Friday, April 16, 2010

Comics in the Black Age

The Importance of buying Black Age Comics.
Some folks have asked me ...
Why... Why... Why... should we support Black Age comics?
Because if we don't , who will?
Buy a book for yourself or for our youth who need some brand new ways to think about life and problem solving....
Buy a book for graduations, birthdays, Kwanzaa and any celebrations...
What's with the Black Age of Comics?
Why not just keep purchasing the already established brands that promote the same o same o in superheroes?
Well for one... Visual Imagery is so important in how one relates to the world.
Visual imagery creates cultural values and can be a large part of how we view ourselves.
When our Superheroes all look one way and that way is not what we see when we look in the mirror... a devaluation can take place in our inner selves.
As a child, I saw all the mainstream superheroines in books, tv and eventually at the movies.....
but I never wanted to buy a weave or a wig or to bleach my face to look like them 'cause I was happy to look like I looked.
And...... happy that the real Wonder Woman in my life (my mom) was an artist and she drew beautiful images of Black folks being strong. She also showed me so many images of African folk across the world from Australia to Africa which helped me to grow up to be happy 2 be nappy... happy 2 be free..happy to be nappy and happy 2 be me.

For another....All the same old heroes don't fit today's market.
Let's see... for me it's simple. I realized a long time ago that in my music collection I wanted some SOUL...
In my radio diet.... got 2 have that FUNK!!. That FUTURE FUNK!!
In dance... the same....I need Ritmo!! RYHTHM. Yes! I'm a slave 2 the Rhythm!
That's why I love the Onli's rhythmistic illustration of NOG , Protector of the Pyramids... the gritty Funky drawings of Brotherman... the tats on St G's buffed body...please!!! and the "du" (haircut) on Malcom 10?'s flowing like James Brown in the future...uummph!

In the theatre, I wanted to check out some playrights and stories of color.
In my movies I wanted some plots about things that happened with people of color.
In all these mediums the Revolution came...looooooong time ago.

But with comic superheroes, we are still reading and watching movies about mainstream characters who came out way back in the day.. All cool heroes.... but they don't get down for me like Malcolm 10... Brotherman... St G... Sustahgirl... U feel me?

As for villians, even the mainstream comic villians... is not as diabolical to me as the hordes of thugs that I see on the corners slanging drugs and thuggin out all around the country. Where's the Superheroes who are going to deal with the villians in my world?

I've had to suffer through years and years of stodgy old images.
And then when the mainstream publishers pop out with Euro-brown characters...
These characters are like Brown Barbies on paper telling stories that don't reflect my world or lifestyle up in Bronzeville.
To see Spiderman duking it out with the Sandman is totally different than Malcom 10 sending villians to the Rhythmic Zone..
The same with Anime...'cause frankly I'm a bit ninjaed out.
I need to see some fine a.... brothers flying through the air with dreadlocks opening up a can whup ass on somebody...!!

Buying Black Comics Builds Economic Power
To me.... the Comics industry feels like music industry before Berry Gordy and MOWTOWN.
Or...the movies before..Black actors and actresses could play real roles in real stories about who we are.
So let's talk about artist-publisher, Turtel Onli, the creator of the Black Age of Comics.....
You could compare ONLI to Berry Gordy. If you take the vision that Gordy had for Black music to have a place, a marketshare and a cultural value in the world, Onli has that vision for Black Age titles and merchandise.
When ONLI coined the title the Black Age of Comics, he gave birth to a genre in comics that opened a door for a collective of artists, writers and publishers to create independent and authentic images. that encouraged us to stop imitating and start creating new imagery for us to dream on.
He encourages us to pratice that good old Kwanzaa principle, Kujichagulia.....
Self-determination. To define ourselves and to create our own images....

Onli started the first Black Age of Comics conventions in 1993 in Chicago in Bronzeville at the South Side Community Art Center. It was a convention of artist, writers and publishers which came together to celebrate and to sell their works to the public.
Onli's vision was that we must become entreprenureal and began to create an economy for ourselves and our youth.
Sad to say... but let's keep it real......12 annual conventions later, in 2010, the Black Age of Comics will convene for year XIII and many of us are still showing up at the large Comic Cons with no knowledge that we have our own conventions that are now popping up nationally in Atlanta, Detroit and on the East Coast.

Too many of our youth don't know about the Black Age of Comics or the heroes that many Black Age artists have created.
WE need to correct that by buying Black Age titles. We need to go the Comic book stores and request Black Age titles and product. We need to bring our children to the Black Age Comics cons and teach them to collect images that reflect their lives....

