Notes on Dr. Ayodele Nzinga’s mytho-magical drama: Protection Shields

protection shields 11x17 poster (1)

by

Marvin X

Dr. Ayodele Nzinga, founder, producer, playwright, and director of Oakland’s Lower Bottom Playaz opened a new play at the Flight Deck, 1540 Broadway, downtown Oakland. It is a myth-ritual dance drama in the Black Arts Movement Theatre tradition, based on the Yoruba storytelling in the best tradition of African didactic narrative, i.e., teaching a moral story based on ancient spirituality and morality, i.e., the myth of Eshu and the moral teaching of, do the right thing.

In the 1960s, Black Arts Movement poets, playwrights, dancers, drummers, painters turned away from Christian mythology and ritual to embrace Islamic, Yoruba, Rasta and Hebrew myth-ritual. It was a conscious denunciation of European White supremacist Christianity that approved the genocide of 100 million, and even today, 2018, North American Africans suffer trauma and unresolved grief so well depicted in Protective Shields.

The Yoruba priest who probably influenced 1960s Black African culture the most was Oba Serjiman Olatunji who spread Yoruba culture in Harlem, who single-handedly presented Yoruba culture in its most flamboyant and royal manner. As a Harlemite during 1968-69, I recall Oba Serjiman parading through the streets of Harlem with his entourage of wives, priests and devotees in elegant flowing robes and headpieces, chanting Yoruba songs that helped ignite the Black Arts Movement of the 60s, the most radical artistic and literary revolution in American history, alas, it gave birth to the Black Panthers, Black Arts Movement, Black Studies, Ethnic Studies, Gender Studies, et al.

Black Arts Movement co-founders,Amina and Amiri Baraka, were married in a Yoruba ceremony, officiated by Oba Serjiman, who soon departed Harlem to establish his African Yoruba Village in Sheldon, South Carolina. According to the new Oba/king, before his father could have peace with the whites in the area, he had to show superior magic in the manner of Moses and Pharaoh’s magicians.

Oba Serjiman, obviously influenced the Black Arts Movement, alas, he is perhaps the most critical factor in the BAM/Yoruba intersection. There was Nigerian drummer Oljunji reinstating the drum as spiritual therapy with rhythms for all the orishas, i.e., gods, for Harlemites and North American Africans coast to coast deprived of the healing power of the drum since arriving in the Americas, most especially in the USA, elsewhere the drum created new world beats in the old world manner, for orisha rhythms never change–an eternal tribute to the identity and power of the gods and their connection with devotees, supplicants, sycophants…..

A Black Mass was Amiri Baraka’s interpretation and synchronization of Elijah Muhammad’s Myth of Yakub, the mad scientist who created the white man through genetic engineering, but Baraka infused his myth drama with Yoruba and Sufi teachings. We applaud Baraka for utilizing original North American African mythology but extending the myth with African and Islamic myth-rituals.

BAM theatre folks like the New Lafayette’s director Bob Macbeth, Barbara Ann Teer’s National Black Theatre, the Last Poets and myself tried to create Black Ritual Theatre, with dramatic energy derived from Yoruba, Islamic and Christian myth-ritual, especially the Holy Ghost church. It had the high level of energy we wanted in the BAM theatre. Further, we wanted to destroy that fourth wall that separated the actors from audience, forcing them into oneness and celebration of the Divine Spirit. My contribution to Ritual Theatre is Resurrection of the Dead, a myth-ritual dance drama by Marvin X, Black Educational Theatre, San Francisco, 1972. In the African tradition of drama, there is no audience, all enjoy the communal experience. When I was told Vudun is a democratic society, I understood in the Vudun ritual one only comes forward when their orisha’s rhythm is beat on the drum. Correct me if I am wrong.

We cannot leave BAM Master Teacher Sun Ra out of this discussion since he fused Kemit mythology with so-called science fiction, although Sun Ra is considered the father of Afro-futurism, Octavia Butler, the Mother. But Sun Ra took Yoruba, Islamic, Christian and all other isms and schisms, including Jazz, Blues and any other sounds to construct his Myth-Ritual Arkestra, demonstrating the highest level of BAM aesthetics, philosophy, dramaturgy. No BAM artist approached Sun Ra’s vision of smashing European art and white supremacy mythology.

In the grand tradition of African drama that originated in the Osirian drama of Resurrection, modeled on the annual inundation of the Hapi River, aka, Nile, Ayodele reveals to us the necessity of high morals and values as the ultimate Protective Shield.

