Thursday, December 17, 2009

La Pregunta Cafe

W.A.R. (Work As Renaissance) was the theme last week at Harlem's La Pregunta Cafe. Wordkicker, Jamica was the m/c. I had first seen her kick at my homebase, Sister's Bookstore where she practically turned the place inside out with her piece on African children with no limbs as a result of the blood bath over the underground gold trade from which blingers benefit. I had asked then and asked her again, When'we gonna see that poetry collection of yours? And once again the same modesty; that pleasant smile. I know, I know.

To my surpise, Chance--one of the judges at last year's BMCC open mic-- was also there kicking his own words and making the dust from his timbs taste like sweet n sour candy. Easy on the throat until the aftertaste sneaks up on you like the reflection in your mirror when you realize you've been had. And while the feature for the night was a guitar-stringer named Blackbird (just pretend it's John Legend without Kanye as collateral), others who stepped to the mic were Kira ("I want you in the place where one million men haven't marched!"), Shane (Post 9/11 and the treatment of sand niggaz), Purple Haze (Mother Sista, Sista Girl) and of course, Ngoma himself ("Make you bullet proof, make you bullet proof until all of Africa is free!").

Most open mics are set in a way where each messenger takes their turn at the mic. What I found most interesting about this one is that participants were also spitting right from their table, most of them reading off from their gadgets. There was a nice flow about that kind of improvisation. Because even if you didn't know their names, the focus was on the message; the human condition we all share, no matter the skin shade or gender, or sexual appeal. So by the time I made the decision to come from the back of the room and take the mic for myself, the audience had already concluded that I was a foreigner just by the way I introduced my first piece. Something young ones just don't do. They might tell you how they were feeling that day and this is what came of it. But they're not into preface and forwards like us ol' timers (45+ is old, to them. Just ask my daughter. She thinks 30 is retirement!) So I broke the ice with my standard, Had To Do It. It's a favorite that always gets a good laugh. Then after getting their attention, I swung into Shango mode; put racismo on the table and began boxing with avoidance and denial. Because skin color politics, which is what race-ism is all about, is the second thing we don't like talking about--We, meaning the grown-ups. The first being sexuality. But right across the street from the cafe is City College where I first learned to spit, so the avoidance was more like scrutiny. And if there was any denial in the room, it was my ego bouncing off the brick walls and bamboo mats hanging from the ceilings, shying from the possibility that my sht just wasn't on point enough, killer enough; not intense enough. Because younger audiences like it hot and in your face. The more profane, the better. None of this professorial, try to figure it out for yourself sht! You wanna talk about racismo? Then bring it like Nas droppin' knowledge on a newbie. Cos referring to Dessaline and sugar canes, as politically sound as that may be, comes off to much like a history class, especially during final exams week! Even Ngoma, the eldest in the house, who was pulling out musical instruments out of his pocket tried to warn me as I got on the stage-- You sure you got this? I can play three-four gods. You got any gods of your own? Still, they let me spit. All the while giving me that look. Those of us who are messengers and yet are no longer angry know what I'm talking about. It's a kind of look a young pit bull gives you. Like, Nigga I could bite a chunk off you if I wanted to, but I'ma be nice!

Comes down to respect. For having the stomach to even add something to the pot and for being part of a student body that demanded Africana studies play a significant role in the overall curriculum. But that was then. This is now where Black Power is less about reaching back to the Motherland and going nat'ral, and more about who can keep their dark shades on the longest without bumping into people! Guess you can say, I forgot what it's like to be in fighting mode, whether it means carrying picket signs or writing about a love deluxe. When you're 45+ you tend to become more settled in the everyday necessities of adult life. Your priorities change. You're not as loud and your sense of maleness or femaleness is no longer attached to trends. Where sensationalism was the right formula for getting heard, now it's a more toned down approach; tempered, like a screaming child who finally got his pacifier.

In other words, this Black man is not angry anymore. Might be more tragic; romantic, even, if I were. A cliche that always sells. But then there's also a danger in losing that anger, that edge. Your spit is not as effective or affective; doesn't hit people's eyes and faces, and then drip perfectly grossly. Like it's expected to. Like some of us prefer it when Alanis Morisset was still mad at the mothafkr!

I learned something, though. Even if you're considered a beloved minister of words, it's important to also hang with the younger ones. They keep you up to date and on your toes. They let you know what's cool and what's no longer happening, no matter how profound you think your sht is. And even as you're putting your words back in your satchel and a bullet in the form of a sexy, wide-eyed sista tells you, "By the way, I liked your piece on racismo."--Her chocolate skin telling me she's been there herself--you can't take anything for granted. You just know to make your next book of poems worthy of praise from the young ones as well, so that your sense of newfound peace isn't mistaken for

Para Ti

On the other hand
There's you
And your tendency
To position yourself
According to which side
The coconut falls
And yet I fought for you
Let your babies
Suck at my nipples
While I fed you my music
To help shape
Your identity of convenience
Where you honor my ancestry
But laugh at my skin color

Yet I still fight for you
Cut down sugar cane for you
When the one who stole your name
Builds walls to keep you
From crossing over
To the heavenly place
Where you learn to despise
My relevance
Denying me
Of even a respecful glance

It's that tendency
To rape your consciousness
But marry the one who offers you crumbs
That you glorify
So devotedly
While I watch you exploit my burdens

Wars over turf
Turf over wars
When it isn't your language I resent
But the way you relish it
Rely on it
Throw daggers at me with it

It's that same tendency
Of selective memory
While I remember

1 comment:

Ocean Morisset said...

nice description of the event--yeah that's just the way it was. And lessons learned i'm sure, besides recognizing that poetry is still poetry whether there's one person in the audience or 500! keep up the great writing. i think you have a knack for it. ;-)