Wednesday, December 8, 2010

La Pena Hecho en Califas festival: Mujeres en la Resistencia

La Pena's "Mujeres en la Resistencia!", part of the Hecho en Califas festival, on 11/14 was really amazing and different, not quite what I was expecting, but in a good way.
First of all, La Pena is a really amazing space. They have a beautiful mural on the outside that I spent a lot of time just staring at after getting my tickets. Then there is a cafe attached to the space, where one can get a drink and a snack while waiting for the doors to open, which I really enjoyed being able to do.
Yosimar Reyes, a poet from San Jose, introduced the evening and each performer. I really enjoyed his smart and funny words before and between performers, and the couple poems of his own that he read as well. His website seems to be down but his MySpace page, here: has some good info / sound bits.

TruBloo was the first performer - her website is also under construction but Facebook page is a good resource: I really enjoyed her performance - it was interesting to think of it in terms of this class because one's mind does not automatically categorize hip-hop as poetry, but that is really what she was doing - poetry with a beat behind it. Come to think of it, so was Amiri Baraka when he had the band behind him, drums, saxophone, etc at his reading. poetry with a beat behind it. So I guess the mainstream view of what is/isn't poetry is still a little limited, because TruBloo probably wouldn't be categorized as a poet, but I don't see why. A quote from her Facebook:
"In 2010, Tru Bloo’s music addresses issues of class, race, culture, gender and sexuality with a message of self-empowerment and self-realization."
Isn't that what poetry does too? And yes music and poetry are still different things, but I think TruBloo's music could be written on a page in the shape of a poem and it would work really well. So there is some overlap. There's a video on the Facebook page, as well as audio on her MySpace page:
Another quote, this one from her MySpace:
"Tru Bloo’s music often addresses what it means to be a woman, person of color, immigrant, poor person and/or queer person with a message of self-empowerment and self-realization."
This is what I found poetic and really compelling about Trubloo's music. It's not mainstream hip-hop, that sometimes does not carry much meaning and rarely addresses these issues, and it's really refreshing to hear good music that you could dance to but also makes you think as well - I mean really, wouldn't it be ideal if all music made us think (I don't know how much I believe in that statement though, sometimes we all need a song or two to just be silly and dance to, but I guess what I'm saying is I'd like to be rid of music that falls under the umbrella of "art (music) for art's (music's) sake" and hear more music that actually makes people think and give a damn).
Liza Garza was the next performer, and she really got into my head. Her work is also musical poetry and she read one or two poems that were just poems, sans music, as well. Or spoken poems with a beat behind them but not sung. She had a calm intensity about her that was so overwhelmingly amazing, and she radiated a kind of love toward everyone in the room from the stage. I almost feel like I can't say anything about her, because she got so underneath my skin in a way that one rarely experiences with such amazing poetry. I want to direct everyone to every link I can find on her, but here is her MySpace page with audio (listen to "My Everything" which she read at the event) and her official website (the song that plays when you open the website was another piece she performed at the La Pena event, and invited the audience to participate in too): and
I hope my inability to really talk about her work isn't seen as a cop-out, because she brought me to tears and I would go on about her for ages if I could - but she's literally stunned me into silence and I'm still trying to find the words. She has also been on Def Poetry and she has great video from that ("My Everything", again) as well as others on her youtube page
(She was not this intense - she brought herself to tears! - at the 11/14 event but she still made us all feel it to the core).

Digable Planets at Club Six

I know this is 15 minutes after the fact, so if it can't be counted, so be it...

Was trying to find the right YouTube clips to correspond with the post, figured I'd put this up anyway, even if a quarter-hour late...

See y'all tonight...

A couple weeks ago, I had the pleasure of seeing Digable Planets perform at Club Six in San Francisco. For those unaware, Digable Planets is a hip-hop group that came to notoriety in the early ’90s. They’re widely regarded as being the vanguard of fusing jazz music and aesthetics with hip-hop lyricism that tackles a wealth of pressing social and political topics pertinent to communities struggling against structural oppression. In their far too short recording career (the trio produced two albums before disbanding in 1994) Digable Planets always managed to make listeners critically engage with issues pertinent to their own lives, but did so with such smooth musicality (working with both live jazz musicians as well as rhyming over as-yet-unheralded samples of prior jazz classics), that the process was a pleasurable one, even if the content spoke to an at times overwhelming struggle for dignity in the face of prejudice and persecution. Perhaps this has as much to do with their unique presentation as hip-hoppers not only tremendously influenced by jazz history, but also that of the ’60s psychedelic rock music scene and its own cultural signifiers. They’re alter-egos/emcee names, for example, drew from insect taxonomy, which certainly had a hallucinogenic connotation (one was named Butterfly, another Doodlebug, another Ladybug Mecca), and they’d be as likely to rock tie-dye wears and hippie-influenced decoratives as they would North Face fleeces and Timberland worker boots.

