Guitars and Buddha’s Moon over City Island

Two Guitars performing at the Starving Artist Cafe & Gallery on City Island.
Two Guitars performing at the Starving Artist Cafe & Gallery on City Island.

Saturday evening me and the Big Guy headed to City Island–not for overly battered deeply fried fruits de mer, but for acoustic jazz guitar at the Starving Artist Cafe & Gallery.

We saw the moon, full and hanging low as we crept onto the island in a long single file line of cars with everyone else.

The Starving Artist Cafe & Gallery is small, intimate, and family run, with a neighborhood coffeehouse vibe and charm that a corner Starbucks can never conjure up. Everyone seemed to know each other and the musicians, Brian Conigliaro and Gus Wieland of Two Guitars engaged the audience in a kind of name that tune. The musical selections weren’t quite what I’d call jazz (Come on people now smile on your brother and a song called “The Wind” by Circus Maximus), but their version of Santana’s “Black Magic Woman” filled that famous intro with fingerpicking and fret work that flowed very nicely on acoustic guitar.

Poet Ellen Ruth Topol at Starving Artist Cafe & Gallery on City Island.
Poet Ellen Ruth Topol at Starving Artist Cafe & Gallery on City Island.

We met Ellen Ruth Topol, a poet and City Island resident, who was painting to the music from a complete watercolor set splayed out all over her table. Ellen brought us up to speed on the happenings at the cafe (game nite, open mic, Japanese gypsy rock). She has recited poetry there (on the cafe’s 5th anniversary).

I’ve meet very few people in New York who call City Island home, maybe three.  I asked Ellen what do City Islanders do on summer weekends with all the traffic? How do you get around? She said you either stay at home, on the island, the entire weekend or leave on Friday and come back on Sunday, there’s no travelling back and forth anywhere.

We told her we’d come back to the cafe. The price is right, five bucks per person minimum and a “pay what you wish” music cover. But next time we will bike on to the island.

When we were leaving the cafe, Ellen told us that Sunday (June 7th) was Buddha’s Enlightenment Day, a day for prayer when the moon is full. It was a lovely send off as we stepped back onto City Island Avenue weaving in and around people queued up for shrimp and fish and others toting white plastic bags full of what they couldn’t eat.

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Four Bronx Women

In recent weeks, I have turned my lens and my ears toward a few Bronx women whose talents and community projects have impressed me.

Emily Rodriguez, Soprano and Bronx student, performs with the Bronx Arts Ensemble String Quartet.
Emily Rodriguez, Soprano and Bronx student, performs with the Bronx Arts Ensemble String Quartet.

Emily Rodriguez
Soprano / Student at Celia Cruz High School of Music

Ms. Rodriguez performed Mozart’s “Alleluia” accompanied by the Bronx Arts Ensemble String Quartet earlier this year.  We went to the Ensemble’s January concert and it was really lovely, held in a private home in Riverdale.  The Bronx Arts Ensemble often features young Bronx musicians in their concerts. I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to expose My Favorite 15 Year Old to chamber music.  And it was — she enjoyed hearing and seeing someone close to her own age. Ms. Rodriguez appeared quite at ease singing to a packed room, which included her school’s principal.  Sitting next to us, a young man wearing a badge that read “Press — Celia Cruz High School” commented to his friend, “She gave me goose bumps.”

Last month, I attended the discussion, “Civil Rights in the Bronx: Past and Present”, as part of The Bronx is Building lecture series presented by the Bronx African-American History Project at Fordham University. The panel happened to be an all women line up, with two women from local chapters of the NAACP (which celebrates its 100th Anniversary this year) and South Bronx community activist Majora Carter.  I was especially excited to hear Ms. Carter as I’ve followed her story shortly after she was awarded the “genius” prize — a MacArthur fellowship in 2005, for her work in her Hunts Point community.

Beverly Roberts, Shirley Fearon and Majora Carter, panelists at the lecture "Civil Rights Activism in the Bronx: Past and Present."
Beverly Roberts, Shirley Fearon and Majora Carter, panelists at the lecture "Civil Rights Activism in the Bronx: Past and Present."

