Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Summer Caravan Part I

Summer in New York is a Caravan of Music. For Summer 2006, I'll update this blog entry every time I attend another smoking summer show.

Here's the first - an annual Garifuna music event, held in celebration of Mother's Day out in East NY a couple of weeks ago. I went along with photoblogger Richard Loussaint. Great vibes! My short write up is in the Black Star News.

You know that the summer in NYC is filled with amazing music. I'll update this entry anytime another inspiring show gets me out of the house and stretches my limits, the way only music can do. Please send me your links too.

In the meantime, I'm looking forward to this Friday's Manjinga, a reggae, samba and afrobeat party at Sputnik that's loads of fun. Brooklyn a gwan!

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Smoke Signals Part Deux

A shout of thanks to my friend Ferentz, who posted this insightful blog post (The Nightshift Chronicles: Smoke Signals Part Deux) on the recent upheavals around immigration policy, and about the struggles of undocumented Garifuna people living in the South Bronx. Ferentz shares a New York times article about an immigration sham going on in the Garifuna community, another narratuve of the lives jeopardized not only by harsh laws, but by the exploitation these laws encourage.

In honor of the New York times story and the recent protests condemning the direction our domestic immigration policy is going, I'm revisiting some of the terms that have shaped our concepts of immigration, and its law and history:

Refugee (from UN Convention):

a person who, “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country

Deportation (from web):

1. the act of expelling a person from their native land, in other words, exile as in the Garifuna's exile from St. Vincent to Central America.
2. banishment, proscription - rejection by means of an act of banishing or proscribing someone, e.g.,
Babylonian Captivity = the deportation of the Jews to Babylonia by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BC.
3. the expulsion from a country of an undesirable alien (under the US Immigration Act, the main category of such aliens are those found to have committed an "aggravated felony." The definition of this contrived term depends upon state law and could be triggered, for example, by the smoking of a few grams of marijuana.

Repatriation (from Wilkipedia):

A term derived from late Latin repatriare which means to restore someone to his homeland. Repatriation is used to describe the process of return of refugees or soldiers to their homes, most notably following a war (According to Wilkipedia, it may also refer to the process of converting a foreign currency into the currency of one's own country.)

i.e., repatriation is a process that is likely to take years among the communities who are now fleeing the Sudan, and may never happen for some Sudanese refugees without more help from the international community....

In this sense, could undocumented Mexicans being deported over the border be seen as repatriates of land wrongly taken from them in the Mexican-US war a century and a half ago?

Could the Garifuna be seen in some way as refugees, as their communities, are still, two centuries later, reeling politically, economically and culturally from their experience of exile/deportation by the British to Honduras? Is there any category that addresses this legacy of forced migration? (In my opinion, there isn't.)

I'm wondering about these questions especially today, days after the immigration marches across the country, and the night before Cinco de Mayo, a patriotic day of celebration for Mexicans which commemorates the short-lived victory of General Ignacio Zaragoza Seguin in a time of bitter coups and independence struggles in Mexico.

Seguin led a small, poorly armed militia estimated at 4,500 men to victory against French invaders in the town of Puebla in 1962, during the reign of the US-backed dictator Benito Juarez. Seguin's victory brought a spirit of national unity and virtual self-rule, but in less than a year, Mexico had fallen to French imperialists who replaced Seguin with Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian of Austria. (Key piece of information here: Max was the half-brother of the Duc de Morny, who was the largest single holder of Mexican bonds and whose value was zero as long as Benito Juarez as in power.) Maximillian ruled Mexico until his assassination and the abolition of monarchy government in Mexico in 1967, and Portfirio Diaz, another Mexican hero, came into power.

I won't draw any more parallels about slavery, imperialism, deportation and exploitation, but I think we can all agree that the Mexicans, the Sudanese and the Garifuna people can teach us a thing or two about the struggle for freedom in our own homeland. I wish the folks in the Senate could feel the weight of just one of these symbolic episodes in world history.


Monday, May 01, 2006

Artists Plea: Make We Eat In We Own Country!

There is a man from Belize who believes in the power of artists to organize, and by doing so, to take control of their own destiny. At the time of this writing, Joe Guerrero is in La Ceiba, Honduras, talking to artists and officials about the importance of developing copyright laws and a music licensing scheme that bring in revenue in countries like Belize, Honduras and Guatemala. Guerrero founded Belize Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers on the belief that "there is money to be made for Belizeans through licensing," particularly for Garifuna artists whose communities remain on the economic fringes in developing Belize, Honduras, Guatemala and Nicaragua. Some artists, like Honduras' parandero Aurelio Martinez and punta rock/Latin band called Banda Blanca, have begun to make major inroads in the recording industry. But these select artists are still sruggling daily, a representation of the larger economic problem.

The bogus deals cut by Universal Records spinoffs for the big-name artists who somehow manage to claw their way to the top are only part of the dilemma. This article published by Guerrero in the Belize Amandala speaks to the uphill reality artists face every day in their own country. Joe Guerrero has recently founded an organization called BSCAP that is Belize's version of ASCAP or BMI.

Is Joe Guerrero just a dreamer? In 2004, I met a man in Jamaica fighting the same battle as Guerrero. Stevie Golding is President of Jamaica's recording rights society, JACAP, an organization that has faced its own struggles. Golding founded JACAP a recording rights society several years ago and is working every day to educate artists and the public about the administrative, technical and legal nuances of making money in the music business. Although reality has a long way to go before it catches up, the initiative of these men is remarkable.