In this episode Kwasi brings back Dutty Bookman to discuss the movement he has helped dub as the Reggae Revival after a panel at SXSW 2027. He also speaks to Koro Fyah of the Bevel Rock camp about his ABC’s at SXSW as well. Bomani interviews the founder of the Uganda’s Bavubuka Foundation, Babaluku, and their chief archivist Gilbert Daniels about Hip-Hop in Uganda and the Lugaflow movement. Bomani and Kwasi also discuss spirituality in independent music, and how the community discusses things like sin. A must listen!
I had the pleasure of getting across the Bay bridge and working with students in Dorchester County this past Spring. Ms. Emily Hill did me the honor of publishing a story about it in the local newsletter. I can’t wait to go back next year!
Dorchester County Public Schools
Every Child A Success!
Henry V. Wagner Jr., Ed.D., Superintendent DATE: May 20, 2015 SDS Young Artist Residency Program: BOMANI Visits 3rd, 4th, & 5th Grades
By Emily Hill
Last week, an artist named Bomani visited our class. He came to teach us about how rhyming can help us remember things. We also learned that there are few ways to rhyme! There is a real rhyme, when the last two letters of the words are the same; cat and hat. There is also a near rhyme, when the words or phrases sound very similar but are not the same. For example, we rhymed “patriot” with “hate we get”. Lastly, there is the rhyme when you put the emphasis on the wrong syllable.
We all got to write a few short rhymes so we could completely understand what the different rhymes are and how to use them. As a class, we helped Bomani create a rhyme about himself, and then we each got to create a rhyme about ourselves. Everyone got a chance to share their personal rhyme with the class. Every time someone got up to read, we had to cheer like it was our favorite singer and Bomani made a huge deal about the person reading. We felt really cool and important. It made reading something in front of our friends so much easier!
Our final rhyme was about our social studies unit on the Revolutionary War. We all started by writing a paragraph about what our class had learned. We then organized the rhyme and created a beat for it. After editing and rehearsing it, we performed it for the 4th grade and they performed theirs for us!
After we finished our performance and watched the 4th grades performance, Bomani asked us to describe the week in one word. The words the 4th and 5th graders used were unique and energetic. These words perfectly fit the week. All of the activities were fun and helpful. In addition, the rhyme we made will help us remember facts for the test on the Revolutionary War.
I had the extreme pleasure of appearing on the Global African with Bill Fletcher Jr. Here is the video and the transcript of my interview. Click the link here to find out more about The Global African and the Real News Network!
BILL FLETCHER, HOST, THE GLOBAL AFRICAN: Today on The Global African, we’ll talk to D.C.-based artist Bomani Armah, and we’ll also look at African American-Palestinian solidarity. That’s today on The Global African. I’m your host, Bill Fletcher. Thanks for joining us. We’ll be right back.
~~~FLETCHER: Hip hop as an art form can be used to teach activism and science, creative writing skills and math. Some say it’s the language of our youth.Producer and poet Bomani Armah skillfully uses hip hop to teach young people the power of perspective and the importance of telling their own stories.
~~~BOMANI ARMAH: My name is Bomani Armah. I am not a rapper. I am a poet with a hip hop style.UNIDENTIFIED: Bomani, you say that you’re a poet with a hip hop influence,–ARMAH: Yeah, yeah, yeah.UNIDENTIFIED: –but not a rapper. Can you explain the distinction?ARMAH: Sure. So, I mean, I track my art form past hip hop. I love hip hop. You know what I’m saying? I grew up in it. But I track my art form past that. I connect myself to Langston Hughes. I connect myself to Shakespeare. You know what I’m saying? I can do a poetry reading. I can do it with a deejay. I can do it a cappella. But it’s about understanding and respecting the art form and using the words. And I love rappers. You know what I’m saying? Rappers are some of my favorite artists. But now when I would go in and teach young people and I would tell them I’m a rapper, they’re like, yo, where’s your chain? Where’s your car? And I’m like, oh, I’m not that kind of rapper. I’m a poet with a hip hop style. So it all kind of came together. Yeah.UNIDENTIFIED: That makes sense.ARMAH: Yeah.
~~~ARMAH: In hip hop you talk with your hands and your voice. One, two, three. [incompr.] You’re, like, right in front. Alright. Let’s try this. One, two, three. [incompr.]VOICEOVER: For many, the sum of hip hop today is what we see in popular culture: gold chains and fast cars. But there are artists like Bomani Armah who represent the hip hop community every day, teaching young people how to write, rocking stages at night, and producing albums for other artists. Bomani is a modern-day renaissance man, believing in music’s intrinsic spiritual power to move people with clever lyrics and strong beats. He gained national attention with his song “Read A Book”,–
Read a book, read a book, read a mother– book
Read a book, read a book, read a mother– book
–encouraging young people to read, while also teaching [incompr.] the importance of satire by examining how hip hop culture shows up in mainstream media. The sum of his work shows us that he is in fact an artist who embodies the power and style of hip hop, the social responsibility of teacher, and the wisdom and observation of poet.
~~~FLETCHER: We’re joined for this segment with Bomani Armah, who is a Washington, D.C., based self-identified poet with a hip hop style, who’s also known for a 2007 single “Read A Book”. He is a teaching artist, a producer, and homeschools his twin sons Olu [spl?] and Dela [spl?]. Welcome to The Global African.
ARMAH: Thank you. Thank you for having me.
FLETCHER: You don’t like to be or don’t want to be identified as a rapper.
ARMAH: Well, yeah. So, I mean, that began because I started doing spoken word poetry before I started doing hip hop. But I was always doing my poetry to a rhyme, but not on beat. And so I started doing that just as an homage, I guess, to rappers, didn’t think I’m not trying to do the same thing. But then I started really getting serious about hip hop. But the students I would teach, I would come into class and they’d be like, where’s your gold chain? Where’s your car? So I’m like, well, I’m not a rapper. You know what I’m saying? It started meaning that a little bit.
ARMAH: I think it’s the duty of the poet, especially in the tradition of black poets, to shed light on the community that you’re in and to give a vision of the community that you want. I mean, like, once again, Langston Hughes is one of the biggest examples of that.
