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for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes


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if there was no digital technology, there would be no rap as we know it today.

yes, i understand that rap started with analog equipment and the human voice,

but that’s not what it is today . . . rap is the electronic enhancement of words



Books by Kalamu ya Salaam


The Magic of JuJu: An Appreciation of the Black Arts Movement  /   360: 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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WORDS: A Neo-Griot Manifesto

By Kalamu ya Salaam 


words. words are the basic element of all writing. seems obvious. except the obvious is misleading. for the last 400 years or so, western culture has defined the "word" primarily and almost solely as "text." enter the mating of digital technology and african-heritage aesthetics, and we are on the verge of liberation. sankofa: fetching an ancient view to fashion a future vision.

in the beginning was the word. and it wasn’t text. it had sound and gesture. Gutenberg’s printing press combined with the alphabet to mute words; stripped words of sound and gesture. (that was not the first instance, but, thanks to western military hegemony, the roman alphabet became the dominant form of word discourse. today, even the chinese use that alphabet, even though their glyphs are older and their language spoken by more people.) western imperialism ensured that the muted text of the printed page became the standard for literature, for writing.

following the first revolution of the printing press, came the 2nd revolution, the reproduction of sound for mass dissemination via recordings and radio. that happened around the turn of the 20th century. sound was re-mated to words. although most recordings were used for music, radio, for a long while, hung in with all kinds of "talk" shows, from political speeches to orson wells declaring interstellar war had arrived, from cartoons come to life (like the shadow do) to declarations of what soap made you whiter, i mean, cleaner--question: was the golddust twins more clean than the ivory soap chile? even today, talk shows still have a major foothold on radio.

the third revolution is digital, and digital completes the turning of the word back onto its original self: the trinity of sense (literal meaning), sound and gesture. talking cinema, which had its popular birth with al jolson’s "jazz singer" in 1927 was the opening salvo of putting sound and gesture back with the word. and then in the fifties came television. but the distinction is that it cost a lot of money, as well as access to and expertise with highly technical equipment, in order to produce movies and television. the girl next door and the guy in the mirror were not able to make their own movies or produce their own television shows.

the significance is that with digital, we can all make movies, we can all present our words with sound and gesture as well as sense. digital is completing the re-animation of words via high quality sound and gesture. the democratization of mass media through the digital revolution is perhaps the most significant development in terms of third world cultural development.

as a writer using digital technology, i can concentrate on what i do best, i.e. use words to convey ideas and emotions. and i can do it from the holistic african-heritage perspective which tends to mix and amalgamate rather than specialize and segregate. moreover, digital makes it possible both technically and financially for me to "write" about my culture in both the fullest expression of the culture and the fullest expression of the means and style of communicating that culture.

moreover, i can now afford to do so without regard to the strictures of the market place. i can make a movie about the sister next door who integrated her elementary school fifty years ago, or the brother down the street who joined the deacons for defense after he came out of the korean conflict -- you don’t know who and what the deacons for defense was, well, that’s precisely why the digital revolution is so important. digital will make it possible for us to tell all the tales, present the total vision that up til now has been severely limited.

at the same time that, through the use of digital technology, we can ignore the demands that dealing in the marketplace often put on production (both in terms and content and in terms of style), if we choose to, digital also allows us to produce broadcast quality work that can compete in the marketplace. for example, thanks again to the digital revolution, our work can be distributed on cable television.

the days of major network strangleholds on mass communications are coming to an end even as there is more and more concentration of wealth and power in fewer and fewer hands. global capitalism is moving toward monopolies, but the underside is that the communications infrastructure has a voracious appetite for content. 300 cable channels require over 2.5 million hours of content to operate year round. there will be room, indeed, there will be a need for locally produced content.

if one needs an example i give you "rap" music. if there was no digital technology, there would be no rap as we know it today. yes, i understand that rap started with analog equipment and the human voice, but that’s not what it is today. the rap that dominates musical culture worldwide is produced via digital equipment. rap is the electronic enhancement of words. machines turned to drums under the wit and wisdom of human speech. the digital revolution is all in our face but many of us don’t see it because it doesn’t have a white face, a ph.d. face, a technical "you-got-to-be-highly-educated-to-do-this" face. the truth is that brothers and sisters at the street level have completely revolutionized the making of music, indeed, revolutionized the very definition of music.

my argument is not that all writers need to become rappers. my argument is that rappers demonstrate what we can do if we are willing to grasp the technology and use it to facilitate our self expression. and this is not simply a question of music. we have so many stories that need to be told, sounded, and/or shown. digital technology and our own human will to create makes it possible for us truly and fully express ourselves. as writers, as cultural workers, our task ought to be to investigate our past, critique our current conditions and create visions of our future.

