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Art Identity Politic me.

I almost scrapped this post but Tigray wouldn’t let me…

As a disclaimer this is NOT part 3 of the “Never Needed Permission” Series. Part 3 is in the tuck because this is truly much more pressing. If you are curious as to what would make me temporarily pause on a series that essentially revitalized my love for writing on this raggedy website than please, by all means, keep reading.


This pandemic is a never ending loop of FaceTime calls, Zoom chats, WhatsApp messages, etc. I promise I’m not “complaining” but gahhh damn.

In one of those calls I caught up with a friend of a friend who I’d been meaning to talk to for awhile now and of course Ethiopia came up. (I’m slowly turning into my dad it’s amazing.) I told her I wanted to write about what was happening back home and her knee-jerk reaction/advice was to not throw myself into the fire. So here I am, doing it anyway, throwing myself into the pit because ya girl will risk it all for a crumb of identity talk *shrugs*

For those who are reading this and not aware of the humanitarian crisis taking place in Ethiopia please see article here. Let the ramble begin.


“Her personal experience was completely analogous with the restlessness and confusion of her beloved homeland.”

I came across this quote while reading an art history critique on Frida Kahlo. (Fancy right?! Lmao I know. I have to be honest, though, I was on ASOS looking at matching joggers and somehow ended up ten tabs deep into Frida’s life. So this whole post was partly inspired by my undiagnosed ADD and online shopping habit.) If you’re not familiar with Frida, the bad ass, then I definitely recommend doing your googles or watching Salma Hayek’s rendition of “Frida.” For the purposes of this post you just need to know that she was Mestiza (of mixed race), her father was German and her mother was an indigenous Mexican. (She was what Americans like to call a melting pot or salad, or whatever the hell the saying is…)

Anyway, back to the critique – the critic was critiquing Frida’s very public identity crisis and how her 1940’s pieces were strongly tied to a post-revolutionary Mexico. The author walked readers through Frida’s attempt to reconcile her “Mexican self with her European self.” Frida’s early portraits showed a balance between her two worlds. She understood how both “parts of herself” contributed to her wholeness but over time she went from being balanced, to a die-hard patriot, I’m talking complete nationalistic association, tat that shit on my forearm, cue the national anthem- to a clear and distinct “I don’t fuck with youuu.”

You’re probably like ok girl, Frida was clearly having a mid-life crisis what’s your point? Well my point is, right now, many of my/your friends, my/your loved ones and hell even myself are having that exact same breakdown. We are trying to put into words how the bloodshed, the displacement and quite frankly the sheer lack of compassion towards ALL Ethiopians, and I do mean ALL, is impacting our psyche and identity.

I personally have struggled to vocalize my thoughts/feelings/etc. as the conflict is extremely personal. The only way I can even begin to describe my feelings is to say I am restless and at times I am confused – oh and numb.

It does not matter where you stand on the current events of the country because a Diaspora's life, much like Frida's life, is tied to the restlessness of his or her "home." It is tied to the restlessness/confusion that some argue may or may not exist (I'm not about to get into that), the restlessness/confusion prompting ethnic groups to disassociate completely from the greater nation and the restlessness/confusion that is chipping away at the core concepts of what it means to identify as an Ethiopian.  

It is a lot. That’s the price of having two homes…right?

I mean between the race wars in the US, the many factions back home, the pandemic and then you add on the fact that we are on a floating rock paying taxes – it is just a lot. It is a lot. With all of that said I am not here to push some kind of kumbaya agenda. HELL I’m not even sure I know where I am going with this particular article anymore but I do want to make it abundantly clear that I am speaking to the kids of the Diaspora. I am speaking to the kids of the Diaspora who are trying to show up everyday but watching their mothers and fathers get calls in the middle of the night letting them know the status of our grandmothers. I am speaking to the kids of the Diaspora who are stuck in the middle of living their best lives here in America but are also having this looming paralyzing feeling over them that their privilege is too real, to the kids who are hitting the streets raising awareness but feeling unheard and lastly to the kids of the Diaspora who come from mixed ethnic group homes where you are constantly trying to find your footing. I see you. I feel you and I’m here for you. (I’m on a flight to LA right now and typing like that one cat that has so much to say, so please disregard my long ass run-on sentences.)

