Thursday, August 24, 2006

Prowling in South Central

I touched down in Los Angeles early Saturday morning for a punta rock concert to be held late Saturday night, at the Coral Reef Hall, on Western Avenue, in South L.A. Mohobub Flores was playing this gig, and I knew I'd meet a couple of local young punta rock artists there. I met my friend Felene at a Garifuna wedding reception on Manchester Ave and after a quick dance with her father, we drove down to the spot. At the concert, I met Mohobub, Nuru, and the "punta pop" star who goes by the name of Aziatic. Much respect for AZ for his true talent, and for using his skills, wit and sheer talent to promote Belize-Garifuna culture.

The week in L.A. continues with me, as usual, wearing many hats: the visiting friend, the L.A. tourist, the Belizean journalist, the one-woman documentarian. Between the hours of 5pm and 2am (which still feels like 5 am for me), I prowl from one spot to the next: the Caribbean Market on 47th and Hoover, Leimert Plaza on Crenshaw and 43rd, Joan and Sister's Restaurant on 37th and Western, Maabatuwa Cultural Center on 51st and Normandie in South Central. The trip almost done, I arrange an shoot with Stan Martinez (a Belizean promoter) and Aziatic. The California sun is bright and I borrow a Belize cap from Stan. The cap does little to keep the sun out, so I toss it and get slightly sunburned. It is worth it. Later I put back on my imaginary hat as one-woman documentarian and head to 31st street and St. Andrews, home of Daddy Tracy, a Belizean producer and former artist...and finally I find the story that I will share in this blog.

I pull up at Daddy Tracy's and I know instantly I have found the right place. Ten or more cars and SUV's line the street, two or three double parked on either side. A dude sitting on the hood of a rusted out flashes his golds at me and I ask him if I'm at the "Turk's" house, giving the nickname for Daddy Tracy that was mentioned by another L.A. Belizean friend "Pele" Roy Ellis Brown. But apparently, only Pele calls Tracy the Turk, because my question draws a blank stare, and by the time I find out who Tracy is, he pulls off in an SUV with a motorcade behind him. I ask around some more and discover that they're headed to Watts for a non-violent face-to-face between former Crips and Blood gangleaders.

Over 1,000 people came out to Watts that afternoon in a non-violent demonstration. I later learned that the peace demonstration was organized by UnityOne, a youth violence prevention and crisis intervention organization founded by Bo Taylor, a former gang leader, after the 1992 Rodney King uprising, to inspire, educate and promote peace among Los Angeles' violent gangs and within their communities.

The Belize connection? It is another story of a third world country being the bastard child of the US's social and economic ills. It is the product of the revolving door of border-crossing and outmigration. During the 1980's, several Crip and Blood gangs developed in Belize. It is said (I am still looking for the research, but it makes sense) that these gangs were started and fed by young offenders who had been involved in gang violence in Los Angeles and repatriated to Belize. The Belizean gangsters migrated heavily to the United States during the late 1980's, especially throughout the West Coast and East Coast States like New York, New Jersey, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. In 1989, several large Belizean families arrived in New York in the neighborhood of Harlem. The youth from these families, and some adults, were members of the Crips Gang in Belize. They created the Harlem Mafia Crips in New York City and helped establish several other Crip gangs such as the Rolling 30's Crips, 92 Hoover Crips and Rolling 60's Crips by 1995. During the late 1990's, Crip gangs were well established throughout the East, as well as on the West Coast.

Back in L.A., Daddy Tracy's house and recording studio was a fixture in the community for decades. Belizean artists migrated there for late Friday night jam sessions and to record their first demos. Belizean fetes were a regular occurrence at Daddy Tracy's, with local bands and a dance hall flavor, until a young woman got shot on the premises and the parties were shut down. Ask anyone on the block where the "Belizeans" are, and they would point to Daddy Tracy's. Because of his name, and his own past, it made perfect sense for Tracy to get involved with UnityOne. In recent months, the organization has gained the support of local leaders such as Harry Belafonte and Atallah Shabazz. Hopefully the outside support will begin to relieve the heavy burden of ridding their community, and Belize's, of a history of violence that spans international borders.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Summer Caravan IV: Jamaican Independence Jam

Yesterday as I was sitting in a cafe on Vanderbilt Ave in Brooklyn I saw two or three locals sporting green-black-and-yellow colors on their backs, or flags waving from the windows of their cars. I wondered what all the fuss was about until I remembered that it was Jamaican Independence Day. Later at the Canal Room, I joined a crowd of a couple hundred for Independence Day Reminisce, with performances by several Jamaican artists. The vibe was somewhere between a Negril dance hall and an open air roots reggae show, folks wearing white flowing garb bordered with red, green and yellow. Nuff dub poets and singers in the crowd. Jamaican/British/Brooklyn songstress Marcia Davis played for two hours, backed by a nasty Antiguan bass player known as Iobi, a dope West African drummer named Abu, Belizean keyboard player Eugene Catoose, a Japanese guitarist and soaring I-trees-like harmonies by her lovely backup singers. I appreciated the simple, insightful lyrics on "You Don't Know How to Love Me" and this one sparse tune with Nyabhingi style drumming about being homesick for your homeland.

Jamaica turned 44 years free on August 6. The celebrations continue tomorrow with an event at City Hall sponsored by the City Council and being promoted by my friends at the African Magazine. Here's the invite from the Editor:

"To my Carib New York gals, Jamaicans and admirers of Jamaican culture are
invited to attend this celebration of the island's independence from Great Britain. Activities include a screening of filmmaker Morenike Olabunmi's documentary
about African cultural continuities in Jamaica entitled Etu and Nago: The Yoruba Connection." -Ngwam-bho Nkweti

I have never met a group of people more creative or entreprenurial than the Jamaicans who I know. So this week I'm bigging up Jamaica and its flag, the colors of which symbolize that "the sun shineth, the land is green and the people are strong and creative.”