Saturday, January 5, 2013

Goodbye 2012. Hello 2013! Year-End Reivew!

 Twenty-Twelve is over! Most times when I come to the end of a year I look back and think how fast it went by, but 2012 dragged its ass all the way to the end. Well maybe I felt a little speed in November, but really...November?? That’s damn near December. It was a long ass year.

As I looked back over the highlights I realized that I did a bit more than I thought. Some things were really obvious, but others I had kind of forgotten about. I overcame a lot in 2012. I really went thought the gauntlet and as it turns out I recorded an album about Gauntlet the video game. So I guess it all makes sense after all.

To paraphrase my friend Des, I’ve never been so glad to see an odd number year in my life! Well actually 1993 was great. So if 2013 is half a good as 1993 was it’s going to be a hell of a year! But before we go there let’s look back at 2012 and all its glory.

I spent a lot of time with Burnt Sugar in 2012 so it make sense that the first show of the year was with them at Tammany Hall in NYC. It was the last show of our residency there. Shortly thereafter we would play at the Bitter End for the Winter Jazz Festival. It was that night that I saw a band called Ermaj that blew my mind! Sadly I haven’t seen them since, but I will never forget those brothas. Look them up for sure.

This month I also interviewed Norman Connors of “You Are My Starship” fame among other great hits. I talked to him for the Pharoah Sanders, Love Will Find a Way liner notes that I wrote. I met Norman in late 2011, but this was the first time we were really able to sit and talk. He produced Pharoah’s album so it was great to have his perspective in the absence of Mr. Sanders.

I think the most challenging part of January was losing my friend Anisa Fujah to cancer. I found out like most people that she passed before we even had a chance to say goodbye. That was a sad day, but I’m so blessed to have known and sang with Anisa. She was an angel before, but now she is really looking out.

Switching gears, at the end of January I went in for CAT Scan to see more clearly what was going on with my voice. It was after this CAT scan that I was told that I was alright and so I started to plot a course of have to really start singing again. A few months later I would learn that I actually did have a cyst on the tissue right near my vocal chords, which was causing my hoarseness. That is the short of a very long story. You can read all about it on my In Gratitude blog.

This month I got a very unexpected call to record a bass part on Josh Milan’s project. If you are not familiar with Josh is one half of the dance music duo Blaze. I have been a long time fan of their work so it was an honor for him to ask me. I have to admit that I was very nervous. I don’t really consider myself a bass player. What I mean is that I play for myself, but I really don’t play for a lot of other people. Well no time like the present.

This month also marked the return of blaKbüshe. Up until this point we hadn’t played a gig since August of 2011 at Michfest. That is where my whole voice journey began. We just did a small show at AM Studios with BR and Timebomb for their 10 year anniversary. That evening was just Jeff, Matsu, Shawn and I. I played bass on that hit and had a great time. We also covered Fleet Foxes’s, “Blue Ridge Mountains” and Blaze’s “Found Love.” The voice felt good so I thought I was on the road back. I thought...

On the writing front I submitted liner notes for the re-issue of the Pharoah Sanders album mentioned above and I also spoke to Cheryl Lynn and Ray Parker Jr. for the liner notes of the re-issue of her project “In the Night.”

American Candy was on the docket with "Love is Magic" and that same weekend I also facilitated the winter sweat lodge. I closed the month playing Kirtan with my friend Keith and then we were on to March.

This month marked the beginning of a Vernon Reid/Burnt Sugar/Steely Dan run that is still going today. But it all began at Lincoln Center the same scene of the crime where we unleashed David Bowie, Sugar-style the year before. The place was packed for the re-imagining of Steely Dan. You have to have some big balls to take on this music and Burnt Sugar has the biggest for sure. We really put our stamp on the music and even the biggest Dan fans couldn’t deny us. As I said, this Steely Dan train is still rolling. We are taking it and a bit of Bowie to Paris in February. Goddess bless Bowie, Fagen and Becker for keeping money is a girls pocket and taking me all over the world.

