AFRO-SURREAL: Ronald K. Brown steps into Nick Cave's creations

By Rita Felciano

San Francisco Bay Guardian

Wednesday May 20, 2009


AFRO-SURREAL Why would you commission a choreographer for a work featuring performers stuck into costumes that hide their bodies? This anomaly didn't deter the 69 dancers who, in late April, auditioned at ODC Commons for a world premiere by Ronald K. Brown. Yerba Buena Center for the Arts wanted a site-specific piece to go with its current exhibition of Nick Cave's wearable sculptures, "Meet Me at the Center of the Earth" — and Bay Area dancers jumped at the chance to work with one of today's most thoughtfully intriguing choreographers.

Brown, who initially had wanted to become a journalist, found his way into dance almost serendipitously. Though he'd been fascinated with researching and writing articles on the way people lived their lives, dance allowed him to do that more indirectly, and also more deeply. He called his company Evidence because of his belief that we are products of the things that have shaped us — our culture, our roots, our families. The dry legal term "evidence" poorly suggests the physically and emotionally rich dances that have earned such a wide following for this modern dance artist, whose choreography is influenced by West African cultures. (Brown brings his company to YBCA Feb. 18-21, 2010)

Amara Tabor-Smith, a former 10-year member of Urban Bush Women, will perform in the Cave project. She doesn't think of Brown as a fusion artist. "The way I see him is that he modernized West African dance," she explained a few days after the tryouts. But her depth of admiration comes from a recognition that Brown's work is "infused with spirit." She made it as one of 13 dancers although she auditioned primarily to "soak up his energy and give energy in return."

Brown, who knew and admired Cave's evocative sculptures from afar, became interested in this project partly because of an experience at the Seattle Art Museum, where he encountered a diorama of African costumes and masks displayed on life-size figures.

"I would talk to the person with me, then slightly turn my head, and there were [the figures]. After a while I almost couldn't tell who was who," he explained. Being aware of a mask's mysterious power to hide as well as to reveal, he nonetheless also told the dancers he wasn't going to turn them into witch doctors or shamans because "we live in America, in a contemporary society."

Brown also insists he did not want to "collaborate" with Cave but wanted to have "his own dream." Since the suits in the actual exhibit are too delicate for performance, he chose a set made from raffia, the natural fiber prevalent in West African dance. Though visually different, they also allow one to sense rather than see the body. Being quite heavy, they may restrict a dancer's movement. During the audition, the choreographer worked with shuffling steps and close-to-the-body arms. He also worked on phrases from Orisha dances and Sabar steps from Senegal ("a kind of social street dance," according to Tabor-Smith.) There may be little or no music, perhaps only the sound of the dancers' feet and the whoosh-whoosh of raffia.

Speaking from Ireland last week, where he was setting work, Brown wouldn't commit himself to the length of the piece but revealed that, though it was originally planned for the galleries only, it would encompass YBCA's lobby area as well. "There will be a guide to take the dancers and the audience on a journey, so that whatever feelings we have, you also have — or it hasn't happened."


May 28, 7 p.m.; May 30–31, 3 p.m.,

free with gallery admission ($5–$7)

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 701 Mission, SF

(415) 978-2787


Wednesday May 20, 2009

The cult of Fanaka

AFRO-SURREAL: A filmmaker reflects on his groundbreaking career

By Cheryl Eddy

Wednesday May 20, 2009

San Francisco Bay Guardian


AFRO-SURREAL Visitors to filmmaker Jamaa Fanaka's MySpace page are greeted with a clip of Snoop Dogg clutching a pile of Fanaka DVDs — 1975's Welcome Home Brother Charles, a.k.a. Soul Vengeance; 1976's Emma Mae, a.k.a. Black Sister's Revenge; 1979's Penitentiary; and 1982's Penitentiary II. He quotes some choice lines and enthusiastically sings the director's praises: "These movies right here — this is black history."

When I mention Snoop Dogg to Fanaka, he's delighted. "All the rappers love me," he says over the phone from Los Angeles. "Also actors, like Eddie Murphy. The first time I ran into him, he was with his brother, and they recited [a scene from Penitentiary] verbatim. That happens all the time."

The Fanaka library (which also includes 1987's Penitentiary III and 1992's Street Wars) has also earned a following among cult-movie fans. "I love that they're cult films, because of what a 'cult film' means: the film lives because the people want it to live," he explains. He's not a fan of the term "blaxploitation" — though it's commonly applied to his films — due to its connotations.

"There were companies that were very profitable, and all they made were 'exploitation' films, which meant that they made low-budget films on subjects that Hollywood didn't want to take on," he says. "It only became a negative term once they put that prefix 'blax' on it. No black filmmaker ever liked that term, though it was coined by a black publicist. 'Blaxploitation' has evolved into a genre, like a horror film, or an action film. But black filmmakers still resent the term because of its origins."

Born in Mississippi, raised in L.A., Fanaka says was distracted from committing a crime by a pair of UCLA recruiters who made him believe he could realize his childhood dream of becoming a filmmaker. ("They asked me, did I want to go to UCLA? I said, 'Yeah. I'd like to go to the moon, too, but my chances of getting there are pretty minuscule.'") He was eventually accepted into the school's prestigious film program, where he also earned a master's degree; his peers included Charles Burnett, who directed 1977's Killer of Sheep.

"It was an exciting time to be a black filmmaker," Fanaka says. "People like Charles Burnett were part of my film crew, I was part of his film crew. We helped each other, advised each other. Those were the halcyon days of filmmaking at UCLA."

Even more notably, "I'm the only person in the history of filmmaking to write, produce, direct, and get theatrical distribution for three feature films I made as part of my curriculum at the UCLA film school," Fanaka says. He shot his first feature, Welcome Home Brother Charles, on the weekends when he didn't have class.

"I felt like, if I had access to all of this equipment, and the wherewithal to make a 10-minute film, why not make a whole feature?" he recalls. "I wanted to reach the widest audience possible, and no matter how good a short film is, the audience is going to be limited. Then I went on to graduate school and I made Emma Mae and Penitentiary."

This kind of determination also extended to Fanaka's fundraising efforts. His parents invested their life savings into his work (good call — Penitentiary, Fanaka says, was the most successful indie film of 1980), but he wondered why he was rejected for a grant by the American Film Institute. He did some research and learned that only one African American had ever been a part of the grant-awarding committee. "I wanted to give minorities a shot," he says, so he wrote a letter to then-Sen. Alan Cranston suggesting that the committee should be more diverse. The next grant cycle, he got the money to help make Emma Mae; the following cycle, he served on the committee. "That goes to show you how the squeaking wheel gets the oil," he remembers, proudly.

