Tag Archives: New York City

New York 2013: Sounds of Brazil at Lincoln Center

Maracatu Estrela Briliante
Photo by Ruby Washington/New York Times

Anyone who knows me is aware of how much I love Brazilian culture.  It has, in varying degrees, remained one of my life’s enchantments. Let me be clear:  I was not born in Brazil, nor do I have any known ancestors from there.  The connection is based entirely on a spiritual and cultural kinship that I claimed after experiencing stories told through Carlos Diegues films, being introduced to the tastes of Brazil by ones like Jessica Harris and feeling just this side of heaven thanks to so much of the music from that country.     Which brings me to the subject of one of my final posts about this summer’s vacation to the Apple:  a serendipitous intake of Brazilian music at Lincoln Center Out of Doors.

So, Big Man’s dad and I took him to the Manhattan Children’s Museum after which Dad suggested we all walk down 42nd street to see the lights once more before heading back to Georgia.  (Dad seemed to be on a natural New York buzz since during the two weeks I was away for my arts residency he and Big Man had hit every place from Coney Island, Governor’s Island, Central Park and Wave Hill to the bridges of Brooklyn and Manhattan.)  Even though the frenzied center of NYC sounded in no way appealing, I was eager to get back to the familiar.  So, I agreed.  Reluctantly.  And good thing I did.

Our train was one that had to pass West 66th Street, a station with art showing Greek divas and ancient Egyptian acrobats tumbling about in glimmering mosaic tile.  Lincoln Center! Images of Wynton Marsalis blowing his trumpet and the voice of the forever-suave Ed Bradley rushed to mind.  No way could I miss the at least seeing where so many musical masters had performed. I grabbed Big Man’s hand and urged Babydad to follow, expecting him to balk. He didn’t, and instead hustled us all out before the #1 local moved on down the line.

Even though it was early evening–and the weekend no less– the whole neighborhood seemed enveloped in a serene elegance.   As I went to open one of the faultlessly-shined doors leading to the concert hall, I caught a strain of what was clearly the staccato rhythm of a batucada drum corps and melodic voices unique to Brazil.  My ears led me until we rounded a corner and saw an elegant display of tents and strings of lights flanking a field of chairs all turned toward a stage on which was an act decked out in full royal attire.  Some people were dancing in the aisles and I hurried with Big Man to join them.   I learned that the group was named Maracatu Nação Estrela Brilhante.   Up to then, I’d never heard of Estrela Brilhante, but was familiar with the maracatu tradition that they represented.

Maracatu is a music and dance tradition intimately bound to spiritual traditions salvaged on the trans Atlantic journeys made by enslaved black people centuries ago.  Like its twin the congada, maracatu is a cultural tradition in which a king, queen and court are appointed, and it’s said that early on, one of the maracatu king’s duties was to serve as spokesperson for the members of his community.  “Maracatu nação” means “maracatu nation” and refers to the ethnic or tribal affiliations once recognized by Africans taken to various points in the Americas.    Still today, though a number of maracatu bands have taken to the performance stage, they echo traditions from long ago.


nacao estrela brilhante
Nação Estrela Brilhante (Brilliant Star Tribe)  is recognized as one of the oldest maracatu bands of the Northeast, having been founded in the early 1900s.   Though I admit to being thrown by the stiff wig of the king and the over-the-top Elizabethan ruffled collars that Estrela Brilhante wore for their LCOD performance, their sound was sweeter than anything I’d heard in a long while.  It made me remember how the axe of musicians like Ilê Aiyê, Olodum and Margareth Menezes sent mJared and Me at Lincoln Center OODe dreaming twenty years ago.

I’ll end this post by saying thank goodness for small mercies, salve Brazil and big ups to Lincoln Center for making our final evening in the city a pleasing one.   I hope that experiencing such a moment in the company of Mom and Dad gave Big Man sights and sounds to remember.

For more on Brazil:

Jessica Haas of Los Afro Latinos blog has posted this on filmmaker, Carlos Diegues.

The Brazilian Sound is an awesome online resource.  While you’re there, check out ones like Dori Caymmi, George Aragao, Rosa Passos, Paulinho da Viola, Chico Barque, Clara Nunez, Lazzo, Djavan, Gilberto Gil, Flora Purim, Marisa Monte, Leci Brandao, Simone, Jair Oliveira, Seu George, MV Bill to start.

A musician named Eduardo Guedes has written an informative short piece called “Exploring the Rhythms of Brazil: Part One- Maracatu” that you can read here.

Cultural Traditions in Brazil (Molly Aloian) and Brazil, part of the Festivals of the World Series (Susan McKay) are two books that bring some of Brazilian culture into focus for kids.

                     Cultural Traditions of Brazil Book by Molly Aloian Festivals of Brazil Book by Susan McKay


New York 2013: Kids’ Book Exhibit at NYPL

PHOTO Kids' Books Exhibition at NYPL (6)

I love kids books and started buying them well before I had a child.   To me, they are one of the most seamless fusions of art and text.  I enjoy them so much that when I earned my librarianship degree, Children’s and Young Adult lit was the area in which I focused my study.  Here in Atlanta, there used to be a wonderful place called Kudzu Book Fair that sold books at discounted prices.  They along with Amazon’s Marketplace are largely to thank for most of the books that are in my collection.  But  I digress.

