Latest Blog Posts

by Diepiriye Kuku

24 Feb 2009

Feel Good live in 1972 on Soul Train is an awesome performance of an awesome song. I have always dreamt of being a Soul Train dancer, a dream that was shattered when I realized that most artists lip-synch on the show anyway. Yet, with Ike and Tina Turner I knew that the moves would be fierce and worth a click. I lucked out and caught a live show.

The close-ups of Tina clearly show that she could barely open her right eye. It was swollen damn near shut. Once I saw that, a homegirl rolling on the river had a much loftier protrusion, sitting watching the complicated energetic dance moves and precise lyrical steps. I imagined Tina getting away from that abusive man, and he being made to spend the rest of his natural black life looking for every which way to make amends to a whole generation of Soul Train fans who innocently came to see them on stage, and are confronted with a battered woman and a batterer!

Feel Good.

Searching through the YouTube’s ‘related videos’ on the sidebar reveals a host of other famous, infamous and even legendary bits of showmanship, like Marvin Gaye, live and likely ‘under the influence’. Then there was this mysterious video called “SOUL TRAIN LINE - WE THE PEOPLE 1972.” The title was unfamiliar, and boasted of no star act, which heightened my curiosity to see what lie between the lip-synched acts. Besides, I consider Soul Train lines a quintessential aspect of any folk gathering, much like west African dance at weddings, baptisms, and funerals—the drums challenging the dancers challenging each other for a faster, funkier beat. This is the legend of the Soul Train Line, or even popularized line dances like the Electric Slide, all of which can be seen on YouTube these days.

 

Of course, the outfits from this ’72 performance would appear strange to viewers now. One sister had a blond Afro the shone like a halo. Those fly Afros seems to have come back in style in the meantime. Another sister wore, well, I am not sure what she had on, but it covered her from her platforms to neck. Her outfit had lines and circles like an abstract art canvas. Most folks wore such fitted clothes that one could never tell where tops and bottoms began and ended. Then there was some guy, I swear I saw a sissy, twirling his arms as if he was whirling a baton. This Soul Train dancer was leading cheerleading camp.

I am a bonafide soul searcher. I grew up on soul music on the car radio, at home, and in relatives houses. Soul music made home. And we LOVED soul music. Isaac Hayes, Millie Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Patti Labelle, Anita Baker, Stax Records the list is endless.

My aunt Shirley had anything George Benson ever put out; She kept a cupboard of LP’s, but Give Me the Night was usually sitting on the floor resting against the wall near her stereo. I loved looking at the plain looking black man pictured on the cover, wearing a simple pullover and an honest grin. My aunt Johnetta loved her some James Brown, and just as naturally, Prince. She adored JB’s leadership and considered him a maestro. My uncle Wayne had Morris Day and the Time, and still rocks Frankie Beverly and Maze Live! Eugene, a classmate at Oberlin who lived and worked with me in Seoul, could break down all the reasons why even white soul singers like Bobby Caldwell say “Aaih” in place of “I.” Additionally, I hear Fela in the background and imagine my father packing up his albums for his voyage to America; clothes, Gari, addresses and Fela albums all had to accompany him. This Feel Good video has taken me to all those places. This almost slight appearance on Soul Train was a funky kind of soul that I had not heard in a while. Listening too it again, knowing that this sister can barely open her left eye, leads me to soul searching, again.

Who are we to know life so intimately yet take it so carelessly? Who are we to judge the decisions of another when it is clear that their actions are based on self-love? Who are we not to draw those close to use nearer to us, especially when they are in need. Who are we not to empower one another to aspire to do better and to want more happiness out of our lives despite and perhaps in spite of our lots? Don’t it Feel Good the way Tina plucks her shoulders as the bassist strums and heaves. Feel the really good deep base down in your hips. Bend over and let that base get in you. Snap like she do’ er’time Ike tells the man to hit the beat. And what a beat! Stomp, like Tina stomps and know that this feels real good.

by Rob Horning

24 Feb 2009

The Oscars are ancient history by now in the blogosphere, but I came across this post by Matt Feeney at The American Scene that makes an apt point about “Ocarness” that was absolutely borne out by the by and large predictable outcome.

For a long time, the Oscars have lived within a self-aggrandizing self-contradiction, in which “best” is unofficially hedged up and down with considerations of commercial success and a kind of Oscar-approved moral grandiosity, to the point that nobody thinks the “best” films and performances are actually the best and the whole conversation deteriorates into horse-picking that is implicitly cynical and also besotted with both the celeb-spectacle and the presumption of the awards’ cultural importance. I.e. the awards wouldn’t be so worthy of the emphasis placed upon them if it wasn’t pretended that they award true merit, but if they really did award true merit, they wouldn’t take up the cultural space that they do…. the Oscars routinely reward films that openly game the Oscar logic, and this is now coming back to haunt them. It gives us the prospect of an Oscar show that is fatuous and boring precisely because it is so thoroughly self-referential.

This is why you can generally pick the winners of each award if you haven’t seen the films or even read about them. You just have to put yourself into the Oscarness mind-set and think about what ideological duty the film industry imagines itself as being commissioned to perform. This year, it hoped to send a message about gay marriage and about the significance of India as a country, a 5,000-year-old culture that may as well have begun when Danny Boyle’s plane touched down in Mumbai, for all Hollywood is concerned. 

