ChickenBones: A Journal
for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes
i had drunk enough to imagine going up against the people who couldn’t c
lap on two and four. “earth is very dangerous” the voice intoned.
“the humans have the power to induce both amnesia and psychic dislocation.”
Books by Kalamu ya Salaam
My Story My Song (CD)
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Short Story by Kalamu ya Salaam
a bunch of us were astral traveling, pulsating on the flow of a wicked elvinesque polyrhythmic 6/8 groove. although our physical eyes had disappeared from our faces, we still had wry eyebrows arched like quarter moons or miniature ram’s horns. every molecule of our thirsty skin was a sensitive ear drinking in the vibes. at each stroke of sweat-slicked drumstick on skins, our wings moved in syncopated grace. shimmering cymbal vibrations illuminated the night so green bright we could feel the trembling emerald through the soles of our feet. deep red pulsing bass sounds throbbed from our left brain lobes, lifting us and shooting us quickly across the eons. we moved swiftly as comets, quiet as singing starlight.
as we neared the motherwomb, firefly angels came out to escort us to the inner sanctum. with eager anticipation i smelled a banquet of hip, growling, intense quarter notes when we entered the compound. a hand carved, coconut shell bowl brimming with hot melodies radiating a tantalizing aroma sat steaming at each place setting, heralding our arrival. whenever i rode this deeply into the music, i would never want to return back to places of broken notes and no natural drums.
on my way here i heard nidia who was in a prison in el salvador. she had been shot, captured. her tormentors were torturing her with continuous questions, sleep deprivation, psychological cruelty, and assassination attempts against her family. she sang songs to stay strong. singing in prison, i dug that.
once we made touchdown, we kissed the sweetearth (which tasted like three parts blackstrap molasses and one part chalky starch with a dash of sharply tart orange rind) and smeared red clay in our hair. then lay in the sun for a few days listening to duke ellington every morning before bathing. i was glad to see otis redding flashing his huge carefree smiles and splashing around in the blue lagoon. finally after hugging the baobab tree (the oldest existing life force) for twenty-four hours we were ready to glide inside and hang with the children again. whenever one returned from planet earth, we had to take a lot of precautions. you never know what kinds of human logic you might be infected with. since i had spent most of my last assignment checking out far flung galaxies, on my first examination i was able to dance through the scanner with nary a miscue. my soul was cool.
i only had ten centuries to recuperate before returning to active rotation so i was eager to eat. the house was a buzz with vibrations. a hefty-thighed cook came in and tongue kissed each of us seated at the mahogony table, male and female, young and old, whatever. that took about six centuries. she was moving on cp time and when i tasted her kiss i understood why.
up close her skin was deeper than a sunken slave ship and glowed with the glitter of golddust pressed across her brow and on the sides of her face just above her cheekline. she wore a plum-sized chunk of orangish-yellow amber as a pendant held in place by a chain braided from the mane of a four hundred pound lion. her head was divided into sixteen sectors each with a ball of threaded hair tied in nubian knots, each knot exactly the same size as the spherical amber perfectly poised in the hollow of her throat. i was so stunned by the beauty force of her haunting entrance, i had to chant to calm myself.
“drink deeply the water from an ancient well.” was all she said as she spun in slow circles. tiny bells dangled between the top of the curvaceous protrudence of her posterior and the bottom of the concavity of the arch in the small of her back where it met her waist and flared outward to the expanse of her sturdy hips. suspended from a cord she wore around her waist, the hand carved, solid gold bells gave off a tiny but distinctive jingle which rose and fell with each step.
emanating a bluegreen aura of contentment, she didn’t look like she had ever, in any of her many lifetimes, done anything compromising such as vote for a capitalist (of whatever color) or succumb to the expediency of accepting any system of domination. she didn’t say a word, instead she hummed without disrupting the smiling fullness of her lips. she wasn’t ashamed of her big feet as she stepped flatfootedly around the table, a slender gold ring on the big toe of each foot.
