Books by Kalamu ya
The Magic of JuJu: An Appreciation of the Black Arts
A Revolution of Black Poets
Everywhere Is Someplace Else: A Literary Anthology
From A Bend in the River: 100 New Orleans Poets
Our Music Is No Accident /
What Is Life: Reclaiming the Black Blues Self
My Story My Song (CD)
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the past predicts the future
Kalamu ya Salaam
when you get closer to yr relatives
you will be surprised
at how black they are,
the fit and familiarity of their emotions in the twilight
how much of your pain they understand
with a knowing smile, and how much of their pain
you never knew, thus you frown
embarrassed by your ignorance
and turn to yester-world
altared on the mantle piece:
ancestral photographs, amazingly graceful figures
whose dominant features are boldly ironic eyes
which seemingly float effortlessly just above the surface
of the cream colored paper, inscriptions in unfading black ink
on the reverse "me & shane, dec. 1934"
a small, soft purple, velvet box enshrining a plain gold ring
a slip of torn paper from another era unthrown-away
seven quickly scribbled numerals, the abracadabra key
to a birth, a midnight move to another town, or even
a pledge cut short by accidental death, "oh, it's just a number,"
the slow, quiet response to your investigation
so you pick up a pencil gilded with the name of a 1947 religious
convention attended and delicately place it down beside
an 87-year-old hand mirror (you resist the impulse
to look at your reflection, afraid that you might see
unfulfilled family aspirations), this mirror is atop
a piece of lace, pressed, folded, ancient matriarchal adornment
you will be surprised to learn,
as the years go on, everything
your people say sounds like something
from your life story, something
you wondered about sitting in the car
the other day in the hospital parking lot before the visit,
before the treatment
especially if you are intelligent
paid more than $10 an hour
carry credit cards rather than cash
and climb aboard a flying machine more than three times a year
you will be surprised that although you live in some other city
there is a spot with your familial name
blind embossed and hand engraved in the heart-home
of people you seldom see, surprised
that much of your life had already been accurately predicted
by an aunt who knew you before you were born, i.e.
when your mother
and father were courting, staying out later than curfew
and clutching dreams tightly in the naked embrace
of yr conception
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the past predicts the future: forty-some years
Music Criticism by
Kalamu ya Salaam
The message was freedom. For me, as a Polish who was living in Communist country jazz was synonym of Western culture, of freedom, of this different style of life.—Tomasz Stanko
I’ve found a couple of important intersections. It’s only forty-some years later. No matter how much future we have left, what we are is always our past.
No one escapes everything they have been. Your experiences not only shape you, but also, to a degree hard to see when it’s happening, your past partially determines what you will recognize in your future, what you can and can not understand, see, feel, be. Yes, what you are doing right now has seminal relevance tomorrow.
Encased in the box of immediacy, the strength of our senses binding us, every thought we think, every emotion emoted or suppressed, everything of the moment, shapes the person who faces the future and to a far larger degree than we can imagine, how we consume our past and how aware we are of what it is we have consumed, all of that helps determine just how we be whatever we become.
But it is not the big things that amaze me. It’s the little things. The preference for grits and rice rather than oatmeal and potatoes. The taste in our mouths have been shaped by our experiences, especially when we were young. Or whether we have ever smelled a rose in full bloom in a garden—not at a florist, but in that stretch of earth tended to by a grandmother. The big pink flowers, bees hovering around them, petals the texture of satin, and sharp thorns.
Smelling those roses, if we have never then that will make it difficult to catch certain of the brief whiffs of beauty tomorrow may offer. Or something like that. You get the idea.
Intersection #1: the music for Polaski’s film
Knife in The Water
Rosemary’s Baby) was composed by
Krzysztof Komeda, a Polish pianist and composer who died at 38 but who in his short career became the father of modern jazz in Poland.
Tomasz Stanko studied under and became a member of Komeda’s band.
Stanko also played on the
Rosemary’s Baby soundtrack.
Stanko has recorded a tribute album, Litania—Music Of Krzysztof Komeda. In the late fifties and very early sixties these guys were literally throwing their art into the teeth of government and bourgeois repression. As English writer and photographer Val Wilmer said about jazz, which she dedicated her life to documenting, jazz was “as serious as your life.”
Intersection #2: Sometimes you have to listen to a lot in order to get to the little things that deeply strike you. And you have to do your homework. Have to know a little about what you are listening to. (You know context is my thing.)
[Kalamu's son and music commentator] brought up his name, I was already aware of
Stanko. Had given a cursory listen. Had a
Stanko album on the hard drive. It was OK, but, you know, I never considered that there might be something there of real relevance for me.
In preparing to respond to Mtume I went deeper.
Tomasz Stanko’s new album,
Lontano (2006), is an absolute favorite. In the jukebox I have added three tracks from
Lontano: “Kattorna” (written by Komeda), “Tale” and “Lontano II" (both composed by Stanko). “Tale” is an old composition revived for this recording.
One day I looked again and saw what I had missed hearing on initial contact.
Don’t be like me. Stop now. And smell the roses.
Source: Breath of Life
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Black Music in America—ca. mid-1970s
This tremendous educational documentary
from the mid-1970's examines the priceless contributions of
African-Americans to musical heritage, so closely tied to their unique
history in the United States. From Africa upon slave ships captive
immigrants brought with them melodies, cadences and rhythms that inarguably
gave rise to music considered 'modern' today.
