Parable of the Sower Concert Review/Gush

Terry Marshall of Intelligent Mischief recently articulated this moment we’re in as a Black Renaissance. I concur – we are transforming pain into gold at an impossible speed. I keep turning around and finding something black, brilliant, fantastic, collective, wonderful – I feel in the midst of an artistic explosion, of a people cultivating creativity and joy in the face of genocide and mass produced misery. And Octavia Butler is one of the seed mothers of this moment.

There are some of us who read the Parable of the Sower (and it’s sequel the Parable of the Talents), as sacred text. Butler, the author of these two near-future novels, was a black sci fi writer hermit who died in 2006 after giving us 12 novels, a collection of short stories, and winning the Hugo, Nebula and MacArthur genius grant.

Everything she wrote is provocative and interesting, but in the Parables she cuts in right next to her own story, and many of ours, a black girl creator, surviving. Lauren Olamina is growing up in a gated community in dry, divided California as the government swerves violently to right.

I heard a few years ago that Bernice Johnson-Reagon and Toshi Reagon, mother daughter movement folk singers, were going to make an opera of the Parables. At that time, I fell out with possibility. Then I wished I had lived my life differently, seriously pursued my vocal practice, tightening up my pitch issues, because clearly this was the best thing that could ever happen in life.

As the Opera/concert piece has moved along its iterative process, I’ve been awestruck by the caliber of talent in and around it, while also landing in my own Octavia/sci fi work (I’m in NY because Octavia’s Brood is reading at the Schomberg open house on Wednesday!).

In January there was a first set of Parables concerts. I was out of the country and seriously priced out what it would cost to fly to NYC for one night. Out of my economic capacity.

Then it was in Abu Dhabi, because…of course. Octavia in Abu Dhabi. But again, tickets were researched and too expensive and I was left bereft, so distant from the experience of my dreams.

All of this context is just so you understand a little bit about how ecstatic I was when it was announced that the concert would be in at the Annenberg Center in Philly when I was scheduled to be in NYC, when I priced the trip, when I realized it was possible. I got tears in my eyes buying the tickets. That’s the level of anticipation I took with me on the bus, to Philly, and into the concert.

Because this was a predestined perfect night, I got to eat at White Dog Cafe, which I’ve been hearing about for years – I have tons of respect for its founder Judy Wicks, who is one of the sparks in local living economies work. I shared a meal with my dear friends Sofia Santana, who bussed down with me from NYC, Jennifer Kidwell, and Sham-e-ali. Jennifer, an incredible singer and performer now based in Philly, was part of one of the earlier iterations of the opera. Sham, a poet, had seen the concert the night before and said she’d wept the entire time.

Rasheedah Phillips of Afrofuturist Affair was in the lobby with her sweetheart, we’d all been together at Ferguson is the Future just a couple of weeks ago.

Sofia and I got to the theatre right as the show was starting – I dashed to the bathroom and switched from my bus outfit into something more appropriate for a historic event. It had a belt, pink lipstick, the basics.

The musicians were tuning up in the black box of the theatre. There were twelve chairs in a circle, microphones, a full house audience, and the singers were standing at the edges of the theatre. I recognized vocalists Tamar-Kali and Karma Mayet Johnson, Marcelle Davis Lashley, violinist Juliette Jones. Many of the others were new to me.

Then Toshi came out from the back with a gorgeous smile on her face. I love watching her perform – she sits down surrounded by instruments and immediately makes it feel like we’re just watching her jam out in private, extending ease and intimacy to everyone.

Then the music came. It came up through Toshi, and from the edges of the room. I had to take off my belt right away. The context was set in songs that walked the line between chant, lamentation and praise. We learned that the water was gone, that some were seeking solace in God, and the gifted and gorgeous singer Shayna Small, who sang Lauren Olamina, was feeling a change, feeling everything.

After the second song I turned to Sofia and said “this is a best-experience-of-my-life”. There was a fearlessness about the songs, they were precise and subtle and then deep and full, the pace was just right – the pace respected the way Octavia told this story.

Toshi gave us some context after a few songs. I’m not sure it was needed, it all felt so spiritually correct…but how could I know, I’ve read the text twenty something times.

Toshi spoke at various points throughout, her words always spare and heart opening. As the journey north began, she said, ‘if you don’t know where you are going, you can just make something up and walk on that.’

The main thing I will say about the songs is that as I was hearing them I was deeply satisfied, and when each song passed I wanted to rewind and stay in it, even the songs that covered the hardest moments. Hyper empathy in an apocalypse is painful, the terrifying world changing behind them as Lauren and her crew made their way north, the ideological battles between systems of belief that give and take away responsibility – the Reagons have written songs that allow us to feel all up in this text.

I didn’t know I needed these songs till I was flooded in them.

One of my favorite moments was Toshi inserting a folk singer into the story. She said it was Octavia’s mistake, that when things are going so badly, people need the singers to tell the story, to give them back to themselves. Yes, exactly.