her almond shaped, kola nut colored eyes sauntered up to each of our individualities, sight read our diverse memories and swam in the sea of whatever sorrows we had experienced. she silently drank all our bitter tears and became pregnant with our hopes. she looked like she had never ever worn clothes and instead had spent her whole life moving about in the glorious garment of a nudity so natural she seemed like a miracle you had to prepare yourself to witness as she innocently and righteously strode through the sun, moon and star light.
when she neared me she effortlessly slinked into a crouched, garden tending posture and, with sharp thrusting arm movements, choreographed an improvised welcome dance (how else, except by improvisation, could her movements mirror everything i was thinking?). placing my ear to her distended stomach, i guessed six months. she arched her back. a ring shout undulated out of her womb. i got so excited i had to sit on my wings to keep still.
when she stood up to her full six foot height with her lithe arms akimbo, i coudn’t help responding. i got an erection when she placed her hand on the top of my head. she laughed at my arousal.
“drink your soup, silly” she teased me and then laughed again, while gently tracing her fingers across my face, down the side of my neck and swiftly brushing my upper torso, briefly petting the hummingbird rapidity of my chest muscle twitches. and then the program began.
a few years after monk danced in, coltrane said the blessing in his characteristic slow solemn tone. you know how coltrane talks. as usual, he didn’t eat much. but we were filled with wonder anyway. then bob chrisman from the black scholar gave a short speech on one becomes two when the raindrop splits. everybody danced in appreciation of his insights.
when we resumed our places, the child next to me reflected aloud, “always remember you are a starchild. you will become any reality that you get with unless you influence that reality to become you. we have no power but osmosis and vibrations. as long as you don’t forget your essence, it’s alright to live inside something else.” the child hugged me while extrapolating chrisman’s message.
a voice on the intercom was calling for volunteers to help move the mountain. even though i wasn’t through with my soup and still had a couple of centuries left, i rose immediately. i had drunk enough to imagine going up against the people who couldn’t clap on two and four. “earth is very dangerous” the voice intoned. “the humans have the power to induce both amnesia and psychic dislocation.”
the child smiled at me and sang “i’ll wait for you where human eyes have never seen.” we only had time to sing 7,685 choruses because i had to hurry to earth. our spirits there were up against some mighty powerful forces and the ngoma badly needed reinforcements. but i took a couple of months to thank the chef for sitting me next to the child.
“no thanx needed. i simply gave back to you what you gave to me.” then in a divine gesture she lovingly touched each of my four sacred drums: head, heart, gut and groin. cupping them warmly in both her hands, she slow kissed an eternal rhythm into each. before i could say anything she was gone, humming the child’s song “. . . where human eyes have never seen, i’ll wait for you. i’ll wait for you.”
i got to earth shortly after 1947 started. people were still making music then. back in 1999 machines manufactured music. real singing was against the law.
walking down the street one day i saw what i assumed was a soul sister. she was humming a simple song. i sensed she was possibly one of us. she looked like a chef except with chemically altered hair on her mind instead of black puffs of natural nubianity. i spoke anyway. she walked right through me.
i turned around to see where she had gone. but she was gone. i looked up and i was on the bandstand. i was billie holiday. every pain i ever felt was sobbing out of my throat. i looked at my black and blue face. the fist splotches from where my man had hit me.
for my man
to hit me,
and quit me.
i sang through the pain of a broken jaw.
“have you ever loved somebody who didn’t know how to love you?” i asked the audience. in what must have been some kind of american ritual, everyone held up small, round hand mirrors and intently peered into their looking glass. the music stopped momentarily as if i had stumbled into a bucket of moonlit blood. my left leg started trembling. every word felt like it was ripped from my throat with pieces of my flesh hanging off each note. i almost fainted from the pain, but i couldn’t stop singing because whenever i paused, even if only for a moment, the thought of suicide pressed me to the canvas. and you know i couldn’t lay there waiting for the eight count, knocked out like some chump. i was stronger than these earthlings. i had to get up and keep on singing, but to keep on making music took so much energy. i was almost exhausted. and when i stopped the pain was deafening. exhausting to sing. painful to stop. this was a far heavier experience than i had foreseen.
