This is the writing of Mike Conway, Producer and Editor of SHOUT Magazine. It is a collection of published and unpublished works. Enjoy.

Salı, Ocak 17, 2006

The Age of Divisadero Soul (SHOUT Issue 2)

Divisadero,-SF-1944, originally uploaded by smallaxe.

by Mike Conway

If I could travel anywhere, it would be back in time. I want to go back and see, hear and feel the places and moments we can only study now. Going back in time is not as hard as it seems; many backdrops of the past remain with us. All you have to do is go to those places and imagine the things you know about the past, and you’re there.

I just got back from such a trip, that I took after speaking with Ms. Josephine Robinson. From 1959 to 1977, she and her husband ran a nightclub and restaurant at 543 Divisadero Street in San Francisco. During this period, just four blocks east, the Fillmore Jazz Era was in full swing. Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, Miles Davis, Charlie Parker and countless other gods of jazz played up and down Fillmore. The ‘Moe had a reputation as the Harlem of the West.

But along nearby Divis, a parallel surge of jazz and early soul was blazing. More than just a music scene, Divisadero was its own nation, its own economy, and its own revolution. History has mostly forgotten this street; Ms. Robinson has not.

Though she modestly insists her memory has faded in her old age, she lucidly recalled a lot about her tenure at Club Morocco. Her kind, grandmotherly voice spoke of the many patrons she would occasionally “po’liquor” for. Herb Caen ate there often, and called the Morocco the “Salt ‘n’ Pepper” because it drew both blacks and whites together in their mutual quest for good food, music, and fun. This was at a time when prejudice was the absolute status quo; even in San Francisco, a woman couldn’t serve alcohol in a bar unless she was on the liquor license. Never the less, the Morocco was a place where all kinds of folks could dress up and get some dinner, dance, and catch acts like Ike and Tina, Marvin Gaye, and BB King. Giants’ legendary ballers Willie Mays and McCovey might be eating at the table across from yours.

But the Morocco was much more than a happening joint. It was part of a whole scene. All along Divisadero, you had bars and nightclubs like the Both And, the Bird of Paradise, the Sportsmen’s, and the Half Note. Across the street, at the Harding Theater, Curtis Mayfield played one of his last shows in the city. Up until 1965, folks would dance and parley up and down Divis until 2:00am, then hop over the hill to the ‘Moe and famous places like Bop City, which carried the vibe until the break of dawn.

But more importantly, Club Morocco was one of the many African American-owned businesses. Ms. Robinson recalled that throughout the ‘50s and ‘60s on Divisadero, roughly 75% of all businesses were black owned. It was its own economy of beauty parlors, barber shops, boutiques and, of course, the nightclubs. You could get a haircut, eat a nice meal and dance your ass off to live music, all in a single block.

In 1955, just as the Robinsons were putting together the money that bought 543 Divisadero, the U.S. Supreme Court set the guidelines for desegregation in its Brown II decision. Yet oppression-by-segregation would not just end at the drop of a gavel. Brown II might have been a wonderful development in the Civil Rights Struggle, but it was also wonderfully vague. Blacks might have been free to then find work unimpeded by law, but they had been deprived of such opportunities for centuries. “Sure you can join our union, but—what’s this? No union experience? Sorry.”

That’s where the Robinson family stepped up. To help their community, the Robinsons hired waitresses, bartenders, and busboys—way more of them than they ever needed—so that black folks could get the necessary work hours and go on to get jobs, join unions, gain benefits and live better lives. So when you went to the Morocco, you weren’t just seeing Marvin Gaye or James Brown rock the house, you were seeing a subtle revolution against de jure racism. And with so much wait-staff, the service at Morocco must have been impeccable.

The ‘70s brought the notoriously scandalous “redevelopment” of the Fillmore district. Buildings that housed black families and businesses were being suspiciously condemned for “utility upgrades”; fires would mysteriously destroy others. By 1977, Divisadero was reeling from it all. Businesses folded as pimps and prostitution moved in full time. An ardent Protestant, Ms. Robinson could no longer stomach serving this new clientele. She convinced her husband to sell, just before the avalanche of crack and Reaganomics plowed through.

Tony Bennet is famous for leaving his heart in San Francisco; San Francisco itself often leaves its heart in the past. The forces of change have paved over many subtle charms of this city, leaving us with only the nostalgia for a bygone time. But just the other night, after I spoke with Ms. Robinson, I took a stroll down Divisadero, and imagined myself there, many years before I was born. The streets would’ve bustled with people of all backgrounds, the scents of dinner would be wafting out the Morocco and Curtis Mayfield would be sound-checking at the Harding. Maceo Parker just might drop in later on...

Then, as I steered my mind back to the present, I wondered, “is that type of thing so far off?” Bars and clubs have returned to Divis, why can’t the vibe? Hell, there’s streets like this all over the Bay, why can’t they have it too? We got the music, we just need the venues and events.