The Oscars is nothing if not self-referential—just witness all the pointless and near incomprehensible montages of past nominees from last night’s show, and the soporific spectacle of previous winners delivering encomiums to the current nominees. The point is not to honor the year’s best films but to celebrate Oscars themselves as a cultural force. Feeney’s description of the contradiction at the heart of the show is right on as well; it has just enough credibility to not be entirely creditable—it defines the unstable middlebrow culture that has recently vanished from publisher’s lists with the demise of popular literary fiction.

It makes you wonder if the Oscars’ days are numbered. The show felt pretty irrelevant last night, and the employment of a throwback song-and-dance man like Hugh Jackman smacked of a desperate reach for old-time Hollywood glamour from the days when it was still hegemonic. But films seem behind the curve of TV and online media these days; it seems that it arrives late to the zeitgeist, putting out movies, say, about identity theft after the threat already feels stale.

I still make a point of watching the Oscars though, in part because I love the red carpet shows, when extemporizing sycophants collide with often painfully shy nullities and they talk past each other in painful, raw encounters. The celebrities seem so diminished, surrounded by their peers and dwarved by the insane media hoopla, chaotic and annihilating—it’s an almost abject spectacle as the stars re-enter the womb of hype that has made them. I find this weirdly fascinating; all the participants seem on the knife-edge of madness, one banality away from going schizo.

The Oscars also provide a glimpse at a purified secular piety that no one subscribes to personally, but which we all end up willing to entertain as being someone‘s belief system. By virtue of it being a par ethos calculated to be a common denominator for the vast audience the film industry hopes to reach, it takes on a kind of credibility. It’s akin to the cynicism Feeney describes, which leads to our not being at all surprised when inferior, barely watchable films like Crash and A Beautiful Mind are called the “best.” Few think these films are the best films, but we accept somehow that society needs to call them as such, for obscure ideological reasons that we’d prefer not to investigate all that deeply. Instead it’s just vaguely reassuring to know that the highest echelon of the film industry is so fatuous, and takes its mediocrity so seriously, that it can’t ever really endanger the public psyche with anything truly upsetting or challenging in its entertainments. We aren’t missing anything epoch-making there; the revolution will not be showing in your local cineplex.

by Joe Tacopino

24 Feb 2009

Caroline Weeks, the multi-instrumentalist in Bat for Lashes, will release her debut solo album in April. The album, entitled Songs for Edna, contains nine songs of minimalist folk which borrow lyrics from renowned poet Edna St. Vincent-Millay. “Elegy” is a sparse, mournful rendition of St. Vincent-Millay’s dark poem of the same name.

Caroline Weeks
“Elegy” [MP3]
     

by Diepiriye Kuku

24 Feb 2009

Otis Redding, Al Green, Isaac Hayes, the Isley Brothers, the O’Jays, the more contemporary Maxwell and Eric Benet, or even Michael Jackson—the black one, not the white one, you know, the little Black boy from the Gary ghetto. Or, imagine President Barack Obama as Bill Withers, alone on a broad stage, or leading a carefully orchestrated band, slapping a guitar, crooning about “Grandma’s hands”. This kind of leadership rarely leads to crusades. Can you see Keith Sweat begging on bended knees, his falsetto prostrating himself, drowned in his willingness to show his vulnerability and therefore his strength?

By sharing his iPod playlists, by breaking it down on Ellen the way he did, grooving but holding back to match the host and let her shine, all makes clear to those sensitized, that he is the (first) blues president. If Bill Clinton, with his jazz sax on late night talk shows was the jazz president, then Clinton was Kenny G or Herb Alpert—awesome, but something wholly different than the blues. So What, one might ask? The difference is that Miles Davis, John Coltrane, even Duke Ellington and especially Louis Armstrong, all had the blues. They refused defeat that taints the souls of the assimilated into believing the hype. They perceived a world ridden with conflict and injustice, filthy with the greed, anger and stupidity of riot, war and hunger. Yet, they were fierce enough to look and create beauty.

Can’t you imagine one or both of the Obamas in the shower singing “People don’t let money / Don’t let money change you—almighty dollar” into a loufah in the shower? Or Barack with foam on face and razor in had in front of the bathroom mirror shouting along with Nina: “They keep on sayin’ ‘Too SLOW!’ But that’s just the trouble, too slow!” Or Barack doing the shackles-on-my-feet dance, sliding back and forth across the floor, bending his arms next to his waist, snapping his fingers, raising his shoulders with his lips puckered out, “I don’t care about your past, I just our love to last!” With the way the first couple kisses and embraces, you know that Barry White and Luther Vandross are not far away in spirit.

The blues, describes Cornel West, is “a philosophical disposition towards the world… a tragic comic hope, a way of looking unflinchingly at despair and still enduring!” I cannot speak for masses of whites. However, without fail, African-Americans I have spoken to see Obama’s swagger when he walks into the room. That brother is as smooth as Guinness stout under the sweet Southern delta sun. Smooth, we add, is wholly different from slick. George Bush was as slick as Elvis Presley’s imitative lyrics and beats. Naturally, Elvis has left the building.

by Alan Ranta

24 Feb 2009

Anything, and I mean anything, Quantic Soul Orchestra related is worth paying attention to. Playing her part in the modern soul revival, Kinny’s solo debut is due out March 23rd in the UK. It will also feature production from Tru Thoughts mainstays Hint, Nostalgia 77, and TM Juke, as well as rising Norwegian star Souldrop.

//Mixed media
//Blogs

Was Super Bowl 50 a Golden Bowl?

// Channel Surfing

"A pop culture play-by-play of the biggest TV event of the year.

READ the article