Navani Knows the Rubble Kings

It seems the gang culture of NYC and Hip-Hop culture are closely interwined, at least that’s what director Shan Nicholson (Downtown Calling) discovered one day while partaking in his usual pastime – record digging. He Kept seeing a high priced record on the walls of stores from the group Ghetto Brothers and was intrigued. He vowed to get ot the bottom of why this group had such an expensive record and who they even were.  His research would lead him to the making of the documentary Rubble Kings, which premiered last night at he New York International Latino Film Festival.

Rubble Kings chronicles the NYC gang culture from it’s inception in the 1950’s to it’s transition in the 70’s into hip-hop culture. It’s interesting to see the connection between the two. It is by far, the most in-depth look at this era in NYC history. What was interesting was how the climate of the nation played a huge part in the creation of gangs. First there were Civil Rights, and Malcolm X and Martin Luther king and people in the inner cities were mobilizing with a hint of hope. Then after all our heroes were killed, the feeling of hope died with them, leaving a group of underserved, angry people.

This anger erupted into swarms of gangs, crews on every few blocks all over the city. The most notorious being in the Bronx, also known as the birthplace of Hip-Hop. Rubble Kings, a term used to describe how gangs made the members feel like they had some type of power, kings of something even if it was their own demolished neighborhood, details the rise and falls of these gangs. After much bloodshed, gangs would start to realize that the only people their rebellious, careless actions were hurting were themselves.

Enter Ghetto Brothers, a group that began as a traditional street gang but evolved into a community focused movement. They formed a band and held jam sessions, encouraging youth to stop the violence and take ownership of their communities. But when one of it’s members was slain in an attempt to make peace between two rivaling gangs, that’s when everything changes. A peace treaty was formed with all groups and slowly the division softened. In the midst of this Hip-Hop would see it’s beginings in the park jams featuring Djs like Kool Herc and Afrika Bambaataa. These jams were instrumental in bringing together people from all the gangs and using that competitive attitude now for battling on the dancefloor and not in the streets.

Rubble Kings combines personal commentary of gang members and stellar archived footage for an insightful and intimate look at gang culture never told before. This film struck a chord with me for many reasons. For one, I am a huge fan of Hip-Hop. And two, because it shed light on a part of my personal  history that is never discussed- the role gangs played in my family. My uncles and my father were involved in gangs, Savage Nomads to be exact which are discussed in the film. I remember hearing how my grandmother sewed their patches on their jackets for them, not only accpeting it but encouraging it. Back then, it was the only way to survive and she worried about her boys.  If you wanted to survive, you aligned yourself with a gang, period. But I never knew more than that. This film helped fill in the gaps of  how and why this was the way of life for many Puerto Ricans in New York during that time. For that, I am grateful. 

I think this is a must see film for anyone who is not only a fan of Hip-Hop, but who wants to learn about an overlooked, influential era in NYC history –  and how it sparked a transition that would change the world.

For more info on future screenings follow Rubble Kings on Twitter.

Navani Knows The Wonder Year

I love when I go to a movie or an event and leave feeling so inspired. Such was the case last night when I went to see the documentary The Wonder Year at BAM. No, I am not talking about the coming of age TV series starring baby faced Fred Savage, I am talking about the doc that chronicles a year in the life of super producer 9th Wonder.

Directed by Kenneth Price the film is an intimate look at who 9th Wonder is from his roots in Winston-Salem where he shows us the house his father built with his own hands to him talking about his sister that passed away, BrightLady, for which his studio is named after. I was a little skeptical about the movie in the beginning because the camera angles were a little weird, and it seemed like the whole film would just be a close up of 9th talking in a room which could be zzzzzzzzzz.

But alas, there was more to the story than that. We not only hear 9th in his own words tell how he came up with his stage name, what his influences in music were and how he played 9 instruments by the time he was in high school – but we hear from others that know him too including industry peers DJ Premier, The Alchemist, J. Cole, Phonte, Young Guru, DJ Green Lantern, Murs and more. One thing they all have in common is a respect for 9th’s diligence, craft and style. A style that 9th aka Patrick Douthit so eloquently defines as life music – music that is more complex than the average joe can make but not overly complicated in an attempt to impress other producers. Instead, it is somewhere in the middle which to me is a dope concept.

