LINER NOTES x Brooklyn Museum: Kehinde Wiley
Kehinde Wiley Playlist
A couple weeks back, a brother reached out about a Kehinde Wiley-related post I wrote, oh, ten years ago. After falling out my chair from thinking on how much time has passed, I settled quite comfortably into the realization that the contact was fortuitous. Last night, LINER NOTES presented a doodle sesh at the Brooklyn Museum, in conjunction with the recently-opened Wiley retrospective.
The good homie Nate had been in touch with the Museum for quite a while about a collabo. It took a minute to figure out what that would look like. The Wiley show presented an ideal opportunity for their team and ours. Photos and other documentation is forthcoming, but for now you can take my word that the event was a load of fun.
Before getting into the liners, I should note that going to the BMA (sorry, old habit) always feels like a homecoming for us. Of course, folks come and go. So, we made new friends with the excellent programming squad of Margo and Alicia and the resident A/V whiz Tim (whose grandparents probably kicked it with my grandparents... at the Tule Lake internment camp -- let that marinate for a sec). But seeing old friends like Radiah, or the gang: Tommy G-D K, George, Carl, Barclay... Wow. I can't believe those guys still talk about the last party I threw at my old apartment, welp, ten years ago. Dammit, shoulda asked if Dominic was around that night. Oh well, next time!
So, I'll start by noting that the original idea for the music was far more low-key. Tonally, it matched our more intimate sessions. And there was a broad, but consistent theme: border crossing. Wiley's work often brings up notions of identities or cultures intersecting, overlapping, or crossing. So, I played with the idea. I looked at musicians flipping the gender of a song to suit their sexual identity. Like, Gladys Knight flipping Bill Withers's "Who Is He" into "Who Is She." And Me'Shell NdegéOcello flipping that cover back to the original "Who Is He," but through a different sexual lens. I pulled a bunch of black artists covering songs written by or made famous by white artists. Don't get me started on the litany of Beatles covers. I even took a literal stab at the concept by digging out black musicians working in white-dominant domains, e.g., classical music. Immediately, Keith Jarrett's myriad forays into classical came to mind.
When we determined the space and the tone of the evening, I threw out most of the above and went with something closer to a party vibe. There was less of a coherent theme, but I generally stuck to black artists making statements about identity, agency, and personhood. Songs about a musician's personal experience or what they view as the 'black experience.'
So, we kicked the session off with Ms. Sharon Jones! I suppose a Guthrie standard covered with a firm backbeat may seem passé today, but damn if the sentiment doesn't ring truer with every passing year. Do we really need more examples? And Brother Charles's words still need to be heard to affirm the connection between speech and being.
Second set/pose is a hodgepodge of ideas, mostly involving ideas of blackness. Little exposition needed here, except I'll call out "BP (Black Power)." It's not available on any streaming platform, so it's not in any of the media playlists above. So, h/t goes to Oli at Soul Sides for the dig. And, more important, it's a black nationalist record on Too $hort's 75 Girls label. I know this idea should not have to be repeated, but enter this as Exhibit 5,967,245 -- evidence that you can't peg a single identity on a person or entity because of race. I'll also point out the Langston Hughes piece because I could only find another cut from that record on YouTube. The entire record is a literal performance of his expansive poem, "The Weary Blues." For those familiar with the Hughes piece, the poem is awash in the sound of music, so recording it with musical accompaniment seems like a no-brainer. The music itself is pleasant, though rarely exhilarating, and perhaps more notable for featuring some ace players like Mingus and Parlan, as well as Milt Hinton, Red Allen, Jimmy Knepper, Sam Taylor, et. al. I'm not a huge Langston Hughes head, but I am surprised this record remains out-of-print, domestically. Seems like an important artifact from the artist's later years.
