Wednesday, December 8, 2010
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.
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
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.
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.