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.no.1 aug|sep 2005

At the end of June, George W. Bush gave a solemn accounting of the situation in Iraq.  I mean I think he was talking about Iraq. There wasn't much there about the actual situation in Iraq.  He saved us the nagging details. But there is one that I would like to share.  An underground cottage industry has risen on the ransacking of museums and archeological sites that, until a few years ago, told stories that dated back to Mesopotamia.   According to a recent report by James Menendez of the BBC, 1000 members of a specially designed task force have been assigned to guard over 10,000 sites.  A plan with bad numbers always breeds bad odds.  The situation in Iraq is no different.   And rumor has it that it's not the power-in-the-city-is out type of looting that's going on.  Its white-collar looting.   The kind that's hard to stop.  The word is that the pillaging is being orchestrated by private collectors, a descriptive term often used as a euphemism for people with large amounts of expendable capital.  But in this case, the term criminal does fine. To some this is old news.  With the burning comes the looting.  For those, this is simply the natural outgrowth of the gross dismantling of the National Museum in Baghdad that took place in or around the time the statue of Saddam fell. “What did you expect?” they say. I'm not sure what I expected.  What I know, however, is that a nation is losing its cultural heritage and the seeds of someone somewhere else are going to be PAID because of it.  Of this I am sure.

On to brighter subjects. Welcome to nat creole. Online.  The online magazine created to offer an eclectic and accessible guide to the people, places and ideas of the global Arts and Culture community.  In this issue we pay tribute to the late great Oscar Brown Jr. ; Conversate with photographer and globe trotter Jon Lowenstein in Chicago and original Japanese b-boy Suw-San in Tokyo; Examine the works of b-boy survivor Common , the dearly departed reggae prince Dennis Brown , and South African author Damon Galgut ; Listen to Atlanta based artist and furniture designer Ed Myers tell us about his new project, Afrika Amerika, We ; Take a whirlwind trip through China ; and profile the 651 Arts organization in Brooklyn.

And while we are on the subject of brighter things. Summer made a noisy entrance this year. Winter than Indian Fall than summer. No spring to be found. But never mind. Neither heat nor humidity is deterrent enough to stay inside when you know the world is happening elsewhere. Take advantage of this time of the year. See it all, hear it all, watch it all. The nat creole. Events Calendar will help you. Concerts. Art Openings. Book Signings. Festivals. Symposiums. Dance Performances. Museum Exhibitions and Programs. DJ Shows. Its all in there. Check it out and then bookmark it. It'll be there every night of the week.

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oscar brown jr.

in memoriam

-john ballon

"I started out to be an Open Negro in the late '50's. That meant that I wanted to reflect -- in my presentation and in what I wrote -- the things that I'd experienced, to be black, not incidentally but deliberately , culturally . I'd like to think I was in the wave [of Afrocentric artists]; which drop of water I turned out to be, I don't know."

Oscar Brown Jr. - Washington Post 1992

I remember watching Oscar Brown Jr. work his hosting gig on the PBS produced From Jump Street: The Story of Black Music series.  I was a child but even then I knew cool when I saw it.  Oscar was as cool as they came. It helped that my mother was able to fill in the blanks around the man's persona. She knew Oscar from their shared hometown of Chicago.  She explained that he gave me a nickname, “No Pill Phil” one day when she was helping the cast of Big Time Buck White run through their lines.  Luckily, the name didn't stick. What stuck though were her descriptions of the rehearsal parties Oscar and his better half Jean Price, the talented singer and dancer who was even hipper than he was, would host after work was done.  Water coolers filled with red wine, walls swathed in mosaic patterned fine cloth, all the legendary jazz cats casually lounging around.  It was like a scene out of those old Hugh Hefner televised Playboy parties, only everyone was cool.  I mean really cool. I mean Oscar Brown Jr. cool.

That cool doesn't dwell down here on earth anymore. It passed when Oscar Brown Jr. died on Sunday, May 29, 2005 .  You see, before the Last Poets, before Gil Scott-Heron, before Melle Mel, there was Oscar. More contemporary than Paul Robeson, more politicized than Sammy Davis Jr. or Quincy Jones, more civic minded than Miles, Oscar was the true renaissance man of his generation.  But perhaps Renaissance man is a played out conceit.  A term that tumbles far too casually off the lips of publicists and marketing types hustling up cross promotional vehicles for their media manipulating clients. That doesn't resemble Brown.  That doesn't have anything to do with Brown.  But what term fits?  What do you call a man who could spellbind, harmonize, liberate and improvise in the same song, the same gesture and the same breath?  I mean this was a man who would make the stage so hot that even cool-ass Miles couldn't deal with the heat of following him in performance order.  A playwright and play producer as well as a first string musician, he put music in the theater and the theater in the music.  He was the entertainer's entertainer

But “entertainer” is too small and limiting a word to describe Oscar Brown Jr. His reach, his power, his artistic and intellectual range stretched too far for that.  This is a man that ran for the Illinois State House of Representatives in 1948, lost in a landslide, and then ran for the US House of Representatives in 1952 as a republican.  A man that tired of his unfulfilling marriage with the Communist Party and ended things with the simple but expressive statement, “I'm too black to be red.”  A man who helped anchor the musical arm of the civil rights movement through his collaboration with Max Roach and Abbey Lincoln, the phenomenal We Insist! Freedom Now Suite album.  The man put the P's in progressive politics.

