Thursday, July 23, 2009

Brownstars beamed down into 11372

The radical spoken word duo from Boston, spitting all things masala and Galactica, descended into the belly of the desi beast, Jackson Heights. Hailing from the South was Sathya a.k.a Southstar and representing the North was Pushkar a.k.a Northstar.

'We are born possessing extraordinary and dangerous powers......we are mutants born to a world that fears what it cannot understand' began the Southstar. Who knew? X-Men have everything to do with being desi in America! The hard-hitting expose Siren Song read as a manifesto and a prayer, based on Sathya's childhood indulgence in comic books and the X-Men whose special powers gave him a profound insight into a world in which outsiders can be both loved and feared.

'Though I am biased I must be a realist, the fecal wars have been won by a *@#&! imperialist' sang the hysterical Northstar, in his verse 'Ode to the Squat Toilet,' celebrating water as a cleanser of choice, to the colonial imposition of the flush. Interestingly, Wikipedia claims that the ancient civilizations of Mohenjodaro and Harappa used flush toilets.

The final piece Brownstar Galactica was a real treat for science fiction types. Captain Northstar and Ensign Southstar set off to the 'alcove of answers' to seek answers to life's big questions, such as, 'If there is a God, why did she create Sanjaya?' and "If God is humble, why does she use a capital G?" After clever wordplay, they return from the alcove with more questions than answers and the realization that truth is a journey.

Raised in the mid-west, the Brownstars were drawn to theater in high school. In college, they took up roles in plays by Shakespeare and Chekhov, because that was what was being cast. But something was missing. In a quest to find stories about their own experiences and being brown in America, they rose to the challenge of writing and performing their own stories. They define "revolution" as something that sparks a movement - and see their words, their art - as a powerful tool to get audiences thinking differently about the world - or at the very least, ignite new conversations.

The Brownstars return to the galaxy of New York City on August 14-15, 2009, for a performance titled UNIFICATION, in an artistic demonstration for peace, on the eve of India's and Pakistan's independence day celebrations.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

You don't have to go to the Village

Chili Third Thursdays - Salon 2

It began on a muggy July evening at 8pm - the type of night where you wipe your forehead a couple times, only to realize its better to feel the sweat nestle on your bare skin. We could have been in Nepal or Gambia or the Phillipines. But we were in Jackson Heights in the County of Queens, inspired by the rhythmic storytelling of ancestors.

Representing the People's Republic of Brooklyn was
Santosh and the 'Jali' (bard) Salieu was here from the Bronx. To spice the already 'hot' affair, we munched on Mapu Tofu (Donna Chin), Chili Eggplant (Roy Sirengo) and a Chili-Avocad0 salad (Luna Ranjit.) For show or for taste, raw chili peppers in lemon juice decorated the table, for the adventurous few.

'I was raised cradled in the unsteady arms of men sweet with gin'
sang the spoken word artist Dorian Merina, from his selection of poems, Stone of the Fish. Inspired by a visit to the Philippines, the poem brought to life the struggles, hopes and dreams told through the eyes of a child. This followed by "Omission Declaration", based on Thomas Jefferson's word, omitted in the final draft of the Declaration, and a third poem called 'Rebirth' inspired by confirmation hearings for judge Sonia Sotomayor. Devouring Dorian's last words, we were 'lasing na siya', drunk until morning.

Kewulay Kamara and Salieu Suso, transported everyone to West Africa with the lilting echoes of fisherman, unrequited love, and longing. Passed down by generations of storytellers before them, Kewulay and Salieu wove a tale around a beautiful woman, a poor fisherman, and a wealthy merchant-suitor called Massana Cisse. Massana Cisse invokes the help of a medicine man who warns that if he were to acquire the affections of this woman, it would come at a great price. Drunk with desire, Massana Cisse concedes and the wedding is arranged. The bride - sad from being separated from her true love - comes near death and as predicted by the medicine man, Massana Cisse dies.

The salon rounded up with more chili, laughter, and a go-around, where everyone admitted to being a closet artist, whose craft at dance, DJ'ing, writing, spoken word had fallen prey to 9-5 routines and inner critics. It also invoked inspiration - that we all are artists - and sometimes just need a little push, a supportive community, and a living room stage.

In the words of Kewulay, "You don't have to go to the (East) Village!" Things are happening in the village of Jackson Heights. Stay tuned for more musings and step up to the mic - all are welcome.

Dorian Merina is a poet and journalist. He has reported for The Miami Herald Newspaper, the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, The New York Times, The Jakarta Post, among other media sources. He is one of the producers of Asia Pacific Forum, the weekly radio show on WBAI 99.5 FM in New York. He is the author of two chapbooks of poetry, The Changegiver and Stone of the Fish, and a spoken word CD, Heaven is a Second Language. He’s worked as a teacher and a counselor in the public schools of Los Angeles.

Kewulay Kamara is a poet/story teller from Sierra Leone, West Africa. Mr. Kamara performs to music inspired by his traditional roots in Madenka oral traditions. His writings have appeared in journals and periodicals such as Black Scholar, Rhythm Magazine, and Teacher and Writers as well as being featured in the New York Times, CNN and other major media outlets. He is a recipient of grants from National Geographic’ Genographic Project, the AEV Foundation, Ford Foundation and New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA). Mr. Kamara is a lecturer at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, and founder and director of Badenya, an Africa arts presenting organization in New York City.