Giant Step’s Resident: The City, The Sounds, The Soul Part 13

By Mawuse Ziegbe

Last week kicked off with another blessed Hudson Hotel jump-off featuring Jo Jo Flores. The Montreal-based DJ launched into a very capable set that included sparkly disco and deep house gems that put the shine in Michael Jackson’s pre-Off The Wall era jheri curl. Plus, DJs with dimples make the world go around.

Photo © Phillip Angert. View more photos.

As usual, a few kids kicked up some dust and we here at the ‘Step thought we should give props where props are due with our Dancers Of The Week. Three people whose dazzling footwork warranted mention were:

Tine Machine
Manhattan via California
Day Gig: Lighting/Photography
Favorite Jammy Jam: “Jesus Creates Sound” by Marlon D

Photo © Phillip Angert. View more photos.

Her bite-sized stature didn’t fool anyone. Homegirl was all fierce voguing flourishes and show-stopping spunk. It was like she came with the party in her hat.

Art Vega
Flatbush, Brooklyn
Passion: Actor/Dancer
Fave Ditty: “Prayer” by Lolita James

This dude didn’t hit the floor that often but when he did, all the townspeople stopped in wonder. He was all agile hand spins and fluid breakin,’ like his joints were made of mercury. Twas’ a sight to see.

Emily Hawkins
Harlem via Ohio
Honest Job: Publicist
Song To Get Right To: Michael Jackson “I Can’t Help It”

Emily came off almost haughty as she went toe-to-toe in an old-timey ’80s style dance-off. It was all in good fun but something about her furtive arm pumps and hardcore waist-twisting said “this ain’t no game.” Bless her.

On Thursday, one of my new favorite bands Apollo Heights shut down (the back room of) Union Pool. Union Pool has that old-timey stage which always makes me feel like I’m at a state fair waiting for two people in a pony suit to hobble on stage and pretend to eat hay. Anyway, the set was opened by The Juggs who put forth a thoroughly enjoyable show and proved that the stage is just a limiting performance construct. The lead guitar head, Kareem kept hopping off, joshing with pals in the corner and taking healthy swigs of beer during songs. Some in the friends and family corner kept the heckling to a maximum which kinda made the set feel like I was crashing a family reunion but everyone was too soused to throw me out. The rowdiness continued when the ‘Heights took the stage and put on an extra dramatic version of my jammy jam, “Disco Lights.” The Heights’ singing twin, Daniel (aided by the strummin’ twin, Danny and rest of the crew) brought it, swinging the mic with abandon and ending with a heady crescendo where yet another pal, bounded on stage picked up a guitar and brought the number of on-stage strummers to 3. It was a fine time indeed (despite the absence of pony-related theatrics).

Later, I went to the Brownswood Sessions featuring Taylor McFerrin at NuBlu. Sadly, I went wicked late only to catch some late-night stragglers milling about the bar. I did stay long enough to hear some good tunes get spun and to get into a discussion about the relative merits (or lack thereof) of a certain African-American-themed network. To be real, said African-American network signs the checks at my day job. But before that, I rarely gave it a shake and like most bourgie, educated Northeastern black folk hyper-sensitive to media portrayal, thought the network was tossing the race into the toilet.

But being on the inside, and looking at ratings, I learned programming is determined by popularity – our big-budget shows are our highest-rated. We still put money into educational, political, socially relevant programming that tank in the ratings. When the Sean Bell verdict came out, within a day we dedicated a show to the tragedy. We even invited cool kids like Talib Kweli, Mos Def and Nas to give their thoughts. Now, this isn’t to say we couldn’t stand to improve our coverage on the recent international food riots (and useless lipservice dispensed by the World Bank), clashes in Zimbabwe and Kenya stemming from dubious election results and well, just everything else in the world that’s not so peachy.

My point is institutions don’t change on their own. It has everything to do with the people they serve. Television networks and police departments will continue to screw us over if we suggest we’re ok with it. If we want more TV shows that delve into the political issues of our day, we’ve got to tune in when they’re on. If we have issues with the Sean Bell verdict, now is not the time to stop protesting. Now instead is the time to keep-a-marching and putting public pressure on our politicians, demand an appeal and bring attention to the injustice. It’s not a simple solution but it’s a healthy start.