In less-tenacious hands, there'd certainly be no Welcome Home Brother Charles. "White slave owners used to tell white women horror stories about the size of the black males' sexual equipment," Fanaka explains. "But rather than frightening the white females, it intrigued them. I wanted to make a film that took that myth and exaggerated it to show how ridiculous it was, and I chose to do it in a very surreal, powerful scene."

(Note to readers who haven't seen the film: uh, think 1997's Anaconda. The entire Penitentiary series is also a gold mine of surreal moments, particularly part three, which features a prison-dwelling, crack-smoking, snarling killer dwarf. Fanaka sums up that film in one word: "feral.")

Now in his late 60s, Fanaka has been slowed in his efforts to make Penitentiary IV by complications from diabetes. He's also been working for the last decade on a music documentary, Hip Hop Hope. It's an apt title for a film by Fanaka, who calls himself "a very optimistic person." He's enjoyed the resurgence of interest in his work, with screenings at places like San Francisco's Dead Channels Film Festival and Austin's Alamo Drafthouse, and frequent airings of the Penitentiary films on cable.

"My most artistic film, in my estimation, was Welcome Home Brother Charles, because I had no axes to grind but to try and use the medium of cinema to attack that myth, and attack it in a way that was quote-unquote artistic. Of course, very few people took that from it because that one scene kind of colors the whole film," he chuckles. "But I think as time goes by, people are gonna realize the value of these films I've made and begin to understand them."

Black Man in the Cosmos

AFRO-SURREAL: All hail an interplanetary stream of Sun Ra reissues

By Garrett Caples

San Francisco Bay Guardian

Wednesday May 20, 2009

AFRO-SURREAL "The Black Man in the Cosmos" wasn't among the course offerings when I attended the University of California-Berkeley. The class was taught once, in 1971, by musician/composer Sun Ra (1914-93), whose lectures might include topics like the outer space origins of ancient Egypt, conceptualized as a black African culture. This cosmic tradition has a long history, particularly in Chicago, where Ra lived from the late 1940s through the early 1960s, and where Elijah Muhammad used it as the founding mythos of the Nation of Islam. Ra claimed to have influenced the NOI, though he rejected its conclusions, much as he would later criticize the Black Power movement he helped foster as too materialist.

Ra's "Black Man" lectures — one of which recently surfaced on The Creator of the Universe (Transparency, 2007) — epitomize why he wasn't taken seriously for so long. Critics who appreciated the severity of Ornette Coleman or the ferocity of Albert Ayler couldn't accommodate the mischievous mysticism of a man who claimed to come from Saturn. Instead of playing the role of brooding artiste, Ra favored extravagant showmanship, cloaking ultimately stern spiritual messages in language as absurd as the science-fictional garb worn by his Arkestra. His strategies included Joycean deformations of words based on false etymologies and sound play. "Arkestra" itself characteristically mixes the spiritual (Ark of the Covenant) with the quotidian. According to John Szwed's definitive 1998 biography, Space is the Place, this was how "orchestra" was pronounced in Ra's native Birmingham, Ala.

Yet the strangeness of Ra's music may have been the biggest stumbling block. His prodigious output is extremely diverse, continually violating unquestioned dichotomies. A product of the 1930s big band scene, when he led an orchestra under his terrestrial name Herman "Sonny" Blount, Ra was at the forefront of free jazz, yet he shocked fans and foes alike when, at its height, he began incorporating tight arrangements of swing classics by Fletcher Henderson, Ellington, and others into his sound.

Ra's lifelong interest in synthesizers — there's a photo of him with a primitive one in 1941(!) — developed into a command of pure sound. He adapted his style to the nuances of a particular keyboard. The 1970 recording Night of the Purple Moon (Atavistic, 2007), for instance, is a quartet disc on which he plays baroque runs on the Rocksichord, a 1960s electric harpsichord. The 1978 recording Disco 3000 (Art Yard, 2008), a live quartet performance, features Ra's organ-like drones on the obscure, loop-enabled Crumar Mainman. Unlike some synth wizards, Ra was a virtuoso pianist, with a lightning-fast right hand and a left hand that seemingly bounced around of its own volition. While unafraid to mash the keys with his forearm, Ra's ambidextrous precision and unorthodox chord voicings — he was unafraid to mash the keys with his forearm — place him among the top players of his time. If he'd worn a suit and stuck to piano, he'd be ranked with the likes of Art Tatum, as is evident from his previously-unreleased recital Solo Piano: Teatro la Fenice Venizia (Golden Years, 2003), possibly the best such recording.

Big bands remained Ra's ideal, though they were giving way to smaller bop combos by the time he formed the Arkestra in the mid-'50s. Yet his insularity resulted in some of his most original works, discs that defy generic categories, like 1963's reverb-drenched, proto-psychedelic Cosmic Tones for Mental Therapy (Evidence, 1992), 1965's percussive, minimalist Heliocentric Worlds of Sun Ra, v. 1 (Esp, 2006), or 1967's Strange Strings (Atavistic, 2007), on which the Arkestra, with no prior experience, plays various non-Western stringed instruments, accompanied by bells, tympani, sheet-metal lightning.

While the atonal Strings may be Ra's least typical album, it embodies two of his main concerns. On the one hand, he was a tone colorist in the Romantic tradition, seeking unusual instrumentation to produce unique shades. But as that album's untutored string section suggests, he was a highly conceptual composer — garnering attention from John Cage and others — known for arranging and conducting collective improvisation. Traditional/avant-garde, inside/outside: such oppositions didn't exist for Ra, who even explored a "low" genre like disco on 1980's tongue-in-cheek On Jupiter (Art Yard, 2008).

The bewildering amount of Sun Ra reissues stems from his habit of self-recording, which also dates from the 1940s. Had he not done so, albums like Strings and Cosmic Tones wouldn't have been recorded. Nor would they have been released without his forming El Saturn Records, among the earliest artist-run labels. Given that his technological futurism seemed to stem from his preoccupation with outer space, Ra's artistic achievements are perhaps inextricably bound to his cosmic consciousness. As with Prince, artistic activity was driven by extramusical concerns, which, if they result in an occasional lapse in "good taste," nonetheless are the ingredients that elevate Ra from artistic excellence to genius. This genius may not have given him more than a subsistence living, but it has made him immortal. Unless, of course, as an inhabitant of Saturn, he already was.

Ding dong, Wicked Witch is alive

AFRO-SURREAL: The lost sounds of D.C. machine funk are revived

By Mosi Reeves for the

San Francisco Bay Guardian

Wednesday May 20, 2009

AFRO-SURREAL What was black music like before hip-hop took over? On Chaos: 1978-86

(EM), a compilation of private press recordings by the obscure machine funk guitarist Wicked Witch, it resembles squelching synthesizers riffed like rock guitars and deep, rumbling bass stomps. Unevenly tuned fretboard licks mash with splashing, polyphonic drum patterns as a mysterious leading man uncomfortably murmurs lyrics like "I just can't hang out, too much time is lost."

