Many moons ago, I worked at the Schomburg Center For Research In Black Culture of the New York Public Library system — in the last days of the tenure there of my hometown hero Ellis Haizlip, onetime host of the best television show ever: SOUL! I was seeing Mr. Haizlip’s ghost ’round every corner, strolling around in his typical dashiki & tailored slacks, last night @ the Schomburg even before his name was invoked by an elder audience member after the Black Banjo event we were in attendance at the Langston Hughes Auditorium: Banjo Stories & Songs From Haiti & New Orleans, featuring my acquaintance Laurent Dubois (a banjo-playing, Belgian-American scholar from Duke University; I did a talk with him @ CUNY Graduate Center in Midtown back in the spring for the release of his new Harvard tome: The Banjo – America’s African Instrument) & my new friend Leyla McCalla, the Haitian-American banjoist who resides in New Orleans singing songs in English, French, Kreyol & the lone member of my friends’ band the Carolina Chocolate Drops that I had yet to meet. The cited episode of SOUL! featured Taj Mahal (ex-Rising Sons) doing an entire suite of banjo & ole-timey music, talking about the instrument’s African origins and encouraging youngbloods to take up the instrument; this aired back when I was a babychile and obviously there remains a stark racial & generational divide regarding banjo players when the instrument is trendy primarily amongst white Millennials who adopted it after the release of the Coen Brothers’ pastoral pastiche film O! Brother Where Art Thou? with its peerless ole-timey/Americana soundtrack, and the rise of these bands in the Aughts: Mumford & Sons, The Avett Brothers (I was one of the first to cover them as a rock/country critic alongside the Carolina Chocolate Drops, as they were emerging from the North Carolina Piedmont), & Old Crow Medicine Show. Nothing against these bands & the untimely passing of Pete Seeger has also played a role – indeed, he looms large in Laurent’s book — but we still have high hopes that young black kids will get hip to the banjo & take up our decades of work in keeping the black twang musical traditions thriving. I was interviewed for Joaquin Cotler’s podcast on these issues after Leyla’s performance, at the Schomburg; I will share it when it airs.
My dear #BlackHillbilly / twang family of the Ebony Hillbillies were also special guests like myself & we were in high cotton, enjoying the themes and music of the program. The Ebony Hillbillies generously performed at the Standing Rock benefit I curated @ Decolonize This Place back at the dawn of October; I look forward to future collaborations with them — and now — also with Sistah Leyla.
The banjo was my favorite instrument even before I knew of its African roots & I still hope to take it up — possibly in 2017, since I have been invited to the Danny Barker banjo festival in New Orleans by the guitarist/banjoist Detroit Brooks Sr. of jazz titan Donald Harrison’s band who does a lot of outreach in his community and beyond to keep black banjo traditions alive. Black artists (& the Afropolitan ones trying to appropriate southern accents and songlines in the UK) in country music are not a novelty nor a trend; whatever the outcome for current youtube sensation Kane Brown, who’s an Afro-Native (Tsalagi)/biracial country singer from rural Georgia in the “bro” mold (Young Kane & I have several thangs in common), we are here to stay. So #SaddleUp!
( Leyla McCalla of New Orleans & Kandia Crazy Horse of Hudson Canyon, Sistahs of Twang, @ Schomburg Center, Harlem NYC )
( Kandia Crazy Horse & Kimberly Robison, Virginia Native American songbirds/activists of Cactus Rose + Gloria Gassaway, Catawba lead vocalist/bones player/activist of the Ebony Hillbillies (from South Carolina) – We southern belles love to gather, do actions for #StandingRock & sing to honor our Ancestors. Miz Gloria almost went out to Standing Rock last week with our heroine Pure Fe of Ulali; we hope to combine our efforts & make a sojourn together soon come – A’ho* )
(Throwback to last Thursday night in SoHo @ Morrison Hotel Gallery for private view of Neil Young: Long May You Run exhibit, featuring photographs by Henry Diltz, Joel Bernstein, Danny Clinch & others. Here I am “waging heavy peace” with Henry’s famed image of my hero Neil & his dog Harte in the barn door of his ranch in California, Broken Arrow (named after my favorite Buffalo Springfield native american-themed tune & a Delmer Daves western from the early 1950s), from the year I was born, NYC)
“We got to work for Peace / Peace ain’t gonna be free / Gotta go to war…” so often sang my late hero & artist-activist influence Gil Scott-Heron (but he was not a warhawk, he was singing of peace-waging), when I used to see him annually in NYC at venues such as S.O.B.’s downtown. And, while I listened to his tunes “B-Movie” (about Ray-Gun America in the 1980s), “Winter In America” (a reminder for #NativeAmericanHeritageMonth & due to escalated actions around the Dakota Access Pipeline resistance & halting other black snakes of Turtle Island) & “Gun” (for obvious reasons in trigger-happy America & upon Veterans Day), this week & then just spoke with my Pamunkey great aunt Ethel from Virginia, who is an activist/southern belle/church lady in the truest sense & at 91 would have been embedded all year @ Standing Rock were it not for ailments, I was reminded indelibly that we cannot despair at this hour of chaos after the presidential election. We must be strong, we must be prayerful if we follow Native tradition & other faiths, and we must seek to be united as possible in order to work for Peace in the coming days of a New Nation that does not honor nor respect the rights of all of its citizens.