Towards the end of the concert, the songs were straight up Earthseed verses. I kept catching tears all over my face and then getting caught up in wonder, needing to undulate and tap my foot and dance and sing along.

Helga Davis was a sitting closest to us, and her moves were so funky and distinct, Sofia and I couldn’t take our eyes off her.

I walked out after and ran into several magical people, including radical dance artist Althea Baird, both of us wide open and teary eyed. Annie Danger later posted that those of us who’d experienced the show might need a support group to live into the change. Sonia Sanchez was in the audience.

Now I’m glowing from the experience, wanting everything I suffer through, everything I learn, to be sung in chorus by the Reagons. And even as I wonder how I can hear the songs again, I recognize that in this time of instant gratification it is a gift to be given something so rare, so visceral, so about being bodies and hopes and grief in a room together.

Thank you Toshi and Bernice for the vision and the execution. Thank you Eric Ting for the direction – the presentation felt so organic, centering the songs and voices. Thank you Bertilla, Helga, Karma, Tamar-Kali, Morley, Marcelle, Josette, Shayna and Jason for the gift of your voices and the way you became conduits for this crucial story. Thank you Juliette, Robert, Fred and Adam for the music which swelled up the room.

Looking forward to the next iteration.

on the 10th anniversary of black women rock

first thing we saw in the theater of the charles wright museum was nina simone on a screen speaking about that blackness, grounding us in the assumption of our beauty, power, greatness. the sold-out 10th anniversary of black women rock was officially beginning with a powerhouse concert, the first event of a two day exchange of love and brilliance amongst black women, curated by jessica care moore.

my sweetheart and i got cute and went.

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the artists were brilliant, starting with a series of short intimate performances saturday night.

jessica, the force behind this event, shifted between emceeing and performing her own rock jazz poetic offerings throughout the night, with about seven original outfits in the rotation. i honor her for the work of creating such a space, a container for legacy building.

the people she invited were a mix of the brand new and the delightfully familiar.

kimberly nichole was up first, very young and feisty in her tutu, ‘rock ballerina’ her signature style. her voice is compelling. i got her cds, and i am excited to see how she grows.

on either side of the stage artists were painting. i ended up buying a piece created during the evening, detroit artist/teacher/fashionista sabrina nelson’s take on betty davis’s nasty gal cover.

tamar-kali creates a solid wall of afro punk rock black classical music sound – really unparalleled because she is creating something new, rough and somehow tender and gorgeous. i own all of her music and merch, but was excited to see her perform after recently contributing to her campaign to take her work on her first solo tour. i need this tour, and so do you, so donate to support it.

imani uzuri makes me feel like i am in the fifth element. she unleashes a futuristic operatic experience, pouring forth from a bright light of black global womanhood. her album gypsy diaries was one of my favorites from last year.

steffanie christi’an performed music from her new cd, which i also had to get. i love her tina-turner-demanding-full
-audience-attention kind of stage presence, and her full body commitment to rock.

joi was next and there really is very little i can say to do justice to the effect she has on me as a woman with southern roots, as a pleasure activist, as an artist. i have listened to her for years but had never seen her on a stage. she is a legend and a perfection. leather latex tank and pencil skirt, locks down to her thighs, fishnets which you can see end mid thigh up a back slit. everything fitting like a breath on a bone. red heels roughly ten inches high. i was fanning myself before she opened her mouth…and then she opened her mouth and sang these growling emotive notes. the things she does and sings all feel true, and important for us to hear, sing, scream along with her.

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wunmi closed out the night, a british nigerian dancer and singer. she brought the rest of the world to the stage. her music was a comfort, a home sound in a way that is ancestral, not logical. the way she moves is breathtaking and she opened a situation on that stage where ferocious spirit was pulling everyone up and through their bodies.

on sunday they followed up the show with a panel, and i had to share with you a taste of the wisdom these artists dropped (culled from twitter and memory)

jessica care moore:

i taught my son, king.

who does mommy work for? mommy.

what is mommy’s job? poet.

how does mommy pay the bills and make sure we have this house? poetry.

and who are you going to work for? king.

wunmi:

The spirit gives you what you’re going to do & you let it form you, wherever you are. A rose will blossom in dogshit, but I know I’m still a rose.

Back in Africa you don’t think about anything, you just live it. I didn’t learn I was black until I traveled to the US. It is deep to have to think about your color every day.

With children you nurture them by letting them seeing you for who you are. I never ask the children I teach to do what I can’t do.

I made myself belong to me.

tamar-kali:

I can only be true to myself. When I go against that, it brings me nothing but pain.

It’s really important not to prescribe for others, that’s the white supremacist model. I don’t want to flip that, to be in reaction, to just do the same behavior to others. Not everyone wants to approach life like I do. I am embracing the differences.

