Background Info on Sword and Soul: Soul and Sword is a genre that incorporates sword and sorcery with the mythology, folklore, and culture of Africa.
Plot Summary (Taken from Amazon): Desperate to marry off his beautiful but “tomboyish” duaghter, Esuseeke, the Emperor of Oyo, consults the Oracle. The Oracle tells the Emperor Esuseeke must marry the greatest warrior in all Onile (Afrika). To determine who is the greatest warrior, the Emperor hosts a grand martial arts tournament inviting warrior from all over the continent. Unknown to the warriors and spectators of the tournament a powerful evil is headed their way. Will the warriors band together against this evil?
My Review: One of the book’s strongest assets is its characters. There is an equal amount of strong female and male characters. For instance, Esusekke is skilled in hand-to-hand combat and using bow and arrow. Matching her combat skills is the male character Akin, who has the makings of a leader and a great warrior. Other examples include Akin’s mother Oyabakin and Akin’s father Geboya, who are wise and skilled fighters in their own right.
Other interesting characters include various creatures in the realm, including witches and wizards, assassins, and half-warriors with either animal or monstrous qualities. These secondary characters brought Onile, the alternate world of Africa, to life. Depending on the character, they either made the story action-packed or humorous.
Besides the characters. the plot is fast-paced and filled with action, adventure, and a little romance. It will hook the reader and make the book hard to put down.
The only flaw in the book is the story’s world. The author did a great job incorporating Yoruba mythology into Onile. However, since the plot is so fast-paced and the story less than two hundred pages, the reader doesn’t have enough time to enjoy Onile. Different areas of the continent are introduced so quickly that the reader may feel disoriented at times.
Overall, this was a great sword and soul book. I recommend it for people getting into the genre for the first time. I also recommend it to black fantasy fiction lovers looking to see themselves in the pages.
Plot Summary (Taken from IMDB): Director Tamra Davis pays homage to her friend in this definitive documentary but also delves into Basquiat as an iconoclast. His dense, bebop-influenced neoexpressionist work emerged while minimalist, conceptual art was the fad; as a successful black artist, he was constantly confronted by racism and misconceptions.
My Review: One of the best things about this documentary was how well its subject matter was presented. The director Tamra Davis did an excellent job combining her own personal interview footage of Jean-Michel Basquiat with interviews of those who knew and worked with him. In addition, images of Basquiat’s artwork were well shown because you also see what influenced it. For instance, you would see footage of the cut-out method used by the poet William S. Burroughs and then see that method in a colorful Basquiat painting.
Another good aspect about this documentary was how Langston Hughes’ poem “Genius Child” was used to sum up his life. The poem is used as an epigraph at the beginning of the film and then spoken aloud as an epitaph at the end. For the first time viewers, it haunts them and makes them think more about who they are learning about.
Besides the use of the poem “Genius Child”, the way blues, jazz, and classical music was used in the film was poignant. It immerses the viewer in different moments in Basquiat’s life and puts the viewer in either Basquiat’s point-of-view or his peers point-of-view. One example is when his work ethic is being described and you hear fast-paced jazz music. As a viewer, one can then imagine Basquiat painting like crazy.
The only flaw in the film is that you don’t see if Basquiat influenced any of today’s artists. Given that Basquiat was a graffiti artist and then a painter during the emergence of hip-hop culture, he must have had some influence on hip-hop artists today. In fact, it would have been interesting to see if Basquiat influenced any of today’s artists in general. His work that focused on black history could have easily been an influence on today’s Afrofuturism culture.
Overall, this was a great documentary on a brilliant yet fragile artist. I recommend this to any art enthusiast and any black person who wants to see art they can relate to.
Plot Summary (Taken from Amazon): Jordan Amador. 21. New Yorker. Waitress. Mild alcoholic. Murderer. Two years ago, Jordan accidentally shot and killed a Seer: a person who can see, hear, and talk to ghosts with unfinished business. Her crime came with a hefty price, too. She has two years to help a hundred souls cross over to the afterlife or her soul is bound for hell. Tough break.
