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My Favorite Books That I Have Read in 2014

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Up until now, I have told you my favorite music and movies I’ve encountered this year. Here is my final favorites of 2014 blog post, my favorite books I’ve read in 2014.

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell- I loved reading this book because I can totally relate to Cath, the main character. She loves reading and writing fan fiction (albeit slash fan fiction) about a Harry Potter-ish book series called Simon Snow. At the same time, she is a college freshman who has to learn to get out of her comfort zone as a writer and a person.

I loved that the author understood why some people enjoy reading or writing fan fiction and how she captured the glory days of the Harry Potter fandom with a fictional book series. I also loved how she showed that anybody can geek out over something, not just a particular type of person. In addition, Levi was a thoughtful and sweet love interest for Cath and he is my favorite love interest in teen fiction.

Blackanese Boy by Ramon Calhoun- This is the first book I’ve read that was written by a black and Japanese author. It is also the first book I’ve read featuring a black and Japanese protagonist and the first book I’ve read that discusses what it is like to be bi-racial in the 70s and 80s. A remarkable aspect of the book is that the main character Rafael encounters different cultural experiences and is viewed through the eyes of black, Japanese, white, Arabic, and Muslim people.

Despite taking place years before I was born, I could relate to this book because I am black and asian and have experienced events similar to Ramon’s. I loved how honest this book was and how historical events like the atomic bomb scare and the birth of hip-hop were woven into the storyline.

Of Minnie The Moocher and Me by Cab Calloway and Brian Rollins- This autobiography has Cab Calloway telling about his life from his childhood until the early 70’s. It was a great read because you see how he became a bandleader, how he developed certain songs, what it was like touring with his band, and more. It was just as entertaining as any of his music.

I liked how he said that the point of him being a bandleader was that it was his way of saying, “I know it’s rough out there, but let go of your troubles for a little while.” I also liked that he revealed that he was an introvert offstage.

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson- I’ve been a fan of Jacqueline Woodson’s teen fiction for a couple of years, but this autobiography has become my favorite book of hers. I loved how she wrote about her childhood in beautiful free verse poems with vivid sensory detail. I also loved that she also wrote haiku poetry in order to tell about the lessons she learned. Finally, I loved how you can see her writing voice developed in certain poems.

Various Black Speculative Fiction Books- I did a separate post on my favorite black speculative fiction books that I read this year. Since people of color rarely get noticed in fantasy fiction, I decided to promote them as much as I can on this blog and the site Black Girl Nerds. Read about my favorite black speculative books on Black Girl Nerds here.

 

My Favorite Web Series and Movies I’ve Seen in 2014

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I’ve seen quite a few films this year and the first season of a certain web series. Here are my favorites!

Web Series: The Misadventures of The Awkward Black Girl (Season 1)- While there are actually two seasons of the show available, I stopped at season 1 because I didn’t want to be disappointed that there would be no more episodes to watch after Season 2. All the episodes are funded through Kickstarter and either there are no more episodes that are going to be made or they haven’t gotten funding to make more episodes yet.

Anyway, I gave Season 1 a chance after hearing about this show on sites like Black Girl Nerds and Afropunk. I am so glad that I did, because this is the first time I have seen someone like me in a show. By someone like me, I mean an awkward yet quirky woman of color. This show is honest and very funny. I found myself laughing out loud  and smiling at every episode. If you haven’t seen this series, then check out the episodes on the show’s site.

Movies:

Slam (1998)– This became my favorite poetry film ever. Not only does it have great slam poetry, but it also teaches the value of hip-hop and that you don’t have to be a part of a cycle of violence and revenge to get by. As a poet, this film inspired one or two poems I wrote this year and showed me the value of using homonyms. This film also helped me appreciate hip-hop more, because I barely listened to it until this year.

Stormy Weather (1943)– This classic blues and jazz film has become a favorite music film of mine. It features four of my favorite things: tap dancing, Cab Calloway, and blues and jazz. This film introduced me to the legendary tap dancer Bill “Bojangles” Robinson and the lovely Lena Horne. There is so much talent in this film that it is impossible not to enjoy the performances.

Cab Calloway’s Hi-Di-Ho (1934)- This short film is one of many short films that Cab Calloway did in his prime. This one is my favorite because you see him dance and sing live and provide a little humor at the end. I also liked that this film also doubled as an advertisement for radio, which was a fairly new product at the time.  View the short film on YouTube here.

The First Grader (2010)– This film made really appreciate the free grade school education I have gotten in the United States and made me think about the current state of education in America. I also liked that they told the true story that inspired the film in such a raw and realistic light.

P!nk’s The Truth About Love Tour: Live from Melbourne (2013)– As a huge fan of P!nk, I was very happy to see this concert film on Netflix. I’ve seen some fan shot videos of certain performances on YouTube, but it was awesome to see the entire tour. P!nk sings live while doing acrobatics, dancing, or just sitting or standing.

My favorite performances were “Raise Your Glass”, “Try”, “Time After Time”, “Fuckin’ Perfect”, “Can’t Take Me Home Medley (“Most Girls”, “You Make Me Sick”, “There You Go”, ), and “Sober”. The only thing I didn’t like were the excessive camera angles. The concert film is still available to watch on Netflix.

Big Hero 6 (2014)– When I originally saw the previews for the film, I thought it wasn’t going to be good. Then, somebody from my college’s anime club  posted about how good it was. After that, I found out that the film was inspired by Japanese anime and Japanese pop culture and I decided to give the film a chance.

As it turns out, the film was awesome. Since I lost my father two years ago, I could totally relate to the film’s main character Hiro Hamada when he lost his brother Tadashi. I also loved how diverse the main characters were and how they were all geeks.

Of course, I also loved that the film was inspired by Japanese anime and Japanese pop culture. Also, Baymax has become my favorite animated sidekick because of how he helped Hiro work through his grief, how awesome his special abilities are, and how funny he was when he learned how to do Hiro’s handshake.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Favorite Music Discoveries of 2014: Albums, EPs, and Songs

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In a previous post, I shared my favorite music of 2014, which featured music actually released this year. Now, I’m going to share my favorite music that I discovered this year that is from the past.

Albums:

The Collection by Nina Simone (Exclusive 2014 Spotify album)- This features music from Simone’s career in the 60s, 70’s, and maybe 80’s. Genre: classical, jazz, blues, pop

Tracy Chapman (1988) by Tracy Chapman.  Genre: folk, blues

The Bomb Shelter Sessions (2012) by Vintage Trouble. Genre: rock, soul, R&B

The Live and Aflame Sessions (2012) by Akua Naru. Genre: hip-hop and jazz with a dash of soul and spoken word

Metaphorical Madness (2003) by Nujabes. Genre: hip-hop and jazz

Freedom Suite (2010) by The Beast and Neena Freelon. Genre: hip-hop and jazz

Be Good (2012)by Gregory Porter.  Genre: jazz, soul

For The Whole World to See (1976) by Death Genre: punk rock, funk

EP:

Boy Without A Fairy (2013) by Dr. Awkward. Genre: nerdcore rap

Room for Living (2013) by Marian Mereba. Genre: folk

Spectrum 2.0 (2009) by BOSCO. Genre: jazz, funk, trip-hop, R&B

Wasted Years (2013) by Claire Renee and Joe Grisly. Genre: jazz, hip-hop, soul

Songs:

“Unwind” (2003) by P!nk. Genre: rock

“Free” (2003) by P!nk.  Genre: rock

“Zah-Zuh-Zaz” (1930’s) by Cab Calloway. Genre: jazz

“The Ghost of Smokey Joe” (1930’s) by Cab Calloway. Genre: jazz

“Happy Home (Keep on Writing)” (2008) by Kimya Dawson. Genre: anti-folk

“I Like Giants” (2006) by Kimya Dawson. Genre: anti-folk

“The Competition” (2006) by Kimya Dawson. Genre: anti-folk

“Blak Girls” (2008) by Shelley Nicole’s blakbushe Genre: funk

“Run Like The River” (2012) by Vintage Trouble. Genre: rock and soul

“They Say I’m Different” (1974) by Betty Davis.  Genre: funk

“F.U.N.K.” (1974) by Betty Davis. Genre: funk

“Baby Love” (1977) by Mother’s Finest. Genre: funk

“Truth Will Set You Free”(1977) by Mother’s Finest. Genre: funk

“Fairy Tail Main Theme (slow ver.)” by Yasuharu Takanashi. Genre: instrumental Celtic music

