Navani Knows: Tears for Vanessa

I am crying for someone I don’t know and I am not sure why.  Her name was Vanessa Libertad Garcia.

That’s probably not true, I do know why.  There are many reasons. Partly because I am a sap who can easily and deeply feel the energy and pain of others. A trait I often times wish I could shut off because it makes me appear weak and over “emotional” most of the time (just ask my ex-boyfriends).

But the other part, the deeper underlying ugly-truth part, knows it is because there is something achingly familiar I see in reading the story of the suicide of writer/filmmaker Vanessa Libertad Garcia. I didn’t know her, but after reading her public online suicide note, I easily could have.

She could easily have been part of my family – my cousin, my uncle, my brother, or me. Dealing with the struggle of depression, anxiety and suicide is not a subject foreign to my family. It’s a rising concern for Latinos in general. But sadly it’s not a concern that is spoken about. Whether it is because having these feelings of inner turmoil are shameful and embarrassing to admit, or maybe because the machismo attitude of our culture labels needing mental health help a total taboo, I can’t really call it. But what I know is that not addressing these issues is leading to the rise of Latino suicide, especially in young people.

I remember hearing Felipe Luciano speak at an event recently about his past involvement with the Young Lords. He mentioned how he was affected by seeing so many of our people living in a fog of self-hate and destitute. He remarked that it is easy to hate yourself when you are a displaced people living in a country and a society that constantly says you are garbage and don’t belong. If that’s all you know and think, of course this must wreak havoc on the socio and psychological realm of a people. And I wonder how much of that is ingrained for generations to come. It’s 2013 and I still struggle with issues of identity and self worth, of feeling like not belonging. This is not a brand new phenomenon. So combine identity issues with poverty and language barriers and you have recipe for self-inflicted disaster. I get it.

I am sad because there are people in my life struggling with this disease as I write this and I don’t know how to help them. I feel powerless. I am crying for someone I don’t know because I fear this will happen to someone I do know. I don’t want her death to be in vain. Because hopefully, her public note means we cannot ignore this anymore and sweep it under the rug.

I don’t know what to do but here is what I can say: To all those in pain right now reading this, you are not alone. I promise you. I promise someone near you can empathize. I promise that you matter to someone very much. You are loved. You are worthy of love no matter what you did and didn’t do. No matter what you haven’t accomplished. No matter how much debt you are in. What title you have or don’t have. No matter what mistakes you’ve made. No matter how confused you are. No matter how much you think you have failed, you haven’t! You can’t fail at life. I promise there is always another chance to make a new choice and start again. You are here and that is enough. You have always been enough. I love you.

And If you ever get to the point of siting at your computer, typing a public letter to announce your planned demise, I implore you to pick up the phone and call someone instead.

 

 

Navani Knows Esteban Castro: Latino Jazz Star ‘In the Making’

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It is always nice to see the passion of an artist that has spent their entire life honing their craft. You just have to respect them, knowing it is something they eat, live and breathe daily – even if their entire life is only 10 years. Enter Esteban Castro, the Cuban-American Jazz prodigy. Yes, I know, this word gets thrown around so much it becomes a boring cliché. Trust me, I looked for another word to replace it when describing him but it’s true, his talent is “something that excites wonder or amazement” as the dictionary defines.

At 10, Esteban’s reputation already precedes him as a musician, pianist and composer. He successfully funded the making of his debut album, In the Making via a KickStarter Campaign, in which a portion of the album proceeds was used to purchase instruments for underprivileged musicians. Okay, so add humanitarian to his list of titles. I know many grown adults that can’t even pull that much off. He then records an album with 13 original compositions and five cover songs paying homage to some of his favorite artists. So, that’s 18 songs total. Then his album is donned numerous awards including the 2013 Herb Alpert Young Jazz Composer Award from the ASCAP Foundation, making him the youngest recipient to date for his song “For Chick.” In addition, he was recognized by Downbeat Magazine winning the Best Lead-Sheet Composition for “Painted Face,” a song on his debut album.