Now I don’t want to end this all sad, helpless and shit so here are three things you can do to support your friends and/or efforts on the ground in Ethiopia:

  1. Donate. This can be tricky people are literally profiting of the pain of others so do your homework when selecting an organization to donate too. I recommend this particular fund.
  2. Advocate/spread awareness in whatever way you feel comfortable…full stop.
  3. Lastly, “listen to listen” rather than “listen to respond.” Look…people are fighting silent battles and if they do end up opening up on how they feel just listen – this is not the time or place to offer up some twitter recap of a clubhouse discussion where your cousin who graduated from some political science program is spitting out his/her personal political views. It ain’t…it just ain’t so please just listen and if you can listen with empathy.

Fin. That is it. This Delta flight attendant just handed me my coke and I’m running out of wifi minutes – I’m out y’all. Oh and for anyone who wanted to know I did not end up purchasing that jogger set it was sold out :/. Le sigh another one bites the dust.

Article is written in dedication to my Eno Hago Mulu.

Stay Down,

Astu

Categories
Interview Music Weekend Sum Up

Meet Ras Nebyu

Disclaimer:

This past weekend, I attended the taping of the single “No Love” with every intention of siting down and interviewing the musically inclined Ambessa* himself: Ras Nebyu. Just five minutes into production, I realized there were two stories here – not one.

So, with that being said this article will be a two part installation. The first, obviously, highlighting the artist Ras Nebyu and his video shoot and the second examining the Ethiopian and Eritrean diaspora’s role in going hard for its’ members and contributing to the arts.

 Enjoy.

Meet Ras Nebyu

“I need everyone to go upstairs…”

“Wait, lets do that one more time…”

“Sshhhh…”

These phrases and more were in rotation, this past Saturday, as Ras Nebyu and his team directed scenes for the filming of his song “No Love.”

When I arrived, I walked right into a creative whirlwind. Girls hovering around the door, kitchen filled with the necessary libations, people running up and down the stairs, camera man working on lighting, and Nebyu’s song pumping through the sound system. Everything about the atmosphere, screamed house party but the twist here was everyone was working.

Having debut back in April of 2015, the song “No Love” was produced by Casito Del Fresco and mixed by Arckitech. When asked what the song meant Nebyu had this to say:

Basically…”No Love” is about young adults going through relationships and their variations of no love – so whether it’s being heart broken or being the heart-breaker it’s a song from different perspectives. The video concept adds a little comedic twist….like a romantic comedy. [The comedic twist he is referring to is Filmon “Gergish” Yohannes, an Eritrean-American comedian who participated in the video.]

After listening to the lyrics and watching Nebyu perform the song it was obvious that he’s not new to this. With more than 20+ tracks under his belt, a couple sold out shows, and a faithful fan base accompanied with his hardworking team the “Washington Slizzards” – Nebyu is putting on for his city.

Much of Nebyu’s influences can be attributed to his desire to stay true to his culture which is an amalgamation of both Rastafarian and Pan-African philosophy. (Being a part of the large DMV Habesha network has also been a major factor in his musical career – a factor to be later examined.) His music is a blend of, what Africology Media best described as, “socially conscious content and leisure listening.” Nebyu’s “woke-ness” is probably most visible in his hit song “Washington Slizzards” and is reaffirmed by his Manager Beteley Solomon who says “you’ll never find Nebyu insulting women or just rapping about anything.” (Which, to me, is to be praised in a world where a lot of our jams are plagued with raunchiness and catchy hooks that make no sense. No shade here just facts, my friend.)

To listen to “No Love” see SoundCloud link below and for all things Ras Nebyu visit these links: Facebook, SoundCloud, and you can find him on social media by searching @RasNebyu. To book him or connect with his management please email: Rasnebyubiz@gmail.com.

Video Release Date: TBA

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Artist Adonay G., MC Ras Nebyu, Manager Beteley S.

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Ras Nebyu on set of “No Love”

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Chop N Shoot Video Production directing Ras Nebyu’s “No Love”

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Washington Slizzards X SDBUP

Pictures provided by Kedest Photography

*Ambessa – the Amharic word for Lion.

Stay Down Blaze Up,

Astu Mengesha

Categories
Art Entrepreneur Events Interview Music New

Haile Roots in Concert April 2

FullSizeRender (8)Haile Roots and the Fano Band are coming to the District and we are super excited to be covering the event this year!

For those not too familiar with the Ethiopian reggae artist please check out his music here on itunes and get ready for a dose of feel good music with a dash of consciousnesses. I promise you won’t be disappointed. (Also, as a cheat sheet here are a couple songs I recommend: Nitsuh Quwanquwayen, Bado Neber, and Chiggae.)

