Urban haps of a grrrl on a mission to be a better writer, a new music master-blaster and a wonderfully brilliant razor-packing, MAC LipGlass wearing feminista...

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Alice Smith Arrives In Wonderland

Last night after getting my swerve on at Japan Society (more on that in another post), I headed over to the Nokia Theater to catch Alice Smith and Citizen Cope. As you know I just love her CD as it seems everyone else who has also heard it. I was especially interested in seeing Alice because she's been on tour for the last three months and I wanted to see what, if anything, did the road teach her about performing live. Well I am too happy to report that homegrrrl has picked up and mastered some very important lessons and tricks. Seeing her belt out songs and relate to the audience with such immediacy and warmth and humility and just be so in sync with her tight as$ band just made me think about something Chaka Khan said to me many, many years ago at Tramps when I had the privilege of hanging with her backstage. I had just interviewed The Brothers Johnson (her opening act) and was sharing with her one of the Brother’s realizations about their current musical status and how it was by and large defined by their stage show and touring. They didn't have videos or any new cd's coming out. She replied how she knew how to sing before she toured but she cut her teeth on the road and became Chaka Khan on the road and how it was again becoming her bread and butter both financially and artistically speaking. Then in total Ms. Khan mode she threw everyone out her dressing room-- "All you bitches have got to go." She then pointed to me and said, "Except you. You’re a good bitch." And there began the first of two of the most memorable nights of my life hanging with Chaka backstage and in her dressing room. I digress.

Anyway I've heard the same thing from Amel Larriuex too and just seeing Alice last night brought it all home for me in many ways. I’ve been watching Alice perform for about 4 years now, maybe more. From Burnt Sugar to Jolie Fuego to performing solo it’s been a real ride watching her extend and contract with every twist and turn. I must say in every band she brought a different kind of sound to the table but she always brought that voice which is sexy and quirky, commanding and playful. Now under the tutelage of Citizen Cope (who’s performance was also dope) her singing is richer, stronger and more embraceable than ever. When she was finishing up her set I was so caught up that tears welled up in my eyes and Lord knows I had to fight hard to keep them from spilling over and moistening my cheeks. I imagine it was like watching your child graduate from school. It was pride and fulfillment in a dream you didn’t even realize was so much your own. The last two songs of her set (and actually of her tour) were Love Endeavor and Desert Song.

In Love Endeavor she danced and then wailed, “This love endeavor don’t have to last forever/ c'mon and share whatever you want with me/ Don’t want to mislead you/ Just come on over,” and couldn’t help but wonder if this had become a mantra for her especially now that she has signed a major deal with Sony Music. Well if it hasn’t, it better be because that deal may come with exposure on MTV and some nice dollars, but it doesn't guarantee fame or even the love and loyalty of fans. Having worked at Sony for three years I know that their track record with women of color who sing the alternative joints is inconsistent at best and totally effed up at worst. Cree Summer, Amel Larrieux, Macy Gray, Jeni Fujita, Sophia Ramos and Dionne Farris are just a few of their former artists that come to mind. The last song of the night, which is my favorite on the album (along with Dream) was Desert Song. All I know is when she grabbed the mic and leaned back and sang or should I say testified, “My momma said life is for living and if you aren’t happy, honey go out and reinvent yourself (cause) the desert is good,” I thought folks were going to bumrush the stage. It was just that momentous up in that joint. The crowd-- a mosh of college students and effervescent 20-somethings knew about the desert it seemed and at that moment we all knew Margie (Alice's mom) ain’t say no lie. It was a coming home like I don’t think she’s ever had and I for one am proud to say I was a witness.

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Friday, November 10, 2006

NBA Wives Posting Up & Making Moves

Here lately the women married to pro-basketball players are making just as much press as their high-profile counterparts. There was Vanessa clutching the hand of her weeping, fornicating hubby Kobe. Then there's the other Vanessa (the former Miss America), who got on The Wendy Williams Show and said that if she ever caught her husband in a situation like Kobe's she would not be as sympathetic. I think she used the term "beatdown" to describe how it would play out and as we all know as soon as the current co-star of Ugly Betty saw those photos of Rick Fox hugged up on some other chick their marriage was a wrap. (BTW have you seen the recent photos of Vanessa & her 29-year old boytoy, errr boyfriend-- I ain't mad at you grrrl!) Oh and we can't forget Kendra Davis who got in an altercation with a fan while in Chicago at a Bulls-Knicks game. Mrs. Davis from the video I saw totally showed her arse—neck rolling, teeth sucking, finger-pointing and cursing all while the fan sat there in shock and awe. Of course that led to her hubby rushing the stands and then being suspended for five games and subsequently traded to the Raptors to never be heard from again!

