Tuesday, August 26, 2008

ViBeJuice Review - Dobet Gnahore

Twenty-five year old Dobet Gnahoré, West African singer from Cote d’ivoire gave a captivating performance at Yoshi’s Jazz Club in Oakland July 2008. Having never seen nor heard the singer, I ventured along with a friend Jet to hear what’s new in afro-world beat.

People from ages twenty to seventy, a mix Americans, hip, old and young crowded into the venue with a palpitating excitement, most whom Jet and I thought were the least likely to attend a show on a Thursday night to see the African songstress. We pondered how did these ticket holders know of the headliner? How had they been introduced to this type of music? I though perhaps some of the younger ticket holders had served in the Peace Corps in Africa and was exposed to local culture of political instability, disease, food and music; well at the least they looked like the type.

The show began on time, while late comers scampered to find the few remaining seats. There was a tense anticipation as the three musicians walked on stage: bass guitarist and singer from Tunisia, Nabil Mehrezi, and guitarist from France, Colin Laroche de Feline; and Togolese drummer Boris Tchango.

The intro music began with a throbbing and pulsing rhythm as Dobet gracefully entered the small stage with her powerful scales of melodic chants then burst into afro-operatic bellows. Her small shapely and strong frame was draped in a black with skirt worn over pants and a black leotard; hair tied with a black scar and sculpted high like a crown, while her face boldly pronounced and beautifully adorned with paint, gold, and jeweled like a Dogon mask.

Gnahore is a youthful relentless performer. She is a powerful dancer with rhythmic sways, complex footwork from bent knee and sudden jumps into incredibly high kicks while occasionally freezing abruptly on a hard downbeat …stop….pause in a warring pose… break into a fast deep rhythmic dance that had you dancing along with her from your seats, applauding and shouting in amazement. (YouTube)

Gnahore played the Congo drum, not typical or tradition for female performers. One song in particular, she sat on the far right of the stage and sang out a beautifully scale of melodies in one of the seven dialects she speaks while she played a gourd. Dobet’s stage presence is gracious in every since of the word which can only be described as beautifully enigmatic. (My Space).

Saturday, August 16, 2008

The American Dream: A Road to Debt and Uncertainty

While in pursuit of the American dream you may find that the scales of prosperity grossly imbalanced with high debt and inflation. For one to proudly announce that buying a home is their life’s accomplishment and then later say ‘ what I really meant was that I live in a big and beautiful home which has a huge adjustable mortgage I can barely afford while living just one paycheck away from complete financial turmoil’ is a distance from the intended American Dream concept. Has the goal of the American Dream become a concept driven by obsession for power, wealth and levels of greed? Or, are we just innocent media-fed victims of a social culture where media and most forms of advertising emphasize that material wealth equates to power and happiness, which are also financed by government regulated banks and credit corporations who are the profitiers.

Energy prices are increasing along with oil and gas prices at a critical time when we are facing an upcoming presidential election. Topics aired nightly on news programs cover controversial commentaries about the presidential election between Obama and McCain; debates about war in Iraq with potential threats in Iran; debates on border security and immigration policies, and discussions surrounding the economy and mortgage crisis. Everyone is affected by the economy and the shrinking dollar worldwide; however, the major impact is on the low wealth to middle income households that is equivalent to Hurricane Katrina on the gulf.

While personal income reportedly grew in 2006 and then lowered in 2007, unemployment rates have increased sharply coinciding with the rise of foreclosures and slumping housing starts according to the Federal Reserve Board. Generations of old and young adults are in tremendous debt. The total amounts of debt for most Americans outweigh their personal savings and/or assets. In addition, many Americans can no longer afford to retire by the age of 65. While it is easy to blame our politicians and elected officials who continue to ride on the rhetoric of promises unfulfilled, but are we citizens to blame? Is it time for us, the citizens to be accountable for our failing economy? We are directly impacted by our actions and the actions of our officials, therefore greatly influence our local economies since we elect the officials who are empowered to make decisions that will ultimately affect our health, our finances and our wellbeing. How is it then, in our advanced nation of equality and unalienable rights; where capitalism can take a man from the penile system and afford him enormous wealth; in such a great country that receives thousands of immigrants yearly; a great nation that is globally known as the land of opportunity; how is it that we end up in financial crisis with thousands facing mortgage foreclosure? Certainly one can conclude that the government has failed its citizens but we have also failed ourselves.

