Monday, December 31, 2018

2018 Year End Review: The Year of Giving Birth, Transitions and Gratitude

I Am American

We have come to the end of the road.  Well at least the road that the Roman calendar leads us down year after year.  The longer I live the more I realize how false that road is cuz the wheel keeps turning. There really is no end, until it’s over if you know what I mean, but even then do we really know that that’s the end? This year came with these huge questions. Big beginnings, tragic transitions, continuous continuations and ch-ch-ch-ch-changes.  Twenty-eighteen felt so long and yet here we are at the last day of December once again looking out onto what 2019 will hold.  Daily it felt like a Space Odyssey or better yet a Space Oddity as our brother Bowie made so plain.  Now here we are at the end so that's where I will start. 

In October I was in one of the biggest pushes of my life, giving birth to my album, I Am American. The birth did not quite go as planned, but the baby is healthy and everyone is alive!  The labor was long. There were Braxton Hicks contractions that started years ago. Lot's of rushing to the water only to be sent back home, but in August the labor started for real and in October the pushing began in earnest.  I was on a roll, labor was going well and then things started happening around me.

On October 24th, I lost another (the first two in March & May respectively) dear sister friend, Sally Hyppolite, to cancer. Then on the same day one of my mentors, guitar legend Wah Wah Watson, also passed.  I hadn’t spoken to him in a while and that left me as devastated as losing my sister who I had recently seen.  

Side Note: As far as how I know Wah Wah Watson, let's just say if I had the loot at the time we met, he would have come to London to play with me.  He never played with the band, but we did stay in touch, I did visit him at his home, and he was a mentor.  It's a long story, but one I will share one day.

I couldn’t stay in that sad space because I was in labor and the contractions were coming faster and with more strength. 

In the midst of labor I had to take a trip to San Francisco with my Burnt Sugar Arkestra fam to play at San Francisco State University and to do a talk at Stanford. On October 27th, the day before we left for the Bay, Ntozake Shange passed. I had only met her once, but I have known her in my heart and spirit all my life.  Every colored girl who has ever touched the stage or written a poem or searched for the deeper meaning of what is to be and feel the joy and pain of being a dark girl, knows Ntozake. She was our virtual auntie, tia, sista girlfriend, lover, mother, she was everything and all things and she had moved on right as I was heading to the Bay where it all began for her. 

I reached the west side doing my best not to let my shock reach the surface and then on the 30th we lost vocal powerhouse/songwriter Beverly McClellen to cancer.  I had also only met Beverly once when we performed together at Michfest in 2015, but I was so inspired by her when she competed on the first season of The Voice and ripped the house down in the blind auditions singing Janis Joplin’s “Piece of My Heart.” The bald, t-shirt, boots and jeans Amazon hit the stage with so much truth it was undeniable. When I saw that she was going to be playing at Fest I knew I had to sing with her and by some miracle we did.  We jammed out Stevie Nicks and Tom Petty’s classic “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around" and it was amazing! We had so much fun.  Big love hugs to my sister and drummer Jyn Yates who toured with Beverly and in losing her lost a best friend.  Beverly was a force! I stopped momentarily to breathe for Beverly, but I labored on.

We made it back from the Bay and then on Nov. 2nd I got my last bit of year end transition news; trumpeter, composer, Roy Hargrove had left the building.  I like so many others was not prepared for that.  Those who knew him, knew he struggled with health challenges and had been on dialysis for many years, but he was forever in our eyes that young lion who blasted on the scene in the 90's and took over the jazz world. Roy was a big part of my pre- and early- New York life.  

Side Note: How do I know Roy Hargrove? Well let's just say we first met in Columbus, OH when I was in college and then some years later he impromptu played piano (let that sink in) for me one night at Small's Jazz Club in the Village. I was shocked and humbled. I will share that story for you one day as well. Magic.

So all this was happening while I was in active labor. I couldn’t stop the momentum at that point and on Saturday, November 3rd I started crowning.  The little head started showing as we took the stage at the Brooklyn Museum for First Saturdays in celebration of the “Soul of Nation” exhibition.  The crowd was with us and it was a glorious night. I read from “For Colored Girls…” and called for “somebody/anybody, sing a black girls song.” So we sang a song for my sisters and we also premiered the music video for “Punanny Politixxx.” There was no stopping now. The labor continued.

November 4th, the head was out and the shoulders were trying to make their way though.  I held a listening gathering at Peace & Riot for a select few fam and friends. It was a wonderful time and I was so glad that more people got to hear my baby in the womb before she was all the way out.  We drank, ate, laughed and had an all-around good time.  It takes a village and give thanks that me and my baby have a huge community.  

November 5th, the shoulders were out so I made my way to Roulette to perform with Darius Jones and friends in “For the People,” an avant-garde, get out the vote performance.  It was beyond deep. Deeper than I even imagined it would be.  All the performers were given a set of cues that we had to musically interpret so to speak.  Sometimes I was called to make the sounds of a slave woman who was having her baby cut out of her  at she was tied upside down or...well... what else needs to be said after that?! I did two pieces with the latter being called “Law and Order.” After such a long labor this was the final push that I needed.

