|my dad and his band sometime in another lifetime, port-of-spain, trinidad|
I was blessed to open my email this morning and find this email from my spiritual father, "Puff". "Puff", that's his nickname - knew my father since they were teenagers, back in Trinidad. Puff entered my life, because unlike my father, he escaped New York and forged a life for himself and his family in Canada. As he says to me, he realized back then that if he wanted to save himself, he had to leave. The fate of my father reiterates the importance of that sentiment.
My communication with Puff has been a blessing - I truly feel my father's presence in our conversations, and Puff often serves as a personal portal to the past, filling me in on many wonderful stories and memories of my father. Truly a gift from the ancestors.
There are many blessings to account for. The world seems as though it is falling apart - there seems to be a wide-spectrum attack on our senses. Heroes are "falling", social media seem to be saturated with further evidence (personally, I don't need anymore stories telling me what I have painfully lived my entire life: that Black life is not worth much in the American society.) Or, as many others have noticed accurately, upon closer attention life itself seems to be under threat - & the sooner we realize how deeply ingrained this relationship is (i.e. the monetary system and the "value" of human life) then I'm afraid, this will not end.
Many people often protest when I suggest that many of the problems faced in our world has to do with our monetary system. They swat away my visions as "idealist" and "naive" and tell me, "Oh, Lesley, it's human nature." I have been looking into life, politics and humanity ever since I was a child - I kid you not. The argument of human nature, which many take to be the blanket explanation to why things are in such a state right now is a friggin construct! Also, this idea that this is the way it is and it certainly is better than life as a "savage" has to be challenged. Read more here:
Reunited, and it feels so good.
|bgom (us/trinidad) is coming to a theater near you|
w/bassist martin olivierre (dk/trinidad)
So pleased to report that the bgom show is scheduled to debut on Sunday March 29 - so mark your calendar. I have been working on this for years and finally the time is right to release my thoughts/observations/contemplations with a mix of jazz, calypso and verse. Here's a little taste of what we do - but be warned: this was years ago & things change!
Martin Ollivierre is a bassist who I have been blessed to work with in the past. He has been behind this project from it's inception and I am super stoked to get it moving and to birth it out into the world. It is my response to what is going on, based on what I have experienced - including my recent couple of trips to New York. Also onboard for direction is Linn Ulekleiv, not only a friend, but amazing director/artist who too has been at my side since this show's inception. Stay tuned...
Spending time with friends.
|a traditional danish birthday. happy 12th birthday, theo!!!!|
Every now again when I feel like I got to get out of copenhagen (if you guessed it by now, yes, i can't stand staying any one place for too long. blame it on a life that has always included a lot of travel, a high sense of genuine curiosity about the world and yeah...you get it). I met Sune and Sophie when I first arrived to Copenhagen, ages ago. Back then, I was here just for a visit, and I met some amazing people. The great thing about my ex-husband is that through him, I have met some incredible human beings. I don't think I have said that enough - but it's for the memoir I'm working on!
Back when I first met Sophie, she was living in an apartment in Nørrebro that had a Chinese-newspaper walled kitchen. I loved it and reveals something that I have always loved about her - and that's her creativity. A walk through her home reveals gems of creativity - whether it is her own art or her children's. Her appreciation of art is lovely to be around. Not to mention how open-minded she has always demonstrated herself to be - curious about my perspective, never offended. I truly appreciate that, especially in these times.
Her husband Sune is as valued a friend to me as she. His interest and involvement in alternative ideas/health have always offered me solace and a place to exchange ideas and build on them. This time, among other things, we talked about how similar pre-Christian Europe was to many other indigenous cultures the world over and how they too were conquered and colonized - before the power was unleashed upon the rest of the world. This is the birth of racism- something created to justify the allinihation of other human beings in the name of racial superiority but in the end, really just about profit and capital. Wake up folks.