In the early twentieth century America, many families lived and survived by a simple rule: work hard, save money and move ahead. In simpler times, money saved meant having a down payment to buy a home by the age of 26, raise a family, and later finance the children’s education through scholarships, savings or trust accounts; retire by the age of 65 with a sufficient social security income and still manage to have money left over for retirement vacations and family emergencies. These were the images painted by Rockefeller in a pre-Civil Rights and pre-Viet Nam era.

Post Civil Rights and Viet Nam era were defining moments in America for blacks, women, and other minorities. The 1960’s ended our innocence with the death of a president, a senator and a civil rights leader but also presented new opportunities as one believed with integration, equal rights and equal pay which was believed to improve the wellbeing for all Americans. Wages increased, several families became home owner whiles others moved into better neighborhoods. Most were just happy to buy a home. More African Americans and other minorities enrolled in colleges between 1960-1970’s becoming the first to graduate in their families. Americans began to make more and spend more. It was not uncommon to own big or high powered vehicles.

In the next two decades, technology connected government and big businesses globally while waves of immigrants poured in from Asian and Latin American countries. Numbers of students from African nations, Asia and Middle Eastern countries enrolled in higher academia. Drugs were the top illegal import into the U.S. as a billion-dollar industry; driving the undercurrents of business, politics, law enforcement and multi-levels of organized crime in major cities. drug-related crimes, weapons and street gangs committed to fast-track cash, bling and control have dominated neighborhoods with rising homicide of black and hispanic youths in major cities and have even reached small rural towns. The America we once knew has changed; and with change comes uncertainty.

American values and moral fiber compromised for profit. Economic supremacy is an institution exclusive for the privileged and upheld by the upper social hierarchy, however over time has become the dominant message in modern culture. Repeated by the media, and taught by institutions to celebrate the captains of industry and successful entrepreneurs not for their hard work and contributions, but rather for their power and wealth.

Never has a State Of The Union speech announced to citizens to ‘move over; there is a New America coming to crowd your cities; you will have to compete for everything. Move aside or get to the back; jump on the band wagon or be left behind. No special privileges, just credit and dollar power. You will be continuously and increasingly seduced and bombarded with messages of material wealth and desire; but you will not be given an instruction book on how to achieve it, how to finance your future or how-to-plan for tough economic times. Your communities will struggle over budgets, crime and safety while your communities battle over its changing identity and struggle to co-exist. Your mayors will squable over how to become sustainable cities, how to decrease homicide rates and employ more police officers with budget restraints. You will have language barriers; you willpay more and wait in longer lines; property values will decrease; banks will close; companies will go out of business and there will be lay-offs while other jobs will be outsourced to third-world countries with competitive labor and material resources. In short America, you can expect a recession.’

While opportunity opened doors in areas of education, employment and housing; corporate capitalist blew the roof off the building. Capitalist are usually big risk takers, but more often make strategic decisions based on in-depth planning, profit and risk management investments. The capitalists understand that with change comes opportunity. Rewards are great once identifying the risks and developing a strategy to limit losses, some of these strategies may also include social, political and economic positioning that will in the end continue to bring big profits that feed into the pockets of the capitalist. Those born into wealth like heirs of large trusts and the corporate captains; the average person such as the self-made individual or the entrepreneur can achieve the American Dream without going bankrupt.

What is the American Dream?
Unlike some of our American parents and grandparents of previous generations who may not have had basic finance education and who worked hard but lived modestly; they understood the importance of buying a piece of land, and using it to sustain and uphold family life. Many families moved away from southern states and small towns in exchange for urban life in pursuit of the American Dream just like many immigrants who came north in search of the same.

