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Saturday, November 26, 2011

Reconstructing the Self- The Musical Billy Elliot

Billy Elliot

A Review By Sojourner Ahebee

Sarah Jones is a playwright and actress who has created a cast characters who come from a wide-range of economic, cultural and ethnic backgrounds. Ms. Jones, who is African-American, uses her insight and talent and becomes her characters. We, the audience, are enchanted to come into their world and listen to their stories, in their voices.

I was recently listening to a video in which Ms. Jones shared her motivation for creating her characters. She was interested, she said, by how people construct a sense of themselves given the family, the geography, the times, the gender, etc. in which they are born. How do we become ourselves? How do we invent or reinvent ourselves, especially in an environment which is constraining.

Last Thursday I saw the musical, Billy Elliot, as part of the Kimmel Center’s Broadway Presents series, in Philadelphia. My Aunt Mona had seen the New York production and had raved about this musical. So I was certainly looking forward to seeing it, and the Philly presentation, at the Academy of Music, was no let down. Billy Elliot is a must see.

Billy is a kid growing up in a coal mining town in England during the time of Margaret Thatcher’s rule and a time of economic difficulties. His family is working class and the men in his family have been coal miners for generations. My Aunt Mona, who visits England often, said it is difficult for Americans to appreciate the very rigid class structure that exists in British society. It is so oppressive as to almost dictate what your desires are and what you dream and how far you can transcend the background in which you were born.

When we first meet Billy, the coalminers in his town are on strike. His father and brother are coalminers and money is very tight. Despite these economic challenges, Billy’s father sacrifices a lot to pay for Billy to take boxing lessons, which Billy hates. While going to a boxing lesson, Billy sees a group of ballet dancers practicing in a room in the gym. He is immediately enchanted. 
The ballet instructor, Ms. Wilkinson, immediately pulls Billy into the classroom and a love affair begins with Billy and the dance of ballet.

How does a boy, in an English coalmining town, from a family of coalminers, against the background of the 1984 coal miners’ strike, become a ballet dancer? Going back to Ms. Jones, what circumstances are needed for the boy from his geography, economic background, and gender and so on to reconstruct himself as a ballet dancer?

How to knock down barriers so you can rise to grow into who you want to be is the essence of what this musical is about. Go and see it and be inspired.

Here is a link to the dates and times of the performances. The run in Philadelphia closes on Sunday, November 27th, so hurry to see Billy Elliot.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Happy Birthday Songs in the Key of Life

Sunday Best

In the Ahebee pantheon of gods, Stevie Wonder ranks pretty high.  It’s the 35th anniversary of Mr. Wonder’s Album-Songs in the Key of Life.  My mom actually has this album-yes album-not CD-that she proudly bought when she was 14. In my grandparents’ house, my grandfather still has this contraption called a 8 track cassette player for his Ink Spots and Nat King Cole tapes.   And yes, they still have a record player, which is the neatest thing of all.  And so, we’re blasting Stevie and singing his songs the old-fashioned way; with a lot of heart.

My favorite song on this album is I Wish.  This song is so universal.  Here is the Korean group Sweet Sorrow singing I Wish.  HappyThanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Holiday Cards with Messages that Matter & James Brown and Luciano Pavarotti Singing Together

You can order my socially and politically progressive holiday cards and get a 50% discount only today. Use Code: GIVEMAILINGS    Here is the link to my Zazzle store. Click here, also, to read the messages inside of the cards.
  Here’s my Thanksgiving treat to you; a duet featuring James Brown and Luciano Pavarotti- It’s a Man’s World.  Check out the lyrics of Pavarotti’s part. 

Monday, November 21, 2011

Michelle Obama Unveils Student Poet Program

Brave New Voices slam champion Joshua Bennett performs "TamaraŹ¼s Opus" at the White House Evening of Poetry, Music, and the Spoken Word on May 12, 2009.

This is hot off the press. This is an amazing opportunity for us poets.  Read on.

Reprinted from Reuters:

(Reuters) - First Lady Michelle Obama on Monday helped launched a new arts program to pick five student poets from high schools who will spend one year promoting poetry through readings, workshops and other activities.

The National Student Poets program is created by the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities, of which the first lady is honorary chair, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services through a partnership with nonprofit group, the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers.

"What you learn through reading and writing poetry will stay with you throughout your life," Obama said in a statement. "It will spark your imagination and broaden your horizons and even help your performance in the classroom."

The five National Student Poets will be chosen from a pool of teenagers who have already received a national Scholastic Art & Writing Award for poetry. The selection panel will be comprised of poet Terrance Hayes, "Kenyon Review" editor David Lynn, Alice Quinn of the Poetry Society of America, and the Library of Congress' Robert Casper.

More than 185, 000 students apply annually for the Scholastic Art & Writing Award and since 1923, winners have included teenagers such as Truman Capote, Sylvia Plath, Joyce Carol Oates and others.

The first five National Student Poets will be announced in summer 2012, and will each receive academic awards of $5,000. They will serve as literary ambassadors in their communities and encourage kids to develop writing and creative skills.

"The National Student Poets work will give greater visibility to the voice and perspective of today's youth," said Virginia McEnerney, executive director of the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers.

The President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities focuses on increasing creativity in schools and engaging students in being innovative. The Institute of Museum and Library Services makes federal grants aimed at creating strong libraries and museums.

(Reporting and Writing by Piya Sinha-Roy; Editing by Bob Tourtellotte)

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Ben Heine; Photographer and Illustrator in One

Photograph abd drawing by Ben Heine
Ben Heine, like me, was born in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, and left when he was 7 years-old. And like me, he uses his memories of his birthplace to create some amazing artwork. Here is a link to his site.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Michelle Obama by Jasmine Mans

Michelle Obama- photo credit: SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

Jasmine Mans is an amazing talent. I'll let her speak for herself.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Stop the Pity; Unlock the Potential

People are beginning to get it right!!! Mama Hope is empowering people across the divide to help each other through recognizing how much they are, indeed, connected.   Mama Hope’s newest video campaign, Stop the Pity and Unlock the Potential, seeks “to show the energy and potential of Africa and the interconnectedness we share. It is only when people are no longer seen through the stereotypes of poverty that we can begin to see we are not so different from each other. When the pity stops, the potential can be unlocked. This means more progress, but it will take all of us.”

I love, love, love this video. Here’s the link to learn more about Mama Hope.
Get my poem, Listen to Africa, which has been published by the Syracuse Cultural Workers as a poster. Display it and spread the word that we’re cool like that. Here’s the link to purchase the poster:

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Mapping Stereotypes

Designer and illustrator Yanko Tsvetkov has created this startling vision of Africa as seen through American eyes as part of his clever Mapping Stereotypes series. 
This is why you need to purchase my poster, Listen to Africa, published the Syracuse Cultural Workers.  I turn those stereotypes upside-down. Here’s the link: