The Real History of Kwanzaa

Many believe that Maulana Karenga, professor of Africana Studies, scholar/activist and author is the creator of Kwanzaa. Mr. Karenga was able to codify the holiday with African references and influences but the spirit of the holiday originated with Julius Kambarage Nyerere. Though he was a suspicious of capitalism, his aim politically and culturally was to improve his country and all of Africa.

Julius Kambarage Nyerere (13 April 1922 – 14 October 1999) was a Tanzanian politician who served as the first President of Tanzania and previously Tanganyika, from the country’s founding in 1961 until his retirement in 1985.

Born in Tanganyika to Nyerere Burito (1860–1942), Chief of the Zanaki, Nyerere was known by the Swahili name Mwalimu or ‘teacher’, his profession prior to politics. He was also referred to as Baba wa Taifa (Father of the Nation). Nyerere received his higher education at Makerere University in Kampala and the University of Edinburgh. After he returned to Tanganyika, he worked as a teacher. In 1954, he helped form the Tanganyika African National Union.

In 1961, Nyerere was elected Tanganyika’s first Prime
Minister, and following independence, in 1962, the country’s first President. In 1964, Tanganyika became politically united with Zanzibar and was renamed to Tanzania. In 1965, a one-party election returned Nyerere to power. Two years later, he issued the Arusha Declaration, which outlined his socialist vision of ujamaa that came to dominate his policies.

Nyerere retired in 1985, while remaining the chairman of the Chama Cha Mapinduzi. He died of leukemia in London in 1999. In 2009, Nyerere was named “World Hero of Social Justice” by the president of the United Nations General Assembly.

Cultural Influence

Nyerere continued to influence the people of Tanzania in the years following his presidency. His broader ideas of socialism live on in the rap and hip hop artists of Tanzania. Nyerere believed socialism was an attitude of mind that barred discrimination and entailed equality of all human beings. Therefore, ujamaa can be said to have created the social environment for the development of hip hop culture. Like in other countries, hip hop emerged in post-colonial Tanzania when divisions among the population were prominent, whether by class, ethnicity or gender. Rappers’ broadcast messages of freedom, unity, and family, topics that are all reminiscent of the spirit Nyerere put forth in ujamaa. In addition, Nyerere supported the presence of foreign cultures in Tanzania saying, “a nation which refuses to learn from foreign cultures is nothing but a nation of idiots and lunatics…[but] to learn from other cultures does not mean we should abandon our own.” Under his leadership, the Ministry of National Culture and Youth was created in order to allow Tanzanian popular culture, in this case hip hop, to develop and flower. As a result of Nyerere’s presence in Tanzania, the genre of hip hop was welcomed from overseas in Tanzania and melded with the spirit of ujamaa.

To learn more about the Arusha Declaration, go to the Wikipedia link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arusha_Declaration

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Video Commentaries on artist Patrick Singh — Part Two

More Skyped interviews that were created by Savona Bailey-McClain, Executive Director & Chief Curator of the West Harlem Art Fund, Inc. and National Park Service, Manhattan Sites. The commentaries were recorded while the participants were in Miami, Florida and Oakland, California. Again, the participants gave very thoughtful views of the artist’s work and its relationship to the African Burial Ground or African artistic expressions.

Hank Willis Thomas (American, born 1976) is a photo conceptual artist working primarily with themes related to identity, history and popular culture. Thomas’s process often involves editing existing photographs and presenting them in a new format. His work often examines the commoditization of Black identity in advertising and popular culture and urges the viewer to think critically about representations in media and beyond. Willis Thomas received his BFA from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts and his MFA in photography, along with an MA in visual criticism, from California College of the Arts (CCA) in San Francisco. His work is in numerous public collections including The Whitney Museum of American Art, Brooklyn Museum, The High Museum of Art in Atlanta and the Museum of Fine Art in Houston. His collaborative projects have been installed publicly in California, and featured at the Sundance Film Festival. Thomas is currently a fellow at the W.E.B. DuBois Institute at Harvard University; and he is represented by Jack Shainman Gallery in New York City.

Chris Johnson (American, born 1948) is a photographic and video artist, writer, curator and arts administrator. Johnson studied photography with Ansel Adams, Imogen Cunningham and Wynn Bullock; and his artwork has been exhibited at the Oakland Museum of California and at the Mills College Museum. In 1994 he co-produced a large performance work in Oakland titled “The Roof is on Fire” bringing together inner-city high school students and adults. In 1996 he produced an innovative one-hour video piece titled “Question Bridge” that investigates class divisions within the black community. In 1999 Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown appointed Johnson to be Chair of the Oakland Cultural Affairs Commission to advise on all matters affecting cultural development in Oakland. Johnson is currently a tenured Full Professor of Photography at the California College of the Arts.

