Thursday, April 16, 2015

a GEEKDOM Tribute To A Soul Singer: R.I.P. Mr Percy Sledge

Percy Sledge in 2012 at the Houston House of Blues.
Tuesday, we've lost one of the great, architectural voices of soul music. Mr Percy Sledge passed today at the age of 74.

A No. 1 hit in 1966, “When a Man Loves a Woman” was Sledge’s debut single, an almost unbearably heartfelt ballad with a resonance he never approached again. Few singers could have. Its mood set by a mournful organ and dirge-like tempo, “When a Man Loves a Woman” was for many the definitive soul ballad, a testament of blinding, all-consuming love haunted by fear and graced by overwhelming emotion.

“When a Man Loves a Woman” was a personal triumph for Sledge, who seemed on the verge of sobbing throughout the production, and a breakthrough for Southern soul. It was the first No. 1 hit from Alabama’s burgeoning Muscle Shoals music scene, where Aretha Franklin and the Rolling Stones among others would record, and the first gold record for Atlantic Records.

Before he became famous, Sledge worked in the cotton fields around his hometown of Leighton in northwest Alabama and took a job in a hospital in nearby Sheffield. He also spent weekends playing with a rhythm-and-blues band called the Esquires. A patient at the hospital heard him singing while working and recommended him to record producer Quin Ivy.

Sledge recalled recording the song: “When I came into the studio, I was shaking like a leaf. I was scared.” He added that it was the “same melody that I sang when I was out in the fields. I just wailed out in the woods and let the echo come back to me.”
The composition of the song has long been a mystery. Some thought that Sledge wrote it himself. Sledge said he was inspired by a girlfriend who left him for a modeling career after he was laid off from a construction job in 1965, but he gave the songwriting credits to two Esquires bandmates, bassist Calvin Lewis and organist Andrew Wright, who helped him with the song.

While identified with the Muscle Shoals music scene, Sledge spent most of his career living in Baton Rouge. He was inducted in the Alabama Music Hall of Fame in 1993 and the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame in 2007.

A Personal Memory

In 1984, around the Christmas season, a bunch of us from Music & Art High School (Now LaGuardia) went down to Rockefeller Plaza for the lighting of the Christmas Tree. A choir and chamber ensemble began to perform Pachelbel's Canon. I'll never forget when one of my buddies nudged me and began to sing when a man loves a woman, which fit over the canon perfectly. A bunch of us joined in until we were chased away by plaza security.

Not a true hoodlum memory by any stretch; but for a bunch of teenage music students, this was an ultimate act of defiance.

Thank you, Mr Sledge, for a true masterpiece.





Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Producer's Notes: Building The Groovalottos Album Pt. 6

A little more flavor in the pot from Eddie
An element in the novel MUMBO JUMBO, by Ishmael Reed is a virus called Jes Grew that causes white people to become obsessed with Black culture. According to the text, it's the cause of the roaring 20's and the jazz age. America, being a segregated nation at it's roots, has a curious habit of categorizing music to the extent that they segregate music from itself. Also having a cultural addiction to exploitation, musical forms can be co-opted from their originators and the history re-written. Much of American music is rooted in the African and Native American musical traditions and culture. The differences between blues, funk, jazz, gospel and subsequent soul/ r&b are more about stylistic nuance then actual differences. A lot of what was called Hillbilly music (modern term, Country) was a composite of Scottish folk music mixed with blues and termed "blue-grass" to disguise the forms Black roots, the same way that Alan Freedman would call R&B "Rock & Roll" to disguise it from white parents who didn't want their kids listening to Black music.

A floor tom with a broken kick petal makes quite the boom
When you produce a soul-funk record and start to pay attention to each element and track, the American imposed lines of delineation quickly disappear, especially when the only industry standard that you adhere to is production quality. The percussion tracks are like the ancestral voices blessing your song, the patterns and grooves of various African styles, with Caribbean interpretations opens you up to new musical possibilities in the song. This you can experience when creating House music, but working on an album like this definitely takes you on that path.

As I listen to the playbacks on some of our cuts, like "The Storm" and "Make It Look Easy" I find the exploration here must be what Berry Gordy felt when he went to New York to hear Jackie Wilson record one of his songs, and the producer added some Afro-Caribbean back-beat percussion, and how it gave his song a whole new feel and groove. Likewise, when you have the basic trio rhythm section lay down one pocket, and the djembe and bongos come back with a counter groove; all tied together by 'the one', especially when we decided to lay in the western, big drum on the songs. Here, in the percussion tracks we have several examples of call and response between African (West and east) and 'Pan NDN' percussion.
My Djembe brought some ancestors into the mix

Building an album, to an extent, is like creating audio imagery, where the sound becomes a mood-based landscape if you will.  As music critic, Howard Dukes once observed of my work as a producer, I tend to be a fan of the classic 'concept album' approach to a project. With this project the concept is simple, a band of grown and funky musicians grooving through a set list at a concert. The final sound needs to be organic, ambient and exciting, while groovy, warm and funky... a dichotomy of sounds and textures... an audio rice and beans dish.