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Super fancy, right? Well the accolades don’t even hold a torch to actually hearing his music. That is when the magic happens. Esteban successfully couples the simplicity and joy of a child with the discipline of a master in his compositions. His music has a subtle and inviting way of engaging the listener to take them through a sonic journey of rifts and clefts. His greatest appeal is in the transparent joy that he infuses in every piano stroke, every note, leaving the audience truly touched and uplifted by his utter lack of ego. If only more artists could take a page out of the Esteban Castro book, and play without pretention, without any grandiose ulterior motives other than to simply share his music.

When asked about the rave reviews of In the Making Esteban humbly states:

“I’m very fortunate and honored that my Debut Album In the Making has received critical acclaim, along with ASCAP and Downbeat awards. My dream is to grow as a musician, and continue to compose and share my music. I’ve had many great influences, and I hope to inspire other children to find expression through the universal language of music.”

Jazz lovers and general music lovers alike will find something to resonate with on In the Making. Whether it’s the upbeat, playful melodies in my personal favorite track “For Chick” which opens the album by paying homage to legendary Jazz musician Chick Corea, or the effortlessly complex title track “In the Making,” Esteban keeps the listener wanting more. I don’t know what else to say except listening to In the Making makes me incredibly happy! That in itself counts as a tremendous feat in my book. If this is just the beginning, I look forward to what the future holds for one of Jazz’ not only youngest but brightest luminaries.

Catch Esteban Castro performing live on June 26th at Mae Mae Café at 7 pm at 68 Vandam Street in New York City. For more information visit www.estebanjazz.com.

Navani Knows Art: STRAIGHT SHOOTIN’ MAMAS 2013

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It’s a rare occasion when I travel to the Bronx, despite the fact that I have family there. Maybe the occasional birthday party or holiday but that is usually it. My most recent visit came under the pretense of a much overdue visit with my titi. She lured me up north with a bribe of a home cooked meal to accompany her to an art show nearby. I like food and art so I made the exception. She lead me to El Fogon, a cultural center in the Bronx for an awesome photo exhibit celebrating women photographers in honor of National Women’s History Month. I was really impressed with the event itself as well as the work of the photographers featured in it so I wanted to take a minute to find out how STRAIGHT SHOOTIN’ MAMAS 2013 came to be. I caught up with Mia Roman, the curator of the exhibit to learn what went into putting together a strong exhibit centered on women artists:

How did you get involved as the curator of the STRAIGHT SHOOTIN’ MAMAS 2013 photo exhibit?

I was approached by a photographer friend of mine by the name of Elena “Mamarazzi” Marrero. She is more of a journalist documenting cultural events within the local boroughs of New York. She wanted to showcase the work of female photographers and had never curated or organized an exhibit before. Having worked with her in the past she thought i would be the perfect fit to bring her vision to life. So over dinner one evening in El Barrio of East Harlem the event was born.

How many artists submitted? How many were chosen?

Over 50 Artists submitted work and only 12 were chosen to exhibit. The decision was not an easy one. All the work was out of this world. Telling amazing stories through photographs, documenting lives and freezing memories to be shared for generations to come. We were working with a small venue so we were limited as to space and the amount of submissions we could exhibit. My vision was to create a story from around the world… taking Her-Story and creating History one image, one snap, one shoot at a time. We had photographs from Peru, Cuba, Columbia, Puerto Rico, New York, Buenos Aires, Morocco, Africa Dominican Republic and more. Celebrating the beautiful eye of the photographer and the lives of the women used as subjects.

Were all the artists Latina?

No, the Artists were from different backgrounds and from all over. My mission was to have women from different backgrounds unite as one, sharing their craft and passion for photography and celebrating their success together as a sisterhood. We have much to learn from one another. A true inspiration to see a fellow sister from another culture shares the same vision, purpose and passion for life and art.

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What was the inspiration for having a women centered exhibit?

The inspiration was all the amazing female photographers within our community that have gone under-represented as artists. Many of these women document the happenings of not only their communities but movements from around the world. Most of the time we never get to see or share these historical images and as part of my life’s purpose is to provide a platform for women to share their voices through a creative channel. March which is also recognized as Women’s History Month was the perfect time to showcase such an event.
Proceeds from the door fee went to a charity; can you talk more about the organization and its significance?