Today’s cities have become a more and more difficult place to achieve the American Dream.’ The American Dream once was the aspiration of the under privileged who could finally say, “I bought this home and the land around it. I and my family live happily in it.” There was less focus on material wealth, cars etc. A home was used to finance education, vacations and retirement. This is what smart and simple hardworking persons do to leverage investments and to uphold life and posterity for self and family and it did not take thirty years to do. Owning a home should be attainable for average low-moderate income Americans and should not take a person thirty years to own outright. The American Dream should be the goal of everyone who wants to own a home to own it free and clear in the shortest period of time rather that to reside in a place that requires one to struggle just to pay the mortgage monthly. For some, the American Dream meant to get all you can at any cost cheating or commit some other crime, but it is no longer a dream rather it has become a nightmare of servitude bound to the wrists of its citizens shackled by employment on the right wrist and enormous long-term debt on the left overshadowed with a lifetime of uncertainty. What is the American Dream? You decide.

Monday, June 30, 2008

When Black People Are Offended

In April 2008, MSNBC aired a show in which a young African American film maker David B. Wilson asked “What’s wrong with black people?” Hmmmm. My first thought was to ponder about the producers of this show and about the discussions and meetings that occurred to convince the station directors (which many would call liberal media) to dare air a program as such. In my mind, the responses began surfacing and my answers were so numerous and automatic as though they had been burrowing for the last thirty years just waiting for someone to ask me this question. I had to pause my own thoughts long enough to focus on the programming in which the producer asked people from various races to respond.

How amazing that the race topic and being black in America has gained more prevalence since now that Barack Obama, an African American is running for presidency. CNN is airing show Black in American

On April 12 2008, the Wichita NAACP posted a commentary by Kevin Miles, president of a Wichita chapter of the NAACP who also moderates a web form asking ‘Why have black people gone mad,’ addresses the same rhetorical question in his commentary which feature a controversial photo of African American Comedian Katt Williams sporting a ornamental noose to accessorize his pink pimp suit.

Oh – Kheeh, funny for some and not so funny for others. While the comedian utilized this ego-grabbing spotlight to mark his entrance on the red carpet that will be frozen in time, he provoked conversations such as ‘What’s wrong with black people.’ And remember he is a..let me spell it for you a..C O M E D I A N, and not a social-political spokesperson for blacks. I have to believe that this was a publicity stunt done for shock value. This photo received much attention, not just in mainstream media but in also in African American intellectual online community African American Opinion BlogSpot.

Nonetheless, Katt W. followed up on the controversy by making an appearance on CNN segment “Coming Out.” offering little explanation for his reasoning. Having met the comedian a few pre-Hollywood years ago, I was a bit disappointed. Like many other supporting fans of black entertainers, I too wanted some profound brilliant comedic explanation. One blogger questioned ‘should I be offended by Katt Williams?’ My question to him would be, should I be offended by black people?

There may be 365 justifiable reasons for all of these questions with one answer for each day of the year (what’s wrong with black people; have black people gone mad; and should I be offended by Katt Williams?) Perhpas what's wrong is when people remove the ability to be objective thinkers; to be able to have open civil dialogue that abandons the often primitive self-hating foul-mouth bitterness coming from damaged and sour souls of people as seen in the anonymous commentary on previous blog. While some of us pride our tonque-cursed gifts of making personal attacks on each other, many others hide behind so-called self-proclaiming godly doctrines of condemnation while being hypocritical and failing to have the capability to engage in a balanced dialogue to discuss and resolve our own issues. Clearly everyone that is black is not capable of engaging in a mindful dialogue, just as any other race of people, but we put far too much responsibility and creditability on entertainers. I don’t care if it is Chris Rock, Dave Chappell or even lil Katt Williams; slap-stick, skit comedy or buffoonery, entertainers entertain. We may laugh, frown, disagree or turn off the TV and read a book, but we should be able chuckle and be open to have a discussion or know when something is just plain stupid.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Ode to Katt (In Da Hat) Williams, Bigger Than Life