In building these tracks, what I've done is taken the recipe of funk albums produced in the 1960's and 70's, combined it with elements found in 1980s and '90's hip-hop and creating an album of the raw, funky, boom and bap free of samples, drum machines, time correction, and left as a pure work of musicianship.

bongos and cowbells... funky...
The nature of funk The 'jes grew' of Ishmael Reed's classic novel is a virus of primal, and ancestral spirits, taking possession of all who it encounters.










Missed any of the parts? Follow the Whole Producer Notes series here
PRODUCER's NOTES




Friday, February 20, 2015

Producer's Notes: Building The Groovalottos Album Pt 5

When bass players rock the drums...
With any favorite dish, it's the seasonings that make the flavors of the main ingredients stand out. Seasoning and spice is that fine detail in a recipe that can make it or break it. For a funk and soul recording, the percussion tracks are the seasoning. You can change the entire feel and mood of a song based on what percussion you use and how it's played. Something as simple as a tambourine, cowbell or conga drum can become the difference between a classic hit records and a dud.

In these days of electronica, percussion tracks are usually samples and loops that can be cut and paste into the song. Percussion provides the framing and While not a soul records, but a definite homage to blues, "My Generation" by The Who would have been lost as a dance record completely if they had not used hand claps to frame the wild style drumming of Keith Moon, who characteristically played inside, outside, under, over and next to the pocket of the tune, as one would more so expect from a jazz drummer.

Eddie getting funky on the bongos
However, for me it was the rich funk and soul of the 1970's with Curtis Mayfield, Donny Hathaway, Marvin Gaye, Babatunde Olatunji, Fela Kuti, Earth Wind &Fire, and Hamilton Bohannon that are at influential play here. A lot of these artists you'll find in the loop of many classic hip-hop records, as the percussion that fattens out the drum machine base that they are building off of. In producing this album, I recognize a blend of the musicianship of the old school combined with the technology of the new school. For most of the classic albums, 8 and 16 track recording systems were the innovation and by the time the hip-hop producers were doing their thing we were up to 48 tracks and digital. Each item on a drum kit has it's own track as do the percussion tracks and loops as opposed to using four mics for a whole kit as they did back in the day. As a result, the old school records had a warmer, blended feeling while the new technology makes it rather stark and crisp.

This is also where your engineer makes a big difference, as Bob Yen has old school training, sensibilities and know how from engineering, producing and mixing countless albums as well as being a sound man for numerous live shows for a myriad of rock bands like Journey, Areosmith and the like. Most of your r&b and hip-hop engineers now are lost if the instruments are not plugged directly into the boards or are not software patches. To produce a descent, human soul record outside of New York, Chicago or Los Angeles, you need to find a good rock and roll engineer.

These rich percussion tracks that the hip-hop producers loved sampling and looping in the late 1980's and 1990's also gave me an appreciation for the texture and dimension of layered percussion. The old school process of sampling and looping required a degree of skill in manipulating and placing the sample that has been largely replaced by the use of software like Pro tools and so forth. One of the most impressive examples in hip-hop history actually didn't use sampling, but pure DJing skills. On the album "Straight Out The Jungle" by The Jungle Brothers, for example, their DJ Sammy B actually mixed and cut from his turntables directly onto the recording, using a drum machine as the metronome/ percussion link. Likewise, Gangstarr alum, DJ Premiere used to use a 4-track and the pause button feature to build his loops, feeding in the breaks from his turn table every two or four bars.

A djembe player that went to Goddard? Impossible...
The hip-hop producers of the golden era also intuitively did what you would find more sophisticated musicians doing when it came to blending elements. For example, for a jazz player, the notion of three instruments in the same song playing three different time signatures against each other is what you might find in James Brown's recordings, or the drumming records of Babatunde Olatunji. The largely jazz trained session men of Motown also were known for doing this. For example, in the cut, "Donlt Sweat The Technique" by Eric B and Rakim, you find a heavy swing jazz bass and horn loop, over a straight 4/4  drum machine groove.

