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Thursday, June 23, 2011

"The Gods Must Be Crazy" -- Reviving the Black Supernatural Experience

Two evenings of immersion into the blessed realm of African and Afro-Diasporic culture

Historically, African peoples and their descendants have used the terms gods, ancestors, and elemental spirits more or less interchangeably. Words like orishas are used to describe divine beings who are the forces of nature, yet live within us. In a cultural context, the gods are simply those who have come before us and watch over us. They are Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, Bessie Smith, Gil Scott-Heron, Nina Simone, Jimi Hendrix, Tupac Shakur, and Biggie Smalls, as well as Isis and Osiris, Shango and Oshun -- and your great-grandpa  and great-grandma.

The cultural tradition of ancestor worship weaves like a sacred snake through Africa and the Afro-Caribbean Diaspora, linking Nigerian Yoruba with its syncretic derivatives -- Cuban Lukumi, Brazilian Candomble, Haitian Vodun - as well as other traditional indigenous beliefs: Malian Doumia, Ghanaian Ashanti, Dahomeyan Mami Wata, Sudanese Jok, South African Zulu. It represents both Kemetic (or Egyptian) Neteru and the Nommo of the Dogon people. It is a state of being which places spirituality, religion, and cultural expression on an equal plane, a conception of time as circular and not linear. Its fabric is the thread from which blues, jazz, gospel, R&B, and hip-hop were woven into the tapestry of the African American experience. It is the intangible abstract which informs and accompanies the oral and musical tradition of black people in America, the axe, chi, sekhem - colloquially, "soul power" -- which gives us life and informs our existence through word, song, and dance.

Now that we've explained the background, on with the show. On June 30 and July 1, 2011, Top Ten Social (TTS) invites you to two very special nights. Thursday night, 'cultural Jedi' Ashara Ekundayo hosts a discussion with guest speakers hip hop theater artist Marc Bamuthi Joseph, DJ/producer Rich Medina, and singer-songwriter Jennifer Johns, moderated by the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights' Abel Habtegeorgis. This informal talk, part of the ongoing TTS.Speaker Series, will address themes including strategies for leveraging art to inspire social change; the role of artists as activists; how do we elevate and inform people of their inner divinity; and creating pathways out of mental slavery. An interactive audience Q&A will follow the main discussion.

Friday's event places the Supernatural Black Experience in the context of live performance. The speakers of the previous evening join with additional guest artists and are transformed into conduits of the divine spirit, celebrating ancestors - the gods -  with expressions of spirituality, sustainability, solidarity, and sovereignty delivered in music, food, & word. Bamuthi and jazz-hop virtuoso Kev Choice both pay homage to legendary jazz poet and social commentator Gil Scott-Heron; Johns channels soul diva Nina Simone, reborn as an Oakland b-girl; "rebel soul music" creator Martin Luther invokes guitar visionary Jimi Hendrix; and Medina lays down a deeply rhythmic soundscape which will touch on everyone from James Brown to Fela Kuti to Bob Marley to Michael Jackson. Ekundayo will provide the invocation for what promises to be an evening long to be remembered - in this world and the afterlife.

So, are the gods really crazy? Or is their true role to show us the insanity of the world man has created, and to reunite us with our true nature and divine selves? Find out Thursday, June 30 and Friday, July 1, as Top Ten Social revives the Supernatural Black Experience in Oakland.


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