posse of 20 instrumentalists and 27 singers and dancers. His original group, which he called Koola Lobitos, toured and enjoyed mild success.

On a visit to the United States with friend Sandra Iszadore, he mused with the likes of James Brown and Angela Davis. The catalytic Black Arts and Civil Rights movements sparked an ideaology that would define Kuti. Upon his return to Africa, Kuti's band changed their name to Nigeria 70 and later to Afrika 70. He began to live impossibly on-edge, challenging the Nigerian regime, on and off wax. Any given album was guaranteed a kinetic hour or so of recorded revolutionary rapture. Some most memorable gems were "Yellow Fever," "Gentleman," "Shakara," and "Coffin For Head Of State." Much of his work was banned from air play and was barely promoted. Many of Kuti's fans saw him perform primarily at Afrika Shrine, a night club he founded. It became a musical refuge and a communal site for Kuti and his band.

By 1970 Fela wanted to create a haven for more than just clubgoers. He built an entire community (complete with a hospital) and fortified it with an electric barb fence. Boldly, Kuti proclaimed his compound a state, naming it Kalakuta Republic.

Kuti's new promised land thrived for only six years. In 1976, the Nigerian government held the Second World Black Festival of Arts and Culture (FESTAC) as a strategy to gain notoriety as a Sub-Saharan cultural leader. Kuti refused his invitation and instead threw his own festival where he debuted his incendiary song "Zombie." Just days after the festival, the Nigerian government retaliated with a raid of 1,000 soldiers who set fire to the Kalakuta, beat Kuti unconsciously, and threw his 82-year-old mother (who later died from her injuries), and brother from a window. Kuti was hospitalized, jailed, and later self-exiled in Ghana. When he finally returned, it was to create a political party, the Movement for the People. It was banned from running in elections.

Though his political ideals became remnants of the past, his progressive message lives on in the music of his son, Seun Kuti. His other son, Femi Kuti, has branched off with his own musical notions of Afrobeat. Both were members of their father's last musical ensemble.

And the fervor of Kuti's message has inspired the work of others on the opposite side of the world. Up until recently, Kuti's awesome legacy had been celebrated in New York on a monthly basis with a rousing jam dubbed Jump 'n Funk. Rich Medina, a tremendous Afrobeat fan, was the record selector for the monthly New York City gathering that honored Kuti at Club Shine. The parties served as fundraisers for an interactive traveling Kuti exhibit currently underway.

"He had a very heavy political agenda," says Medina "another shining example of black rage in the face of really daunting circumstances. Modern day black Americans have a romance with struggle that this music feeds, Nigerians young and old still face some of the dilemmas that he speaks of so loudly in his music."

Paul D. Miller, aka DJ Spooky, a New York-based conceptual artist, writer, and musician, is another Kuti enthusiast. "I like to think of him as a social sculptor," says Miller, "mixing first world, second world, third world zones. He had to create a whole new country to contain his sounds. He created a new mindset-a virtual space of the mind made into a small utopian spot in Nigeria where his crew could come up with new ideas in rhythm. He flipped a sound into a whole new dimension of culture."

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

The Dunya aka The World

Allah says in the Qur'an to enjoy the world that we live in, to get your share of the world - in accordance of the boundaries that are set. Use your intellect, don't put yourself in harms way. I've been enjoying life. But I think it might be time to take it down a notch; to decrease my involvement in the world. I have realized that I am too green and I keep getting knocked over. It's not a fault, it's just a fact. I believe in everyone I meet. I see the good in people and tell myself that it's the good side they want to live by. I am hopeful. I put up with people who accomplished very little but have tremendous egos. I give people the benefit of doubt; second chances; opportunity to explain, etc. These things have zero value in the world. My stock would rise if I was a bitch. Or, paranoid.

Just because I am nice doesn't mean I am stupid.

But, I am just me. Cool, calm and collected. I am not interested in being mean. Mean people suck, remember?