Armed with bongos, djembe, tambourines, cow bells, a drum kit, broom shank, riser, four pairs of hands, and shaker, we went about building the percussion tracks of the album, giving each song it's own recipe. When we play out live, especially restaurant and jazz bar gigs, we often love to play with time signatures -super imposing 4/4 over 6/8, 5/4 and under 7/8 or 12/8- we found ourselves recising this habit with bongo and shaker patterns over the grooves of the song.


Missed any of the parts? Follow the Whole Producer Notes series here
PRODUCER's NOTES



Monday, February 16, 2015

Good Bye to A Gifted & Caring Educator: Dr Paul E Reisch

Dr Reisch from the 1986 M&A Yearbook... they misspelled his name
There is a subtle difference between a teacher and an educator. A teacher teaches, imparts knowledge and information about how do do something. An educator does the same except what they teach you are things that can carry over to other areas and aspects of your life. An educator elevates you and your consciousness by inspiring critical thought about a given topic or the world around you in general.

Such can be said about Dr Paul Reisch, a former faculty member and alum of LaGuardia High School of the Arts in New York City, who transitioned last week. Whether you had him for English or Drama at Music & Arts or Performing Arts, you never saw the subject or the material the same way again once you studied it with Dr Reisch. Born in Germany and immigrating to the US as a child who spoke no English, he clearly overcame this issue by eventually earning his PhD in English. Likewise, he demanded such effort and excellence from his students and got it.

As a high school student, I had a gift for creative writing, but my critical writing skills were lacking a bit of structure in my approach. Having the opportunity to have Dr Reisch in the first semester of my senior year became a crash course in effective critical writing; how to effectively delineate ideas and points when reflecting on a piece of literature or a related concept where part and parcel of the mechanics of writing that Dr Reisch helped me to develop.

His passion for literature, drama and the intellectual development of his students was apparent and present in each moment that we spent with him in class; a passion that was infectious and definitely travelled with me well beyond my days as a student at Music & Art. He helped provide me with tools that carried me well through undergraduate and graduate school; to my professional work as a writer and educator. 

The impact that the good Doctor had on all of his students is the type of impact that all true educators dream of. Here, almost 30 years after my last time in his classroom, When I lecture and find myself emphasizing the words "For Ex-Ample" I know where it came from... Peaceful Journey's...

A Lesson In Character for Governor Baker: Bravo Dr Scott

A major amount of kudos and credit goes to Dr Beverly Scott, the soon-to-be former General Manager of the MBTA in Boston. Her on-air resignation as the answer to Governor Baker's criticism was very classy, bold and necessary. This also was a very public break and response to the psychological game that gets run on people of color in leadership positions when thrown under the bus by their so-called superiors.

Governor Charlie Baker pulled a very familiar move in his criticism of Dr Scott. Somehow, he looked past being "disappointed" with the Department of Public Works and their failure at snow removal, and any number of other services and utilities serving the state and people of Boston and zeroed in on attacking Scott's management of the MBTA. Baker seemed completely unaware of the fact that The "T" is, as Dr Scott put it, an "antiquated system" with subway cars that are well over 30 and 40 years old and tons of service equipment that's in dis repair. I imagine Baker felt that Dr Scott should have worked that ol' Black magic and gotten things running without any of the other elements in place. When it became obvious that the subway was going to be a problem, the MBTA switched to buses to cover the routes. Of course, the MBTA got criticized for doing this as the streets have not been sufficiently plowed to accommodate the buses. While it's the Department of Public Works that's responsible for plowing, the press and governor still blame this on the MBTA.

American government and industry have a very long standing tradition of letting things fall apart, then putting a Black person in charge and blaming them for the mess. As cities teeter on the edge of bankruptcy and social decline, Black people suddenly become mayors (Philadelphia, Washington DC, Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Hartford... need I continue?). Usually, when massa pulls a move like Baker's, the Black administrator in question coweringly offer an apology and/or explanation, and deals with the beating that their professional reputation has just taken.

Doing this, especially for the political leadership, is a quick and easy way to appear competent. Let's face it, years and years of stereotypes about Black people being lazy, incompetent, and ineffectual make it very easy for people like Baker to attack people like Dr. Scott without any preceding conversation or briefing.

As usual, Baker worked from his assumptions as opposed to reality. He did not take into account that the MBTA had actually put a person of some advanced intellectual and ethical character into the position. Now he's had to back peddle, dine on crow and smooth over a lot of rough patches that he created. Ironically, he has also flagged himself as 'another one.' The hopeful lesson that Baker has learned: you can't throw someone under a bus while they're driving it. When you bring a plantation mentality to the Governor's Mansion, you're bound to discover that some of your House Negros are Harriet Tubman, Nat Turner and/or Denmark Vessey.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Mashpee Wampanoag Voters Have The Right To Choose

Variety Packs, like slates, always have one or two that don't suit your tastes...
As a kid and even later as an adult, I never liked the Kellogg's Variety Packs of cereal. For one thing, they lied: the boxes made terrible cereal bowls and the milk always leaked out of the wax paper; and for another thing, they always had two or three cereals that I didn't like. The same is true for candidate slates in elections. There are six seats to fill and each one needs to be filled by the best possible candidates based on the judgment of the voters.

