Monday, December 21, 2009

Book Review: The Tao of Wu-The Rza

The Tao of Wu, a memoir by a founding member of The Wu-Tang Clan and music industry mogul, The Rza, is a deeply profound collection of stories, lessons, and thoughts. The Rza not only gives readers an insider's perspective on how The Wu-Tang Clan came to leave an indelible mark on the music industry, but he weaves the teachings of Taoism, Islam, and his own hip-hop philosophies into his story.

The Rza presents very meaningful, profound teachings through his own unique language and perspective. Using the common denominator of knowledge, The Rza is able to present truths taken from Taoism, Islam, the game of Chess, and a variety of other philosophies from different parts of the world. In using broadly accepted principles, he is able to let readers relate to his experiences, which is no small feat considering he has seen and done things of which most readers will only have dreamt.

For anyone who is a fan of the Wu-Tang Clan, this book is a must-read. The Rza details exactly how the group came to be from the Kung-Fu movies that piqued his interest in Eastern culture, to the strategies he employed to market and promote the individuals in the group to become stars and lift the profile of Wu as a whole. His heartfelt memories of the events leading up to Ol Dirty Bastard's death as well as his description of how he prevented Method Man from being shot to death in a housing project in Staten Island are both moving accounts.

This book is informative on many levels. It permeates knowledge both ethereal and material. The Rza is a perfect example of why hip-hop culture deserves much more credit than it gets as a legitimate, thought-provoking art-form.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Help The Sway Machinery Make Their Pilgrimage to Mali

As I mentioned in my article in The Huffington Post, The Sway Machinery have been invited to perform at The Festival in The Desert, a music festival in Northern Mali featuring some of the best musicians in the world. They're also planning on recording an album in Bamako, Mali at Ali Farka Toure's studio. They've enlisted an Emmy Award winning documentarian to go with them on their trip to share their journey with the world.

I'll let Jeremiah Lockwood, The Sway Machinery's frontman, tell you the rest: "The missing ingredient is not passion or artistic achievement or even opportunity...we have already received the invitation to perform at one of the largest music festivals in Mali on the same stage with the legends of West African music! The missing ingredient, sadly, is money. At this moment, I come to you all with open hands, wishing that you will open yourselves to our passionate desire to see this project to fruition and that you will help us in any way you can!"

If you are willing and able, please donate what you can to make this amazing journey possible.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Zongo Junction w/ Meta and The Cornerstones Tomorrow Night @ Public Assembly

If you're in BK tomorrow night and looking to get funky with some afrolicious flavor, check out Zongo Junction, the monthly afrobeat party at Public Assembly featuring Meta and The Cornerstones this month. This party is dedicated to showcasing the freshest afrocentric talent in the city, so take advantage of the opportunity and show some support to some of the freshest cats on the scene doing big things for the afro-community.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Film Review-Throw Down Your Heart

Throw Down Your Heart tells the beautiful story of Bela Fleck's journey to Africa to find the true history of his instrument, the banjo. Traveling from Tennessee to Uganda, Tanzania, The Gambia, and Mali, Fleck finds what he's looking for on a deeply spiritual level transcending language and cultural barriers along the way.

This film is more than documentation of Bela Fleck's trip across Africa. It is a testimony to the amazing power of music to unite and act as a universal language. The filmmakers and sound engineers do a spectacular job of capturing the process by which Fleck is able to connect musically and otherwise with musicians and people across the continent. The moment in The Gambia where he sees the akonting for the first time (the instrument most widely regarded as the banjo's direct ancestor) is truly priceless.

My favorite segments of the film were in Mali and Tanzania. Having spent time in East Africa myself, I could relate especially to the culture and scenery of Tanzania shown in the film. The city of Bagamoyo in Tanzania gives the film its name. Bagamoyo translates to Throw Down Your Heart in English. The city got its name from the East African Slave Trade. Slaves would be taken to the Tanzanian coast on the Indian Ocean. After seeing the beautiful ocean, the ships, the sand, the waves, they would never return to their inland village. They would, "Throw Down Their Heart" and never return.

Fleck's trip to Mali will make any African music enthusiast extremely jealous. He is greeted at the airport by Oumou Sangare and given an ambassador's welcome. He then collaborates with Malian musical legends Djelimady Tounkara, Basekou Kouyaté, and Oumou Sangare with the help of Brooklyn's own Banning Eyre (shout out to Afropop Worldwide) to make some beautiful music that bridges the gap across the Atlantic Ocean seamlessly.

This film and the album to which it gave birth, are not the first of their kind. American musicians have traveled to the motherland to get in touch with their musical roots many times before. I've reviewed albums and read books that all detail the same experience, but this film and album especially are different for several reasons.

First of all, Bela Fleck isn't just your average musician. Regarded as one of the best banjo players in the world, Fleck shows why in this film. His magically swift fingers glide up and down his fret board throughout the film which mesh perfectly with the African style highlighted especially by Djelimady Tounkara in Mali. Not just any musician could speak the African music language so fluently. A key element of the film was Fleck's experience time and time again, stunning people in new countries or towns with skill on the banjo. It's exactly that skill that allowed him to gain people's respect so instantly.

Second, because of his status, experience, and success as a musician, Fleck is able to go on a trip of which most musicians can only dream. He has the money and connections to go exactly where he wanted to go and connect with exactly the right people to make beautiful music everywhere he went. Having traveled in Africa myself, I can say from experience, it's not cheap or easy to fly from New York to Kampala, Uganda, to Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, to Dakar, Senegal, to Bamako, Mali, back to New York. Overall, that must have cost over $50,000 at least for him and his entourage, and that's just travel expenses.

All that money spent is definitely worth it. This is a beautiful film and album that give credit where it's due. It's not particularly common for established American musicians to travel across the Atlantic just to pay homage to Africa and its historical contributions to American music. This film will inspire you to make a pilgrimage of your own or simply to look at music of the American south from a new perspective.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Two Afro-Jams This Weekend

DJ Afro-Marc will be throwin down this Friday night at The Knitting Factory for Ikebe Shakedown's EP Release Party. Mamarazzi and Zongo Junction will also be hitting the stage in a night full of Afro-funk. Combining traditional African rhythmic textures with melodies and grooves steeped in American funk, soul, & jazz, Ikebe Shakedown offers a unique & powerful sound. The 8-piece, Brooklyn-based band formed in early 2009 and, after a slew of dates around NYC, recorded their debut 7” single and EP, Hard Steppin’, at Dunham Studios in June.

If you didn't get enough afro-funk on Friday, Saturday night, Makossa International is the summer dance party you needed: Highlife, Soukous, Afrobeat, and some hot new styles--bringing together some of the highlights in Brooklyn's equatorial music scene. The event takes place at Studio BPM, located at 237 Kent Avenue between Grand Street and N. 1st Street. Makossa International warms up at 10 P.M. with a DJ set from Awesome Tapes From Africa. King Expressers, on at 11pm, features players from Antibalas and Akoya Afrobeat. They bring a new style spun off of their favorite African dance music with soulful and exciting horns and harmonies.

Mandingo Ambassadors hit at midnight: led by legendary Guinean guitarist Mamady Kouyate, The Ambassadors play an entrancing, endlessly grooving style that is 100% Manding. The party continues into the night with more Awesome Tapes. There is a suggested donation of $10 at the door.