Just recently, the former Morocco, now Club Waziema, just got all the necessary permits to do what they always have at that address. Liquor, entertainment, operating ‘til 2:00am: licenses like these eluded the bar for years, until its customers and neighbors began to pressure city and state agencies to cough them up. It’s said over and over that a community working together can make a difference, and it’s true. When a community (hint!) collaborates to promote and support itself, in whatever way, what would it need of any outside help? Would a community then need corporations to create jobs for it? Not really. Would it rely on politicians to slowly dole out rights and privileges to it? Probably not. When we start to provide these things to ourselves, then maybe we could get serious about revolution and independence as a movement.

Çarşamba, Ocak 11, 2006

Azeem: Always Facing East

by Mike Conway
flix by Matthew Reamer

“Writing is what I do no matter what, whether I was broke or not. I would always find a way to express myself,” says Ismail Azeem. Always in search of that “way,” Azeem’s been on a haj, seeking out different poetic locales through the blocks of Oakland and beyond.

Since his 1999 debut EP, Garage Opera, Azeem’s traveled through a lot of studios and stages. Then in ‘01 he completed his second outing, Craft Classic in 2001. This time an LP, Classic carried the work of seven capable, all-Bay producers. An emcee can get lost in the many different cuts of such a production; but Classic shows Azeem taking charge, his presence established in every beat. With tracks like “Duragz” (w/ DJ Spin) and “Rubber Glue” (DJ Zeph) on one end and “God’s Rolex” (Fanatik) on the other, Craft Classic is both hilarious and profound.
After Classic, Azeem was officially a talent to reckon with and the haj was on. Azeem’s talent is apparent. He rarely changes his pitch up to fit a rhyme in; rather he packs his verse into steady, tidy meters. But Azeem says talent alone gets you nowhere. “I can go around the corner right now and grab you ten guys that can all flow and freestyle for an hour. But when it comes time to go to school, work, raise a kid, then focus on your music for two/three hours a night, that’s where they fall short.”
Persistence is one thing, but getting approached by labels for it is better. When Gregory Howe of Wide Hive Records needed the right emcee for his Variable Unit--a loose group of jazz fusion instrumentalists, such as Matt Mongomery, and Kat Ouano and Max MacVeety of the Crown City Rockers--he tapped Azeem and the project culminated in the ingenious LP Mayhem Mystics. On this album, Azeem’s lyricism covers a wider range in both style and substance than on previous efforts.
Even as he was working on the Variable Unit project, Azeem kept on as a solo artist. Within months of the Mayhem Mystics release, Azeem also put out Show Business through Bomb Hip-Hop. Show Business was on the same tip as Garage Opera and Craft Classic, this time with 15 producers and 18 tracks.
For Azeem, taking on multiple collaborations is its own reward. “I’m not trying to pat myself on the back, but I don’t know too many emcees that can write a whole album with live jazz musicians and have it sound one way, and then go and have a hip-hop record and have that sound just as authentic.”
And now as we close in on 2006, Azeem’s lyrical haj gets deeper. He’s set to release many more projects, all equally unique. First up will be an LP with DJ Zeph, as Alpha Zeta. After that, he’ll release a grime album with the Switchcraft crew. He’s also collaborating with Reggie Graham, director of the Broadway production “Bring in da Noise, Bring in da Funk” for a musical adaptation of Azeem’s spoken word performance “Rude Boy,” which will run at the Marsh Theater in SF. Throw in some other collaborations with Om Records' artists Colossus and with an mix/mash DJ Child, and you get a good idea about how dedicated this emcees is to his art.
Armed with his craft, Azeem has traveled far and wide. But, he says he couldn’t have moved an inch without striking up a certain chemistry with each of his collaborators. “Music is chemistry,” he says. “You might have good beats, I might have good lyrics, but if our ethers don’t mix properly, it’s gonna come out in the music.”
Life, it is said, is a journey for all of us. Yet if we can’t vibe and meander with others on the way, it’s mostly an aimless wandering that gets us nowhere. For Azeem, it’s a haj with many destinations, each one different from the last and every one slightly closer to Mecca.

Salı, Ocak 10, 2006


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Cuma, Ocak 06, 2006

Story of Dying Things

Watching a Moth Die
I see you old and beaten,
Inside on a cold night
The wings which once you flew
So high in summer
Some thought you to be a butterfly.
But now are torn and rotten
As ugly autumn leaves.

You now bang your head
Against the dull lamp light
Thinking it's the sun, maybe
Hoping I might open a door
So you can fly to flowers once more

But I'd rather sit on my lonely chair
and watch you slowly die

moth, originally uploaded by smallaxe.

I then toook him and put him in my freezer. The next day I reconsidered if he was actually dead.

Is The Moth Dead?
Frozen moth, missing limb.
Wings wiggle in the wind,
Or does he thaw alive?

Hungry human, out of Eden,
Though at times he is naked,
Outside he's clothed in rags,
Strange like dusty scales.

Time has passed. No response.
He frames him in glass for sale
And sells him to pay for lunch.