THE PERSUASIONS / “The Sun”
In another life—namely pre-Katrina—I used to be a disc jockey on WWOZ, New Orleans’ community radio station. I had a show called “The Kitchen Sink.” People still ask me about when I’m going back on the air. I have no immediate plans to return to radio, partly because my schedule is too tight, but also because Mtume and I are doing BoL and we have a worldwide audience. FYI: We average over 2000 individual visitors a day. The number one country for visitors from outside the states is The Netherlands with both Germany and France high in the mix of other leading countries. I generally don’t even miss being on the radio except from time to time when I feel like doing a mix. I’m kicking off the New Year with a “Sun” show. I enjoyed putting programs together that drew on a wide range of musical styles even when there was a theme. I tried to have one or two selections that I was pretty sure most of my listeners had not heard before. Plus I always want to share alternate (and especially live) versions of well known songs. From blues to gospel, dance music to free jazz, I’d push it altogether and people would always be surprised and generally delighted. Or, at least, that’s the impression they gave me when they would call in on the phone or stop me on the street. So without any further ado, here is a “Sun” show done up like I used to do The Kitchen Sink. Dee Dee Bridgewater opens with her version of “Love From The Sun” taken from her out-of-print debut album Afro Blue. Absolutely gorgeous, as reverent as a prayer. Indeed, it is a prayer for peace and unity. The doo-wop a capella ensemble The Persuasions follows with a more secular but equally brilliant love song simply called “The Sun.” This is from their album We Came To Play. Most of the singing groups today harken back to the Motown era, but there were numerous eras before and beyond Motown. Classic doo-wop had it's hey-day in the fifties and sixties. Formed in March of 1962, The Persuasions are the stalwarts of old school, classic doo-wop. Ray Charles then drops one of his bluesy interpretations of country music. It’s a rollicking version of former Louisiana governor Jimmie Davis’ song (Davis “owns” the copyright but there is some debate as to whether he actually wrote it), “You Are My Sunshine.” Then we get a Brazilian take on the popular Bobby Hebb number, “Sunny.” That’s Eli Goulart & Banda Do Mato taken from a Brazilian compilation album called Favela Chic: Poston Nove Vol. 3. Now it’s time for some remixes. Nina’s Simone’s version of “Here Comes The Sun” takes the dance floor. That’s followed by the 4Hero remix of the Nuyorican Soul remake of “I Am The Black Gold Of The Sun.” And the third remix is 4Hero applying their magic to Nancy Wilson’s “Sunshine.” Next is Kirk Franklin sampling Randy Crawford’s “You Bring The Sun Out.” It’s taken from Franklin’s album Hero. We close with three live cuts by well known artists. Stevie Wonder is first with a bootleg from a London concert. This is a twelve-minute version of “You Are The Sunshine Of My Life.” (My collection of music is deep and includes a bunch of music not available from regular retailers. But I believe in sharing, so you get to hear a lot of stuff you might not otherwise even known about, not to mention hear.) Stevie starts out quoting a Minnie Riperton song in tribute to Minnie who did a short stint as a member of Wonderlove, Stevie's backup singers. Roy Ayers at his convivial best. His live shows tend to be parties of a most wicked order and this ten minute version of the classic “Everybody Loves The Sunshine” is no exception. It’s from Hot, recorded live at Ronnie Scott’s jazz club and available as an import. We wrap it up with Earth, Wind & Fire doing "Sun Goddess" in concert with a guest appearance from Ramsey Lewis, who had a hit with the song. Before Maurice White founded EW&F, he was the drummer for Ramsey Lewis and White also wrote "Sun Goddess." It’s taken from That's the Way of the World: Alive in 75. I had a hard time deciding which track to feature. Finally I just decided to ask Mtume to make the selection. I figure he can’t go wrong because it’s all good. BTW, is there anyone out there who has already heard all of these cuts before? Just curious. —Kalamu ya Salaam Someone cares Wait a second, Baba. On the Contemporary side you knock my tracks for being not hot enough, too easy, too conventional, too pleasant, etc. You talk about sun tracks as scorchers, hard songs, songs that make you uncomfortable as they push back your boundaries. But then here in the Covers section you post your own sun songs and what do we get? A smooth and easy remix of Nina Simone. A conventional-sounding Kirk Franklin record. Roy Ayers, Stevie Wonder and Earth Wind & Fire all doing playful and pleasant live versions of some of their own biggest hits. Now, look. I'm not knocking Kalamu's selections at all. It's actually a great mix of sun songs and looking back over the list, I didn't hear a single track I disliked. In fact, some of them, I really liked. Both 4Hero remixes are long-time favorites (Nancy Wilson's "Sunshine" and Nuyorican Soul's "Black Gold"). The Persuasions tune and the Dee Dee Bridgewater are lovely. I've never heard either one although I'm a little confused about the Dee Dee track. We previously posted a Norman Connors version of "Love From The Sun" that features Dee Dee on lead vocals. That was from '73. So did Dee Dee remake the song a year later? What else did I really like? The Nina Simone, of course. I like chillout electronica (when it's done well) and I love Nina. Put those things together and I'm with it. I dig the Brazilian take on "Sunny" as well...hell, like I said, the whole mix was good. I put it on while I went running