If we cut to the chase in Ayo’s drama at the crossroads ruled by Eshu, aka Legba, aka Ptah, aka Peter, Protection Shields taught us the only protection is to do the right thang, thus the long monologues by characters fighting within themselves to do the right thing. To borrow a line from Islam, we say, “Ithdina s-sirata al mustaqim, Guide us on the right path.” The Christian Bible tells us to put on the armor of God.

Dr. Ayodele Nzinga forces us to transcend the Christian and Muslim myth-ritual, with repeated calls out to the Yoruba orishas, displaying Yoruba myth ritual of offering fruit to placate the orishas, without which one cannot possibly navigate the crossroads, not without Eshu in the persona of a child, yet wielding spiritual power to present the suffering adults with the Protective Shield, even the suspected murderer of the mother’s son is given the Protective Shield but only after he declares the uselessness of murder or “blood for blood” as the narrator repeatedly informed us.

A mother wants revenge for the murder of her son. Having lost a son, we were beyond understanding of her trauma and unresolved grief. She was presented with a Protection Shield by Eshu represented by a child who adorned all the supplicants who submitted to do the right thing, some for the first time in their lives. Alas, my patron, Abdul Leroy James, used to say, “Most of you people (excluding himself since he was a successful multi-millionaire from real estate but he did make possible my book projects and community events such as the Melvin Black Forum, Oakland Auditorium, 1979, National Black Men’s Conference, Oakland Auditorium, 1981, Kings and Queens of Black Consciousness, San Francisco State University, 2001, Tenderloin Black Radical Book Fair, 2004, San Francisco, One Day in the Life, docudrama of Marvin X’s addiction and recovery, the longest running North American African drama in Northern California history, 1996-2002)–Ancestor Abdul Leroy James said, “Most of us ain’t done nothing right in our lives.”.

Protection Shield’s dominant theme was, do the right thang! If you kill, the pain of revenge is inescapable, blood feuds for evermore, honor killings. All the supplicants submitted to do the right thang and were thus blessed to transcend the crossroads with the blessing of Eshu.

Throughout the drama, all the orishas were called upon to do their thang. Playwright, producer, director, Dr. Ayodole Nzinga consciously employed the Yoruba myth-ritual to rock 2018 Black Christian myth-ritual, although Africans in the Americas long ago figured out how to synchronize African spirituality with European Christian mythology. We fused Haitian Vudun, Cuban and Puerto Rican Santaria, Brazilian Candomble and other Caribbean spiritual persuasions into an eclecticism of functional religiosity. We can attend a Catholic mass then visit a Vudun ceremony to placate the Orishas without feeling contradictory.

The Yoruba narrative in Ayo’s drama resembled Black American Christian ritual, or Christianity in general with its major theme of suffering and death, although the joy of resurrection derived from Kemet, Egypt, Africa’s Nile Valley Civilization that extended the 4,000 miles of the Hapi River, aka Nile, source of basic Christianity, Judaism and Islamic religiosity. See Yusef Ali’s translation of the Holy Qur’an and his notes on the steps of Egyptian Religion toward Islam.

Dramatic Structure

For sure, Dr. Ayodele transcended Western dramaturgy. Protection Shields was completely devoid of dialogue, instead, a plethora of monologues was employed, many offstage, but even more pervasive was her use of choreography to advance the narrative. The Yoruba method of utilizing dance to advance narrative is well known, going back thousands of years. We know the dancers employed classic Yoruba choreography to tell the story, for every dance movement is connected with an Orisha,yet as much as we enjoyed the dancers whose choreography advanced the narrative, still, something was missing and sorely needed to make this myth-ritual dramatic. A dramatic film can move to stage and visa versa, but Protection Shields is the mytho-history of the hero Wolfhawk Jaguar, an individual experiencing a rite of passage and his devotees enjoying a healing communal rite of passage as well.

We were not satisfied with the hero sleeping throughout the drama of his myth-history. We see him on the second level, primarily asleep in a dream mode, but since he is also the rapper and high priest of this drama, he must be utilized beyond his dream state. After all, we hear him and see him in constant movie clips buy why not allow him to take the stage as rapper to explicate his mythology. He would be much appreciated by the dancers whose every move is about him, so get him out of slumber land and let him rap to us from the upper room. This will make his mythology real to us and expand the reality of his time in our midst and the lessons the narrator informs us about continuously throughout this didactic classical drama in the Yoruba tradition.