Beginning with the genius Louis
Armstrong's triumphant return to Ghana in the late 1950's, we trace the
evolution of music from West Africa to the Virginia colonies of the early
1600's. Over the next 400 years, as this distinct root of American culture
takes hold, incredible clips of filmed performances by Mahalia Jackson,
Josephine Baker, Bessie Smith, Count Basie, Billie Holiday, Coleman Hawkins,
Roy Eldridge, and Duke Ellington illustrate the black experience.
Contemporary musicians such as Nina
Simone, BB King, Cannonball Adderly (w/ Joe Zawinal - Mercy, Mercy, Mercy),
and Sly & the Family Stone, along with a funky-ass filmed number from an
as-yet-undocumented-on-the-internet off-Broadway production called "The Me
Nobody Knew" punctuate the memory of the past, the spontaneity of the moment
and determination for the future.
* * *
Guarding the Flame of Life
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1. Congo Square (9:01)
2. My Story, My Song (20:50)
3. Danny Banjo (4:32)
4. Miles Davis (10:26)
5. Hard News For Hip Harry (5:03)
6. Unfinished Blues (4:13)
7. Rainbows Come After The Rain (2:21)/Negroidal Noise (15:53)
8. Intro (3:59)
9. The Whole History (3:14)
10. Negroidal Noise (5:39)
11. Waving At Ra (1:40)
12. Landing (1:21)
13. Good Luck (:04)
posted 2 June 2010
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* * *
Civilization: The West and the Rest
By Niall Ferguson
The rise to global predominance of Western civilization is the single most important historical phenomenon of the past five hundred years. All over the world, an astonishing proportion of people now work for Western-style companies, study at Western-style universities, vote for Western-style governments, take Western medicines, wear Western clothes, and even work Western hours. Yet six hundred years ago the petty kingdoms of Western Europe seemed unlikely to achieve much more than perpetual internecine warfare. It was Ming China or Ottoman Turkey that had the look of world civilizations. How did the West overtake its Eastern rivals? And has the zenith of Western power now passed? In Civilization: The West and the Rest, bestselling author Niall Ferguson argues that, beginning in the fifteenth century, the West developed six powerful new concepts that the Rest lacked: competition, science, the rule of law, consumerism, modern medicine, and the work ethic. These were the "killer applications" that allowed the West to leap ahead of the Rest, opening global trade routes, exploiting newly discovered scientific laws, evolving a system of representative government, more than doubling life expectancy, unleashing the Industrial Revolution, and embracing a dynamic work ethic.
Civilization shows just how fewer than a dozen Western empires came to control more than half of humanity and four fifths of the world economy.
* * * * *
Salvage the Bones
A Novel by Jesmyn Ward
On one level, Salvage the Bones is a simple story about a poor black family that’s about to be trashed by one of the most deadly hurricanes in U.S. history. What makes the novel so powerful, though, is the way Ward winds private passions with that menace gathering force out in the Gulf of Mexico. Without a hint of pretension, in the simple lives of these poor people living among chickens and abandoned cars, she evokes the tenacious love and desperation of classical tragedy. The force that pushes back against Katrina’s inexorable winds is the voice of Ward’s narrator, a 14-year-old girl named Esch, the only daughter among four siblings. Precocious, passionate and sensitive, she speaks almost entirely in phrases soaked in her family’s raw land. Everything here is gritty, loamy and alive, as though the very soil were animated. Her brother’s “blood smells like wet hot earth after summer rain. . . . His scalp looks like fresh turned dirt.” Her father’s hands “are like gravel,” while her own hand “slides through his grip like a wet fish,” and a handsome boy’s “muscles jabbered like chickens.” Admittedly, Ward can push so hard on this simile-obsessed style that her paragraphs risk sounding like a compost heap, but this isn’t usually just metaphor for metaphor’s sake. She conveys something fundamental about Esch’s fluid state of mind: her figurative sense of the world in which all things correspond and connect. She and her brothers live in a ramshackle house steeped in grief since their mother died giving birth to her last child. . . . What remains, what’s salvaged, is something indomitable in these tough siblings, the strength of their love, the permanence of their devotion.—
* * * * *
What This Cruel War Was Over
Soldiers Slavery and the Civil
By Chandra Manning
For this impressively researched
Civil War social history, Georgetown
assistant history professor Manning
visited more than two dozen states
to comb though archives and
libraries for primary source
material, mostly diaries and letters
of men who fought on both sides in
the Civil War, along with more than
100 regimental newspapers. The
result is an engagingly written,
convincingly argued social history
with a point—that those who did the
fighting in the Union and
Confederate armies "plainly
identified slavery as the root of
the Civil War." Manning backs up her
contention with hundreds of
first-person testimonies written at
the time, rather than
memoirs. While most Civil War
narratives lean heavily on officers,
Easterners and men who fought in
Virginia, Manning casts a much
broader net. She includes
immigrants, African-Americans and
western fighters, in order, she
says, "to approximate cross sections
of the actual Union and Confederate
ranks." Based on the author's
dissertation, the book is free of
academese and appeals to a general
audience, though Manning's harsh
condemnation of white Southerners'
feelings about slavery and her
unstinting praise of Union soldiers'
"commitment to emancipation" take a
step beyond scholarly objectivity.—Publishers
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(Books, DVDs, Music, and more)
update 27 March 2012