so, on the one hand, with digital we can tell our story in our own way. although the aesthetics question is a story onto itself, suffice it to say at this moment, with the ease and affordability of digital we can present our culture in our own way like never before. on the other hand, the local, national and global marketplace needs our content. now is the time.

there are, of course, issues to be dealt with, obstacles to overcome, and cultural battles to be waged, but there is a future if we are willing to seize the means of production and actively participate in the distribution of our vision. and it is no accident that i distribute this manifesto via the internet rather than as a pamphlet or an article in somebody else’s magazine. can you hear me now? (

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Audio: My Story, My Song (Featuring blues guitarist Walter Wolfman Washington)

New Orleans Jazz Funeral for tuba player Kerwin James / They danced atop his casket Jaran 'Julio' Green

Guarding the Flame of Life

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Men We Love, Men We Hate
SAC writings from Douglass, McDonogh 35, and McMain high schools in New Orleans.

An anthology on the topic of men and relationships with men

Ways of Laughing
An Anthology of Young Black Voices
Photographed & Edited by
Kalamu ya Salaam

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Track List
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)

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For July 1st through August 31st 2011


#1 - Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark
#2 - Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree
#3 - Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane
#4 - Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper
#5 - Stackin' Paper 2 Genesis' Payback by Joy King
#6 - Thug Lovin' (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark
#7 - When I Get Where I'm Going by Cheryl Robinson
#8 - Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby
#9 - The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane

#10 - Covenant: A Thriller  by Brandon Massey

#11 - Diary Of A Street Diva  by Ashley and JaQuavis

#12 - Don't Ever Tell  by Brandon Massey

#13 - For colored girls who have considered suicide  by Ntozake Shange

#14 - For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree

#15 - Homemade Loves  by J. California Cooper

#16 - The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper

#17 - Player Haters by Carl Weber

#18 - Purple Panties: An Anthology by Sidney Molare

#19 - Stackin' Paper by Joy King

#20 - Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey

#21 - The Upper Room by Mary Monroe

#22 – Thug Matrimony  by Wahida Clark

#23 - Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark

#24 - Married Men by Carl Weber

#25 - I Dreamt I Was in Heaven - The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter


#1 - Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable
#2 - Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans
#3 - Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane
#4 - Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper
#5 - Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You're Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant
#6 - Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey
#7 - The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight
#8 - The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing
#9 - The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson

#10 - John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History  by Ahati N. N. Toure

#11 - Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley

#12 -The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

#13 - The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell

#14 - The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore

#15 - Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can't Commit  by RM Johnson

#16 - Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins

#17 - Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell

#18 - A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose by Eckhart Tolle

#19 - John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard

#20 - Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris

#21 - Age Ain't Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice

#22 - 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino
#23 - Chicken Soup for the Prisoner's Soul by Tom Lagana
#24 - 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields

#25 - Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class  by Lisa B. Thompson

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Blacks in Hispanic Literature: Critical Essays

Edited by Miriam DeCosta-Willis 

Blacks in Hispanic Literature is a collection of fourteen essays by scholars and creative writers from Africa and the Americas. Called one of two significant critical works on Afro-Hispanic literature to appear in the late 1970s, it includes the pioneering studies of Carter G. Woodson and Valaurez B. Spratlin, published in the 1930s, as well as the essays of scholars whose interpretations were shaped by the Black aesthetic. The early essays, primarily of the Black-as-subject in Spanish medieval and Golden Age literature, provide an historical context for understanding 20th-century creative works by African-descended, Hispanophone writers, such as Cuban Nicolás Guillén and Ecuadorean poet, novelist, and scholar Adalberto Ortiz, whose essay analyzes the significance of Negritude in Latin America. This collaborative text set the tone for later conferences in which writers and scholars worked together to promote, disseminate, and critique the literature of Spanish-speaking people of African descent. . . . Cited by a literary critic in 2004 as "the seminal study in the field of Afro-Hispanic Literature . . . on which most scholars in the field 'cut their teeth'."

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Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America

By Melissa V. Harris-Perry

According to the author, this society has historically exerted considerable pressure on black females to fit into one of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the Matriarch or the Jezebel.  The selfless Mammy’s behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks’ domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own family’s needs. By contrast, the relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.     

Professor Perry points out how the propagation of these harmful myths have served the mainstream culture well. For instance, the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for black females to feel a maternal instinct towards Caucasian babies.

As for the source of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their own bodies during slavery given that they were being auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless, it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate indiscriminately.

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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Negro Digest / Black World

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery / George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

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update  4 February 2012




   Home  Kalamu Table   Black Tech Review  Hip Hop Table

Related files:  Is A Sonnet More Than Fourteen Lines    On Writing Haiku     WORDS: A Neo-Griot Manifesto     That Old Black Magic     The Myth of Solitude    What Is Black Poetry

in the hot house of black poetry another furious flowering --  Part I / Part II  /  Part III  /  Part IV  /