FLETCHER: When you mentioned Langston Hughes, so my great-grandfather was a major pre-Harlem Renaissance poet, author. His name was William Stanley Braithwaite. And I’ve read a number of his poems, and there’s a complete contrast between his more generally socially progressive commitment and his poetry. It’s not reflected in much of his poetry. His poetry is almost 19th century British in some ways. Hughes, on the other hand, very much integrated his critique of the situation facing people of African descent into his poetry. And that struggle seems to be a struggle that is faced by many artists in black America.
ARMAH: Mhm. Well, Langston and the people that were part of the Harlem Renaissance movement were completely a part of a lot of things going on. They were part of the blues tradition, which is very raw about the realities of people’s lives. They were part of the activism against–the anti-lynching campaign. When a black man was getting lynched every two or three days, it was the poets, it was the artists who were making mention of it in everything they could write, everything they could sing. He was very much an active communist. You know what I’m saying? And communists at the time were very much about using every form of entertainment and propaganda to get their message out. So the idea that your art is directly connected with some kind of social issue, I mean, you couldn’t avoid it in the time that Langston was doing it. I honestly don’t think you can avoid it now. One of the reasons that I guess I probably separate myself from the commercial aspect of hip hop is, like, we’ve been at war for 15 years. We’ve been at war–for a lot of the young people that I work with, we’ve been–maybe not 15, 13 years, the majority of their lives. I can’t tell you the popular song that made it to radio in hip hop addressing the war in any way. You know what I’m saying? Like, we, as a–commercially, not as a culture–the culture has been making a lot of noise about it, but commercially there is no recognition in hip hop of a battle that we have been fighting, that almost 1 million people have lost their lives over in Iraq.
FLETCHER: In the late ’60s, early ’70s you had the predecessors of hip hop, The Last Poets, Gil Scott-Heron, highly political in their art. But at a certain point there’s, like, a divergence that seems to happen of this tradition.
ARMAH: Completely. And, I mean, I would throw other artists in there. James Brown is one of the godfathers of hip hop. I honestly think, just because I’ve been overdosing on his music, like, the humanity that I hear in Bill Withers’ writing is, like, the same kind of humanity I hear in Tupac’s writing. You know what I’m saying? Very much can relate. “I Ain’t Mad At Cha”, is, like, one of the best songs ever, and it’s about recognizing that you’ve gone to a different place in life but you still love your friends. Even if it’s not, like, anti-drugs or violence or something, it’s understanding the humanity of people, right? And watching Bill Withers and watching Gil Scott-Heron talk about their careers, they always talk about them reaching a point where people wanted to put them in the R&B category, the same struggle Marvin Gaye was going through when no one wanted to put out “What’s Going On”. You know what I’m saying? They want to completely make him R&B. And there’s ways you can do both. There are always ways you can do both. I mean, I was talking to a good friend of mine. He’s a banjo player in a folk band. And we were talking about the common connections of all folk art is, when it comes down to it, it’s about telling women to shake their backside, no matter what culture you come from, right? But they also, also incorporate the struggles they’re having with the crops, the struggles they’re having, you know what I’m saying, trying to recognize whatever culture they’re in. So it’s all–it’s got to be a part of the entire human experience. And yet commercial music always wants to cut off that one half of you. And my favorite artists always fight against that.
FLETCHER: Let me ask you a question that I’ve been grappling with. A lot of my work has been in the trade union movement.
ARMAH: Okay.FLETCHER: And much of the culture within the trade union movement seems frozen in time. When you have performances, for example, at union rallies, it’s folk music, 1930s, 1940s. A
RMAH: Mhm. Guitar.
FLETCHER: That’s right, guitar, guitar solo. You know.
ARMAH: Right, right, right, right, right, right.
FLETCHER: But it seems frozen. And I’m trying to understand why that happened. But I’m also trying to understand someone like yourself. What would be your critique and what would you say to such a movement about a kind of–some sort of cultural renovation?
ARMAH: Well, you know, it’s interesting. So the single that I put out a couple of years ago, it’s a song called “Late Shift”, and it’s about people who work two jobs, you know, more than 60, 70 hours a week. And, actually, I got a chance to perform that at a couple of different union-related benefits, and they all loved it. But it was an interesting dichotomy or difference between that and the other performers that would come up. And I definitely think all movements need to embrace especially youth culture, popular culture. I love, you know, being PG County, Washington, D.C., I love bounce beat. I’m a little older than the kids in D.C. who are doing go-go bounce beat, but the actual rhythm of it is powerful. If you see the kids in PG County and D.C. move to it, you understand that it’s powerful. And finding a way to incorporate that sound into the songs that we do about our reality–. I got blessed into a project with Chuck Brown’s band and some members of the Free Minds Book Club, which is incarcerated youth who were part of a book and writing club in prison, and then they stay in it when they come out. And we took a bounce beat and made it about what they’re doing [snip] FLETCHER: Now, you are involved in various ways in the Black Lives Matter movement.
ARMAH: I’m–I would say no. I’m very much involved in the black community. I’m very proud to be black. And I’m not a protester. Martin Luther King used to tell the protesters that if you can’t promise that no matter what happens you’re not going to be violent, please don’t come. And I took that to heart. And so I don’t really show up at the protests. But I am behind the idea of people mobilizing and getting their voice out. Black Lives Matter feels wrong coming out of my mouth, just the actual phrase. The concept works with me, but saying Black Lives Matter feels like saying water is wet. Like, it should just be like–you know what I’m saying? Like, that can’t be my–I’m human is not my rallying cry. That was my grandfather’s rallying cry, that was my father’s rallying cry till he was, like, 25 or 30. But it’s my generation’s being like my life matters and you’re going to respect that. You know what I’m saying? I’m not going to ask you for it; I’m going to demand that. And so I’m with the movement in the sense that I stand understand what they’re trying to accomplish, but, yeah, that’s not a strong enough statement for me in that sense.
FLETCHER: So two things. Well, so (A) maybe you need to amend the statement, right?
ARMAH: Uh-huh.FLETCHER: But the other thing that I would say about Black Lives Matter is that the part of what I think is important about the statement is that it is actually an anti-genocidal statement. In other words, it’s not simply–.
ARMAH: But I don’t know if you can ask to not be killed off.
FLETCHER: No, no, no. But I don’t think it’s asking. I think it’s an assertion.
