Saturday, November 25, 2006

In Memory of Walter Booker 1933-2006

Today I was informed of Walter Booker's passing after a long illness. His enormous impact on my most impressionable teenage years cannot be quantified by me. He helped me and an entire generation of young New york musicians develop an understanding of recording and he provided us with a musical playground with which to grow our self-expression.

In all of our lives there are teachers and mentors. In my life, one of the most influential and inspiring human beings was Mr. Walter Booker. He was a superb bass player, an innovative genius and a free-thinker whose intellect knew no boundaries. A man who was equally comfortable talking physics and Buckminster Fuller as he was talking about quarter notes.

One of Walter's crowning achievements in life was Boogie Woogie Studio which he built in his New York City apartment! The studio was a marvel of ingenuity that converted an unassuming apartment into a creative haven for some of the greatest jazz musicians in the world. Walter managed to build a Studio-A and a Studio-B, both equipped with control rooms. The soundproofing alone was a feat of modern engineering! Never did we musicians fear the wrath of irate neighbors because Walter's studio was a work of near perfection.
Boogie Woogie Studios was a fully equipped home studio long before home studios were invented. It was also the home of my high school band; Natural Essence. We rehearsed there several times a week and eventually many of us lived there. We all slept on the studio floor at some point. Boogie Woogie gave us a chance to "eat, sleep and drink music".

Young basketball players need a gym but young musicians need a studio, a place to work things out. Walter Booker's Boogie Woogie Studios provided all of us kids with a safe place to grow. We were not only closer to the music and the equipment, we were closer to the older musicians who were Booker's peers. A who's who of jazz greats that came to the studio to rehearse and record including; Wayne Shorter, Joe Zawinul, Herbie Hancock, Flora Purim & Airto Moreira, Freddie Hubbard, Stanley Clarke and many, many more. Miles Davis would come through and so would Richard Pryor. His place was a creative lab for many musicians. I witnessed many magical moments in that converted apartment that helped transform my life.
Boogie Woogie was at the epicentre of some seismic musical upheavals and we kids were there to participate and observe. I learned as much about life from hanging out with the "old heads" (the seasoned jazz musicians) as I did about music. These were black men who had circled the globe with their musical talent, their worldliness was never lost upon my inner city sensibilities. Eventually, we all had a chance to record with the great musicians we held in high esteem. Like some old boxing gym where wide-eyed hope fulls get a chance to train side by side with champions, Boogie Woogie served history. In our hearts today there is gratitude for a gracious man who gave much more than he took. That is always the true measurement of a man.

We called him "Uncle Bookie" because he really treated us like his family.

Walter Booker was born in Prairie View, Texas in 1933 and moved with his family to Washington, D.C. in the mid 1940s. It was not until 1959, at the age of 26, that Bookie began playing the bass while in the army (serving side-by-side in the same unit with Elvis Presley). Shortly after leaving the service, he became a member of Andrew White’s JFK Quintet, a group of young D.C. musicians accomplished enough to attract the attention of Cannonball Adderley, who produced a recording for them. Bookie’s next gig was to tour the United States with the Shirley Horn Trio.

n 1964 Bookie moved to New York City. Almost immediately he was hired by trumpeter Donald Byrd. From there he went on to join Stan Getz and later Sonny Rollins. Between 1967 and ’69 Bookie recorded and toured with Ray Bryant, Art Farmer, Betty Carter and, most notably, with Thelonious Monk’s last group.

In 1969 Bookie was invited to join the Cannonball Adderly Quintet, an association which lasted until Cannonball’s untimely death in 1975. Also during that time he designed, built, and ran Boogie Woogie Studio, a mecca for musicians from all over the world.

From 1975 to 1981 Walter was Sarah Vaughan’s bassist and continued to produce recordings at his studio. He and the studio helped shape a number of up-and-coming young groups, including Natural Essence. And he became deeply involved with Brazilian music, ultimately forming Love Carnival and Dreams, one of the more successful Brazilian jazz groups on the New York scene.

During his long and fruitful career he played the bass with many great artist, including; Joe Zawinul, Chick Corea, Wayne Shorter and Pharoah Sanders.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Only the fool starves in the midst of abundance.

I have posted 98 blogs here on Blogspot since this all began in April. I have also posted 133 blogs on my Spanish blog since June. Most of the photography is mine or "in house". I have tried to keep the subject matter interesting yet not too 'heavy'. I am not sure how many people are true subscribers but I do appreciate the support that has been extended to me. I hope that everyone who arrives here will take the time to investigate the many posts in the archives. I have purposefully slowed down the frequency of my postings so that viewers can "catch up".

I now have a podcast as well. This is a unique form of communication that allows me to add another dimension to the on-line version of me. I am able to present my own 'rain people radio show'. I have many ideas for this new media but I don't want to over-saturate the 'airwaves'.
I invite one and all to investigate the archives here; enjoy!

