Cappuccino Soul

Cappuccino Soul

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Reri Grist: Coloratura Soprano

Why they didn't get this woman to play a primary role in the film production of West Side Story is not really beyond me, I know why, but my goodness did they miss a chance to put some real power behind the song "Somewhwere" in the film. I've been singing this song to my daughter Gigi in a really broad way, which makes her laugh, but when I showed her how Reri Grist, the original singer, sang this song on broadway, Gigi was captivated.

I don't know a whole lot about opera, but one Youtube commenter says that Grist is extremely underrated. He said: "... for those that don't know, she's a coloratura soprano ... but look at how she's singing those low notes so rich and full."

For those of you who have seen a staged version of this musical or the film with Natalie Wood and Rita Moreno, decide for yourself. I can only speak for myself. When I hear this version, I immediately put this as the number one version to listen to. It not only made me want to find out more about Reri Grist -- it made me really listen to and hear the lyrics of the song. That's the ultimate compliment to a singer. If he or she can make you pay attention to the words and the intentions behind the music.

Brava Reri Grist. Bravissima!

Music by Leonard Bernstein/Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim

There's a place for us,
Somewhere a place for us.
Peace and quiet and open air
Wait for us

There's a time for us,
Some day a time for us,
Time together with time to spare,
Time to look, time to care,
Some day!

We'll find a new way of living,

We'll find a way of forgiving
Somewhere . . .

There's a place for us,
A time and place for us.
Hold my hand and we're halfway there.
Hold my hand and I'll take you there
Some day,

From Wikipedia:

Reri Grist (February 29, 1932) is an American coloratura soprano, one of the pioneer African-American singers to enjoy a major international career in opera. She was born in New York City, grew up in the East River Houses Project, attended the High School of Music and Art and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Music from Queens College, City University of New York. In her early teens she performed on Broadway in small roles and in musicals along with Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Lawrence Tibbett and Eartha Kitt, while gaining a solid training in voice through private study with Claire Gelda. Her first opera engagement was as Madame Herz in a concert performance of The Impresario by Mozart. Her first staged, quasi-operatic engagement was in 1956, as Cindy Lou in Oscar Hammerstein's Carmen Jones. She performed the role of Consuelo in the original production of Leonard Bernstein's classic musical West Side Story in 1957, introducing the haunting song "Somewhere" to the public.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Iron Flowers: A Poetic Report from Haiti

Writer and producer, Kalamu ya Salaam, a son of New Orleans, wrote this poem in the late 1970s after he was sent to Haiti as a journalist. Instead of a news article, Kalamu wisely created this poem, a true piece of art and prophecy.

Tomorrow's Toussaints
by Kalamu ya Salaam
this is Haiti, a state
slaves snatched from surprised masters,
its high lands, home of this
world's sole successful
slave revolt. Haiti, where
freedom has flowered and flown
fascinating like long necked
flamingoes gracefully feeding
on snails in small pinkish
sunset colored sequestered ponds.

despite the meanness
and meagerness of life
eked out of eroding soil
and from exploited urban toil, there
is still so much beauty here in this
land where the sea sings roaring a shore
and fecund fertile hills lull and roll
quasi human in form

there is beauty here
in the unyielding way
our people,
colored charcoal, and
banana beige, and
shifting subtle shades
of ripe mango, or strongly
brown-black, sweet
as the such from
sun scorched staffs
of sugar cane,
have decided
we shall survive
we will live on

a peasant pauses
clear black eyes
searching far out over the horizon
the hoe motionless, suspended
in the midst
of all this shit and suffering
forced to bend low
still we stop and stand
and dream and believe

we shall be released
we shall be released
for what slaves
have done
slaves can do

and that begets
the beauty
slaves can do

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Chuck Brown's Go-Go Game

by Alicia Benjamin

All go-go music, a Washington D.C. percussion-driven creation with Latin and African flavors, makes you want to get up and dance. Part of the fun is that musicians include the audience in just about all of the songs -- go-go requires that the band talk to the crowd and that the crowd talk back. If this ingredient is missing, then it's not go-go. With his CD Your Game... Live at the 9:30 Club, Chuck Brown keeps the go-go swing alive by inspiring his audience to contribute vocally to the recording.

