Black Music Month Ends: Choice Cuts

Today is the last day of Black Music Month–that nonsensical holiday where the music industry can reminisce about the the legends of yesterday (that they robbed blind or didn’t promote) and the artists of today (that they are robbing blind and don’t get the promotion the deserve.). So here are some new black music discoveries I’ve made in the last month I think are worth getting:

Algebra Blessett, Purpose: This Atlanta-native singer songwriter’s debut album took forever to be released. She’s signed to Neo-soul mogul Kedar Massenburg’s label, and the video for her first single You Do It For Me, was released nearly two years before the CD’s release this past spring. Her sound reminds me of the kind of R&B records that don’t get made anymore–sweet, but not shallow. You will quickly want to place her alognside India.Arie, but she’s much less new-agey–I think she’s more like Zhane. My favorite tracks are You Do it for Me, Halfway, My Pride and Don’t Leave. But there’s really not a bad song on here, and I have seen concert footage of her, and the production here, while good, it’s like most contemporary R&B records, so polished that you lose the sense of who the artist is in the production.

Aloe Blacc, Shine Through: This Los Angeles bred Afro-Panamanian has made one hell of a debut record. It actually came out in 2006, but I slept on it. He’s another one of these new black artists that can sing just as well as they rhyme, but not only that, is comfortable jumping genres, from Soul, Hip-hop, House, and Latin salsa. The label he’s signed to, Stone’s Throw, is producing some of the most innovative Black music–particularly hip-hop–than any other label I know (other acts include Georgia Anne Muldrow, Dudley Perkins, and Madlib). Aloe’s baritone vocals sound particularly raw in a world where most black male artists sound like their vocals have been run under a vocal iron–with little original tone or inflection. Chris Brown, cute as he is, sounds like a robot. Aloe even does some brave covers, “Long Time Comin'” is Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come,” and a Spanish version of John Legened’s signature tune Ordinary People (here called Gente Ordinaria).

Lastly, to visit the myspace page of the legendary Dionne Farris, when I saw she is soon going to release her first recording since her 1993 debut Wild Seed Wild Flower, an offering called Signs of Life. Well, I googled around for it, only to find ANOTHER RECORD she released in Decemeber called For Truth If Not Love–with no promotion or anything. She doesn’t even mention it on her myspace page. But If Truth If Not Love picks up right where Wild Seed left off–a moving blend of soul music. And by soul I mean everything from the country twinged “Stuck In the Middle,” to the deeply passionate R&B/soul track “Remember My Name.” This is really a work of utter brillance by an artist so dogged by an industry that has very little respect for Black women artists as a whole, and if it’s not sex(uality) you’re marketing, you have no place. This is not a record you can listen to and “like” in the first listen. Though not experimental or avant garde, it is music that will challenge the listener. Welcome back, Dionne!

And Happy 91st to Lena Horne!

Reading Gay Pride: Queer Book Review

This year’s NYC PRIDE is filled with not so mixed emotions, and we approach the big parade here this Sunday. Yep. I am pretty much bitter all around. First, two of my favorite queer spaces are closing. 275 Grand, the best (mostly) Black, bohemian, grown and sexy, queer lounge in Clinton Hill (and the only space like it in the city) is closing its doors Friday night. And I JUST found out that Meshell Ndegeocello is playing there tonight! So I’ll be there twice before they close.

My other favorite place in the meatpacking district in Manhattan is Florent, the 24 hour eaterie, is closing this weekend as well. Florent was one of my favorite places to eat, and Florent, the man himself, was always very sweet to the customers. It will sorely be missed as well.

If you’re a grumpy, anti-capitalist, nearing middle-aged queer like myself, the June Gay Pride festivities can be really annoying — especially in New York. Because there are five boroughs, the events seem to go on forever. Rainbow striped flags, key chains and booty shorts sprout all over the city, defying the drab earth tones of your camouflage shorts and black tank top. Cheesy dance remixes of even cheesier top 40 songs drown out your reflective folk tunes. Yep, June is no bowl of organic free-trade cherries for the political queers.

What I do in these tough times, as the happy-go-lucky gays parade up and down Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue this last week of June, is curl up with some good queer (non-fiction!) reading. Reading helps me get in touch with my inner, bitter queer, and I want to share some of the latest books I’m reading with my queer comrades out there who are throwing anti-Pride pity parties in our miserable little hovels across the tri-state this season. READ THE REST OF MY “READING GAY PRIDE ARTICLE” IN THIS ISSUE OF THE INDYPENDENT!!!