A vision and a goal for ONLI is to give our youth not only new and positive super-heroes of color to think about but other businesses to work for in this economy.
That happens when we STOP BOYCOTTING OUR OWN PRODUCTS and BEGAN TO SUPPORT THE BLACK AGE by buying our own products.

Simple answers that we learned in the 60's... Economic power is important. And we need to wake up.... Manga and Anime represent major major dollars going to another community at the end of the day. Our youth have embraced their games, graphic novels, merchandising and the imagery.

There's nothing wrong with being involved in a global mindset and exploring multicultural entertainment but....every time we buy books and games from other communities, we need to STOP the Black Boycott of our own products and support our own artists and writers and publishers so that we can began to create wealth in our community.

So here are some of MY questions..
What's with the boycott and complacency regarding having our own heroes and having authentic looking heroes and heroines?

What's with the debate on a popular website about Black Super-heroes amongst African-American illustrators about who's the baddest vanilla super-hero instead of figuring out how WE can gain more market share and support each other by BUYING each other's product?
We are too old to be drawing Batman over and over....and talking about who can draw him the best! You best believe that's not the focus of Manga illustrators. They created their own genre to GROW their own ECONOMY in entertaiment.

Why are we so quick to buy mainstream comics idea of princess and all the merchandise to go with it instead creating some Queens and Kings of our own for our young girls and boys to dream about?

Where are the Black Age super-heroes to give our male youth someone to want to grow up to be? And I'm not talking about a wine-head.. or a vampire or a thug!
In entertainment, I'm also thugged out ..... Change is good in 2010.
Change is good.
It's time for some nu entertainment that encourages our youth not to embrace prison culture or weaves that promote low self-esteem instead of celebrating our own hair, or misogynistic songs and images that demean and project our women as sexual objects and goldiggers... or our males as infamous drug-dealers selling to crack-heads, or as pimps, thugs and prison fodder. Time for some nu images that tells our history...and tell the positive stories....of us being educated, working, entrprenreal, Black folks living well, healthy and free.

Where are the images that we have created to excite our youth about loving how we really look...?
With our beautiful, colorful...selves. Not imitators of the status quo but enjoying our Africaness... our lips... our hips... our braids..... our shades...
To excite our youth about how we can use our multi-intelligences and super powers for good.. for global change to create a better future.

To encourage our youth to embrace life and wealth building and to enjoy who we are naturally... We have our own kind of swagger and our own kind of cool...

Here are some clear cut answers:
For many years, as an artist, publisher and educator, Onli has spoke to illustrators, publishers, art students, comics fans, parents about the quest for market share now and in the future.
"There's a cultural war out here. Who's going to dominate market share and cultural iconic imagery in the world of comics, graphic novels, movies, animation and games?
Where do we see ourselves in this industry? As participators, innovators or as spectators or as consumers? We have choices we can make.
Our stories must need be told and purchased.... Each one buy a book!"
Don't talk....the talk... Buy a book for yourself or for our youth who need some brand new ways to think about life and problem solving....
Buy a book for graduations, birthdays, Kwanzaa and any celebrations...
" Team BLANGA is the most important graphic novel in the Black Age Movement.
It is exciting hard hitting and full of cultural intent. Indie today: Black Age Forever!!"
Punkin X Circa Now.
For more information about the Black Age of Comics and where to buy Black Age titles go to....

Friday, April 9, 2010

C2E2 will host Black Comix Discussion at McCormick Place-Bronzeville

The largest Comic Book convention to come to Chicago lands in Bronzeville at McCormick place. Come out and join the excitement!

Black Comix: African American Independent Comics, Art, And Culture
Panel discussion and presentation in Chicago at C2E2 April 17th at McCormick Place.
The art and culture of African American independent comics is a vibrant, growing, but drastically overlooked facet of sequential art. Comics creators, scholars, and curators John Jennings and Damian Duffy have been on a mission to help spread the word about black comics creators on the grind and under the radar. From curating national and international comics art exhibitions, to their new art book Black Comix: African American Independent Comics Art and Culture, the pair have gathered together an unprecedented and under appreciated collection of work from working masters of American comics. Join them for a discussion with comics scholar Stanford Carpenter and comics creators Ashley A. Woods (Millennia War), Jiba Anderson (The Horsemen), and Turtel Onli (Malcolm-10, Sustah Girl) about the art and culture of comics of color.