What are the odds that someone you knew; perhaps went to school with, either you or someone you knew dated, and then one day you look up on the silver screen and 'bam' there's that person.....bigger than life? Well that happened to me in 2002 when I went to see the hit comedy sequel 'FRIDAY AFTER NEXT' staring Ice Cube and Mike Epps. About a quarter into the move a new character was introduce; Money Mike.
OMG! It was Katt Williams. I was sitting in the theatre with who was my husband at the time when the next thing in knew I had blurted out, "I used to date him." My husband immediately responded, "My gawd woman, don't tell mi you dated dat. Dat funny lickle mon ugly." Now, mind you that I was too busy laughing in amazement. I replied, he's not ugly just short. Under my breath I added, 'the ring on your finger once belong to that ugly bombaclaat.'

When I left the theatre, I thought about lil' Katt. I thought about how funny and charming he was, and also how he pissed me off when borrowed my brand new Tony Tone Toni CD 'House of Music' and never gave it back along with my brand new Bolero hat I had just purchased during a trip to Boston. He was good for s*@## like that.

He was a struggling artist when we met. He was extremely secret, he read a lot of books, but he was also a chronic liar. He didn't have a car or a pot to piss in. Katt was sleeping on a guys couch that he called his manager claiming it was actually his place but he was helping out his friend who was down on his luck. Katt had a side job cleaning houses for a maid service like Molly Maids. I recall hanging out with him at local gigs.
I'd pick him up and bring him to my place where I'd feed him and listen to music. He once told be that he only at once a day, after sundown. I asked, "Are you a muslim?" He told me, "No, I just think it is a good to be discipline," which really mean't 'I'm broke as hell lady, I can only afford to eat once a day."

So one eveining I picked him up after a gig, I offered to cook him a hamburger. He excitedly jumped on the side of my high bed with his feet dangling saying, "oh boy, she gonna make me a hamburger." He'd always keep me laughing. I made his hamburger of which he ate every little finger licking drop then offerd him some home-made lemon pie. I watched him take the first 3-4 bites of the pie saying how good it was until his face suddenly went from a joyful grin to a serious smirk. His eyes bucked and slowly rolled them at me. I asked, "what's the matter?" I watched him pull something from between his teeth. Oh my god, it was my finger nail! While I was grating lemon peels, my nail was also gratted and had fallen in the pie mix. It just so happend to have landed in a section that was ill-marked for Katt. The look on his face was so hillarious. While attempting to aplogize, I laughed so hard until I was in tears. He wasn't laughing, "I'll just be damn. She put a goddamn finger nail in pie and then offered it to me. Ain't that a bitch. I'll have to use that shit."

It has been about ten years since I last saw him. The last thing he did was have me drop him off in Berkeley the day before he was leaving for a gig in Reno. We sat in my car for a while and talked. Before getting out of the car, he took off his little gold ring with about 4-5 micro diamond chips (you needed a magnifying glass to see them) and gave it to me. What was that about??? Although I thought his behavior peculiar, I never tripped on it. Soon afterwards he headed to Los Angeles and was heard from no more. I was pissed for a few months and just said, 'oh well, what the hell.' Guess the cleaning comedian finally hit pay dirt. Right on KW.

In the months after Katt moved to LA, since I had not heard from him I sat and wrote this little fable dedicated to him called 'Ms. Mackadoo.' This is simply a funny tale of endearment...so don't take it too seriously....Its comedy folks.

Tale of Ms. Mackadoo (Ode to Katt Williams) ©1997

Once there was a lady
Who was so all alone,
She felt a little crazy,
She had no one to call her own.

Friendly and well traveled,
Everyone knew Miss Mackadoo
In spite her talents and the people she knew
Without love she knew not what to do.

So in the mirror she decided to take a good look,
To assess all the reason why she couldn't get hooked
Emerald eyes, toasted skin,
A braid in her hair,
Polite words, charmed manners,
Decent and fair,

She said to her self,
"It's all O.K. as far as I can see,
I just haven't search high and low,
So tonight I'll hit the streets, put a short skirt, my Bolero
And give it go!"

