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 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.