Giant Step’s Resident 22: Afropunk Festival, Ronnie Spector and Afrika Bambaataa

Photo of Afrika Bambaataa and crew © Phillip Angert
View photos here. Archive link here.

By Mawuse Ziegbe

Hear ye, hear ye! The negroes are coming! 2008 Afropunk Festival is in town! This year at BAM, there’s a skate ramp (courtesy of some hefty corporate might) and performances from artists like Kudu and Proton. But as luck would have it, I missed most of the festival’s kickoff because I was in Boston for July 4th hanging out with my mother. We watched the fireworks peel off into the sky above The Charles River as Rascal Flatts saluted Old Glory. Them pretty sparkle lights sure soothed any qualms I have about the holiday’s dubious celebratory overtones. When I got back to New York I went to Franklin Park, the bestest new bar ever. Tucked away on a sleepy residential street in Crown Heights, Park houses an outcrop of beautiful people enjoying the formidable selection of beers and grooving to D’Angelo, Fela Kuti and remixes of Fela Kuti featuring D’Angelo. Afterwards, I went to the West Village to dispense some birthday knocks to Lucas of DJ duo Sweatshop Labor at Love. Fun most foul was had by all.

While I missed most of the Afropunk kick-off, on Sunday I caught neo-negro-rock Svengali James Spooner’s latest film, White Lies, Black Sheep. Personally, I was a fan of the proliferation of male crotch shots; I mean the film was packed with celluloid man ass that you just don’t see these days. Yes, of course there is the storyline about negotiating blackness and personal identity in this mockumentary set in the heady downtown NYC rock scene. However, that storyline is weakened by the film’s desperate lunges at messages that were touched on in Afropunk, Spooner’s excellent 2003 documentary on coloreds in the rock and scene. In a admirable attempt to drive home the idea that tokens should own their otherness, stereotypes skew the film’s impact as a monotonous pattern arises: white girls = airheads, black girls = depressed, white guys = dickheads, black guys = slutty and depressed. But crotch shots aren’t the movie’s sole redeeming factor as the soundtrack kicks fuckin’ ass, the actors grapple valiantly with the script and cameos from real club lords like Michael T. and Queen Majesty lend authenticity.

The same day at McCarren Park Pool, girl group queen Ronnie Spector hit the stage. The black rocktress ambled on stage in a saucy all black bustier number but she was soon felled by the oppressive heat and performed most of the set perched on an amplifier. Sadly, she was pitchy and sounded like she was passing a melon. And not to compare female Rock and Roll Hall of Famers but maybe that lack of energy is why Tina Turner is Tinaaaah: The Legendary Survivor and Ronnie comes off as a legend of beehived kitsch.

But if you wanna talk legends, the conversation has to turn to Afrika Bambaataa. The father of hip hop packed the Hudson HotelGiant Step’s latest DJ event last Monday and demonstrated his many levels of, as VH1 would say, totally awesomeness. When you’re credited with creating a genre as culturally significant as hip hop, all you are ever required to do at a gig is show up and enjoy the sweet, sweet ass-kisses. But Bambaataa turned the joint out spinning everything from comfort disco (Cheryl Lynn, Sugarhill Gang) to whippersnapper jams like Reggaeton from Tego Calderón, Baltimore Club remixes of Kelis and speaker-shattering Trance. Bambaataa has every right to curmudgeonly cling to the hip hop of yesteryear but his nimble curiosity means he’ll evolve not only as a selector but an artist. And that’s legendary status, honey.

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 3

Photo © Phillip Angert

By Mawuse Ziegb

If you could sum up Sharon Jones in word it might be “sequins.” Big shimmery sequins like the ones that dangled from her chocolate brown dress when she took the stage at The Beacon last Friday night. She and The Dap Kings took over the theater and sweated out everyone’s hairstyle. The crowd had the energy and sizzle of a rice cake but Sharon still managed to coax some of her fans to mosey on stage and wiggle to songs like “Gotta Be Genuine” and “Be Easy.” But Sharon really got down on tracks like “Once I Had A Good Man” and the greasy funk re-working of Janet Jackson’s “What Have You Done For Me Lately.” It went on like that for about an hour when Sharon left the stage and kept the house lights hovering for the all-important encore. When her band retreated to the stage we begged for her return like funked-up animals. She returned after a slick costume change to a tarty tight, black floral number and tickled the ivories herself for “Answer Me.” Then she really brought the house down with a heart-twisting rendition of James Brown’s “It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World” and then broke down her ancestral history by dancing and storytelling to more James Brown riffs. Another word to sum up Sharon and The Dap Kings might be “whoa.”

In other “whoa” news, the best-selling album of all-time, Thriller was re-released last week which has sold over 100 million records and counting (Who sells a 100 million of anything these days?). Michael Jackson’s banger-heavy beast took home 8 well-deserved Grammys and songs like “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’” and “PYT” still lord over dance floors 25 years after its original release. Trying to improve on “Thriller” is like trying improve on air. You can’t really replace it with anything else. But Will.I.Am does a hat-tipping job with his updates of “The Girl Is Mine 2008″ and “PYT 2008.” I definitely appreciate the synth-mad syncopation of Will’s take on “The Girl Is Mine” and the restructuring of “PYT,” stacked with tinkling congas and New Jack Swing-era horns. Although I could do without Will’s verse on the latter, he does a fine job of preserving the spirit of the well-worn classics. Some people who need to keep their hands off Michael’s work however, are Akon and Fergie. Akon’s nasally update of “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’” is just bland and Fergie horning in on “Beat It” with her shrill vocals is just wrong. Some things should not be touched.

Last week was also the kick off Giant Step’s 2008 Hudson Hotel series featuring Rich Medina and honestly, I was a bit reluctant to go to. I’ve been seeing him DJ for a while dating back to my college years in Philly (Go Quakers!). I’ve seen him rip up venues long since faded into nightlife past, (R.I.P. SoMa, Tragos) and tear down spots that are headed for legendary status (long live APT and Fluid). I’ve seen him share the bill with everyone from King Britt to Chin Chin. I’ve been there for endless Afrobeats and countless soulclaps. I really thought I ‘d seen it all from this guy. But bless him, Monday night’s throwdown at the ever-luxe Hudson was really beautiful. The dancefloor was alight with savage disco energy from jump. People were actually jumping. Rich went hard with magnetic tracks like k-Os’ rambunctious “Superstarr Pt Zero,” Donald Byrd’s fluid “Think Twice” and Shaun Escoffery’s thumpy “Days Like This.” And popular kids like Taylor McFerrin, Bobbito and Mario Van Peebles stopped by for the fun. The night wrapped up beautifully as Rich faded out with the dreamy Earth, Wind and Fire gem, “Fantasy.” Some things are just classic.