The main point of this post is to make mention of The ABC of It, an exhibit that I chanced upon while visiting NYPL’s Schwarzman Library.     It was an exhibit that was more an exploration of children’s literature for adults more than it was an interactive show geared toward children.  That being the case, Big Man pretty much sat it out and instead enjoyed treats in the cafe with his grandmother.  I, on the other hand, nearly let out a squeal of delight to see Cassie the main character of Faith Ringgold’s Tar Beach large as life and soaring above the George Washington Bridge.  I was also delighted to see some of the original cut paper collages of Ashley Bryan.    The exhibit also recognized Langston Hughes’ work for children, the contribution that that W.E.B. Du Bois’ Brownie’s book made to the genre and taught me more than I previously knew about Pura Belpré, a predecessor on the librarian-writer path.

               Tar Beach

PHOTO Jene and Tar Beach at NYPL2 (4)
“It’s very easy, anyone can fly. All you need is somewhere to go that you can’t get to any other way. The next thing you know, you’re flying among the stars.” Cassie Louise Lightfoot
Page from Ashley Bryan’s ABC of African American Poetry
PHOTO Kids' Books Exhibition at NYPL  (6)
In front of Ashley Bryan’s cut paper collages for book, This Little Light of Mine

Hughes - First Book of Jazz (Roberts)003

LangstonHughes photo by Don Hunstein 1955
Langston Hughes once maintained an urban garden for children in his Harlem neighborhood. Photo by Don Hunstein, 1955

                              Brownie's Book

Pura Belpré was was a pioneering Nuyorican librarian, storyteller, and puppeteer.  She was also the spouse of African American classical violinist, Clarence Cameron White.
Pura Belpré was was a pioneering Nuyorican librarian, storyteller, and puppeteer. She was also the spouse of African American classical violinist, Clarence Cameron White.


New York 2013: Harlem on Our Minds

Jared and Mom at Red Rooster

PHOTO Adebisi Akanji Stone Sculptures in Harlem (4)PHOTO Adebisi Akanji Stone Sculptures in Harlem (6)

PHOTO Lois Mailou Jones Exhibit at the Schomberg  (8)

Another highlight was roaming around Harlem a bit.  Of course, we visited the Schomberg where we got to see some Aaron Douglas murals as well as a showing of Lois Mailou Jones’ work, both of whom were Harlem Renaissance artists whose work I fell in love with while taking African American art history in undergrad.  The library made me sign a form promising not to circulate the photos I took of the murals; nevertheless, it was a thrill to see Douglas’ large scale works like this and to get up close to some of the small works of la grande dame, Madame Jones.  As we were walking along 125th Street after leaving the Caribbean Cultural Center, I was taken by the outdoor stone carvings of Nigerian artist Adebisi Akanji outside of the National Black Theatre building.   We ended our wanderings by treating our hungry bellies to a collard green-cornbread-lemonade lunch at Marcus Samuelsson’s Red Rooster.

New York 2013: Saint John the Divine

Clockwise from left: Rose window at National Cathedral, stained glass in nave of National Cathedral, us in front of "Big John" in Morningside Heights (NYC); Rowan Castle's photo "Nasir-ol-Molk Mosque, Shiraz, Iran" (from Lonely Planet.com)
Clockwise from left: Rose window at National Cathedral, stained glass in nave of National Cathedral, us in front of “Big John” in Morningside Heights; Rowan Castle’s photo “Nasir-ol-Molk Mosque, Shiraz, Iran” (from Lonely Planet.com)

In keeping with my promise to post more about our summer visit to NYC, here is a photo of Big Man and me that I like.  It’s of us in front of the Big John Cathedral which I learned about through Me and Momma and Big John, a picture storybook illustrated by Mara Rockliff.  It’s a beautiful book that, through the story of one family, tells of a apprentice program that put formerly-unemployed NYC residents to work by training them to be, primarily, stonemasons.   The cathedral also had arts programs that trained children to weave and make ceramics; was home to a theatre and dance troupe and an artist-in-residence who is also the resident tightrope walker (for more on this see also “Manhattan’s Medieval Masterpiece” by Michele Lansberg featured in 1989 issue of Reader’s Digest and printed here).  I had to indulge my inner art nerd by paying a visit.   Since Big Man seems inclined toward architecture or engineering, I thought he’d enjoy seeing it too.   And he did.  Even though we’ve not visited the National Cathedral in D.C. or the Nasir al Mulk mosque I include those photos in the collage as a reminder of the architectural kinship that exists between some of the most majestic churches, mosques and synagogues, Big John included.

New York 2013 (Part One)

Earlier this month, Big Man and I visited New York.  My last visit to the city was back in 2004 when I attended Yari Yari Pamberi at NYU.  Before that it was for an art fair back in 1999 and before that the Brooklyn West Indian Day Parade way back in the days of Super Cat


and Super Blue. Big Man was there just last summer to witness his dad’s graduation from an online distance learning program.  Because he loves all things architectural and pays a good deal of attention to the internal organs of buildings as well,  Man was very much in sync with NYC though he was only there for about two days.   I’m told that much of the time he kept saying things like, “I wish mom could see that” or “Mom would really like this.”  So, in 2013 we got our wish.  It was our first trip there together, and getting to share it made me very happy.

This visit came about because of my writing residency at an arts colony in Vermont.  While I was away in my little studio further north in the Green Mountains, Big Man would be with relatives and would get to ride subway trains, walk bridges, scale skyscrapers and indulge in kiddie amusements to his heart’s content.  But before we parted, I dragged him along as I satisfied my inner culture nerd.  Within the next few days, I’ll be sharing some of the highlights.