The full blaKbüshe experience returned for the first time in 2012 at the Purim Ball. This hit was at a warehouse in Sunset Park, Brooklyn and it was a hell of a time. Costumes, skits, comedy, dancing girls, fed up West Indian nannies and more! It seemed to be a triumphant return or at the very lest a rockin’ good time.

Later in the month Chuz, Jeff, Shawn were back at Tammany Hall for the Proud Music Series. That evening we shared the bill with some amazing artists that night including Jason Walker and Ki Ki Hawkins. Very cool!

Burnt Sugar wasn’t done yet. This month we also traveled to Brown University where we played on campus and at a cool club called Fete in Providence, RI. The funny thing is that club is owned by a cat named Don King. Turns out I had played a gig for an event he did years ago, with a band called Three Generations Walking. It’s such a small world.

The Sugars closed out March right back where we started, with Steely Dan. This time we were at Le Poisson Rouge (LPR) and it was another amazing show. As I said before, the Dan train keeps rolling.

This month was a bit quiet on the music front, but you can always count on American Candy if there is a break in the music action. So I hit with the Candy crew once again for a show called Men. The only music that happened was a very short, small acoustic gig at Insight Mediation Center in Manhattan for their Art Salon. It was so nice to perform where I had been meditating for the past 5 or 6 years.

I also turned in the James Brown, Gravity liner notes. For that I spoke to Greg Tate and Bow Legged Lou of Full Force for the scoop on the Godfather of Soul. It was cool to revisit that album.

I rallied the troops for what would be the last blaKbüshe show for quite some time. I was asked to play for Fierce Night Out at Sullivan Hall. It’s an annual fundraiser for an organization called Fierce, which is an LGBT Youth of Color activist organization.

The show went really well. I felt good and the people really enjoyed themselves. After the hit, Ian Friday was DJing at his party Libation, downastairs at the Sullivan Room. So Jeff and I went in through the back way and proceeded to continue to party over there.

A couple of weeks later Burnt Sugar was back at LPR doing Steely Dan...again! It almost sounds like a joke if you know what a Steely Dan is, but we were doing it again as they would say. This time we shared a bill with Melvin Van Peebles wid Laxative. That was a pretty busy weekend for me. This show was on a Thursday night and then I had to do the Black Rock Coalition Salute to Don Cornelius & Soul Train at BAM.

I had been doing a lot of rehearsing that week and I had a ton of material to learn for the Soul Train show. We did the music of the artists of Solar Records, the label that Don founded with Dick Griffey. Some of the folks to come from that hot time were Shalamar, The Whispers, Klymaxxx, Babyface and the list goes on. We heard before the show that there was a line around the corner to get in! I knew the show would be poplar, but I wasn’t expecting that. We had a blast! Folks were dancing and of course there was a Soul Train line. Don Cornelius was one of the many great losses of 2012.

After the Burnt Sugar show on Thursday and the Soul Train show on Saturday, I woke up Sunday and barely had a voice. That really put me on notice.

I went back to the doctor to get more answers about what was going on with my voice and learned that needed to have surgery. (See my In Gratitude blog for details)

In short, I postponed my June 28th gig at DROM, which was supposed the official, official come back and had surgery on my throat on June 21st, the summer solstice. But before all that I finished writing my last set of liner notes for the year on one of my favorite bands, Switch. They gave me, hands down, the best, “How we got signed” story I have ever heard. Sadly those notes have never been released and that’s another long story.

Before surgery I also was able to play two kirtans with Soul Sangha and we also recorded an album, on which I played bass and sang a little bit too. It would be the last things I would sing before surgery and to me it was so moving to be singing to God/dess before going under. Blessed Be.

I was recuperating most of this month. I headed home for the 4th of July weekend and then I flew from Boston to Michigan, where I spent 10 days in the country and 4 days in ceremony. It was so beautiful and just what I needed. It was the perfect place to regroup. I am so thankful to my friends Shirley and Sue for opening their home to me.

After my stay I flew back to Boston for my brothers wedding and then back to New York to get back on the grind. It was having such good travel karma until that bus ride back to New York. A bit after we entered the Bronx the bus decided it wanted to break down! So close. So close! Luckily another bus came quickly, but I took that as my welcome home.

