Vibe Journal, words

Notes From TwentySeventeen

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It’s 2017, and the Obama Years are over. The luxury many Americans felt in the previous administration vanished, and has now been replaced with crippling anxiety and despair. The gravity that once held this country together, has collapsed into a blackhole called Amerikkka.

Nationalism is spreading globally, sweeping a number of important national elections to the far right. Donald J. Trump is the President of the United States. The systemic powers that have ceaselessly worked against minorities and against progression, have traded their hoods for red Make America Great Again hats.

[Kodak Black portrays the current racial tensions surrounding the political climate.]

All the while in this very odd year, the woke culture gains momentum. People from all walks of life and all ages are getting involved in political matters, galvanized by the troubling times. Young public school students are speaking up about the Secretary of Education nominee, and citizens are engaging in online exchanges about what they believe the national budget should look like.

I turned 22-years-old at the beginning of these divided times. On my birthday, I mused on what it means to be young gifted and Black in 2017, and found three goals of utmost importance in this definition: understanding the intersectionality of all minority struggles, spreading Black Girl Magic, and fighting for the liberation of Black people.

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One way I know how to achieve these goals is by re-learning the history of my people, as told by Black historians and scholars. History books paint slavery as The Big Bang of Black people, and celebrate only a few heroes that fought for our cause. In reality, there were many names and organizations that paved the path for Black Liberation, such as the National League of Colored Women and other Black women’s club movement of the late 19th century.

In Angela Davis’ Women Race & Class, she gives depth to accomplished pioneers, such as Mary Church Terrell and Ida B. Wells, who faced the hurdle of Antebellum America to establish political capital for Black women. She also gives breath to the many female Communist agitators, such as Lucy Parsons and Ella Reeve “Mother” Bloor, who fought against racist and patriarchal ideals for an equal standing in society.

Another way I know to reach these goals, is by preserving the culture and uplifting stories/names that have been left in the dark. I recently attended a discussion held by the California African American Museum titled #BLACKGIRLSMATTER that focused on the 1991 murder of Latasha Harlins. I was moved to tears when Latasha’s aunt spoke of the family’s struggle for justice. The panelists, who included professors, organizers, and two members of Black Lives Matter, inquired on a number of the details that influence the fate of black girls in America. Lack of representation in the media, the devaluing of Black labor, and misunderstanding the fullness of humanity in any all contribute to black girls experiencing the double-edged sword of a racist patriarchal society.

I’m doing more and more to get involved in fighting the resistance against our conservative government. Much like the Tea Party, The Indivisible Project has directed me with ways to communicate with my local representatives and other local organizations that can bring about real influential change. Last year I placed a heavy amount of importance on making money and building my career, this year however, the risks are too high to be selfish and not take a stand against the injustices introduced by this Administration.

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2016 felt rotten from the inside out. This year, I hope our new collective outlook on our government persuades a real underlying change in the way we shape ourselves. I know that the odds are against me. I know how lucky I am to see another revolution around the sun.

-Tyler

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In My Headphones, words

Aretha Awakening

It was in the early dawn when I first felt the power of Aretha Franklin’s voice. It came trembling out from my fingertips and shaking through my knees. It washed over my sins like faith.

Her mighty vocals possessed such strength, her gospel seemed to lift the weight of God into my headphones. So I listened with complete absorption, on a westbound train to a day’s work, far from the comfort of my man’s loving arms.

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Two of her albums in particular, 1968’s Aretha Now and 1970’s Spirit In the Dark, translate womanhood in a way that is neither sexualized, marginalized or inflated. Instead, these songs highlight the sensitive details in temporal activities; such as putting on makeup, going out to eat, or just feeling lonely at home.

The more I listened the more her tracks became saturated with my own experience as a young Black woman in love. I began to hear my own longings and loss in Aretha Franklin.

In just under 30 minutes, Aretha Now establishes a sound at the intersections of blues, gospel, and pop. The two leading singles from the album, “Think” and “Say A Little Prayer” illustrate this intersection the most.