ARMAH: It’s an assertion.
FLETCHER: Yeah. It’s an assertion. I don’t think it’s, like, asking, please don’t kill us, right? I think it’s more–I mean, this is the way I interpret it–
ARMAH: I gotcha.
FLETCHER: –is that it’s an assertion that, yes, we are humans, we are not going to be killed off, right, that it’s actually an interesting assertion around the whole concept of race, in that what race and racism does is that it basically says that there is a relevant and an irrelevant population. There’s one population whose experiences are important and another who’s not, right? So in that sense I think of black lives matter as saying, yes, we are human; we are not going to be the victims of genocide. Something like that.
ARMAH: I agree with you. And I’ve never–like, I’ve–kind of write extensively on social media and my own blogs about what I see going on in the movement, and I appreciate it. Don’t get me wrong. Like–.
FLETCHER: No, no. I gotcha.
ARMAH: But I guess–so my amendment would be the “I wish a MF-er would movement”. You know what I’m saying? Like, I want to set up a scenario where that can’t happen, you know what I’m saying, where we’re not asking you to please recognize that this 17-year-old black boy is just as valuable as that 15-year-old white girl that went missing that you showed the pictures.
FLETCHER: How do you recommend integrating the cultural perspective, the artistic perspective that you’re offering into political activism?
ARMAH: I know personally one of the ways that I have learned to create my art and do my art activism and education together is to go to meetings and organizations like you’re talking about and have us write a song together, to have a brainstorming session where we’re talking about it. So it’s not–I’m a big fan of Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed. And one of his–the biggest concept that sticks to my head about that is not going to these communities and telling them what their problems are, not assuming that I know just because–. Even, like, my experience with the Baltimore riots. And I think sometimes artists, or just activists in general, like, think they can represent–they think they understand what a particular movement is because they’ve seen Eyes on the Prize or something like that or they’ve read some headlines. And I think we have to integrate ourselves into that community.
FLETCHER: Bomani Armah, thank you very much for joining us. And we definitely need to stay in touch.
ARMAH: Cool. Definitely. Thank you. I appreciate it. FLETCHER: Thanks very much.
ARMAH: No problem.FLETCHER: Take care. And thank you very much for joining us for this segment of The Global African. I’m your host, Bill Fletcher. And we’ll be back in a moment. Don’t go anywhere.
SNOW DAY (POEM)
(original appearing as part of the play “ST 1.O” produced by New Galaxy Productions)
Today a storm has
saved the day
I spend that grace
with a fresh angelic face
In a cozy den
turn to picnic baskets:
cookies and cashews
Croissants with fresh preserves
and your infectious giggle
I had the distinct honor of reading this commissioned piece for the DC Commission of the Arts screening of “Life’s Essentials with Ruby Dee”. I hope you are inspired by it:
Before King David wore his crown
before he ever used a slingshot to knock Goliath down
the reason King Saul kept this young man around
because his hands on the harp made a beautiful sound
He was musician
a real life alchemist
and a real life warrior
art in action
For centuries artists have reminded us
who we are and what we are fighting for
there is a time and place
where we need the artist
who will carve stones
and throw them as well
now is that time
We need a spoken word
we need love as an ember,
fanned by simile
stoked with iambic pentameter
I imagine David was the harpist equivalent of Fela
Malcolm X multiplied by James Brown divided by Nigeria
conducting the royal court like his orchestra
vamping around raw honest truths
David would’ve have been talking mad ish about the Philistines
We don’t need ancestry.com
to know that David is in Ruby Dee’s DNA
She has collected her own book of Psalms
giving the world exposure to our realities
ushered us from black & white
both armor bearer and muse to Kings
marching with them into battle
maturing to become royalty themselves
We need a song from you
peace as a soaring lyric
with melody for feathers
layered over a rhythm as wings
Mahalia Jackson would have been a great David
telling the King to share his dream
so it might live among us as a living, breathing thing
nothing soothes the soul, like a song from god
reminding you why you are here
Tupac came back as one of David’s latest reincarnations
some people can sing about fighting Goliath
fewer will pick up a stone and throw one at him
very few will do both
it takes an honesty of character,
that can only be proven by monumental flaws
Tupac and David were thug life
We need a soul stirring soliloquy
the stage is set with patience
justice will make a cameo in the finale
Maybe young David was more Robeson
These brothers were horrified
that their brothers in arms
would let a Goliath of a monster
make threats that went unchallenged
both would die fighting to repel any foe
with every fiber of their being
and ounce of pure talent
Nothing stirs the soul like art
it’s why Baptist ministers preach with rhythm
good writing is the moon that raises the tides of change
that’s why Baldwin’s books get banned in schools
it’s why artists become warriors and lead nations
art and action
art in action
David is amongst us
Black Root is the proto-typical local artist. Some would take that as a diss, as a statement on Black Roots commercial and artistic ceiling. As a “local” artist my self, I can tell you that it can be the highest compliment. He has rooted himself deeply into the inner fabric of a community. His every artistic expression is a living journal of the people and places he loves and takes care of. This the legacy of the griot and djali.
This is what Black Root brings in his incredibly polished and diverse debut EP “Prelude to Procrastination”. The title of the project (and title track) give you the impression that this project is long overdue, yet it is right on time. It doesn’t feel stale, shelved or rushed. It seems simmered, steeped and marinated. It’s what happens when you’ve honed your artwork on stages from Baltimore to Richmond over the course of a decade. It’s what happens when your family, your community and your students are the number one driving force behind your career.
You can hear all the funk and rock pioneers in the production of his first single “Rock to It”. With his infectious energy (half James Brown, half KRS-1) emanating from your speakers in a soul stirring challenge to keep moving forward with energy and enthusiasm.
“My Mom’s Hands” will make you give your mom that random I-Love-You-Phone-Call you’ve been meaning to do for weeks (or put fresh flowers where she rests in peace). All the intimacy, longing, joy and pain we love about blues comes through crystal clear in this track. It truly belongs in a movie montage, complete with black and white slow motion shots of life worn hands and motherly smiles.
