Cappuccino Soul

Cappuccino Soul

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Brazilian Singer Swings Low with Negro Spirituals

Have you ever wondered what a singer from Brazil would sound like singing Negro Spirituals such as Swing Low Sweet Chariot or I Want to be Ready? Well, check out the powerful voice of Brazil’s own Juares de Mira--He sounds a lot like the legendary Paul Robeson. If you check out his YouTube clip, you’ll hear a very rich and deep bass voice that’s both soothing and relaxing.

De Mira also sings Afro-Brazilian music, but promotes his Negro Spiritual repertoire because this speaks to black people all over the world, he says. Too many people identify Brazilian music with sensuality only, and don’t know the full spectrum of music that Brazilian singers have to offer, he says. If you’re one of the lucky people who can speak Portuguese, then check out this singer’s Web site. I’m sure you won’t be disappointed.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Oscar Glory for Forest Whitaker and Jennifer Hudson

Forest Whitaker pulled it off. He managed to win the Oscar for Best Actor for his portrayal of Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland, and he reveled in the Glory onstage without seeming flustered and bewildered. He actually gave an acceptance speech that should be passed around to children in the heart of South Central Los Angeles to show them how good life can be, despite the odds against them.

This is what he said at last night’s ceremony:

When I was a kid, the only way I saw movies was in the backseat of my family’s car at the drive-in. It wasn’t my reality to think that I’d be acting in movies, so receiving this honor tonight tells me that it’s possible. It is possible for a kid from east Texas—raised in South Central Los Angeles and Carson, who believes in his dreams, commits himself to them with his heart, to touch them [his dreams], and to have them happen.

When I started acting, it was because of my desire to connect everyone to that thing inside each of us—that light that I believe exists in all of us … Acting for me is believing in that connection and it’s a connection so strong, a connection so deep that we feel it. And through our combined belief we can create a new reality.

I want to thank my ancestors who continue to guide my steps, and God. God who believes in us all—who has given me this moment in this lifetime, that I will hopefully carry to the end of my lifetime, into the next lifetime.

Represent Forest!

I’m sure Whitaker’s ancestors will follow him as he embarks on his next film project, Vantage Point.

Additional Oscar Observations:

Yes, Jennifer Hudson gave it up in Dream Girls and put a lump in my throat when she belted “And I’m Tellin’ You” (my husband was even fighting back tears)—but man, oh man, Adriana Barraza, who played the nanny in Babel, was equally deserving of an Oscar, I thought. This is one of those rare occasions when the Academy should have given the Oscar for the Best Supporting Actress to two people.

In Babel, Barraza plays Amelia, a nanny who raises and nurtures the young son and daughter of a San Diego couple, played by Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett. Amelia is excited about going to her son’s wedding in Mexico, but can’t find anyone to watch the children, so she decides to take them with her across the border. The masterful storytelling of Alejandro González Inárritu, the director, and dramatic editing of Douglas Crise and Stephen Mirrione, make you feel like something bad is going to happen, and it does. Amelia’s nephew, Santiago, drives the three back to San Diego late that night. Though he’s intoxicated, Santiago convinces Amelia that he can make the trip safely. But when he gets into trouble with the U.S. Border Patrol, Santiago speeds away, while Amelia panics and the kids scream for their lives in the back of the car. Santiago dumps Amelia and the children in the middle of the Mexican desert to have a better shot at fleeing the police. He tells them he’ll return for them, but never does.

Without any water in the blazing heat, Amelia wakes up the next morning not knowing exactly where she is, with two exhausted children to care for. She leaves the children behind, telling them not to move, so that she can search for help. As Barraza walks the dry hot desert looking panicked and torn, I felt myself skirming in the seat wishing that someone would come along to help her. When she is able to finally flag down a patrol officer, Barraza makes you want to help her tell the whole story to the unfeeling officer. She pleads for the officer to help her find the children, but he’s more interested in treating her like a criminal. She tells him that the children are alone and will die by themselves. He seems unmoved. You feel like you’re watching an actual person breaking down and weeping instead of an actress playing a part. Barraza, who suffered from heat exhaustion during filming, puts it down in this scene. For this, she deserved the Oscar, along with Hudson.