As a young guitarist hooked on Cream, Sun Ra, and Weather Report who mostly played for family and friends in southeast Washington, D.C., Wicked Witch's Richard Simms didn't achieve local fame, much less a national audience. But his subterranean woodshedding reverberates with tremors from an industry in upheaval. Musicians adopted electronic equipment en masse, supplanting the flowery string arrangements of 1970s disco with keyboards and drum programming. It wasn't just black musicians transitioning to the computer age: early-1980s rock offers contrasts between lush new romanticism (Human League, Duran Duran) and crass arena sounds (Foreigner, REO Speedwagon). While the latter is celebrated via redundant VH-1 retrospectives and football stadium soundtracks, early-1980s black music and its heroes (the System, Imagination) remain unexplored.

Nelson George describes the period in 1988's authoritative history The Death of Rhythm & Blues. "Synthesizers of every description, drum machines, and plain old electric keyboards began making MFSB and other human rhythm sections nonessential to the recording process," he writes, somewhat overstating his case. "There were so many ... with all the personality and warmth of a microwave."

George's "microwave music" condemnation still resonates, and this crucial period of black music — just before the hip-hop, R&B and quiet storm era — has largely escaped serious critical attention, save for disco aficionados who cherry-pick proto-house music stars like D-Train and Larry Levan. Meanwhile, Wicked Witch's unintended documentation of the black new wave — meshing machine gun funk with spacey keyboard ambience on "Fancy Dancer," giving a shambolic twist to Mahavishnu Orchestra-style jazz fusion on "Vera's Back" — has reemerged on the collector's market. Simms' private press singles, which include two 7-inches and a 12-inch long player, have been bootlegged. Original copies trade for $100. This probably led EM, a Japanese specialty label, to contact Simms and assemble Chaos.

"It wasn't commercial," Simms said during a recent phone conversation. Forced Exposure, the Boston distributor handling Chaos, had passed on his information, but it took more than two weeks to finally reach him. Though pleasantly surprised by the novelty of an interview, he's somewhat suspicious of the affair. When asked how many copies he pressed up, he shoots back, "Why are you inquiring about that?" as if this writer, armed with a copy of Goldmine magazine, wants to corner the market on Wicked Witch collectibles. And how did Simms come up with the name Wicked Witch anyway? "I'm stumped on that one," he says. "I think I wanted something dramatic, like theater."

Simms remembers forming his first band, Paradiagm with teenage friends "on an original-type kick" from around the area. The group recorded the track "Vera's Back" before going their separate ways. "We were trying to do an original act, but people didn't really accept it," he says. Chuck Brown's ingenious go-go style, an amalgamation of James Brown's call-and-response breaks and N'awlins marching band jazz, reigned as D.C.'s unofficial soundtrack. And since Paradiagm wasn't a go-go band and didn't play covers of radio hits, they couldn't get bookings: "It was too hard to break new material." Simms managed to reach the manager of Return to Forever, Chick Corea's jazz fusion superstar collective. But he says, mysteriously, "We did vocals, and they weren't doing no vocals."

After that came Wicked Witch, which Simms describes as a "studio thing" where he worked out his musical ideas and recorded them. Yet even that was relatively short-lived. "My background is jazz fusion," Simms says. For Wicked Witch, he tried to merge fusion and funk, resulting in tracks with cryptic time signatures and spaced-out melodies. "If it was more funky, I think it would have been it. But it wasn't funky enough. But I still dig it."

By the mid-1980s, the leather-clad hero of "Fancy Dancer" disappeared in the Chocolate City, just as the hip-hop era had begun. "Kids, a job, other things you gotta do ... all of the above got put on top of the music. And then the music became close to nothing," Simms says. Before that happened, however, he pressed up those now-collectible records for himself. "Nobody was doing it for me, so I might as well do something on my own, right?"

Mosi Reeves:
"I've been a music critic for over a decade. I am widely known and respected as a hip-hop journalist, but I have also covered and critiqued indie, electronic (from experimental/classical to dance) music. In regards to music, my specialty is on emerging and progressive/underground culture."

Current project: Plug One (http://www.plugonemag.com), a website focused on underground hip-hop culture.

Ain't I a werewolf?

AFRO-SURREAL: Diaspora consciousness in the Underworld trilogy

By Kandia Crazy Horse for the

San Francisco Bay Guardian

Wednesday May 20, 2009

AFRO-SURREAL Stylistic rigor and as full an embrace of progressive technologies as budgets allow have made Underworld Trilogy (Sony Pictures DVD, $93.95) a pleasurable extension of epics from fang-face past. Yet perhaps the most significant aspect of Len Wiseman's cycle about immortals warring for supremacy is an updated recognition of the post-1960s liberation strides of blacks and women in our society. It is reflected in the power and intellect of the first film's heroine Selene (Kate Beckinsale) and her fellow vampiric rebels (like Robbie Gee's tech-wizard Kahn) and lycan foes ("Razahir/Raze," played by Underworld concept engineer Kevin Grievoux). The last and best installment, Underworld: Rise of the Lycans, is a virtual remix of my generation's seminal televisual event, Roots. If that ain't Afro-Surreal, then what is?

It was 30 years ago — not long after the historic airing of the adaptation of Alex Haley's Roots fundamentally changed public perceptions of America's "peculiar institution" — that I moved to the Sahel and immediately became obsessed with Dogon lore about the Sirius star system and a family of deities including the trickster Pale Fox. Blood debates about antiquity and provenance continue to rage between disdainful classicists, denizens of the moribund field of Egyptology, and independent scholars of varying stripes devoted to Martin Bernal's Black Athena (1987). My view supports linkages between the overlapping subcultures of the Dogon, Amazigh, "Egyptians," Zulu, and others, resulting in a kozmic fusion wherein the primordial werewolf (some would prefer jackal or werehyena) is a key deity from the dawn of civilization in the Motherland.

Underworld: Rise of the Lycans finds the great Irish actor Michael Sheen's "lycan" leader character Lucian subbing for Kunta Kinte. In the stark, nightmarish Eastern European fiefdom of vampire lord Viktor (Bill Nighy), the decadent, pale vampires are pampered aristocrats guarded and served by their dark, subhuman lycan slaves (hybrids of humans and wolves). Lucian changes from pet house nigger fettered by shackles of the flesh and mind — condescendingly deemed "a credit to his race" by Viktor — into an enlightened, empowered rebel leader who brings deliverance to lycan-kind by forging an alliance with despised animal spawn of William Corvinus in the wooded wilds.