Turtel Onli, The “Father of the Black Age of Comics”, the founder of the Black Age movement will be speaking at C2E2 April 17th, 2010 at McCormick Place. Onli coined the term, “The Black Age”, and produced the world’s first Black Age of Comic’s convention in Chicago in 1993. Visit for details about this amazing and exciting historic event.

Visit and or to collect these exciting graphic novels & comic books. In years to come these earlier Black Age works will increase in value among collectors, curators, fans, and historians. “Indie today: Black Age forever!!!” ONLI STUDIOS

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Awakening... Notes from a Female Musical Pharaoh

The Awakening of a Female Musical Pharoah
Notes from my diary.......I started this float.... in February and now I dun' funked around and March....Women's History Month has already rolled in and out and now - we are in April. 

But.. It's still all good... because I believe Black History should be 24/365, not just for 30 AND..... as I started digging around in my creative Pyramid.... I kept finding these fun archeological finds .... so voila!

We all may celebrate Black History Month in many different ways but how 'bout celebrating some of your own Black History..? Or making your own.

Sometimes finding one thread can send one into a total Sankofa stream of memories...

Poking around the net I found this article by Neil Tessor of the Chicago Reader that included me... and I was transported back to a time of many musical and mystical moments...

"Do you remember the time?".......MJ

This article talked about the time when I became a female musical Pharaoh. I joined the musical group The Pharaohs for a moment as a keyboardist to play a series of concerts. We played at the Field Museum, at the Velvet Lounge and for a television performance.

Sir Charles Handy, trumpeter, and founding member of the Pharaohs  named me...Queen Hathepsut ...because I was the only female Pharoah in the group. (as a instrumentalist)

Queen Hatshepsut, Female Pharaoh of Egypt.. of the18th Dynasty. Statue of Hatshepsut meaning Foremost of Noble Ladies,(1508 BC - 1458 BC). She was the fifth pharaoh of the eighteenth dynasty of Ancient Egypt. She is generally regarded by Egyptologists as one of the most successful pharaohs, reigning longer than any other woman of an indigenous Egyptian dynasty. Source : Wikipedia

What an honor... to play music of a group that I loved in the 70's....
I remember when I first bought the Pharaohs album, 
"The Awakening"
I must have played the song, Damballa at least 20 times a day. The music buried deep into the crevices of my spirit.

Who knew at least 3 decades later, that I would be honored to play the music that had excited me as young spirit...?

In the Basement - The Pharaohs
As I began to study African dance, I met conga drummer, Oye Bisi (top left corner) when he played with the Sun drummers..... I met percussionist, Don Moye (bottom right corner) around the Musicians building in Hyde Park where all my friends lived... as well as my piano teacher.

But looking back at my path on my musical journey...I shouldn't have been surprised because as I look back.... I had danced with... played music with... and studied the arts and many other mystical things...within the temples and pyramids of Chicago's creative Black Arts Movement for many decades....

Kelan Phil Cohran

I first heard of the Pharoahs at Phil Cohran's Afro-Arts Theatre in 1967... when it was on the 67th St Beach. The Afro-Arts  later moved to the Oakland Square movie theatre located on Oakwood Boulevard and Drexel Boulevard.

(Then in later years, the 80's, ironically that same space turned into the Fort, which was home to the Blackstone Rangers-El Rukns until it was torn down by Gang units of the Chicago Police Force).

But back to Phil Cohran......It's funny to me now to realize that at home we would alternate between...listening to 
James Brown and the Famous Flames or Phil Cohran...
Let's see.. I Feel Good!? or The Frankophone Blues
Then we moved on to the Last Poets....
  Bird Lives! said the sign on the wall..... 
When the Revolution Comes.....

Long before FloetryJazzoetry was Poetry.
But meanwhile....back 2.....The Frankophone Blues.
We wanted to know... 
What's a frankophone? What's a Kalimba?
We learned from Phil right there on the 67th St Beach. It's a thumb piano...
An African thumb piano......
In the 60's...I had grown up listening to Phil Cohran playing harp, kalimba and while screaming "Sister, Take that Wig off!". Phil Cohran was a visionary, an ever evolving musician who had played with everyone from Jay McShan and Charlie Parker in the 50's to training naval bands.
Sun Ra
Cohran played with Sun Ra's Infinity Arkestra where he played trumpet, zither and harp.  
Cohran  went on to form his own group, Phil Cohran and the Artistic Heritage Ensemble, which included many members that were the nucleus of the Pharoahs, Earth Wind & Fire and the Phenix horns.