today and it carried me along lovely. But was it boundary-pushing and uncomfortable? I don't think so. (And Baba, please don't read this as a challenge. I'm pretty sure the vast majority of us can do without the ear-splitting and skull-piercing sounds of late-period 'Trane.) Here's what y'all have to understand about Kalamu. He's a warrior, a freedom fighter, an activist. That's not his job or even his calling; it's just who he is. He can't help it and I'm not completely sure he even wants to. I'll let y'all in on a little secret. (Kalamu hinted at it himself, so I don't think I'm saying anything he wouldn't want me to say. And if I am, you'll never see this anyway, because we edit each others stuff before it goes up.) These days, Kalamu lives a quite comfortable life. He and his wife, Nia, live in a beautiful home in a nice suburban neighborhood on the Westbank of New Orleans. He has all the creature comforts he wants, although his tastes in material items remains fairly spartan both in quantity and monetary value. (Except for his computers; my Baba is one of Apple corporation's best customers.) I'll tell y'all something else about Kalamu though. Most every week day of the year, Kalamu leaves his comfortable house on the Westbank and drives to McMain and Frederick Douglass high schools to teach writing to kids who can barely manage to get to school everyday, let alone learn to write. Kalamu has a collection of photos of his students on one of his computers. For each picture, he has a story, each more heart-breaking than the last. He doesn't go down there everyday because he thinks he's going to nurture new writers. These kids need a hell of a lot more than Kalamu or even New Orleans' entire broken-down school system could possibly give them. Kalamu goes there everyday because no one else cares about these kids. In many cases, not even their parents can or do care. So Kalamu shows up each day just to show them that someone does care. He believes they are owed that much just by virtue of their being human beings. Ultimately, whether or not they learn to write is irrelevant. I say all of that to say this: even at 60-plus, Kalamu is still out there fighting. He won't stop because he can't. It's who and what he is. His comments about my comfortable, easy sun songs reflect his core values. Life, for Kalamu, is struggle. If you're going to try to understand him and his choices, his likes and his dislikes, you have to understand that first. Me? I look at it like this. Kalamu and all of the good people of his generation were fighting for a reason. They were fighting so their children could have a better life. A lot of problems and inequities still exist, but in large part, the good guys actually did win. For so many of us, life actually is better. And dare I say, even comfortable. Personally, I don't think that's so bad. And besides, looking out of my patio door, I can see that the sun just came out. I gotta go!! —Mtume ya Salaam P.S. I almost forgot - I'm supposed to be picking the feature track. Let's see.... While I absolutely love the Nuyorican Soul, the Dee Dee Bridgewater and the Nancy Wilson, we've done those before (and besides, we're featuring the original version of the Nuyorican Soul track in the Classic section). I'm going to go with "The Sun" by the Persuasions. I know it's short, but it's so pretty it could make you cry. And I'm out! It Could Make You Cry Mtume and I use a jazz aesthetic in terms of putting together BoL. We don’t have a bank of write-ups sitting in some desk drawer or on some hard drive available to pull out whenever we need one. We don’t plot and plan weeks in advance. We make it up as we go along. However, it’s not haphazard in the sense of just anything goes. And, yes, sometimes we have to work around each other’s schedules: one or both of us will be out of town, away from our music collections making it hard to reference material. For example, you can find a lot of stuff online, but sometimes the one piece of info you need you can’t find online but you know it’s on the back of the CD or in the liner notes. Anyway, because we both have a deep love of the music and humongous music collections, it’s easy to improvise. It’s easy for one of us to come up with an idea and say” “what about if we…” The follow-up is usually one of us agreeing to do one or two of the categories and the other taking the remaining category by default. All of which is ok when you have a writing partner that can handle the pressure, week after week, after week, after… We started in June of 1995 2005 (boy, did I get that date wrong! see comments below. —kys) and haven’t missed a week. We’ve put up a lot of music and are always saying to each other: we’re never going to run out of stuff to do. Never. Right now, I’m hitting the pause button.
BTW, Eleanor McMain Secondary School (where all four of Mtume's siblings went to high school; Mtume opted for a different school) is considered one of the better public high schools. Douglass is considered one of the absolute worst. I teach at McMain in the morning and Douglass in the afternoons. Founded over ten years ago by public school teacher Jim Randels and two young people, Kenyatta Johnson and Erica Decuir who were juniors in high school at the time, Students At The Center is an independent, in-school writing program. Jim and I are the co-directors, all the other seven staff members are former high school SAC students.
Every year we struggle to raise money to keep our program going. We do it because we both want to and because we know it is necessary for us to be independently funded in order to maintain our program the way we want to structure it, the way we want to function.
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