So out she ventured, one mystical evening
Into a Cabaret she roamed,
Captivated by a Katt's meow
She decided to take him home

She served him well
With love and affection
Fed him warmth and comfort,
The pleasures of her chest

His tongue explored her fully
In quiet and sensuous expeditions,
He suckle, lick, digest,
Cuddle then slept upon her breast

He painted intimate portraits,
Sexed and teased til her mind was blown
Several months of ecstasy she exploded saying, "Pussy Katt,
Pussy Katt, I want you for my own."

"Mr. Honey Katt", she'd say, "I know you are use to nights in the streets a life unstable and gray,
Far from responsibility,
I'm afraid you may me leave some day."

Mr. Katt replied, "My dear, dear, dear Miss Mackadoo
You're much too special you see
I am lucky that someone like you
Loves someone like me.

She said, "I love you so Mr. Honey Katt,
I want to buy you some nice things
Let me show how much I appreciate you
And the joy that you bring."

So the very next day, whistling a happy tune
Off to shop she went for her new gent.
Returning home, Mr. Katt was gone, he took her heart, her Bolero
Not even leaving his scent.

Week's later Mr. Katt surfaced at the front door.
He appeared frail, weaken, downtrodden and poor

Announcing, "I didn't mean to hurt you,
I hope you understand
But I fell for you Miss Mackadoo
And that was not in my plans."

You see, I'm just an alley Katt,
The streets are all I know
I'm not used to commitments,
Just nightclub hootchies and cheap hos.

She replied, "You've been very, very bad Mr. Katt!
Maybe I will cut you some slack,
Prove to me that again you won't leave
And I'll consider taking you back!"

He curled up around her leg and rubbed up against her thighs
Purring and licking, he stroked her body until she cried,

"Oh, Mr. Honey Katt, Pussy Katt, Kitty Katt
You stole my trust, my love and left me all alone. But now I've got someone who treats me like a queen and I have given him a new home.
So scat you alley Katt, disguised as a rat in a hat.
Get on with your mix and your back of tricks
And please, don't ever come back

So remember young girls to stay away from the charmingly handsome and wicked stray.
He may have a kind work and a gentle greeting today
He may come out of an dark alley but say
"Hey pretty lady, I'm just from around the way."

This was a lesson that she well knew.
That's the tale of Ms. Mackadoo.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Jazz Music, Winery and Good Company

Late Septemeber, one Friday afternoon I got a call from a friend who had a few tickets to see Herbie Hancock at Vila Montalvo Winery. Well, I thought to myself why couldn't she had asked me sooner. I would have come to work prepared to go to a concert. I was very tired and had a miserable week. Again, I though to myself," Oh what the hell. When was the last time I had gone to a jazz concert. Oh bullocks, I told her, "Count me in, damn it. Tired or not. I am going."
So she picked me up and we sped over the Bay bridge to San Franciso to pick up to other passengers and drove south bound 280 to Villa Montalvo. It had been dreary and cloudy all day until we made it beyond South San Francisco down 280. It was a beautigul drive. Afterall, I for once could sit back and be a passenger. I had never been to this venue and I was very tired but suddenly came alive as we entered into the town of Saratoga. Greenery and abundant tree lined streets through the town and passed the entry gates leading into the Vila Montalvo Estate. Down into a narrow winding path we drove into a designated area for parking. We hiked through a rustic rocky dirt path up to the Villa. Once inside, we were met with a reception table complete with a variety of wine from the surrounding area. Then the music began. It was a wonderful trio of melodies dominated by the rhythmic piano mastery of Herbie Hancock who was accompanyied by Nathan East a third musician and piano player. Herbie played his old standards fused with some new ones.
Once the event was over, the musicians and guest were invited for a reception in the Phelan Mansion. That's were I ran into Mayor Dellums of Oakland, CA paling around with Herbie, who was so amazed by his new I phone with pictures of his grandchildren. Eventually I grabbed Marcus (brother of guitarist Nathan East) Herbie and Mayor Dellums for a photo op.

