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 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.