Sometimes a city, a state, a country just moves you to sing a song in its honor. And some songs – and singers – are better than others. These soulfully chill paeans to places near and far help transport you when you can’t get there quick enough. Enjoy.
Chaka Khan – “A Night in Tunisia”
Fania All Stars – “Isla del Encanto” (That’d be Puerto Rico, Isle of Enchantment.)
Tom Browne – “Funkin’ for Jamaica”
Cesaria Evora – “São Vicente di Longe” (One of the isles of Cape Verde)
In Brazil, “the delineation between black and white is blurred, with the overwhelming majority somewhere in the middle. But white remains the color of aspiration, and black the color of a history that some would prefer to forget.”
In continued recognition of Black Consciousness Month in Brazil, I’d like you to take a quick 45 minutes of your time to watch this eye-opening and well-produced BBC documentary released in 2000 called Brazil: An Inconvenient History. In it, the narrator and featured scholars discuss in painful detail the destruction of the indigenous population, the unmitigated brutality of Portuguese slave owners, the forced concubinage of indigenous and African women, the complicity of the Catholic church, and the reasons why African culture is much more palpable in Brazil than in other New World slave-based societies like the United States.
It’s well-known that Brazil was the last major slave-holding country to officially abolish the institution, granting its remaining slaves freedom in 1888 without any further assistance to become a productive part of society such as the Freedmen’s Bureau in the US. Keep in mind that my mother’s grandmother would have been born a slave in Brazil, and we’re talking a decade after Karl Benz (yes, that Benz) invented the damn modern automobile engine!
What does slavery have to do with modern Brazil, if it ended “so long ago?”
“The legacy of slavery to modern Brazil is huge: the racial inequality, the fact that the majority of blacks are poor, that they are not as well-educated as whites. But you also have positive results as well. Not of slavery itself but of the slaves, in terms of the music, in terms of the religion, made Brazilian culture much richer than it would have been without the presence of Africans in Brazil.”
“The heady mix of music, religion, dance, and sport can sometimes blur the less-appealing legacy of slavery: homelessness, street children, unemployment. A country built on sugar has left a bitter taste in the mouths of many…Brazil still looks like a colonial society…[it’s] the world leader in inequality.”
‘Tis the season for chilly, grey, rainy weather across much of the Northern Hemisphere, and as a Florida boy, I’m ill-equipped to handle too much gloom for the next few months. Music, however, can often make an uncomfortable experience much bearable, and these icy little numbers—at turns melancholy, ethereal, moody, blue—allow me to embrace the cold, where ever I may be (and yes, it can get chilly in Brazil, too). That said, here’s hoping for an early spring!
Shot in and around the vast, gritty warrens of downtown São Paulo—also known as Sampa—the short but thrilling Samparkour takes viewers through the heart of one of the world’s largest cities by way of parkour, an extreme sport that is at turns skillful acrobatics and dumb luck. Much of the action takes place in my old neck of the woods, reminding me of how much I actually love this grimy, exhilarating concrete jungle. Make sure your shoes are laced up tight before trying this at home:
Some of you might know Japanese supastar DJ Towa Tei from his days as part of electro-disco group Deee-Lite, but after the foursome broke up in the mid-90s, TT set off on his own with a couple of sumptuous lounge-soul-house discs (see Last Century Modern) featuring collabs with underground rapper extraordinaire Bahamadia and Afro-Euro chanteuses Les Nubians. A few of my favorite songs by Towa Tei include his bossa nova-infused lounge tracks that keep the juices flowing regardless of whether I’m working or relaxing. Taking it back to the 90s, bossanese-style!
Should all the stars align and everything go according to plan, I will be touching down in my very first sub-Saharan African country at the end of June: Ghana. For ten days, I’ll be soaking up the culture and history of Accra, capital city of a country whose inhabitants, whether they accept it or not, are my cousins, my family. Pan-Africanist Kwame Nkrumah was born there. Pan-Africanist WEB Du Bois died there. I expect to discover something of myself there.
Any suggestions on activities to be done, experiences to be had, and people to know while in Accra will be greatly appreciated. Meanwhile, take a gander at these videos about Ghana’s new generation of leaders, its reception of Diasporic blacks, and its colors and flavors via Anthony Bourdain:
This weekend, I popped over to San Francisco on business and caught a bit of the city’s kinda underwhelming Cinco de Mayo celebration at Dolores Park (I think there was a ban on alcohol at the event. While I’m no drinker, I do concede the libation’s role as social lubricant and crowd loosener-upper). The standout presentation was the traditional Mexican dance company Ensambles Ballet Folklórico de San Francisco, which gave an impressive performance of the various regional dances of Mexico.
May 1st is International Workers Day (aka Labor Day everywhere else in the world but the USA). In Berlin, it’s known for anti-capitalist riots that started among the radical West German left in the late ’80s and even today, despite diminished ideology and heavier police presence, draws crowds of people anxious to throw their first Molotov cocktail as part of the perplexing concept of riot tourism. But in an effort to stave off destruction of person and property, the city redirects the energies of a contemporary wave of disaffected youths with MyFest, a vast music festival with sound trucks featuring house and reggae DJs, and live rock bands, with a name derived in hipster fashion from the German word for May (mai, pronounced “my”) and the desire to keep the young citizenry from tearing up their own ‘hoods. Local businesses participate by selling discounted food and cocktails on the sidewalk, in a not-so-secret effort to keep their windows from being broken. By the time night rolls around, the hope is that everyone’s too party-tipsy to care about beating “the system.” Hell, the system’s pretty much won anyway, so why not hit the streets and have a good time? I did!