“Natsu’s Theme” by Yasuharu Takanashi. Genre: instrumental Celtic rock

“Carla’s Confession” by Yasuharu Takanashi. Genre: instrumental Celtic music

“Lucy and The Power of Her Celestial Spirits” by Yasuharu Takanashi. Genre: instrumental Celtic rock

 

 

 

 

 

 

Written by Serena Zola

December 8, 2014 at 9:08 PM

My Favorite Music of 2014: Albums, EPs, Mixtapes, and Songs

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Update Dec. 4 2014: Added the album “Crimson Cord”, which I found after this was originally posted.

Since the year is winding down, I’d thought I’d go ahead and post about my favorite music of 2014. I’ve discovered a lot of great music this year and I enjoyed listening to all of it. I will also be doing another 2014 music list about music from past years that I discovered this year, so stay tuned for that.

Albums:

Dirty Gold by Angel Haze (Genre: hip-hop, pop, R&B)

Landing on a Hundred + B Sides and Remixes by Cody ChesnuTT (Genre: funk, soul, rock)

Gary Clark Jr. Live by Gary Clark Jr. (Genre: blues, soul, rock)

Sky Blew’s Unmodern Life by Sky Blew (Genre: nerdcore with a little soul and jazz)

Crimson Cord by Propaganda (Genre: hip-hop, spoken word)

EP’s and Mixtapes

The Reintroduction of Mumu Fresh by Maimouna Youssef (Genre: hip-hop, pop, soul)

Another M by Sammus (Genre: nerdcore)

Blak and Blu: The Mixtape by Gary Clark Jr. (Genre: blues, rock, soul, hip-hop)

Broke and Baroque by Chargaux (Genre: classical, experimental)

Dragonfly by Purple Ferdinand (Genre: folk)

KULA by KULA (Genre: rock)

Songs:

“Angels and Airwaves” by Angel Haze (Genre: hip-hop, pop)

“Gold Digga” by Sa’ra Charismata (Genre: electro-pop)

“Gunpowder on the Letter” by Cody ChesnuTT feat. Gary Clark Jr. (Genre: blues rock)

“Pity” by Estère (Genre: witch-hop, soul)

“Stardust” by Maimouna Youssef (Genre: soul)

“Please Come Home” by Gary Clark Jr. feat. Alice Smith (Genre: R&B, rock)

“What If Times” by Shinobi Ninja (Genre: pop-rock, rap)

“Break The Cycle” by You + Me (Genre: pop)

“NPC Anthem (Part 1)” by Mega Ran feat. Doug Funnie, 1-Up, and Kadesh Flow (Genre: nerdcore)

“Land of Opportunity” by A Great Big World (Genre: pop with a dash of jazz)

“Weapon” by Bastille feat. Angel Haze, F*U*G*Z, and Braque (Genre: hip-hop, pop)

Written by Serena Zola

November 28, 2014 at 9:00 AM

Thank You For Letting Be Myself: A Special Thanksgiving Greeting

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This year has been really life-changing for me as a woman of color. I have gone from feeling alienated from the black community to feeling more connected to it. I have gone from feeling ashamed of being different as a black person to being proud of who I am and not caring what others think. I owe these feelings to many online communities, independent/under-sung musicians, and independent authors. To these people and spaces, I say, “Thank you for letting me be myself”.

For Harriet, a black women’s blog- This summer, I was an editorial intern for this site. As I wrote essays and articles for the site, I got in touch with issues affecting the black community and discovered other online communities for black people. I also discovered the value of my own ideas and interests. Visit the site here.