Friday, November 17, 2006

My War Against Eurocentric Academia

I just received a comment concerning my last post: "The Call of the Berimbau". Unfortunately, it was posted anonymously. If you post a comment anonymously you are unlikely to actuate a real dialogue. I am rather annoyed but I am not anonymous however.
cientista wrote:
"Actually the Berimbau predates colonial Brazil and therfore capoeira. In fact it is widely believed that it was not introduced into capoeira until the late nineteenth century. As a result it is frequently played outside of capoeira with other significance."

For those who don't know me I will explain that I am also a classroom teacher. In fact, I am on my way to school now! I awoke to this comment that hints at misconceptions that I cannot overlook. Though e-mails tend to lack a certain defining nuance that explains more about a person's intellectual stance, I think I understand where this person is coming from.
So, my disclaimer is; I may have the wrong handle on this person's intent but here's my response.
The person also sent me information on the origins of the Berimbau, so let me give them information as well.

Firstly, I teach the origins of the 'berimbau' everyday. Most recently at Occidental College.
I have constructed 'berimbau' and I have spent hours listening to their music in Brasil and South Africa.
The "berimbau" is only one ethnic group's representation of the world's oldest musical instrument. The one-string musical bow. It not only "predates" capoeira it predates the drum, the flute and all other instruments. It was most likely derived from a bow & arrow used by hunters. It is found primarily among the people of the southern portion of Africa; southward from Angola through Namibia to South Africa. The so called "Bushman" or Khoisan have several versions.
When I was in South Africa to lecture at Stellenbosch University I became quick friends with a music professor who is writing a book on the indigenous musical instruments of southern Africa.
She shared with me her many primitive 'berimbaus' and 'quicas'. She has also gone out into the Kalahari Desert and taken video of Khoisan using this very ancient instrument. I felt as if I was transported back in time by this truly aboriginal instrument.

I am constantly at war with western academia's assertions about the world's oldest society:Africa because every shallow European viewpoint is assumed to be expert and sacrosanct.
To state that the berimbau predates the art of capoeira therefore is to state the obvious. To say that it wasn't "introduced" to capoeira until the late nineteenth century is misguided intellect.

To say that the 'berimbau' was "introduced" to capoeira is like saying that the conga was introduced to the rumba.

The historical record proves that the majority of enslaved Africans taken to Brasil were from the area of Angola. The 'berimbau' had already been a part of their cultural expression for countless centuries. In the 'New World' of the Americas, the Africans ability to express the full lexicon of their cultural expressions was limited by their position in white society. Very little of the African's true identity was expressed openly upon his arrival in the Americas. We were not an 'immigrant' group we were a kidnapped group!

The capoeira master's (Mestre Accordeon) statement: "The exclusive use of the Berimbau to make music with no relation to Capoeira is like using an authentic Samurai sword only for pruning the back yard". is a statement of great dignity.
It reminds us that everything that the African preserved was inescapably tied to a spiritual code. It is a cornerstone of African principle that is the core of the African's cultural survival.
His statement is very clear; if you want to practice capoeira then it must be performed to the soundtrack of the world's oldest instrument, it must always be acknowledged as being a link to the past. In Cuba and Puerto Rico we have the same chatter concerning the Bata drum. The Bata predates the African's attempts to hide his true identity as a Yoruba just as the Berimbau predates the African's attempts to hide his true identity as a Bantu.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The Call of the Berimbau

"The exclusive use of the Berimbau to make music with no relation to Capoeira is like using an authentic Samurai sword only for pruning the back yard". -Mestre Accordeon-

"It is impossible to learn Capoeira without the Berimbau."
-Mestre Bimba-

"The Berimbau speaks through the gourd to the Capoeirista."
-Mestre Accordeon-

Teaching American Kids: How to be Samba Kids

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Rasheed's One Tribe, Many Voices Podcast !

In the last few week's I have initiated my Rain People Podcast Radio show on I am very excited that I have realized this dream of having a Radio Show devoted to the Rain People sound and cultural concept.
I will post a new show every Wednesday. It gives me an opportunity to present my music in a commercial-free format. The podcast format will allow me to feature unreleased tracks that I am working on as well as some lengthy tracks that are not radio-friendly.
Unlike a radio show, you never have to miss a podcast. You can listen whenever you feel like it. I hope everyone enjoys my weekly show as much as I enjoy recording it.

What is the Concept of Fine Art in Africa?

I am a visual artist besides being a musician. I received a fine arts education and I have been an elementary school art teacher. When I travel I always look for indigenous art work, authentic pieces by local artisans. It can be difficult to sort through the mountains of generic souvenir art to find that unique piece. In every third world country I have been to, there has been a movement to exploit local art and culture as a cash commodity. The economic burdens of third world countries lean heavily upon local artisans. I have toured the back alley souvenir factories where men and women churn out cloned artwork by the hundreds. Sometimes there are only slight deviations from an ancient artistic formula. For western thinkers and art collectors there may be a sense that these arts pieces are devalued by their sameness. Yet upon further examination we find that the style of many art pieces has been ritualized over time.
In many instances we will find that the artistic style of everyday objects have been codified into a handful of designs. For instance, there may only be two or three print patterns for a Nigerian gourd bowl. The question becomes; are these pieces considered perfect recreations of classical works? Do these art pieces represent the power of African apprenticeship, family traditions that never stray from the past?