Besides the talk of his background, some of my favorite parts of the film were when you get to see him in action: creating a beat from scratch in his studio and the look on his face while doing so. At the end of the day he is still a fan and that is what drives him. He clearly enjoys it. Even more amusing is the look on the face of anyone in the studio with him that witnesses his magic, they are astounded. As Illmind says, he just has an ear for it. He is truly ahead of his time and that’s what makes him so successful. That and of course the fact that he makes a ridiculous amount of beats in a sitting… like 4 in 40 minutes, and over 400 in one summer. I laughed when he told the story of when he played beats for Jay Z for the The Black album. He played 29 tracks. Then Jay Z described the sound he was looking for for a particular song and 9th pulled out his laptop and sat in the corner and 20 minutes later had the beat for “Threat”. This is just one of many stories proving that it’s not about the machine but really the man behind it. It doesn’t take millions of dollars of fancy equipment to be successful, it can be as simple as a program downloaded off the internet.

9th already has many titles before his name including father, son, husband, CEO, NAACP ambassador, Duke University professor and of course Grammy Award winning Producer but he says he wants to hold one more when he is done making music – that of board of ed member in his hometown. But that won’t be for awhile. In the meantime 9th’s focus is paying it forward like Jay Z told him to by making sure his artists grow (Jamla Records) and get to a good place. Then he can go back to solely making music for fun.

Check out the trailer here:


If you weren’t able to make the New York premiere of The Wonder Year check out www.thewonderyear.l-r-g.com for updates.

Navani Knows Waiting for “Superman”

 

No, I don’t mean waiting for my personal superman, as in “knight in shining armor” although that would be highly welcomed too. In my title I am referring to the new documentary released by Paramount Pictures entitled Waiting for “Superman.” The movie documents the deeply personal journey of five children across the country entering lotteries for the chance to win spots at various charter schools — in the hopes of a chance at the American dream.

Filmmaker Davis Guggenheim reminds us that education “statistics” have names: Anthony, Francisco, Bianca, Daisy, and Emily, whose stories make up the engrossing foundation of the documentary. As he follows a handful of promising kids through the system, we find out  the road to an elite education in this country is sadly, paved with major obstacles.

Last night Obama welcomed the five students featured in the film to the White House for a visit where he commended them on their efforts and reminded them they are the future of this country. He then asked for their autographs and snapped pictures together.

In the cut was my former colleague and dear friend, Ray Casas (he gets to do all the cool stuff, shucks!). As part of the Viacom Public Affairs team he had this to say about the event:

Viacom is very thrilled and honored to have had the children of “Waiting for Superman” meet the President of the United States. We know that education is of key importance to this administration and we know he will do everything in his power to make sure not only these children but childen all over the country receive an excellent education so they may become productive citizens in this great nation of ours….

 Waiting for “Superman” is showing now in select theaters. For each ticket purchased you get a $15 voucher code to donate to a school of your choice via www.donorschoose.com. I urge everyone to check it out and spread the word. You have the power to be a hero in the fight for our youth’s education.

Photos via AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

Navani Knows Afro-Latinos

The question of my identity has been the focus of most of my writing for pretty much most of my adult life. Just when I thought the subject could be put on the backburner, this lil old thing called Census 2010 came along. Once again, I was asked to sum up the totality of my existence in one little box. Which to me is totally ridiculous. There is no easy way to pick one box when as Latinos we are made up of more than one group of people. If I were to be totally honest I think I would check off Black AND Puerto Rican.

Yes, that’s right, Black. As much as our culture doesn’t like to acknowledge it Latinos are Black too. Our African heritage plays a huge role in our culture as a people. That’s why I was elated to hear about the upcoming TV documentary called Afro-Latinos: The Untold Story.  Created and Produced by award-winning television producer Renzo Devia and co-produced by celebrated journalist Alicia Anabel Santos. This seven part series is expected to leave viewers with a new perspective on the heritage of Latinos worldwide, in addition to a better understanding of the modern day adversities still facing Afro-Latinos today.

In conjuction with the TV documentary, a website has just been released as a resource and community for Afro-Latinos all over the world @ http://afrolatinos.tv/. I am super excited about this website/project for a few reasons. One: fellow journalist Alicia Santos is working on it. I have the pleasure of knowing Alicia from the NY Latinas Writing group which she started here in the city. She has always been such an inspiring person to me so I am so excited to see one of her many dreams come to fruition. She has always been an advocate of the Afro-Latino movement and I am glad it is getting some much deserved attnetion. And secondly, I am hoping this will create awareness and a long overdue dialogue within both the Latino community and African-American community and work towards uniting the two.

Afro-Latinos: The Untold Story will be out 2011. Check out the trailer below:

Navani Knows Sweet Movies: Sugar

sugar-movie

I have only faint memories of speaking and thinking in Spanish. I spent most of the first two years of my life around my Spanish speaking grandmother, and subconsciously must have took it all in. Then I was ripped from her arms (literally) and moved upstate to a small suburb and said goodbye to any hope of continuing my Spanish lessons. I remember vaguely in Pre-k thinking in Spanish and having to stop my myself from ordering  jugo and leche on the cafeteria line. But that was all lost quickly as my parents chose instead to make English my first language. – a choice I questioned and detested to this day. Until I saw the new movie Sugar recently.