Kelen Phil Cohran and Muhal Richard Abrams founded AACM 
The Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians
From the mid-sixties when I was truly was knee high to a grasshopper, I grew up watching Kelan Phil Cohran as well as many others be part of the genesis of a creative movement that included anyone from artists to dancers, poets, musicians, philosophers and so much more.
The Afro-Arts Theater was like a creative African Baobob tree. It spawned so many branches that still influence and impact upon the Cultural Arts in Chicago today.
Chaka Khan & Rufus ... back in the day!
At the Afro-Arts Theatre, you could find a young 
Chaka Khan, the Pharaohs, and the genesis of African dance in Chicago......dancer/teacher, Darlene Blackburn, who traveled to West Africa and 'brought us steps that reconnected us with our roots'. 
According to the Historymaker.....
Dancer and dance instructor Darlene Blackburn was born in Chicago, Illinois. In 1963, she first started becoming aware of her blackness through Phil Cohran, her life mentor, and that same year she founded the Darlene Blackburn Dance Troupe. 

Influenced by Margaret Burroughs to study ethnic dance, Blackburn traveled to Jamaica in 1967, studying with the Jamaica National Dance Company. 

She continued to study foreign dance techniques, spending time in Ghana and Nigeria in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Returning to the United States, Blackburn became the Artist-in-Residence at Purdue University in 1974, and she remained there until 1976

The following year, she, along with ten members of her dance troupe, were invited to Lagos, Nigeria, to participate in the Second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture

Following the enthusiastic response to their performance, Blackburn was invited to become the Artist-in-Residence at the University of Calabar in Nigeria, where she remained for the next three years. In 1983, Blackburn and her dancers began working with Urban Gateways – an Arts education agency - in Chicago, and over the next few years they sent her throughout the Caribbean to study dance.

Sister, Darlene Blackburn taught several of my friends including the late artist-illustrator, and an awesome dancer, Kenneth Hunter,  Marcea Daiter and the late dancer and founder of MUNTU, Alyo Tolbert. 
They studied with her professional troupe.

Looking at ALYO's photograph...brings many memories...of such good times..

I can remember Kenneth showing me his sketchbooks with the early logo glyphs he had created for MUNTU. With Raffia legs and arms outstreached to the future...... A dance company was born!! 
I used run into Alyo in Hyde Park all the time. We didn't live far from each other. I spent many days watching him perform with Darlene Blackburn's dance company and with MUNTU! 

I also remember  hearing  Alyo talk with the  artist-illustrators, Turtel Onli and Kenneth Hunter about concepts , designs and  new looks for his new dance company.

Back in the mid 70's ..sometimes I would go to Kenneth Hunter's apartment  on King Drive in Bronzeville. 

Kenneth loved to throw arts parties ...filled with fun people, dancers, artists and folk from the Afro-Chic set.  
I remember Alyo  as a dj at some of these parties  and making the music.. and killing on the dance floor! 

remember him dancing in the parks at the African Festivals On stage, he was intense and compelling to watch. 
He gave us glimpses and visions of Africa's  great tribal dances and he paid homage to the Ancestors using an incredible force of dance techniques. 

I also found it interesting that he was  just as intense on the contemporary dance floor. If you went  to a club, you better move out the way…because he would turn it out!!

What  an incredible dancer and visionary for African dance...that Alyo turned out to be..

I so... remember Alyo's big wide smile... and  bright spirit! 
I hope that he's  up there ...teaching the angels to flow like he did.
Darlene Blackburn/ Alyo Tolbert
I remember studying dance with Darlene Blackburn at my high school. What a beautiful experience that was. But she was such a strong dancer! She liked to killed us young girls!! 

I remember one semster when she was pregnant, we still couldn't keep pace with Sister, Darlene Blackburn. 
She did not play! 

She taught us the discipline of learning to dance and to follow the rhythms of live conga drums..... 
and to match your step with a particular rhythm

She taught us the connection between the steps of African dance...and our  own African -American popular dances.

And... that was discipline for someone who used to doing her own thing on the dance floor…..

'Cause back in those days of the '70's it was TWINE TIME!...

In those days...we're talking about the Bop/a.k.a. Stepping,  the Mashed Potatoes the Jerk,  the Twine  or the Watusi
 Asante!  Sister Darlene for showing us the connection.

In 1973 when I traveled to Ghana..West Africa.. I had the honor to go and see the Master Drummers at Legon University. I found that  Sister Darlene Blackburn was highly respected there  for her studies and work at the university.