We came back from the break focusing on patterns, so we kept things in the rhythmic pocket. Theo helped turnaround a bummer of a year for me with his late 2014 American Intelligence record, so I had to find some representation for him in this set. The man has such a singular ability to manipulate repetition and time. Anyone that listens to a Theo Parrish track and complains about that boring house shit deserves a healthy dose of shade. On a similar note, I've been trying to bridge more personal faves, like THEESatisfaction, into these events. I suppose they have enough status in this part of Brooklyn, but they soooo cooool... and their visual aesthetic calls to mind Wiley's "Two Sisters." The rest of the set is more of a nod to the Paris is Burning soundtrack and Wiley's interest in the film's exploration of gender performance. Hence, MFSB's disco classic (of course, needed to use an edit from Theo's rhythmic godfather Danny Krivit). Loose Joints is truly a background piece in the film, but also functions as a what's-up to Arthur Russell, who is receiving the royal treatment these days via a new Red+Hot comp and a tribute concert at BAM on May 29 and 30, 2015. Carl Bean's out-and-proud anthem isn't in Paris, but feels like an appropriate companion piece.
Fittingly, the following pose focused on Wiley's An Economy of Grace works, which featured women subjects, so we tried to hit a few bases here. Nikki Giovanni's "Ego Trip" is so life-affirming, it should be a morning mantra -- if it isn't already. After you've got that fire in your eyes, "Uptown Top Ranking" makes sure you style yourself to the nines and look turnt up (to eleven). TLC and Me'Shell play with your heart (no matter which way you swing, there are a few ways to interpret these cuts). Then Dana and Minnie bring us back together.
Oh, and there was a missed connection:
YOU. Were the woman dancing your way out the museum when the drums on this song kicked in. You allowed that chorus to fill your soul and refracted rays of joy that sparkled across Eastern Parkway.
May you continue to take that energy and share it forever more.
Closing set/last pose was, per the usual, 'the hits.' Black Messiah was another personal chart-topper, so no surprise "The Charade" has become a recent anthem of sorts. Which sort of excuses my umpteenth use of Aloe Blacc's John Legend cover. I would apologize for spinning it again, but the original has too much syrup for my tastes.
Pardon the length of these notes, but this session was a special one. Thank you all again for coming through! We're trying to reschedule our April session at the 92nd St Y, so stay tuned to our Facebook page or follow me @sintalentos.
See y'all on the 'flo.
Sharon Jones "This Land Is Your Land" (Woody Guthrie cover; Naturally)
Charles Wright & The Watts 103rd St. Rhythm Band "Express Yourself (Alternate Version)" (Puckey Puckey: Jams & Outtakes 1970-1971)
OutKast "Da Art Of Storytellin' (Part 1)" (Aquemini Instrumental)
Fred Wesley & The J.B.'s "Damn Right, I Am Somebody, Pt. 1" (The Singles, Vol. 9)
Gang Starr "Code Of The Streets (Instrumental)" (Hard To Earn Instrumental)
BP "BP (Black Power) (Radio Mix)" (Black Power 12")
The Congos "Congoman" (Heart Of The Congos)
AfroCubism "Djelimady Rumba" (AfroCubism)
Art Tatum "Humoresque (Version 1)" (Performance: Solo Piano Recordings From 1933 To 1952)
Langston Hughes with Charles Mingus and the Horace Parlan Quintet "Good Morning / Harlem" (The Weary Blues)
Al Hirt "Harlem Hendoo" (Soul In The Horn)
Brainstorm "Journey To The Light (Theo Parrish Re-Edit)" (Ugly Edits Vol. 10 12")
THEESatisfaction "QueenS" (awE naturalE)
Loose Joints "Is It All Over My Face? (Female Vocal)" (Is It All Over My Face? 12")
Carl Bean "I Was Born This Way" (I Was Born This Way 12")
MFSB "Love Is The Message (Danny Krivit Re-Edit)" (Last Night A DJ Saved My Life compilation)
Blackalicious "Ego Trip By Nikki Giovanni" (Nia)
Althea & Donna "Uptown Top Ranking" (Uptown Top Ranking)
TLC "If I Was Your Girlfriend" (CrazySexyCool)
Me'Shell NdegéOcello "Who Is He And What Is He To You?" (Peace Beyond Passion)
Queen Latifah "U.N.I.T.Y." (Black Reign)
Minnie Ripperton & Rotary Connection "I Am The Blackgold Of The Sun" (Hey Love)
Gil Scott-Heron "When You Are Who You Are" (Pieces of a Man)
Curtis Mayfield "Power To The People" (Sweet Exorcist)
D'Angelo And The Vanguard "The Charade" (Black Messiah)
Aloe Blacc "Gente Ordinaria" (Shine Through)