Finally, on November 6th at midnight my baby, I Am American, was born. Later that morning I got up from my laboring bed and took myself to vote.  I came home and rested for a bit because later that night I took myself to see Living Colour and Fishbone at Brooklyn Bowl. 

My brotha, producer, friend, Vernon Reid

November 7th, was my b’earthday. The baby was out and I was exhausted. My mom came to town and treated me to old lady dinner. I call it “old lady” cuz we ate at 4pm. It was the early, early bird special.  We went for dessert at what should have been dinner time, did some quick and I mean quick shopping cuz I was beat and then went home and talked and chilled for the rest of the night. It was a quiet b’earthday, but just what I needed after all of that.

The next day my mom went home and then I started to notice my body.  Not only was I exhausted, but I was having numbness or dull tingling in my left finger, shoulder and leg. Then sometimes it would move to the right side.  I just thought it would subside and sometimes it did. Some days were better than others, but it never really went away.

By Thanksgiving I was sort of in a panic because it wasn’t subsiding. My blood pressure was fine, but I found a community acupuncture spot near my mom, which helped me get through till I got back to New York.  I really didn’t know what was up.  Back in New York, I went to see my friend who is an acupuncturist and told her what was going on. After talking for a while she says, “It sounds like grief. Have you lost anyone lately?” I was quick to say, “No I haven’t lost…” and then I stopped. OMG, I had lost! What was I talking about? Because I was in labor I hadn’t had time to properly mourn any of those five losses that happened damn near in the span of less than two weeks. I couldn’t stop the push and now here I was in grief. The numbness and out of the blue sadness. Grief.  She needled me and I rested and I started to feel. I can’t quite say better, but I just started to feel…something. 

So here we are at the end and I’m trying to wrap my head around the beginning.  Earlier this month someone reminded me that I played at the Apollo Theater this year. That was THIS YEAR! I played Lincoln Center (two times!), I released the single “Punanny Politixxx,” I performed with Meshell N’dgeocello. I played at the Brooklyn Museum (two times!), I performed on B-Side on BRIC TV, I was on the Sweet Spot radio show (two times!), I sang with Climbing Poetree, I hosted the sweat lodge, was a featured artists with the Resistance Revival Chorus, I performed the Sparkle Soundtrack with my Black Rock Coalition fam and also…

…I lost my dear  brother Buddy Cooper and my dear sister and friend Dumeha Vernice Thompson, both to cancer. Breathe… Feel….Carry on…kinda…

We shot the video for “Punanny Politixxx,” co-hosted a yoga retreat in Carriacou, was featured guest again with the Resistance Revival Chorus and then…the Life Celebration for Dumeha…Dance…Breathe…Feel…Carry on…kinda…

…I started Momentum Education (ask me about it) and declared my album would be out on Nov. 6th, played TAMAfest, celebrated Black Women in Rock & Punk at Afropunk and shared the stage with Angela Davis and Nona Hendryx (sit with that), performed in the play, “The Dark Girl Chronicles” at Colgate University, beamed as my baby cousin got married on the Vineyard, Rocked Restoration in honor of Aretha Franklin and now we are back to where we first found our shero, at San Francisco State. What a year.  


2018 was so wonderful. I mean gosh, look at all that went down. I met and performed with Angela Davis for Christ sake! My year could have stopped right there and I would have been golden.  But it was also laced with sadness on many levels, some I have shared here and some I have not, but there have been things that have rocked me to my core and sometimes I find myself still rockin’, looking for answers, trying to understand. The older I get the more I know that every year is this way. Every year has its ups and downs. Some years have more ups than downs and vice versa, but this year for me felt wildly up and wildly down.  So many things that I thought I was done with came back to the surface and I had to work through the pieces that I had pushed to the recesses of my heart, mind and spirit.  “You can’t hide from yourself/everywhere you go/there you are.” That’s what Teddy P. said and he was 100% correct.  You can lie to get by, but the truth will all rear its head and you will have to face her one day, way, or another.

I refuse to take this junk with me into the next turn of the sun.  The winter is about dreaming in the dark so I am about this business of letting go and creating a big life for myself. One with so much LOVE, joy, fun, sex, laughter, cuddles, kisses, travel, health, food, wealth, friends and family that no matter what comes around the corner to try and rock me, I will be solid in love from the inside and out.

I kept a gratitude journal all year and I will continue that practice into the next and the next.  I am in deep gratitude for all the things and people that showed up in my life this year. Whether friend or frenemy, I thank you.  You came in for a reason, thank you, but in 2019 I’m gonna have to usher some of ya’ll out! Ha! But I know that the only way to move through is to understand that there are lessons in the challenging spaces. We just have to be open to receiving them so we can step into to our greatness.  I am stepping into mine and I see you stepping as well, into the light.  The past is gone just as quickly as you read this post.  The only thing we have is NOW and that's where the power is.  I dare you to be present in it. 

