Monday, October 10, 2005

RESURRECTIONS Posted by Picasa

Friday, May 06, 2005

COMMON Posted by Hello

Conversations With COMMON

Conversations With COMMON

There’s something about his hands.

The way he stretches his fingers long and stiff when he talks. It’s so familiar to me.

It's the way his elbows buckle when he swings his arms by his sides, to the beat of his own music.

It's got me reminiscencing. But I'm not sure why.

Common stood, arms swinging, at the front of the small theatre in Tribeca last night, for his NYC album listening party. From my third row seat, I glanced at the photos from his CD cover, shot by my girl Cassbird, which were superimposed on the large screen behind him.

“Look at the light,” I leaned over and whispered to photographer Delphine Fawundu-Buford. Next to her, Laylah Amatullah Barrayn from, arched her back and nodded at me. No words were needed, she knew what I was talking about.

A strong beam of light had settled upon Common’s face, creating amazing shadows and illuminating his high cheek bones. I studied his eyes, like I did four months ago on 47th st., during our conversation in the snow.

His eyes darted back and forth, landing on faces in the audience; young journalists from the country’s top magazines. His smile faded slightly and still mouthing song lyrics he stared, a little unsure of our reaction. But his head bopping intensified and the grin returned, when he caught a glimpse of someone in the audience, truly feeling the track.

His new album BE, an ode to real hip hop, real people, real music, had completed its 8th or 9th track when Common set us up for the next song, as he did with each one before it.

“Growing up in Chicago’s Southside, I was middle class,” he said. “So I was around all walks of life. I could relate to the gang-banger trying to survive and the preppy kids going to Jack & Jill parties.”

Only those familiar with the exclusive organization and its reputation laughed out loud, while the others just giggled, looking around worried that they had missed out on something funny.

Four or five tracks, later we previewed the premier video of his new single Go.

“This is it,” said Laylah. “This is the video I told you about.”

Last Saturday, after interviewing Common at his Columbia University performance, Laylah mentioned, over Instant Messenger, that Common had a somewhat risqué new video coming out.

“Word?” I asked, a little shocked that the words Common and risqué were even in the same sentence.

“I wonder what that’s all about.”

“We were in the studio and this track was on,” Common said enthusiastically, last night.

“And Kanye started saying, ‘Go, Go, Go.’ All of a sudden John Mayer was like, ‘maybe this could be about going back to your fantasies.’”

“I said wait. Am I gonna let John Mayer start making suggestions?” said Common, laughing and pulling at his beard. “This is hip hop.”

“But sometimes you don’t know when your blessing are coming,” he continued, regaining composure. “Cause if it wasn’t me, Ye and John then we wouldn’t have come up with this song.”

The video, a mixture of ill geometric designs and beautiful, scantly clad models, introduced viewers to Common’s intimate fantasies. Ending, surprisingly with him and the model playing his love interest, walking off into the sunset as his song Faithful faded out.

“People are like, ‘Oh but you’re a conscious rapper,’” said Common an hour later, in the lobby of the theatre. “But I mean, conscious rappers enjoy sex too.”

“Yes, but,” said the very opinionated and humorous writer Marcus Reeves, currently working on his new book about hip- hop after the black power movement.

“How is the ass that you just showed us on your video, any different than what we’re seeing in other videos?”

The friendly debate had been in flow for about five minutes, when a woman, short in stature, with flawless locks, corn rowed tightly and pulled into a braid, joined our small group. She passed around hugs and smiles and took only a few seconds before including her opinion.

“Well,” she said.

“I just felt like, where were the sisters with locks? You know the everyday woman. The variety? “I mean, come on,” she said turning her palm up, towards Delphine and myself as if we were on display.

“Yeah,” I agreed silently. “What about us?”

“But they were all sisters’ right?” asked Common, shoulders shrugged and a smirk on his face.

“Right?” he asked again, looking at me.

