Donnie’s ‘The Daily News’ Delivers

donnie.jpgArthur, a Black gay gospel singer (who goes secular) and protagonist in James Baldwin’s last novel Just Above My Head says (something to the effect) that a singer cannot simply sing the notes of a song. They have to find themselves in it. It must become their testimony.

No other contemporary singer, as far as I’m concerned, embodies this more than Donnie. The Kentucky raised, Atlanta-based, soul singer doesn’t simply sing his songs. He preaches, he shouts, he praises. He is the embodiment of a soul singer–the sound that is both the sinner and the saved–the choir boy who’s been around the block.

His second album, The Daily News, picks up where his debut, The Colored Section, left off. It’s interesting because Donnie has described The Colored Section as a reflection of his state of mind at the time it was recorded–angry. What’s interesting, is that The Daily News, to me, while the lyrics aren’t as biting (and Donnie sounds more at ease), musically it is the more aggressive.

The CD opens with Impatient People, a jumpin’ soul track that makes you clap and scream like you in church, as good soul music is supposed to do. The song is emblematic of one of Donnie’s greatest skills–the ability to use background vocals to your advantage. First of all to employ the best background vocalists in the business, but also to write the hell out of their parts, so they are very much a part of the fabric of the song. They are sometimes like a choir into themselves, singing with, in response, and sometimes in opposition to Donnie’s lead vocal.

The second track, 911, is probably my favorite (at least right now this is one of those records you have to work with and around for a long time).Donnie apparently lived in NYC when 9-11-01 happened, and when I saw him play Joe’s Pub in 2006, he said that this song was born out of that experience. What is most striking is the line

I’ll trade the World Trade to spend some time with you babe/I’ll trade my racism, my sexism, my homophobia/Trade all my funny ways/My financial center/Gonna be a cold and lonely winter without you, babe…

Has anyone ever told you they’ll trade their racism, sexism and homophobia for you? That’s some deep kinda love when you’re gonna dig up the craziest part of your psyche, and surrender it to be in love? That’s the kind of shit you throw drawers on the stage for, people!

My other favorites are the first single If I Were You, Over the Counter Culture, and the title track (and funky ass hell), The Daily News, but it’s the kinda CD that you don’t listen to once and put on the shelf, or only play your favorite two or three tracks from. And as I am scrolling back and forth through my iPod listening to the songs over and over, I am changing my mind about favorites thinking “Hmm…Classifieds is kinda hot, as is Robot, and For Christ’s Sake got me bobbin my head.” In that sense its a real composition, and forces you to go back over time and listen to everything, because you’re not going to get it all in one listen. That’s intellect. That’s art.

In terms of the sound, Donnie continues his working relationship with producer Steve “the Scotsman” Harvey, which mostly works. It seems as though they heard the critiques (from damn fools, in my not-so-humble opinion) that The Colored Section sounded too much of another era–a Stevie Wonder/Donnie Hathaway lost collection. It’s clear that those are a part of Donnie’s influences, but make no mistake about it, he is his own artist.

Part of the reason for his classic soul sound is the live instruments with harmonicas and tamborines, slinky basslines, and that kinda funk/soul where the melody of the lyrics bob and weave in and out, or come to an abrupt stop in the groove, that you make ugly faces when you listen to it. The music is courtesy of some of the finest musicians to come from the golden era of soul music including Al McKay (Earth, Wind, & Fire), Jimi Macon (Gap Band), Bobby Watson (Rufus, Michael Jackson), and Wayne Linsey (Stevie Wonder, Anthony Hamilton) – and according to Donnie’s PR people, all of whom wanted to work with Donnie because of his unique ability to deliver old school Soul performances that speak to today’s audience.

And Donnie speaks to today’s audience. The Daily News is exactly that. Music about us, today as we are now. And it’s asking us to be better.

Ciara’s Like A Boy: So Black and So Gay!

So this week is NYC Black Pride, with upcoming festivities this week that I will be featuring, so I will be largely ignoring the news. Instead of bringing you my normal mix of news analysis and pop culture crit, I am going to feature news about Black LGBT/Queer life specifically. In addition to my normal post, I will also post a music video that I think is particularly queer–whether the artist is queer or not. So often GLBT gets reduced to white, and Black gets reduced to str8. But there is a visual culture that is black AND queer, and many artists who know that they have black queer audiences, make use of these visual or language cues that speak to that audience, while the heteros are none the wiser. That’s partly what this series is about.

So today’s “So Black and So Gay” pick is Ciara’s “Like a Boy.”

I first saw this video on VH1 Soul a few months back, and I gagged. The song itself is a woman asking her boyfriend what would happen if she did to him all the things that men do to women. Ciara is dressed as herself in this super-hot babydoll dress AND dressed as a man dancing with “herself.” All of the backup dancers are women dressed in a real butch/AG drag effect.

It’ super hot, and so Black and so Gay! Enjoy!