“The hardest thing … was trying to bring to life a woman who was in such a horrible situation,” Barraza told “And to make it real, to make the audience really believe it was happening.” You made it real for me, Adriana! Thank you.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Hunting ‘Illegal Immigrants’ in New York City

Some Republican New York University students with too much time on their hands came up with a horrendous game that called for players to search on campus for others wearing name tags saying “illegal immigrant,” The New York Times reports today.

Luckily, more people came out to protest the game rather than to play it. Protestors carrying signs saying, “Racism Isn’t a Game” and “We Are All Immigrants” chanted and marched on a street across from the student Republicans' table on campus.

“The idea of hunting down an illegal immigrant in a game was disgusting,” Dave Hancock, a member of Students Creating Radical Change, which helped arrange the protest against the “game,” told the Times. “If they want to have an honest conversation about a very difficult topic, let’s do it. Instead, they decided to host what many of us felt was an insensitive and offensive event.”

Members of the NYU Republican group said they weren’t trying to offend, but wanted to “draw awareness to the issues,” according to the Times article.

The president of the university, John Sexton, said he was disappointed by the game, which placed “sloganeering and trivialization of thought above true debate.”

This game is eerily reminiscent of the way slaves, who would run away seeking freedom, were hunted down by slave catchers. This excerpt from a University of Southern California Web site post explains it well:

Slaves were forbidden from carrying guns, taking food, striking their masters, and running away. All slaves could be flogged or killed for resisting or breaking the slave codes. Some slave states required both slaves and free blacks to wear metal badges that were embossed with an ID number and occupation.

Refusing to obey their masters’ demands created a duel crisis on the part of the resisting slaves and their demanding owners. The most common form of resistance used by the slaves was to run away. To live as a runaway required perfect escape routes and exact timing. Where to hide, finding food, and leaving the family and children behind became primary issues for the escaping slaves. Later, the severe punishment had to be faced whenever a hunted slave was caught and returned to bondage.

Would these NYU students have created this game if they had known the unfortunate history of this country when members of the dominant culture would hunt (then in most cases, maim and/or kill) people from other lands? I hope not.

Read the complete New York Times article here.

Click here to read the entire USC article on Slavery in America.

Let us remember the Ghanaian proverb: “You must know your past, to move forward to the future."

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Using Music to Heal Uganda’s HIV/AIDS Patients

Gregory Barz, an ethnomusicology professor at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, has been studying the role of music in combating HIV/AIDS in Africa since 1999. In the past decade, HIV infection rates have fallen from 30 percent to 5 percent in Uganda, and Barz argues that the music of Uganda, including storytelling, dancing and instrumental pieces, has contributed to this success.

This week, Smithsonian Folkways Recordings released Barz’s latest project, a CD called Singing for Life: Songs of Hope, Healing and HIV/AIDS in Uganda.

The Vanderbilt Register reported that when Barz traveled to Uganda in 1999 to record Ugandan drumming patterns, he witnessed children and adults singing about how AIDs was devastating their lives.

“First off, I was confronted with sick people, people who were confused … The more I listened to songs and observed dances, I began hearing that people were making meaning out of the disease and out of the virus through music and dramas and dancing,” Barz told the Vanderbilt Register. “They were singing about social problems caused by AIDS—children not having parents, a missing generation—about the sickness that was everywhere.”

When Barz returned to Vanderbilt, he helped create what’s known as medical ethnomusicology, a research field recognized by the Society of Ethnomusicology that seeks to combine the efforts of anthropologists, doctors and other health care workers, music specialists and public health policy makers.