A DiAngelo classic, Brown Sugar was playing in the lobby and memories of college began flooding my mind, when Laylah approached us, straining to hear the conversation.

“Can a conscious rapper make a booty shakin video?” I thought to my self?” mentally escaping the ongoing debate unfolding in front of me.

“And is it booty shakin, if booties aren’t actually shakin, but just showing?

“I mean, I have to give Common props,” I thought. “Go wasn’t anything nearly as risqué as videos by The Yang-Yang Twins or Nelly. So does Common actually fall into their category, just for showing some skin?

“All I’m saying,” said Marcus. “Is that I don’t see this as any different. “So what, if it’s classy. I see ass. There’s no such thing as classy ass,” he argued, as members of the group chuckled.

"But," began Common. "No wait," interrupted Marcus.

I laughed out loud at his persistence.

“You say it’s different. But it’s not.”

“But, he’s just expressing that sexual side of himself, which is human,” said the music executive standing beside Common. “People are sexual beings.”

“I used to have cats tell me that they wouldn’t even listen to my stuff cause they couldn’t’ relate to me,” Common added quickly, determine to get his words heard.

“I used to say, ‘I’m not going to do that, because that would mess with my image. So I’m tryin to reach the people who couldn’t feel me before.”

“But, you need to sell records,” replied Marcus, waving his right hand horizontally from side to side, a drink in his left. “I know that. And I think the album is hot. But I know you need to sell records.”

“You can think that,” said Common, smiling with his hand on Marcus’s shoulder. “It’s cool.”

I turned around and peered at Laylah standing behind me, as the debate continued.

“What a long night,” I thought as I sighed.

Our little group eventually split up, as the crowded lobby began to clear.

Quite but intense conversations continued in secluded corners, behind funky leather couches, as Common and I chatted about Cassbird’s photo shoot and how the public is loving his album cover.

I moved over and let a most determined reporter from Damien Dash’s America magazine, conduct a short interview with Common about Kanye West, who produced BE.

“I thought you wanted food?” interrupted Common’s long time friend, who also appeared to be the night’s party’s planner.

I turned to look at Delphine, trying to read her face for the sign to stay or bounce. Her head was rockin back and forth to Go. It was the third time they’d played it in the last half hour and it was slowly growing on me.

“I need some more sushi,” I said.

“And I think there’s some in the corner,” I continued, as I headed towards the half empty tray.

Favela Rising Posted by Hello

My Tribeca Film Festival Favorite. Check it!!!

My Tribeca Film Festival Favorite. Check it!!!

"FAVELA RISING documents a man and a movement, a city divided and a favela (Brazilian squatter settlement) united. Haunted by the murders of his family and many of his friends, Anderson Sá is a former drug-trafficker who turns social revolutionary in Rio de Janeiro’s most feared slum. Through hip-hop music, the rhythms of the street, and Afro-Brazilian dance he rallies his community to counteract the violent oppression enforced by teenage drug armies and sustained by corrupt police. At the dawn of liberation, just as collective mobility is overcoming all odds and Anderson’s grassroots Afro Reggae movement is at the height of its success, a tragic accident threatens to silence the movement forever." MediaRights

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Check it!!! Posted by Hello

Friday, March 11, 2005

March 19th 2005 Posted by Hello

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Mingling With Spirits

Mingling With Spirits

She paused. She peered at the audience over the podium at Columbia University’s Earl Hall Auditorium. The last speaker on the panel, Sonia Sanchez was taking her sweet time.

Her poem, a tribute to Malcolm X on the 40th anniversary of his assassination, was a listing of the most influential people of color that had ever lived.

Tupac Shakur, Ossie Davis, Malcolm X; their names were followed by a series of clicks and moans, Sonia’s way of calling to the spirits? At the time I thought I’d discovered the pattern. Today, I’m not quite sure if, in fact, I had.

She proceeded to talk about Brother Malcolm’s legacy, the state of African Americans today and gave us a glance at what we’ve become.

