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.