Video Commentaries on artist Patrick Singh — Part One

These Skyped interviews were created by Savona Bailey-McClain, Executive Director & Chief Curator of the West Harlem Art Fund, Inc. and National Park Service, Manhattan Sites. The commentaries were recorded while the participants were in Berlin, Atlanta and Harlem. All of the participants gave very thoughtful views of the artist’s work and its relationship to the African Burial Ground or African artistic expressions.

Kamal Sinclair (American, born 1976) is a professional artist, teaching artist, and producer of live and transmedia art. Kamal obtained her BFA from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts and graduated with honors from Georgia State University’s Robinson College of Business MBA program. Her professional career began as a cast member of STOMP where she performed in the national and international tours, as well as on the Emmy Awards, MTV’s Beach House, Good Morning America, The Today Show, BET, and PBS’s Reading Rainbow. Sinclair was the founding artistic director of Universal Arts and creative director for many festivals and awards shows. She taught business courses to artists through the Savannah School of Art and Design (SCAD) and Fractured U: Continuing Education for the DIY Artist. Sinclair is also a periodic contributor to the acclaimed theatre publication, Black Masks.

Birta Guðjónsdóttir (Born 1977) is an artist and curator. She obtained her MFA degree of Fine Arts from the Piet Zwart Institute in Rotterdam and a BFA-degree from The Icelandic Academy of the Arts. In 2009-´11 she was a director of The Living Art Museum in Reykjavik. In 2008-´09 she was an artistic director and chief curator at exhibition space 101 Projects, Reykjavik. In 2005-´08 she had the position of chief curator of SAFN Art Collection, Reykjavik. In 2008 she worked as curator´s assistant at MuHKA; Museum of Contemporary Art in Antwerp. In 2007-08 she took part in the Nordic Baltic Curatorial Platform project, initiated by FRAME; Finnish Fund for Art Exchange. In 2011 she participated in the Curatorial Intensive at ICI-New York and The Cornwall Workshop organized by Tate St. Ives Museum in S-England. She has curated shows in Melbourne, New York, St Petersburg, Copenhagen and most major art museums in Reykjavik, and been an editor of four exhibition catalogues. She has been on advisory boards of the Icelandic Art Center, The Icelandic Academy of the Arts and for various commissions and art prizes. She has produced her home-gallery Dwarf Gallery since 2002, is a founding board member of Sequences Art Festival, a member of IKT, International Association of Curators of Contemporary Art and a member of curator’s collective WAG. As an artist, she has participated in over 30 solo- and group exhibitions.

Dianne Smith (born 1965) is an abstract painter, sculptor, and installation artist. Her work has beenexhibited in solo and group exhibitions in New York City’s Soho and Chelsea artdistricts as well as, numerous galleries and institutions throughout the UnitedStates. She is an educator in the field of Aesthetic Education at LincolnCenter Institute, which is a part of New York City’s Lincoln Center For the Performing Arts. Since the invitation to join the Institute over five years ago she has taught k-12 in public schools throughout the Tri-State area. Her work as a teaching artist also extends to under graduate and graduate courses in various colleges and universities such as: Lehman College, Columbia University Teachers College, City College, and St. John’s University to name a few.Recently she was invited to join the team at The Center For arts Education in New York City. In 2007, Dianne was one of the artists featured in the Boondoggle Film Documentary Colored Frames. The film took a look back at fifty years in African-American Art, and also featured other artists such as Benny Andrews, Ed Clark and Danny Simmons.That same year the historical Abyssinian Baptist Church, which is New York’s oldest African American church commissioned Smith to create the artwork commemorating their 2008 Bicentennial. In addition, she co-produced an online radio show the New Palette, for ArtonAir.org (Art International Radio)dedicated to visual artists of color. In1995, she presented Poet Dr. Maya Angelou and Broadway Choreographer George Faison each with one of her paintings: Spirit of My Ancestors I and II. Her work is also in the private collections of Danny Simmons, Vivica A. Fox, Rev. and Mrs. Calvin O. Butts,III, Cicely Tyson, Arthur Mitchell and Terry McMillian. Dianne is a Bronx native of Belizean descent. She attended LaGuardia High School of Music and Art, the Otis Parsons School of Design and the Fashion Institute of Technology. Smith is currently pursuing her MFA at Transart Institute in Berlin. She currently lives and works in Harlem.

African metalworks

Background to metalworking in Africa

There is enormous variety in African metalworking, in terms of the metals used, the techniques employed, and the objects produced.
Historically, the metals used most in Sub-Saharan Africa were iron, copper, bronze (alloy of copper and tin), brass (alloy of copper and zinc), and gold. There was also some localized use of lead, tin, silver, and more recently, aluminium.

There are substantial gold deposits in Africa, as well as a range of iron ores. Copper is sparse in west Africa, but is plentiful in parts of southern and central Africa.

