Amoeblog

Killer of Sheep

Posted by Amoebite, February 17, 2009 10:43am | Post a Comment
Killer of Sheep is a beautifully simple urban tale of an African-American community set in Los Angeles' Watts district during the 1970s. Yes, the 1960s included a cultural revolution toward racial freedom, but history often assures us that problems are far more complex than just a cry for racial freedom. Every community has its individual fight, and here we follow Stan, frustrated with the monotony of working at a slaughter house, and we see how it affects his life at home.

killer of sheep

It is notable how personal the film feels. It makes sense – Charles Burnett wrote, produced, shot, and killer of sheepdirected it with a budget of less than $10,000 with the help of many close friends and family. The result is a natural, humanistic style. It takes a lot of courage for a director to let a story work inside out, and that's where the simplicity lies. Emotion is often wallpaper when complicated plots involve twists and turns. Instead, here, we are embraced in moments within relationships, moments of hardship, moments of tenderness, and moments of family togetherness.

Our generation is fortunate to witness this DVD release of the film – the film never saw its release until 30 years (2007) after its completion due to music rights not being secured. It also includes another feature length, My Brother's Wedding, Burnett's timeless second feature about characters from Los Angeles' South Central.

-Tiffany Huang

Who's black and whose black?

Posted by Eric Brightwell, February 17, 2009 12:00am | Post a Comment

As Black History Month rolls on, I asked myself a question that may seem stupid to most people: Who exactly is black and who is not? And how is it decided? Does the individual or society determine what we are or is it a combination of both? Are there other factors? Is this the Family Feud or actual objective science?
 

In 2009, all rational and educated people now accept that race is a human construct, which isn't to say that it's meaningless. As long as people are treated differently (preferentially, discriminatorily or just differently based on presupposed differences) on the basis of race, how society constructs and applies that race is worth thinking about. And, ideally, there shouldn't be any shame in recognizing broad cultural differences either. Why should "white pride" be offensive? Pride in er-one, I say. Minor caveat: to even assume that American society has reached a consensus on race defies reality – that's why Dave Chappelle instituted the racial draft. So step with me into a blog of shadows and substance, things and ideas into, to coin a phrase, The Twilight Zone.

 

Requiem for The Phantom: marking a decade since the passing of the legendary Horace Tapscott

Posted by Mark Beaver, February 17, 2009 12:00am | Post a Comment
I remember lying on a couch in my room in Oakland, sometime in either 1989 or 1990. Afternoon light was pouring in my window and I was in a hypnogogic state, somewhere between waking and dreaming. My mind was occupied with the vision of long and dark brown hands holding what looked to be a piece of blue glass. The agile hands turned the glass over and over again, and with each turning, facets appeared, polished and refracting light. The glass was becoming more and more ornate and I remember thinking that it was "perfecting." Suddenly, I sat bolt upright, realizing that I was having a visual experience of the music I was listening to at the moment: The title track from the recently issued LP by Horace Tapscott, Dark Tree.

Tapscott was working a theme on the piano, turning it over and over, and every time it came around, there was more beauty in it. And every time it came around, there was less of anything superfluous. The theme, under his long, dark fingers, was "perfecting."

Released again in 2000 by Swiss Hatology label on double limited edition CD with its companion volume, Dark Tree 1 & 2 is a document of what I have come to consider one of the most important jazz quartets of all time. Featuring Tapscott on piano, John Carter on clarinet, Cecil McBee on contrabass and Andrew Cyrille on drums, it is a fleeting glimpse into not only a rare recording by this astounding group, but a rare small group recording for Tapscott, altogether.

Born in Houston, Texas in 1934, he moved with his musical family to Los Angeles when he was 9, where he was steeped in the vital jazz scene around L.A.'s Central Avenue. He studied piano as well as trombone with teachers who also taught the young Eric Dolphy and Frank Morgan. After a stint in the U.S. Air Force Band, he returned to L.A., and eventually joined Lionel Hampton's Big Band as a trombonist.

Back in Los Angeles through the sixties, Tapscott's work in the emerging Avant Garde was gaining more attention. In 1968, he worked with Sonny Criss, providing all of the arrangements and composition for Sonny's Dream (Prestige).

His first recording as a leader, The Giant Is Awakened, also featured the debut recordings of saxophonist Arthur Blythe and bassist David Bryant.

Tapscott was outspoken about racial discrimination and his role as a community organizer, social critic and his perceived connection with the Black Panther Party (he arranged and conducted Elaine Brown's controversial Seize The Time album) got him blacklisted from the music industry through most of the early '70s.

Increasingly vital as a community organizer and musical force in Watts and surrounding communities, Tapscott formed the Pan-Afrikan Peoples Arkestra, based out of Watts' Immanuel United Church of Christ. Over the years, his work with the Arkestra and the U.G.M.A.A. (Union of God's Musicians & Artists Ascension) would involve and develop some of L.A.'s most brilliant composers, vocalists and performers, including vocalist Dwight Trible, poet and vocalist Kamau Daaood, bassists Roberto Miranda and Henry Franklin, saxophonists Azar Lawrence, Sabia Matteen, James Andrews, and flautist Adele Sebastian, amongst scores more.



















The '80s and '90s saw more recording work for Tapscott, as his importance gathered greater international recognition. He recorded his aforementioned Dark Tree recordings as well as multiple solo and group recordings for the Nimbus label and a duo of astounding documents, Aiee! the Phantom (1995) and Thoughts of Dar Es Salaam (1996) for the Arabesque label.



