Friday, June 17, 2005



Courtesy of Mrs Jill Scott

You pulled some tricks out your sleeve last night
Everything I fantasize about
You had me climbing up a wall
How many ways was God called
You represented in the fashion of the truly gifted
You put it down last night
Knocked me out then had me dreaming bout waking up, alright
Do you want some money baby?
How about some chicken wings?
Do you want some fish and grits?
I'll hurry and go get it
We made a groove last night
A poignant rocking forth and back alright
Anything I can do for you?
Just ask sometimes you wont have to
I'll be happy just to make you happy
And that's true
We made powerful
Love last night
Never knew passion could taste so sweet alright
I made a vow to you
Everything I do for you is a joy and a gift
You got my whole life lifted

Friday, June 10, 2005

Soul Man

Eric Roberson is generous with his soul.

Look, if Eric Roberson has a gig on the moon, I'm there. On top of that, Eric is one of the few male singers that can sing to Laylah anytime he pleases. He is right up there with butter smooth Raphael Saadiq, the orgasmic wailer El Debarge and earthquake crooner Isaac Hayes. (Bilal can sing to Laylah, too. No, actually, I'm still mad at him from the BB Kings Midnight show...Oh, and Common can sing to Laylah. I know he doesn't sing but you get my drift.) Eric Roberson's show is one of the most energetic, entertaining, dance and thought provoking shows that I have ever been to. Last night at SOB's (my second home) Eric did a show that lasted 2 1/2 hours, I left at 12:30am. His band of fine chocolate brothers killed it. I had such a good time. I sure wish a certain someone could have made it, but that's alright. NEVER mind...

Anyway, Billy Miles was the opening act and as you know the next issue of America Magazine will have a profile of her penned by me. Billy's set was something to process, some of her songs lyrics are very interesting but her performance may be just too laid back and abstract for New Yorkers. Perhaps in L.A., where she is from, singers are can experiment with theater and such but in NYC you gotta get up there and sang girl. See: Leela James

Back to Eric, or ERRO as he is commonly known, It was a treat for me because being the dedicated fan I am, I know all the lyrics to his very introspective songs so I appreciated the various interpretations and versions to songs such as Find A Way and Please Don't Leave Me. Eric has written songs for many other soul singers such as Vivian Green to Jill Scott. Last night he sung one of the songs he wrote for Musiq called previous Cats. And since that song wasn't a single like Vivian Green's Emotional Rollercoaster, many audience members didn't know the words so he brought along huge flash cards with the lyrics on them, it was hilarious. The best part was when he did Andre 3000's Hey Ya; everyone was so shocked that we just began to shake it like a polaroid picture!

Guys, I am so exhausted! You know I want to talk all night about Eric but I gotta get up out of here. Catch me this weekend at: Hueman Bookstore in Harlem with Jamel Shabazz, Michael Jackson vs. Prince @ Peppers Lounge and Saturday in Brooklyn at the tribute to the Ancestors at Coney Island beach.


Wednesday, June 08, 2005


Mosquée d'Agadez by Oliver Beytout

Good Morning!

Ah, is it hot enough for you New Yorkers? I feel like I am hanging out in Agadez with the brother in the flick. The Sahel is a beautiful place, and the Big Apple is getting a taste of its hella hot temperatures.

After Fajr I immediately thought of some red velvet cake. Not just any, but the deliciously moist slices Cake Man whips up. Yes, these slices are so in demand that most of the time you have to reserve a slice. Lemme tell you more, okay, they are huge slices, about $5 a pop, with butter creme icing and generously sprinkled crunchy walnuts. And, if things go my way, I will be in Ft Greene today after work hollerin' at a slice. Otros!

Monday, June 06, 2005

The Fruit of Passion

Leo's are all too passionate. (Leo by Orah-El)

What will I do with this unanswered passion of mine? It will not go away, no matter what I seem to do. It is insane I tell you. What ever happens to love that is deferred? I'm scared to know. That's why there are writers like dream hampton here to explain for those, like myself, for whom with passion has had its way.

By dream hampton
(from Essence Magazine, August 2001)

My love for him is wide. My soul reached out and chose him. It holds on even when I want to be free. When we come together, it is all the things I'm told are dangerous to seek. It's perfect. Every moment is a dream. It transcends who we are, the other lovers we might know. It's all things made possible. It's utterly distracting. When we make love, it feels as if he is trying to disappear inside me, as if he wants to climb inside and make me his home. When we collaborate, I can see our future, a full life of love and art and purpose. Our conversations are marked by both kindness and a deep desire to understand.

