5 Songs For The End of The Week

Cooking and contemplating playlists are among my favorite procrastination activities. These are five of the songs that kept me company this week. I made stews, cookies, and didn’t do what I was supposed to be doing.

“Trust your obsessions. They know you best. They will be things responsible for your survival.”

Shefon Taylor, artist

5 Songs For The End of The Week

Only three more Fridays left in 2021. The new year is almost here. Congratulations on making it through another week!

“Tomorrow belongs to those of us who conceive of it as belonging to everyone; who lend the best of ourselves to it, and with joy.”

-Audre Lorde

Faith & Majesty crossed my path as I doomscrolled on the Tikiti Tokiti (h/t @danyoljaye for the nickname) earlier this week. Their crisp and feather light harmonies snapped me out of a social media fog. I immediately bought all of their singles and now find myself completely enraptured by them. Faith & Majesty have created a refreshing sound that feels like magic.

Links For The Voracious

“Any movement working toward liberation and justice must be accessible—and that’s the conversation we hope this series continues.” Count me in. Checkout the Access Series, a collaboration between Bitch magazine and the Disability Visibility Project.

“Democracy’s Defenders” Helen Butler, LaTosha Brown, and Nsé Ufot on what it means to work for justice and liberation. This interview is powerful beyond measure. Each of them is so clear and direct in their vision for what it takes to realize a true democracy in our nation.

“I hid out in a big pink notebook-one that would hold a whole team of paper. I made myself a universe in it. There I could be a magic horse, a Martian, a telepath. … There, I could be anywhere but here, any time but now, with any people but these.” Octavia Butler in the essay “Positive Obsession.”

Maya Rupert was “only the third Black woman to have led a major presidential campaign” and she’s looking forward to a future with more Women of Color campaign managers.

This seems to be about the right time for a National Endowment for the Humanities funded 40-question survey about what the public thinks the term “history” means and how they relate to it as a topic to learn and explore.

“Curb Your Enthusiasm” is only three episodes into the season, but Maria Sophia played by Keyla Monterroso Mejia, is one of the most wildly bizarre, hilarious, and original TV show characters ever.

“My thing, what I hope to do all the time is to be so completely myself, that my audiences and even people who meet me are confronted. They’re confronted with what I am inside and out, as honest as I can be. In this way they have to see things about themselves immediately.”

-Nina Simone

In Celebration of Sonia Sanchez

Sonia Sanchez. Source: Amherst College.

Sonia Sanchez’s poetry has been held close. Her words have been memorized, recited, and read by eager minds for generations. Reveling in her rhythms is an exploration. Readers continue to find tremendous beauty and profound truth in her words. 

Earlier this month, Ms. Sanchez was awarded the Gish Prize for her poetry and activism. According to the Gish Prize Trust, the prize is given annually “to a highly accomplished artist from any discipline who has pushed the boundaries of an art form, contributed to social change, and paved the way for the next generation.” Congratulations, Ms. Sanchez.

To Anita

walken like the sun u be.
move on even higher.
those who
laugh at yo/color
have not moved
to the blackness we be about
cuz as Curtis Mayfield be sayen
we people be darker than blue
and quite a few
of us be yellow
all soul/shades of
yeah. high/yellow/black/girl
walk yo/black/song
cuz some of us
be hearen yo/sweet/music.

-Sonia Sanchez

Links For The Voracious

Erica Savage Wilson experienced a traumatic brain injury. In “Things Not Seen,” she reveals the daily challenges of recovery and holding on to the will to live. 

Breaking the glass ceiling is just the beginning. Labour MP Diane Abott provides a glimpse into what it’s like being Britain’s first Black Member of Parliament (MP). 

“This is not about charity or inspiration. It’s about justice,” disability rights advocate Rebecca Cokley on the Ford Foundation’s first of its kind disability rights grant program. 

“My goal is to leave a digital footprint of our Hmong language for future generations.” Annie Vang on the app she created, HmongPhrases

The American Archive of Public Broadcasting (AAPB) is an enormous free collection of over 50,000 hours of public radio and television interviews and programs. 

Rolling Stone has re-upped its monumental list of the 500 greatest songs of all time. There’s something on this list for everyone to disagree about.