The 70-year-old Brown, known as the godfather of go-go, manages to inject a youthful funky vibe into this performance, with other go-go icons like Little Benny and Big Tony joining in on the fun. Some of the songs go on too long (and I mean on and on and on), as almost all go-go songs do sometimes, but overall, this recording captures the spontaneity and spirit that go-go bands typically offer their crowds. Go-go bands have been known to inspire girls to dance so hard at pool parties that they strip while dancing to the beat.

With "One on One," "It's Love" and "Go Go Swing," Brown and company hype up the crowd so much that the audience doesn't need prompting to sing whole sections of the songs. "One on One" is Brown's most spirited offering. Cherie Mitchell on the organ introduces the song with such passion and spirit that it's like listening to a musician play at a church revival.

The audience members' loud vocal response to the song shows how intensely they identify with its message. Between catchy trumpet riffs and bass guitar licks, the crowd sings such lyrics as, "If you want to deal with the world then you've got to learn to deal with yourself. Once you learn to love yourself you can love everybody else."

When Brown and his crew give shout outs to people from sections of D.C., and its Maryland and Virginia suburbs, the crowd goes wild, especially on "Go Go Swing." Brown's remake of Jill Scott's "It's Love," which originally had a go-go vibe, brings the song closer to pure go-go. Cherie Mitchell's vocal delivery is so raw and harsh, she almost sounds like a man. She has to match the hard driving congas and drum beats that are such an integral part of go-go. You can feel the crowd dancing.

With this live recording, Brown, who helped create the go-go sound over 25 years ago, shows that he can still make the crowd sing and swing.

Chuck Brown's Website:

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Haitian Poet Félix Morisseau-Leroy and Grandson

Editor's Note: This post about Félix Morisseau-Leroy appeared on Cappuccino Soul last Spring, but now is a good time to take another look at this Haitian writer who had great rhythm and spirit. To my surprise, the piece attracted the attention of Leroy's grandson, Albert Morrisseau-Leroy, who I've been in contact with via e-mails since last summer, occasionally. With this post I'm able to include an added treat -- a poem, written in French, by Albert.

One of my Haitian students W is very bright and scored 100 on one of the comprehension tests that we gave her, but she has been very timid about speaking in English. I thought maybe the poetic language of one of her homegrown poets would help to loosen her up a bit. W read the poem below by Haitian poet, Félix Morisseau-Leroy beautifully! Morrisseau-Leroy is credited with getting Creole recognized as one of Haiti's official languages.

I'm Taking a Little Trip to the Moon
by Félix Morisseau-Leroy

(Translated from Haitian Creole by Jack Hirschman and Boadiba)

I'm taking a little trip to the moon
I've had it with life down here
Around here everything's sure hard
I'm on my way to the moon
They tell me up there there's no such thing
As good and bad people
There's no stupid guys or wise guys
No city or mountain people
All people are people on the moon
All people speak one language
I can't hack it on earth anymore
Civilization's exhausting me
Civilization's scaring me
Wherever I turn I see
People killing people
Civilization was finished a long time age
People there have forgotten that awful time
I'm taking a little trip to the moon
They tell me there's no king there
No county sheriff
No justice of the peace
No bailiff
No monseignor
I just gotta make that voyage to the moon
They tell me it's beautiful there, just beautiful
Nights are clearer than daytime
There's no time for a guy to sleep
No days for work or for play
Nights you watch the earth aglow
Brighter than the sun
And stars as close as fireflies on trees
There's no heat
No cold
No misery
No mud
Everyone's forgotten about war
Forgotten about civilization
The way the old forget colic
Measles and teething
I'm gonna live on the moon
Evenings I'll tell the kids stories
I'll tell them that the whole time the earth turns
There's a huge woman
An immense female werewolf
They call civilization
Crushing young men like ants.