I wasn’t singing when I returned, but I was playing. So I played my tambourine, shakers and such at the Stone with the Sugars. This time we were doing the music of Sun Ra. That hot ass evening was the gateway to another evening, which really showcased some hot bottoms. I know that might sound really strange, but you will see what I mean.

I can’t remember if it was May, June or July when I reached out to the folks and Michfest to see if I could come and be part of the crew. Well I worked my way on to Chix Lix and little did many folks know it would be my first time really singing since my surgery.

But before we get all festie, Burnt Sugar did the Sun Ra hit, but this time with Brown Girls Burlesque in Coney Island. That’s where the beautiful bottoms come in. Now this...was a hell of a show! I mean the music, the atmosphere, everything. It just made for one glorious night. I mostly played percussion that night, but Greg brought my man Shawn in to help out. It was fire!

Two days after that show I headed out to Michfest. I looked back and realized that I didn’t even blog about the festival at all. Wow there really was a lot going on.

So in short, my band wasn’t selected to play at Michfest last year, but as I said, I was on Chix Lix. I drove out to the festival with Mazz, but we made a pit stop in Detroit to pick up the rest of her band at the airport and to also play at gig in Ann Arbor that day. I knew when Mazz arrived at my house in Brooklyn, that it was going to be very interesting to say the last to get all the women that were coming into her car, but in the end it all worked out. It was hella tight, but it worked.

Her band played in Ann Arbor, we spent the night there and the next day headed to the northern part of the state and Michfest. I know I have done extensive recaps of the festival in the past, but I will just say this. It was one of the best fests I’ve been too. It was a quiet year, but I felt like I could really dig in and find some peace out there in the woods. I worked the sweat lodge, rehearsed for Chix and just had an all around great time. When Saturday night rolled around it was really cold that night. Or course I had some ridiculously small outfit on, but hey, you have to do it every night like it’s the last. But that night it was really the first. The first time I hit the stage in that way since my surgery and I did it in front of thousands of people. Hey, go hard or go home! So I went hard and everything went well. I did one song, “Motor City Baby” by the Dirtbombs and that was that. After that, I told people about the surgery. Some were shocked, others knew, but Goddess bless I made it through.

I returned to New York and had a break before the Burnt Sugar rehearsals kicked in again. Also toward the end of the month my cosmic twin Tim asked me to sing on an album that he had conceptualized around the arcade game Gauntlet. Well, not only was it based on the game, it was totally freestyle! Yes you heard me correctly. So Tim would pick a musical style, give the singers the topic of the song and we would go in and freestyle lyrics over whatever style the band was playing. It was a trip, but so much fun! I love my cosmic twin.

Burnt Sugar closed August with a small hit with the dance company Danz at Alvin Ailey and then we were back at LPR, this time doing “Every song in the book.” We pulled out music from James Brown, Steely Dan, Sun Ra, Bowie and the Brown Girls joined us on that show once again. Big, big fun!

At the close of the month I found out that I got into Yoga Teacher Training at Kripalu in Stockbridge, MA and I also found out that I got a partial scholarship! Yes! Yes! Yes!

On the road again. I spent so much time in the Midwest this summer, I felt like I was in college again. This time the Sugar crew drove to Dayton, OH for the Dayton Downtown Music Festival. That drive to Ohio may be shorter than that Michigan drive, but it’s still a beast.

On the way up I drive with Karma, V. Jeff, Maya and Ben in Ben’s car. We were packed in that joint. You gotta love you band mates to do that. We were going along well, when I work up to some commotion about us being a bit turned around. We were lost! Well sort of lost. As long at you have GPS you are not totally lost, but we were far away from where we needed to be. We had to drive over some mountain in PA, that seemed like it would be short on my map, but in truth it was long and windy and it was dark. Really dark, but we made it to the other side and got back on track.

When we arrived in Dayton I was beat and if I remember correctly we had to play that night for an event. After said event some of us were really hungry, but finding food was a task as well. We had to go over hill and dale just to find a spot that was open. Well kids you’re not in Kansas anymore, or shall I say New York. We got some grub in the pouring down rain, went back to the hotel, ate and crashed.