History

In ancient Egypt, metal was smelted from the time of the Old Kingdom (2686–2181 BC). In Sub-Saharan Africa, it is not known precisely when native metals were first worked, but in parts of Niger and Mauritania, copper was smelted from the early first millennium BC. By AD 1000 metal use was almost universal in Africa. The ‘Three Age System’ of stone-use, followed first by bronze, and then by iron, does not apply to the history of metals in Africa. Almost everywhere, iron, copper, bronze, and brass were introduced at virtually the same time.

Techniques

    Smelting

involves extracting a metal from its ore (a mineral containing the metal) by heating the metal ore in a furnace to a very high temperature. During the smelting process, oxygen in the ore combines with carbon in the fuel, escaping as carbon monoxide or carbon dioxide, leaving the metal in liquid form. Other impurities are also removed during the smelting process. During smelting, the temperature in the furnace is raised and maintained using bellows.

    Forging metal

is a method of shaping metal by hammering. Cold forging is generally limited to relatively soft metals including gold, silver, and copper alloys. Most metals are hot forged. A metal object produced by hot forging tends to be stronger and less brittle than metal cast in a mould. In addition to hammering, the metal is also shaped by chisels, and by punching tools.

This heavy brass torque from Tanzania was shaped by hammering. The incised patterning was then produced using a sharp tool. It is thought to have been excavated from a Pare grave in the mid-twentieth century, and to have been made some time before 1892. It probably belonged to a woman. Amongst the Pare in the precolonial period, torques like these were made by members of the metalworking clan. They were usually purchased by a girl’s parents and given to her to mark her adulthood and the fact that she was ready to
marry.

    Lost Wax Casting

An alternative method of shaping metal is by lost wax casting, or cire perdue. This method was used to produce some of the most famous African metalworks, including the Benin brasses (or ‘bronzes’), and Asante weights. It is not known exactly how lost wax casting was developed or introduced to Africa, but it was being practised by West African brass sculptors for several centuries before the arrival of the first Portuguese explorers in the late fifteenth century. Lost wax casting allows hollow metal objects to be produced. A clay or plaster model is made of the desired object. This clay mould is then covered with a layer of wax (or a similar material with a low melting point). The thickness of the wax layer is important, as it determines the eventual thickness of the metal. A second layer of clay is then formed over the wax. Ducts are left in the clay for drainage. The entire mould is then heated so that the wax melts and drains away through the ducts. Molten metal is then poured into the resulting cavity. Once the metal has cooled and hardened, the clay is chipped off, leaving the metal object.

    Direct Cast Method

This is another method used to shape metal. It produces a metal model of small, organic objects such as seeds or insects. The seed or insect is covered in a thick layer of clay. The clay is then heated so that the organic material is burned away. Molten metal is poured into the cavity through specially prepared ducts. Once cold, the clay cast is then broken off revealing the metal object which is then filed and polished.

Compiled by:
Bryony Reid, Senior Project Assistant (Interpretation)
DCF What’s Upstairs?
October 2005

For more information — please read Kola Adekola’s research paper
http://www.diaspora.uiuc.edu/news0311/news0311-5.pdf

Oh for the love of Tap

Many people may not realize that Sammie Davis Jr. was a tap dancer and an excellent one at that. A December baby born in 1925 and a Harlemite. Davis started as a child vaudevillian who became known for his performances on Broadway and Las Vegas. He went on to become a world famous recording artist, television and film star. Davis was also a member of Frank Sinatra’s “Rat Pack”.

At the age of three Davis began his career in vaudeville with his father and “uncle” as the Will Mastin Trio, toured nationally, and after military service, returned to the trio. Davis became an overnight sensation following a nightclub performance at Ciro’s after the 1951 Academy Awards. With the trio, he became a recording artist. In 1954, he lost his left eye in an automobile accident.

Though his film career had begun as a child in 1933, in 1960 he appeared in the first Rat Pack film, Ocean’s 11. After a starring role on Broadway in 1956’s Mr Wonderful, Davis returned to the stage in 1964’s Golden Boy, and in 1966 had his own TV variety show, The Sammy Davis Jr. Show. Davis’ career slowed in the late sixties, but he had a hit record with “The Candy Man”, in 1972, and became a star in Las Vegas.

As an African American, Davis was the victim of racism throughout his life, and was a large financial supporter of civil rights causes. Davis had a complex relationship with the African-American community, and attracted criticism after physically embracing Richard Nixon in 1970. One day on a golf course with Jack Benny, he was asked what his handicap was. “Handicap?” he asked. “Talk about handicap — I’m a one-eyed Negro Jew.”This was to become a signature comment, recounted in his autobiography, and in countless articles.