Digable Planets has had a series of “reunion” shows over the last few years, in which they’ve toured several U.S. cities and performed their widely revered catalogue with occasional live musical accompaniment (a live percussionist and bassist, for instance), but no album of new material has yet come from these gatherings. I caught word that they’d be in town with several other hip-hop heavyweights from the ’90s a couple weeks ago, and knew I had to make it out (even if it meant that they wouldn’t hit stage until 1 in the morning, wouldn’t be off until 2 or 3, and that such a late-night venture would likely mean I’d be in bad shape the next day, as I tried to push on with my end-of-semester, final-projects-need-to-get-handled agenda!).

Though I was extremely disappointed that Ladybug Mecca had been replaced (the trio’s sole woman, she’s apparently become quite ill in recent years, and is no longer touring with the group; a woman whose name escapes me replaced her that night, handling all of Ladybug’s verses on songs from the established albums), the group still put on a strong show, for a crowd that largely knew their music inside and out. The full live band accompaniment (drums, hand percussion, bass, guitar, keyboard, horns) felt especially noteworthy, given that many hip-hop acts choose simply to appear with a DJ and rhyme over pre-recorded instrumentals. In Digable Planets’ case, the concert actually was a live musical event, with the group’s emcees interacting with, and at times improvising along, the live instrumentation.

Given that so much of hip-hop’s power derives from the energetic reciprocity between performer and audience, the interactions on stage (and the energetic exchanges the crowd accordingly witnessed from song to song) provided a sort of template for how we, as audience, could also share of our excitement and enthusiasm, and return it to the artists giving us of their talents. The content of the set moved fluidly from sociopolitical issues that remain as relevant as when the group initially penned poems about them 15+ years ago (police abuse in communities of color, abortion rights, media control of our imaginations and interactions) to more playful, lighthearted content about romantic relationships, healthy eating, and even the state of today’s music industry. Witnessing Digable Planets’ deliver their unique, not-necessarily-reliant-on-rhymes lyrics, and seeing the extent to which they prioritized the enjoyment of the crowd even while they delivered searing social commentary, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the metaphor of sweetly flavored medicine as a means of ensuring quick and thorough recovery from sickness. If medicine tastes terrible, who wants to take it? But if it’s sweet, appealing, to the point that the person ingesting doesn’t even think of it as medicine, then that person’s likely to take more of it, and recover from their ills that much more thoroughly. The content of Digable Planets’ set at Club Six felt to me like the medicine. The ace musicianship, the banter with the crowd, and the energetic exchanges among the band—then between band and audience—felt to me like the medicine’s flavor, the means by which we would open up to that content and want more of it.

Here’s a fan-recorded clip of Digable Planets performing their seminal hit “Cool Like Dat” at Club Six, then a clip of the music video for that song from back in ’93.

Nov 12, Amiri Baraka

Event info:
November 12, 2010 7:00pm: We Insist! feat. Amiri Baraka

Celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Max Roach & Abbey Lincoln album We Insist! Freedom Now Suite, and also featuring Amina Baraka and the Freedom Now Band

Eastside Arts Alliance
2277 International Blvd, Oakland CA, 94606 ph: 510-533-6629

Amiri Baraka's reading at the Eastside Arts Alliance was the most fascinating, real, and unique poetry reading / event that I've been to in a while. Having read and known about Baraka's work before, I was really excited to finally hear and maybe meet the man who has written such truthful and inspiring poetry.
First a little background on Amiri Baraka - he was born in 1934 in Newark, NJ and has written over 40 books in his lifetime. He is known as the founder of the Black Arts Movement, and in addition to being such a prolific contributor to poetry and the arts, he is, as his biography states "a revolutionary political activist." There is plenty more biographical info to be found on his website:

When we walked into the event at Eastside Arts Alliance, the night had not quite begun and people were milling around, drinking wine and eating snacks provided at the event, and perusing a table of Baraka's works - books, CDs, etc. While we were hovering over the merchandise table and flipping through books, the woman selling merchandise told us that even though it was advertised that she would be part of the event, Amina Baraka had elected not to come that night. According to this woman, Amiri and Amina had fought before they were supposed to leave and Amina had actually refused to get on the plane (!). So that was a little disappointing for me, but it was still exciting to be seeing Amiri Baraka in person.