Earlier today, I wrote about How to Recognize A Real Nigga, Part Two, Notes on the Nigga Debate, during the intermission, Dr. Nzinga and I conversed and I told her I tried to delineate the positive nigga from the negative nigga. Her drama revealed to us that doing the right thing is the best and only thing to do, anything less has negative repercussions since every action has a reaction and Eshu will not allow us beyond the crossroads unless we put on the Protective Shield, i.e., the armor of God. Thankfully, the supplicants submitted to wear the Protective Shield, so the drama ends in the African fashion of Sheikh Anta Diop, who told us in the Cultural Unity of Africa, there is no tragedy, only comedy, for we know what Frankie Beverly sang about joy and pain, sunshine and rain, sometimes they the same…. Yet, to traverse the crossroads, we must be right, so in Islam we pray, “Ithdina s-sirata al mustaqim, Guide us on the right path. Dr. Ayodele Nzinga continues and extends Black Arts Movement theatre into the present era. We applaud her crew of actors, dancers and technicians.

Protection Shields will rock your consciousness, especially if you are a white man dipped in chocolate as a young man described the Black Anglo Saxons (Dr. Hare) of today.

–Marvin X

9/23/18

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dark art

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my dark art

grazed

you truth

raw stuns

 like max on drums

ancient sacred primal

 dark art

mesmerized you

slipped in baptized

you approached invited

me to cite

sing tap entertain you

collecting my shroud

of shadows gathering thunder 

trailing wailing women

prayers of unborn children

sliding the eagles

back into

the book

smiling

like you like

walked away

bleeding dark art

bloody footsteps

stale air last breaths

centuries of trauma

stopping to pour out

gin for Ogun

me and the eagles

smile

not like you like

breathing deep in

dark hearts

where sun

shines sublimely

refined refracted reflected

the inside of pure

darkness beyond dark

draped in black

three eyes

warrior

drum hearted

fire burning

nomo ignited

verbal vampire

invited

assumed you knew

she travel well

armed

w/dark art

spit spells

weaving existence

ways out the no way

sopranos sing here

high like corpses swinging

strangely in trees

in deeply purple southern breezes

drug by horses through the north

informing the curses

invoked dipped in indigo

coffee sugar wrapped in cotton

invisible but you see

I see so you invited

we accepted

me & the eagles free

no prisoners promised

no surrender no retreat

blocked exits for several lifetimes

syndicated rerunning on BET

there’s no escape

hold your breath

listen for

them  footsteps

syncopated like drums

slaves

walking on the bottom

of the ocean

dark art

tongue like sword

freed by

armies of bones

walking on water

swelling w/ recruits

rising from graveyards

pregnant with unresolved

history projectiles

jaggedly inventive inverse

conjuring murky magic

deliciously dangerous

perniciously persistent

hard to kill

dying to live

we are here

to entertain

double-sided axes

tilt your world

i be a different axis

listen closely to access this

now horns play

the drum never stopped

that’s the circle unbroken

beating hearts

waking  walking  invoking

the dead we are here

Dahomey fire

zulu spears

protection shields

not a thing to lose

drown you in bluest blue

drums never stop beating

bass begins

she sings but

no tapping less

Zavion come over

Baraka is gone

fingers move in memory

but no tapping

she sangin

 but

got to go through

the back

door to save you

dark art

breaking your fragile

heart bending the

notion of me

nappy uncharted

jazz fall into my ocean

swim in it

jump jim crow fits

fill jail cells with it

live in fear of it

choking on greedily ingested

appropriated you tried to eat

it correct it erase it

mass assimilate it

come to the picnic

cut up the body

take a small piece home

injected into your ass

lips & tits

I’ve come to help

you digest your

dreams of me

captured consumed

uncured still wild

 monk miles Marvin x

a thousand galaxies

ahead beyond

Sun Ra murdered

the fucking pale

I’ve come to bury it

crossing over

broken lines in Alabama

dark roads in Mississippi

sunrises over Georgia

itinerant refugee landless

razor smooth

few possessions

insert your confessions here

on the altar of my

dark art

beating heart

naked on stage

blinded by searchlights

they come mostly at night

shotguns under the bed

you can meet god tonight

pray it’s your god

mine don’t play

there may be no overcoming

we are here

wet from the water

still purple

swinging

crosses on necks

seeing god in the mirror

resisting existential crucifixion

tracks of bitter tears

smelling of dried blood

sweat from climbing

heavy rank-ass pain

too stubborn to die

 broke raggedy hope

strangling

fly fly fly my granny said

grow wings too many holes

in the ground

she cried she cried she cried

can my pain change you

right there

they drank the tears

the ocean

left shimmering bones dancing

on dry land

no tapping

invincible drums beat

dark hearts

dark hearts beating

she cried she cried she cried

the horns stopped

hex dropped

not a damn eye dry

feed my ocean

dark art

strung on trees

underwater

on dry ground

bones dancing

sharpening machetes

hold your breath

we are in the desert now

just the eagles’ lions & apes

walking with me

grannys weeping over dead children