Happy New Year! Let’s get this _________________ !
(you fill in your dream)

Happy New Year! 

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Shelley Nicole's blaKbüshe Wants You!! Join Our "Punanny Politixxx" Campaign! No Money Required!

Happy New Year!

We hope this email finds you well. I’m reaching out on behalf of the amazing vocalist and songwriter, Shelley Nicole. We are excited to share that her band Shelley Nicole’s blaKbüshe will be releasing their third album I Am American in the early spring!

The lead single on the project is “Punanny Politixxx” which speaks to the overreaching hands of the government trying their best to dictate the who, what, when, where and how of women’s bodies and our reproductive rights.  In an effort to shed light on this seemingly never-ending intrusion we are reaching out to women in our circle to contribute to our “Punanny Politixxx” social media campaign.  

We are creating text boxes, picture boxes and short videos that will share quotes/experiences from well-known women and those in our sister circles illustrating a number of scenarios that we face daily in this world currently dominated by patriarchy. We will use these boxes to outline the daily “Punnany Politixxx” that we face, but this is not a pity party! We would also like to hear what brings you strength and your achievements against the odds? Do you have a personal mantra that keeps you going? What do you believe in? What is your truth?

Examples of anecdotes include:

  • Personal or shared instances of sexist comments…
    • Ex. Hey miss, are you open for business?
  • Things overheard in the streets / at work / in a bar, etc.
    • Say that one more time, and I’ll….
  • Any antiquated sayings that have lingered…
    • Ex. A woman’s place is in the kitchen.
  • What are your mantras? Any phrase that gives you strength?
    • Ex. I am blessed and highly favored.
  • What do you stand for?
    • Ex. All women should have the right to choose!

Anecdotes should be short and concise. Please no long experiential essays. While it is important to share your fullest experience remember that this will be shared mostly on Instagram and Twitter so space is limited. Please keep it to a phrase or 2-3 sentences tops. If you choose to share a video please no longer than 1 minute.  Thank You!

With your permission, it is our hope to share all or excerpts of what we receive in the lead-up to the release of “Punanny Politixxx” in the coming weeks. If you would like to participate please reply to teamblakbushe @ with:

  • Your Full Name
  • Personal Anecdote(s) (please only give 2 max)
  • If it is okay to include your full name, first name only, first name/last initial, first initial/last name or only initials in our post. If none of those options work, but you would still like to share we will attribute the quote you submit as “anonymous.”

Of course we will inform you when your post is LIVE!  We have attached a link below to a live video of the song in case you would like to hear it. If you choose to participate we will also send you the studio version of the song to be released as a THANK YOU! In the spirit of community, if you think of anyone else that you think would like to participate, please do forward this email. Also check out the @teamblakbushe Instagram account for examples and FOLLOW US!

Thank You So Much! We are looking forward to your responses!

Big thanks,
Marketing Assistant

"Punanny Politixxx" Video
(Tiny Desk Contest)

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Black Women Rock(...but we know this!) & Sacred Revolution (Hallelujah!)

March 4th-6th
Black Women Rock
Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History
Detroit, MI

Black Women Rock!
Women’s Herstory Month has been off the chain and it ain't over yet! I had a great time at Black Women Rock in Detroit and at Sacred Revolution in Harlem. I wish I had time to give you a full recap, but I’ll give you the highlights.

Jessica Care Moore

Black Women Rock was amazing! Jessica Care Moore has been hosting that event for about 12 years now and it is all that the title says. Even with all the gentrification that is happening in Detroit, the city is still Black and it was great to play for what was mostly an audience of Black people. Yes this happens in New York too, but when it happens out of state it just feels a bit more special. Most of the folks in the room had no idea who I was, but after the show was over there was so much love and gratitude coming my way.


As I came from backstage at intermission I ran into two girls, Naja and Chole who gasped when the saw me. They said they were looking for me, which really warmed my heart. We took a selfie together, I gave them a little music biz advice (yes I did), we laughed and honestly I could have gone home after that for real. That made my whole night. They had so much love.

Naja & Chloe! Rising Stars!
Then when I went upstairs to the merch table to sign a few CDs, these women told me that after seeing my set they felt “more free.” Now that’s what I’m talking about! Let me tell you something. Playing for people who don’t know you from Eve and they still give you love is really what it’s all about. New York makes you tough as an artist. People here have the screw face before one note comes out. In New York, the vibe is, “I came out of the house so you better be good. Now impress me!” Outside of New York, the vibe is, “I came out of the house, so let’s have a good time!” So that’s what we did.

Gold jumpsuit. Feather cap. Tambourine. Let's Go! 

I am so thankful to Jessica for inviting me. I’m so glad I got to meet my sisters in music, some whom I’ve been hearing about for a long time. So thank you again Jessica for bringing me together with Kimberly Nichole (once again), Nik West, Divinity Roxx, Ideeyah, Steffanie Christi'an, Kimsa, Mama Soul and K’Valentine.