Understand, I love all of the people running for tribal council; but this is not about personalities, this is about governance, administration and professional temperance. I recognize that I do not have the temperance to be on the council, hence I've never run for council, nor do I think I ever would. Instead, I support and encourage those who have that ability and drive. Of the 12 official candidates and a couple of folks running as write-ins, I looked at their track records in leadership, as the tribe is at a crucial juncture where wise choices are paramount to our progress. To see this many folks trying to have a voice or bring a new voice to the leadership of the tribe is encouraging and positive. However, what comes with elections is another issue.


The concept of slates are a bit dubious with such a small voting population. We live in a world where many things are packaged for our convenience; from variety packs of cereal to fast food value meals. Slates signify unity and coalition, but once in office, rarely offer or even demonstrate those ideals. Slates only really work to the advantage of the constituencies when the candidates remain mutually accountable to each other, once in office. Otherwise, it's just a quick way into office in the form of a package.

In an ideal world, there are three texts that every contemporary leader should have read and digested before coming into office: The Prince by Machiavelli, The Social Contract by Rousseau (both are available for free as downloads), and How To Win Friends & Influence People, by Carnegie. All three are available in audio book form as well.

Knowing that many folks don't have the time (or desire) to read, as a tribal member and voter, I look at five elements in selecting a candidate:
1) What are the main important issues effecting the people our community?
2) What are our progressive goals and plans for preservation?
3) What are clear and precise means of addressing these issues?
4) What do the candidates bring to the table to address the issues and help our community reach these goals?
5) What is the public service track record of the candidate?

Saturday, January 24 is the candidate forum, an opportunity for the tribal community to hear and speak to the candidates about the issues, platforms, plans and goals. For those who pay attention beyond the campaign and related rhetoric, it's a wonderful opportunity to observe the authenticity of people skills and respect for constituency.

Having had an opportunity to visit and work with a number of tribal governments throughout the Eastern region, I've learned that we are all more similar than different. One thing that is common for us all is tribal elections and the internal competition. What we should not lose sight of is the fact that ultimately tribal elections are are not supposed to be about the tribal body winning as opposed to the candidates. As a tribal council member, you are not merely a politician in the traditional western sense, you are supposed to actually be a voice of and for the body, the clans, the councils, the future generations.

Based on my observations and interactions, allow me to share the images of my top five pics, based on the fore mentioned criteria. With all honesty, the jury is still out on the sixth candidate, which is not a reflection in any way on the character or qualities of the other seven candidates. When one cooks a stew, not all of the spices and ingredients on the shelf are going to work well with others. My sixth vote is simply my last minute notion of what the council might need a pinch or dab of.

On we go... on we win.

#MashpeeStrong

MY PICKS & WHY:

YVONNE AVANT

A consistent voice on the council that has endured many administrations. This consistency has been one of the true strengths of the council and a benefit to the tribal community as a whole.

I strongly and heartily endorse Yvonne Avant

For Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Council
WINNIE JOHNSON-GRAHAM
Here we have a voice on council that exemplifies leadership that walks among the people. She is about family and tribe and youth. This is some of what we need more of.

I Enthusiastically Endorse Winnie Johnson-Graham for Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Council
TRISH KELI'INUI
A strong, gentle spirit on a council, gives the council a powerful blend of the traditional function and contemporary, westernized land of leadership. The flexibility and willingness to go the distance for the people. Definitely the right ingredient in the stew...

I Strongly Support Trish Keli'inui for Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Council
 — at Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe.

LAURA ETTA MIRANDA
A strong voice for the community and occasionally the voice of contention. Contention is good, it gives dimension and forces a body to consider an alternate point of view. A strong council needs voices with courage of character and conviction. We need true advocacy for the positive self-development of our youth and elders. She has been and should remain this voice on council.

I Enthusiastically Endorse Laura Tobey-Miranda for Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Council
 

ROBYN TOBEY
The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe and Council are at a social crossroads and we are in acute need of as much healing, loving spirit on our leadership as possible. There are people among us who have provided that gentle loving insight, nurturing, encouragement, and inspiration; there leadership has been effective without title. Bringing her onto the council would be a win across the board.