Sune's father Hans was also there. Hans is a filmmaker and writer who currently lives in London. I enjoyed my conversations with him and found his interest and reservoir of knowledge inspiring. He told me a lot about Denmark's involvement in the slave trade (which actually, included a monopoly, at some point, of the triangular slave trade). I found his insight to be intriguing and he has certainly encouraged me to study more Danish history. Some fun facts: the first recognized act of international terror is supposedly when the British forces snuck attack the Royal Danish fleet and then took over world naval supremacy. Who knew that it was the Danes that the English squashed on her way to the Imperial top? Who'd a figured?
Hans had me cracking up when he revealed how silly he sometimes feels with his girlfriend. Why? I ask. Well, he explains, she's 41, Japanese and rich. Everytime we go out together, I feel that people are looking at me like I'm some dirty old man & exploiting her! But the joke is, she's the rich one!
Identity and Politics: Calling all reasonable people
I think one of the most valuable lessons I was ever reminded of was by Isaac Julian when I was in college. He wrote, and I'm paraphrasing here, that you can't tell someone's politics based on their skin color, gender and/or class. This reminder struck me as something that is actually well worth remembering. I mean, just because you are a person of color, does not mean that you get down with me. I know first hand, because a lot of people, regardless of color - are thinking within the system. So what I'm saying is this: the media is really polarizing the issues so that we cannot communicate. We are so polarized right now, there is not even a language to communicate the fears, pain, loss, frustration that many of us, as humans, are feeling. This further leads to confusion and an inarticulate processing of our emotions. I met a wise woman in Harlem on my last visit who suggested, "the attack from the media renders us either too angry or speechless. and that's what is wanted. nothing will attach this other than clear articulation." I intend to continue to address these issues in my work. My recent two trips to the States were quite revealing and I saw what is happening now coming a mile away. White and Black Americans are VERY divided. Whether it's stories of white folks not knowing what collards are or my visiting people who claim to be down for the cause in "fabulous" Upstate New York and realizing - you know what? These people ain't trying to diversify...and never have been. You know what America's best kept secret is? Monetary Wealth. Like Angelo telling me back in Rhode Island, in a whisper, "there are houses here (in Rhode Island!) that have shackles in the basements." Umhmmm....
White Boy on Venus
|i love this pic!|
here's an unedited excerpt from the interview that is in this month's The Murmur:
Ryan Murdock is white. He is very white. He is so white that he lives in Harlem. And he knows this. “I knew how to tell stories to white people. I know how to do that. I worked in media. You know PBS, which is like, very white. I worked at NPR, which is a pretty white audience – I know I can tell a good story.”
He tells me in a recent interview in Christiania’s Børneteatret Jazz Club. “But the film is reaching lots of non-white people. And it’s great.”
And perhaps this is the crux of the brilliance behind Murdock’s new documentary on the life of Louis Ortiz – otherwise known as the Bronx Obama. Murdock’s cinematic gaze leaves room for Louis Ortiz to rise – to match and respond to that invisible dialogue that sometimes occur about race in certain social situations. And in this way – something transformative and magical occurs in the film: the white gaze, usually unbearable for many people of color to watch, is neutralized – thus making the film accessible to all.
It touches upon the very quantum nature of life, offering food for thought regarding issues such as poverty, parenting, race, family, character and not least of all authenticity with a balanced, racial gaze that would not have been possible without the everyday stately presence of Louis Ortiz.
This is NOT the civil Rights Movement
I won't get into this too much here. Suffice it to say that those who study their history are liberated from the threat of repeating it.
The other day I had the opportunity to catch up with Zanubia and Maya. They are both former students of mine - both part of my first ever class that I took over when I began my tenure of teaching at Copenhagen Euro School. They are both 18 now and I am constantly fascinated by the genuine interest many youth have about life and the questions they have. We had a lovely weekend day together, walking from the Østerbro, throughout the city and to Christianshavn.
It is amazing how many gifts reveal themselves to me. As a writer, I feel as though my work isn't even halfway about to being complete (of course). There are so many stories coursing through this body and I continue to sit patiently while I untangle them from the vestiges of my heart and weave the tale that I was always meant to tell: a healing tale for humanity.