Jim Wooten of ABC News wrote in the forward to Singing for Life that the Ugandan poetry, songs and drama documented in the book are “a collective shout being heard in their villages, in their towns, in their cities, in their schools and in their churches.”

“Together these voices form a choir which, in a way previously unexplored, is not only singing for life but saving lives, as well as educating thousands who would otherwise be unaware of the elementary facts of HIV/AIDs, of how it is transmitted, of its effects on the body and how it is prevented,” Wooten wrote.

Proceeds from Singing for Life: Songs of Hope, Healing and HIV/AIDS in Uganda will go to two agencies in Uganda: Meeting Point and the Integrated Development and AIDS Concern. The CD is available from Smithsonian Folkways Recordings.

Meeting Point, run by Noelina Numukisa, works in the slums of Uganda’s capital city of Kampala to assist orphans, provide home health care for HIV-positive women and their families and provide youth with vocational training. IDAAC supports a network of AIDS education and health care outreach to rural villages in Uganda.

Statistics from AVERT

Uganda is estimated to have a population of about 25-30 million. The extreme mortality of AIDS has had an effect on this figure, which would otherwise be higher. As another consequence of AIDS, healthy life expectancy in Uganda is only around 50 years.

During the early 1990s, HIV prevalence peaked at around 15% among all adults, and exceeded 30% among pregnant women in the cities. At the end of 2005, adult prevalence was estimated at 6.7%, and an estimated one million Ugandans were living with HIV/AIDS, according to UNAIDS/WHO.

AIDS in Uganda was initially known as 'slim' due to the physical wasting it caused. HIV was already spreading in Uganda on the shores of Lake Victoria in the late 1970s. It is from here that some theories suggest HIV spread to the rest of the world. The first AIDS case was diagnosed in Uganda in 1982.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Sweet Honey in the Rock

“There were no mirrors in my nana’s house.”

This is one of the first sentences our daughter has been able to read. I am pleased that her voyage into literature has started so gracefully.

"There were no mirrors in my nana's house, no mirrors in my nana's house ... And the beauty that I saw in everything
was in her eyes (like the rising of the sun)."

“No mirrors in my nana’s house,” is a song featured on the Still on the Journey CD by Sweet Honey in the Rock, an acappella ensemble of seven women. "No mirrors in my nana's house" also serves as the soundtrack for a 2004 animated short film with the same name that Nick, Jr. continues to run occasionally. The film features an adorable little girl who joyfully dances around her nana’s house.

Sweet Honey in the rock, formed by Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon in 1973, has been dripping with the nectar of the soothing hymns and spirituals of the black church to the soulful rumblings of jazz and blues since the group's inception.

Reagon, a longtime civil rights activist, was a charter member of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee Freedom Singers, and was suspended from Albany State College in Georgia because of her involvement in SNCC.

In the liner notes for the group’s 20th anniversary album, Still on the Journey, Reagon eloquently writes:
We are warriors. Our songs, sounds and lyrics give us stance—make clear the ground we hold. We name through our singing the territory of the expanding community we sound. When you see our songs, you see the tip of the mountain upon which we stand and it is solid ground.

After 30 years of leading and singing with the ensemble, Dr. Reagon retired from Sweet Honey in the Rock in February 2004, but these women continue to carry on the magic of the rich African American singing traditions. If Sweet Honey in the Rock happens to land in your town, don’t miss an opportunity to receive a rush of love, spirit, and lush sounds.

Click here to find out if Sweet Honey in the Rock is planning to spoon out some sweet songs in your town. Click here to read the lyrics to “No mirrors in my nana’s house.”

The members of Sweet Honey in the Rock, pictured above are: (Left to right) top row: Aisha Kahlil, Shirley Childress Saxton, Louise Robinson. Middle row: Carol Maillard, Arnaé, Nitanju Bolade Casel. Front: Ysaye Maria Barnwell (author of “No Mirrors in My Nana’s House”).