I Strongly, Enthusiastically and Heartily Endorse Robyn Roseblossom Tobey for Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Council


Thursday, January 29, 2015

Producers Notes: Building The GROOVALOTTOS Album Pt. 4

Bob Yen engineering as Redbone thumps the groove
Albums always take me a long time to produce. That is to say, I take my time producing them. I'm big on letting tracks season before I go back and adjust or overdub. Once I had the basic tracks on a CD, the CD lives in my car and I'll listen to it throughout the production process. First, I like to get a great take and build from there. As the production evolves the sound and feel might shift slightly, but the basic tracks are always the foundation.

Eddie Ray's drum tracks are about as funky as you can get. After redoing my keyboards from the original scratch track, it was time to bring in Redbone and do the bass lines. Redbone and Eddie Ray have been playing together for years, having been in the legendary band, West Side Soul together in the 1990's, they are a bass an drum unit. Listening to the basic tracks and then listening to other records with great, funky bass and drums I began to get ideas that would lift our sound into a new paradigm rhythmically.

Producers notes on playback. As usual, Redbone nailed it.
My sensibilities had been colored with the work of great jazz musicians playing on soul and funk records as well as the 1990's era of hip-hop where producers like Pete Rock, Ali Shahid Muhammad, DJ Mark the 45 King, and DJ Premiere created some remarkable sounds from their sampling and looping work, juxtaposing swing beats against straight time beats. Ironically, virtuoso jazz players and untrained DJs turned producers have similar ears and concepts that escape conventional concepts of how music should be performed.

Listening, for example, to the bass and drum work of James Jamerson and Benny Benjamin of the Funk Brothers/ Motown studio band of the 1960's. On several records, like "Hitch-Hike" "This Old Heart of Mine" and "Baby I Need Your Loving", you can hear the bass and drums are rocking two different time signatures against each other; giving the songs their edge. In the movie "Get On Up" we see a depiction of James Brown brow beating his musicians when they question his mixing of time signatures on the song "Cold Sweat". In this scene, we see Brown encouraging his musicians to the ink of their instruments as drums, similar to the philosophy that Eddie Ray brings to The Groovalottos, grooving is a counting game.

Redbone is a natural born talent and genius of the bass; being self taught on the instrument and growing up singing doo-wop on the street corner as a kid. From the first time that he came to a band rehearsal, it was clear that he understood and felt the groove and could make us feel it too. You see, a soul-funk record is about feeling, and the ability to convey that feeling to the listener. I would put him up against most conservatory trained jazz or rock bass players any day, as he comes with the kind of soul in his playing that they aspire towards. As a band, one thing that we often do in rehearsal and at gigs is play around with time signatures on tunes. One night, while playing a tune in 4/4, Eddie Ray decided to go into 6/8 while I went into 2/4 and Redbone stayed in 4/4. It's a math problem along the lines of solving equations and looking for the common denominator.

With the use of technology and 'industry standards' the differential between a band's live show and their record has grown wider and wider. The standard for recording is that the music is turned into a matrix of time corrected loops sewn together. Steely Dan used to do a version of this pre-looping. For the studio version of the album, they'd record in California, with California studio musicians who are in the pocket and predictable. For the tour, they'd put together a band of east coast guys who are wild and unpredictable. James Brown had bands that could do both. The same can be said for Sly and the Family Stone.

Also taking a page from Motown's studio band, they were all active jazz players who would record in the studio all day and play out at the clubs at night. The jazz clubs provided them with an opportunity to experiment with grooves, feels, and chord voicing. Elements of these experiments would often find their way into the arrangements of the songs they'd record the next day. In gathering footage for our documentary, "The Song Keepers" we ended up collecting hours of footage of our live performances and audience reactions. Pin-pointing elements that made particular performances stand out and translating them to the studio was how we created our basic tracks.

For any organic player, the studio can be a very restrictive environment. Most of my work as a producer has been trying to find ways to be organic in the studio, even when dealing with the electronica approaches of my last couple of albums. The production challenge here was getting Redbone to play like Redbone at a gig who can play in, out, next to, under, over, in front and behind the pocket naturally. Today, he was making the mistake of trying to lock himself to Eddie's kick drum. What I needed him to do was respond to it.

Since we were recording the bass DI, Redbone was able to sit in the control booth and record to the playback on the monitors instead of through headphones. I was able to sit behind him and be the annoying voice in his ear, coaching him through the bass parts. The end result: 12 of the best bass track recordings that I've heard in quite some time. "Ask Yo' Mama" is on it's way to being an instant classic album.