“Sucka,” she yelled. “Who cares about Sex and the City or Desperate House Wives?” Laughter erupted throughout the audience as we all nervously shifted in our seats, guilty of actually caring.

I thought I’d had my fix. Sonia Sanchez, two poems, one speech on a Monday night during Black History month. What else could I ask for? I was thanking God for this blessing.

But nothing could have prepared me four days later, as Sonia’s tiny hands grasped mine in the lobby of The Hotel Edison, less than an hour after the last taping of HBO’s Def Poetry.

She looked up at me and said, “Greetings.” I knew that my time was limited so I let the words spill from my mouth quickly. Ya’ll know how I do.

“I just want to say that I enjoyed your speech at Columbia University on Monday. You were very inspiring.”

“Thank you,” she responded.

“I want to also give you my mother’s blessings,” I added quickly. “She use to baby sit your children, when she was a graduate student at U. Mass at Amherst.”

There was a look of confusion on Sonia’s face, as she searched through her memory of world leaders, presidents and ex presidents, revolutionaries, dead and living to find the image of my mother, the young student who helped her prepare meals for Minister Farrakhan when he came to town.

“Oh,” she said, then heisted. “In Massachusetts? What was her name?”

“She was Margie X then,” I replied.

“Margie,” she repeated, her eyes widening, a smile spreading across her face.

“Well yes, Margie,” she said. “Oh that was so long ago. Yes, I remember,” she said loudly this time, studying my face for some resemblance of the Margie she use to know.

“Please give her my greetings. How is she now?”

As I gave Sonia the edited version of my mother life over the past thirty years, the events of my night seemed miniscule and unimportant.

Just six hours earlier, I was searching the third floor of The Hotel Edison, for my girl Novera, an HBO producer. She had arraigned for me to pick up an all access pass, allowing me to shadow Def Poet Amir Suliman. He’d invited me to observe his performance in preparation for an upcoming article I was writing.

Consumed with finding a signal on my cell phone, I hardly noticed when Mos Def stepped off the elevator with an entourage of producers. Our eyes met for a second and we simultaneously gave a respectful nod. I could have said a lot at that moment but I thought, God willing, this time will come again.

Later on that night, when he shook my hand, backstage and with a smile said As-salaam-alaikum, I realized that I was right.

After my chance encounter with Mos at the elevator, I found Novera who quickly provided me with my pass, escorted me to the VIP lounge and went searching frantically for Amir. A half hour later she returned with Amir at her side. We gave Salaams and then he was whisked away by producers, leaving me to watch the rehearsal for the 9pm taping; Sonia Sanchez, Sista Queen, and Common. A good way to start the night so far.

The crowds soon flooded the theatre and the show began with Kanye West; Louie Vuton set and all.

Very Kanye. Watch the show this season. I’ll say no more.

Two hours later, I found my self again in the VIP lounge with Amir and company, as the next show was about to begin. Mos Def was mingling in the lounge, while the theatre was being filled and at the entrance, on the right, was Russell Simmons in quite conversation, scanning the crowd.

And then Common walked in. He appeared to be floating through the tiny crowd like a God. My eyes followed him as did everyone else’s.

Again, I wanted to speak but I relied on my faith and thought, the right time has yet to come. And it did come, just before midnight, as I tried to catch a cab in the second big snow storm of the week. Standing outside of the hotel, on 47th St., I caught Common’s attention. He shook my hand, but moved quickly expecting the usual fan rhetoric, “I love your music,” or “Can I get an autograph?”

“I know the photographer who just shot your album cover,” I yelled over cab horns and vehicles trying maneuvering their way through wet snow.

“She said you were amazing to work with.”

He had already passed me and was looking over his shoulder smiling, when suddenly he slowed down.

“She’s great,” he said, as he finally came to a complete stop. “I loved working with her. She was really great. Amazing."

"Well, she spoke highly of you," I added.