Silver Lining: Mugabe Will Die Soon

Morgan Tsvangirai, the opposition party leader  who was running against  Zimbabwean freedom-fighter turned President turned violent dictator Robert Mugabe has pulled out of the run-off election, citing the fear of retaliation against his supporters by government backed forces. He has since fled to the Dutch embassy in capital city Harare for protection. Mugabe has ruled since 1980. He’s now in his 80’s. The silver lining I can find in this drama, after he helped destroy everything that was built after the revolution, is that he won’t live much longer. That may be cruel, but less so than all the death he’s helped cause.

Halleluah!! 2 of Newark 4 Get Convictions Tossed in Appeal

From Newsday: NEW YORK – A New York state appeals court has reversed the gang assault convictions of two of four New Jersey lesbians convicted of attacking a man who was stabbed after he made advances toward one of them.

The court vacated the conviction of 21-year-old Terrain Dandridge on Thursday and dismissed the indictment against her. She was sentenced last year to 3{ years in prison. She’s expected to be released within days.

The court also vacated the conviction of 26-year-old Renata Hill and sent it back for a new trial. Hill was sentenced to eight years. Her lawyer says she’s “delighted” by the ruling.

The appeals of the other two women are pending.

The four were convicted of assaulting 30-year-old asshole Dwayne Buckle. He called the incident “a hate crime against a straight man.”
Special thanks to FIERCE, Human Rights Watch, Liberation in Truth Unity Fellowship Church, Sylvia Rivera Law Project and all the other organizations and individual activists who worked so hard to make this happen. And we comin for the last two! Stay tuned.

Saliva HIV Tests Showing False-Positives in NYC

If you’ve taken an HIV test, and have taken the 20 minute tests, you know there are two kinds: The finger prick test, and then the cheek-swab test. Well, NYC Department of Health has recently suspended use of the latter test because of a 3 year history of false-positives, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s latest MMWR (Morbidity & Mortality Weekly Report). They write:

The cause for the episodic increases in false-positive oral fluid tests has not yet been determined. NYC DOHMH has again suspended the use of oral fluid testing in STD clinics, and finger-stick whole-blood testing is the only rapid HIV test being used in this setting. These findings underscore the importance of confirming all reactive HIV tests, both from oral fluid and whole-blood specimens. In addition, the results suggest that the NYC DOHMH strategy of following up reactive oral fluid test results with an immediate finger-stick whole-blood test reduced the number of apparent false-positive oral fluid test results and might be a useful strategy in other settings and locations.

Testing with blood is simply more reliable, but the CDC goes on to explain why they still recommend the use of the saliva based HIV test:

CDC continues to encourage the use of rapid HIV tests because they increase the number of persons who are tested and who receive their test results. Six rapid HIV tests have been approved by FDA since 2002 (10). The New York City data indicate that repeating a rapid test on finger-stick whole blood after receiving a reactive oral fluid test result allows clinic counselors to provide more accurate test-result information to patients while minimizing the number of finger-stick tests that must be performed. Regardless, confirmatory testing is required to confirm both oral fluid and whole-blood reactive rapid HIV tests. Before testing, all patients should be informed that reactive rapid HIV test results are preliminary and require confirmation. In general, testing with blood or serum specimens is more accurate than testing with oral fluid and is preferred when feasible, especially in settings where blood specimens already are obtained routinely.

Overall, oral fluid rapid tests have performed well and make HIV testing possible in many venues where performing phlebotomy or finger sticks is impractical for screening. However, users should be aware of the unexplained variability in the rate of false-positive test results. CDC will continue to work with FDA and the manufacturer to investigate the causes and extent of increases in false-positive oral fluid tests, monitor the performance of oral fluid and other rapid tests to ensure that they continue to perform as expected in testing programs, and investigate other combination test strategies to minimize false-positive test results.

I hate giving blood, but if you can help it, get the finger-prick test. It’s really not painful and seems to be more reliable. Getting blood drawn is probably still the best way, but waiting for days on end for lab results is nerve wrecking, so I only do those when I get an annual physical and blood work done with my doctor. Even if you get a positive result any of the rapid tests, they will always do a blood draw to confirm the results, which is why they know the saliva test was giving a higher rate of false positives.