The STRAIGHT SHOOTIN’ MAMAS 2013 Photo exhibit was a huge success. Just days before the event as we were putting the final touches on the plans a tragic accident happened. Rachel Marie Price a young and talented pro soccer hopeful from the Florida area was killed by a drunk driver. Upon hearing about this terrible tragedy we decided to donate the proceeds to The Rachel Marie Price Scholarship and Education Fund through the Wells Fargo Bank in Florida. The proceeds of the event will go to scholarships that will benefit underprivileged soccer athletes and Educational programs for Drunk Driving and Bullying.

What is the significance of the name of the exhibit? Were there specific themes you were looking for from the photos?

The name although a catchy phrase does not have any specific significance. It’s a play on words suggested by Bobby Gonzalez. We plan on doing more playing with the title and phrases to tease a 2014 show of the same. The specific theme was “Women at Work” we wanted to showcase the many roles women play around the world. The many contributions she makes in order for this Universe to evolve. For centuries women have played important roles in making things happen, supporting roles, leadership roles etc. but in many instances they go un-recognized and merely expected. So we wanted to honor her and her work. Whether it is an artist, judge, cook, mother, politician, there is no position more important than the other. Our goal was to have a show created by women for women showcasing women and it was a great success.

How long is the exhibit up?

The exhibit closes on March 23, 2013 at El Fogon Center for the Arts in the Bronx, NY

Where can people get more info?

They can get more info on the show and future shows on my website…. www.artsbymia.com. They can also email me at artbymamamia@yahoo.com. As a curator and artist I am always looking for artist to join me in my mission in bridging the gap between artists from other countries…

Navani Knows Radio: The Halftime Show 15th Anniversary Special

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For the past 15 years The Halftime Radio Show has set the bar and become a rite of passage for breaking Hip-hop artists. It’s a place where people go to get the sound and the quality they have come to expect from NYC radio. After 15 years and outlasting many other shows of it’s caliber this is def a huge feat to celebrate. It’s a testiment that although how people consume music is changing, there is still a need and a niche for displaying the craft of Djing, freestyling and all the aestetics that drew most of us to Hip-Hop to begin with. Tune in tonight as the crew celebrates it’s 15th Anniversary with a slew of legendary guests DJing, producing and spitting live from 10:30 pm – 1 am on 89.1 FM and on Ustream.

 

Navani Knows NAStalgia: A Nas Fan Necessity

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I’m still salty about Nas’ Grammy snub this year but luckily DJ Petey Cologne and DJ J-Smoke dropped a project to help distract me. The homies dropped the NAStaglia mixtape recently and I am still rocking it pretty frequently (yay for replay value). I know, I know what you are thinking, “Another Nas inspired project? Haven’t there been enough? What could possibly be different?” I hear ya. But I am here to report that this mixtape does have something different to offer and is def worth the download.

The project came about when Petey was asked to create a mix to accompany the release  of a Nas tee. He explains:

I was approached by Carlos from Classic Material to put a Nas mix together to coexist with a Tee he created. Carlos is the homie and Nas is one of my all time faves, so it was a no brainier to accept the offer.

Shortly after I ran into J-Smoke of the Motherf***in Allies at The Halftime Show. I’ve been a scratch nerd and a huge fan of the legendary crew since day one. I immediately thought it would be ill to collaborate with someone as talented as J. Fast forward a few months, and you have the official release of NAStalgia.

As the clever title suggests, NAStaglia is a conceptual trip down memory lane of Nas’ career, the more off beaten path. It’s a journey all Nas fans are sure to appareciate. Maybe I am just biased because I’ve seen first-hand the effort that went into taking this idea to the end result. Whether it was watching Petey approach the right people for drops,  him coming into The Halftime Show describing the intro and having us listen to different parts or going over different concept  ideas for the artwork – there was nothing left to chance when it came to NAStaglia. Everything was precisely thought out. That is what happens when people take their craft seriously, and yes, if nothing else this project illustrates there are still people out there that treat DJing as a craft. I am happy to see all the pieces come together. You can tell from listening to the intro it took a while (DJ Eclipse comments that it’s seems like two years already and DJ JS-1 orders them to hurry up and finish, lol) but was worth the wait. Yeah, it’s funny to give them grief about it now, but it’s refreshing in this day and age where people rush projects to saturate the internet in the name of relevance that there are still those who choose quality over quantity.