Yet all is not Molotovs and roses — there are sadistic spectacles of whipping at the hands of cruel overseer Kosta, Nubian ally Razahir is forced to submit to lycanthropy, and Lucian suffers the ultimate price for miscegenation with Viktor's daughter Sonja (the underrated Rhona Mitra). Rise of the Lycans may not be Blacula, but it is often a winking mash-up of Roots and the even more hardcore, honest Mandingo (1975). In a time when America has just elected its first (official) black president but open dialogues on slavery — and reparations for same — remain muted at best, it's heartening to witness product straight out of Hollyweird somehow serving as an optic Trojan horse for the oft-forgotten and misrepresented radicalism of antebellum culture heroes like Nat Turner, Cinque, and the O.G. Black Moses herself, Harriet Tubman.

Rise of the Lycans has been roundly panned by fanboys and critics alike, which is hardly shocking considering America's unwillingness to face the major episodes of its bloody past — the enslavement of Africans via the Triangular Trade, and the genocide of the First Nations. Yet to these eyes and ears, the film's a first sign in the Age of Obama that a willingness to finally address the West's hateful legacies can emanate from "low" culture, despite the will to bliss out in the opiated mass of post-racial utopia.

A native of Washington, DC raised on a mix of Afrobeat, jazz, soul, and southern boogie, Kandia Crazy Horse is now a Manhattan-based rock critic. Her work appears in publications including the Village Voice and popmatters.com. Kandia is a contributor to The Blues (HarperCollins, 2003), the companion volume to Martin Scorcese's series on the roots music genre, and has edited a collection on black musicians' rock experiences, Rip It Up, to be published in November 2003 by Palgrave/St.Martin's Press (Macmillan
in the UK).

Afro-Lunacy in Bloom

AFRO-SURREAL: Fragments from the files of Dr. Snakeskin

By Darius James

Wednesday May 20, 2009



"Ticket to Heaven," the last of the series of Our Gang comedies, was produced by Oscar Micheaux in 1944, with music provided by Babs Gonzales and his band, Three Bips and a Bop, on a makeshift sound stage constructed inside of a Harlem tenement building. The plot summary is as follows: With the help of Farina, Pineapple, and Stymie, Buckwee runs amok after reading an early Nation of Islam pamphlet that promises a place in heaven to any Black Muslim who killed a white person for Allah. The throats of the entire gang are slashed with unsheathed straight razors. Alfalfa is forced to sing "Ole Man Ribber" before his throat is slit by a young Robert Blake in blackface. Directed by Spencer Williams, the script was written by Flournoy Miller, who dedicated this final episode to the memory of his late partner, Aubrey Lyles. Miller then moved on to penning scripts for Gosden and Correl's. Amos 'n' Andy television show. The controversial episode aired last Nov. 22, 1963, much to the glee of the N.A.A.C.P.


You can't eat with everybody. You got to have the right vibrations.

Vera Grosvenor, dancer-vocalist, Sun Ra Arkestra

Menstrual blood, in both the Hoodoo folk traditions of the American South and the Straga traditions of southern Italy, is used to bind one's affection to another. In Sicily, for example, a few drops of blood pricked from a woman's finger is stirred into a man's coffee. In the southern states, a man might get Hoodoo'd with a few drops of menstrual blood mixed into his red beans and rice. This spell is also quite effective when worked in the reverse by men substituting menstrual blood for the obvious. The following is an excellent recipe a lady might serve a gentleman caller for lunch.

Tomato with Basil Dressing

diced tomatoes

1 bunch basil

4 Tbs. balsamic vinegar

5 Tbs. olive oil

2 cloves garlic

3 tsp. of menstrual blood

Salt and pepper

Let stand for 30 minutes. Serve with Toscanini bread, Parma ham, salami, and a carafe of red wine. Bon appetit!


"What fool coon nonsense is this?" the Devil asked. "You call this a sacrificial offerin'? These ain't nothin' but some greasy, chewed-up chicken bones! What happened to my sammich?"

"Ah' done et' it" R.J. replied. "Ah gots hongry on de way ober 'cheer!"

"Well how in the hell do you expect to play the greatest blues guitar in the history of the world if all you got to show for it is some splintered chicken bones all spit up with some nasty ol' nigger slobber? What's wrong with your head, boy? I'm the devil! You gots to give me somethin' ... !"

In the moonlight, R.J. turned his empty lint-lined pockets inside out. He gave the Devil a helplessly pathetic half-smile. "You is 'bout the most pitiful colored boy I done ever laid these infernal eyes on," the Devil said. "But I'll tell you what I'm gonna do .... "


A report released late last night from the Crab Corner sheriff's department confirmed recent rumors concerning retired physical education instructor, D.T. Ward, 68, who alleged over the weekend that a spectral, feral-eyed black man passed through the walls of his newly-paneled basement Saturday morning, and greeted him with a strange but cheery salutation.

"At first, I thought he was askin' for a plate of 'green eggs 'n' ham,'" D.T. told a disbelieving deputy. "Like in them Dr. Seuss books. But now that I think on it, what he said sounded somethin' more like what them magician fellas say 'fore they pull a rabbit outta their hats — Wham! Bam! Alley Ka Zam! — only this nigra fella was more dicty an' foreign soundin', like he was addressin' royalty or somethin', lookin' at me with them flint-fire eyes. Gave me the Willies!"

According to Ward, whom long-time neighbors suspect is rapidly degenerating into senility, the red-haired apparition floated into the upstairs kitchen, where he took a box of Cap'n Crunch from a kitchen cupboard and prepared a large bowl of the sugar-coated cereal, using close to a full quart of milk. The sepia-tinted spectre then returned to the basement, sat on the sofa, nestling the bowl on his lap, and watched cartoons on the family's new big-screen television with the Wards' three visiting grandchildren — Ralph, Edwina, and Skip. The children chirped that he enjoyed early-vintage Popeye cartoons best.

"Right neighborly fella," D.T. said. "Real nice to the kids. Didn't drink, smoke, or cuss. Helped around the yard. Wore a bowtie".


The wretched inherited the earth. And the Man spurt a glorious rain. His underwear was left sticky with seed.

Witches taught naming was power. To name was to know and exert influence over the world of things. The ability to name determined the fuction of a thing. To name was to tame. But we learned otherwise. Real power lay in un-naming.

We refused names, numbers, and codes. We refused stamps, marks. We acted anonymously and moved beyond the Man's mechanisms of global economic and social control. If the Man could not name us, he could not know or tame us. Once he declared us one thing, we become another. We were an invisible and ever changing alphabet.

The Man found our meaning more difficult to grasp than a bead of mercury. He lamented. The cornerstone of the corporate nation-state, the family, had crumbled.