Me & Nik West: Bass Inspiration 
Thank you Tammy, EttaFLY and Sabrina for your love, joy and coordination! That weekend reminded me no matter how rough the road feels sometimes, I am exactly where I need to be.

Divinity Roxx
Black Women Rock, the show, was on Saturday, but there was a panel with some of the artists back at the Charles H. Wright Museum on Sunday. I stayed for the panel as long as I could, but I had to head back to New York and straight to rehearsal for Sacred Revolution. Kimberly Nichole, Kat Dyson and I had all been in Detroit together, so we were all a little loopy at rehearsal that night, but the next day were ready to go!

Mama Soul reppin' Flint, MI
Steffanie Christi'an
Sabrina Nelson: Visual Artist
Nik West

March 7th
Sacred Revolution
Schomburg Center, Harlem, NYC

Sacred Revolution
Sacred Revolution was part of the Schomburg’s Women’s Jazz Festival curated by Toshi Reagon. That evening we were celebrating the music of Mavis Staples, Mahalia Jackson and Sister Rosetta Tharpe so you know I had to pull out my great grandmother’s hat for that one. Honey, that night was spirit filled! We had an actual B3 organ onstage! So between Sam on the organ and Glenn on the piano I knew we were going to have church for real! Sacred Revolution brought me together for the first time with vocalists Jhetti Lashley, Christina Sayles and Josette Newsam-Marchak and back together with Kimberly Nichole, Marcelle Davies Lashley and of course Toshi Reagon. Fred Cash on bass, Kat Dyson on guitar and Shirazette Tinnin on drums rounded out the band.  Kimberly Nichole and I sang a duet on Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s “Didn’t it Rain,” which we will reprise on the 20th at her show at Subrosa (NYC), and I can’t wait for that!

Toshi Reagon
Christina Sayles
Jhetti Lashley
Kimberly Nichole
Marcelle Davies Lashley
There were so many takeaways from that Sacred Revolution show. Christina singing “It is Well,” Marcelle singing “Come Sunday” and Toshi singing “Rock Me,” but for me the stand out moment or the one that resonated with me the most was Jhetti singing “Can’t No Grave Hold My Body Down.” It was such a lovely weekend, but you know the devil is always afoot! Ha! But “can’t no grave hold my body down,” for me meant that can’t no bad energy, or bad vibes, or someone else’s BS or negativity hold me down. There is only one way this spirit is going and that’s up! So hear this devil, I see you and you will not win today! The doors of the church are open.

Josette Newsam-Marchak
The Nikole Sisters (Shelley Nicole & Kimberly Nichole)
Sam Guillaume and the B3!
My Nana's hat (Nana Perry in the house!)

Thank you for rolling with me on a little piece of my journey. I’ll be back with a recap of the upcoming BROAKlyn show in Oakland!  I can’t wait to see my Bay Area/Michfest fam. It’s gonna be an amazing time!

Black Women Rock Photos by Abby Oladipo
Sacred Revolution Photos by Bob Gore

Monday, January 4, 2016

Michfest 40: The end is a Beginning... (Final Thoughts)

Post Script: Acceptance? Not so sure...
We are now into 2016 and I’m not sure I have reached acceptance. Before we left there were many conspiracy theories about how Fest would continue or how the torch would be passed and I honestly was hopeful. Very Hopeful.  Maybe it was all part of the denial that lives in my bones, but again, now, not so much.  I have heard a lot of things through the fern gully, but I won’t get into all the theories and rumors and second hand accounts passed my way, but I will say this.

I know that around February or March I am probably going to feel really sad. I already had a moment in Nov. 1st when the artist submission deadline came and went and there was no place to submit and usually around May I start to really feel the weight of the world, but it is then that I go to that place called “August is Coming.” I knew that no matter what life dropped on me there would be a week. One week where I could shed all that outside business and just be. Yes it was work, but it was some of the best work I’ve done in my life both inside myself and on stage. The women who saw my shows at Michfest, saw something very, very special.

What shall we do this first week in August this year? What shall we do? There have been many suggestions thrown out there and I know there are some plots and plans brewing in the minds of many women so I’ll be here waiting for the signal to go up. In spite of my sadness, I know that the loss of Fest will surely open doors for all of us. It will allow us to do something else with that block of time that maybe we would have never done if Fest hadn't ended. This end has forced us, or at least me, to rethink how I connect with friends and family day to day. No longer can we take for granted that we’ll see each other in one space like that again.

Post-Fest armband flow

I have a lot of friends who go to Burning Man and when Michfest was closing they couldn’t believe it. “No way!” they said. “Way,” I said. I told them and I’ll say it again, do not take your community gatherings for granted. Do Not! I have mourned the loss of community before and it sucks! Do not assume they will be there forever. The only thing constant in this world is change. Make no assumptions about what will be. Hug and kiss your friends and family. Love them up and make it count. We are in a strange time, tied to devices that lead us to believe that we are connected when we are not. I say this to you as much as I say it to myself, do not take for granted that you have time to see people. If you feel like you need to see someone or talk to them do it now. Do not wait. Do not wait.