“Black women are not bottomless bowls of sweat, work, emotional support, and reassurance for white America. I, as a Black woman, needed to reclaim my ability to have my own prerogative and self-interests while living in a country that can’t do right. Basically, if I’m putting on an apron and getting in the kitchen, I’m frying chicken for my damn self.”

-Musician Adia Victoria in conversation with Marcus K. Dowling for CMT.com

Are Four Artists Enough For a Lifetime of Listening Pleasure?

Could you really listen to only four musical artists for the rest of your life? Of course not, but it’s fun to think about. Everyday is a new opportunity to fall in musical love. A single song is all it takes. I fell for Carmen McRae, Nina Simone, and Grace Jones one song at a time.

The first time I knew I was listening to Carmen McRae’s voice was when her death was announced on National Public Radio (NPR). The report featured a snippet of her singing “It’s The Good Life” and I was instantly and forever hooked. I was in college at the time. Later the same day, I walked into my African American History class to the sound of a crisp, elegant voice filling the room. It was Carmen McRae. The professor was playing one of her records on a turntable he’d brought to class. He mourned and celebrated Ms. McRae by introducing her to his students.

My devotion to Nina Simone began with “Mississippi Goddamn.” I’d never experienced a singer who made every note count the way she did. Nina Simone’s ability to break down a song to its emotional essence is unparalleled. Carmen McRae and Nina Simone tap into what I’m feeling or carry me to where I want to be. Grace Jones takes me places I never knew were possible. Her 1985 album “Slave To The Rhythm,” is audacious. It is an autobiography told in a wonderland of spoken word, dance, and new wave. “La Vie En Rose” was a classic twice over before Jones sped up the tempo and added a dance beat. Her version maintains the longing of Edith Piaf’s original and takes its playfulness from Louis Armstrong’s version.

Grace Jones’ body of work is in part the expression of a radical and maximal mixing and matching of genre and tone all wrapped in a velvety alto voice. Her approach to music is almost sartorial, like a layered outfit of plaid on stripes on polka dots. The outcome is brilliant and only something she can pull off. The magic is that Grace Jones has been doing this all flawlessly for decades. So of course, Carmen McRae, Nina Simone, and Grace Jones are my top three.

Right now, Yola is making a strong showing for the number four spot. Her latest album “Stand For Myself” is glorious. Yola’s first album “Walk Through Fire” and her EP “Orphan Offering” are unyielding in their gorgeousness. The debut album and EP have been a balm over the last 18 months of quarantine and lockdowns. Every song on “Walk Through Fire,” especially “Lonely The Night” possesses a richness of voice and production reminiscent of the listener enveloping harmonic universe of the 60s Wall of Sound. Even with all of that goodness, could I choose Yola instead of Big Maybelle or Joan Armatrading?

Big Maybelle is an icon for the ages. Her hits “My Country Man,”Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On,” and “Candy” are foundational elements of the post World War II popular music landscape. Big Maybelle’s version of The Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby” is a completely original rendition of the song worthy of resurrection and reverence. She recounts the tale of Eleanor and Father McKenzie with resigned commiseration. Her requiem for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “Heaven Will Welcome You Dr. King” is a crushing expression of Black national grief. Big Maybelle was one of the original queens of popular music who never received her flowers.

Joan Armatrading is the enigma among the artists on my list. Her catalog is wide-ranging. She glides easily across genres, writing ballads and rock anthems like “I Really Must Be Going” and “Love And Affection.” Armatrading has a devoted international following and it’s not big enough. As a fan from the United States, I am both astonished and not surprised that she came into my life by accident. In my case it was sitting in traffic listening to her give an interview on a Canadian Broadcasting Company (CBC) radio show played on my local NPR station. Black women whose music can’t be neatly stuffed into pre-approved genres of what Black people are supposed to like are hard to find. And when you find them, or at least when I do, I go deep. Joan Armatrading’s songs are the epitome of cool we all deserve to experience.

Entertaining the idea of listening to four musical artists for the rest of my life has taken me to the real and digital record crates. I have listened to songs I love again and again with an ear for description to share what they mean to me. I have found new angles and new stories, new spaces to explore. Carmen McRae, Nina Simone, and Grace Jones reign supreme. I still haven’t found my fourth, but I’ll keep looking.