"Errant fathers! Sluttish mothers! Bastard births! Negro music! What is the world to do?" he mourned. "Return to the power of prayer!" So when the robots rolled into the cities, chirping "Automaton Christian Solidiers," we became the robots. The Man did not and could not know. We was them.

Even at the end, in the euphoria of his avarious wet dreams, he thought the tumors raging within were of his own making. But how could he know?

We shifted gender, race, and class. And hopped from one species to the next. We were flora and fauna. We were never what we seemed to be. We were never what he expected. We were random, illogical, varied. He could not predict us.

Then he turned on himself. "To restore order," he said, "we must restore the family. We must attempt to rebuild our moral foundation with the assistance of God."

In his megalomania, the Man resurrected the biblical Abraham from the dust. The ancient patriarch stood before the people and lifted his simple robes. He turned and bent over and exposed the halves of his pimpled ass. His asshole puckered and spoke in gaseous bleats. Throngs of people shuddered in awe. The Savior had come at long last in the mask of Abraham's encrusted asshole.

"The father is the spirtual leader of the househould," it said, "the model of God's love. And he must wash his wife in the waters of that love. He must also instruct his children on matters God's word with diligence. It is his moral obligation, a duty bestowed on him by heaven. It is the responsiblity of men to teach and reaffirm God's word."

A rancid pungency wafted through the crowd in fog-like densities. The people swooned and were overtaken by uncontrollable nausea and diarrhea. Soon, the streets were flooded with the waters of God's love. And the waters clogged the circuitry of the robots under the Man's control.

It was then the Man expired, jacking off in pools of his own shit.

Darius James is the author of the novel Negrophobia and the film survey That's Blaxploitation!: Roots of the Baadasssss 'Tude (Rated X by an All-Whyte Jury).

Born To Be Wildly Visionary

AFRO-SURREAL: Of black tomorrows, yesterday, today, and antiquity

By Greg Tate

Wednesday May 20, 2009

AFRO-SURREAL Living in black America means you're already living "science fiction" — already born to be wildly visionary and future- bent in form, function, context, and appearance. No choice, really.

History cast your ancestors in the real-world version of the genre's defining, overarching anxiety-ridden trope — the Earthly-and-Earthy- Beings-Overcoming-Enslavement-and-Genocide-by-Evil-Aliens story.

Black America is clearly the result of Africans surviving an evil alien abduction to an evil alien slave planet where our ancestors, nearly transformed into automatons, came to develop sonically-induced counteracting powers of telekinesis, time travel, teleportation, telepathy, and "trickster-knowlogy" to combat invading alien armies who had us beat when it came to more bluntly ballistic technology. To those African spirit combatants we owe the advent of such dark avatars of symbolic, sonic, and psychic African weaponry as Scott Joplin, Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, John Coltrane, Sun Ra, Romare Bearden, Aretha Franklin, James Brown, Nina Simone, Jimi Hendrix, De La Soul, Ramm El Zee, Jean Michel Basquiat, and the Art Ensemble of Chicago, whose battle cry "Great Black Music Ancient and to the Future" is as succinct a manifesto for the black SF movement as has ever been written.

But now let's get really real up in this piece: the terms black science fiction, Afro-Futurism, Afro-Punk, post-blackness, Black Surrealism, Black Dada Nihilismus, etc., are all born of attempts to accommodate and simulate the strange reality of being black (and "black being and nothingness") in the not-so New World in ways not seen on BET. Yet all these terms are actually redundant — black in America by itself already signifying the ultimate in Weird Tales.

They're also just a tad elitist and academic — at times intended to suggest that some blacks, usually college miseducated, are more modern, avant-garde, and outside the black box than others. The world that most black working-class people live in here in these United States is already as freaking strange twisted and bizarre as any space opera. The self-taught artists that have come from African American working class communities — Ra, Thornton Dial, Bessie Smith, Thelonious Monk, Simone, Hendrix, David Hammons, George Clinton, Wu-Tang Clan to name a few — are all more "out of this world" than their merely grad school-sanctioned brethren and sistren. No surprise.

After all, who needs to dream bigger than folk trying to escape from America's urban behavioral modification concentration camps? Furthermore, anybody who thinks the extraterrestrial African imagination needs anything but a daily reality check to get fired up needs to come spend a day in Harlem.

From my bedroom window nested high up on uptown's Sugar Hill — blocks from the old cribs of Ellington, Robeson, Hughes, and Basie — I can see a shimmering forest of spring green trees being stalked and hovered over by a four-building complex of high-rise public housing projects known as the Polo Grounds towers. Each is 30 stories; the combined 1,616 units hold an estimated 4,200 residents of primarily African descent on a 15-acre property that defines Harlem's eastern edge. At night these towers are illuminated by an artificial, man-made double moon: one brand new, one still to be demolished — the side-by-side circular monstrosities known to us natives as Yankee Stadiums I and II.

If that's not odd enough, check this out: If you call up Harlem's 155th Street corridor on Google maps, you will not find any evidence of these gargantuan buildings when you zoom in. What you will see instead is a huge empty white space marked "Polo Grounds." The online information readily available about the Polo Grounds says nothing about those four Tolkienesque towers, or the folk who live there.

Instead, it blathers on about the forgotten baseball stadiums, long demolished, that once stood there for the New York Giants, the Yankees, and the Mets. Think about it — 4,200 folk of color vertically stacked in their own Babel but erased from human consideration on the virtual map of the world and replaced by fanboy baseball lore. If that's not black science fiction, I don't know what qualifies.

Greg Tate is a founding member of the Black Rock Coalition and a staff writer at the Village Voice. His writings on art, music and culture have also appeared in the New York Times, Rolling Stone, Washington Post, Premiere, Downbeat and Artforum. His books include; Flyboy In The Buttermilk (Simon and Schuster, 1992) Midnight Lightning: Jimi Hendrix and the Black Experience (Acapella, 2003) and Everything But The Burden: What White People Are Taking From Black Culture. (Broadway, Random House, 2003)

The list in surrealist

AFRO-SURREAL: A hilarious and disturbing cinematic top 10

By David Boyce for

San Francisco Bay Guardian

Wednesday May 20, 2009

1. Putney Swope (Robert Downey Sr., 1969) The elder Downey's brilliant, completely irreverent send-up of race, politics and the advertising industry. Smoke a big fat joint and watch this one. You will laugh your ass off. Take special note of the "commercials" for the products by Truth and Soul, Inc.

2. Bamboozled (Spike Lee, 2002) Spike Lee's dark, squirm-in-your-seat masterpiece brings minstrelsy into the 21st century. Damon Wayans tries to get himself fired from a racist TV station by producing an extremely offensive prime time minstrel show. The show turns out to be a smash hit.