Missed any of the parts? Follow the Whole Producer Notes series here
PRODUCER's NOTES


Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Keeping Traditions & Saying Goodbye: Leslie Lee

Leslie Lee - Playwright & Teacher 1935 - 2014
It's been a little over a year since the passing of one of the most important, yet grossly under recognized, contemporary playwright's in American theater as a whole and Black theater in particular. was a wonderful playwright, teacher, and friend.
Leslie Lee

Back in 2000, I was invited to see a play at the Billie Holiday Theatre in Brooklyn and took my grandmother as my date. We very much enjoyed the show and in the lobby got a chance to meet the playwright, a chubby, dark-skinned man with a kind face and pleasant smile. I knew he was the writer because tucked under his arm was a valise, likely containing the text to the play so that he could read along, make notes and changes as needed for future performances. In my grandmother telling him how much she enjoyed the play, she also noted, "my grandson asked me to come. I told him that any descent old lady would be in bed by now; but I guess I'm not one, so let's go." We all had a good laugh. Little did I realize that this same man, Leslie Lee, would become one of my teachers and mentors four years later at Goddard College's MFA program.

I have had many blessings in my life, but among them are the theater artists and dramatic writers who have taken me under their wings, not just as their students but as an apprentice to the point of adoption. When I joined New African Company, Lynda Patton took my rough, from-the-hip sketch writing style and helped me craft it into actual dramatic texts and scenes. Also working as her research assistant for her historic dramas, I learned how to bring the past to life on stage; as well as use the stage as a vehicle to explore the social and philosophical world of our past.

New African Company, Lynda Patton and Leslie Lee were all part and parcel of a social and intellectual tradition defined by Amiri Baraka and Larry Neal as the "Black Arts Movement" which was a slightly revised form of the Afro Post-Modernism pioneered in the 19th Century and further developed during the Harlem Renaissance: the writers and dramatists who depicted Black life outside of the stereotypes that were fostered and encouraged by the mainstream as the kinds of images that Black people wanted to see. The struggle between Black reality and white fantasies of Black realities.

Thank you for all that you imparted to me, now is my time to continue to pay it forward.

How America inspired the Third Reich | News | The Week UK

How America inspired the Third Reich | News | The Week UK

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Storm Juno and Wamps Rolling in the Snow

Juno the name of the storm?
Yeah.
Yeah, what?
The storm's called Juno.
I don't know, I was asking if You know?
Yes, I know; it's called... Juno.
No, I don't know...

Demonstrate my Wamp snow rolling technique
Today, we got hit hard! We must be at 24 inches and it's still coming down. I love a snow day, especially one that becomes 2 -3 snow days at once. I particularly love a snow day where we don't lose power, which almost always happens with a Cape Cod blizzard or storm, as NSTAR believes it's better to have above ground wiring and spend the money on crews and overtime rather than bury the cables, which would probably pay for themselves after the next three storms, but I digress.

Juno is one of those compacted snow storms. This afternoon my son had shoveled the porch. A couple of hours later and it looked like no shovel had ever seen the porch. "This is not good snow to make snow angels in," my fiancee Kim said, once inside the house, "I tried. Didn't work too well." I decided to go back out and dig out my truck just incase I had to go someplace ion the night or early morning. Even if the snow keeps falling, at least I'll have the heavy, wet stuff up and will just need to shove the other stuff.

I was in 4th Grade during the blizzard of 1978, where my friends and I spent days building endless snow tunnels and a couple of igloos around Section One and Three of Co-op City. We even made a few bucks helping people dig their snow-bound cars out. Somebody's father helped us clear a bit of
School was already cancelled, so I let him wear clothes
the hill near the basketball courts next to Building one so that we could sled. In the winter, the maintenance folks would flood the ball court so that it would be an ice rink in the winter. We used to love sledding down the hill next to it, as our sleds would have a bit of a jump at the end, and we would glide across the ball court into the snow bank on the other side.

Out and playing in the snow today with the family, reminded me of an experience about 20 years ago when I worked as a Teaching Artist. As a TA, I would make presentations or hold workshops and residencies at schools around New England and New York City. Most of my presentations were storytelling for elementary and middle schools. As a young man, I did not have the tolerance for stupid things that school teachers might say that I do now. It troubled me that so many young minds were being molded and shaped by ignorant bigots in positions of authority, a reflection on many of my own experiences as a student where I realize that my 3-8th grade social studies lessons were pretty invalid. Again, I digress.