But he wasn't a politician.  Never that.  His generosity of spirit and open faucet of creativity along with the activist spirit that flowed naturally from these traits wouldn't allow for such a misleading and limited characterization. His commitment to education and community building was too deep.  Brown was born and bred in a Chicago that was adjusting to its real-time absorption of the waves of Black Folk that took the straight shot north from Mississippi , Alabama , Arkansas , Missouri and Louisiana.  Some found their fortune in the city of broad shoulders, others found misfortune. Oscar stood for them all just the same.  This is the man that produced the play Opportunity Please Knock with the Blackstone Rangers: the Black P. Stone nation, the Black Stones, the gang that owned the streets of Chicago in the late 60's and early 70's.   Oscar worked with them, took them on the Smothers Brothers show and introduced them as children, young men and artists instead of gang bangers.  Oscar talked to them, told them things like this:

“I discovered then that this is something that they don't want. They're ready for the guy who says “Off the Pig!” Cause they're ready for that. They wish the hell you would come with that. You know. Because they want to kill you. But if you say something that is going to create a beauty. If they're going to see you in another light. That, the establishment will not tolerate.”


Still, even the term activist doesn't quite do the trick.  The truth is that you can use any of these terms and you'll never be wrong: musician, entertainer, artist, politician, activist, educator, choose one they all work.  But I think I'm going to go with Hero.   Yeah I like that, Hero. Rest in Peace Mr. Oscar Brown Jr. Whatever anyone else says, you'll always be my Hero.

No Pill Phil


Oscar Brown Jr. Timeline

1926 Brown is born on October 10 in the Bronzeville section of Chicago . The neighborhood was then known as a haven for middle class blacks

1943 Brown enrolls at the University of Wisconsin at the age of 16. Brown would leave Wisconsin and eventually bounce around between colleges

1948 Brown runs for the Illinois State legislature on the progressive party ticket. He loses in a landslide but is undeterred from continuing his nascent political ambitions

Brown begins his tenure as a participant in Richard Durham's Destination Freedom radio series. It is a landmark show that promotes black progressive ideology

1952 Brown runs for the United States Congress. He campaigns as a Republican to make sure that he can get on the ticket

1954- 1956 Brown serves in the Army

1956 Brown resigns from the Communist Party, remarking that he was “too black to be red”

1960 Brown collaborates with legendary drummer Max Roach and vocalist Abbey Lincoln on the historic We Insist! Freedom Now Suite album, a bold artistic statement that set the stage for the musical component of the civil rights movement

Brown releases his seminal album Sin & Soul to critical acclaim. The album includes the songs Bid Em In , Dat Dere and a lyrical reworking of Afro Blue

Brown performs at the Village Vanguard and turns the jazz scene on its ear with his theatrical performance style and rich detailed lyricism

NBC's The Today Show turns its entire broadcast into a telethon and showcase for Brown's musical Kicks & Company

1961 Production of Brown's crowning achievement, Kicks & Company commences. Lorraine Hansberry of A Raisin in the Sun fame directs the play.

1962 Brown hosts the Jazz Scene USA television series from the west coast, the television program becomes a must see for established and new jazz fans

Mahalia Jackson releases the Brown penned Brown Baby ; the song becomes a huge hit and an artistic statement for Jackson

Brown meets Jane Pace, a dancer and actor, at a party for Redd Foxx. The two would soon marry and become partners in life and art

Brown releases the albums Between Heaven and Hell and In a New Mood

1963 Brown releases Oscar Brown, Jr., Tells It Like It Is

1964 Brown releases his live disc, Mr. Oscar Brown Jr. Goes to Washington ,

1967 Brown produces Opportunity Please Knock , and incorporates members of the Blackstone Rangers, the most notorious gang in Chicago , into the production

1968 Gary , Indiana mayor Richard Hatcher invites Brown to Chicago to conduct a summer project with aspiring young musicians. Brown returns to Chicago singing the praises of a young group called the Jackson Five and an actor named Avery Brooks

1969 Brown releases Big Time Buck White . The play about a black militant opens on Broadway with Muhammad Ali in the lead role

1970 Brown finds inspiration in his work with Brazilian artists and records two albums. Finding a New Friend with Luiz Henrique which was subsequently released on the Fontana label, and Joy with Jean Pace and Sivuca which was later recorded on the RCA Victor label

1972 Brown releases Movin' On

1974 Brown releases Brother Where Are You and Fresh on the Atlantic label

1980 Brown hosts the PBS series From Jump Street: The Story of Black Music

1982 Brown stages the production Great Nitty Gritty , a show about gang violence that incorporated young residents of the Cabrini Green projects in Chicago

1996 Brown releases Sin and Soul... and Then Some (1996), a greatest hits collection on Sony Records

2002 Brown is voted “Senior of the Year” in his hometown of Chicago

2005 Director Donnie L. Betts releases the cinematic documentary, Music is My Life, Politics My Mistress: The Oscar Brown Jr. Story at Pan-African Film Festival

Brown performs on the PBS produced Tavis Smiley show

Brown is hospitalized and diagnosed with osteo-myelitis, a bone infection that was spreading into his lower spine. Though released following surgery, Brown would relapse and pass from complications due to the illness on May 29, 2005 .


.::literature | travel
thousand year egg.  alia jones