As if that weren’t bad enough, two days before her deadline a handsome pain-in-the-ass poltergeist named Michael strolls into her life. His soul is the key to her salvation, but the cost just might be more than she can handle. Solving his death puts her right in the crosshairs of Belial: a vain, bloodthirsty archdemon who won’t rest until she’s his slave. Can she rescue Michael and save her own soul, or will they both be dragged down into the clutches of the eternal black parade?
My Review: One of the best things about the book is its main characters Jordan and Michael. Jordan is a Hispanic and black young woman who can handle herself physically but not emotionally. At first, she can only defend herself with martial arts and a gun, but is vulnerable because of a traumatic past. As the story moves forward, she becomes physically and emotionally stronger. Overall, she is someone anyone can relate to, but she is a really good protagonist for women of color.
Meanwhile, Michael is a helpful, friendly poltergeist for some chapters until he discovers a bigger identity. Once he does, he starts becoming closer to Jordan by being a source of emotional comfort as well as a mentor that teaches Jordan to develop new abilities. Even though he becomes protective over Jordan, he still treats her with respect and allows her to live her life and make her own choices.
Besides the main characters, the setting of the story was very creative. It is reminiscent of the television show Supernatural, because behind the real world lies a word of angels, demons, and ghosts. The author did a good job blending the supernatural world with the real world, especially when it came to how these worlds affected Jordan’s life.
Also, the plot of the story was very compelling. There are action scenes that are described so that the reader is holding their breath. Besides this, the romance develops at an appropriate pace. Also, emotionally heavy scenes make the reader sympathize with Jordan without overdoing the drama. Furthermore, the humor that occurs between Jordan and other characters will make the reader chuckle or smile.
In addition, the themes of love and hatred were woven into the story well. For instance, Jordan struggles to overcome her self-hatred and realize she is capable of being loved by someone. Another example is Jordan’s mother representing love, and Jordan’s Aunt Carmen representing hate. These themes give the story a good message.
Overall, this book was a fantastic read. I recommend this to urban fantasy fans, especially if you enjoy the television shows Supernatural and Castle. Furthermore, I recommend this to people of color, especially females who are looking for a good representation of themselves in fantasy. Due to the strong violence, mild alcohol use, and strong sexual content, I also recommend this book for older teens and up.
Plot Summary (Taken from Amazon): BLACKANESE BOY, set primarily in San Francisco in the 1970s and early 1980s, follows the trials and tribulations, the ups and downs, of Rafael Halifax, as he negotiates the complex dance of being mixed-race in a race conscious society. A coming of age novel, BLACKANESE BOY explores the issues and complexities, the pain and joy, of being both black and Japanese-American, for one American boy.
My Review: One of the best things about this book is how realistic the experience of being bi-racial is. Since the author is black and Japanese himself, certain experiences like being mistaken for a Mexican because of his skin tone and being stared at by other Japanese people rang sincere.
In addition, there are certain events that are universal for anyone who has a personality that doesn’t fit the stereotype of their skin color. For instance, some Asian people in the book expected Rafael to know everything about hip-hop because he was black.
Besides the experience of being bi-racial, the cultural setting of the book was very interesting. There are certain events like the atomic bomb scare and the birth of hip-hop culture that make the book seem like historical fiction rather than a typical coming-of-age story.
Also, the way the author included Japanese, black, Hispanic, Arabic, Muslim, and white people was a good way for the reader to experience different cultures and encounters through Rafael’s eyes.
Furthermore, the author did a good job showing that no group is exempt from being prejudiced or racist, even if they are your own ethnic group.
When it comes to the book’s flaws, the only one was the story’s ending. For a coming-of-age story, it was too ambiguous. By the end, it felt like Rafael got older, but not wiser.
Overall, the book was good, but Rafael’s character could have been developed better. However, I still recommend this book because any mixed race black person and any blasian (black and asian) person will relate to it.