From Wikipedia:

Félix Morisseau-Leroy (also known as Feliks Moriso-Lewa) was born on March 13, 1912. He was a Haitian writer who wrote poetry and plays in Haitian Créole, the first significant writer to do so. By 1961 he succeeded in having Créole recognized as an official language of Haiti, after expanding its teaching in schools and use in creative literature. Morisseau also published works about Haitian Créole and Haitian French literature. He worked internationally, encouraging the development of national literature in post-colonial Ghana and Senegal. In 1981 he settled in Miami, Florida, where he was influential in uniting the Haitian community around Créole and encouraged its study in academia. He died on September 5, 1998.

mon Noir et mon Blanc
by Albert Morisseau-Leroy

Ma peau a la noirceur de mon blanc
mon cœur a la blancheur de mon noir
mon esprit s'élèvera toujours plus haut la haut ou tout est blanc
mon mental c'est mon noir qui l'a forgé dans du métal
elles adorent la douceur que m'offre mon blanc
mais la virilité de mon noir ne manque pas pour autant
mon corps a forcement des atouts de noir
pour mon blanc cela reste difficile a croire
mes anges gauche ne sont pas toujours d'accord avec ceux de droite
c'est mon noir et mon blanc qui se batte.
Sur le piano de ma vie
ma noir toujours a la bourre joue les notes rapide
ma blanche joue des accords pour rattraper et prendre de l'avance sur le temps
dans mes partitions de blues toujours plus de noirs que de blanc
je verrais toujours la vie en noir sur blanc
je ferais toujours mes rêves en blanc sur noir
hiver comme été toujours plus bronzé que mes blancs et plus clair que mes noirs
mon yin sans cesse a la recherche de mon yang
de jour comme de nuits brille ma peau miel caramel
je suis un arc en ciel culturel
quelque soit la couleur de l'ex ou de l'intérieur
je suis un équilibre de tes peurs.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Danny Glover Directs Toussaint L’ouverture’s Story

Editors Note: Cappuccino Soul published this article initially on February 14, 2007. I'm still waiting to hear when this film, about one of Haiti's finest sons, will be released.

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

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Haiti: Feeding Our Children the Sun

In honor of the resilient and brave people of Haiti, here's a poem by a master poet and lover of her people everywhere, Ntozake Shange.

Bocas: A Daughter's Geography
by Ntozake Shange

i have a daughter/ mozambique
i have a son/ angola
our twins
salvador & johannesburg/ cannot speak
the same language
but we fight the same old men/ in the new world

we are so hungry for the morning
we're trying to feed our children the sun
but a long time ago/ we boarded ships/ locked in
depths of seas our spirits/ kisst the earth
on the atlantic side of nicaragua costa rica
our lips traced the edges of cuba puerto rico
charleston & savannah/ in haiti
we embraced &
made children of the new world
but old men spit on us/ shackled our limbs
but for a minute
our cries are the panama canal/ the yucatan
we poured thru more sea/ more ships/ to manila
ah ha we're back again
everybody in manila awready speaks spanish

the old men sent for the archbishop of canterbury
"can whole continents be excommunicated?"
"what wd happen to the children?"
"wd their allegiance slip over the edge?"
"don't worry bout lumumba/ don't even think bout
ho chi minh/ the dead cant procreate"
so say the old men
but I have a daughter/ la habana
I have a son/ guyana
our twins
santiago & brixton/ cannot speak
the same language
yet we fight the same old men

the ones who think helicopters rhyme with hunger
who think patrol boats can confiscate a people
the ones whose dreams are full of none of our
they see mae west & harlow in whittled white cafes
near managua/ listening to primitive rhythms in
jungles near pétionville
with bejeweled benign natives
ice skating in abidjan
unaware of the rest of us in chicago
all the dark urchins
rounding out the globe/ primitively whispering
the earth is not flat old men

there is no edge
no end to the new world
cuz I have a daughter/ trinidad
I have a son/ san juan
our twins
capetown & palestine/ cannot speak the same
language/ but we fight the same old men
the same men who thought the earth waz flat
go on over the edge/ go on over the edge old men
you'll see us in luanda, or the rest of us
in chicago
rounding out the morning/
we are feeding our children the sun

From A DAUGHTER'S GEOGRAPHY (St. Martin's Press, 1983)

Please click here to see photos of Haiti and the aftermath of the earthquake. Also, click on the links that show "how to help."

Monday, January 04, 2010

No Health Insurance Declaration

My friend Annette came up with a clever idea for people, like me, who don't have health insurance. She said, in lieu of presenting a health insurance card to providers when we need medical attention and can't afford to pay, we should present a "No Health Insurance Declaration" card that says:

Although I do not have health insurance,
I hope that you will still remain humane.

I think it's an excellent idea and may try it.