And recently I stumbled on an article in a mag that will remain nameless for now because I am so disgusted by their current cover story (can you guess which one) about Doug Christie and his wife Jackie. From the short Q&A and from the press release promoting their new show Committed, Jackie sounds like a total loon-- insanely insecure, jealous, controlling and demanding. If nothing else, and I do mean nothing else, her adoring qualities make for a great reality show, at least that's what the folks at BET are hoping. But check it, the press release states:
The Christies are a committed couple with a loving relationship that transcends the household. Jackie travels with Doug for the team’s away games; prohibits Doug from granting interviews to female reporters without her presence and the couple has had a re-commitment ceremony in each of the ten years since their marriage.
As if this is something healthy or aspirational or even normal!

Well I guess the rest of the NBA wives are tired of the few bad apples that keep spoiling their Pradaesqued profile so besides the ones that double as authors (Crystal McCrary Anthony) and book store owners (Rita Ewing & Celeste Johnson) there's the quaint, and very aspirational crew who actively form Behind The Bench. Last night I attended a BTB benefit at Audemars Piguet on East 57th Street. I was invited by Morris Reid of Westin Rinehart (he's the dude that has the very fabulous benefit [w/his wife] for VH-1 every summer in the Hamptons-- maybe this means next year I'll get an invitation). Needless to say I wasn't sure what to expect especially since my perception of NBA wives have no doubt been tainted by the aforementioned and more of what I've seen personally at industry parties and All-Star Weekend events. But since my neighbor, Marita, who is married to Earl "The Pearl" Monroe is one of the most down-to-earth peeps I know, I was hopeful. As soon I got there I saw Marita and her daughter Maya. I grabbed a glass of Moet and looked around, talked to a couple of people and looked at more watches (I absolutely love watches so I was totally content).

The party itself could have been a benefit given by anybody for anything meaning that there really wasn't an overt or obvious NBA slant to it except for when Shaquille showed up (and get this he turned down Charisse Jordan's request to take a photograph with her because Shaunie his wifey would not be obliged and Charisse, please know, is the President of BTB and is married to a coach-- kinda reeked of that crazy NBA wifey paranoia, huh). The music was banging courtesy of Damon DeGraff and even the President of Audemars, NA-- Francois-Henry Bennahmias was getting down to Rick James' Give It To Me Baby-- and let me tell you Franco's got mad rhythm. So I guess you can say it was all good as I think I also saw a couple of folks buying watches and the money that they are raising from these events (the next one will be in Vegas during All Star Weekend) will go to charities like various Boys and Girls Clubs around the country. If nothing else, BTB does something in the way of raising the profile of NBA wives. And it's definitely gotta be a better use of ones energy than sitting next to your man in a stinky locker room while he is being interviewed by Ananda Lewis.

Friday, November 03, 2006

BK Grrrls - Wangechi, Mickalene, Aissata & co.

If I were to believe Biggie or even the now defunct NRG Magazine, Brooklyn girls supposedly got it going on. And if last night's sojourn from the Heights to Bed Stuy proved anything it was just that—that like the sprawling terrain itself, the grrrls too are mad deep. First stop was this Stoop Series co-presented by BRIC's Rotunda Gallery, which I had never heard of and NY Magazine. I've been on NY Mag's guest list for events for almost two years now and I don't remember them ever doing anything in Brooklyn and surely nothing that centered around the work of not one, but two Black women. So needless to say I was looking forward to this event that featured a conversation with artists Wangechi Mutu and Mickalene Thomas. I met Wangechi a year ago at a birthday party and ever since I've been hearing things (mostly good) about her seemingly everywhere so I was especially amped to see if she lived up to the hype. I has seen her work up close at this reception given for the President of Liberia at the Nubian Heritage and though it was aight. Honestly I wasn't really moved by her work until last night when this Kenyan homegrrrl started breaking down the symbolism and metaphors that define her collage. I was totally in awe as she talked about her creative process and how that is fueled by African history, sexism and sexuality, race and politics. She was saying things like:
When I am in my studio there is no white or black—(there's) no race. Nothing can stop me from what (I) have to do.
I started to think what does it mean to change these images of Black women? And how do we define beauty. In a way I guess I violate these images. It's a critique though-- the hacking and the cutting and that happens within beauty. I don't believe in purity. My cutting, and hacking is actually who we are.
True dat!

Mickalene who was inspired by photographer Adrian Piper was less garrulous, but made interesting points nonetheless:
People usually associate eroticism with pornography and for me those are two different things. For me eroticism is a creative energy of empowerment—our history, our language, where we are from.