Giant Step’s Resident: The City, The Sounds, The Soul Part 12

Photo of 9th Wonder

By Mawuse Ziegbe

I watch way too much Sex and the City. I used to have a two-episode-per-day habit that I’ve whittled down to a more sensible once-every-few-days dependency. Luckily, my irises haven’t dissolved into jelly. But one thing I’ve picked up from the show is that sometimes the glamorous New York life is hit or miss. Sometimes you lose your Manolos at a self-absorbed photographer’s baby shower. Sometimes your boyfriend dumps you on a Post-It. This week was a whole apple cart of “meh.”

On Friday, I checked out Design of the Elastic Mind at MoMa which was in many ways fantastic. Some of the world’s most skilled nerdlingers rigged up systems that create furniture from free-hand drawings and conceptualized artificial body parts that can be used as mementos. But I guess I’m just too plebian to appreciate Color Chart: Reinventing Color to 1950, MoMa’s survey of the transitional use of color in the 20th century. As someone who freebases pop culture, I was pretty jazzed to see Andy Warhol‘s iconic series of Marilyn Monroe silk-screens in poppy hues. There were nods to the color bible Pantone and several artists who re-imagined color in contemporary art. But mostly I just felt like I was looking at paint swatches. The exhibit was not unlike a weekend trip to your neighborhood Sherwin-Williams.

Saturday night, 9th Wonder manned the decks at the West Village’s creepiest bar, Love. (With underground caves and an in-house waterfall connected to an unfinished basement, that bar is downright goofy). 9th Wonder took to the DJ set like your moody older brother giving you a lesson on “real hip hop.” The ex-Little Brother beatmaker played timeless tracks like Nas‘ “NY State Of Mind” and Gangstarr’s “Dwyck.” Now while these songs are arguably the hallmarks of great hip hop, 9th relentlessly pushed gritty, grainy head-nodders with no regards to our feets. I wanted to dance but the set just brought out the moody, backpacking teenager in me. It was a great set because not many DJs unleash that many DJ Premier hits with lusty abandon. But it wasn’t so great because I didn’t get to use my dancin’ shoes.

Sunday, I went back on the art kick with the Takashi Murakami exhibit at Brooklyn Museum. I liked how he made those staid Louis Vuitton bags all purdy-like usin’ all them clown colors and I liked the demonic co-ed cub he made for Kanye’s Graduation album art. However, an entire wing plastered with Murakami quickly went from inspiring to overwhelming. The benign (bouncy, animated daisies) gave way to the strange (hypersexualized Anime characters engulfed by spirals of projectile sperm) which gave way to the horrifying (said daisies snarling in angst) which gave way to a mild headache. More than anything, I appreciated Murakami’s ability to conflate the realms of fine art and mass culture and basically create a shopping frenzy for stickers of drooling cartoon bears.

The week had its moments but it was mostly chock full of blah. But if I was a fictional columnist who lived on the Upper East Side and spent 40 percent of my income on Jimmy Choos, I would just have a Cosmo and look forward to next week’s misadventures. So, cheers.

Giant Step’s Resident: The City, The Sounds, The Soul Part 11

By Mawuse Ziegbe

This week’s column was supposed to be all about art. I was having a very New York Friday which included a mouth-watering pastrami sandwich at the tourist-infested but very hype-worthy Carnegie Deli in Midtown. Then I popped by MoMa to take in the convergence of imagination and technology with “Design and the Elastic Mind” and the ambitious use of hues in “Color Chart: Reinventing Color, 1950 to Today.” But my blithe metropolitan day was interrupted by a vigil in Union Square.

If you’re a socially conscious citizen of the world, you’re aware of the Tibet’s irascible relationship with China, which has controlled the nation for decades. If you’re like me, you have a cursory knowledge of the turmoil that is mostly relegated to ratty Free Tibet t-shirts and college demonstrations. I am aware of the recent clashes with the Chinese government in Tibet that have helped anti-Beijing protests gain traction with riled up demonstrators snuffing out the Olympic flame and swinging from bridge cables. But for all the activist theatrics, stumbling onto this vigil in downtown New York made the crisis in Tibet much more immediate.