This Week in Black Masculinity: Barack Obama, R. Kelly, and Usher

Black men were in the news this week–and only one of them involved a criminal trial. But all of them in some way or another deal with problematic around Black men/masculinties and black male sexuality.

On Sunday, Barack Obama spent Father’s Day in Chicago delivering a speech about the need for Black men to be more engaged in the lives of their children. He said:

It’s up to us – as fathers and parents – to instill this ethic of excellence in our children. It’s up to us to say to our daughters, don’t ever let images on TV tell you what you are worth, because I expect you to dream without limit and reach for those goals. It’s up to us to tell our sons, those songs on the radio may glorify violence, but in my house we live glory to achievement, self respect, and hard work. It’s up to us to set these high expectations. And that means meeting those expectations ourselves. That means setting examples of excellence in our own lives.

The second thing we need to do as fathers is pass along the value of empathy to our children. Not sympathy, but empathy – the ability to stand in somebody else’s shoes; to look at the world through their eyes. Sometimes it’s so easy to get caught up in “us,” that we forget about our obligations to one another. There’s a culture in our society that says remembering these obligations is somehow soft – that we can’t show weakness, and so therefore we can’t show kindness.

But our young boys and girls see that. They see when you are ignoring or mistreating your wife. They see when you are inconsiderate at home; or when you are distant; or when you are thinking only of yourself. And so it’s no surprise when we see that behavior in our schools or on our streets. That’s why we pass on the values of empathy and kindness to our children by living them. We need to show our kids that you’re not strong by putting other people down – you’re strong by lifting them up. That’s our responsibility as fathers.

Though his speech generally falls within the context of more “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps,’ there are a couple things about this speech that I like.

  1. He doesn’t once talk about “unwed” mothers, or children “born out of wedlock.” I hate that logic. Its as if being born outside of a marriage or for women to be unmarried with children is the downfall of civilization. I like that he instead talks about the need for parents to be involved in their children’s lives, and does not confine that to the context of marriage and marriage alone.
  2. He acknowledges the hard work that single mothers are doing without blaming or pathologizing their condition. He’s instead saying, “they didn’t bring them into this world alone, step the fuck up.” Some people won’t like that. But I think that we have to address the ability of many men to abdicate any responsilbility for their children as a form of patriarchy, and not solely about racism deployed against black men that won’t allow them to be “providers” (i.e. proper patriarchs).

Read his policy vision regarding fatherhood and families further down in the above link.

Now that you’ve been potentially inspired, let’s talk about some bad news in Black masculinity: R. Kelly was acquitted on all counts on the statutory rape charges from the infamous video that dated back several years. But there’s some pushback: ATL-based underground funkstar Joi Gilliam posted on her Facebook page this message: “Joi Gilliam is disgusted with the r. kelly “not guilty” verdict and ready for proper vigilante justice to happen when the courts fail us.” LOL!!!

Also, a new statement/petition is circulating the internet called Black Men Against the Exploitation of Black Women, written in light of the R. Kelly verdict:

“We have proudly seen the community take to the streets in defense of Black men who have been the victims of police violence or racist attacks, but that righteous outrage only highlights the silence surrounding this verdict.

We believe that our judgment has been clouded by celebrity-worship; we believe that we are a community in crisis and that our addiction to sexism has reached such an extreme that many of us cannot even recognize child molestation when we see it.

We recognize the absolute necessity for Black men to speak in a single, unified voice and state something that should be absolutely obvious: that the women of our community are full human beings, that we cannot and will not tolerate the poisonous hatred of women that has already damaged our families, relationships and culture.

We believe that our daughters are precious and they deserve our protection. We believe that Black men must take responsibility for our contributions to this terrible state of affairs and make an effort to change our lives and our communities.”

Lastly, Usher told Vibe Magazine said that lesbianism is running rampant in the Black communities because of a lack of available Black men. “It can never be bad to have a foundation as a man—a black man—in a time when women are dying for men,” he says. “Women have started to become lovers of each other as a result of not having enough men. Are you not studying the stories? Wake up! Black love is a good thing.”

That is so much of a hot mess I don’t even know where to begin. Just sing for us Usher. And take off your shirt. This man who has become lovers of other men is so disappointed with the foolish things that men say I almost have no use for you to talk.

Nas’ NIGGER Video

So the controversial new song from Nas’ highly anticipated album is out–called “Be A Nigger.” I haven’t really formulated my analysis on this one, but I would love to know what you think about the video and/or the song.