This was a very cool event with free Brooklyn lagers to boot-- definitely worth the trek over the bridge! While there I caught up with Knox Robinson formerly of this mag. He was telling me about this group, Hypnotic, he was co-managing who I had just seen perform at the Union Square subway station. These cats, who are all blood brothers, are The Truth yo! They are a hiphop brass ensemble that just kills! Look out for them as they are on the come-up for shizzy.

I finally met Laylah Barrayn for the first time face-to-face after emailing each other for about 2 years. She's another BK girl doing wonderful work in photography. And talking about a sister doing big thangs... right before leaving I met Isolde Brielmaier who is the Director and Chief Curator at the Rotunda. This grrrl has lectured on international art damn near everywhere from Harlem to Australia and doesn't look like she's even blown out 35 b-day candles yet!

Next stop was Bed Stuy for a Scorpio birthday party for my comrade, artist Aissata Pinto da Costa and her friend Cindy Blackman who is a great musician in her own right, but is popularly known for drumming with Lenny Kravitz's band. Folks were mainly chillin talking about music, movies and politics. The fish was great and I think it came from this Bed Stuy joint called Dakar. Got a chance to see Koki again and she tells me that she is designing and styling for Prince’s new muse, Tamar, and a bunch of other artists who will be performing at his new Vegas spot. She's going out there next week and so hope fully I will get the scoop from her soon. Took a cab back home and it really seemed like uptown was another galaxy away.

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Wednesday, November 01, 2006

A Brand New Heavied Halloween

There was a time not so long ago when I dared not venture out the house on Halloween. I would stay home from work, munching on all that Halloween candy I had bought for Trick or Treaters who, I somehow knew, would never show. This year though I went in to the office and actually enjoyed being out and about in this crazy, yet wonderful springtime weather with all the kids in costume frolicking about all giddy for candy corn. It was a sorta idyllic now that I think about it, but then again I work on the Upper East Side, so in a way it's to be expected. On my way uptown things slowly changed and I was reminded of the Halloweens of my youth when boys and girls would fill balloons with Nair and launch them at girls with long hair. I'll never forget walking home from Girl Scouts and seeing this girl screaming with blood dripping from her cheek. The shell of an egg that was aimed right for her face had cut her eyeball. Her classmate had clearly hit his mark. The thrill of trick-or-treating came to an abrupt end when sometime in the early 80’s razors and pins kept turning up in the Milky Way and Snickers bars. And I won't even tell you how much I've always hated bobbing for apples. Even at 9 years old I knew that tub of water had to be mixed with all sorts of spittle and snot. If I wasn't the first to bob then I wasn't bobbing. Simple as that. So last night as I got to 116th and 3rd it was cool to see all the Latina mamis with their children out about getting goodies and laughing, but it was also disheartening to see the teenage boys lurking on the corner with their crates of eggs, wearing Skeletor masks or my favorite, the old man in the bodega who turned to me after playing his numbers and snarled "trick or treat baby" in my ear as I purchased my Guinness.

But I must say this Halloween was not at all bad because I had tix to see The Brand New Heavies at The Apollo and they were off the chain. Unfortunately I missed most of the opening act-- Amel Larrieux, who I absolutely love and respect. I heard the last two songs of her set—Get Up and Tell Me (from her Groove Theory days) and was so mad that I wasn't able to get there earlier to hear her entire set. Back in the day I worked with Amel as her publicist and can honestly say I never grew tired of seeing her live. She really puts every fiber of her being into singing each lyric. At the end of her set, her two daughters Sky and Sanji Rei came on stage. I tell you time really goes by so quickly. I feel like it was just yesterday that we were on the road and her girls were probably like 4 and 6 at the time and they were so shy. Well last night night dressed in Geisha Girl costumes they came out and sang the hook on Tell Me. It could not have been cuter!

The Heavies hit the stage around 10pm and did the damn thing. Yo, that N'Dea Davenport knows how to work an audience and make us crazy. She was whirling around, shimmying, and jumping up and down all while cocooned in this black patent leather cat suit outfit that she eventually ripped when bending over for her tambourine. She was fierce and no doubt had to be hot. At first I don't think the Apollo crowd was ready to get down and jam the way the Heavies are accustomed to, but by the time they did their current single "I Don’t Know Why" everyone was off their feet and literally dancing in the aisles. I didn't realized how much I missed that beautiful sweaty, funkdafied vibe you get from a really good live band. It is really a moment from an era on its way out the doors and outta NYC. With CB's closing last week and places like The Cooler, Tramps and Wetlands now but a memory it makes me sad knowing that the time I had last night-- feeding off the energy of a high energy funk soul band is something totally foreign to a whole generation of folk. Needless to say, when guitarist Simon Bartholomew handed me his yellow guitar pick as I stood right in front of the stage and said, "here's something to remember a cool Halloween night at The Apollo," I was feeling sorta like a groupie, but then I mostly felt nostalgic and inspired.