Some highlights include –  well let’s start with the fact that it is true to my definition of a mixtape – it contains actual blends. These days’ people label anything with songs on it a mixtape. But on NAStalgia you’re not just going to hear the mainstream Nas songs, but demos, original samples and B-sides BLENDED in a mix. For me, I got giddy when I heard the sample for “Phone Tap” in the intro (that was new to me) and the “Stillmatic” blend was a totally fresh take.  I enjoyed the “One Love” remix with Sadat X, and the sample of “Sugar Man” was new to me too. The “You’re Da Man” blend was one of my favorites. Of course, D-Stroy’s story is classic but the placement of it made it even stronger. I was excited to hear one of my fave songs “Doo Rags” make the cut, I think that song is often overlooked simply because it is on The Lost Tapes. Last but not least, the signoff with wise words to live by from Nas himself ties it all together nicely.

The fact that projects like NAStaglia continue to be inspired by Nas is a greater testament to his success and influence as an artist than any Grammy Award in my book.

Listen below and check the download courtesy of 2 Dope Boyz:

Artwork by ArtekNYC

Navani Knows Graffiti: Interview with Artist James Top

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I first met graffiti veteran James Top via The Halftime Show, when he would come on to promote the huge annual Graffiti Show in NYC that pays homage to the culture. He has always been an advocate for the art form and keeping its integrity in mainstream society. It’s always great to come across someone who is passionate about their art and spreading its message to the community. It has not always been easy to gain the respect he deserves as an artist. It has been a long fight to be viewed not just as a common vandal when he started in the ’70s, but a respectable artist. However, you would never know it by his positive disposition. With his work currently in the Schomburg Center as part of the exhibit Cover to Cover: 20 Years of African Voices it seems like he is finally victorious in this fight. I caught up with James at the opening reception to find out what his inspiration was for his piece; how the Internet has affected graffiti art and why he thinks it is the art form of the future:

Why has there been so much resistance on graffiti being accepted as part of African-American culture?

African-Americans have such little knowledge about this [graffiti] art form, not knowing that this art form is our art form. It’s the only art form besides Jazz created by us. It was created in our community and now it is worldwide and a lot of these artists are showing all over the world. We created it and everybody emulated us. It was started and created in our community and then the media connected it with vandalism and criminality and it’s so far from true.

What was the inspiration for your trademark Afro symbol which is in all your pieces and in the cover piece “You Can’t Shut Us Down” ?

When I was growing up in the projects – I grew up in the Louis H.P. Houses in East New York, Brooklyn – it was a project belt. There were project buildings in every direction. So, I never got a chance to see any art. Across the street from where I lived there was a place called Times Square Stores and I would go in there and see these head shops. I would always see these Afro posters of this Black guy with a big Afro with either a leopard or with his girl who also had a big Afro. Those were the only pictures or closest thing to art I would see of Black people. So, I started emulating that. I would go into the train yard which was across the street from my house and I would emulate that afro. That would become the way I would express myself and my trademark. That was my style, my unique thing to stand out amongst other graff artists.

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How important was graffiti art in your development as a man?

My whole thing was to get self-esteem because I grew up in these projects and I always thought, “how do I become different when we are all clumped up in here the same way?” So, I found a way to give myself self-esteem and give myself an opportunity to be somebody – somebody different. I never smoked back then and all my friends started smoking and doing other things. But instead, I started doing graffiti art and today I am here with a lot of other great Black artists and I am very humbled and I am very blessed to be in this circle. For all my life I have been trying to express myself and be someone that represents my community in a positive way.

How did you get involved with African Voices Magazine to do their back cover in 2006?