My heart breaks for the loss of this community gathering. As I write this I am a little teary. I never expected my heart to feel this way. I never could have imagined what would happen to me on that land. Never could have imagined.

There are so many names that I did not call in these blog posts, not because I didn't meet you and hug you and care for you, but because if I start to write MY whole story of the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival I will surely have a short memoir on my hands. Although I went to 9 festivals there were so many things I never saw or experienced on the land. Every year I would say, "I'm going to attend __________ workshop," but I would or could never make it due to my own busy schedule. Well, I made it to a couple and even taught one, but really I missed a lot.  In fact this past Fest was the first time I saw Fairlyland.  The first time and it was amazing! I know as you read my story you have many, many stories of your own. Tell your story.

I am blessed to be part of an artistic and activist community that grew out of the dirt.  I am so thankful to have this experience in the record of my life.  I am so thankful to Hanifah for inviting me into this circle. I am thankful to Cassandra for casting my breasts. I am thankful to Lisa and Terri Lynn for saying yes to blaKbüshe and all the women who made up the ladies contingent of my band through the years (Julie: keys, Vicki: percussion/vox, Alex: guitar, Ganessa: bass, Ki Ki: vox, Achuziam: vox, Viva: guitar, Pamela: guitar, LaFrae: drums, Lucianna: drums, Christelle: percussion, Maritri: vox, Tiffany: vox, Cathleen: sign interpreter, Kelly Horrigan: design, styling & makeup, Micah: styling & design, Shelly: styling & makeup and Gaetano: styling & design). I am thankful to the craftswomen who carried their goods to the woods. I am thankful for Susan and Golden Rod for believing in women's music. I am thankful for all the hands the built that city year after year from scratch only to break it all down and store it away for the next year.  I am thankful to all the hands that cooked food and all the healers that laid hands.  I am thankful to Amoja, Martha, Pat and all the women of color who created and maintained the WOC tent. I am thankful for Shirley and the sweat lodge and how the spirits moved me to bring that ceremony to Brooklyn. I am thankful for every hand on deck that made that joint happened.  I am in gratitude more then words can express.

Damn you Lisa Vogel! Thank you Lisa Vogel. Thank you, all the women who I met in person or who met me through my music on that land. Because of you I am changed and I will never stop standing for women. Give Thanks! 

Without whom...

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Michfest 40: Home Going (Part 7)

Signs from Fairyland...

Sunday September 20, 2015
I’m on the road on my way back from a short tour with my other band Burnt Sugar/Rebellum. We did a quick Midwest run, which was really nice and strangely a very low stress trip. Along the way I got to see Tracy and Ginger from Fest and that was amazing. In fact it was such a blessing to see all my friends out there. We all get separated in this world and we think that seeing people on Facebook is keeping up with them, and although it is in a way, it's really not. It’s just a band-aid of sorts. Friendship requires talking to people, hearing their voice, seeing their face in person. Maybe I sound old, but that’s what it means to me so the cyber world takes some getting used to. It may keep us in touch, but we are not actually touching. I know that every friendship is different. There are some folks we don’t talk to much at all, but when we see them it’s like not a day has gone by. That is real and I understand that for sure. So I’ll take it as I can get it, but I miss your real face and I miss your real touch.

Me & Ginger in Pittsburgh (Festie Musician & Lodge Sister)
Me & Kendra Ross in Pittsburgh (Fab singer & awesome woman)

Me, Tracy & LaFrae in Detroit (Long Live Sisterhood)

Sunday August 9, 2015
On Sunday there is “church” on the land in the form of Ubaka Hill’s Drumsong Orchestra, Aleah’s One World Inspirational Choir and the Transformation Healing Circle. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go to any of it even though it was the last time. Part of me just wanted to walk the land and see people and touch the ground and the trees and just sit with it all for a while. So I did that in part. I went to see part of the Drumsong Orchestra and then dipped out toward the end and just took some time for myself. I needed to wrap a few things up and swing by Crafts and take a moment to take it all in.

Tribute to Kumu Raylene

I knew I probably needed to be packing that day, but I couldn’t really bring myself to do it. At least not all of it. Besides Sunday being a church day it is also a day for comedy. I guess that’s there to make us laugh before we cry our way to the gate.

Elvira hosted the comedy stage, which featured Mimi Gonzalez, Julie Goldman and Karen Williams

The Comedy Crew

Mimi and Karen had great sets (I didn't get to see Julie's set), but the thing I remember most is Karen talking about the Denial Workshop. No there was not a real Denial Workshop on the land, but if there had been that joint would have been packed! I know I would have been leading the charge to the workshop area for that one. In fact they probably would have had to hold that workshop on the lawn in front of night stage.