3. The Watermelon Man (Melvin Van Peebles, 1970) One of the great Afro-Surrealists casts Godfrey Cambridge as a white racist insurance salesman who wakes up as a black man after watching race riots on the late night news. Very, very OUT, especially the scene where Cambridge sits in a tub full of milk trying to reverse the color change.

4. Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song (Melvin Van Peebles, 1971) Peebles casts himself as Sweetback, a black stud sex worker who kills a racist cop and has to go on the lam. More allegory than literal narrative, it reminds me of Jodorowsky's El Topo (1970).

5. Black Like Me (Carl Lerner, 1964) Curious writer James Whitmore wants to experience being black so he takes a pill to darken his skin, tests his new identity on his favorite shoe shine man and heads down south. Bad idea. He runs into trouble instantly (near-lynching, bad vibes from every white person) and basically goes insane.

6. Which Way Is Up? (Michael Schultz, 1977) Richard Pryor plays three characters — a jackleg preacher, a dirty old man, and an orange picker who accidentally becomes union hero — in this very funny remake of The Seduction of Mimi (1972).

7. Richard Pryor: Live and Smokin' (Michael Blum, 1971) Pryor's first standup film. He's coming off a coke binge, the film crew is pissing him off, and no one is laughing, but that doesn't stop him. The highlight is the demented "a wino and a junkie" routine.

8. Space is the Place (John Coney, 1974) Sun Ra, black alien jazz musician for Saturn, lands his spaceship in early-1970s Oakland. His mission is to rescue black people, but strangely, no one wants to be saved. He battles the CIA, apathetic black youth (who think he's a hippie from Telegraph Avenue) and a character called the Overseer while finding the time to put on a concert at Laney College. Anything by Sun Ra is Afro-Surrealism at its most potent.

9. Ghost Dog (Jim Jarmusch, 1999) Jim Jarmusch's mystical meditation on the samurai, Brooklyn style.

My man Isaach De Bankolé almost steals the movie.

10. Sankofa (Haile Gerima, 1993) Gerima's off-the-charts take on slavery is disturbing, downright depressing, and utterly psychedelic. A black supermodel on a shoot on Goree Island, the infamous slave trader's fort, steps into a basement and is transported back to a West Indies plantation. Afro-Surrealism at its best.

David Boyce is
an exploratory soul who seeks truth/knowledge/enlightenment/love/compassion in the Sound cosmically everlasting....a Boohaab (n.child of the soulogik), making music with BROUN FELLINIS, THE SUPPLICANTS, CROWN CITY ROCKERS, KOSMIC RENAISSANCE, SILA AND THE AFRO FUNK EXPERIENCE, BLACK EDGAR'S MUSIK BOX, MBL and KA.

Devil's poetry

AFRO-SURREAL: Bob Kaufman's California duende blues

By Nicole Henares for

San Francisco Bay Guardian

AFRO-SURREAL Sadly, the mythology of poet Bob Kaufman almost rivals all we have left of his poetry. However, to place Kaufman within a mere "cult of personality" (along the lines of some of his contemporaries) undermines the innovation of his process and what it brings to the tapestry of American poetics and the complicated and surreal orality of his poems.

Called "the American Rimbaud" by the French, Kaufman lived as a poetic assassin. A frequently arrested union organizer, like Stagger Lee wielding a .44 of devil's poetry, Kaufman assaulted the willing and unwilling (even white police officers) with verse. If you were cool, you knew his assault was meant as a cipher, a juxtaposition of rhythm, image, and sound meant to invite the listener into a dialectical examination of identity, even the identity obtained from syntax: "I went to a masquerade/ Disguised as myself/ Not one of my friends recognized."

Kaufman's poetics were Kerouac's spontaneous prose without the notebook, taken literally. Think an un-choreographed version of "Amethyst Rocks," the prison yard scene in Slam (1998) where Saul Williams stops a would-be beatdown with poetry. Except for Kaufman the beatdown was always real, inevitable, and though sometimes provoked, never for the camera.

Kaufman was the spirit of true North Beach bohemia: the street poet who stood "on yardbird corners of embryonic hopes drowned in a heroin tear," panhandling "with moist prophet eyes" free styles of surrealism, the blues and duende, meant to disturb, disrupt, and ultimately liberate.

Kaufman's "crackling blueness" is distinctly Californian. In poems like "Carl Chaessman Interviews the PTA," Kaufman filters the "west of the west" through absurdist reflections that juxtapose outlaw figures such as Chessman (a 1960s serial killer on San Quentin's Death Row) with figures from California's mythology, all to the rhythms of a radio announcer calling a ballgame: Carl Chessman is in sickly California writing death threats to the Wizard of Oz, his trial is being held in the stomach of Junipero Serra, at last the game starts, Chessman steals all the bases & returns to his tomb to receive the last sacraments from Shirley Temple.

Ultimately, according to poet and scholar Nathaniel Mackey, what Kaufman creates is a cross-cultural poetics difficult to categorize. Though he lived in North Beach and is credited with coining the phrase "beatnik" — and infused his poetry with jazz and Eastern religious influence — Kaufman transcends the singular categorization of "Beat poet." By aligning himself with the pain of "all losers, brown, red, black, and white; the colors from the Master Palette," Kaufman creates a new American poetics — a hybrid poetics of projective California duende blues, an examination of the exhaustion that comes from the persistence of breath.

Nicole Henares, at the age of five, authored her first book about visiting the Monterey Public Library's lop-eared rabbit, Bigfoot. Throughout her childhood she wrote several books about friendless fairies attending monopoly championships in Las Vegas, and elves on the run from chicken vendors. As a student at UC Davis Nicole had the dubious honor of not getting accepted into poetry classes taught by Gary Snyder and Alan Williamson, and flunking altogether Introductory Creative Writing due to her misadventures with Davis' midget cop and other miscreants. Nicole has since studied with Elmaz Abinader, Quincy Troupe, David Mura and Cristina Garcia in the Voices of Our Nation Writing Workshops, and Kim Addonizio.

For your earholes

AFRO-SURREAL: Chelonis R. Jones designs more psycho audio couture

By Johnny Ray Huston



Afro-Surreal is a crackling transmission from the tightest tunnels and recesses of inner space, and the furthest, darkest outposts of outer space. Afro-Surreal is androgynous — butch and femme on a whim. Afro-Surreal is a sonic realm that can morph any millisecond. It is a single body with many voices. Afro-Surreal might sound like gospel, but it ain't, or if it is, it's Goth gospel. Afro-Surreal is a Puya-like bloom from the root of a manifesto named "Black Sabrina." Afro-Surreal is a flawed masterstroke from the most unjustly under-known "popular music" recording artist of the 21st century. Afro-Surreal is the sound of Chelonis R. Jones.