Black Root’s stage performance is an adrenaline rush, then an emotional release, then a brain bending journey inside the mind of a business man and teacher (see his track “I Be”). For those of us doing art along the Baltimore Washington Parkway, Black Root is home cooking the way we love it. Part hip-hop, part funk, part go-go and a whole lot of spoken word.
Very few songs on a debut project accurately capture the raw feeling an artist can give on stage, but “PG Represent” track does just that. I speak for a large community when I say that Black Root is ours. He is part of a movement, a feeling, an artistic renaissance that our children will talk about later. Black Root is what happens when that community is respected by that the artists who are part of it. When each word of your lyric matters, and each drop of sweat on stage is an investment into yourself and your whole scene. Us locals have been blessed by Black Root’s energy for years now. That’s why “PG Represent” is my favorite track on this project, and why I had to hit it with a Watermelon Man Remix.
We are glad that the rest of the word can share in Black Root’s art through the CD and digital downloadable album. His art is local, but now his reach is infinite, and we want the rest of the world to see what he’s (we’ve) been working on. It wasn’t procrastination though. It was right on time. Check out the entire project here.
First of many blogs on the Young Audiences for Learning Maryland site. A little insight into my classroom…
By Bomani, Young Audiences teaching artist and Hip Hop poet
Before my recent residency with fourth-graders at Scholars K-8 in Baltimore County began, the teachers I worked with–Mrs. Brumbalow, Ms. Barnes, and Ms. Hicks–had prepared the students for my arrival. When I walked through the door on the first day, the students recognized me and treated me like a rock star, so I knew I had to make a meaningful impact.
At the beginning of a residency, there are three writing rules I give students:
- Artists don’t make mistakes, they make discoveries.
- Do not edit in your head.
- The only wrong answer is a blank answer.
Students are oftentimes drilled to memorize answers in order to score highly on assignments. Sometimes they become paralyzed with fear when asked their opinion, so I try to loosen them up to think creatively. Young people need to have freedom to develop an idea out loud without self-doubt and to not fear right…
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What are we marching for?
When I ask this question I am not being satirical. I’m not being an asshole trying to demean the efforts of thousands walking down the street with a backhanded question. I really want to know. I have the utmost respect for people who put their time, energy and body on the front line of non-violent protest.
My fear is that due to the one-dimensional way that the civil rights movement is taught, most of the people activated to do something about obvious injustice don’t know the art and science of the marches they admire in grainy black and white videos of Dr. King. They don’t know that the major aim of Dr. King’s marches was to embarrass the federal government (which was working relentlessly to claim it was more progressive than communist countries) into taking action. On top of that, not all the grainy black and white films are of marches or of King/NAACP/SCLC marches. There are dozens of strategies that marches work for, and not all of them are to beg the Federal government to do something about the local governments.
Are we marching like Garvey?
Garvey inspired young people to galvanize into a nation and repatriate to a nation that recognizes our humanity from its inception. Garvey was not asking for anything from the government. He was trying to show his people the strength they had in numbers, and the pride and real progress they could garner if they banned together as a nation.
Are we marching like Malcolm?
The Nation of Islam (then as now) can be seen marching in formation all over the country in black neighborhoods, but never to ask the government for anything. Their strategy for marching was to let the people in their black neighborhoods know that they were there, they were organized, they were disciplined, and they were going to control their own neighborhoods. This tactic would do the people of Ferguson well, considering that they have almost no representation on the city council or the police department.
Are we marching like Huey P Newton?
The Black Panther Party was marching, in the infamous footage we always see of them with guns, specifically as a counter to the police department. As you may know, the outlandish rate at which black men met untimely demise at the hands of law enforcement is hardly a new phenomenon. Now we simply have video cameras in everyone’s pocket, and social media so we can skip over the racist gatekeepers of national media. The Panthers wanted the police to know that they were armed and ready to die defending their families from the police. Republican icon Ronald Reagan even changed California gun laws to combat the radical idea that men and women were not going to simply be victims of the Oakland police department any more.
But let’s say we are marching like Dr. King. A noble cause, that forwarded the plight of black people in this country when it comes to blatant Jim Crow discrimination (but not financial discrimination or law enforcement discrimination). Can we expect the federal government to step in the way it did for them? We aren’t protesting against local election boards, or retail shops, or public transportation. We are protesting against law enforcement: The blue line and the originators of the “no snitching” rule. We cannot expect the National Guard to be called out on our behalf the way Kennedy and Johnson did for King and all the others who forcibly integrated the South. The National Guard has been called, not to defend us but to control us because we have a problem with unarmed black men being killed. What use is it trying to get the federal government involved if the President considers himself proof that institutional racism isn’t an issue any more? Obama is the black president who believes that being “neutral” means being “not-black” even on issues like police brutality. What other President could stay so quiet about an issue that affects a demographic that voted for him at a rate of the mid to upper 90 percentile?
For the past several weeks I’ve been joking from the stage and online about waiting for the “I wish a mufucka would” march. It becomes increasingly clear that this is what needs to happen though. Police and District Attorney’s are a team, together called Law Enforcement. They would like to keep the precedent that if they can claim a civilian resisted arrest in any form, that civilian’s death is justified. We can tell by the Eric Garner video that this idea simply isn’t true. Unless you truly believe a young Mike Brown (with his whole life ahead of him) committed suicide by police because he got caught with a five-dollar box of cigarillos, the argument that a wounded man 100 feet away was an imminent threat is garbage as well.
We know from our history that Dr. King’s marches had no effect on one of his main causes. The march on Washington was a march for “Jobs and Justice”. Black unemployment rate is still twice that of whites, and our median income gap between blacks and whites is greater than it was in South Africa at the height of apartheid. Marches, like the ones Dr. King lead, make the federal government react to the appearances of racism, but not the systematic racism that this country was based on.
Should we march? Yes. I was at the Million Man March, and it was one of the most important moments of my life. We weren’t marching asking for anything though. We were marching to show ourselves our strength in numbers, and to promise each other we would strengthen our communities. We should march to galvanize our communities and to insist amongst ourselves that law enforcement comes from our communities, not the occupying armies that exist in Ferguson and NY. Marching to activate others to our aid will not work.