Karen Williams

Both Mimi and Karen talked about their experiences at Fest, but Karen took it a step further and talked about her experiences in the world being a lesbian comic, a mother of black boys and how some so called liberal white women see her black boys. It was real, real, real and I love Karen for that. I also love the land for that. It’s one of the few places where you can get real, real, real, laugh about it, cry about it and then laugh about it again. The wave of emotions was non-stop. Karen had performed at many a Fest so she earned the right to every word she had to say that day. Like I said, Michfest was not perfect, but whose family is? That’s home right?

After the comedy stage I finally went back to my tent and started to pack. I was surprised I didn’t cry. Maybe I was all cried out at that point. I don’t know, but I just did what I had to do. Denial Workshop.

After packing for the most part, I went out to eat in the Belly Bowl for my last dinner there. After that I pulled myself together and went to the Candlelight Concert. Since it was the final one I suppose I should have been more excited, but I wasn’t. I wanted to skip it for several reasons, but being there reminded me of why I was there in the first place. I went to the candlelight concert with Alyson, Ruby and Maddie. Elvira was supposed to join us, but the place was so crowded that she probably couldn’t find us. I left right before the end. Right before the mass of womyn headed back to their tents. Once again I didn’t want to move with the crowd. I just needed to take that walk alone. But I will say this. Of all the things that happened at closing, I will not forget Julie playing a song she wrote called "Rising" sung by Vicki, and Tina, Sarah, Federika, Jill, Adaku and Naima dancing to it because, I mean, Wow! Honestly, I was half asleep before that, but that moment woke me right up. That was transcendent and I think that’s why I left right after that. I got it. It was time to go. As I walked up the road I heard the womyn howling at the moon. Give thanks.


Monday August 10th
I left in the morning. Not too early, but too early. I can’t remember exactly what I did that morning. I’m sure I walked a bit aimlessly wanting to take one more look at it all. I never made it back to the lodge area, but it is forever seared in my mind. It’s all seared in my mind really. I’m sure I got some hugs, but I do know that there were any tears in those moments. I gathered my things and my-self and eventually found my way to Central Heating to load the vans to head to the airport.

I was riding in the van with Judith and Juanita, Mazz, LaFrae and one more person I think I’m forgetting. It took us a while to all pile in the vans since were all saying our final farewells. As we drove away from Central Heating and turned the corner onto Lois Lane I could feel the wave coming over me. The final departure was here. As we tried to exit we got into a bit of a traffic jam with a truck trying to come in so it took us a little longer to leave. No problem there! But we eventually worked it all out and we were on our way.

And so we are back to the beginning. Back to my tears. Back to the moan I choked down. Back to my broken spirit. I can still feel the hurt in my heart, but I am lucky. I am in a business that will take me to many places all around the world and I know if I put the Bat signal (or in our case the Treeano signal), womyn will appear. I know it. I have seen it in action. So the tears were not so much for the women I may not see, but more for the place that I may never see again. They fell for the transformation that happened to me there. For the lifetime friendships that were forged there. For the dreams I had there and the truths that were realized there. For the tough conversations had there, but at least they happened. For the rough times and the joy. I only had 9 years there, but I think about those young girls that spent their whole life there and the and grown women who may not have been there all 40 years, but still spent their formative years there. It was my place of refuge even in the midst of the drama that outside forces tried to inject into the space. I will always stand up for women’s space. Space for women born female and this is not because I don’t think transwomen are women, but because there is a radically different life experience that happens for girls who are born into that body from day one weather you want it or not. It was in women’s spaces that I grew into the woman I am now. Without those spaces in Brooklyn, the Bronx, in retreat space all over this country and at Michfest I don’t know where I would be. I’m not saying I would be lost in the wilderness, but I am saying that my life would be vastly different. I think that everyone should be allowed to have space to gather with those who understand their experience and there is nothing wrong of phobic about that. There is safety in not having to explain EVERYTHING all the time. There is ease there. It’s exhausting having to be the teacher all the time! It’s exhausting and hear me when I tell you that women, ESPECIALLY women of color are teaching ALL THE TIME! So for one damn week, we would take the hat off unless you chose to keep it on and teach on the land. But if you didn’t want to do a damn thing, but be in the company of your sisters, hang out, sit under a tree, listen to some music, bury your demons, sing loudly to the ferns or what ever the hell you wanted to do; you were allowed to do THAT.

Signs from Fairyland...

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Michfest 40: The Final Countdown * Chix: The Revolution (Part 6)

Wednesday, September 9, 2015
I’m walking over the Brooklyn Bridge heading home from my sometime-y day gig and I’m on the phone with my girl Po-Hong. We hadn’t talked in a while so walking over the bridge was a good way to get a good long catch up in and take in the scenery. In the midst of the convo in pops Fest and what it has done for us, and how we are in some deep denial about it ending. I started to wax nostalgic about it all when she reminded me that she had only gone twice, but since going her whole life changed. I had gone for 9 years and I can say the exact same thing, but what of the women who grew up there? I mean what of the women who went through their 20s and 30s there? I mention this because when I think about my 20s and 30s and how pivotal a time in my life that was it’s astounding. I mean I think that’s why it’s so hard for me to think about leaving New York. I grew up here. I’ve now lived here longer than the town I was raised in. New York is home.

