Thursday, August 21, 2008

African American Elementary Curriculum for the Future

In the course of putting together an African American Elementary Curriculum for the Future I encountered some disturbing reviews of a book by noted historian J.A. Rogers. The book is entitled Your History and is made up of articles akin to Ripley's Believe It Or Not."

Each and every page is chock full of information that runs the gamut from disturbing to informative. The pictures are revealing studies in the various personalities and events, which have occurred involving the lives of Africans from the beginning of time to the present, which in this case would have been the original publication date of 1940.

In cases where pictures were available they were used by the artist to develop his sketches. But, in many cases there were no pictures and at that point George Lee, the artist, took the liberty to create what he thought were realistic depictions. This was meant to be a popular work that was accessible to the public via a network of Black newspapers and was put into national syndication. It was not meant to stand up to scholarly debate or scrutiny.

However, because of the sensitive nature of the topic the reviewers took offense to much of what was contained within these pages and skewered the author, when it was they, themselves that needed to be skewered for not placing the document into its proper framework. They in fact, commit some of the same types of error of fact in the process, delivering false charges that the author was also the illustrator, and noting the lack of references, without noting the source of the document, which I believe to be the Pittsburgh Courier.

I really appreciate the fact that the reviewers took some time to give a critical analysis of this important book. However, I would hope that in the future they would check their own facts before making brash statements, which themselves were off base.

Admittedly, as Black Classic Press clearly states, J.A. Rogers was a "race" man and was attempting to prove a point, so at times some of his facts may come into question.

J.A. Rogers is "the historian" that was most vociferous in bringing to light many of the stories we now accept as being the bedrock of Pan-African Studies, or Black Studies. He was also known for using photography in conjunction with his historiography. This is a real sore point when acquiring his works now being published by large companies like Macmillian & Co., where the literally hundreds of photos of people or statues of persons have been excised from his major work "The World's Great Men of Color." This really diminished the impact of his work, because, as we all know, a picture is worth a thousand words.

In conclusion, I'll be the first one to admit that I just recently noted a discrepancy in a depiction of the 11 churches of Lalibela Ethiopia, which are monolithic structures carved out of the bedrock of the Ethiopian highlands. Mr. Lee made them look like large mudhuts, as opposed to the architectural masterpieces that they are in actuality.

Overall, I've noted the book is fairly accurate in it's portrayal of the personalities and events it depicts, but I wouldn't give it any more, or less credibility than "Ripley's Believe It Or Not," whose museum in Hollywood is a real eye-opener. So, while you're fact checking, why don't you check into the validity of "Ripley's Believe It Or Not."

Meanwhile, I think I'll keep supporting African American Museums and historical sites, who undoubtedly owe a great deal to J.A. Rogers, as one of the pioneers in the study of Pan-African history. By the way the newest museum of African American history will be opening soon on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., as a part of the Smithsonian, I wonder who they'll feature in their exhibits?

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Zimfest 2008

I just returned from a tour of the USA, part of which I accomplished on a Greyhound bus, not the most comfortable way to travel, but I made it where I was going. My goal was to see my daughter Nefertiti graduate from high school and at the same time empty my storage unit in California. I relocated 2 years ago and had left most of my belongings in storage.

This seemed like a simple task. I had no really urgent commitments back here in Ohio and I gave myself about 3 weeks to accomplish my tasks and return to Ohio. But, somehow fate was not with me and it ended up taking six weeks to return to Ohio. All in all it wasn't a bad trip, but my money was stretched tighter than a drumhead. That coupled with the fact that the Mississippi river flooded from Wisconsin to Missouri not only delayed my trip it also forced me to take some unforeseen detours, which ended up working out in the end.

My first detour was to Tacoma, WA. The idea was to go to the Zimbabwean Music Festival 2008 (Zimfest) and at the same avoid all the flooding in the midwest. I figured that the flooding would be in the lower Mississippi by the time I left Tacoma and I'd have no problem making it back to Ohio. As it turned out that was correct and I got to go to Zimfest for the second time.

It was a great weekend. As a matter of fact it happened on July 4th weekend. This is kind of unusual, I'm used to Zimfest happening later in the summer, but apparently it can happen at different times of the year. There was a full schedule everyday, I sold Dezes (gourd resonators for Mbiras), hosho (gourd rattles) and my No-burn Incense during the day and enjoyed the music at night.

Zimfest is a round the clock festival, with musicians performing on and off stage day and night and teaching workshops during the day. It's got to be one of the most unusual festivals in the country. For music lovers its absolutely fabulous.

The musicians ran the gamut from novices to seasoned professionals. Many of the most knowledgeable musicians were from Zimbabwe and not only taught workshops, but performed, as well. The thing I like about Zimfest is that you see someone on the stage and then you're sitting down eating lunch with them chitchatting. The whole line that's drawn in the sand between the musicians and the audience is non-existent. You can converse and share knowledge in a relaxed and unpretentious atmosphere.

Highlights of the show were the 3 groups led by Sheree Seretse, which included a children's group known as Shumba; a new group of semi-professional musicians Zambuko and her main band of professional musicians Anzanga.

There were so many other groups there that I could not even begin to mention them all, but some that you may recognize are Chinyakare, Boka Marimba, Gwarira Enharira and Kutsinhira. I really liked Boka's singer. She sounded something like Miriam Makeba, which is something of a feat, since she's from the U.S. Chinyakare featured Russ Landers and Ronnie Daliyo on Mbira and was in the groove, as usual, although they were missing their former featured dancers. Russ started off the first night with some lovely Chipendani (mouthbow) playing and simultaneous singing.

In the end many of the featured performers came together on stage for a grande finale that was awesome. I've placed a sampling of the performances on Youtube, just enough to give you a taste of Zimfest 2008. Check it out for yourself and give me some feedback.

Changui & the Origins of Afro-Cuban Music

Youtube is the wave of the future. It's like we're coming out of the dark ages, when people from different parts of the world were living in isolation. Well no more.

I get on Youtube pretty much everyday to see what's new. One of the jewels I discovered there recently was Cuban Changui music. I've been playing Mbira (Kalimba) for a number of years and decided to look it up on Youtube the other day. When I did I was overwhelmed at the number of videos that were up there. But the one from Guantanamo Bay by the Changuieros was outstanding. This video shows some Cubanos on the docks playing the traditional instruments for this genre. These instruments include the tres (a three stringed instrument similar to a guitar), a hand-made pair of tack-head bongos, a marimbula (the large bass mbira originating from Cuba), a pair of maracas and of course the guiro (metal scraper).

The music is designed to accompany the vocals, which are the focal point of the music, as is so often the case. They were smoking! The vocals were hot, hot, hot! Done in a rap style, they covered a familiar Cuban tune called El Chan, Chan. Take a look at the video to see what you think.

They say this music is the ancestor of the Son, which is still the most popular type of music in Cuba today and has been for almost 100 years. What's so special about this music, both the Son and Changui, is that they represent the earliest attempts to mix the Spanish heritage with the African heritage. The result has been with us for a long time in the Cha, Cha, Cha; the Mambo; Guanguanco; Salsa, etc. The mixture of Spanish vocals with stringed instruments, drums and other percussions instruments lends itself to some hot rhythmic combinations that somehow always seem to talk about "mi corazon," or my heart. Yes, it's all about those pesky male-female relationships. They're going to break your heart, one way or another.

Sit back relax and check out the video. Let me know if you like it as much as I do.