The next day we played the actual festival, which We did the Steely Dan show there one more time and people really dug it, but there were some technical issues. We made it though and people seemed to really like it, but it was touch and go at the top.

The best part about being in Dayton was getting to see my sands Jackie, who I hadn’t seen in years and also I got to see my friends Audrey and Cheryl. They took me to the world famous Yellow Springs, OH. Yellow Springs is their home, but it’s also the home of Dave Chappelle. It’s really cute town and we had some amazing food. On our way back to Dayton I had them stop at Meijer so that I could get a bottle of Wild Girl wine that is only sold in the Midwest. Score!

When I got back to the hotel I had to get myself together and almost immediately get on the road. I was driving out with Bruce, Vernon, and Andre. More space, but it is a beast driving through the night like that. Bruce and I did all of the driving and I don’t think I slept much, but we all got home safely and had a great time along the way. Those long hauls can be tough, but those are the times that I really get to know the men and women that I play with. It’s really a blessing.

This month I was also back in American Candy. I couldn’t do the July show because of my surgery, but it was so appropriate that I was back for the "Rock Comedy" show. I was reviving my role as Grace Jones in “Turn the Lamp On” among other hilarious sketches.

I closed September with the Sugars, but this time we were in Philly at the Painted Bride. We did a little James Brown at that show. I also ran into an old friend Alyson, who I grew up with in MA, which was amazing. She didn’t know I was in the band and of course I had no idea she was coming. It was great to see her. I also saw my old friend MB who used to live in Brooklyn in the early days. I always have love for Philly. There were some folks there who had seen blaKbüshe when we used to go play in Philly a lot. They were so happy to see me. Now that’s love.

Before leaving for yoga school I had two very small gigs. They were my first blaKbüshe gigs since May. Both hits were acoustic with Jeff, Matsu and Shawn. The first was at Sister’s Uptown Bookstore. This is a cozy spot that kind of reminded me of the old Nkiru Books in Brooklyn. It was a night of storytelling and music. The folks really enjoyed us and I sold all the CDs I brought with me, which is a rare thing in New York these days.

The last show before leaving was a fundraiser that Katie and I did at the Masonic Temple. We had a small, but appreciative crowd. It was also a very intimate setting and lots of fun. It was a great way to wrap things up before closing up shop for a while.

Sunday, October 14th, my girl Vilma picked me up in Brooklyn and we headed to MA for what would be my month long yoga teacher training. So much happened here. You can read my Downward Blog for all those details, but I am so thankful for that experience. So, so thankful!

White away at school I also managed to release a new track “Punannay Politixxx!"  If you haven’t heard it, check it out! I couldn’t have done it without Jeff, Lionel and Patranila! Thank You!

I’m not even going to talk about the election. We know who won and I’m thankful. Nuff said.

I got back from teaching training this month and I jumped right into the fire. We had our first fill band show in months at DROM. It was my b’earthday and graduation celebration all rolled into one. The band was great and I even got the audience to chant with me! Yes we were chanting in Sanskrit. We put a little African beat behind it and away we went. Jaya Bolo Sita Rama Ki/Ananda Mey/Prabu Ananda Mey. That is what we sang. It was amazing. I really hope to get to do that one more time. I made some new fans that night, which honestly is rare sometimes in NYC and I was able to pay the band. Good night all around.

The following Monday I was back on stage with American Candy, but this time we were at the Comic Strip in Manhattan. I have to be honest and say that although I’m all up in this comedy show, I am not all up in the comedy world. So I had heard of the Comic Strip, but I wasn’t totally clear about all the history of the place. Eddie Murphy, Robin Williams, Adam Sandler and more have come thought there. Eddie Murphy went up there to try out the jokes for his Delirious special before the whole world heard them. It’s that kind of spot.

We did a kick ass show that night with only a small hallway as a dressing room. We made it work and it was so good that the owner wants us back. So you might see more American Candy in Manhattan this year.