Since this is my first year celebrating black music month, I’d like to share my favorite black musicians of the past. As an early twenty-something, I am so grateful to be able to appreciate these musicians and their impact on music today.
Janet Jackson- As a 90′s kid, I grew up listening to her and Michael. On her birthday last month, I rediscovered her music via a bunch of tracks that were not released as singles and songs released as alternative versions. My favorite Janet songs are “The Knowledge“, “Velvet Rope“, “Special“, “Funky Big Band” and the guitar mix version of “Black Cat“. My favorite Janet music video is “Alright“.
When I was a kid, my parents recorded The Velvet Rope tour on VHS when it came on HBO. I loved watching that concert over and over. I also liked watching a VHS tape I still have called The Rhythm Nation compilation, which has all the music videos from the album Rhythm Nation 1814.
Death, the punk band If you have viewed the documentary A Band Called Death like I have, then you know that this band has a unique and special story. In the mid-70′s the band’s original line-up (David, Bobby, and Dannis Hackney) recorded the master tapes for what would become the album Death For The Whole World To See. Unfortunately, the band’s name prevented any record company from fully supporting them, and the music would remain unknown until 2008.
I liked that David Hackney, the band’s late guitarist and founder, was willing to stick to what he believed the band should be. He was the one who came up with the name Death and the spirituality around it, and I liked how he incorporated some of his beliefs into the song “Let The World Turn“.
Another thing I like about this band is that they were willing to play rock music during a time when black musicians were expected to do Motown or soul and disco music. Some tracks on For The Whole World To See incorporate funk and rock, which is really cool.
Overall, I think this band was ahead of their time. Listening to them led me to discover the Afro-punk music genre, so I’m happy I learned about them.
Poly Styrene from the punk band X-Ray Spex- I love how Poly yelled the lyrics with so much fire and conviction. She didn’t care how she sounded, because she had something she wanted people to hear no matter what. I also liked that she held her ground in a mostly white, male-dominated genre. I love the song “Oh Bondage, Up Yours!” because it really lets you know who she is. Heck, the entire Germ Free Adolescents album reflects her bold spirit. R.I.P. Poly.
Rock Musician Chuck Berry- He was the first classic rock musician I ever listened to. I have four songs from him on my iPod, but I like watching live clips of him on YouTube because you can see how awesome his guitar playing was. Like most people, I think “Johnny B. Goode” is the best.
Blues-Jazz Singer Billie Holiday- I love her voice, especially when it was younger because it was so golden. I love the way she stretches out the words on songs like “Billie’s Blues” because it allows me to savor the emotion in her voice. I also liked how she could fight when she wanted to. According to a BBC documentary I watched, she once hit a guy with a chair because he made a lewd gesture toward her when she was performing the haunting anti-lynching song “Strange Fruit“.
Jazz Singer Sarah Vaughan- Her young voice is like drinking something warm and sweet. It always gives me a good, soothing feeling when I listen to it. She is my number one favorite female jazz singer. My favorite song by her is “Autumn in New York“. I wish I could go back in time and see her live. Recently, I discovered a beautiful live version of the song “Over The Rainbow“.
Jazz musician and bandleader Cab Calloway- I’ve had a couple of his songs on my iPod, but I’ve recently added four more and have become fascinated by him. His upbeat songs like “Jumpin Jive” are so energetic and fun to listen to. I love that he is multi-talented; he could sing, dance, scat, compose songs, and lead a band. Not to mention, he had his own dictionary of slang words!
Besides Sarah, he is someone else I’d love to see live. Recently, I watched this great documentary about him called Sketches and have been watching some live footage of his performances. One that has become a favorite is “St. Louis Blues“. In the past, I also remember loving the live version of “Jumpin Jive” with The Nicholas Brothers from the film Stormy Weather.
Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong- I love Ella’s voice and scatting and Louis’s voice and trumpet playing, but I think they sound best together. They are they perfect combo. Love their versions of “Summertime” and “Dream a Little Dream of Me“.
