By chance, I found a guide, and together we encountered a city filled with resilient architecture such as a Cor-Ten steel bridge, dozens of houses on stilts, and 133 miles of reengineered walls that promise to be indestructible. How apropos—in a city synonymous with its music—that Donnell and I began on the beat of Jay-Z and drumrolled our way to Chief Zulu. Two African American men building platforms, albeit of different scales, that demonstrate a kind of cultural resiliency. Hip-hop, just fifty years ago, was a rebellious, counter-narrative musical form. It’s now an industry juggernaut, employing thousands and creating a system in which African American rappers can obtain and maintain economic success and independence.
(Meaning: to divide a region into smaller, mutually antagonistic states.)
That wasn’t the case at the Zlatne Uste Golden Festival, held at Grand Prospect Hall in Brooklyn the weekend of January 12th & 13th. It’s a two day festival of music and more from the Balkan countries, and it is generously inclusive. Hungary (technically not quite Balkan), Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Albania and Montenegro.
In 2016, I was what I guess one would call a creative impresario on some shows here in NY and in Toronto called Contemporary Color. The shows matched 10 color guard teams with 10 contemporary musical artists to perform music written specifically for these events. The shows were at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto and the Barclays Center here in NY.
Color guard (and more properly, winter guard) is a phenomena, an athletic and artistic expression, that takes place mainly in North America but increasingly around the world. Though it began as formations and performances to accompany football games, it has evolved into something wilder, stranger, more creative and beautiful and very much apart from the sports context. Though they still retain the flags, sabers and rifles.
I was in L.A. for some meetings and went with my friends Iris Alonzo, who has a community and ecologically oriented clothing line called Everybody.World and Margot Jacobs, who is an innovative landscape architect, to an event in Chinatown. First we had some pho down the street, and the restaurant was almost half full with cops. A friend asked if their green guns were tasers—“Yes, they’re green so we don’t get them confused.” I asked about the fires; if they were now under control. This was Thursday night (December 7th)—“They’re maybe 20% under control.” Wow, that still leaves some room for a flare-up.
Through a friend who works there, I was introduced to the Bellevue/NYU Program for Survivors of Torture (PSOT), which is based out of Bellevue hospital here in Manhattan. Besides the obvious medical issues, the organization deals with a host of other needs from their clients—immigration, legal and human rights issues, psychological trauma, employment, housing—all of which are interconnected.
We who are engaged in the humanities—art, music, writing, dancing, architecture—often like to tell ourselves that we are doing some good. I often have my doubts. I doubt that art or a song can change people’s minds, but it seems there is real proof they can change people’s lives in other ways.
I’m starting an online project here that is an continuation and extension of some writing and talks I’ve done recently.
The project will be cross-platform—some elements may appear on social media, some on a website and some might manifest as a recording or performance… much of the published material will be collected here.