Kelan Phil Cohran taught us about the mystical and cosmic qualities of life.. in his explorations which included teachings about music, Egyptology, how to use Color and music for healng and power. His explorations also included natural diet, vegetarianism and mystical studies. His bands were always interesting and cosmic like  Sun Ra.
The genesis of the Pharaohs and Earth, Wind & Fire came from Cohran's early musical ensembles. The musicians carried the musical influence and the cosmic flow of his teachings into their music and lifestyles as they looked to Ancient Egypt , Nubia and other mystical sources for their musical expressions.

The 70's.....  Revelation…..Transformation…
"Revelation..Transformation… A thought so clear and bright…
A thought that brought the light…¸.•*¨*•♫♪♪♫•*¨*•.¸¸ -
Doug and Jean Carne
In the seventies, Cohran along with other cultural forces formed Transition East, a club that featured the music of many avant - garde and free jazz and and the big band jazz of Niambi. I remember playing at Transitions East for a year with the Niambi Big Band.
The seventies took me through several artistic, dance, musical & political awakenings....¸.•*¨*•♫♪♪♫•*¨*•.¸

on the soundtrack of Coltrane, the mystique of Miles.....

the music of Doug & Jean Carne 
                                                       and Pharoah Sanders... 

 the live music of  Chicago..Jazz  

from playing at Von Freeman's Jam sessions 

to all the music I played at home with my band or  in rehearsals or while freelancing on gigs.... 

or  at my own Jam sessions with all my musical compadre's who loved to play.... 

My days were spent juxaposed between artist, musicians, dancers and poets and the like.... 

If I wasn't at an art fair , I was playing keyboards at a concert in the park like South Shore Country club with the Niambi Jazz Band.
Or you might find me checking out Miles or Sun Ra at a Chicago Jazz Fest or hanging with Muntu , Najwa Dance Troupe , Alvin Ailey, The Dance Theatre of Harlem or going the theatre to see The Wiz......4 the fifth time. 

Why so many times?....
Because my highschool friend and fabulous dancer, the late Tony Roberts was in the show pulling the House during the Tornado scene. 

Also a wonderful bassist that I had worked many gigs with, was Larry Ball, who was the musical director for the touring company of The Wiz... and in it there was vocalist, 
Sue Conway, Songwriter, vocalist, Vince Willis, and musical buddies from the music scence... so I had to see it. And Geoffrey Holder had designed everythang too! Please!!

ART on a Summer afternoon....
I spent a lot of time on the art scene as well the music scene at Art Fairs selling my graphics. 
I was either going to or selling art at Arts Fairslike  
The Lake Meadows Art Fair, The Harper Court Art Fair in Hyde Park,  the 57th St. Art Fair and more...
During that time, I met many jewelry makers including Akousua Bandele,  Babatunde, Crown maker, Efu,  Kubvu,Foots and Davi,  who was also a  flautist.

I loved to go to the Old Town Art Fair and 57th St Art Fair with my cousin,Frank Smith.  
Frank is a painter and a member of of the art group Africobra. 
Frank went on to  move to Washington D.C. and became an Art Professor at Howard University, 

My mother who was an artist, art teacher and teacher had introduced me  to muralist, and a major founder of the Chicago muralist movement,  Bill Walker , who  was  one  of the original creators of the Wall of Respect on 43rd St and Langley) .

I had the wonderful opportunity to work with him as an artist painting a mural at Price School on 44th and Drexel. 

My mom (Annie Smith) had been an original member of the WPA artists who were the genesis of the beginning of the South Side Community Art center. 

She and Dr. Margeret Burroughs were great friends and we had spent many a day at the original DuSable Museum of African-American History which was housed in her home on 38th and Michigan.

After graduating from high school, I wanted to go to Africa for the summer before starting college. I had heard about a trip to Ghana, West Africa for $400.00 roundtrip and I needed... to go! I had no money to do so , so I was looking for ways to get there!
I decided to dance with an African dance troupe that we had formed and I decided that I needed a product to sell at art fairs. I rolled with the jewelry makers but jewelry making wasn't really my medium so I decided to create some art that I could sell.
N2 the Rhythmic Zone: 
The beginnings of an Afro-Futuristic esthetic...
Black Arts Guild (B.A.G.)FUNK CARDS

During that time, I kept seeing the Black art notecards that were drawn by several different artists that were in B.A.G. (The Black Arts Guild.) 