Beverly Roberts
President / NAACP, Parkchester Branch

From the time it was built in 1938 until the early 1970s, the Parkchester housing complex had no residents of color.  Ms. Roberts noted that it was the National Urban League who sued the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, Parkchester’s owner, for their “whites only” policy.  The NAACP Parkchester branch, established in 1974, provided support to families with integration of schools in the area.  Ms. Roberts said further, “All people of color, newly arrived in the United States, have benefited from the NAACP.”

Shirley Fearon
President / NAACP, Williamsbridge Branch

Ms. Fearon recalled her first act of defending civil rights as a young girl in her Williamsbridge neighborhood. She joined her father and other blacks in the community in picketing the five and dime store on 216th Street.  It was 1959 and no black women were working there. The moderator Professor Mark Naison, noted this with particular interest commenting that demonstrations and picketing by black Bronxites is not readily known.  Today the Williamsbridge chapter brings programs into local schools that teach students about Black History.

Majora Carter
President and CEO / Marjora Carter Group

Ms. Carter started off by commenting on the name of the lecture series, “The Bronx is Building”.  She said, “As someone who lived in the South Bronx when it was burning, I am so happy to see the word ‘building’ in reference to the Bronx.” Ms. Carter has built bold strategies to improve the quality of life in her Hunts Point, South Bronx community, where residents are saddled with high asthma rates and live side by side with the Hunts Point Food Distribution Center which brings semi trucks into the area on a daily basis. In the late 1990’s, Ms. Carter placed herself front and center in opposition of the city’s plan to bring a waste treatment plant into her community’s back yard.  Her efforts have brought “green” jobs into the South Bronx and she secured a $1.25M federal grant to design a South Bronx Greenway along the Bronx River for parks and recreational use.  Ms. Carter, said during the lecture that “Environmental justice is the civil rights of the 20th century.”

If you have not seen it already, Ms. Carter’s talk at the TED conference (Technology , Entertainment, Design) is brilliant.  She is passionate, she is bold and she is honest. And she puts a challenge directly to Vice President Gore that is so daring but necessary.

Onward and Upward!

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Hardcore at Hunts Point

The Bride Wore Black Drummer
Drummer from band The Bride Wore Black at the Bronx Underground party.

Jumping Crowd at Bronx Underground concertOne of the dancers in the mosh pit lost a tooth.  A guy in a red “Staff” T-shirt made an announcement in the middle of the band’s set:  “Could you guys in the mosh please look around?  We’re looking for a tooth.”  Then lead singer of Queens band, Endwell,  announced their next song, “Single and Loathing It.”   Somewhere in his rough and raw vocal stream were the words single, and, loathing, it. He swallowed the mic whole, I’m sure of it, pushing it up to his epiglottis. The mosh pit was a maelstrom of rapidly over arcing arms and feet punching the air at eye level. They weren’t purposely slamming into each other (that would come later as the “Wall of Death”) but taking turns stepping into the circle to thrash dance and then step back. They were clearly following some method for entering and exiting the pit. I was truly fascinated. I asked My Favorite 14 Year Old, now My Favorite 15 Year Old, are they called dancers?  Moshers? What?  She shrugged and said she’d never seen such dancing. It was Saturday night and we were at The Hunts Point Community Center at one of Bronx Underground‘s “all ages” dance parties. They host concerts featuring local indie / emo / hard rock / punk / metal bands.  All concerts are in the Bronx, alcohol free and open to tweens, teens and adults.  We were searched at the door with a metal detector by a very apologetic staff member.

It’s tricky trying to find stuff for our Favorite 15 Year Old to do — only so many times can we go to the zoo or the botanical garden or a movie. We’re always up from something fresh.  The party had a good vibe overall.  The music was a deafening cool. The Big Guy said this could be the next CBGB.

Between sets, some of the crowd mingled in the neighboring room to eat french fries or a burger. To pose. Or peruse the fan merch of T-shirts. Later we saw a kid holding a big plastic bag of ice to his face bobbing his head with the beat. He was standing at a safe distance of the mosh pit where someone was surely dancing on his tooth.

The Day Before performing at Bronx Underground concert.Bronx band The Day Before. Justin Melendez, lead guitarist, at left. And Oscar Fernandez, lead vocalist, on the right.
Thanx P. Ramirez for id’ing these guys! (That’s him, their manager, with the ghoulish eyes, standing next to the guy in the Thrash sweater.)