I had a show at the Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration and I met Caroline Butts [Executive Director at African Voices Communications] there. She was saying that the magazine [African Voices] was interested in me. I knew very little about the magazine at the time – that it was one of the leading magazines for African American artists- because my whole thing was to try to get into the Source or VIBE or one of the Hip-Hop magazines. That was where they usually put graffiti art, in Hip Hop and not with Black Culture. But ironically, it was African Voices that gave me my first cover, not any of the Hip-Hop publications. So, Caroline came up to Harlem and did a story on me and my wall called “The People’s Wall.” The wall is no longer up but it featured portraits of Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali. That was something I wanted to do with my art – to do greater things and spread a bigger message. For a Black person what better place is there to do art than Harlem? That is our Mecca. That is where Black Culture was born. So, when I came here I didn’t want to be known as that same guy that used to write on the trains and in the streets. I wanted to help beautify my community. I wanted to be a part of the fabric of the community.

Besides being an artist you have also spent time being an educator in the community. Can you tell me about that?

I wanted to teach the youth about this art form. I was the director of art at the Harlem YMCA for about eight years. I also taught at Hostos Community college. I am a very strong advocate of graffiti art and getting it into the fabric of our academic systems here. I’m trying to help tear down the stereotypes associated with this art form. My television show called Graffiti NYC has been on the air for 15 years and that’s where I get a chance to do that. So, over the last 15 years I have been to just about every major graffiti event in NYC. I also got an opportunity to travel to Europe this year as well as Baton Rouge, Louisiana. I was involved in a project with the Museum of Public Art and we did a mural in Baton Rouge as part of the 14th Street mural project.

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Do you think the Internet has helped or hindered the art form?

I think the Internet has helped. It has given us an opportunity to get information out there easily and people can see art work much faster. I don’t get much work from the Internet (laughs). I get my work still by word of mouth. But we can only hope to grow with the Internet like everybody else. Now you can see graffiti shows online, you don’t actually have to be there so I think that’s a good thing because people can see something they might like and purchase it.

What is the future of graffiti art in your opinion?

I see bigger and better things in the future. Spray paint is the medium of the future; painting with paint brushes is out. Of course, it’s always hard for artists, especially artists of color and graffiti artists on top of that. So there’s label on top of label. But you know what, there is no burden you can’t carry. So I always go into all these projects with a certain amount of enthusiasm and just good vibes and energy.

What’s next for you?

I’m currently working with the Schomburg staff to present a James Top & The Odd Partners exhibition in the near future, The Stay High 149 short documentary by me will be showing at The People’s Film Festival in Harlem at the Maysles Theater from May 30th to June 1, 2013 and in The 2013 NYC Graffiti Film Festival at Gallery 69 in NYC in April 2013. The Best of Graffiti NYC is now available, for more info email us: graffitinyctv@gmail.com. I will be doing some more painting in January and I am just looking forward to life.

Where can people find you online and learn more about what you are doing?

People can see more of my work at www.jamestopproductions.com. You can also email me at graffitinyctv@gmail.com. Check out the show Graffiti NYC on every Sunday at 1:30 am on channel 67 on MNN network (Manhattan only) or live steam on the net at www.mnn.org.

You can see James Top’s work featured in the exhibit Cover to Cover: 20 Years of African Voices at the Schomburg Center through January 19th, 2013.

Navani Knows Dia De Los Muertos, BK

While many people are gearing up for Halloween – an excuse to play a role, dress up, party and eat insane amounts of candy (oh wait maybe that is just me, Reeses’s anyone?) some of us are focusing on what happens after Halloween – on el Dia De Los Muertos. This traditional Latino holiday gives us a chance to pay respects and homage to the friends and family who have passed. One great way to celebrate this year in the tri-state area would be to check the the amazing installation project and event being headed by two dope artists: Adrian “Viajero” Roman and Ben Rojas aka “Borish.” The second annual Dia De Los Muertos Brooklyn event not only boasts amazing art work including an 8-feet by 8-feet altar AND a performance by Ase, but also the chance for you to participate in the ceremony that celebrates the presence of our ancestors in our lives.

Check out the deets below and some sneak peek photos after the jump.

Date: November 2, 2012
Time: 7pm – 11pm
Where: 411 46th street (btwn 4th and 5th ave)
Sunset Park Brooklyn, NY 11220

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