kept in urns too poor for the cemetery

we all here

are you here

another one shot down

can’t eat your guilt

born hungry

I got dreams deferred

looking for justice

feeling like Fela Kuti

dancers

bones & feathers

eagles machetes razors

nothing to lose

we here

are you here

something should be burning

are you praying

pray that

poems never end

because what then

you breathe

here

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porches

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fetal curl style

in the cutting room

arranging the chapters of your life

you look at the front porches of others

from the windows

hapharzarly placed

in rented walls

in the cutting room

you edit

sorting lost moments

songs unheard

love untasted

weighing measuring

from the window

the roads others took

the wings they grew

the standing on the roof top

looking down-ness of it all

your porch has no flowers

weeds in the backyard tickle

your mind reminding you

of places you never went

will never go

in the cutting room

you add the things

you don’t own

don’t know exist

the lack grows

sideways in your soul

you fold it carefully

into small pieces

so it can sit just so

it catches the sunlight

falling on other

people’s porches

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shoestrings

hanging-sneakers-new-york-04.jpg

when you live in rooms

where shoestrings dangle

tripping you up in the race

to get in to get out to get

where windows stay broken

even though they painted shut

the rats always return

four and two legged

you get tired the water

says don’t get weary

tired is a coat we

can set aside to find

joy in random beauty

amaryllis through broken

windows in brick houses

like brick house women

with forever tattooed in their  eyes

still beautiful

like still water

dangerous

depths

dangling shoe strings

on worn out shoes

don’t signify worth

worth is defined

in floating with your eyes open

seeing knowing and going on

floating back on the water

face to the heavens

is that all you got

resolve

the sun is gonna rise

why not be the tide

sometimes it’s got to be right

cause it can’t be wrong all the time

dangling shoe strings on worn shoes

cars that don’t go in reverse

dreams in boxes

delivered broken

missing parts without batteries

deep water blues

sing loudly in brash defiance

you will not kill me today

laid my troubles on the water

watched them sink

as the sun rose

walked into the water

walked out clean

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things written in sand

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pendulum swinging

swing batter swing

always moving Chrisman

said that

King said its an arch

that gravitates towards good

they say Anne Frank

thought people were good

at the heart

I read Frank,

belived King,

overstood Chrisman

the wind of the pendelum

how things take forever

cuz thats God time

God time make

you a grain of sand

even sand got a story

ain’t God grand

the story

belong to God not the sand

swing batter swing

fill the void with verbs

we try

best epithat ever

we try

but God is telling

the story

do we understand

how to be a part of a story

bigger than us

how to be right

because right is right

even if you never win

can you dig that

man God writes

you just

sand

but you still in the story

pulled by the tide

out from shore

bottom of the ocean

sand in the story

God writing about

beaches in short form

galaxies in long form

swing batter

swing

what can sand

tell the beach

what a beach know

about a galaxy

even sand got a story

swing batter

swing

 

 

 

 

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Brickhouse Lily

Lily in the Bricks. By We Inhale Photography

the house torn down, the lily remembers the builder —

jenny claimed the block

tupac rose from concrete

still deep in the streets

lily in the middle of the bricks

whole world fall down

chicken little up in this

saw the chicken scratch

most mistook it for the news

but there were trailers                                                                                                                          anybody know only fictions

offer trailers

still in NOLA a dime later

new milli the world ended

but clowns kept singing

so only

predicting prophets

felt it

fall

off

the plate

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A Deep Dive Into the Prison-Industrial Pipeline in “Beyond the Bars”

An Oakulture review of my latest stage work.

Oakulture

bb2

What does “home” mean? Is home where the heart is? Where the hatred is? A physical location? A state of mind? Can prison be a home? What does it mean to come home? And, can you ever really go back home again? These philosophical questions are at the core of the Lower Bottom Playaz’ production of “Beyond the Bars: Growing Home.”

In “Beyond the Bars,” the prison-industrial pipeline becomes a backdrop for an powerful examination of black masculinity . An array of black men, ranging in age from mid-20s to senior citizen, come together regularly to check in with their feelings. It’s somewhat telling that the vehicle which allows them to gather for this purpose is a re-entry support group; all of them are formerly-incarcerated.

The prison-industrial pipeline becomes a backdrop for an powerful examination of black masculinity

Their check-ins are largely about dealing with the ramification of their…

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