Wamp women roll in the snow too
After making a presentation of some 'authentic' Wampanoag stories to an enthusiastic 4th grade class (some of these stories can be found in my book, A Mixed Medicine Bag: Original Black Wampanoag Folklore). The teacher asked me if I was related to the Russell Peters who wrote the book about the Mashpee Wampanoag. "Yes. He's my uncle." She went on to ask if it were true that Wampanoag father's roll their children in the snow naked to toughen our skins. Without missing a beat I replied, "Yes and if the boys couldn't feel the ground, it meant we wouldn't have school that day." The students thought that was really cool. Watching the teacher's face, I could see that it took her a minute to process what I'd just said. She gave me a look of disbelief and I just smiled and winked at her. She was referencing one of the stories that the late Chief Sly Fox (Vernon Pocknett, Sr.) of the Mashpee Wampanoag used to tell of his own, personal childhood and somehow ascribed this to the entire tribe. So much for reading comprehension. Chief Sly Fox, or 'Uncle Vern'n" created and led a survival camp for the young boys of the tribe back in the 1970's and early '80s. Some of the activities I had the fond experience of participating in; to this day I know how to identify a myriad of edible plants, berries, roots, insects (haven't tried one... in many years... don't judge me...). I know how to make a shelter out of branches and bark, and keep a fire going in the rain. Granted I was in New York during the winter, but I don't recall that as one of the camp activities, even in the winter.

Yes, it's a snow day in Mashpee and I'm going to miss my lunch bunch with the Indian Education kids  and jamming with the jazz band at Quashnet Elementary School tomorrow, but there is also something nice about looking out your window at the absolute beauty of the snow and winter and saying to yourself, "I'm not going out there."

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Upcoming Tribal Elections: A Winning Tribe and a Solid Council

On February 8th, members of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe will gather to cast their votes to fill six seats on the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Council. There are 12 official candidates and a couple of folks running as write-ins. To see this many folks trying to have a voice or bring a new voice to the leadership of the tribe is encouraging and positive. However, what comes with elections is another issue.

Factions can be a serious red flag in any community, especially one with a leadership tradition and history that pre-dates the European model. It's especially self destructive when you are looking at a total population of under 4000 people, with a eligible voting body of under 2500, and an actual turn-out that is even lower then that. When dealing with a small population and it's divided into factions, what's recognized is that the voting and candidates has less to do with the good of the tribe and more to do with agendas and takes on the elements of a high school government election-like popularity contest.

A quick Mashpee history lesson about factions: In the late 1860's and early '70's as the tribe was divided, our territory became a town under the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, run by tribal members. In the 1960's and 1970's the tribe was divided into factions. As we bickered and stymied each other, outside forces came in (primarily realtors and developers) and took over the town. Those who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

Likewise, the concept of slates are a bit dubious with such a small voting population. We live in a world where many things are packaged for our convenience; from variety packs of cereal to fast food value meals. Slates signify unity and coalition, but once in office, rarely offer or even demonstrate those ideals. Slates only really work to the advantage of the constituencies when the candidates remain mutually accountable to each other, once in office. Otherwise, it's just a quick way into office in the form of a package.

In an ideal world, there are three texts that every contemporary leader should have read and digested before coming into office: The Prince by Machiavelli, The Social Contract by Rousseau (both are available for free as downloads), and How To Win Friends & Influence People, by Carnegie. All three are available in audio book form as well. Knowing that many folks don't have the time (or desire) to read, as a tribal member and voter, I look at five elements in selecting a candidate:
1) What are the main important issues effecting the people our community?
2) What are our progressive goals and plans for preservation?
3) What are clear and precise means of addressing these issues?
4) What do the candidates bring to the table to address the issues and help our community reach these goals?
5) What is the public service track record of the candidate?

Saturday, January 24 is the candidate forum, an opportunity for the tribal community to hear and speak to the candidates about the issues, platforms, plans and goals. For those who pay attention beyond the campaign and related rhetoric, it's a wonderful opportunity to observe the authenticity of people skills and respect for constituency.

Having had an opportunity to visit and work with a number of tribal governments throughout the Eastern region, I've learned that we are all more similar than different. One thing that is common for us all is tribal elections and the internal competition. What we should not lose sight of is the fact that ultimately tribal elections are are not supposed to be about the tribal body winning as opposed to the candidates. As a tribal council member, you are not merely a politician in the traditional western sense, you are supposed to actually be a voice of and for the body, the clans, the councils, the future generations.

Based on my observations and interactions, allow me to share the images of my top five pics, based on the fore mentioned criteria. With all honesty, the jury is still out on the sixth candidate, which is not a reflection in any way on the character or qualities of the other seven candidates. When one cooks a stew, not all of the spices and ingredients on the shelf are going to work well with others. My sixth vote is simply my last minute notion of what the council might need a pinch or dab of.

On we go... on we win.

#MashpeeStrong




MY PICKS & WHY:

YVONNE AVANT

A consistent voice on the council that has endured many administrations. This consistency has been one of the true strengths of the council and a benefit to the tribal community as a whole.