Friday, February 16, 2007

Danny Glover Supports Vanderbilt Workers’ Living Wage Campaign

Danny Glover is not only a skillful actor and ambitious director, he also continues to work passionately for social justice causes. He has the perfect mix of arts and activism in his blood.

The prolific actor will come to Nashville next week to support workers at Vanderbilt University who are fighting to earn a Living Wage at the wealthy, prestigious school. The President of the Laborers’ International Union of North America, Terry O'Sullivan, will join Glover in a Town Hall meeting with Vanderbilt University workers, students, and community leaders.

The Town Hall discussion will take place on Tuesday, February 20, at the Scarritt Bennett Center, Wightman Chapel, 1008 19th Ave. South at 4 p.m. Contact Megan Macaraeg at 615-495-6902 (cell), or for more information.

Some background:
Vanderbilt workers, many of them members of Laborers’ Local Union 386, have been struggling since last year to achieve a living wage, which in Nashville is $10.18 per hour. Currently, Vanderbilt’s lowest paid workers earn about $7.55 an hour, well below the poverty level. Yet Vanderbilt, whose chancellor is paid $1.2 million a year, continues to refuse to grant a living wage for employees.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Danny Glover Directs Toussaint L’ouverture’s Story

Danny Glover makes his directorial debut with Toussaint, a film about the life of Haitian revolutionary leader Toussaint L’ouverture. Filming for the epic story is scheduled to start in late April or early May with a sizzling cast including Don Cheadle as Toussaint, Mos Def, Angela Bassett, Chiwetel Ejiofor and others. This film is scheduled to be released sometime in 2009.

Written by Vijay Balakrishnan and Glover’s producing partner, Joslyn Barnes, Toussaint will be shot in Mozambique and South Africa. The movie tells the story of the Haitian Revolution (1791–1804) and the life of L’ouverture, who established Haiti as the first independent black Republic by leading a successful slave uprising against the French, Spanish and British imperial armies. Although L’ouverture was eventually captured and imprisoned by the French, his name is still uttered with pride by many Haitians and other Africans in the diaspora.

In her play, For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf, Ntozake Shange puts these words in the mouth of Lady in Brown, a young girl who raves about her newfound hero, Toussaint L’ouverture.

(excerpt from For Colored Girls…)

Lady in Brown

i knew I wasn’t sposedta
but I ran inta the ADULT READING ROOM
& came across

TOUSSAINT waz a blk man a Negro like mama say
who refused to be a slave
& he spoke French
& didn’t low no white man to tell him nothing
not napolean
not maximillien
not robespierre

waz the beginning uv reality for me
in the summer contest for
who colored child can read
15 books in three weeks
i won & raved abt TOUSSAINT L’OUVERTURE
at the afternoon ceremony

waz disqualified
cuz Toussaint
belonged in the ADULT READING ROOM
& I cried
& carried dead Toussaint home in the book
he was dead & livin to me
cuz TOUSSAINT & them
they held the citadel gainst the French
wid the spirits of ol dead Africans from outta the ground

Monday, February 12, 2007

Young Detroit Performers Beat the Odds; See them in Nashville

In a city where less than half of its public school students graduate high school and a third of its students opt out of that traditional system to attend charter or suburban programs, at least one man continues to have high expectations for young people.

Rick Sperling, the founder and CEO of the Mosaic Youth Theatre of Detroit, expects great things from his students--including those who come from some of the worst blighted and neglected neighborhoods in the city. Sperling's staff at Mosaic trains young people from the ages of 12 and 18 in performance arts, vocal music and stagecraft.

When Sperling’s play, Now That I Can Dance—Motown, 1962, debuted two years ago, the entire production was run by Mosaic students, including directing, backstage tech, and marketing. “We can be there to train them, to give them the expertise they need, but from there they can do it themselves,” Sperling told NPR reporter Celeste Headlee.