There were hundreds of supporters in the misty evening weather surrounding an array of candles that spelled out “FREE TIBET.” In one corner, a group of dedicated supporters huddled together all waiting to get their heads shaved. Head-shaving is a Hindu way of mourning the death of a loved one and protesters around the world have been shaving their heads as a gesture of solidarity. There were mostly men of all ages; a teen snapped a picture of his friend getting sheared at the request of his parents while older gentlemen placidly prayed and draped themselves in the Tibetan flag. Ponytails and power mullets melted away as more people crowded around in unity.

One woman was overcome with grief, weeping and wailing, in what I assume is Tibetan, throughout the night. I couldn’t understand her words but I could feel the emotion. When it was time for her to get shaved, the crowd edged in and a wall of camera phones set off flashes and snapped videos. Clearly, showing her support was so important that she seemed oblivious to the insta-paparazzi that cropped up. And I think seeing that emotion up close, took the conflict out of the abstract and literally put it at my feet. I have never been so happy to see someone get a haircut.

I am guilty of apathy. I stay educated through the media; my TV is constantly stuck on CNN and I get BBC news emails. But rarely do I take my interest in news past my inbox or my idiot box. And I’ve been to demonstrations but I’ve been to far more parties. However, I think lip-service isn’t always benign and perhaps just chatting about my experience in this here column will bring the conflict to someone else’s fingertips.

Giant Step’s Resident: The City, The Sounds, The Soul Part 10

Photo of DJ Spinna & Jazzy Jeff © Michael July

By Mawuse Ziegbe

Many of you may know that being a proper New York resident means flitting off to warmer locales and scaring the natives with your frenetic pace, ever-present dark sunglasses and debilitating ache for anything caffeinated. It’s even more fun when you infest said locales in groups. Such was the case this March, when all the cool kids left NYC to the office monkeys for the SXSW festival in Austin and the Winter Music Conference in Miami. Sadly, my day gig as a dedicated office monkey doesn’t allow for such indulgences so I tapped some cool kids to regale us with tales of some of the biggest events in independent music. Turns out both events were optimal for networking and raising awareness about rising and established artists. Or, for as you’ll read below, boozing it up and not stopping ’til you’ve got enough. Personal goal for March 2009: Quit office monkey position.

Winter Music Conference – Miami, FL
$mall ¢hange – DJ, B.A. In Snappy Verbosity, PhD in procuring rare and dusty disco rhythms
Even with the silicone and overpriced society of South Beach, it’s hard not to have a good time. Some highlights: dinner at Puerto Sagua with Monk One and Gas Lamp Killer rocking doubles of hip hop instrumentals at Mad Decent vs Turntable Lab, Sinbad destroying Raw Fusion at Jazid with broken beat to B’more soul remixes, myself dropping crackly sevens at the James Brown tribute party, the paparazzi set checking DJ Spinna with Ms. Baduizm at Giant Step, Dam Funk and Stones Throw Illuminati at the Raleigh Sat. afternoon, Subatomic Sound System dropping chilled vibes at Miambient, and ending with sneaking a J with a mud bath at The Standard. It’s not so bad after all, even with the spring break bs and $7 bottled waters.

Photo © Phillip Angert

SXSW – Austin, TX
Christie Brown – Video Editor, Derby Hat-and-Mussy Hair Combo Enthusiast
Me and mine snuck into an unofficial iheartcomix/JellyNYC party by haggling security and claiming we were a DJ collective. The party ended up being completely WACK – they were denying droves of people entry and the space was super empty. Their one bar had retarded lines, and while the acts were alright, I wasn’t feeling the music possibly based on the difficult circumstances of getting there. So no booze, can’t get all my friends in, nothin’ to do, no where to go. Well, turns out there was a party on the North Lamar pedestrian bridge so we sauntered over there. Perhaps it was the juxtaposition of the previous 2 hours of my life, but No Age played and it was fucking great. Apparently, NME claimed there was a riot which caused police to come, but I must have missed it; I was talking to random stragglers like a drunken fool ’til the wee hours of the morning.