The event is powered by the brilliant people over at: NebFoto (@Nebfoto), Muzika Events (@MuzikaEvents), LivDMV (@Livdmv) , Noble Lounge and Bar, and Too Live Crew (TooLiveCrewDC). Be sure to follow the hashtag #haileroots to learn more about the artist and the event. You won’t want to miss this!

Location: Club XO – 15 K Street Northeast, Washington, DC 20002

Date: April 2, 2016

Time: 9:30 PM to 3:00 AM

Purchase Tickets HERE

“Continental drift has rarely sounded funkier.”

Categories
Entrepreneur

The 10 Year Anniversary of Kanye West’s Late Registration

     The subjectivity of music creates some of the most difficult questions to answer. John Lennon or Paul McCartney? What’s the greatest hip-hop group of all time? *NSYNC or The Backstreet Boys? Certainly there are no wrong answers… but if you didn’t answer Lennon, Outkast, or Backstreet Boys then you, just like Sway, do not have the right answers, but never mind that! When Chicago rapper Kanye West isn’t spazzing on radio personalities or designing sneakers, he’s creating monumental albums that always seem to modify the trajectory of current urban music. The debate of which of Kanye’s six studio solo albums are better could have you sleeping on the couch. And while they all serve different purposes, the 10th anniversary of Late Registration has arrived still marveling as his crowing achievement.

      What truly makes Kanye so special is that the depth of his personality oozes into his multifaceted artistry. There’s socially aware Kanye, arrogant Kanye, producer-extraordinaire Kanye, experimental Kanye and so on and so forth. An in-depth analysis of the superstars catalog shows that Late Registration best embodies Kanye’s presentation.

     Following one of the most impressive debut albums of all time, Kanye uses this album to leap from ya auntie nem’ favorites rapper to genius level artist. Wanting you to know that as soon as you press play on track one, “Heard ‘Em Say” is accented by the first “That white boy can sing” of the new millennium, Maroon 5’s Adam Levine. In today’s landscape, a pop rap collaboration isn’t exactly earth shattering, but in 2005 there weren’t too many rappers afforded the luxury of collaborating with a pop star of the opposite race. But his most exciting collaboration had to be with actor/comedian Jamie Foxx on “Gold Digger.” Fresh off Foxx’s Oscar winning performance of music legend Ray Charles, the track interpolates Charles ‘s “I Got a Woman” straddling the fine line of catchy and corny landing Kanye’s biggest hit to date selling over 3 million records.

     But the hit records aren’t focal points for listeners on the sophomore LP. It’s the detailed attention of producer Jon Brion, whose claim to fame was masterfully crafting Fiona Apple’s Extraordinary Machine the same year. Kanye’s willingness to be produced acquaints him to the world of orchestration, which has never carried the bulk of a hip-hop project like on Late Registration.

Kanye x Jon Brion x A-Trak
Kanye x A-Trak x Jon Brion

“Touch the Sky”, the only track not produced by West or Brion, samples the horns of Curtis Mayfield’s “Move On Up” giving the predominantly moody album a dash of triumph. The project is Kanye’s first attempt at being emotive without having to lyrically stress the emotion. The drums on “Crack Music” are abrasive enough to convince you that the world is collapsing. The magic between West and Brion as collaborative instrumentalist is that they are able to guide you to empathy on essentially every song on the album.

     The lyrics of Late Registration serve as the perfect endorsement for the dark undertone of the album. As his other albums tend to lean on Kanye’s braggadocio, this album revolves primarily around the Chicago emcee’s skepticism. “Dog, I was having nervous breakdowns, like “man these n*ggas that much better than me?”” is more vulnerable than most rappers are willing to admit to. From the jealousy filled story on “Drive Slow”, to the alluring metaphors about a dying grandmother on “Roses”, to the brutally honest social commentary of “Crack Music” Kanye uses different avenues to conjure imagery completing the prism of who he truly is.

     For an album that is such a sobering listen, Late Registration does give you glimpses of bliss and lightheartedness. At its release, a virtually unknown DeeRay Davis exerts comic relief with skits that double as threading from track to track. On “Skit #3” DeeRay tells a joke about his mother not being able to afford a Christmas tree so she dressed up as one for her family. The skit abruptly transitions into “Hey Mama,” which was the most joyous song on the album until the passing of Kanye’s mother in 2007.