The other day I received a text from Madam Ida, "meet me for cocktails." Now, if I don't dance too much with the spirits these daze, but if it's Ida, I'm usually down for giving it a try because it usually means that when it comes to quality, well, yeah - it's usually the best.
I was supposed to meet up with Martyn Bone, a professor at the University of Copenhagen. Martyn, it turns out, was behind the Black Atlantic programme that was held here years ago in recognition of the Black presence here in Denmark. We exchanged emails and a few years later, I was teaching his son English! We've been meaning to get together for years, but alas! Well, we finally did, and I took him along for some cocktails...
|sugar hill: home of the queen of the black literary experience|
Holmen's Kanal #7 is what Pravda was, at least for me, back in the day. Let me rewind a bit. Pravda, which I believe is still in existence on the Bowery, is it? Well, back in the mid-90s my beloved Marie D. Brown, with/for whom I worked, introduced me and a host of other young aspiring literary folk to Pravda, where her partner Mckinley (RIP) worked. Now McKinley, originally from Tennessee, was not only, along with partner in crime Henry - was the meanest cocktail maker in downtown Manhattan. I cannot explain how many inter-generation/cultural/intellectual exchanges took place upstairs in the cigar room, between generous doses of chocolate and melon martinis. It was a privilege to have insight into this downtown, literary world, one that I and myself would never have had access to, if it were not for Marie's insistence on reciprocity: the idea of an energetic flow that when balanced with giving and receiving, generates a life force that keeps communities together.
As many of you know, the last few trips I've made to New York, I have been fortunate enough to stay in Marie's home.
In the evenings we would usually find ourselves sitting in her living room - and Marie would always be willing to answer my questions about the general atmosphere regarding race in America.
Marie, a veteran of the book publishing industry, was recruited in the 60s, during the Civil Rights Era, to diversify the book publishing industry. A Supreme Court ruling forced the industry to produce books that encompassed the diverse nature of the American populace.
Marie reminds me that when she started in book publishing - women were not allowed to wear pants. Through these talks I learned that many from the Civil Rights Movement were slowly realizing that while things may have appeared to greatly improve for African Americans, when you look at the numbers, very little seems to have changed, and whatever changes that were managed to implemented, were usually eroded at some point or another.
This will explain the current situation in the U.S. -- during my stay in Harlem, it was hard to ignore the changing tone of the streets. A visit with Sharifa Rhodes Pitts, author of Harlem is Nowhere (click here for an amazing Vogue interview) at her Blacknuss Books & other Relics (which at the time was an outdoor installation in Harlem but has since moved to the Studio Museum in Harlem (btw, I know all this because of my mentor Marie D. Brown who introduced me to the work of Rhodes Pitts along with most everything else I talk/write about literary) reflects the changes that Harlem is undergoing, with a fancy restaurant, replete with hipsters and all occupying what used to be the Black Liberation Book Store. The night I arrived a young man lost his life on the corner (5 shots to the back) and the delicate trapeze-like walk between the haves and the haves-nots seem to only be getting more strained.
Anyway, I have all these recent experiences in my pocket when I go over to meet my friend. The cocktail bar is nice. The drinks, divine. It's not too long before the conversation revolves around race, with a young Danish man citing a movie scene in an attempt to "learn" me, I suppose, that if I am too passionate about my purpose, I will not get all the cows.
I don't want all the cows, I tell him. I don't want any. This is not a narrative about conquest.
Another one reveals, "Yes, but Lesley, I just don't think of you as a Black artist." Now, I'm going to offer the spoiler that I do genuinely like these people. And I'm thankful for my recent trips to New York, otherwise I would have pulled my friggin hair out.
Anyway, the conversation, which I have heard before, devolves to, "Well, I think you would be much more effective (translate monetarily successful) if you didn't talk about race too much!" I couldn't even get mad. At this point, I can only laugh.