After reuniting with Sinatra and Dean Martin in 1987, Davis toured with them and Liza Minnelli internationally, before dying of throat cancer in 1990.

Gregory Hines was also born in New York City, Hines and his older brother Maurice started dancing at an early age, studying with choreographer Henry LeTang. Together they were known as “The Hines Kids” and later as “The Hines Brothers.” When their father joined, Maurice Hines, Sr., the name changed again in 1963 to “Hines, Hines, and Dad”.

Hines performed as the lead singer and musician in a rock band called Severance in 1975/1976 based in Venice, California. Severance was one of the house bands at an original music club called Honky Hoagies Handy Hangout, otherwise known as the 4H Club. In 1986, he sang a duet with Luther Vandross, entitled “There’s Nothing Better Than Love”, which reached the #1 position on the Billboard R&B charts.

Hines made his movie debut in Mel Brooks’ History of the World, Part 1. Critics took note of Hines’s comedic charm, and he later appeared in such movies as The Cotton Club, White Nights, Running Scared, Tap, and Waiting to Exhale. On television, he starred in his own series in 1997 called The Gregory Hines Show on CBS, as well as in the recurring role of Ben Doucette on Will & Grace. In 1999, Hines made his return on television with Nick Jr.’s Little Bill, as the voice of Big Bill.

Hines made his Broadway debut with his brother in The Girl in Pink Tights in 1954. He earned Tony Award nominations for Eubie! (1979), Comin’ Uptown (1980) and Sophisticated Ladies (1981), and won the Tony Award and Drama Desk Award for Jelly’s Last Jam (1992) and the Theatre World Award for Eubie!. He also co-hosted the Tony Awards ceremony in 1995 and 2002.

And then there was the King of Pop. Are there any words that could even begin to touch on his influence in music, dance and performing. AMAZING!
Three legends — three generations loving an art form that stemmed across an ocean.

Ice Cube Understands Green

Ice Cube studied architectural drafting before he became an entertainer. He understood from a cultural standpoint how to make do with what you have. African Americans have been practicing that philosophy from day one in this country. Instead of being praised for such creativity, it was ignored and deemed unworthy. Yet, it didn’t stop others from taking what we were doing or practicing the same philosophy and getting fame, glory or a wealthy life. Now, we need to spotlight how we all share each others ideals and philosophies for the betterment of all people. We must share our humanity. And in this video, Ice Cube offers his perspective on the Eames team (Charles and Ray Eames). I happen to like their work as well. Great minds think alike.

The Banjo’s African Roots

The Banjo originated in Africa and African slaves brought it to America in the 17th century.

It is the only Western stringed instrument with a vellum belly. African stringed instruments commonly include the musical bow, lute, lyre, harp, and zither. Professional musicians among the people of Gambia play the kora, a 21-string harp-lute. The xalam, a plucked lute, is a close relative of the African-American banjo. It is used in Senegal by Wolof praise singers, whose songs revere important people.

From various historical references, however, it can be deduced that the banjar, or bangie, or banjer, or banza, or banjo was played in early 17th century America by Africans in slavery who constructed their instruments from gourds, wood, and tanned skins, using hemp or gut for strings. The banjo was similar to instruments made by the Moors north of the Sahara. It is a stringed instrument of the lute family, with an open-backed round body consisting of a circular wood hoop over which is stretched a vellum belly, a long, narrow, fretted neck, and metal or metal-wound gut strings.

The strings run from a tail piece, over a bridge held in place by their pressure, up the neck to rear tuning pegs. Five strings are typical: four full-length strings and a shorter fifth “thumb” string running to a tuning screw halfway up the neck. Often a five-string banjo body is suspended in a metal or wood resonator. Early banjos had fretless necks, a varying number of strings, and, sometimes, gourd bodies. Thomas Jefferson, in his 1785 notes on the State of Virginia, aptly remarked that the slave instrument of choice, “is the Bonjar which they brought hither from Africa.”

Adopted by white musicians in 19th-century minstrel-show troupes, the banjo gained frets and metal strings. The five-string banjo, plucked with the fingers, is common in folk music and commercial bluegrass bands. The plectrum-plucked four-string banjo was popular about 1900 in vaudeville bands. What brought the instrument to the attention of the nation, however, was a grotesque representation of Black culture by white performers in minstrel shows.

Reference:
The Encyclopedia of African-American Heritage
by Susan Altman

Below is an article by the group Carolina Chocolate Drop. Formed in 2005, the group members wanted to keep a Black tradition alive by learning the Banjo. Now, they have created a formidable music group that performs nationally. The banjo was viewed as a slave instrument and technically it was but it roots goes back to Africa and it needs to be reclaimed here among African Americans. Slavery made African Americans ashamed of traditions that others now celebrate in the open and with joy. It’s our time to celebrate our ancestry and enjoy its wealth.

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