Before Baraka came onstage there was a short film shown about Max Roach and Abbey Lincoln, mostly of Abbey Lincoln speaking about the Freedom Now Suite, which was really great to see and give some context for people (like me) who had not heard of it before. Then Amiri Baraka and the Freedom Now /Muziki Roberson band came onstage, and the night proceeded from there. He didn't just read poetry, one poem after another, but talked to the audience for a little while first and stopped in between poems every once in a while to tell stories. He read a poem he wrote for Max Roach's funeral, called "Digging Max":

Digging Max

By Amiri Baraka

Seventy Five, All The Way Live!)
Max is the highest
The outest the
Largest, the greatest
The fastest, the hippest,
The all the way past which
There cannot be

When we say MAX, that’s what
We mean, hip always
Clean. That’s our word
For Artist, Djali, Nzuri Ngoma,
Senor Congero, Leader,
Scientist of Sound, Sonic
Trappist Definer, Composer,
Democrat, Bird’s Black Injun
Engine, Brownie’s Other Half,
Abbey’s Djeli-

ya - Graph
Who baked the Western industrial
singing machine
Into temperatures of syncopated

Out Sharp Mean

Papa Joe’s Successor
Philly Joe’s Confessor
AT’s mentor, Roy Haynes’
Inventor, Steve McCall’s
Trainer, Ask Buhainia. Jimmy Cobb,
Elvin or Klook
Or even Sunny Murray, when he aint
in a hurry.
Milford is down and Roy Brooks
Is one of his cooks. Tony Williams,
Jack DeJohnette,
Andrew Cyrille can tell you or
youngish Pheeroan
Beaver and Blackwell and my man,
Dennis Charles.
They’ll run it down, ask them the next
time they in town.

Ask any or all of the rhythm’n.
Shadow cd tell you, so could
Shelly Manne, Chico Hamilton.
Rashid knows, Billy Hart. Eddie
From Newark has split, but he and
Eddie Gladden could speak on it.
Mtume, if he will. Big Black can
speak. Let Tito Puente run it down,
He and Max been tight since they
were babies in this town.

Frankie Dunlop cd tell you and he
speak a long time.
Pretty Purdy is hip. Max hit with
Duke at Eighteen
He played with Benny Carter when he
first made the scene. Dig the heavy learning that went with
that. Newk knows,
And McCoy. CT would agree. Hey,
ask me or Archie or Michael Carvin
Percy Heath, Jackie Mc are all hip to
the Max Attack.

Barry Harris can tell you. You in
touch with Monk or Bird?
Ask Bud if you see him, You know he
know, even after the cops
Beat him Un Poco Loco. I mean you
can ask Pharaoh or David
Or Dizzy, when he come out of hiding,
its a trick Diz just outta sight.
I heard Con Alma and Diz and Max
In Paris, just the other night.

But ask anybody conscious, who Max
Roach be. Miles certainly knew
And Coltrane too. All the cats who
know the science of Drum, know
where our
Last dispensation come from. That’s
why we call him, MAX, the ultimate,
The Furthest Star. The eternal
internal, the visible invisible, the
From afar.

All Hail, MAX, from On to Dignataria
to Serious and even beyond!
He is the mighty SCARAB, Roach the SCARAB, immortal as
our music, world without end.
Great artist Universal Teacher, and
for any Digger
One of our deepest friends! Hey MAX!

Like all of the poetry Amiri Baraka, this poem was really well presented, with the band backing Baraka with music by Max Roach and other jazz icons. The drums really added to his performance in this poem especially, and it was a really wonderful mixture of spoken word and music. He also read poetry that he wrote for Abbey Lincoln, as well as a great grab-bag of his other poetry. A lot of it was very political, and he let it be political without being either too heavy or too nonchalant- he addressed serious subjects but he was funny, too, in his presentation:

"they warned us about the tea parties to come with the movie night of the living dead"
"the devil speaks perfect German - pretty good English, too"

He also read a lot of poetry in a form that he created called "Loku" - he explained this saying that he used to read a lot of Chinese and Japanese poetry, and really loved Haiku, so he created Loku as an Afro-American form. He said something similar to what he says here:
"...[loku] is just short. We don't have time to count the syllables. "

The lokus were short, and funny, but like a haiku, cramming a lot of thought into a short space. They addressed serious subjects, usually political, and I believe both statements that I quoted above were loku.