Voter Caging AKA Fraud Exposed on PBS’ NOW

I am lame with no life on a Friday–why else would I be blogging? But I am about to head out to catch Kasi Lemmons‘ 3rd film, Talk to Me, starring Don Cheadle. But before I go, I just wanted to point you to an incredible piece of reporting on what is called “Voter Caging” which was done by the PBS investigative newsmagazine show, NOW w/David Brancaccio.

It was an important piece of journalism for people interested in the electoral process, and what is possibly behind this brewing scandal with Alberto Gonzalez and Karl Rove. You can watch the video on the PBS site. Here’s what they say about the episode:

Was there a White House plot to illegally suppress votes in 2004? Is there a similar plan for the upcoming elections? This week NOW examines documents and evidence that points to a Republican Party plan designed to keep Democrats from voting, allegedly by targeting people based on their race and ethnicity with key battleground states like Ohio and Florida of particular interest. “It was a partisan, discriminatory attempt to challenge voters of color,” Eddie Hailes, a senior attorney for The Advancement Project, a civil rights group, told NOW.

Was the White House involved? David Iglesias, one of the fired U.S. Attorneys, thinks so: “It’s reprehensible. It’s unethical, it’s unlawful. It may very well be criminal.” Iglesias told NOW he was repeatedly urged by his superiors at the Justice Department to investigate allegations of false voter registrations. After his investigations came up short, Iglesias said Republican officials got angry and complained to White House aide Karl Rove. Soon after Iglesias lost his job. As a result of allegations by Iglesias and others, Congress is investigating whether the White House acted unlawfully.

While Attorney General Alberto Gonzales refused to answer many questions about the controversy as he testified before the Senate this week, Iglesias told NOW he believes the White House is keeping documents from Congress to protect the Bush Administration. “That’s why there has been such a circling of the wagons around Karl Rove and Harriet Miers and Sarah Taylor. I believe there to be incriminating, possibly criminally incriminating evidence contained in those e-mails and other memoranda,” he said.

Unicef’s Blackface Ads in Germany

Sometimes I wish these NGO’s would stop and think for a minute. I don’t know who they hire to do their PR work, but it tends to run from the sublime to the ridiculous, especially when the subject is Africa.

I got this from a friend, and these are apparently ads that are running for a UNICEF campaign in Germany to raise awareness (and get people to dig in their wallets) about poverty in Africa. A Black German Media Watch Organization called Der Braune Mob is organizing people to respond to it. I do not speak German–but I was sent these translations, which I have posted underneath each photo–so if there are German speakers who read my blog, feel free to correct the translations.

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“I’m waiting for my last day in school, the children in Africa still for their first one.”

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“In Africa, many kids would be glad to worry about school.”

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“In Africa, kids don’t come to school late, but not at all.”

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“Some teachers suck. No teachers sucks even more.”

Unfortunately, if it was clear to the average German that this is wrong, UNICEF and the advertising agency wouldn’t come out with such a campaign.

The following is part of the message in my email I received:

Please write your opinion and help make clear and explain why it is wrong to use “blackface with mud”, and write to UNICEF at publicrelations@unicef.de as well as the advertising agency at info@jvm.de with a copy to Black German media-watch-orgaiztion info@derbraunemob.de what you feel about this campaign and why. Please include a line that you’re going to publish your mail and the response.

By the way, the slogan of the advertising agency who came up with this, reads “we communicate on eye-level.”

Iraqi Soldiers Makes Fun of Black Americans

This video is too many things. None of them good. You must watch it. What it makes me think about, which I have been thinking about for quite some time, is the manner in which images of African-Americans get transplanted across the globe.

Iraqi soldiers here, are clearly identifying with the white American soldier(s) filming this video. The most disturbing moment is when the Iraqi solder mimicks neo-Nazis, and says “White Power! No Black Power.”

I just can’t.

New Medicaid Rules to Block Undocumented Also Impacts US Citizens

Today the Associated Press reported that a 2006 law that was supposed to prevent undocumented immigrants from getting Medicaid, has meant a decrease in US citizens applying. The AP reports

The Government Accountability Office surveyed states on the impact of the new rules. Twenty-two of 44 states reported enrollment declines, the GAO said Tuesday, and most of those states said the decline was due to delays in coverage or a loss of coverage for eligible citizens.

Meanwhile, 12 states said the requirement had no effect on enrollment. Ten others didn’t know.

Medicaid is the state and federal program that provides health coverage to the poor.

In responding to the report, the federal agency that oversees Medicaid raised concerns that states did not provide data to document their conclusions.

The GAO acknowledged that its review basically represents the perspective of state Medicaid officials.

“(They) stated the requirement has resulted in enrollment declines and has posed administrative burdens to states and individuals,” the report said. “Further, our survey results indicate that the effects states experienced in the first year may continue at least to some extent in the future.