( Caitlin Rose & Kandia Crazy Horse @ Mercury Lounge NYC (w/ photobomb by Roddy of Daniel Romano’s band – Follow @cactusroselovesyou on Instagram )
2016: A year of sonic loss, domestic terrorism against #NoDAPL water protectors & days of rage in newly-minted Trump America…I will not retire from my activism & I am feeling a renewed dedication to songwriting, illuminating the folkways of the postmodern New South, and collaborating with other (Native) artists that also follow the Way of the New World to work towards indigenous futures. So, instead of wallowing — although I was/am mighty weary — I went out into the fractious City, finding fellowship & even some laughs with other indigenous activists from near and far as well as musicians from Argentina (Nico), Canada (Daniel Romano & band), & my sistah-in-twang Caitlin Rose (Nashville via Texas). While we raised a toast of Tecate backstage @ Mercury Lounge in the East Village/Lower East Side to Canadian singer-songwriter icon #LeonardCohen & #MightyBaby’s Martin Stone who just passed & then I rotated sounds of my treasured record collection overnight in their memory + for Veterans Day (my step-great-grandfather Mr. Bridges of SW Georgia fought bravely in World War I & always remember him upon this day) — Elyse Weinberg, Stevie Nicks (who I mightily wish I could catch on her current tour!) & Fleetwood Mac, Jon Lucien, Rufus Wainwright — it was deeply impressed upon me that we must be thankful that #WeAreStillHere able to sing, play, laugh, dance & write songs, despite possible dark days ahead on Turtle Island and all of the many sad losses that have befallen the music world in 2016. As discussed with #CaitlinRose, I look forward to playing in Nashville, doing some festivals & sharing new songs in 2017, with my trusty band Cactus Rose holding me down. Some don’t like (colored) women who are brave & fly the freak flag high; there are concurrent wars against us of the #NoDAPL resistance and the collective body of black women in this society; and there are some entities that have tried/want to silence my Voice – but still I shine on. And I am going to stay #BlackHillbilly ’til I die. Here’s to #TGIF — as my great aunt would say — and looking forward to enjoying the remainder of #NativeAmericanHeritageMonth
( Nico Bereciartua of Magpie Salute (from Argentina) & Kandia Crazy Horse of Cactus Rose band (in hat Karen Dalton) @ Henry Diltz’ Morrison Hotel Gallery in SoHo for “Midnight Rider” photography exhibit on Gregg Allman of the Allman Brothers Band by Patricia O’Driscoll, NYC )
( Why I want to see Stevie Nicks (who I have never seen) live…She composed this song “Silver Springs” while on the Road in my homeplace of the #DMV. I used to spend special times with my late mother in Silver Spring in the brief period before she walked on & grew up going there often in my “Maryland is for crabs…Virginia is for lovers” shirt in the 1970s. Precious memories…& songwriting inspiration! )
( How I came to truly know/love Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” – via my beloved & the best male Songbird of my generation #JeffBuckley (RIP) #ScorpioRising #ScorpioSeason – In Memoriam for all the Singers & Players & Freedom Fighters )
( & Leonard Cohen & Jeff Buckley’s acolyte who’s one of my most beloved contemporary artists: #RufusWainwright – This 11/11 tune comes from his double-LP masterpiece Want One / Want Two that was life-changing for me in the early Aughts. I still treasure getting to meet Rufus once backstage at a taping of the Jimmy Fallon Show in Manhattan, courtesy of my brotha Kirk Douglas of The Roots )