He also read one that was simply a repetition of the line "why are they so crazy" about eleven or twelve times. It was really interesting how complex one simple line could be when it is treated as an almost meditative thing. Given current political climates, it really made me think a lot and ask the same question myself - one which I think we may never stop asking.

The entire night opened up a lot of thought for me on different situations and theories that Baraka addressed in his work. It was one of those evenings where you walk out of an event thinking "WHAT just happened in there?" and have trouble coming back down to reality for a moment. We were also able to meet Amiri Baraka afterward, say hi and how much we appreciated hearing him, and even get a picture with him (though the person who took the picture had trouble with my camera and I didn't realize until later that the image was incredibly blurred.) :( I really appreciate his work and how relatable he makes it, how much he inspires his audiences to think and investigate a little deeper what is going on in their surroundings.

And we're done!

Thanks all for your marathon blogging. It's noon, so anything posted after this will not be counted. Thanks again, and see some of you this evening. Wishing you all the best, BJR

Frances Chung

"No one uses words such as
marvelous here. The scent
of incense trails through
the hallway in the early
morning. Buddhist altars
are erected loosely on
kitchen tables. The ashes
of the incense gather dust
as do the faded photographs
of families in China and the
calendars of nude redheads
on the wall. Listen to the
78 rpm Chinese records."

Frances Chung seems to take a snapshot of her community, and she puts it all together nicely in the form of a poem. Many of her poems seem specific to a place and time in which she witnessed whatever events she is writing about, and they are very realistic. In this poem she writes about the traditions that are continued despite living in a new country. There is something about the poem that also seems like these traditions have had to change in order to accommodate this new space. The "Buddhist altars ... erected loosely on kitchen tables," sounds like it isn't normally where they go (though I can't be sure of this). I am focusing on this because of the description. If something is loose then it can't be very stable, and so if a tradition is not stable then something must be off about it. It's also interesting that the photographs are collecting dust. Despite having these memories they are slightly forgotten because they are accumulating dust. This is very subtle compared to other poems that speak about adjusting to a new country. I like that Frances Chung and place the reader in one moment of time and as a result you can share the experience with someone else.

Long overdue: Guillermo Gomez-Pena

Once upon a time earlier this semester I found myself at a poetry reading here at Mills for Guillermo Gomez-Pena. This was not your average reading, and I was well aware that it would be a very interesting experience. Guillermo Gomez-Pena is not just a poet. He is also a performance artist. I was really excited because I had discovered him a year ago in a cultural studies class. When I researched him I hoped to one day make the time to see him in San Francisco, but lucky for me he came to Mills! At this event he spoke about many things. He discussed technology, and how it replaces human interaction. When he spoke about this he changed the way he was talking by making himself sound more like a robot which was funny, but at the same time really disturbing because as he spoke it really drove home the point of how close we all are so reliant on technology. There are so many ways now to connect with people through technology, but at the same time it can be really isolating because that face-to-face experience, or even that voice-to-ear experience is lost in e-mail exchanges. It was very interesting to see him discuss this topic. He also discussed a more controversial story about one of his readings to a group of soldiers. They ended up not really liking what he had to say (to put it mildly) and was asked to leave. He told us that he had no regrets, and that even a bad performance can be a memorable one, because now he was sharing it with us. It was great to see how he would shift from one reading/performance to the next. It was really like he was changing characters. The evening became a little more interactive as he began chanting "Viva Mexico, viva Puerto Rico, etc" and he invited others to begin shouting the names of other countries to celebrate. It was not just about latin america, but all countries around the world. It was a nice way of embracing all of humanity. I think my review of this night does not give it enough justice. There is really so much behind his work, and I really recommend everyone to see him.

I Would Speak - Oteka McCovey

I chose this poem as my final poem to review because I felt like it was at the heart of this whole class. A simple homage to the varying places, experiences, cultures, lives, we all come from as poets or lovers of poetry (and both) that have come together to speak about poetry of color.

"I can't speak my language,
but I can name you the animals,
I can ask you for the time,
and when you feed me
I know how to say
thank you."

America (and any colonizing country) has a history, a system that is built around oppression of others and assimilation to dominant culture. It is in our history to strip others of physical life, language, communication styles, monetary wealth or ability to achieve such, education, etcetera in order to progress the American agenda. However, at the same time, when the government, when systems do something, anything, we expect a thank you, a glorifying of "us" that doesn't really exist. It only exists in the systems that governments try to create in order to further dis-attach peoples from finding truths and significance in themselves and their culture. Governments teach how to communicate but only to an extent where you won't die but you won't succeed either. That is the way it is built. You are shot down but expected to stand back up.