Sugar tells the story of   Miguel Santos, a.k.a Azucar, a Dominican pitcher from San Pedro de Macoris, who struggles to make it to the big leagues and pull himself and his family out of poverty. Playing professionally at the Kansas City Knights baseball academy, Miguel finally gets his break at age 19 when he advances to the United States’ minor league system. But he learns there that all that glitters isn’t gold. There are many challenges facing a young immigrant player. One being a huge language barrier  and racism that comes with it. Secondly, the pressure of playing your best for fear that at any moment you can be replaced. Watching that fictional character live through that gave me a new respect for those who do it now in real life.

miguel_sugar

Watching Azucar order french toast unwillingly everyday because it is the only thing he knew how to say jabbed me softly in my heart. Seeing how Americans ridiculed him for trying hit me harder. I finally understood what my parents meant when they thought teaching me English was the best way for me to survive here. They were trying to protect me from the hardships and discrimination they faced growing up, and saw their parents face. I could finally appreciate the choice they made without my consent.

Whether you are a baseball lover or not, Sugar has something to offer everyone. For a first time actor, Algenis Perez Soto (Miguel) does a great job and I hope to see more from him in the future. Check out Sugar when it hits theaters this Friday, April 3rd.

Navani Knows Her Inner Young Adult

I am telling you November 4th was a magical day. Not only did my vote count and Barack Obama took over as president, I got to interview every girl’s dream man:

me robertpattinson

Edward Cullen.

Ok, so maybe that is only a big deal for teenage girls and gay men, but lately I’ve gotten reacquainted with my young adult side. With the wide spread popularity of Stephenie Meyer’s book Series “Twilight” getting passed around my peers and the comeback of 90210 (yes I watch it, sigh) I have def been embracing young adult entertainment. It’s hard not to. It’s a great escape to go back to those tender teenage years, when everything was so simple and so new. Having crushes, first kisses and falling in love were all so intense. It’s just plain fun to relive actually. So, when I kept hearing all the hub-bub about this book Twilight from my 30-year-old friends, I figured I should check it out.

It’s a fantasy story obviously – a high school girl falls in love with an extremely hot vampire, who essentially could kill her. Talk about going for the bad guys huh? This book gives that ideology a whole new meaning. As far-fetched as the whole storyline sounds you can’t help but fall in love with it, because it takes you through all the motions of just that – falling in love. As you see Bella and Edward interact it brings you butterflies. Turns out Edward Cullen is every girl’s dream man and dream experience. For anyone who forgot what it feels like to have that feeling, Edward will bring it back and that my amigos, is what the big deal is.

When I got the opportunity to interview Mr. Dreamy Robert Pattinson (AKA Edward Cullen in the movie adaptation) I was as giddy as a school girl (as were my friends). I mean seriously, who can resist a cute foreigner with a British accent??? Check out what the man behind the phenomena had to say here on Blogamole.

Navani Knows Pedro

And I don’t mean the “Vote for Pedro” guy in Napoleon Dynamite either.

I mean Pedro Zamora. You may remember him from “MTV’s The Real World: San Francisco” which aired in 1994. I myself watched that season religiously. I thought Puck was gross and was relieved when he was thrown out. And I instantly fell in love with Pedro. He was Latino, so I was glad to see him on mainstream TV. Aside from that, he was living with HIV and used his time left to spread knowledge about the disease. All in all, he was just an utterly beautiful person. So, it was only natural that when his death was announced on the season finale I cried hysterically as if I knew him.

While Pedro Zamora left us in 1994, his message still lives on today today. I was lucky enough to go to the screening of MTV’s movie Pedro. The movie inspired by the real life Pedro tells his whole life story including his family’s bittersweet departure from Cuba (half his siblings were left behind), his culture (his mother was a Santera), coming out in a Latin family and of course his battle with AIDS on national TV.

I feared that the movie wouldn’t do it his story justice, that it would just be a corny reenactment of The Real World that year. When I saw it open with that theme I was skeptical. But as the storyline took off I was pleasantly surprised. The casting people did a great job finding an authentic Pedro in newcomer Alex Loynaz as well as casting Justina Machado (“Six Feet Under”) as his sister Mily. It is a beyond inspiring and touching story/ cry-fest. I am telling you, men and women alike, be prepared to shed tears. With that being said maybe it’s best you don’t see it at 9 am on a Monday like I did.

Pedro will be released in April of 2009 in conjunction with National STD Awareness Month. I really want this project to do well because sadly, Pedro’s message is still as timely as ever.

For more info check out www.pedrothemovie.com.