Right now, the sound of Chelonis R. Jones is Chatterton (Systematic), his second solo album after the equally deep and fantastic Dislocated Genius (Get Physical, 2005). It's named after a poet, and it's a place where Giorgio Moroder-meets-Donna Summer to soundtrack an eight-minute minimalist epic sung from the perspective of the ungrateful sole survivor of a plane crash. It's a place where rehab is a "recreant blur," and Fleetwood Mac's "Dreams" are buried beneath threatening street wisdom from an ex-.

"'WELL SHUT MY MOUTH WIDE OPEN!'is an old surrealist term of expression that Afro-Americans created when they were emancipated, due to the fact that emancipation wasn't a reality, but a much dreamed of condition that they hoped would become a reality." So writes Ted Joans — as tedjoans — in the liner notes for the recently-reissued 1974 album King of Kings (Pyramid/Ikef) by the Pyramids, Bay Area artist and musician Idris Ackamoor's revelatory group. Joans was referring to the free jazz sounds of the time, but he could just as well have been referring to Death's definition of rock 'n' roll, as demonstrated on ...For All the World to See (Drag City), a previously unreleased true treasure of black Detroit rock that also dates from 1974. Brothers David and Bobby Hackney don't just invent punk — "Freakin Out" is like the Buzzcocks if they were muscular — they create agit-punk on the epic "Politicians in My Eyes."

The arrival of Death couldn't be better timed to match the black rock signs of life within the surreal electronic solar system of Jones' Chatterton. Jones' braiding of word and sound is subliminal, like when Pornography (as in a song that sounds like that particular era of the Cure) arrives in the wake of a track called "Tornogrpahy." In the audio "Che-ography" he has created with dozens of studio collaborators (charted on his MySpace), a cat-lady character from a 12" single (2007's "Helen Cornell") can cameo in a song by another recording endeavor about a girl who suffers when "the pimps and crack dealers hit her...where the good lord split her."

All the lonely people, framed by "Pompadour," Chatterton's penultimate track that pays homage to an idol by stampeding to finality like "Speedway" on Morrissey's Vauxhall and I (Sire, 1994). "'Twas said, 'twas said: Black singers are ... well, so very very ... uh ... cliché," Jones, well, sings — and sings from a bottomless well. "And still, and still you know you'll screw for them ... you'll screw in private anyway!"

Camp-Lo Drizzies Da Gold Sugar

AFRO-SURREAL: Camp Lo bring the wordplay, elegance, and Bronx bravado

By D. Scot Miller

San Francisco Bay Guardian


Fuck all that. Camp Lo's Uptown Saturday Night (Profile, 1997) is one of the most slept-on albums in the history of hip-hop. Period. Innovative well beyond its years, Uptown Saturday Night introduces the Camp Lo aesthetic — a combination of exquisite wordplay, foppish elegance, and Bronx-style bravado mixed in with a fearsome frivolity. They redefined "gangsta," using the oft-quoted Posdnous lyric "Fuck being hard /Posdnous is complicated" as a motto. Because Uptown Saturday Night IS complicated, which makes it hard. It's also pornographic and violent to an extreme and probably bears the uncomfortable distinction of being the first, if not only, hip-hop album to portray coprophilia in nearly positive light.

The album is a complete immersion into a certain brand of street slang that bears a lineage with Iceberg Slim, De La Soul, Digable Planets, Raekwon and Ghostface Killah. Definitely otnay orfay ofeys, the Lo's first outing is the most utterly inaccessible and damn-near indescribable crossover album of the era.

Camp Lo created such a lyrical Gordian knot that even the most versed connoisseur of microphone wizardry could be left looking baffled with a handful of either jewels or cubic zirconia — only an accurate hip-to-square conversion chart could tell which. "In another millenia /Blow the dust off these jewels," says Geechi Suede, and to this day, Googling the lyrics of their one and only "hit," "Luchini," brings page after page of misquoted and half-heard snippets exposing Herbs. An example: "Keep your ears out for our years"? How about keep your ears out for Roy Ayers? He's a jazz musician. "Levitating in da' shiggys"? How about dashikis? They're a kind of shirt, from Africa.

All Afro-Surreal elements are present: a layered rococo style steeped in international travel; a dandy's obsession with "vines" from Paris and Milan; a literary approach with references ranging from Donald Goines to Fragonard; and a frivolous manner that belies a serious intent. After Uptown Saturday Night, hip-hop changed, and not necessarily for the better. Go see Camp Lo. Give these men their due.

CAMP LO With DJ Apollo and Sake 1. Thurs/21, 10 p.m., $10. Mighty, 119 Utah, SF. (415) 762-0151. www.mighty119.com


Black is the new black --
a 21st century manifesto

By D. Scot Miller

For San Francisco Bay Guardian

Wednesday May 20, 2009

I'm not a surrealist. I just paint what I see. — Frida Kahlo


In his introduction to the classic novel Invisible Man (1952), ambiguous black and literary icon Ralph Ellison says the process of creation was "far more disjointed than [it] sounds ... such was the inner-outer subjective-objective process, pied rind and surreal heart."

Ellison's allusion is to his book's most perplexing character, Rinehart the Runner, a dandy, pimp, numbers runner, drug dealer, prophet, and preacher. The protagonist of Invisible Man takes on the persona of Rinehart so that "I may not see myself as others see me not." Wearing a mask of dark shades and large-brimmed hat, he is warned by a man known as the fellow with the gun, "Listen Jack, don't let nobody make you act like Rinehart. You got to have a smooth tongue, a heartless heart, and be ready to do anything."

And Ellison's lead man enters a world of prostitutes, hopheads, cops on the take, and masochistic parishioners. He says of Rinehart, "He was years ahead of me, and I was a fool. The world in which we live is fluidity, and Rine the Rascal was at home." The marquee of Rinehart's store-front church declares:

Behold the Invisible!

Thy will be done O Lord!

I See all, Know all, Tell all, Cure all.

You shall see the unknown wonders.

Ellison and Rinehart had seen it, but had no name for it.

In an introduction to prophet Henry Dumas' 1974 book Ark Of Bones and Other Stories, Amiri Baraka puts forth a term for what he describes as Dumas' "skill at creating an entirely different world organically connected to this one ... the Black aesthetic in its actual contemporary and lived life." The term he puts forth is Afro-Surreal Expressionism.

Dumas had seen it. Baraka had named it.

This is Afro-Surreal!


A) Surrealism:

Leopold Senghor, poet, first president of Senegal, and African Surrealist, made this distinction: "European Surrealism is empirical. African Surrealism is mystical and metaphorical." Jean-Paul Sartre said that the art of Senghor and the African Surrealist (or Negritude) movement "is revolutionary because it is surrealist, but itself is surrealist because it is black." Afro-Surrealism sees that all "others" who create from their actual, lived experience are surrealist, per Frida Kahlo. The root for "Afro-" can be found in "Afro-Asiatic", meaning a shared language between black, brown and Asian peoples of the world. What was once called the "third world," until the other two collapsed.