So, yesterday I had the cutest kindergarten girl at an assembly in a private school ask me during the Q&A portion “Did you grow up poor?” and I had a 7th grader at a suburban public school tell me she thought Queen Latifah’s “U.N.I.T.Y.” video was intimidating because the “gang of people” in the streets. Both of them were white. I wasn’t offended at all. I told the kindergarteners that I was from a similar background as her, my parents paid for piano lessons and any other extra-curricular activities I wanted. I explained to the 7th grader, while playing the video back and pausing, that these people were simply in the street having a party.
… Continue Reading
First of all,
my young brother
pull your pants up.
i want to make this clear.
no, I’m not your father, your pastor, probably not your teacher
no, I am not Don Lemon.
I am your brother
in ’92 we were mack daddying and daddy mackin’
with all our clothes ass backwards
I’ve seen the great fathers, husbands and businessmen my boyz have become
your clothes are not an indicator
of your intelligence or aptitude.
We are a week away from my interactive performance and songwriting session called “Say It Loud” at Bloombars and I am excited about all the great art we will make as a community! For those of you 1819 L Street NW with me, my name is Bomani Armah and I am an artist and edu-tainer based in the DC Metropolitan area. For years I have been a strident support of community art, performing several times at Bloombars including several Watermelon Day celebrations that were extremely successful. When I am not on stage as a poet, emcee or event host, I spend my time as a creative writing teacher working with a myriad of organizations ) including the all the public school districts in Maryland and DC, as well as organizations like the United Methodist Church, the Washington National Cathedral, and Words Beats & Life.. My specialty is taking a room full of students (from k throughout graduate school) and have them synthesize a shared experience or lesson into a song. That is what we are going to be doing at Bloombars on this Friday September 19th!
“Hey Daddy”, my 8 year old asked from the back seat, “what’s weed?” I don’t know when I expected to have this conversation. Being realistic with myself I knew that I knew more, and had more curiosity about things in the adult world, than grown ups ever gave me credit for. This question from Olu wasn’t random. We were riding along listening to NPR while they aired a story on how the legalization of cannabis was affecting non-smokers in Colorado. I was living one of the affects of marijuana legalization right now: it is now irresponsible to simply have the “just say no” edict with your children in lieu of an in-depth conversation.
Social media has been great for the black community in the last couple of years. People are under the false impression that the killings of unarmed black men has been on the rise but, if you check the statistics, it has happened consistently throughout our history. What has changed is that now social media means we don’t have to wait for traditional mass media to report these incidents. The people on the ground have control of the story, and can broadcast it to as many people as they would like. Social media isn’t going to solve this age old American problem, but it has made it impossible to ignore. The rage on display in Ferguson is the result of years of abuse. The geography of Ferguson puts in smack in the middle of the country, the easiest location from people from all corners of the continental U.S. to come and
Sankofa Video and Books Cafe entrance looks like an island oasis. Trees and grass cascade from the front door down a series of short steps and an expansive patio, with stone walk ways meandering through the grass and bright umbrellas shielding its patrons at tables that invite you to come take a load off, drink a cup of Ethiopian coffee, and read a good book without looking at your watch. Sankofa. The African proverb turned favorite diaspora motto, “go back and fetch it”. It finds what was great about our past, and brings it to the future. That spirit is why having Watermelon Day there was so perfect. With all the books and movies glorifying our people, our struggle, our strength, Haile and Shirikiana Gerima (the famed film makers and owners of Sankofa Video & Books Cafe) love to also show how our great history is, and are committed to affecting our present and our future.
On August 3rd at 3pm the crowd had already started to gather. Folks were eager to experience the live art that would fill the next 5 hours. Others were nervous that the free watermelon wasn’t going to last long once word got out on Georgia Ave. Mostly though, they were there to smile, clap to the rhythm, snap at the punch-lines, cheer on the babies, and bask in the beauty that is Red Black and Green. There was no cause to fight for, no point to prove, just a few hours to reflect on how great the summer can be. I live for these moments. As much as I am addicted to social media, and blogging, and the latest youtube viral videos, nothing compares to real life cultural experiences. It’s one thing to comb the bookshelves of this store to be reminded of how beautiful and intelligent we are, it’s another thing to feel it with all 5 senses. That’s what we had on Watermelon Day.
Drew “Droopy the BrokeBaller” Anderson and Dwayne B aka the Crochet Kingpen are two of the most beloved figures in the DC spoken word and open mic scene, so it was only natural that we asked them to be our hosts for tonight. Few people “talk about it and be abou it” the way Tehuti aka Meta4 does. A pillar of the late turn of the millennium U street scene, he made his triumphant return to the mic, spittin’ molten lava rhymes about his people conquering all adversity. The crowd was with him for every bar!
DC Youth Slam Team was recently named the world champion of youth poetry at the 2014 Brave New Voices slam competition in Philadelphia last month, and for 20 minutes they showed their home town crowd how they took home the crown. With constant chants of “Three stars! Two bars! Haaaaayyyy!” they kept us old folks smiling while we admired their youthful energy. As soon as they got into their poems we were blown away by their maturity, stage presence, and meticulous attention to detail in every word they put into their poems.
The Kuumba Kids, lead by Mama Bashea, always gets the little ones up and moving. Before the they know it, the children have learned something (like the origins of math in Africa, or how to greet someone in Swahili) without even realizing it. The highlight of their set always is the “Teach Me How to Dougie” remix of the Itsy Bitsy Spider. They even had the 60 year old kids doing the spider move with their hands while shaking their hips.
Ka’ba Akintunde should be cloned immediately and shipped overnight to every summer time barbeque on the planet. His soulful voice and late 70’s sensibilities made everyone remember the days of Sly and the Family Stone, and Bill Withers. He even brought Haile out of his comfortable chair in the air conditioned bookstore when Ka’Ba broke into the classic “I’ve Got My Mojo Working”. Ka’Ba certainly did.
Leftist is that band that everyone is going to say (and many people bold face lie) “I knew them when…”. Their ascension in hip hop rap/rock music is inevitable, as their metallic yet soulful riffs compliment their introspective and motivational lyrics perfectly.