There have been a lot of things written about Black/Brown relations, especially as it pertains to why African-Americans should support guest worker provisions or some kind of more progressive immigration policy. Usually these conversations fall back on some loosely defined “solidarity”—because African-Americans fought for de-segregation in the civil rights movement, that makes us somehow able to understand the need for a more humane immigration policy.

Personally I think Kwame Ture (then Stokely Carmichael) and Charles V. Hamilton had it right in in their book, Black Power. Black people should join coalitions where they have some concrete self-interest. And if we buy that as truth, then perhaps immigration rights groups interested in working with Black organizations ought to consider specific types of legislation like this, that also impacts Black people. In this case, people in need of Medicaid.

Last week I published a story on POZ.com about issues of treatment access for people with HIV in the US. I write:

Positive Americans who don’t have insurance apply for drug assistance through Medicaid, Medicare or the Ryan White Care Act, which underwrites the states’ AIDS Drug Assistance Programs (ADAP). ADAP is the payer of last resort—it will only provide prescription drug assistance where none exists or bridge the gaps in coverage where Medicaid, Medicare or private insurance are lacking. To qualify for any of these programs, one has to meet certain income or “disease progression” requirements. Because federal and state governments share funding responsibility, these requirements vary widely from state to state.

Though I focus on ADAP in that story, I learned in researching it that Medicaid is the largest insurer of people with HIV in the US. If that’s the case, what is the impact of the new rules about documents impact the ability of people who are HIV+ to get access to treatment and care?

Music News: Prince, Kelly Clarkson and the Music Industry

amd_prince_portrait.jpgThis has been an interesting week in music news. Prince released his new album today, Planet Earth, that created a buzz last week when he gave away 3million copies of the record in a British newspaper(Though the album has been getting mixed reviews). In addition, the New York Times wrote this really insightful article, helping to clarify the theory behind Prince’s innovative business strategies. Even though I have been writing similar pieces about Prince over the years, I think they added a fresh perspective, saying:

I’VE got lots of money!” Prince exults in “The One U Wanna C,” a come-on from his new album, “Planet Earth” (Columbia). There’s no reason to disbelieve him. With a sponsorship deal here and an exclusive show there, worldwide television appearances and music given away, Prince has remade himself as a 21st-century pop star. As recording companies bemoan a crumbling market, Prince is demonstrating that charisma and the willingness to go out and perform are still bankable. He doesn’t have to go multiplatinum — he’s multiplatform.

Prince’s priorities are obvious. The main one is getting his music to an audience, whether it’s purchased or not. “Prince’s only aim is to get music direct to those that want to hear it,” his spokesman said when announcing that The Mail would include the CD. (After the newspaper giveaway was announced, Columbia Records’ corporate parent, Sony Music, chose not to release “Planet Earth” for retail sale in Britain.) Other musicians may think that their best chance at a livelihood is locking away their music — impossible as that is in the digital era — and demanding that fans buy everything they want to hear. But Prince is confident that his listeners will support him, if not through CD sales then at shows or through other deals….

On the other side of things, Kelly Clarkson, my second fav Idol Winner (after Fantasia, of course), has gotten herself in a little trouble for telling the truth. She told Blender Magazine that music demi-god Clive Davis “hated ‘Walk Away’ and Because of You”’ and went further into dealing with her frustrations with her label and the industry in general:

“Everyone keeps saying how hard this record must be, because of all the crap surrounding it, but that last one was really hard to make. I literally got told to my face that it wouldn’t sell more than 600,000 copies. And I got lied to. One reason I don’t like working with people at the label is that they lie. They told me, ‘We really want you to go to Sweden. These people really want to write with you.’ So I flew to Sweden with lyrics I’d written to this track I’d been sent, ‘Since U Been Gone.’ I get there, and the writers are like, ‘Oh, we already have lyrics. We just want you to sing it.’ It was really awkward. It was mean. That’s why there’s no relationship with them. Because I don’t like to be lied to.”

Today, Clarkson announced that she and Davis were OK now, saying “Like any family we will disagree and argue sometimes but, in the end, it’s respect and admiration that will keep us together.”

Right. That’s called, she got a phone call/meeting and probably some thinly veiled threats to retract it or be dropped from the label or in some other way sabotaged.

Whatever the case, labels wonder why record sales are down. I keep saying, it’s not just about the internet or digital media. It’s about the fact that they try to sell an album the way they sell any other widget, and art, my friends doesn’t work that way. They treat artists as commodities, and so you have created a buying public that generally does not respect the art. And if I don’t respect it, why in the hell would I pay money for something I’ve been taught is just like last year’s fashion accessory–expendable disposable?

Kelly, take a lesson from Prince. Build your reputation as as a singer/songwriter/live performer, and people will pay to see you–damn a CD you’re not making any money off of anyhow. And that’s something the record labels can’t fuck with.

NOTE: For all of you who have been asking, and holding my feet to the flames, The Donnie “The Daily News” review is coming. I been working like a fiend and need to finish it. It’ll hit this week! I promise!