Giant Step’s Resident 30: Detroit, Home Sweet Home, Sarah Palin, Maxwell

Photo of Jazmine Sullivan at STEVEN (c) Donna Ward

By Mawuse Ziegbe

When I’m not camping out in craptastic bars in the LES or at a concert furiously scratching notes like a geekazoid, I daydream about the most fantastical situations. Maybe one day I’m making Smores with Amy Winehouse. Maybe I’m taking a magic carpet ride with Diddy. Maybe I’m shaving Common’s head. Or maybe, just maybe, I’m in the Midwest having the bestest time in a truly underrated city. Last week, I went to Detroit on business which is like Narnia for cheap beer-swilling, early ’90s dance addicts like myself. God bless the Motor City Casino Hotel where the driveway is lit up with a maze of rainbow lights like so many glittering Quaaludes. Ce Ce Peniston and Crystal Waters jams are pumped throughout the lobby and the rooms look like the set of a J. Lo video. I partied with some friends at an “apartment” (which, after living in “cozy” NYC apartments, looked like an airport hangar) that held a boutique, a DJ booth and a mess of bedrooms. People were cheery, the music was good and when it wasn’t good, it didn’t matter because alcohol in the Midwest basically costs a hug and a kiss.

But New York is the only place you will find buxom soul singers sweatin’ out a shoe store full of beautiful people. Our precious Giant Step orchestrated another throwdown at Steve Madden’s LES outpost which was swarmed by rapturous Jazmine Sullivan acolytes who knocked over precarious stiletto displays. It was a short 3-song set which she ended with her balmy reggae single, “Need U Bad.” Music heads who have been waiting for her time in the sun and newly enchanted well-wishers were all pouting for more. But children, she is going on tour which, by the by, is fronted by MAXWELL!! I mean, THE Maxwell – in all his singing-naked-in-the-bathtub, Afro-and-sideburns-before-it-was-cool, making-songs-for-sex-scenes-of-every-Sanaa Lathan-movie-since -1995 glory, – is actually coming to your city! You can pay to watch him gyrate for a few hours and maybe touch his head or something if you camp outside the tour bus. With Maxwell, John Legend and Raphael Saadiq on the road, 2008 is officially the year of the intellectual groupie.

2008 is also the two-year anniversary of one my favorite bars, Home Sweet Home. It’s basically an unmarked, unfinished basement packed with taxidermy and a broken disco ball. But its appeal is the reckless, sensual and, if I may, crackity sensibility that makes downtown NYC so legendary. I’ve had nights where one minute I’m teaching some hipsters the Soulja Boy and the next I’m vomiting onto a stuffed weasel. So, of course the anniversary party had to reflect that psycho glamour with complimentary Patrón and a giant moose ice sculpture which doubled as a shot luge. Resident performers Sweatshop Labor and Young Lords held court and even smiley trip-hop vocalist Sia came out for a drink and a dance. And yes, I got a little reckless, sensual and crackity.

However, more than taxidermy and making up adjectives, the hottest thing in the streets right now is the election debates. When they plucked that Sarah Palin woman from Baby Siberia, I thought she must have been a brainy, ambitious, innovative politician who could really shake up the stodgy and grim Republican ticket. Instead, we have this aging beauty queen with prom hair and a foreign policy perspective that’s seemingly informed by Rainbow Brite. I wish I could skip through the most important test of my life winking and giving shout-outs to 8 year-olds. Maybe, just maybe…if I keep dreaming.

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.