The weather was nice all week, at every hour of the day people found it personally offensive if you didn’t have a beer in your hand and would place one in your grubby hands. I ran into Brooklyn kids left and right… I was filming for Jay Buim’s Todd P documentary from the time I woke up in the late morning/early afternoon to the time I went to bed, starting by hopping in a van on my birthday and driving pretty much straight through to Austin with assorted hijinks along the way. Didn’t sleep much at all, pleasantly lost my damn mind, saw Jah-Jah [from NYC's Ninjasonik] more times in 4 days than I’ve seen him in the last 6 months. Ate lots of meat ’cause that’s what they do in Texas. Oh, but check this, I got a fucking original Salt ‘n’ Pepa concert t-shirt for 8 dollars. Don’t tell me that isn’t straight flamboastin’ cause I will say “Emphatically No” to that.

Photo of Retro Kids © Michael July

Winter Music Conference – Miami, FL
Michael July – Photographer, Occasional DJ and Frequent Dance Floor Connoisseur
I would definitely say the most eventful moment for me at the WMC was captured in this photo I took. DJ Spinna was killing it on the 1s & 2s. Mixing classic hip hop joints at Jazzy Jeff’s “Nothing But An Old School Party,” which featured performances by Common, Talib Kweli, Biz Markie, King Sun, Skills and DJ Jazzy Jeff. All of a sudden pandemonium broke out…the Retro Kids came out of nowhere and started taking it back with all the old school dances as Spinna did his thing. The young lady in the photo, obviously a true head, suddenly paused from her torrid dancing, turned and looked up at Spinna and Jeff and shouted “that’s my jaaammm!” The intensity in her face says it all.

Photo © Michael July

Giant Step’s Resident: The City, The Sounds, The Soul Part 9

By Mawuse Ziegbe

The origins of rock music have always been entangled in the African-American experience. Musical idioms like blues and to an extent jazz have laid the groundwork for rockin’ and rollin.’ For several reasons, over the years, rock music has no longer been considered “a black thing.” But there have always been the Lenny Kravitzes, Meshell Ndegeocellos, Bad Brains, Living Colours and many others who stand up and represent. Today, there’s a blitz of new kids pickin’ up axes and making new noise that shoves the boundaries of rock music and cultural identity. Below are a couple of kids who are bringing that certain “I-don’t-know-what” to the rock game.

The Carps
The Carps is the Toronto duo of Jahmal Tonge and Neil White that punches up warbling electro with splashy garage drums. Tonge’s vocals invoke the gleefully cheesy, Activator-powered soul of say Rockwell or early Michael Jackson. “All The Damn Kids” is a dizzying hybrid of punk and Soca (expect to see dirty Union Jacks waving in the air on Eastern Parkway this summer). And “Compton To Scarboro” opens up with a drum riff lifted from Bel Biv Devoe’s 1990 acidic banger, “Poison.” Currently, they’re on tour, blowing minds across Europe with throwback rappers The Cool Kids.

Apollo Heights
This NYC-based group makes my feet tingle with its fuzzy electro rock and makes my heart smile with its latest project “White Music For Black People.” The collective is anchored by twins Danny and Daniel Chavis and they make a lot of poppy epic rock that would make The Smiths and whoever made the music for the finale of The Karate Kid proud. They demonstrate their prowess for revamping classic ‘80s sounds on their remake of Madonna’s “Dress You Up” and piling up heady percussion and pouty vocals on “Missed Again” with
Mike Ladd.

Dragons Of Zynth
Critics have been wetting their pants about the psychedelic-Afrobeat-soul brew that Dragons Of Zynth have been stirring up so well. Another set of twins, Aku and Akwetey, work their magic from the epicenter of a sensual glam-rock enterprise. Their debut, Coronation Thieves is wall-to-wall disjointed rhythms and well-placed explosions of noise. They’re also been endorsed by the ever artful TV On The Radio and Thieves is produced by TVOTR’s David Sitek. But DOZ is more like TVOTR’s over-amped kid brothers who are still obsessed with wizardry and getting into trouble. And thank goodness for that.