Michael Jackson- My favorite song by him will always be “Human Nature“. It holds a special place in my heart because I love the lyrics and his vocals and this song helped me put imagery into my poetry when I was in high school. I don’t really have a particular favorite music video, but I always enjoyed watching the movie Moonwalker on VHS. R.I.P. Michael.
Summary (Partly taken from IMDB): Will Handy grows up in Memphis with his preacher father and his Aunt Hagar. His father intends for him to use his musical gifts only in church, but he can’t stay away from the music of the streets and workers. Once he gives in to the lure of blues and jazz, Handy discovers a gift for songwriting and becomes an accompanist for the speakeasy singer Go Go Germaine. However, he must soon choose between his father’s wishes and his own.
My Review: One of the best things about this film is its star-studded cast. Will Handy is played by musician Nat King Cole, Go Go Germaine by singer-actress Eartha Kitt, and Go Go’s husband by musician Cab Calloway. Other notable stars include gospel singer Mahalia Jackson, actresses Pearl Bailey and Ruby Dee, and Ella Fitzgerald.
Besides the cast, their performances are very memorable. Nat King Cole does a great job on playing the cornet, singing, and acting. Eartha Kitt’s character is sexy and assertive and Kitt plays the role well. In addition, Kitt’s singing is a lovely mix of angelic and soulful. Furthermore, Pearl Bailey’s small singing role in the film is just as good as Mahalia Jackson’s and Ella Fitzgerald’s.
The only lackluster element of the film is the storyline. A fusion of the film The Jazz Singer and the life of the real W.C. Handy, it is nothing more than a way to incorporate some of the songs that Handy wrote. If you have seen The Jazz Singer or enough references to the film, then the storyline will be predictable.
Overall, the film is a fantastic tribute to the contributions and influence of W.C. Handy. If you enjoy blues, jazz, gospel, or love musicals, then I recommend this film.
Here is the trailer for St. Louis Blues
When the Superbowl was approaching earlier this year, some of the media took it upon themselves to remember Janet Jackson’s notorious 2004 half-time show wardrobe malfunction. Since then, this incident as well as Janet’s last three albums (Damita Jo, 20 Y.O., and Disclipine) seems to have made Janet’s sexuality more memorable than anything else. However, there are many reasons that Janet should be remembered as a true musician.
1. She has paved the way for many musicians of today.
2. Her 1997 album The Velvet Rope showed that you can be sexy, socially conscious, and emotionally vulnerable as a woman.
“Rope Burn” is a sexy song that involves sadomasochism.
“Free X-One” is a song that supports those who are gay and bi-sexual.
“What About” is a explicit, angry song that discusses being physically abused in a relationship.
“Special” is a hopeful song that Janet channeled her depression into.
3. Collectively, her songs have an innovative and eclectic sound.
“Rhythm Nation” from the album Rhythm Nation 1814- combines new jack swing with funk.
“Funky Big Band” from the album Janet- combines jazz with hip-hop beats.
“Velvet Rope” from the album The Velvet Rope- combines violin with dance beats.
“Trust A Try‘ from the album All For You- combines orchestra, hip-hop beats, and rock.
4. She has been and is an amazing live performer with an electrifying stage presence and an angelic voice.
Janet live at the Grammy’s in 1987- “What Have You Done For Me Lately” and “Nasty”
Janet live at the MTV VMA’s in 1993- “That’s The Way Love Goes” and “If”
Janet live at The Velvet Rope Tour in 1997- “Let’s Wait a While” and “Again”
Janet live in 1997/98 (Velvet Rope era)- “I Get Lonely”
Janet live at MTV Icon in 2001- “All For You”
Bonus: She has shown that sometimes alternate versions of songs are just as good or better than the original.
Black Cat (Guitar Mix)- this song features Vernon Reid of the band Living Colour on guitar.
Together Again (Deeper Mix)- a slower R&B version of the song.