     Due to unfortunate circumstances and bitter breakups, people assume that 808’s & Heartbreaks is Kanye’s most transparent album, but Late Registration is musically a better embodiment of all aspects of what we like and dislike about producer turned rapper. Ten years after its release, the album still qualifies as a snapshot of the past, but modern enough to have an obligation in the future to make us think, laugh, dance, and cry. What more could we ask fo’ from the International Asshole?

Dequan Huggins is a writer living in Virginia. Follow him on Twitter here

Categories
Entrepreneur Xtradope

The Black Excellence of Jaden Smith: Let Freedom Ring

Seriously, how envious are you that you aren’t the offspring of Will and Jada Smith? Like your fathers arguably the most talented black man of all time, and your mother is a beautiful ultra creative. Essentially, life is set up on a silver platter for you served by your butler named Geoffrey. The money your father makes alone has literally bought you the opportunity to do nothing the rest of your privileged life. This may define the majority of lethargic Hollywood tweens, but not 17-year-old musician, actor, and philanthropist Jaden Smith.

smiths
Ghetty Images

Strolling down different creative avenues of expression, Jaden has exhibited promise in each of his multi-talents. In 2010, Jaden gave us glimpse of his musical inheritance on Justin Bieber’s “Never Say Never.” Okay, he was 12, but through a series of trial and error in mixtapes and videos, Jaden was able to find his niche as a perplexing stream of conscious rapper.

Following in the footsteps of his parents, Jaden got his first taste of the silver screen in 2006 alongside his father in the film The Pursuit of Happyness. The performance was solid enough to land him a staring role in the rebooted Karate Kid series in 2010. The film grossed over 300 million worldwide; which positions him for future summer blockbusters, if he chooses to wholeheartedly pursue acting.

Jaden Smith in Karate Kid in 2010
Jaden Smith in Karate Kid in 2010

As the awkward preteen years have passed, the thirst for individuality is discovered. Starting first with appearance– tight animal print pants, a Batman costume at KimYe’s wedding, his attempt to break gender norms with dresses– Jaden has shown rules clearly don’t apply to him. But appearance is only surface deep, and Jaden’s intelligence may be his most unique set of skills. As social media becomes the epicenter of the world, Jaden has chosen Twitter as his display case. The tweets are the perfect proportion of wisdom, common sense, and WTF that leave no other option but thought provocation.

Recently, an impromptu video surfaced of Jaden discussing the importance of finding yourself at any expense. Jaden’s monologue veers on a tangent highlighting how important it is to live vicariously through your idols– citing Kanye, Drake, and Tyler, the creator as his inspiration. He essentially wants what all creatives want– the opportunity to learn and live with as little creative control as possible. Certainly this isn’t the first time we’ve heard this — I mean two years ago Kanye dropped about fiftyleven of these. And as Kanye gets older… and daddy-er, his willingness to shatter every glass ceiling diminishes leaving room for the young to study and surpass. Social media hasn’t been the most friendly to young Jaden’s honesty. It’s either panned as hyperbolic genius or common sense, as if common sense is a bad thing…as if it warrants skepticism of your intelligence. Judgment can be painful, especially during your teenage years, but Jaden’s pursuit of freedom and creativity sync with his privilege making him one of the most important black children of all time.

What if the advantages of being the spawn of black excellence are the same as the disadvantages? The Smiths may be the second most important modern black family behind the Obamas (watch out for the Currys with the shot boy!). One of the most beautiful ideologies in the world is universal black admiration, but how convenient is that luxury at the expense of freedom? Being different can put your last name in jeopardy if you’ve strayed to far from the nest of comfort. With 24-hour “news” coverage, the media has essentially made it impossible for a famous 20-something year old to be a 20-something year old. And with Jaden and Malia approaching the age of exploration, its interesting to see how the how much leeway will be given to the first children of the black upper class.

Being misunderstood can be uncomfortable. Having the courage to get knocked down by a ruthless world, dust yourself off, and re-present what you think is your best creative self exemplifies gumption. His music and tweets are discounted as gibberish that is fake-deep and half-baked, but when listening with an open mind it emotes all the endless insecure ambitions your young adult brain will allow. Jaden ventures from idea to idea knowing the destination is to be as creatively free as possible– even if he isn’t sure which vehicle to use. Deep down, all of us live through Jaden and the optimistic youth just like him who are aware that the odds are against them, but blissfully ignorant enough to bet on themselves anyway.

Dequan Huggins is a writer living in Virginia. Follow him on Twitter here