i kept singing but i also felt myself growing weaker. drained. “i say have you ever given your love to a rascal that didn’t give a damn about you?” this was insane. when would i be able to stop? there was so much money being exchanged that i was having a hard time breathing. i could feel my soul growing dimmer, the pain beginning to creep through even while i was singing. so this is what the angels meant by “hell is being silenced by commerce.” legal tender was choking me.
for a moment i felt human, but luckily the band started playing again. some lame colored cat had crawled up on the stage and was thawing out frozen conservatory school cliches. made my bunions groan. but i guess when you’re human you got to go through a lot of trial and error. especially when you’re young in earth years. the whole time i was on that scene i felt sorry for the children. most of them had never seen their parents make love.
humans spend a lot of their early years playing all kinds of games to prepare themselves to play all kinds of games when they grow up. the childrearing atmosphere was so dense the only thing little people could do was lie awake naked under the covers and play with themselves but only whenever the adults weren’t watching cause if those poor kids got caught touching each other, they were beaten. can you imagine that?
damn, i thought smelly horn wasn’t ever going to stop, prez had to pull his coat, “hey shorty, don’t take so long to say so little.”
as soon as the cat paused, i jumped in “have you ever loved somebody . . .” yes, i had volunteered, but i had no idea making music on earth would be this taxing.
when our set ended, i stumbled from the stand totally disoriented. by now i almost needed to constantly make music in order to twirl my gyroscope and keep it spinning. after the set, i found it very difficult to act like a human and sit still while talking to the customers. i kept wanting to hover and hum. but i went through the changes, even did an interview.
“the only way out is to go through it all” i found myself saying to an english reporter who was looking at me with insane eyes.
he did his best to sing. “you’ve been hurt by white people in america and i want to let you know that there are white people who love and respect you.” i could hear his eyes as clear as sid catlett’s drum. i appreciated his attempts but those were some stiff-assed paradiddles he was beating. the youngster was still in his teens and offered me a handkerchief to wipe the pain off my face. i waved it away, that little bandana wouldn’t even dry up so much as one teardrop of my sadness. at that moment what i really needed was a lift cause the scene was a drag.
“the only way to go through it all is to go through it all. yaknow. survive it and sing about it.” i said holding the side of my head in the cup of my hand and speaking with my eyes half closed and focused on nothing in particular.
“why sing about it?” he said eager as a pig snouting around for truffles (even though he wasn’t french, i could see he had sex on his mind).
“cause if you keep the pain within you’ll explode.” he reached for his wallet about to offer me money. for sure he was a hopeless case. once i dug he didn’t understand creativity, i switched to sociology. “millions of people been molested as children.” he had been there, done that. he was starting to catch my drift. “men been beating on women. you know i was a slave. that means i was violated. that means i was broke down. that means i would lay there and take it. in and out. lay there. still. i have heard reports that i was a prostitute. but i never sold myself just for money, i lay down because there was no room to stand up. in and out. in and out. til finally, they ejaculated. and finished. for the moment, for the night . . . til . . . whenever.” i looked up and his mind was on the other side of the room; i had lost him again.
poor child doesn’t have a clue. that’s why he’s looking all pitiful at me. i couldn’t find a way to unfold the whole to him. i wanted to say more but their language couldn’t make the changes. he will probably write a treatise on the downtrodden negro in tomorrow’s paper.
sho-nuff, next dayquote:
So-and-so is an incredibly gifted Black American animal. People were actually crying in the audience when she howled “No Body’s Bizness” in the voice of a neutered dog. This reporter is a registered theorist on why White people are fascinated by listening to the sounds of their victims’ pathetic crying. I had the rare opportunity to interview the jazzy chick. Although she was not very familiar with the basic principles of grammar, I managed to get a few words from her illiterateness once she took some dope which I had been advised to offer her.
I asked her what harmonic system she employed? My publisher had authorized me to offer her music lessons. I quote her answer verbatim.
“I sing because, like the Funky Butt Brass Band used to holler, you got to open up the window and let the bad air out.”
