free website hit counter Spiced Tea & Letters: The Edification of Weldon Irvine

Monday, January 02, 2006

The Edification of Weldon Irvine



The Edification of Weldon Irvine

By Laylah Amatullah Barrayn

Brooklyn’s Sisters Place Café hosted the first public screening of "The Edification of Weldon Irvine" last Friday. Filmmaker Collis H. Davis, Jr. who was a long-time friend of the late jazz musician shot the film over 20 years ago as his thesis film while a graduate film student at New York University.

"I decided to shoot Weldon as a subject for my film because at the time he had gained some sort of notoriety as musician and recording artist with MCA records." Explains Davis, who is currently a professor living in the Philippines.

Weldon Irvine committed suicide April 9, 2002, he was 59. It is interesting to note that Irvine’s mother also committed suicide.

The documentary opens up in 1974 with Irvine speaking with Davis about seclusion and isolation. Weldon explained the need to create two identities in order to remain self- possessed; one identity for public consumption and the other his own true personal persona.

Throughout the film Irvine delves into the his own personal philosophy concerning the struggle to attain peace of mind amidst a troubled family background and the music industry. Beautifully shot and edited, it pans from Irvine in performance at the Village Gate with his then band, The Kats, to him in martial arts class, to Irvine on location in his hometown of Hampton, Virginia. The documentary also gives an in-depth interview with his grandmother who raised him after his parents divorced.

Irvine was pianist, playwright and composer of over 500 works and is well known for his work with Nina Simone. As her artistic director in the early seventies, Weldon penned the lyrics for the song "Young, Gifted and Black."

"Nina needed an organist to embellish her sound," Weldon explains of Nina Simone recruiting him to her band. "She was a gifted poet, prophet and a perfectionist, which is why we worked together well." Weldon went on to work with Simone for several years as her musical director.

Irvine’s work is also sampled by many hip hop artists. A Tribe Called Quest’s “Electric Relaxation” is derived from Irvine’s “We Getting Down”, for example. Talib Kweli “Where do we go” from his latest album Quality, is a dedication to Irvine who was a close friend and a musical collaborator. Irvine has worked with many artists from different genres from Miles Davis to Big Daddy Kane to Talib Kewli to poet MuMs the Schemer.

Weldon had much faith in hip hop and was very supportive of the MCs who used the art form to offer commentary and invoke change. You may remember Irvine in the background rapper/actor Mos Def's "Umi Says" video. In 1999 he teamed up many well known MCs, who affectionately dubbed him Master Wel, to create the Amadou Project. Although never officially released, the Amadou Project celebrates the life of murdered West African vendor Amadou Diallo, shot 41 times in 1999, and it also give harsh commentary on police brutality.

Many of the questions asked during the Q&A by audience members, most of whom were close associates of Irvine, surrounded the nature of his death. Many speculated about his decision to take his life in the parking lot of EAB Bank, some made suggestions that it symbolized his rumored struggles with the IRS.

"We must show greater support and surround our artist and activist and those who go out on behalf of the greater community," says screening attendee Lisa Muhammad, activist and poet. “We had Weldon to turn to but he may not have had anyone to turn to himself.”

59 Comments:

At 12:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lah,

Good article.

-Taryn85-

 
At 1:06 PM, Blogger brooklyn babe said...

Nice. Lemme know if you need an AD or Producer.
Thanks for keeping the info up on the arts on your site.
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At 3:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great post!

Just to add to it:

Madlib (Yesterday's New Quintet) produced a wonderful tribute CD/LP to Weldon Irvine in 2004.
http://www.stonesthrow.com/news/monkhughes-tributetoweldon/

It's a nice recording to cop if you have some loose change in your pocket.

-- Trent
http://beatsandrants.blogs.com

 
At 12:55 PM, Blogger The Foxybrown Show said...

Always Fierce and always on it...
Happy New Year Honey Love

Can you e-mail me the address for Sister's Place?

 
At 11:24 PM, Blogger Danyel said...

great post.

 
At 12:17 AM, Blogger Jay Smooth said...

This is great, thanks. I miss him.

 
At 2:20 AM, Blogger Chubby Chocolate said...

As always, good article.

 
At 10:28 PM, Blogger Laylah Queen of the Night said...

Thank you very much! Thanks for stopping by. Lets do it in the '06!

 
At 10:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"We Gettin' Down" was actually used for A Tribe Called Quest's "Award Tour".

 
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At 9:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Weldon was a very pleasant and talented brother. Sadly, like many of us, who give their hearts and lives to our community, there is no one there when we need assistance and help. Things haven't changed much, and there are another 1,000 Weldon's close to the edge, and the community does not seem to care. Weldon you are missed, but sadly, our community still does not get the point. We're still slaves to the IRS, and the banks, and the politicians and the "slave system". Did you die in vain? Do they feel our pain?

 
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At 8:25 PM, Blogger Alice said...

This was a wonderful, yet very sad story the man that brought wonderful music to the world before he died. Weldon Irvine was underrated and overlooked beyond the 70's to the early 2000's before he died. It even more sadder that his mother committed suicide before him.

I wonder how did he died since there's no other source relating to his death.

RIP Weldon Irvine

 
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This was a wonderful, yet very sad story the man that brought wonderful music to the world before he died. Weldon Irvine was underrated and overlooked beyond the 70's to the early 2000's before he died. It even more sadder that his mother committed suicide before him.

I wonder how did he died since there's no other source relating to his death.

RIP Weldon Irvine

 
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