He then completely turned around, as if remembering his manners, and walked towards me. He grabbed both of my hands and with a bow said, “Peace sister. Peace.”

I must say that not a heart felt greeting from Common, or an As-salaam-alaikum from Mos Def; a live poetry performance from Kanye, observing Russell perched on the throne of his empire, or simply eating free cheese and crackers in the VIP lounge, while chatting with a Howard University grad about our memories of D.C., compared to speaking with the woman herself, Sonia Sanchez.

In The Hotel Edison lobby, I noticed that the deep purple scarf draped over her salt and pepper locks, matched her purple top, worn at the podium on Monday. And as she grasped my hand I couldn’t help but notice how different she looked in person.

"She seems so much bigger on TV," I thought to my self.

But in actuality, she was no different.

Still blessed. Still Sonia. She hadn’t changed at all.

It was me. I’d finally grown up.

I was now old enough to mingle with spirits.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

STAY TUNED!!! Posted by Hello

Friday, February 11, 2005

Lil Akhi's Posted by Hello

"Bilad as-sudan"

"Bilad as-sudan"

Five years ago, I took a two month journey through war-torn Sudan. At that time, the East African country, nearly the size of the continental United States was largely ignored by the rest of the world.

Then, late last year, after more than two decades of civil war between north and south, new developments in Sudan’s ethnic and political conflict became front page news. And the world has watched in horror ever since.

Since 2003 in the Western Sudanese state of Darfur, more than one million people have been displaced and nearly 70,000 thousand have died in what the United Nations calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

Ethnic tension over land and grazing rights has always existed in Darfur. But in May 2004, as the Muslim government of Sudan and the largely Black, Christian and Animist Sudan People’s Liberation Army signed peace protocols to end the civil war, the conflict between rebel groups and the government in Darfur began to escalate.

The US Agency for International Development says clashes between the government, rebel groups, the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army and the Justice and Equality Movement and the Arab militia group accused of genocide against ethnic groups, the Jingaweit, continue to affect thousands of civilians in Darfur. Today, rape and murder are everyday occurrences in this predominately Muslim region, where drought and near-famine conditions have existed since 1984.

While the government admits to “mobilizing self-defense militias following rebel attacks,” Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir has denied links to the Jingaweit, calling them “thieves and gangsters.” However, refugees from Darfur say the Jingaweit rape and pillage the villages following government air-raids.

The humanitarian need in Darfur is grave. Civilians who’ve fled their villages for the safety of bigger towns are malnourished, as food, water and medicine remain scarce. Years of conflict have resulted in high rates of illiteracy, child mortality, infectious diseases, an emerging HIV/AIDS threat and lack of economic opportunities.

Despite insufficient funds from the international community, dozens of aid agencies are currently working in the region. In April 2004, Islamic Relief's emergency team began providing displaced people in Darfur with food and shelter. But the displaced population is on the brink of mass starvation, and suffering has been intensified by the onset of the rainy season. Heavy rainfall and the lack of infrastructure have made it difficult for relief workers to reach Western Darfur, the population most affected.

Despite the difficulty, Islamic Relief successfully established the Kerinding II camp for displaced families. Currently, the camp accommodates 4,000 people, providing them with food, plastic sheeting, soap, jerry cans and local building materials to build traditional homes.

But more must be done.

In 2000, I experienced first hand Sudan’s desert sand storms and the lush banks of the Blue and White Nile river. But it isn’t just visions of the land that remain with me today. It’s the spirit of the people who fight to survive that I remember most.

Despite the war epidemic that’s plagued this ethnically diverse country, the people’s spirit survives and is eminent in every way. They struggle, but they fight for survival. And they are not alone.

Muslims, Christians, Jews, revolutionaries, activists, advocates, visionaries, open yours hearts. Donate clothing, donate your time, and donate your prayers.

Do all that you can to help the displaced people of Darfur and the suffering of the forgotten people of Sudan.