The drummers and dancers from Farafina Kan made the crowd swell to epic proportions, almost beginning to block the south bound traffic on Georgia Ave. I am completely partial to this group, its members consisting of my sons Olu and Dela as well as many of the students I teach as part of the Sankofa Homeschooling Collective. That said, it is still undeniable the level of musicianship and professionalism from these kids led by Baba Mahiri and Mama Nkenge
It was great seeing Haile Gerima, professor and film maker, most known in the States for the movie Sankofa, sit in the corner on the patio, arms folded, slight smile, bobbing his head in approval like a proud Baba. Tensi was slammed in the kitchen of the Cafe. Everyone had a sandwich, or a fruit smoothie, or a salad. They later reported that this was by far the best day they had all summer . I will be posting more info about Watermelon Day, and how you can be involved in the next one soon (as well as more video and photos as we edit them). Check out RichFoxStudios for more pics!
I’m the Black Colin Powell, so glad we met/
I’m the crazy lover father who ain’t taking his meds/
in the middle of the stage just shaking his dreads/
who uses his words just for raising the dead/
most rappers use their gift to get the ladies in bed/
’cause the sound of his voice makes her panties wet/
he has the power to make her do what he said/
he uses that to say “shake your ass, give me head”?/
I’d rather build a nation instead/
of women bringing home the dough and baking the bread/
versed in healing the body and shaking the feds/
who know the battles we’ve fought and the path we’ve tread/
who can handle post pardom, or pre-med/
ain’t worried about the stardom, or the street cred/
with a pencil or a gun, she’s aiming the lead/
and when she’s done all the ignorance is dead/
This is what I fight for/
what I read and I write for/
stay up all hours of the night for/
you a soldier make sure you’re in the right war/
I. Do. This. For. My. People./
My people (come on), my people (come on)/
Hola amigo. Como esta?/
Rap last name Burton 1st one is Levar/
like Jordy Leforge who worked for Captain Pekard/
I travel to the future faster than the light from a star/
if you don’t know your Roots you won’t know who you are/
So I take you to a time before they brought us from afar/
to when reading a book meant breaking the law/
Like slaves eat sugar cane, have you eating it raw/
Have you chewing on the truth until it’s breaking your jaw/
“till you get the picture I’ll continue to draw/
connections from the past help you see what they saw/
from your great-great-grandma’s great-grandma/
I know you might think this brother is odd/
or that the mission he’s on is way to hard/
but I’m swearing to God, I don’t need your applause/
I don’t need you on my team, Man I’m raising a squad/
what I read and I write for/
stay up all hours of the night for/
you a soldier make sure you’re in the right war/
I. Do. This. For. My. People./
My people (come on), my people (come on)/
I’m Mr. Read a Book, the man the myth/
I”ve got the power of the force, but I ain’t a sith/
I took Lil’ Jones voice, and Beethoven’s 5th/
and rocked the hip-hop world like a planetary shift/
Leafing through the books like I’m rolling a spliff/
putting knowledge in the air, go ahead take a wiff/
Never under estimate a man with a gift/
or a hungry young lion who can see what he sniffs/
has measured his prey, knows the height and the wiff/
ready to fight ’cause he’s pissed, using his mic like a fist/
Telling the truth, ain’t no need to resist/
Rap perjury needs to cease and desist/
Cointelpro rappers don’t need to exist/
Spittin’ fighting words but they swing and they miss/
“The harder they come the harder they fall” – Jimmy the Cliff
“I love it when a plan comes together” – Hannibal Smith
This is what I fight for/
what I read and I write for/
stay up all hours of the night for/
you a soldier make sure you’re in the right war/
I. Do. This. For. My. People./
My people (come on), my people (come on)/
Written, Recorded and Produced by Bomani D. Armah from Bomani Armah Publishing
“The function, the very serious function of racism is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining, over and over again, your reason for being. Somebody says you have no language, so you spend twenty years proving that you do. Somebody says your head isn’t shaped properly, so you have scientists working on the fact that it is. Somebody says you have no art, o you dredge that up. Somebody says you have no kingdoms, so you dredge that up. None of that is necessary. There will always be one more thing.” – Toni Morrison Portland State, “Black Studies Center public dialogue” May 30, 1975.
My life is like a slice of watermelon.
Words I would never have written (let alone said) 10 years ago. My penchant for respectability politics at the times had me less like Malcolm X, and more like Don Lemon. Okay, never as bad as Don Lemon, but bad enough to half jokingly/ half seriously say to a friend at a party “I’d grab a piece of watermelon, but there are too many white people around.” I’ll never forget what he said. “You better eat that!”, while shooting a look best described as “you-dred-having-dashiki-wearing-kwanzaa-celebrating-back-to-africa-but-still-scared-of-what-white-people-think-of-you-ass-nigga”. I felt convicted. My reaction was slow, and brooding, but showed itself in every way that I have represented my people, my community and my family ever since.
I’ve been dealing a lot with misogyny this week. Something I want to write more about because of how heavily it weakens the men and children who are surrounded by it. I thought I’d start with posting this poem I wrote for SLAM THEATRE 2.0: The Miseducation, a play that ran for the Intersections Festival at the Atlas Theater in 2011. I was commissioned to write poems based on The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill song titles. It was performed a by a woman, and I was flattered that many women assumed a woman wrote it. More on this topic soon…
this is not a prayer
this is an ultimatum
addressed to the coat of armor
you call your manhood
whether addressed as dad
or patriarchal society
… Continue Reading
I read this tonight, flaws and all, at the Fighting Cancer with Poetry Event. I was gonna lie, but i just wrote this today. this topic deserved a poem, and this event was the impetus for it. thanks for reading.
This is a letter to the front line.
A telegram to the trenches in this war we wage against cancer.
As I sit here safe at home, basking in the glorious bliss of ignorance,
I reflect on those drafted into this cold war.
In every epic battle that is waged in this world, its warriors have waited
for written words from the ones they are fighting for
I’m the onlooker
who learns laborious latin words for chemical warfare in my own leisure
the tongue twisting
the brain busting
is nothing compared
to the way these words wind their way through the sinews of actual bodies
I’m the bystander
Marking off birthdays
while bobbing and weaving past colonoscopy jokes
giggling at incontinence and erectile dysfunction commercials
target marketing aimed at a me I have not yet grown to be
the explosive flack men get from their wives
when they aren’t taking care of their equipment
… Continue Reading
In fourteen hundred ninety-two
Columbus sailed the ocean blue.