Luckily for me I was in the company of a sympathetic soul - who actually got offended on my behalf. "How do you put up with it?" He asked, although white, well acquainted with the racial denial that is so rampant in the halls of the elite. I smile. I've finally realized that I will only focus the ones who want to get it, the ones who are willing to put ego aside and untie this Gordian knot of race that has been cast upon us.
What was interesting with my conversation with the young Danish guy, is that he immediately took on the position that he had the answer to the race problem: You had to just stop being so darn passionate! Otherwise, you won't get the cows! See, cause if the bull was chill, he would realize that hey, he not only could get one cow he can get them all! Now tell me, what kind of bullshit narrative is that? No pun intended. And how ironic the symbology is a bull - given the very monetary nuance this metaphor could have.
Radicalism + Art = Freedom?
|sun at ferguson|
|sun at ferguson|
In other news, the self-proclaimed fugitivist Preach R. Sun has made it to the media of the 1% with his Crucifiction of Kneeling Man (Ferguson, Performance, Action). Sun, whose work I have been following since its inception, is a self-described fugitivist -- and believes in the political potency of performance art, something we discussed at length during my visit to the States last winter. While the Fugitivist is hesitant to call himself a performance artist, he is excited about the possibilities inherent in the art form and its potential to shape social change. Take for example performance last March at Gray Zone for International Performance Art in Kingston, NY. In one of his scenes, he places 21 crosses with names like Martin, Bell, Davis and Sipp – all young male victims of state-condoned executions. Interestingly enough, many at the performance, all white, were not familiar with the names, or the incidents. Clearly there is room for dialogue and an exchange of information of experiences and perspectives, and clearly there is a need for more spaces in which to do so, across social, ethnic, racial and national lines.
If you are interested in the potential power of art and politics I encourage you to check out Sun's work The Liberation Project . If you want to get a whiff of what Sun speaks about, here's one of his latest Facebook posts regarding the day of silence on social media:
WAKE UP SLAVES... THE REVOLUTION IS CALLING!!!
I WILL NOT BLACKOUT MY FACEBOOK PAGE TODAY. I WILL NOT BE PARTICIPATING IN YOUR COLLECTIVE ACT OF SILENCE. I WILL NOT BE TAKING HOODIE PICS OR ANY OF THAT OTHER CONTRIVED SYMBOLIC BULLSHIT! I WILL NOT BE SILENT! THE DEAD DO NOT NEED OUR SILENCE, THEY HAVE BEEN SILENCED! THE DEAD NEED OUR VOICES, THEY NEED OUR COURAGE, OUR OUTRAGE. THEY NEED, OUR CONJURING AND EVOCATION… THEY NEED REVOLUTION!
ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!!!
YOUR SILENCE WILL NOT PROTECT YOU.
The Black Messiah
|m interviewing d'angelo back in '97|
In honor of D'Angelo's much anticipated released album, Black Messiah and it's ancestral timing, I'm reposting this pic from my girl Margarita : that's me with yours truly in the chair.
The moment that I heard about what seems to be the reconciliatory moves of the U.S. towards Cuba I knew what was up. If you want to know what really happened in Cuba, and I'm not talking about from the point of view of the many Cubans who live in the States, I'm talking about the Cubans who didn't have money or racial privilege on their side, read Jules R. Benjamin's The United States and the Origins of the Cuban Revolution.
After you read that and realize that somewhere among these seeming good tidings, they are after Assata Shakur. And that, my dear fellow human beings, is something to educate yourself about. For it is only after you do so, that you will perhaps get closer to what is truly at stake here.
Finally, a very special shout-out to the Geeky Knitters Crew: words can't explain how magical it feels to be reconnected with all of you. Having this venture in my life and sharing it with you all strengthens me and I feel very blessed to have you all in my life: Sarah, Shabana, Aleena Nina, Deena & Debbie. Let's continue to encourage each other on this journey!
farvel + thanks for reading,