Afropunk, a community site for independent musicians and artists- I discovered Afropunk after watching the documentary A Band Called Death, which was about the first black punk band. I had Googled the words “black punk bands” and Afropunk was the first link that I saw in the results.

Not only did the music on the site validate my eclectic music taste and get me new music, but it also inspired my own creativity as a writer and poet. This summer, I spread the word about the music I discovered from the site on this blog, in the category “Below The Radar Music”. Eventually, I would become a contributor to Afropunk in order to continue spreading the word about the music that I enjoyed. Visit Afropunk here.

Black Girl Nerds- This is another site I discovered thanks to Google. One day when I was feeling lonely, I typed in the words “black girl nerd” in Google’s search engine and the link for the site caught my eye. Soon I found myself happily browsing the site and feeling like I finally had a place to set my nerdy side free. Like with Afropunk, I would become a contributor to this site as well.  Check out Black Girl Nerds here.

The NPC Collective- These men and women are nerdy people of color who rap about video games, animation, and other nerdy topics in the music genre called nerdcore. I started with Sammus, a black female nerdcore rapper, producer, and gamer whose stage name was inspired by the heroine from the Metroid video game series. From there, I moved on to black male nerdcore rappers like Mega Ran, 1-Up, and Skyblew.

These people have made rap fun and have shown other nerdy people of color that they aren’t alone.  I have supported them through articles on Black Girl Nerds and Afropunk. For more info on The NPC Collective, check out their website here.

Black Fantasy Fiction Authors- Through Black Girl Nerds and the blog site The Chronicles of Harriet, I discovered black urban fantasy and sword and soul authors such as Kyoko M., Balogun Ojetade, and Milton J. Davis. In order to spread the word about their works, I’ve been reviewing their books on my blog in the category “Fantasy Fiction: People of Color”. These authors also introduced me to African mythology and showed me that black people can create a new view of their past, present, and future with creativity and imagination.

 

To these people and communities, I give thanks. Thank you for letting me be myself and I hope to see more wonderful things from you in future.

 

 

 

7 Reasons Janelle Monáe Should Be More Popular

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Janelle Monae

Source: Wikipedia Commons

Author’s Note: I feel like the original spotlight I did on Janelle Monáe last year did not do her justice, so I’m doing another one. Another reason is that I’m tired of reading YouTube comments that say she has no talent.

1. She has created an epic music saga that has science fiction, romance, and sociopolitical commentary.

Beginning with Metropolis Suite 1: The Chase, the story is set in a futuristic world called Metropolis where there is a class system of humans and androids. Humans make up the wealthy while androids make up the working class and poor. The main protagonist of the story is the android Cindi Mayweather, who is sent back in time to free Metropolis from its strife. Cindi’s story begins when she becomes the target of Metropolis’s government for falling in love with a human  named Anthony Greendown.

The albums Metropolis Suite 1: The Chase and The ArchAndroid focus on Cindi’s attempts to evade the authorities, becoming aware of what is going on in the world around her, and realizing how she could change things.

The Electric Lady, Monae’s most recent album, is set before The Archandroid album and tells multiple stories. First, there is Cindi’s past before she fell in love with Anthony Greendown. Then, there are the identities Cindi assumes when she is sent back in time,  Janelle Monae and The Electric Lady. Finally, there is the daily lives of the androids in Metropolis.

With this much creative storytelling, it is impossible to skip a track on her albums.

2. All the albums of The Metropolis saga feature a variety of genres and influences.

Despite being her shortest work so far, Metropolis Suite 1: The Chase, is a great blend of R&B, funk, soul, and operatic elements. The ArchAndroid  is her most eclectic work, featuring classical, pop. rock, jazz,  electronica,  and funk. Finally, The Electric Lady  features different sides to R&B, showing its connection to funk, soul, rock, jazz, and hip-hop.

Collectively, you can hear a variety of musical influences on Monae such as David Bowie, Michael Jackson, Donna Summer, Diana Ross, and Betty Davis (the funk singer).