"If I knew how to say
I am grateful
for every word,
for every phrase,
I would speak."

If people of color were able to claim their language, demand changes, I would hope they would. I believe that is where this is coming from. A sense of feeling at loss without one's language, and that if it were possible to somehow claim it now, that it would be.

"If I knew how to say
without our language
we cannot be
Yurok people,
I would speak"

At the heart of theories of assimilation is a force and acceptance that is shoveled into the places that governments colonize and attempt to homogenize. Oteka-McCovey is not pleading or demanding but in between the two. People cannot be people if they are not allowed to celebrate and educate themselves and others with their language, traditions, music, song, dance, etc that exemplify the beauty and celebration of one's self. That is of course against the track of assimilation and therefore is never encouraged whether by force or another system to derail peoples from themselves.

A week ago, I went to a documentary screening on teaching second languages in public schools across America. Government officials, school officials, parents, students were all in the documentary and there were two clear sides. From systems and policies that government and school officials passed across the board (except for areas such as the Bay Area where even such a progessive area has pockets of deep conservatism), were programs and initiatives such as No Child Left Behind that forced assimilation in clear and hidden ways and tried again and again that learning other languages besides English was encouraging an unhealthy America and non-allegiance to America. There is such a great fear in our government that if people embrace their cultures that they will no longer be American, that they will not claim America as an identity. Yet that is what America portrays itself to be, a land of the people, by the people. Not a land of homogeny.

To My Countrymen - Carlos Bulosan

"With a stroke of my hand, I cut the tides
That swept the destinies of men,
Now in this field of combar, where my armies
Challenged the tragic course of history:"

To My Countrymen feels like a declaration of sorts, of place, of making change against the greatest powers out there.

"Look, listen: cries crescenting blood,
Crimsoning our island; because I came.
Here I slapped the earth to make you a home,
Confounding fate, even the farthest star,
Where light resolved itself into your faith;
Because I came to stake a claim on the world."

Imagery of blood, people filled islands looking lost, this person coming in the midst of the darkness of all, to find light and to bring back what first created these peoples, their culture.

"And across the flaming darkness of life,
I flung a sword of defiance to give you freedom:
Here in the seven-pillared wisdom-house of truth,
Where I knelt, where I wept, where I lived
To change the course of history; because I love you."

To My Countrymen is a poem that feels like a full waged war though the ending is simple and clear. That there is change because of this person's feeling of ownership to him or herself and this person's peoples, their sense of cultures, traditions, what encompass them as peoples. This is no God but a person who wants to change how history is formed, what the future will be, what it will say about these peoples, because there is a love that is above any evil.

Bury Our Hearts at Wal Mart, etc/ Peres Wendt

I like this book because it showcases the voices of indigenous writing which are typically marginalized in the U.S. especially in mainstream American Literature.

I like this poem because it shows how she has a sacred relationship to the earth and how the powers of exploitation and capitalism want to take the ground and build a Wal Mart for economic profit.

I like the form and structure of the poem. Her language is not complex or abstract.

O, The sands of my birth
The sands of my birth
Are digging places
Are trenching places
For excavators,
Earth movers,
And shovelers
For caterpillars,
And grovelers;

Capitalists - Dubin

Capitalism and the process of using one's people is evident in "Capitalists". How a simple transaction can further push a people's culture closer to American assimilation and further from one's own culture and traditions.

"Forty five bucks
and a good sweat later
the Shaman who said
he was from"

Forty five dollars which is still money, the word "bucks" makes me think that it is irrelevant, nothing at all to the other. Especially for the good sweat that was utilized in order to perform the duties. Shaman is capitalized, because Shaman is tradition, Shaman is who is fighting for personal culture.

"now received an
Indian education
a new spirituality
and to, next time,

take advantage of his
"Friends Drum Free" coupon"

American government, the system of government, is always trying to quickly assimilate peoples and thoroughly educates itself in a matter of days of traditions that have survived for centuries. The two verses above emphasizes the speediness that government demands and frankly does not care about when forcing assimilation. The only mark to this Shaman's culture is that he can give a coupon to this other, this counterpart that is against. The poem is a satire and emphasizes the truth that you cannot bleed out a person's culture and expect them to not still be who they are, where they are from.