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.