That was it. When I turned off my voice stealing machine, she said “I got a lot of s–t in me. If I don’t get it out, I’ll die.”
If she doesn’t die first, there will be a concert tonight. Cheeri-O.
i couldn’t wait to get back to the motherwomb . . .
But, just as I was about to fly, I woke up. I was cuddled next to Nia’s nakedness, her back to me, my arm embracing her breasts, and my leg thrown up in touch with the arc of her thighs.
I stared into the deep acorn brown of her braided hair. I couldn’t see anything in the unlighted room except the contours of the coiled beautiful darkness of her braids. After a few seconds the sweet familiar scent of the hair oil she used began lulling me back to sleep.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough sleep time left to continue my flight dreams. And I spent the rest of the day trying to decide . . . no, not decide, but remember. I spent the rest of the day trying to remember whether I was a human who dreamed he was something else or was indeed something else doing a temporary duty assignment here on planet earth.
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Part of a recording of an interview of Jelly Roll Morton by Alan Lomax in 1938. Jazz history archive material. Jelly sings and plays Buddy Bolden Blues, and tells of his experiences watching Buddy in New Orleans, and talks about the great Buddy Bolden. “Buddy was the blowinest man since Gabriel!”.
Jelly Roll Morton playing and singing his composition of “Buddy Bolden’s Blues”
Buddy Boldens Blues
Lyrics by Jelly Roll Morton.
I thought I heard Buddy Bolden say You nasty, you dirtytake it away You terrible, you awfultake it away I thought I heard him say
I thought I heard Buddy Bolden shout Open up that window and let that bad air out Open up that window, and let the foul air out I thought I heard Buddy Bolden say
I thought I heard Judge Fogarty say
Thirty days in the markettake him away
Get him a good broom to sweep withtake him away
I thought I heard him say
I thought I heard Frankie Dusen shout
Gal, give me that moneyIm gonna beat it out
I mean give me that money, like I explain you, or Im gonna beat it out
I thought I heard Frankie Dusen say
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Men We Love, Men We HateSAC writings from Douglass, McDonogh 35, and McMain high schools in New Orleans.
An anthology on the topic of men and relationships with men
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02_My_Story,_My_Song.mp3 (24503 KB)
(Kalamu reading “My Story, My Song”
Track List 1. Congo Square (9:01) 2. My Story, My Song (20:50) 3. Danny Banjo (4:32) 4. Miles Davis (10:26) 5. Hard News For Hip Harry (5:03) 6. Unfinished Blues (4:13) 7. Rainbows Come After The Rain (2:21)/Negroidal Noise (15:53) 8. Intro (3:59) 9. The Whole History (3:14) 10. Negroidal Noise (5:39) 11. Waving At Ra (1:40) 12. Landing (1:21) 13. Good Luck (:04)
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music website > http://www.kalamu.com/bol/ writing website > http://wordup.posterous.com/ daily blog > http://kalamu.posterous.com twitter > http://twitter.com/neogriot facebook > http://www.facebook.com/kalamu.salaam
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By Lorraine Hansberry
I can hear Rosalee See the eyes of Willie McGee My mother told me about Lynchings My mother told me about The dark nights And dirt roads And torch lights And lynch robes
The faces of men Laughing white Faces of men Dead in the night sorrow night and a sorrow night
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Writer Lorraine Hansberry’s sober eulogy of the death of Willie McGee weighed heavy on the hearts and minds of the American Left. On May 8, 1951, a crowd of five hundred lingered outside the courthouse of Laurel, Mississippi, to witness the execution of yet another black man convicted for allegedly raping a white woman. His 1945 lightning trial resulted in a guilty conviction delivered in less than two and a half minutes by an all-white, male jury, setting off a heated five-year legal struggle that drew national headlines. Despite an aggressive appeals defense team who attempted every legal maneuver in the book, the US Supreme Court ultimately chose not to intervene. With the legal lynching of the Martinsville Seven in February, Ethel and Julius Rosenberg’s conviction in March, followed by the execution of McGee in May, 1951 was a bad year for Left-leaning lawyers (Parrish 1979; Rise 1995). Most discouraging, national news sources like the New York Times and Life magazine red-baited the “Save Willie McGee” campaign andas Life reportedits “imported” lawyers (Popham 1951a; Life 1951). Few felt McGee’s passing with as heavy a heart as his chief counsel, thirty-one-year-old Bella Abzug.