November just flew by after that. I set up my Thank You yoga classes for those who donated to yoga school campaign. I was ready to give back. Bring on December.

I kicked off the month with Yoga. December 2nd was my first Thank You class followed by the 9th and 16th. All of the classes were amazing. Please check out my Downward Blog for the details on those classes.

In between all that Burnt Sugar played at BAM, which was a really fun show and I was rehearsing for the American Candy: Physical Fitness show at the same time.

What I didn’t mention in November was that Hollie asked me to write a sketch about yoga for the December show. I honestly had to cram that in, in between leaving yoga school and heading back to New York. Somehow I managed to write something that was pretty funny and I directed it to boot.

What I also didn’t mention in October was hurricane Sandy. New York is still recovering from that storm. There are still people who are displaced or without heat. It’s really crazy that it’s still a crisis, but alas it is. I got an email from a young woman named Po who asked me to do Reiki as part of a healing day for Sandy Relief. Basically she asked various healers to donate their time to give treatments. People who came would pay a sliding scale for treatments from $25-$50. Our goal was to raise $1000 on a Sunday afternoon and we did it! It was a rainy day too, but people walked came through. It was just beautiful.

The last blaKbüshe show of the year happened at Rockbar NYC. Ganessa and Chaney have a monthly residency there and they asked me to be on the bill for that evening. It was December 19th so we were really close to the holidays at that point. Rockbar is on Christopher Street almost at the West Side Highway. It’s a cute spot, but on a December night you never know how the turn out will be. Well people turned out! The owners Rick and Erich are so wonderful. Rick has a big bell behind the bar that he rings if he really likes what he’s hearing on stage. That bell was ringing all night because there was so much great talent coming through. Before Chaney and Ganessa kicked off their night, the bar had what they call Fight Night. Basically they ask folks to come through and sing a cover of the two battling artists. That night it was Courtney Love vs. Prince. Now I don’t know how that’s really a battle, but it was lots of fun!

Chaney and Ganessa did a short set, Ganessa and Tiffany did a short set (both sets were killin’), and then we hit the stage. That night the band was Matsu on cajon, Jeff on guitar and Ganessa on bass. I really love when the band is broken down. I closed the set with “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and we added a bit of a dance remix at the end. I think it was the first time I danced to a Christmas carol. We will surely be back at Rockbar. Rick and Erich are the best! Just all around good folks, which is rare find in a NY club owner.

A couple of days later I headed home for the holidays. When I returned to NY I had a few friends over, which is something I never get to do because we are all hustling so hard throughout the year. Then on New Year’s Eve I did one of the most non-capitalistic things I could do. I went to Prospect Park with my friend Mechelle to watch the fireworks at Midnight. In all my years of living in Brooklyn I had never done that. I have to say I think that’s going to be my ritual as long as I’m living in this town. It was so much fun. After that I came home and spent a quiet evening with a glass on wine.

Here’s to you 2012! You really gave me a run for my money. I am thankful for every moment. It was probably one of the most challenging years of my life, but I made it through. I made it through heartbreak, near eviction (oh did I not mention that), surgery, disappointment at times, you pushed me to my edge but I came out glowing on the other side. I feel the fire coming back. Aahh Yeah!

Post Script:
I think I would be remiss if I did not give a brief mention to the fact that in 2012 we lost so many great artists. To that I say Rest In Power Etta James, Whitney Houston, Donna Summer, Don Cornelius, Belita Woods, Robin Gibb, Tony Scott, Ben Gazarra, Jan Berenstain, Adrienne Rich, Mike Wallace, Levon Helm, Maurice Sendak, Vidal Sassoon, Doc Watson, Nora Ephron, Andy Griffith, Ernest Borgnine, Sherman Helmsley, Marvin Hamlisch, Gore Vidal, Al Freeman Jr., Helen Gurley Brown, Phyllis Diller, Hal David, Michael Clarke Duncan, Andy Williams, Dave Brubeck, Ravi Shankar, Jack Klugman and of course all those who lost their lives on Aurora, Sandy Hook another all over the world. See you on the next level.