Creating Generaltional Wealth

Many individuals are uninformed, misinformed or unskilled on the basics of financial and money management. While it is true that a large percent of Americans own a basic financial portfolio consisting of saving accounts, retirement plans, mutual funds and real estate; however many more do not. Those who manage a basic investment portfolio may also have a very good credit history; yet, there remains a larger percent of Americans that represent millions of people between the ages of 22 and 55 who live at ground zero that do not have a basic savings account. They are concentrated in urban cities and surrounding areas with conviences of check cashing centers, fast foods, super marts and corner liquor stores. These groups of individuals are also in dire financial crisis with severe credit issues. Few households pay a monthly mortgage and many struggle to make the payments, however most are paying monthly rents. Many individuals do not have checking accounts and are also unaware about the value credit worthiness and lack debt management skills that every citizen should know about. Too many urbanites are simply surviving living pay check to pay check. Are we missing the true picture? For generations, too many Americans have existed in the survival mode, but did we fail to learn a greater and more practical lesson: How to build generational and sustainable wealth?

Generational wealth building begins with information and strategic planning to break the cycles of ignorance plaguing previous generations. Every American from grade school to adulthood can benefit from basic financial literacy. Savvy parents have the impetus to begin educating their children early and continue throughout high school. By the time a child is ready for college, he or she will understand how to avoid the pit falls of debt. They should understand how to use a student loan to maximize the benefits and work toward their first investment in real estate or other securities. Additional understanding of wealth building ideally can be integrated into curriculm to educate adults and children alike; such as financial programs in public schools offered through local banks or first-time home buyer programs offered through the city community based organizations. It behooves the home buyer to have a thorough understanding about home ownership. It is the first and largest investment that can be leveraged into building a financial portfolio that can be used later to finance a child's college education or help to finance a new business or just provide comfort in later years.

Steps to begin with:

Make sure your households to develop a financial organizing system to centralize all confidential information on paper and electronically. This information should be stored in three ways: 1 on a computer with a protected password; 2. On a USB drive for portability and 3. In a notebook. I suggest using the Emergency Financial First Aid Kit (EFFAK) and Personal Disaster Preparedness Guide (PDPG) which can be downloaded for free at http://www.operationhope.org/.

As a leader or co-head of household, create a list a set of personal and business goals and objectives for your self and then with your household. Sit down with family-team members monthly and begin creating accountability systems to measure and review performances.

It is essential to create and maintain a budget for the household. Minimize wastefulness and reduce spending on fast foods. Get your children involved with specific responsibilities. Once established, periodically review the budget with the family. This is a great teaching method and a good starting tool to begin developing financial awareness.

Obtain credit reports for everyone who has one and make a list totaling the amounts of assets and debts. Create a plan to reduce the debt emphasizing discipline. Review credit frequently. Credit reports can be obtained for free at http://www.myfico.com/ and for a small fee; you can receive a FICO score.

Write out a plan to eliminate debt in order of priority. Determine the cost of borrowing and rate of interest paid, then the size of the debt. Ideally the debt with the greater rate of interest is the first to focus on illuminating.

Capitalize on combine resources with family members. Open a team savings account along with an investment account that yields interest like a mutual fund for the family that pools a monthly contribution from each member.

Talk to a financial counselor at a lending institution or a broker about obtaining bonds and making stock purchases. Your investments should be based on your availability of funds, the term of investment, and the rate of return.

Once you purchase a home and begin a successful business, obtain life insurance policy and seek out a tax advisor and estate planner or software to create will and trusts. This is to protect assets and determine how remaining assets are distributed upon the termination of an individual and to prevent loss to state probate agencies.

Obtain auto, house, and medical insurance and review your policies. Be sure to protect your family from losses.

Everyone should obtain financial literacy education through school or a community program. Check your schools and local community organization or contact Operation Hope 1-877-592-HOPE.

Sonja Brooks is a Business, Commercial and Residential Loan Officer at Operation Hope in partnership with Bank of the West in Oakland, CA. Email: sonja.brooks@operationhope.org