B) Afro-Futurism:

Afro-Futurism is a diaspora intellectual and artistic movement that turns to science, technology, and science fiction to speculate on black possibilities in the future. Afro-Surrealism is about the present. There is no need for tomorrow's-tongue speculation about the future. Concentration camps, bombed-out cities, famines, and enforced sterilization have already happened. To the Afro-Surrealist, the Tasers are here. The Four Horsemen rode through too long ago to recall. What is the future? The future has been around so long it is now the past.

Afro-Surrealists expose this from a "future-past" called RIGHT NOW.

RIGHT NOW, Barack Hussein Obama is America's first black president.

RIGHT NOW, Afro-Surreal is the best description to the reactions, the genuflections, the twists, and the unexpected turns this "browning" of White-Straight-Male-Western-Civilization has produced.


San Francisco, the most liberal and artistic city in the nation, has one of the nation's most rapidly declining black urban populations. This is a sign of a greater illness that is chasing out all artists, renegades, daredevils, and outcasts. No black people means no black artists, and all you yet-untouched freaks are next. Only freaky black art — Afro-Surreal art — in the museums, galleries, concert venues, and streets of this (slightly) fair city can save us!

San Francisco, the land of Afro-Surreal poet laureate Bob Kaufman, can be at the forefront in creating an emerging aesthetic. In this land of buzzwords and catch phrases, Afro-Surreal is necessary to transform how we see things now, how we look at what happened then, and what we can expect to see in the future.

It's no more coincidence that Kool Keith (as Dr. Octagon) recorded the 1996 Afro-Surreal anthem "Blue Flowers" on Hyde Street, or that Samuel R. Delany based much of his 1974 Afro-Surreal urtext Dhalgren on experiences in San Francisco.

An Afro-Surreal aesthetic addresses these lost legacies and reclaims the souls of our cities, from Kehinde Wiley painting the invisible men (and their invisible motives) in NYC to Yinka Shonibare beheading 17th (and 21st) century sexual tourists of Europe. From Nick Cave's soundsuits at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts to the words you are reading right now, the message is clear: San Francisco, the world is ready for an Afro-Surreal art movement.

Afro-Surrealism is drifting into contemporary culture on a rowboat with no oars, entering the city to hunt down clues for the cure to this ancient, incurable disease called "western civilization." Or, as Ishmael Reed states, "We are mystical detectives about to make an arrest."


Behold the invisible! You shall see unknown wonders!

1. We have seen these unknown worlds emerging in the works of Wifredo Lam, whose Afro-Cuban origins inspire works that speak of old gods with new faces, and in the works of Jean-Michel Basquiat, who gives us new gods with old faces. We have heard this world in the ebo-horn of Roscoe Mitchell and the lyrics of DOOM. We've read it through the words of Henry Dumas, Victor Lavalle, and Darius James. This emerging mosaic of radical influence ranges from Frantz Fanon to Jean Genet. Supernatural undertones of Reed and Zora Neale Hurston mix with the hardscrabble stylings of Chester Himes and William S. Burroughs.

2. Afro-Surreal presupposes that beyond this visible world, there is an invisible world striving to manifest, and it is our job to uncover it. Like the African Surrealists, Afro-Surrealists recognize that nature (including human nature) generates more surreal experiences than any other process could hope to produce.

3. Afro-Surrealists restore the cult of the past. We revisit old ways with new eyes. We appropriate 19th century slavery symbols like Kara Walker, and 18th century colonial ones like Yinka Shonibare. We re-introduce "madness" as visitations from the gods, and acknowledge the possibility of magic. We take up the obsessions of the ancients and kindle the dis-ease, clearing the murk of the collective unconsciousness as it manifests in these dreams called culture.

4. Afro-Surrealists use excess as the only legitimate means of subversion, and hybridization as a form of disobedience. The collages of Romare Bearden and Wangechi Mutu, the prose of Reed, and the music of the Art Ensemble of Chicago and Antipop Consortium express this overflow.

Afro-Surrealists distort reality for emotional impact. 50 Cent and his cold monotone and Walter Benjamin and his chilly shock tactics can kiss our ass. Enough! We want to feel something! We want to weep on record.

5. Afro-Surrealists strive for rococo: the beautiful, the sensuous, and the whimsical. We turn to Sun Ra, Toni Morrison, and Ghostface Killa. We look to Kehinde Wiley, whose observation about the black male body applies to all art and culture: "There is no objective image. And there is no way to objectively view the image itself."

6. The Afro-Surrealist life is fluid, filled with aliases and census- defying classifications. It has no address or phone number, no single discipline or calling. Afro-Surrealists are highly-paid short-term commodities (as opposed to poorly-paid long term ones, a.k.a. slaves).

Afro-Surrealists are ambiguous. "Am I black or white? Am I straight, or gay? Controversy!"

Afro-Surrealism rejects the quiet servitude that characterizes existing roles for African Americans, Asian Americans, Latinos, women and queer folk. Only through the mixing, melding, and cross-conversion of these supposed classifications can there be hope for liberation. Afro-Surrealism is intersexed, Afro-Asiatic, Afro-Cuban, mystic, silly, and profound.

7. The Afro-Surrealist wears a mask while reading Leopold Senghor.

8. Ambiguous as Prince, black as Fanon, literary as Reed, dandy as André Leon Tally, the Afro-Surrealist seeks definition in the absurdity of a "post-racial" world.

9. In fashion (John Galliano; Yohji Yamamoto) and the theater (Suzan Lori-Parks), Afro-Surreal excavates the remnants of this post-apocalypse with dandified flair, a smooth tongue and a heartless heart.

10. Afro-Surrealists create sensuous gods to hunt down beautiful collapsed icons.


San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Museum of the African Diaspora present the works of Mutu, William Pope L., Trenton Doyle Hancock, Glenn Ligon, Wiley, Shonibare, and Walker en masse, with Lam's Jungle as a center piece. Lorraine Hansbury Theater stages Genet's The Blacks and Baraka's The Dutchman, while San Francisco Opera adapts Aimé Césaire's Caliban and the Fillmore has an Afro-punk retrospective. Afro-Surreal adaptations of Reed's Mumbo Jumbo (1972), Hurston's Tell My Horse (1937), and Marvel's Black Panther will grace the silver-screen.

These are the first steps in an illustrious and fantastic journey. When we finally reach those unknown shores, we will say, with blood beneath our nails and mud on our boots:

This is Afro-Surreal!