Mosaic has experienced remarkable success with its theatre and singing group, The Mosaic Singers. The teens have toured Europe, Asia and Africa. They have performed in the Super Bowl XL Festivities and the 2007 Detroit Mayoral Inauguration. They’ve opened for notable performers such as The Temptations and Maya Angelou. More than 95 percent of Mosaic trainees attend college and many have gone on to prestigious universities such as Julliard, New York University and CalArts.

Creative Artists of Tennessee will sponsor a performance by the phenomenal Mosaic Singers in Nashville on Saturday, February 17, at St. Luke CME Church, 2008 28th Avenue North in Nashville, 4:00 p.m. For tickets, call 248-935-6639 or send an e-mail to Don’t sleep on this event!

The focus of Creative Artists of Tennessee (CATS), a non-profit orgazination, is to educate the public and create an awareness and appreciation of Africa and the African American experience through drama, visual art, spoken word, textiles, and music. The ultimate goal is to foster an environment of cultural enrichment for all segments of the population, regardless of race, social, or econmic status, sexual orientation, age, gender, or religion.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Give All Children a Fruitful Head Start

The Tennessean published an editorial today by Sister Sandra Smithson, co-founder of the Smithson-Craighead Academy, Nashville's first charter school, that lays out the benefits of pre-kindergarten education better than many articles that I’ve read.

It’s hard to believe that some people have rallied against Gov. Phil Bredesen’s efforts to make pre-K a universal resource for children in the state. Those who are against the governor’s plan to educate the very young say there’s a lack of evidence that pre-K programs show significant academic achievement.

Smithson points to benefits in children’s behavior, expression and knowledge after enrolling in pre-K classes. It’s a wonder that she would even have to do this. She says pre-K teaches children:

To listen, wait their turn, obey an adult, speak quietly, ask permission, work on projects, make minor sacrifices and trust others.

To ask questions before they take inappropriate action and to negotiate instead of hitting others. Children learn to speak so others will understand them, which prevents frustration and sometimes violence.

To value books and the words they contain that unlock worlds of experience unavailable to the children any other way. Children get a whole year of words, stories, numbers and experiences while their brains are in the highest phase of their ability to receive and retain knowledge.

She also points out that many of the popular PRIVATE schools in Nashville offer pre-K classes. No kidding. Don’t those who have the financial resources to give their children private education want their children to learn as much as they can, as soon as possible?

What makes people think that others who have less money want less for their children? You would think that a pre-K program in the state would be a no brainer. After all, as Project Reflect reports, 51 percent of third graders in Tennessee read below grade level, and some states use fourth grade failure rates to estimate and plan for future prison bed needs (a fact we’ve been hearing for decades now.) Of course we need pre-K classes for young people--this is painfully obvious.

"Pre-K enables unattended-to and under-educated children to overcome deficient backgrounds and enter kindergarten ready for kindergarten," Smithson wrote in the Tennessean editorial. “If our rationale for dropping public pre-K is because some programs are not effective, then there goes the nation’s entire [public] school system,” she wrote.

Why then are so many people against educating ALL OF OUR CHILDREN early in their lives when Tennessee’s dropout rate is more than 40 percent? Does the answer point to what Sidney Poitier said in this month’s Vanity Fair magazine?

Reporter Gasper Tringale: “ What is it that you most dislike?”
Poitier: The callousness with which poor people are deceived, ignored and dismissed.

Read Smithson’s entire editorial here.

Read the Vanity Fair article featuring Sidney Poitier here.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Thandiwe Shiphrah and Daniel Arite Bring Art and Soul to Nashville

Thandiwe Shiphrah and her man Daniel Arite came to Nashville several years ago from New Mexico and have been spreading their brand of poetry, music, and art in the Music City ever since. The two will be throwin’ down some inspiring and energetic poetry and music at Art and Soul, 2305 12th Ave South in Nashville on Saturday, February 15 at 8 p.m.

Thandiwe, known for her uplifting and spirit-filled spoken word performances, and Dan, an awesome musician and visual artist, are sure to please the crowd. Don’t miss this one-of-a-kind event.