3. Her music videos are just as creative as her albums.

They work together with the songs to tell the story of Cindi Mayweather and Metropolis. It’s a shame more videos weren’t made for The Archandroid. 

Notable videos:

“Many Moons”– from Metropolis Suite 1: The Chase

“Cold War”– from The ArchAndroid

“Q.U.E.E.N” – from The Electric Lady

4.  Her singing and dancing, whether live or studio, is phenomenal.

With her dancing, you can see how Michael Jackson and James Brown influenced her. She channels her own energy into their moves to create fun, exciting performances. When it comes to her voice, it has a great range that goes from soothing low notes to energetic and soulful high notes.

Songs and Performances with notable vocals:

“Cindi” from The Audition (a very rare album released in 2003)

“Come Alive (War of The Roses)” from The Archandroid

“Say You’ll Go” (Live audio from a National Public Radio session)- from The ArchAndroid

“Ba Bop Bye Ya” (Live from Emory University)- from The ArchAndroid

Music Videos and Performances with notable dancing:

“Tightrope” from The Archandroid

“Dance Apocalyptic” (Live from the David Letterman Show)- from The Electric Lady

“Electric Lady”  (Live on The Today Show) from The Electric Lady

5. Certain tracks are made to empower or represent specific groups of people.

“Cindi”(see above link)- encourages those who don’t fit in to accept themselves and be themselves

“Q.U.E.E.N.” (see above link)- According to an interview, the song is meant for women and those with different sexual orientations,  but is also an acronym for  the queer, the untouchables, the excommunicated, the emmigrants, and the negroid.

“Ghetto Woman” from The Electric Lady– for working class women

6. According to an acceptance speech she gave at Black Girls Rock! in 2012, she stated that she wears her signature black and white tuxedo to honor her parents and to stay connected to the community.

7.  Janelle Monáe is a brilliant, beautiful, and  talented woman who cannot and should not be categorized because she dances to her own beat.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Written by Serena Zola

October 12, 2014 at 10:59 PM

6 Reasons New Generations Must Listen to Nina Simone

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Nina Simone

Source: Wikipedia

1.  During the Civil Rights Movement, she wrote songs that expressed the anger, grief, and hope of black people.

My personal favorites are To Be Young, Gifted and Black and Revolution (Parts 1 and 2). To Be Young Gifted and Black was an anthem of the civil rights movement, but I consider it a personal anthem for myself now. Revolution is a fantastic musical representation of the defiance and chaos going on at the time.

2. “Four Women” is a song that black women of all shades and ages can connect to either personally or emotionally.

When I first heard this song, I was entranced by Simone’s voice and the raw lyrics. The song plays out like a stage performance, with Simone singing different parts. By the end of the song, Simone’s voice had me stunned.

3.  She was an eclectic artist that was hard to pin down.

She sang the blues and gospel, fused jazz and pop with classical, and even had one song with reggae influences. One of the first Nina Simone songs that I enjoyed was “Love Me or Leave Me“. Her piano playing was a pleasant surprise, especially when she switched from jazz to classical and then back. Another favorite of mine is “Little Girl Blue“.  I love Janis Joplin’s version, but Simone’s version is beautiful and soothing.

 

4.  She had great live performances where she improvised on piano and looked like a queen.

“I Love You Porgy”- Live 1960

“Mississippi Goddam”- Live 1965

“Work Song”- Live 1966

“Ain’t Got No… I Got Life Life”- Live 1969

5.  She has influenced rap, pop, and R&B musicians such as Alicia Keys, Christina Aguilera, Talib Kweli,  and Lauryn Hill.

6.  She was a hardworking, outspoken, talented, and resilient spirit.

Very recently, I finished reading Simone’s autobiography I Put A Spell on You.  It is a tale of how she endured racism, physical and emotional abuse, alienation, and bi-polar disorder (which she wasn’t diagnosed for until after the events of the book). She endured all this and made music that moved people and inspired them to action. For that, she is amazing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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