I strongly and heartily endorse Yvonne Avant

For Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Council
WINNIE JOHNSON-GRAHAM
Here we have a voice on council that exemplifies leadership that walks among the people. She is about family and tribe and youth. This is some of what we need more of.

I Enthusiastically Endorse Winnie Johnson-Graham for Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Council
TRISH KELI'INUI

A strong, gentle spirit on a council, gives the council a powerful blend of the traditional function and contemporary, westernized land of leadership. The flexibility and willingness to go the distance for the people. Definitely the right ingredient in the stew...

I Strongly Support Trish Keli'inui for Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Council
 — at Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe.


LAURA ETTA MIRANDA

A strong voice for the community and occasionally the voice of contention. Contention is good, it gives dimension and forces a body to consider an alternate point of view. A strong council needs voices with courage of character and conviction. We need true advocacy for the positive self-development of our youth and elders. She has been and should remain this voice on council.

I Enthusiastically Endorse Laura Tobey-Miranda for Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Council
 

ROBYN TOBEY

The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe and Council are at a social crossroads and we are in acute need of as much healing, loving spirit on our leadership as possible. There are people among us who have provided that gentle loving insight, nurturing, encouragement, and inspiration; there leadership has been effective without title. Bringing her onto the council would be a win across the board.

I Strongly, Enthusiastically and Heartily Endorse Robyn Roseblossom Tobey for Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Council


Saturday, January 10, 2015

Re-Living The Good Old Days: Roots Remake on Horizon

Allen Hughes, one half of the Hughes brothers, noted identical, tag-team directors of such films as
"Menace II Society", "American Pimp" and "Dead Presidents," has signed on to direct a remake of the mini series "Roots" for the History Channel. On one level, I realize that Hollywood's obsession with slavery is probably fuel by an inner yearning for the good old days, the same way that most Black History Month themes in public schools focus on slavery and the Civil Rights Movement, with little to no reflection on what happened before between or after these events.

I can also understand why they would want to remake this classic program for another reason. I remember being in third grade when "Roots" first aired on ABC. The show was a monumental event on a number of levels and ended up setting records for awards and ratings. At the time, it was an amazing and moving story, except for one line that would bring my Grandpa to hysterical laughter: the scene when Ben Vereen asks Chuck Connors, "Is you my daddy?"

Finding the mini series in Ocean State Job Lot for $4.99 a few years back, I remember re-watching it and realizing that it was a better parody of slavery and slave movies then anything I'd ever seen before or since. Dave Chapelle couldn't have done a better job. The high lights:


  1. Africans in Gambia with southern accents.
  2. O.J. Simpson running down Kunta Kinte the same way that he ran through the airport in the old Avis commercials ("Run, O.J., run!!!")
  3. Ed Asner feeling bad about the fact that he's about to rape an African captive.
  4. Young Kunta Kinte not being able to speak English, growing up Muslim, and still recognizing what pork looks and smells like, as well as reacting to the word when Fiddler brings his dinner.
  5. Robert Reed swishing through the scenes and is supposed to convince us that he's carrying on with a woman.
  6. Kunta Kinte is from Gambia, had been through the 'man training' program but seems unable to read or write in Arabic, which a Mandingo warrior from Gambia would have been able to do.
  7. Kunta Kinte's wife, Belle, keeps slipping between a Jamaican and southern accent.
  8. Lawrence Hilton Jacobs playing the character Noah with the same swagger that he used as Freddie Washington in "Welcome Back Kotter" and Cocheese in "Coolie High".
  9. Redboned Leslie Uggams and blonde haired and blue- eyed Chuck Connors are the parents of dark skinned Ben Vereen (who I believe was older than Uggams).
  10. Working the Amistad revolt, Nat Turner's rebellion, peonage, and the formation of the KKK into the story line, implying that Haley's ancestors were like the Forrest Gumps of the slave era.


It's rather funny when you consider that almost 30 years ago, Robert Townsend and his film "Hollywood Shuffle" make fun of the elements of Hollywood that are doing exactly what Hughes has signed on for: Black people can only be slaves or gangsters and with the exception of one post-apocolyptic tale, slave and gangster stories are pretty much Hughes' stock and trade. It would be too much to ask him to work on a film about Toussaint Louveture, Denmark Vessey, the fore mentioned Nat Turner, Marcus Garvey or Noble Drew Ali. 

I can't wait to see the casting for this film. Don Cheadle as Kunta Kinte, Will Smith as Fiddler, Kerry Washington as Kizzy, and Drake/ Aubrey Graham as Chicken George.

Cant' wait to see it... or maybe I can...