It’s amazing the things people discover by accident. Discovering that my sons where learning the poem that began with those lines was the end of my children’s public education. You see, I don’t pay attention to Columbus Day. Other than wishing there was a hell for him to burn in every October 12th, I could care less about the man and the day dedicated to him. So when I decided to pop in on my sons’ class a year ago today, it was not to make some social political statement about the use of erroneous history in our school systems. I didn’t even realize the date yet. Being self-employed just gave me the luxury to find out how they were adjusting to being in the same class.
We had been trying to keep the twins in different rooms, letting them develop their own personalities and reputations separately. These early years are the most important ones for children to discover themselves. In Pre-K a teacher notoriously said to me “Your son hit Mary during recess”, to which I responded “Which son?” and she answered, “I don’t know, one of them”. I couldn’t believe she had the nerve to say that to me. What was I supposed to do with that information? Was I supposed to punish both of them? My sons are twins, and I don’t expect people who see them on only Thanksgiving and Christmas to tell them apart, but this was their teacher. Their differences are obvious, from the shapes of their faces, their height and build, the sounds of their voices, and their general approach to life.
Here in the 1st grade, they had both tested into the T.A.G. (Talented and Gifted) class, and there was only one of those classes in the school. We could have picked which one was going to stay in the class, to keep them separated, but then that seemed unfair to the one not getting the more rigorous education. Their mom and I aren’t the easiest parents to deal with in the public school system setting. We have our own ideas about what was appropriate for our children, going as far as telling the teacher and principal in kindergarten not to expect our sons to have their homework done all the time. It was just too much, and we planned on letting them just be 5. Our belligerence might have been more bearable if we weren’t so active, but at least twice a month both of us where in the classroom, and Eshe was volunteering so much at the school that she went on field trips with children that weren’t even her own.
So here they were at the beginning of the school year, in the same classroom, with an obviously talented and caring teacher. She was 8 months pregnant when the school year started, and was counting down the days to leave. You could feel it in the air. So when she was replaced by a long term substitute, a retired teacher they brought back for the months the original teacher was on maternity leave, we weren’t upset about it. She was old school. I don’t think she had the energy to have lasted the whole year but she was a loving and determined teacher, giving the kids all she had for the few months she was substituting. On the day I happened to walk into the classroom, she had just started the day’s lesson on Christopher Columbus.
October 12 their dream came true,
You never saw a happier crew!
As an educator myself, I know that the 1492 poem isn’t used in schools any more. At least not used in schools where the parents of the students actually read books like Zinn’s “A People’s History”. Maybe (shoot probably) in places like Texas, where they have replaced the term “slave holders” with “planters” in the history books, they still have their students read fanciful recollections of our countries glorious founding. But in Maryland you won’t find the 1492 poem unless it has been heavily edited to be more factually correct. My sons joined their classmates in working on the handouts the teacher on maternity leave had left. It was pretty much factual. Columbus set sail and landed in the Bahamas. It didn’t go into how much of a mistake it was, maybe just mentioning it. I would have had my students using a thesaurus to find new synonyms for “dumb-ass” to describe Columbus, but I had missed my chance to be the radical teacher. This is the reality we are faced with. This is the education my children are going to receive, and I have to find ways to augment it separately. Then the substitute, in what she thought was a stroke of genius, pulled out the teaching material she had been using her whole career to teach about Columbus. She passed this lie of a poem to every student in the classroom. Me, trying to stay cool and remember the rules of observing a class, waited until she was by herself to tell her that I am positive she is not supposed to use this poem. “It isn’t true” I tell her. “But it rhymes, so it’s easy to remember, and the kids love it!” she says with a smile. I’m a smart ass, with a desire to argue and debate in the marrow of my bones. I have no idea how I was able to let her say that and not respond. She didn’t say “no, it is true” she said “but it rhymes, it’s easy to remember and the kids love it”. I could have had a field day on her ass. That would have made me the angry black radical in her class. I didn’t have time for that.
I pulled Olu and Dela to the side instead, kneeled down real low so I could look them in their eyes, and said “hey guys, you are doing a great job in class today. I just want you to know that this poem about Columbus is bullshit (I’ve taught my sons that curse words should be used sparingly, and to only accentuate an important point) and Columbus was one of the worst people. Ever! We’ll talk about it more later”.
This Columbus Day gaffe strikes extra close to home, and made me feel even more convicted about my initial promise to homeschool my children, because at one point I was training to be a high school history teacher. Back in the 1996, I was a wide eyed freshman at the University of Maryland, who knew deep in his heart all he wanted to be was a teacher. After enrolling in the school of education as a secondary ed and history major, I had all the fanciful dreams of teaching kids the “real” history of America. These dreams came to a screeching halt when I had a conversation in 1997 with one of my frat brothers’ mother who was a teacher. I gave her my pie in the sky reasoning for teaching kids history and she tells me, “you are going to be frustrated your whole career. You won’t be allowed to teach history the way you are imagining it. There is going to be a curriculum and a script you must stick to, and that’s it”. I discovered that being a public school teacher wasn’t for me. I can’t live other people’s inconsistencies. Maybe my own, but being paid to teach children something I didn’t believe would have driven me mad.
“Indians! Indians!” Columbus cried;
His heart was filled with joyful pride.
This sent my young idealistic mind into a tail spin that I have never recovered from. Trust me, my closest friends and the people I admire most are educators. Our nations school system is setup to teach our children “what to think” more than it is “how to think”, but teachers everywhere (especially here in the state of Maryland) are dedicated to giving students comprehension tools and life lessons beyond the facts that are crammed into their heads to pass standardized tests. I have no fear that my children would be okay in the public school system, but my goal for my children is for them to be more than okay. I don’t want my sons to discover the African diaspora, and the world before European domination at a later age. I want them to know the history of where they are from first, and learn this alien system second. Discovering later what it means to be part Cape Verdean, descendants of West Africans, part Native American people of South Carolina, and how these people had their own civilizations before being virtually annihilated by those who followed Columbus, is not the perspective I want for them. Discovering that I had forfeited control of the process was too much for me to handle. Realizing that the school hadn’t even started deifying the slave-holding founding fathers was giving me nightmares.