“Think” opens the album with an attitude that declares her disillusionment towards the efforts of a lover. She howls with the rage of a woman scorned. She is not only claiming autonomy over her body, spirit, and mind, she is asserting an equal standing of power in the relationship, themes heavily suggested by lady blues singers. Her rallying cry for Freedom, is an anthem parallel to the liberating aspects of the Sexual Revolution throughout the 1960s.

Following “Think,” “Say A Little Prayer”” shifts the album’s entire sound with a softer tone, demonstrating how she can command her vocals from firm to tender vibrations. Her outward displays of frustration become intimate revelries of love. Although this track is a cover of a Dionne Warwick single, Aretha’s delivery–accompanied by the choral vocals of the Sweet Inspirations–illuminates the loyalty and faith found in love.

On Spirit In the Dark, Aretha displays a more mature expression of womanhood, one that juxtaposes the sunny and bright bulb of Aretha Now with darker shadows and blues. On “Don’t Play That Song” and “Spirit In the Dark,” Aretha summons this sultry magnetism with refined skill.

The piano melody on “Don’t Play That Song” holds as much gravity as her vocals. Instead of depicting the woman in heartbreak as weak, or succumbing to anguish, Aretha lifts above that misery and expels the forces that seek to drag her. She reclaims her power to grieve, instead of allowing it to inflict her own outlook.

The slow draw in “Spirit in the Dark” is sensual and strikes like a match. The sway of the beat combined with the organ begins like a religious hymn, but it’s low growl turns into a praise full of dance and rhythm. This track shakes and shimmies like rock and roll, and releases like an exhale.

Although the aforementioned songs are some of the most popular in her repertoire, my favorite (and underrated) picks from these albums are “Hello Sunshine” and “Try Matty’s.” On “Hello Sunshine,” Aretha welcomes the spring while her vocals reach for their ultimate might and grasp for the heavens. “Try Matty’s” is amazing for its portrait of a woman expressing her affection for her local lowdown juke joint.

Both Aretha Now and Spirit In the Dark reveal a multitude of love’s grace and complexities. From fury to frustration to grace and glory, these tracks illustrate all the faces of a love affair. The mastery of her vocals, combined with the fact that Aretha wrote many of these tracks herself, proves exactly why she’s the Queen of Soul. Aretha Franklin captures the freedom of the Black woman.

– Tyler

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In My Headphones, words

Dixie Chicks @ the Forum

I spent this past Saturday night with my mom at a Dixie Chicks concert. I know that’s a whimsical image: me and my mom–two short black women with braids–surrounded by tall blonde moms in cowboy hats. Although there was an initial out-of-place feeling, the music created a space in which a community of women became liberated from the patriarchy. The stigmas of womanhood evaporated, leaving a celebration of acceptance, love, and the freedom of the modern chick.

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“Dearly Beloved, we are all gathered here to get through this thing called life…” rang the opening lines to Prince track, “Let’s Go Crazy” as the Dixie Chicks walked out onto the stage. This sentiment echoed throughout the night, with each song embracing a unique coming-of-age chapter.

My mom introduced me to the Dixie Chicks during my own coming-of-age chapter. I was a tween doing my US history homework, and she was a forty year old woman belting “Goodbye Earl” at the top of her lungs. I got so used to hearing her FLY CD blast from our boombox, that eventually I memorized the album cover to cover. Hearing these badass women sing and parade and flaunt their agency over their lives and bodies, inspired me to never let some guy steal my wind. It also forever instilled the “chicks over dicks” mantra.

Hearing their songs performed live as a young adult put a lot of my own coming-of-age story in perspective. My mom gave me those wide open spaces, and let me take the long way around. I didn’t realize how much of an impact their message had on me until I heard it reverberated throughout a stadium hall. It penetrated the little bubble I shield myself in, and coated me like a warm maternal hug.

So we sat together, side by side, and sang those songs word for word. Her happiness meant as much to me as mine did to her. The Dixie Chicks have a powerful way of delivering their songs, with a loud gust of breath and string. Their revolutionary words fold into a songbook of the Feminine Mystique.