If you went to the land for the first time in your teens (as was Lisa when she started the damn thing), or in the 20s, that is EVERYTHING. In my 20s there was no stopping me! Everything was doable and I knew it. I was very clear about it even in my uncertainty. I changed how I ate, I started making my own music, I was singing in bands, I started writing music, I was working out and staying out late. Drinking and carrying on hunny, and it was good! Really it was amazing! Everything about that time is amplified and romanticized, but at the time that Festival was started I’m sure it was like a tall glass of ice cold water on a hot ass day! I mean think about it. It’s 1976 and there they were. Creating a world of their own. One that was safe, testosterone free, free of sexism, free of homophobia, free of the stresses of every day life, free to commune among the trees with your sisters. Free! Sound like Utopia right? Well of course it does. But was it Utopia, of course it wasn’t, but that doesn’t matter to make my point here. The point is that these women created a world. They made their own Paradise Island in the woods. They created a safe haven in a world where things were not safe for women in general and lesbians in specific on a daily basis. It was everyone working together. The workers, the artists and the festival-goers. It was that combined energy that made Lisa say she would “never do it again” and then do it 39 more times. How do you say no to that kind of community? How do you turn your back on that deep of an intention? You don’t. You carry on. So again, I am thinking about these women and those who are a part of this legacy. Those who also invested with love (in all the ways it shows up) and sweat equity. Those like Shirley and Juanita and Julie and Myrna and Connie and Jenn and Bob and Sam and Chewy and Falcon and Aleah and Yaniyah and Martha and B.E. and Bonnie and Penny and Ubaka and Pat and Myrna and Deb and Karen and Cassandra and Alyson and Martha and Qween and Terri Lynn and Jill and Kelly and Tory and Sue and Shira and Emily and Felicia and Susan and so on and so on and so on and so on who loved and fought and hugged and kissed and made up and broke up and mended fences and cried and laughed and healed and danced and married and separated and had babies and left all kinds of trouble behind, and worked till they were exhausted and partied the same way, found a way out of no way and protected each other as it were the last days on earth.  Trailblazers. Career breakers. Business owners. I feel like I am rambling on, but I must say this. For me, these women Sweet Honey in the Rock, Linda Tillery, Casselberry-Dupree, Toshi Reagon, Ruthie Foster, Vicki Randle, Karen Williams, Mimi Gonzalez, Marga Gomez, for me, they are the ones. Some I knew about and others I learned about when I got to the land. You can’t be a black girl and not know Sweet Honey, but you can be a black girl and not know about Linda Tillery or Casselberry-Dupree so I learned. I got hip to so many artists I should have known, but did not know at all. I was schooled and I loved every waking and sleeping moment of it under the stars.

Pre-Night Stage love with Cris Williamson

Saturday August 8th (Continued…)
I got myself dressed and ready for Hanifah’s set. I’ve really been into jumpsuits and rompers lately so I found a little number at Mandy no less. I guess they are still “to the rescue.” You gotta be a New Yorker to get that joke, but anyway… I was still being as silent as possible as I prepared to hit the stage. As I said, Hanifah’s set and Chix were the only slots I was originally slated to do so no matter what, I had to make it work for tonight.

Hanifah is always great as usual! The crew for Fest this year was Christelle Durandy on keys & backing vox, DJ Rimarkable on Live & backing vox and me on tambourine, backing vox and shakers. Besides doing joints from her band St. Lo we also kicked into Irene Cara’s “Flashdance… What a Feeling!” Why? The flow of Hanifah’s set in part was about her time at the festival and what it has meant to her over the years. The set was a little emotional because I felt like it was full circle for me. When I first came to Fest 9 years ago I came with Hanifah. For some reason she chose me to be her bassist and honestly she is only one of three people I have ever played bass for besides myself. She will always have a special place in my heart for bringing me to Fest all those years ago.

Hanifah Walidah

I remember that first year thinking to myself that I didn’t know how I was going to get back to Fest, but I had to go back. Lo and behold, Hanifah was asked back two more times in a row for night stage and eventually I was invited to play on Day Stage with my band blaKbüshe!

I got through Hanifah’s set this year with no problem. My voice had worked, but now I needed to shut up again to make it through my songs on Chix Lix. I was just supposed to sing “Stronger” by Kelly Clarkson, but Toshi asked me to sing with her for Chix and of course I said yes.

Between Hanifah and Chix was Ferron. Talk about beautiful. I was taken back to the first time I saw Ferron on night stage. In 2008 she shared the evening with Bitch and it was magical. Everyone, including me was in tears so you know it was magic. Anyway, this year was no exception. Since it was Saturday night, the last Night Stage ever, people were taking their time and Ferron did the same. She had an amazing set. I was supposed to be chilling just getting my voice together. I was quiet, but I had to see the set. When Ferron finished it was time for the last set of Chix Lix on Night Stage. Already? Already.