By some stroke of fate I had stumbled into my children’s class on the right day. But unlike Christopher Columbus, stumbling like a toddler onto the “new world” and destroying it, I discovered my reasons for originally wanting to homeschool. This forced me to rededicate myself to that mission. Homeschooling has not been easy. I am still learning how to balance my business and homeschooling, with homeschooling being the top priority. But I have discovered many resources and a village of people willing to help our children become the people we know they can be. I hope to share more of that in this blog and in my art as we discover new ways to see the world. But today I thank Columbus, well, the teacher who shouldn’t have had my sons read that Columbus poem. It was the discovery I needed.
The first American? No, not quite.
But Columbus was brave, and he was bright.
At four o’clock Eshe called me with anger in her voice “I can’t believe the teacher gave them that damn 1492 poem! They had it in their hands when they left the building. I took it out of their hands and ripped it up. I’m sure all the other parents thought I was crazy. I don’t even care! I told them that this wasn’t true and they said ‘I know, Daddy already told us’. Remember when we were talking about homeschooling?”
The first thing I was told I need to do to start homeschooling is to “unschool”. To get out of the idea that lessons and learning have to be in a sterile environment with rote memorization of facts. This seems to be the most fun thing about homeschooling so far, and it’s interesting finding ways to connect our every day actions to standard lesson plans, the scientific method, the engineering process, and “common core” curriculum. That is what we did last week working to discover the perfect vegan waffle. We read books and learned more about reading maps, but this is the most interesting thing we did, so I will let you in on our process.
We were presented with this problem. Olu & Dela love their granddad’s waffles, he makes them at least once a week when we are at his house on Sunday mornings. Unfortunately the boys eczema and other physical problems are exacerbated by dairy. Over the summer they completely cut dairy from their diet (for the millionth and final time) and it cleared up their skin easily. So, how do we enjoy waffles, while maintaining that diet? We decided to experiment with different vegan waffle recipes and see what changes and variations we can make. We found this recipe online. … Continue Reading
“What are you doing Bomani? I’m a groupie!”
She was West African chocolate. She was raw and un-cut. Sweet as watermelon with sugar on top, but would bite you back when you tasted her. It’s why I fell in love with her. I fell way too far, too quickly in love with her. She saw it, and slammed on the brakes for me. Thanks.
You see, I am a recovering serial monogamist. Look it up in the dictionary, it’s a real thing:
Serial – adj affecting or producing a series of similar actions. The police think a serial killer is responsible for five homicides in this city last month.
Monogamy – n 1. Marriage with only one person at a time. Compare bigamy polygamy 2. zoology. The practice of having only one mate. 3. the practice of marrying only once during life.
Just when I thought I was clever, and had come up with my own parlance for this condition, I found the definition for “serial monogamy” on my dictionary app. Check it:
Serial monogamy – n 1. A form of monogamy characterized by several successive, short-term marriages over the course of a lifetime
… Continue Reading
I’ve spent my adult life working with young black men, from all economic and social backgrounds, arming them with the rules I have learned to navigate the bi-polar United States that we live in. This world is a complicated matrix of social constructs and unjust laws, a matrix my peers and our elders thought we at least understood (though we haven’t mastered). We knew who the enemy was and how to avoid them. We recognized, painfully, that some were going to be casualties, collateral damage, in this struggle. Some would fall victim to the stray bullet in gang related drive by. Some would have their wallet mysteriously confused for a gun by police. That not withstanding, we knew what neighborhoods to tell them to avoid, what colors not to wear, and how to talk to a badge-carrying officer of the law. This complicated matrix was a math equation we taught in our schools, churches, and after school program. But now, just like “The Matrix” (the popular turn of the millennium movie) this equation we thought we had figured out has an Agent Smith. More accurately, an Agent Zimmerman.
scroll down to see music videos and live performances from navon smith. listen and read along!
Bomani Armah: How’s everybody doing? This is Bomani Armah, broadcasting live from the Even Place. Today we are doing The Indie, my show dedicated to independent art, independent business, independent thought. So, it was only a matter of time before I had my man, Von aka the Voice of a Nation, better known as NaVon Smith here in the studio. Introduce yourself to everybody Navon.
Navon Smith: Hey what’s up, what’s up, what’s up? This is Navon Smith. It’s all good. You know, a lot of people having their issues with the name change.
Bomani Armah: We were just talking about it. We’ve known each other for a lot of our artistic careers, you know what I’m saying? Back in the—
Navon Smith: You’re almost close to eight or nine years, I think when it was going on.
Bomani Armah: Yeah, yeah it has been. We were doing shows next to The Howard Theatre at this place called [inaudible 00:44]. And, I was telling people—I’ve bragged about this for ten years and it becomes truer and truer every time. I know my favorite MCs personally. You know, people with skills, people with drive, and people who I believe what they’re saying because I see them live the lifestyle that they’re talking about. And so you were telling me one of the things that we were talking about is kind of the reinvention, the re-emergence of you as a hip hop artist. You had this project V for Vendetta, I remember that when you were releasing it and now you know, you’re moving units in the streets with it and now you’re doing it again releasing music videos. Tell people about the project a little bit.
Navon Smith: V for Vendetta is like the title—if you seen V for Vendetta, then you kind of know—you kind of know the direction of the album or what have you. It’s definitely really social conscious hip hop album, but we’ve never got the visuals for it, it never went viral, it was strictly in the streets. I was a stubborn guy back then. I didn’t believe in internet, I didn’t believe in, you know, the whole thing and I just want to get that out there. You know, we revamped it, we put out the video ‘Fear’, which is going to be like the lead single off of the album, which is getting like a crazy response.
Everybody is loving ‘Fear’ right now. I didn’t think people were going to get it. I didn’t care, but they got it; so it feels good, you know what I mean, when people get it. But, yeah that’s pretty much it man, V for Vendetta.
Bomani Armah: So, one of the things you know, I’ve been learning to do recently especially when talking to artists is to begin with the art. So, what we’re going to do is we’re going to play that song and for the people who are watching this on the video blog, we’re going to show the video, but give us all the set-up we need to know for the song. What’s going on with this?
Navon Smith: ‘Fear’, everybody hears it differently, but fear is about nature, it’s about Mother Nature, it’s about women and about women being God and it’s about that awakening, you know what I mean?
Bomani Armah: Gotcha.