Their logo intrigued me. It was a Watermelon with several faces popping out like seeds. I also kept these cards that were Black and White illustrations called FUNK! cards
Who was putting those images out? 
I wanted to know just 'cause they so were SO Funky and unique.
I asked around to find out who was producing them because I wanted to produce notecards to sell. I found out that they were being published by an artist named Onli , who was the founder of BAG.
And then I met the artist, Turtel Onli, who at age nineteen, as an undergraduate student at the Art Institute...had created a new genre to define the flow of the African and Black aesthetic. 

ONLI  defined  and  named the genre  Rhythmism. 
He also founded the Black Artist Guild (BAG), a collective group of young African-American artists in Chicago.
ONLI founded the guild to develope their work professionally   to be exhibited nationally. BAG exhibited at South Side Community Art Center, and at many other galleries and spaces in Chicago and at univerisities nationally.
Artist, Onli at the South Side Community Art Center at 
the Black Age of Comics Convention in Bronzeville.
Onli was at the genesis of the Black Artist Movement in Chicago... He showcased the work of BAG (many who also were studying art at the Art Institute) in the Rhythmistic esthectic

The guild included such artists as the late illustrator and dancer, Kenneth Hunter, wood work artist, Esphi Eph, in textiles, Jim Smoote, painter, Dalton Brown and more. 

BAG was a  group of artists that were a decade or so younger than AfriCobra artists.

Artist, Onli at Onli Studios in Hyde Park Chicago.
As a innovator and creator and Publisher...Onli went on to develope his own Futuristic flow of Rhythmism into illustrations, paintings, airbrush, ceramics and wearable art.... and evolved to become the creator of 
The Black Age of Comics

Under the umbrella of the Black Age , Onli began to promote a national collective of artists who create independent creativity in their comic characters. 

In his own collection, Onli developed Superheroes and heroines such as Sustah Girl, NOG, Protector of the Pyramids and Malcolm 10.
NOG Protector of the Pyramids
In Bronzeville, Onli made the South Side Community Art Center an early home to The Black Age of Comics Convention
The first several Black Age Conventions were held at the SSCAC and which continues today in the new millenium to showcase national artists who exude independent creativity and a high standard of art making. 

Onli hosted his first and early conventions for the Black Age at Bronzeville's Southside Community Art Center in 1992. 

Currently the 13th annual convention will be held at Kenwood Academy and will feature Sisters In the Black Age in October 2010. 
Currently, Black Age Conventions are now held in Atlanta, Detroit and on the East Coast.

In the eighties, Turtel was the director of Black on Black Love Art Center ( created by Soft' Sheen's Ed Gardner) which sat smack dab in the middle Robert Taylor Homes

He worked with students to develope their creativity in the midst of pretty perlious conditions. Today Professor Onli teaches art at Harold Washington College and at Kenwood Academy.
(African Commune of Bad Relevant Artists) 
Another important part of the Black Artist movement in Chicago was started in Bronzeville right at the site of the 
Wall of Respect  on 43rd and  Langley during the late sixties. 

For more information on AFRICOBRA see Onli's site:

"It was formed to provide a visual component to the Black cultural revolution of that era. It started in Chicago and relocated its base to Howard University in Washington DC when its founder became the chairperson of Howard's Art Department. Many of its memebers were college professors in the visual arts." - Professor Onli

"AFRICOBRA artists included Napoleon Henderson, Wadsworth and Jay Jarrell, Michael Harris, Nelson Stevens, Ron Anderson, Jeff Donaldson, Frank Smith, Barbara Jones-Hogu, Carol Lawrence, Murray DePillars, Omar Lama, and Sherman Beck were key members of Africobra. 

Ameer Nour, Lester Lashley, and Robert E. Paige along with Bill Walker were important artists who made considerable contributions to the development of this innovative movement in art." - Art Professor Onli
Africobra exhibited in Chicago at Northwestern University in February 2010.
To see more about the artists and the exhibit click on: AFRICOBRA

Bronzeville's  visual art scene was very vibrant with BAG, 
Afri-Cobra, the South Side Community Art Center and the DuSable Museum of African-American History's Museum at Dr. Margaret Burrough's home served as a artistic corridor on 38th and Michigan. 
And all the art fairs! In the summers in Chicago... there was so many art fairs! 
You knew the summer would stretch from June to August with the 57th St. Art Fair in Hyde Park, then the Lake Meadows Art Fair on 35th St and King Drive, in Bronzeville

The Harper Court art fair had an annual fair with drummers and dancers and performances on 53rd and Harper. Harper Court at that time was filled with arts shops and stores like Window to Africa... where you could buy all the Afro-centric gear from clothes to statues, inscense and the like. 