I’m anxiously waiting for Thandiwe to hold one of her life changing women’s gatherings soon. She doesn’t know this, but I started writing a poem during the last gathering that has turned out to be one of my most profound pieces, called “Lost in America.” Please plan another gathering soon, Thandiwe!

For more information about Dan’s music career click here. Read more about Thandiwe's work here. You can also listen to samples from their CD at

Here’s the flyer for the event. Click on the flyer to read the information about the show.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Donate Homeless Survival Kits

In Nashville today we’ll experience a high of 31 degrees and a low of 18. We got our first taste of snow last weekend, which made me think of ways to help the homeless stay warm.

The City News station in Toronto reports that a group called Hockey for the Homeless raises money to help the homeless stay warm and helps raise awareness about the homeless. The group has also packed more than 1,000 homeless survival kits that they’ll donate to people who find themselves without shelter during this frigid season. (The high for Toronto today will be 14 °F and -10 °C).

If you live in Nashville and want to follow Toronto’s lead in the cause, consider creating some homeless survival kits with the following items included: mittens, socks, scarves, a sleeping bag and some personal hygiene products (combs, nail clippers, tissue paper, toothbrush and toothpaste, non-alcoholic mouthwash, deodorant, feminine hygiene products, razors, soap, hand lotion, chapstick, cotton swabs, aspirin or Tylenol). Kevin at The Homeless Guy helped me with the list of items. He also suggested including bus passes, phone cards, prepaid fast food/restaurant cards, can opener, water bottle, and a swiss-army knife.Take your homeless survival kits to the following locations that serve the homeless:

· Room in the Inn, 532 8th Avenue South, Nashville, TN 37202, 615-251-9791
· Nashville Homeless Power Project, 65 The Arc (in The Arcade downtown), Nashville, TN 37219, 615-733-0633
· Nashville Rescue Mission, 639 Lafayette Street, Nashville, TN, 37203, 615-312-1532

Here’s a post at A Homeless Man Speaks about the wonders of The Foot Warm-Ups. On the same blog, Tony also talks about how two women selflessly used their own bodies to keep him warm one night when he was asleep and they saw that his feet were blue.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Joseph Biden: My Homie from Delaware

Since Senator Joseph Biden, the Democrat from Delaware, has officially launched his presidential campaign this week, I feel compelled to say just a little about my homie from the Blue Hen state.

One image that sticks in my mind about the senator is some television footage that must have been shot in the late 80s when South Africa was still openly practicing its evil apartheid system. Biden spoke on the Senate floor supporting sanctions against South Africa for its apartheid practices and passionately banged on the podium and called for chastisement of the South African evil “racist apartheid regime.” He seemed to be genuinely outraged. But that was a long time ago.

Other than that, I know the good Senator has a long and strong record as the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senate Judiciary Committee, and Chairman of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Drugs. I honestly think he’s qualified for the job of President of the United States.

But then we come to this career politician’s latest goof up. By now, we’ve all heard the unfortunate comments that Biden made about Barack Obama, another Democratic hopeful candidate.
“I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy,” he said. “I mean, that’s a storybook, man.”

I mean, you need to learn when to hush, Biden. Even Bobby Benjamin (my dad), an active Delaware Democrat and Biden supporter, says that the senator doesn’t quite know when to stop talking. “Overcoming the need to say more than is necessary will be his greatest obstacle,” Dad said. “Our senator has a need to let people know how smart he is, not realizing this turns the voter off. If he rids himself of this, he will be on his way.”

Well Dad, after the senator’s comments about Obama, I don’t think he stands a chance. People around the world seem to think that the senator has some explaining to do, so he clarified what he meant. “My mother has an expression: 'Clean as a whistle and sharp as a tack,’ Biden said in a statement today. Alright then homie, I guess that explains it.

How would I rate Biden’s chances of winning the Democratic nomination? On a scale from Zero to 10, I’ll give him a 1.