Little did I know then that all this time my mom was teaching me how to be free.

—Tyler

 

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photos, Visual Journal

Post-New York Blues

September—I’m on the L train into the city and I haven’t written in a while. I’ve been reading a lot of James Baldwin, New York’s black literary hero. I’ve been living in Brooklyn for these past weeks, staying in a townhouse in Carroll’s Garden and then in a warehouse loft in Williamsburg. I love it all: the trash-lined sidewalks, the thick air, the cicadas buzzing in the trees. New York has always been somewhere on the vaguely familiar side of my soul’s navigation—I think I lived here in my past life. In a hippie life, I soaked in the fountain at Washington Square Park and spent my days crawling up and downtown across the islands. I sing aloud as I walk here. I walk with conviction and shove past people like I always know where I’m going—even if I don’t. I didn’t think the end of summer would cling on to the sticky summer heat. And as the muggy nights dull into muggier days, it dawns on me I don’t know New York at all. Yet, here I am melting on the subway platform, waiting for another F train to take me back down to Brooklyn.

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—Tyler

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In My Headphones, words

Long Black Veil

I listened to a lot of folk music in high school. Like a lot. In tenth grade when I first heard this song on the Johnny Cash show (this was the pilot episode), I made a youtube playlist with only this ballad on repeat to sing me to sleep.

I was completely engrossed with Long Black Veil for over a month. The most beautiful aspect of this ballad is its point of view from the man in the grave. I won’t spoil anything, but he recounts what got him in the grave, and how in the windy nights after, he gets visits from a veiled woman. It’s a tragedy of lost love, betrayal, and wrongful conviction. Written by Danny Dill and Marijohn Wilkin, Long Black Veil is shrouded with mystery and influenced by local legend of a veiled woman visiting Valentino’s grave.

This is one of my favorite duets of all time. The contrast of Johnny’s trembling baritone vocals with Joni’s extravagantly symphonic sound is a folk/country marriage that only the mid-20th century sound could sanction. Unlike many of the other renditions of this song, Johnny and Joni’s duet perfectly captures the man’s suffering and the woman’s mourning.

—Tyler

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photos, Visual Journal

Psychadelic Furs @ Santa Monica Pier

 

To further my experience in the field of public media, I joined KCRW’s summer marketing internship at the beginning of May. If you aren’t from Southern California, KCRW is Santa Monica NPR, broadcast around the Greater Los Angeles area as 89.9fm. Along with clerical work and selling merch and memberships at events all over the city, I write blog posts as well as take photos for the nonprofit organization.

Here is a gallery of photos I took for KCRW while covering the Psychadelic Furs/Day Wave Twilight Series concert on July 21. With the stunning scenery of the stage set up and the vibrancy of their performances, it wasn’t hard to capture the marvel of both acts.

KCRW Presents Psychadelic Furs, Day Wave 7/21/2016

—Tyler

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In My Headphones, words

Fireworks

It begins with a spark.

Rising from the pit of your gut, to the edge of your fingertips, it knows no boundaries. It’s as dense as an atom, but it can swell like the universe, with as much matter and gravity that pulls and contracts galaxies to other galaxies. When it seeps from our eyes, we call them tears. When it explodes the night skies with color, we call them Fireworks. It’s a chemical catch and release, and the first time I ever caught such a powerful light, it burned me. A new skin healed over.

I learn something new about myself every time I play with fire. Some sparks flicker and flirt an explosion, only to fade in the wind, others, were rambunctious and sprayed fireballs in swerving directions. I learned how to read light, or at least I thought I did, until I touched a spark so faint, it embraced me. It felt like faith. This light nursed me, and I nursed it, until it blossomed into a raging flame that roared underneath my skin and behind my eyes. With the gentlest of touches, it swallowed me whole.

But it begun with a spark.

Some sparks grow into a star, or a universe, but fortunately, most of them will blow a short fuse and leave you with a beautiful pageant of colors. You must learn to see the beauty of both experiences: the stars that stay with you, and the fireworks that fly away.

—Tyler

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