The owner, Patrick Woofolk went on to create 
the African Festival that is still a major festival  on Chicago cultural scene.
Back in the day, it was a scene at Harper Court. The outdoor Court was filled with brothers playing chess on the stone tables and families would come to sit, eat and enjoy the flow of conversations.
I remember playing with guitarist, Dale Williams. Dale (who lives and works in LA these days) was a major crazoid who loved everything from funk to R&B to rock to blues ...avante garde and anything in-between. Cra-zaaaay Dale. 

He was quick witted and had a quick finger on his fret board. Dale was great friends with upright bassist,the late BoBo (Oscar Brown Jr the III) and in the 70's they were young musicians in Hyde Park learning to jam. Dale went on play with Sun Ra and was forever cosmic from that day forward....
Guitarist, Dale Williams plays  in Sun Ra Arkestra.
I flash back to the days that they would float thru Hyde Park wearing huge wooden rings of color around their necks and they both were loaded down with pan-pipes for sale. 
Bobo and I wound up traveling to Ghana with another friend of ours, JNali, a creative , mystical spirit who passed from Malaria ten days after we returned to the US.
BoBo(Oscar Brown Jr III) waits for our flight to Ghana, West Africa 1973.
Aki waits for the flight to Ghana, West Africa. 1973
Bobo and JNali waiting to board our plane to Ghana, West Africa. August 1973
In the early seventies....Hyde Park had musicians... for days....I had met BoBo, Maggie Africa and Napoleon Brown and their dad ,Oscar Brown Jr. right in the neighborhood.
Dale and I would jam sometimes at my house. 
Eventually, we all played for (BoBo' father) Oscar Brown Jr's play about Jean Pointe DuSable and urban youth in Chicago called "The Great Nitty Gritty".
One night Dale and I hung out with guitarist, Lefty Dizz at the original Checkerboard Blues Club around the corner from my house and we wound up playing all evening.. What a groove...
Bobo and I played many trio gig with my group Akiboards and oh... we had such a laid back float. A joy.. I will always miss Bo.

Later while interacting on the Pan-African creative 'set' in Chicago, I met drummer the late, Oye Bisi , log drum maker, Musu, Nii Clotte from Ghana and Baba Atiba of The Sun Drummers. The Sun Drummers would come to my house in Bronzeville to play for an African dance troupe that I had joined.
Our troupe was determined to dance our way (raising funds) to Africa. And we did. Some of us made it to Ghana in '73. 

Oye Bisi was also a part of the Pharaohs but I only learned @ 2 decades later when I played with the group. Oye! a fiery drummer with a serious fighting spirit! Yes. Oye, we will remember his fire in his playing and in his sprit! 

Percussionist, drummer Famadou Don Moye and  
conga drummer, the late, Oye Bisi geting down with the spirits!
Baba Atiba (c)plays with other drummers in performance.
Speaking of the Sun Drummers, you have to cite 
Baba Atiba... as one of our Master drummers... who is the heartbeat of the Sun Drummers and central to the MUNTU drum's heartbeat as well.
Those were the days of huge naturals..... I spent hours cornrowing hair..... and at Art fairs, African Liberation Day Festivals.....and Learning Egyptian Hieroglyphics and Swahilli.
African Liberation Day 1973 (ALD) Chicago.
The smell of incense was everywhere! Conga drummers were drumming at the Point (55th and the Lake) with African Dance troupes and in the beginnings I was truly a novice then...
Jewelry maker, Kubvu at a Chicago Art fair circa 1973.
Space is the Place!!!  Kubvu introduced me to the music of Sun Ra and to Ebah (Akh Tal Ebah)(who was his cousin) and a trumpet player in Sun Ra's Arkestra. Ebah spent many days exchanging chord voicings and musical concepts on the piano with me..
When I played with the Niambi Big Band at Phil Cohran's Transition East for a year, 1975-76 I played with saxophonists, Steve Coleman, Dwayne Armstrong, Al Smith, Ben Yamin, Jerry Wilson, Glen Burris, and trumpeter Paul Howard. 
I also played in other settings with with Rahm Lee Michael Davis and Michael Harris, who both became 
a part of EWF's Phenix Horns.
Rahm Lee Micheal Davis plays in Chicago prior to joing the Phenix horns.