I’m thinking (about how we turn) accolades into action. Technology has us less connected. We think that to ‘like’ something is to take an action.

Don’t say you love me & then never purchase my music. Art is an exchange, it’s our energy, we pour our whole selves into it. And we’ve all worked through pain, grief, death through the work of others.

Also, make something. (she was wearing wool socks and a cowl that she’d crocheted – which are available as perks if you invest in her tour!) We don’t create anymore!

To change who I am based on other’s expectations is to lie. I refuse to lie on stage. I’m embracing my whole humanity.

I am working now on embracing my humanity, and getting other people of color to see ourselves as an integral part of human history. I don’t want to ask, to be an afterthought, a token, or tolerated – I am understanding that I, that all of us, are an essential part of the history of humankind.

imani uzuri:

I’d been socialized to diminish what it meant to be an artist, so I became an activist, and said ‘I’m a revolutionary!’ Then I remembered who I was, and I could not deny that my work was as an artist. And I was going to make my living as an artist.

The revelation (of being an artist) is not linear. It’s ongoing, it’s a series of choices…as I unveil myself to myself.

Media & entertainment is used as distraction. Propaganda is real. We have to keep decolonizing ourselves.

Imani also had a beautiful moment of speaking about being a bisexual artist and how important it is to hold that space as a black woman. She was moved to tears, and moved many of us right along with her, as she spoke of the tension of being both privileged and marginalized in the same life.

joi:

you can’t see the way forward if you don’t know what to honor from the past. I’m a preservationist, musically.

I don’t strategize necessarily, but I can inspire others to awaken in themselves. I can see that something.

If we are fortunate enough we all become masters of something. I’m embracing my mastery, bringing mastery of others together.

revolution comes from baring your complete self, can’t nobody fade that.

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from a renaissance

coming to you live from the heart of a renaissance, renaissance meaning a rebirth, detroit being a city that has been born again over and over. when i first started coming around the D, i knew that a movement was afoot in hip-hop. i saw invincible, finale, guilty, black milk, buff 1, miz korona, mz jonz, slum village, and so many others coming together in a way that was unprecedented and unapologetic. what i heard over and over was: this is the home of j dilla and big proof and we won’t deny anymore the unique and raw creations that come out of this place.

i first heard monica blaire on a cd, which blew me away AND didn’t even come close to the joie de vivre she injects in an audience in a live performance. she is the best live performer of her generation anywhere in the world based on my experiences, and she is right here, close enough to touch, humble enough to hug and big up all those around her. [here’s a trio of short videos from my phone shot last night when she jammed impromptu with the marvelous and adorable and allaroundgreat chilean hip-hop star anita tijoux: one, two, three.]

so for a while i know it has been happening, absolutely, but then i moved here, and my immersion in what is happening every night and day all around this city…it is so exciting to be here at this moment in detroit, where the energy of new things emerging out of an old soul city is present and palpable.

just four days ago detroit brought us jessica care moore‘s black women rock, a concert in tribute of the delicious and edge-slicing betty davis, brief wife of miles davis, sex-flinging artiste who still elicits a frenzy today when her words and images and fashions reach us.

the artists who slipped through, including brooklyn rock divas imani uzuri and tamar-kali and internationally renowned artist marcia jones, were thrilled to be in motor city, and kept talking about the creative energy alive here. steffanie christian was my discovery of the weekend…she got up and rocked 5 songs that moved me outside myself in 5 different ways.

the next day jessica hosted a brunch for the women who performed, and there was an impromptu song session where folks shared what they had to offer, what was in their souls at that moment. what i felt in that room was the miracle-worthy experience that can happen when creative people realizing their potential share space. it was historic, and healing, and so easy to take in.

attendees included the incomparable piper carter, who has envisioned and uplifted The Foundation as a weekly Tuesday night fertile space for the growth of women artists in the D, featuring DJ’s Mel Wonder, Sticky Niki, & La Jedi with B-Girls Mama (Hardcore Detroit), Ri$ Money, & Teena Marie & Graffiti Artist Riku. the night often lends itself to the kind of inspired spontaneous moments only possible when great talent smashes into a liberated open welcoming zone and can expand to its full size. miz korona and mz jonz, who i call comedianne-rappers, regularly play here.

and of course i have to say that my partner invincible is a key player in every aspect of this moment, and in my own life. only a few weeks ago, invincible took two showcases to SXSW – a Detroit showcase, and a Women in Hip Hop showcase. she has seen the groundbreaking transformative potential of this city for as long as i have known her.

there is a hip-hop renaissance here, but there is simultaneously and intersectionally a thrilling movement of female artistry and creativity happening in Detroit which aligns with the shift to the feminine that is happening in every arena, internationally, philosophically, politically, in families, in structures. everyone is welcome to visit, and co-create, and bring it all to visit, and showcase it, and let it seed and scatter and grow within you.