There are two fine books on the market that document not only Tapscott's life, but the Los Angeles Arts Community to which he was so committed, both by Steve Isoardi.


























Horace Tapscott passed away from lung cancer 10 years ago this February 27. I consider myself blessed to have seen him perform at least once, in a series of duets concerts organized at Oakland's Koncepts Cultural Gallery in the late '80s. If I remember correctly, his duet partner was the legendary drummer Andrew Cyrille.

People who know me know that I love jazz. I find it both amusing and sad that, when asked who my favorite jazz musician is (an impossible question to many), I answer, "Horace Tapscott." No hesitation. My reply is, more often than not, received with a confused silence. Too many have never heard the name before.

He was the pinnacle, the jewel in the lotus. Tapscott was a man of community and family, he was a craftsman who worked and worked at his art, turned the unformed blue glass of his life into a perfected and multi-faceted jewel that sent refractions of sheer beauty across timespace. His work reverberates today, a decade after his passing, and it will for a long time to come. And all of this was accomplished without the energy provided by what we classically call "fame." I am always humbled when I reflect on his life and work. May peace be on his soul.

Kamau Daaood reads his poem for Horace Tapscott:

Continue reading...

African American Lives

Posted by Amoebite, February 10, 2009 04:36pm | Post a Comment
African American Lives is a great documentary that uses history, genealogy, and new technologies toafrican american lives retrace the violently and deliberately erased ancestral histories of a group of participants, all of African ancestry, whose relatives were, for the most part, brought over involuntarily from Africa. The answers it provides are often thought-provoking in ways that most discussions about race aren't.

The host is Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr, a W.E.B. DuBois professor of the Humanities and the Chair of African and African-American Studies at Harvard University. I’d seen Gates in Wonders of the African World where he seemed to feign ignorance about everything he learned about through his travels in Africa. I mean, he’s got some pretty big credentials and yet he’d continually act like he had no idea about the realities of his chosen subject of expertise until his interviewees revealed it to him. It seemed like he felt that pretending that everything was new to him would make him more identifiable to us, the presumably ignorant viewers. In this documentary, unfortunately, he does the same schtik which is just about its only shortcoming, although it can be sort of funny. For example, he “guesses” that, given his appearance, his ancestors came from the East African kingdom of Nubia (huh?!), despite the fact that nearly all slaves in the U.S. came from the West Coast slave centers built centuries earlier, not by Europeans, but by other Africans. Of course it turns out that 0% of slaves were Nubian. His surprise at his DNA results seems genuine though when they reveal that his matrilineal line goes back to Ireland.

And race gets complicated for others too. The documentary points out that the vast majority of African-Americans have suboprahstantial genetic ties to Europe through slave owners and, far less often, voluntary miscegenation. Realizing that more blacks are descended from slave owners than whites was something I’d never thought about before. Chris Tucker is the only participant to go back to his African roots, in his case to modern Angola, revealing a sedate and emotional side quite unlike his hysterical, shrieking film persona. South Africa-obsessed Oprah Winfrey seems positively gutted to find out that Dr. Mae Jemison her ancestors came from, you guessed it, West Africa and not the out-of-the-way Zulu homeland she was clearly rooting for. Dr. Mae Jemison (the first African American Woman in space) finds out that she has Chinese relatives whereas her physical appearance had always been passed down as having been owed to that old stand-by, Native Americans. Everyone’s results are interesting and frequently revelatory and show how all of us, regardless of our backgrounds, preconceptions and physical appearance, can find out a lot about who our ancestors were, and that it often won’t bear much similarity to what we’d thought was the truth.

Continue reading...

Black History Month 2009: A Convict's Perspective - X-Raided, Part II. Q&A with incarcerated rapper from Pleasant Valley State Prison

Posted by Billyjam, February 10, 2009 03:07pm | Post a Comment
x-raided the eternally unforgiven project
This is the second part in the exclusive two-part Black History Month: A Convict's Perspective by X-Raided, for the Amoeblog Black HIstory Month series. The first part, posted a little earlier and found immediately below this Amoeblog, is an essay that I invited longtime incarcerated Sacramento rapper Anerae "X-Raided" Brown to pen on what Black History Month means to him from where he sits: the California State Penitentiary in Coalinga. This part is a Q&A with him.

Due to the prison recently being on lockdown, both this interview (via mail) and his insightul essay on what Black History Month means to him, took longer to get done than initially anticipated. But such is the plight of living a life behind bars, something that Anerae addresses in both of these engaging Black Hisotry Month Amoeblogs which might be a little long but are well worth taking the time to read.

Now 34 years of age, Brown has been incarcerated for half of his life, since the age of 17. From his early to mid teens in Sacramento, X-Raided had been an active member of the 24th Street Garden Blocc Crips gang -- even long before his first release came out. In 1992 he was arrested for his alleged part, along with several others, in the fatal shooting of Patricia Harris (the mother of a rival gang member). Brown has never denied being present at the shooting but has always maintained his innocence, in that he was not the one who pulled the trigger. Adhering to the unwritten "No Snitch" code of the streets, he would not tell cops who did pull the trigger. “I could have testified and gone home,” the rapper famously said in an interview at the time. “But I kept it real.” Hence, he is still incarcerated on murder conspiracy charges with a 31 year sentence. His first album, Psycho Active, came out in 1992 and made history when it was used in court against him, with authorities playing music from the indie rap album and also citing the cover art (the rapper's face with a .38-caliber handgun pressed to his temple --see below) as evidence in the case against Brown.

Continue reading...
BACK  <<  14  15  16  17  18  19  20  21  22  23  24  25  >>  NEXT