Our connectedness feels many lifetimes old, and easy. When we part, and we do, for years at a time, I have private conversations with him in my mind. I need to know if he thinks my absurd thoughts might be brilliant. I want to know if he read the same book I did, if he knows to see the movie I just loved. Walking down the street I find myself laughing aloud at some quirky observation he made nearly 18 months before. I imagine him in his apartment with his imported vinyl, or on his farm with his children. I conjure in my mind his long fingers, his light touch, his comfort with silence, his bizarre sense of humor. I keep him near me in this parallel reality because to banish him altogether would be for me a virtual death. Loving him, I've learned my passion is a boundless place, impossible to map or contain.

Unchecked, I worry: Is my passion no different than romantic obsession? Is this lover, unable to totally commit no matter how complete our love, merely living proof of my own woundedness? Can my passion weather his moodiness? I am afraid that my hunger for him is matched only by his for other women. And now I understand blues women who cut their men. Or burned them with grits. But because I know this man, because I have held his heart in my hands, I find it impossible to truly judge or be angry with him. I'm disappointed, certainly, at the reckless way he sometimes moves through life. But no more so than I am with the many ways I have betrayed and hurt the ones I truly love.

He calls my love a pretty pressure, and concedes to failure before he even gives us a chance. I accuse him of cowardice, because crippling a giant love like ours is a way to do less living. So I punish him with my absence, create distance between the nape of my neck and his kisses, as if wind could be bottled. I don't want passion that is measured by fits. I don't want to be so damn Billie. I try so hard to get it right. I try, as my therapist friends recommend, to "disentangle," and where I can manage, I do. I visualize the mature, whole relationships I'm told to want. I even make attempts at them, but it is our love, burdened by the irreversible pain we have caused each other, that occupies, as if in protest, the seat of my heart. This stormy love, this makes-me-feel-alive love, this private, nameless love, this hold-on-my-soul love.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

I Don't Know

Confucius say: Dont push me cause I'm close to the edge, I'm tryin' not to loose my head, ha ha ha ha...

I admit: I have no idea.

Maybe we are all actors, acting like we know. Or wearing masks as Paul Laurence Dunbar scripted in his lyric poetry - but that's different.

To pretend is not my thing.

Some of us know. But there isn't a collective pool of knowledge that we all reference. There are several. If there was one source of knowledge that we pulled from, we would all be on the same page and that is not the case. There are just some notions that some folks value and others trash.

This means dealing with the people in our lives on a individual basis. Seeking to understanding their unique histories. Indeed we should champion our personal philosophies that we've engineered from experience - but life would be easier if we didn't frame others with it.

In L.A. everyone proclaimed to be 'free thinkers', they were not of course, but imagine if people did actually free their thoughts or at least extract judgment from them?

Imagine if women or Black people weren't impelled to a monolith.

Lately I've been reminded that I don't know. But, there are some things that I have come to know. How did learn? By putting myself in a position where not knowing would help me to know. I contextulized my ignorance and came out with knowledge.

Is that how it works?

Is knowledge hard earned? "Information" is passed around freely, given and taken, but "knowledge" seems to be hard earned. Is knowledge is worn information? The word mistake comes to mind.

Why does not knowing feel so terrible at times?

Why does the process of learning leave me bruised?

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood

Nina Simone is food for the soul...

Baby you understand me now
If sometimes you see I’m mad
Doncha know that no one alive can always be an angel?
When everything goes wrong you see some bad

Well I’m just a soul whose intentions are good
Oh lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood

Ya know sometimes baby I’m so carefree
With a joy that’s hard to hide
Then sometimes it seems again that all I have is worry
And then you burn to see my other side

But I’m just a soul whose intentions are good
Oh lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood

If I seem edgy
I want you to know
I never meant to take it out on you
Life has it’s problems
And I get more than my share
But that’s me one thing I never mean to do

Cos I love you
Oh baby
I’m just human
Don’t you know I have faults like anyone?

Sometimes I find myself alone regretting
Some little fooling thing
Some simple thing that I’ve done

I’m just a soul whose intentions are good
Oh lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood

I try so hard
So don’t let me be misunderstood