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. persuasions 02.jpg 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? nina 33.jpg 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!! emoticon —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.

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The way we write is to go for it. Go all out. Say whatever you got to say. Like whatever you like. Dismiss whatever. Etc. Etc. Put it in context or let it stand alone. There's no formula. When it's our turn to blow, we each say whatever we want to say. Inevitably, our personal lives are deeply entwined with what we write on BoL. A couple of months back, I was lamenting the state of New Orleans. Mtume asked me, then why do you stay? Unknowingly, he answered the question with his reply to my Cover selections. I do it for the young people. I stay because I couldn’t be me if I left. I stay for them. I stay for me. We have a saying in New Orleans: “Born and raised and hope to die here.” I want to die in New Orleans. That’s a life statement, not a death wish.
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Covers of “Sun” songs. Sun shining. Warm and bright. Optimism. New life. Stuff that I like. Okay. I can do that. Or, at least, I thought I could. But check out my Contemporary selections: Frank Wright with Eddie Jefferson, John and Alice Coltrane. Our struggle may be physical. Our struggle may be spiritual. Our struggle has strong aspects of both but regardless of the plane, whether material or metaphysical, on earth or way out there in the gone-a-sphere, our life will be a struggle. That’s the way I see it. I understand not everyone sees it that way and that most Americans see (and live) something else. That’s on them.
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We had a video shoot this morning. It was I and one of our media crew (Alexandra Lear is 18 and she is a first year film major at the University of New Orleans. Alex decided to become a film major after being in a Students At The Center class during her senior year in high school.) We did an exit interview with sister June Wilson who is relocating to Seattle. New Orleans is hard. Very hard. If you've been living in post-Katrina New Orleans for six months or more, you are suffering one degree or another of depression. Less than half of the black people who lived in New Orleans pre-Katrina are living in New Orleans post-Katrina. It's hard. Very, very hard.
* * *

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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dee dee bridgewater 44.jpg Mtume, that Dee Dee Bridgewater was recorded after the Norman Connors album on which she sung lead vocals. Her version is slower and much more quiet. She’s coming from the sun inside us. The heart sun. The Persuasions is absolute vocal mastery in the doo-wop form. Glad you picked it.
* * *
Boundary pushing. Yes and no. Put the tracks side by side with the contemporary stuff you selected. Like I said: it’s unfair. Unfair to the contemporary. The major record companies are not releasing much music that is music where people are offering to share their lives with us. The intimate parts. The hard to handle, make you want to cry stuff. What we are getting is calculated music. Designed music. Music customized for the marketplace. You hear that Stevie Wonder? Hear him playing around? Seriously playing around. That's a bootleg—Motown ain't gonna never put that shit out. Period. And Roy Ayers—that’s on a little label started by Ronnie Scott of music recorded live at his club in London. I’m not going to argue that this is avant garde or even hot, hot, hot. But all of this stuff is real. Real music by people dedicated to expressing themselves through music. Plus, they are professionals. Professional in the sense that they can really do well what they do. They make music. There is not a slouch in the bunch. They make it sound easy. You think it’s easy? Try it! In fact, you don’t even have to try doing it yourself. Try finding some current music "covers" with a “sun” theme that you can lay down next to it and your selections match up in quality, match up in the warmth they exude, match up in terms of the heat index. You’ll quickly find out, there’s not a whole lot out there in the commerecial realm. The beauty of this music on the one hand. The critical dearth of “hotness” in current music production on the other hand. From Dee Dee and the Persuasions in deep spiritual mode to Stevie, Roy and the Elements (EW&F) funking around, it’s all so sweet. So sweet. Make you want to cry. —Kalamu ya Salaam          We don't have to choose          I'll agree that best of contemporary black music doesn't match up to the best of classic black music. Our current music certainly doesn't match the best music of the Sixties and Seventies. I don't think many people who listen to both current and classic music would even bother arguing that point. I don't see it as a contest though. I love the classics and at the same time I like to hear what young people are doing right now. If I had to pick between the music of now and the music of then, I'd definitely pick then. But luckily for me—and all the rest of us—we don't have to choose. I hope everyone out there enjoys the music — both the new stuff and the old. And may you all have a happy, safe and productive New Year. Later!!! —Mtume ya Salaam

This entry was posted on Monday, December 31st, 2007 at 12:59 am and is filed under Cover. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

2 Responses to “THE PERSUASIONS / “The Sun””

Rudy Says:
December 31st, 2007 at 11:42 pm

We started in June of 1995 and haven’t missed a week. — Kalamu Don’t you mean 2005? Congratulations on the daily visits. That’s amazing. You two are bringing a lot of life and happiness into the world. Long Live Breath of Life!!! — Rudy

          kalamu sez           

yes, i meant june 2005, shortly before katrina. 1995 came from something else. i conducted a weekly writer’s workshop that started september 1995 and ran up until katrina (august 2005). we were all set to celebrate ten years. i don’t know if i will be alive in june 2015 but if i am, i certainly hope we are still doing breath of life without missing a week.

stay strong/be bold


evie Says:
January 6th, 2008 at 1:03 pm

i love this thematic approach, kalamu. thanks for making the sun come out even in the cold and snowy north —


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