Before Abzug became a representative in Congress and a leader in the peace and women’s movements, she confronted the Southern political and legal system at the height of the early Cold War. Retained in 1948 by the Civil Rights Congress (CRC)a New York-headquartered Popular Front legal defense organizationthe novice labor lawyer honed her civil rights . . .
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A Novel in Linocut by Stefan Rerg
In a series of brilliantly rendered linocut relief prints, Berg tells the story of Buddy Bolden, a New Orleans jazz musician living from 1877 to 1931. Each crisp image masterfully succeeds in evoking a feeling of the fluidity of the music, the boisterousness of the community, and the darkness of the events surrounding the musician’s demise. An introduction by Donald M. Marquis, author of In Search of Buddy Bolden: First Man of Jazz, and an afterword by renowned artist, George A. Walker, round out this collection.
Fans of the graphic novel genre and enthusiasts of linocut relief printmaking will surely be pleased with Let That Bad Air Out: Buddy Bolden’s Last Parade. Highly recommended.
Stefan Berg revives the wordless graphic novel in his portrait of he `first man of jazz’. Very little is known of Buddy Bolden. His music was never recorded and there is only one existing photograph, yet he is considered to be the first bandleader to play the improvised music that has since become known as jazz.
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By Donald M. Marquis
The beginnings of jazz and the story of Charles “Buddy” Bolden (18771931) are inextricably intertwined. Just after the turn of the century, New Orleanians could often hear Boldens powerful horn from the citys parks and through dance hall windows. He had no formal training, but what he lacked in technical finesse he made up for in style. It was thishis unique style, both musical and personalthat made him the first “king” of New Orleans jazz and the inspiration for such later jazz greats as King Oliver, Kid Ory, and Louis Armstrong.
For years the legend of Buddy Bolden was overshadowed by myths about his music, his reckless lifestyle, and his mental instability. In Search of Buddy Bolden overlays the myths with the substance of reality. Interviews with those who knew Bolden and an extensive array of primary sources enliven and inform Donald M. Marquiss absorbing portrait of the brief but brilliant career of the first man of jazz.
For this paperback edition, Marquis has added a new preface and appendix. He relates events and discoveries that have occurred since the books original publication in 1978, including a jazz funeral and a monument erected in honor of Bolden in 1996, the locating of Boldens granddaughter, the proper identification of Boldens clarinet players, and the unfortunate confirmation of the destruction of the last known Bolden recording.
Donald M. Marquis, jazz curator emeritus of the Louisiana State Museum, lives in New Orleans. He is also the author of Finding Buddy Bolden and A Nifty Place to Grow Up.
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By Alex Heard
An iconic criminal casea black man sentenced to death for raping a white woman in Mississippi in 1945exposes the roiling tensions of the early civil rights era in this provocative study. McGee’s prosecution garnered international protestshe was championed by the Communist Party and defended by a young lawyer named Bella Abzug (later a New York City congresswoman and cofounder of the National Women’s Political Caucus), while luminaries from William Faulkner to Albert Einstein spoke out for himbut journalist Heard (Apocalypse Pretty Soon) finds the saga rife with enigmas. The case against McGee, hinging on a possibly coerced confession, was weak and the legal proceedings marred by racial bias and intimidation. (During one of his trials, his lawyers fled for their lives without delivering summations.)
But Heard contends that McGee’s storythat he and the victim, Willette Hawkins, were having an affairis equally shaky. The author’s extensive research delves into the documentation of the case, the public debate surrounding it, and the recollections of McGee and Hawkins’s family members. Heard finds no easy answers, but his nuanced, evocative portrait of the passions enveloping McGee’s case is plenty revealing.Publishers Weekly
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From The World and Africa, 1965
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posted 21 July 2010