Lead vocalist of The Bride Wore Black at Bronx Underground concert.

Lead vocalist of The Bride Wore Black, another band from Queens.

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Here’s how we came to know about Bronx Underground.

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Y Zumba!

Castle Hill YMCA in the Bronx.
Castle Hill YMCA in the Bronx.

I took my first Zumba class yesterday at the Castle Hill Y.
I was skeptical.  I am not a workout-at-the-gym type.
I need to dance for my exercise.
But the music was pumpin’ — Salsa beats, Merengue, Soca, Reggaeton and Dancehall tunes.
And at the end, we cooled down to classical flute music of India.
The Big Guy was pedalling across the hall on the bike and said “it sounded like a party in there.”
My cheeks were actually pink!
Which is not even close to my natural skin tone…

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Songs In the Key of The New President’s Life

Odetta performing at the March on Washington.  She had hoped to perform at the Obama Inauguration.  She died last December.
Odetta performing at the March on Washington in 1963. She had hoped to perform at the Obama Inauguration, but she died last December.

Here are 44 songs for the day that Barack Hussein Obama becomes the 44th President of the United States.

Songs to be stuck in traffic on the way to DC by…
Songs to sing to on the bus, the train or the subway…
Songs to deflect hypothermia while shivering in the cold on the Washington Mall…

Songs to dance to at your own Neighborhood Inaugural Ball…
Songs to jam to in your living room on January 20th…

Songs marked with an asterisk * are apparently from Obama’s own iPod or from his sound engineer played during his campaign rallies, or songs that Obama has claimed are his favorites. I have no way, of course, to know if this is entirely true as this info has been gleaned from the interweb.

Many of the songs have a video of some sort that can be viewed on youtube. (I couldn’t find Odetta singing “We Shall Overcome”… if anyone does, please kindly send the link…)

And let me know what songs you would include!

Bronx Bohemian’s Playlist for the Obama Inauguration 2009:

Sam Cooke
“A Change is Gonna Come”

Odetta
“This Little Light of Mine”
“We Shall Overcome”
“Freedom Trilogy” is how Odetta referred to the three songs she sang at the March on Washington in 1963:
“Oh Freedom,”
“Come and Go With Me to That Land,” and
“I’m on My Way”

Donny Hathaway
“Someday We’ll All Be Free”
This song is so gorgeous, so moving and one I had not heard in a very long time.
Great choice discovered on the Obama Playlist of The F$%K It List
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(Aretha Franklin also sings a version of this song)

Aretha Franklin
“R-E-S-P-E-C-T”
“Rock Steady”

Sly & The Family Stone
“A Family Affair”
“Everyday People” *

Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell
“Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” *

Bob Marley
“Exodus”
“One Love”

Bob Dylan
“Blowin In the Wind'” *

India.Aire
“There’s Hope” *

Earth, Wind & Fire
“Shining Star” *
“Celebrate”
“Keep Your Head To The Sky”

McFadden and Whitehead
“Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now” *

The Isley Brothers
“Shout” *
“Climbin’ Up The Ladder”

James Brown
“I Got You (I Feel Good)”

Third World
“Now That We’ve Found Love”

Counting Crows
“Colorblind”

Emily King
“Colorblind”

Marvin Gaye
“What’s Going On”

Curtis Mayfield
“Move On Up” *

Kanye West
“Touch the Sky”

Edwin Starr
“War”

The Doobie Brothers
“Long Train Running” *
“Takin’ It To The Streets” *

Stevie Wonder
“Signed, Sealed, Delivered” *
“As”

Simon & Garfunkel
“Mrs. Robinson”

Staples Singers
“I’ll Take You There” *

Ben E. King
“Stand By Me”

Rolling Stones
“Gimme Shelter” *

Chic
“Good Times”

Sam and Dave
“Hold On I’m Coming” *

Jill Scott
“Brotha”
“Golden”

Bill Withers
“Lovely Day”

The Pointer Sisters
“Yes We Can Can”

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After reading my previous post about the Obama Inauguration, a dear reader sent me two links showing the front pages of newspapers across the US and around the world after Obama’s November win.  Looking at them gave me chills all over again. I can’t wait to see the covers the day after the Inauguration.