I still wasn’t sure about my voice. I still wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to sing the whole song. I was in my head and doing my best to get out of it because that was the only way I was going to make it through the song. As I said, I was singing “Every Woman” with Toshi first and then I got ready for my song. Chix was amazing that night! {SEE Chix Set List w/ Pics}. I mean I have been quite a few Chix and this was up there as one of the best in my book, but what else would it be? As we started to run down the songs it started to really sink in that this was it. This was really it and then I had to take a breath and compose myself again so I could get through.

When my song finally came up I knew I needed to take my time. As most of you know, I am known for wearing heals when I perform, but that night I wanted to feel the catwalk beneath my feet. So I sat on the edge of the stage and talked to the folks while I took off my shoes and then placed them next to Cathleen who was signing for Chix and then I started the song. I have to admit that it was a challenge at first. I was way deep in my head and I didn’t have time to stay there so I had to move into a different space quick. I had dancers that night so it was a big number. As I said, I sang “Stronger” by Kelly Clarkson, but I changed the words to fit the feeling of the Festival. {READ my Remixed Michfest "Stronger" Lyrics}

Shoes off

After all my panic and concern everything worked out, but I would be lying if I didn’t say that it was challenging. When I’m performing I do my best to be as present as possible especially in situations like this. I want to remember as much as I can. You might be surprised at how many shows go by that I don’t remember a thing that happened. I needed to remember this. To that end, I do remember some of it. I remember walking down the catwalk and touching hands. I remember being at the end of it with the dancers behind me. I remember hoping that everyone was with me because although I could see in front of me it was dark and I couldn’t see behind me because the dancers were there. I did the best I could. I gave it everything that I had. I gave it all the love I had in me to give. I gave every last piece of myself and that was the best I could do. When I came off stage I was shaking my head and later C.C. asked me why I was doing that. She asked me if I thought I didn’t do well because she said it was amazing. I wasn’t shaking my head because I thought it was bad, but because that was it. Singing that night was challenging and I wanted it to come with a little more ease, but it was what it was and it was yet and still amazing. For the encore the girls came out and sang a medley of “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me ‘Round,” “Roar,” and “Amazon Womyn” the reboot and they were incredible. Then at the very end of "Amazon" we all came out had to hold on the last “Rise Again!” while we waited for the fireworks display and what a display it was. We’ve had fireworks at Fest in the past; that was nothing new, but it was the last fireworks we would see like that with those womyn in that place. With the fireworks came the waterworks. I can’t remember whose shoulder I cried on mine, but I do remember folks just standing on stage after it was all over. It was a real moment of disbelief about it all. A real, “What do we do now?” moment. I mean we all have lots to do. There is life going on while we are all on this land of ours and everyday it seems like the world is going more and more mad, but really, seriously (said in my best Bob voice), what do we do now?!

Rise Again!

Chix Lix Band: Revolution
I stood with everyone else just looking out over the crowd of women who slowly made their way back to their homes on the land. As I stood and looked to the sky and out over the people I saw these two young girls standing by the side of the stage looking as bewildered as the rest of us. So I walked over to them and asked their names. They said Emily and Emelia (I hope I am correct about the second name). I asked them how old they were and they said 13 and 14. I then asked them how long they had been coming to the festival and they said 13 years and 14 years respectively. So that was their whole life! What lucky girls. Then I asked them, “What are we going to do without summer camp?” Emily said she had no idea. Emelia said she hasn’t processed it all yet. I asked them where they lived. Emily said Minnesota and then just as quick she said, “You can come to my house and do a show. I have a bunk bed and you can sleep there!” At that moment I knew everything was gonna be alright. I asked them if they knew anyone with a farm and they said yes and I told them to find me on Facebook if they were allowed to be on there and let’s get this thing poppin’! It was such a wonderful moment, but really it made me think about all the little girls that had grown up there. It made me remember Ruby and Maddie and Zander and Jiji and Zuri and Cree and Naiobi and add your daughter, granddaughter or niece here.  Summer camp to the Nth degree.

I have been trying to explain to people for years that Michfest is much more than a music festival. It’s much more than the haters, misogynists and purveyors of negative vibrations of the world put out there about it. It was a magic place and although I might have overused the word magic in this post there is not a much better way to break it down.

After Night Stage on Saturday there is a party in the Belly Bowl for the workers. DJ Rimarkable made that joint happen out of her understanding that the workers needed that release at the end of the week. So for the last five years Ri has been bringing the workers a sweet release. But this year the party for me was bitter sweet. I didn’t dance a lot. I just wanted to remember my sisters dancing and singing and having a wonderful time together. Being free and open. It was a sight to behold and one I will hold in my heart for a good long time.

 Fireworks and Waterworks