Musical arranger, Tom Tom 84 was on the scene at Paul Serrannos studio and we met many ,many years ago. Tom arranged for many performers including the Phenix Horns , Earth Wind and Fire and Phil Collins.

I appreciated the musical and art scene of Chicago's 
Pan - African set as I watched the music grow into the global rhythms that we hear and see today in works of Chicago 's musicians , artists and dancers like the Muntu, AACM, Sun Ra, Earth Wind & Fire.
Pharaoh Sanders, John Coltrane, Rashann Roland Kirk, Eddie Harris wafted out of loft parties in Hyde Park and South Shore...but I was listening to the Pharaohs.....
It was all about the horns... The horns were killing! The ensemble parts were so tight and so electrifying.. 
It was just be exciting just to hear the hits and articulation of Louis Satterfield (trombone), Don Myrick(altosax), 
Big Willie Woods(Trombone), Sir Charles Handy(trumpet), Aaron Dodd(tuba) Black Herman Waterford (Alto Sax), and 
Rahm Lee Micheal Davis(trumpet).

And the rhythm section, please!... African congas and a tight rhythm session that in the beginning included Yehuda on guitar, drummer, Maurice White (who went on to form Earth Wind and Fire).

Fast forward to 1997.... I was walking past a room right after taking an education class at Harold Washington College. My mind was on certification and finishing a long series of classes in my field.

Then I heard that sound... It was Damballa! I knew the horn hits...What was Damballa doing being played live here?! I was disconcerted!! 
I hadn't heard that song for several decades!!
What was going on? So as a curious musician, I stopped in.... I went on to see some of the original members of the Pharaohs rehearsing for concerts... but they had no keyboardist at that moment. Hmmmmm.

I had never seen a female play with them and the music was bit daunting...but it was etched in my memory just like a James Brown riff... and they had charts so I said... I can do this! Sir Charles Handy liked my flow and so we were on!! 

How would one know how to articulate an intricate horn line like in Damballa just out of the blue....? 

It's had to be in the memory.... an Ancient memory of a Pharoah or a Queen... I had that memory ... waiting to dance....out of my sprit and onto my keys......
So for brief momento.... I became a Pharaoh.... 
I was and I am Aki Antonia a.k.a. Queen Hathepsut.
Riding the Nile on my keyboards. Melodies and modes opened the secret passageways and the rhythms carried us into the waves of Africano funk and flavor. 
The Pharaohs ride again........


The Pharaohs' only studio album, Awakening, contains a song called "Freedom Road," and I've had its main hook darting through my head on a semiregular basis ever since I first heard it. What makes this remarkable is that I first heard it 25 years ago. Apparently it stuck in the ears of others as well: the original LP's cult popularity a generation later has led to its recent reissue, as well as the release of a live set called In the Basement (both on Luv n' Haight)--and now the wholly unexpected reactivation of this groove-hopping nonet. From the beginning, their tightly clustered horn harmonies and killer riffs made the Pharaohs somewhat analogous to Tower of Power--but though lesser known, they had a greater capacity for improvisation, far more rhythmic complexity, and an obviously different worldview (as seen in such song titles as "Damballa" and "Black Enuff"). In retrospect, it shouldn't surprise anyone that several members of the band ended up in Earth, Wind and Fire: both groups drew on different branches of the African-American river that courses through Chicago music history, linking such supposedly disparate entities as Muddy Waters, Eddie Harris, Sun Ra, and even disco champs the Ohio Players. By the time they disbanded in 1973 the Pharaohs had created an unforgettably vibrant, accessibly idiosyncratic fusion of soul, jazz, and African percussion. They had also tapped into the Egyptology-as-black-history movement popularized in music by Sun Ra, which provided the inspiration for the band's name; since then, founder and trumpeter Charles Handy has delved deeper into it through studies at the Field Museum. How this will play out in the band's second incarnation remains unknown, as does the chemistry between the remaining original Pharaohs--saxist Black Herman Waterford, trombonist Big Willie Woods, and guitarist Yehudah Ben Israel--and such new additions as tenor man Hank Ford and keyboardist Aki Antonia. In any case, this weekend the band I never thought I'd hear live plays for only the second time since the mid-70s. Friday, 9 and 11 PM, Velvet Lounge, 2128fi S. Indiana; 312-791-9050. NEIL TESSER

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Marc PoKempner.

AA 3 17 2010 All photos by Aki Antonia c2010. (* Don Moye and Oye Bisi courtesy of Sarudzai Sevanhu photos collection.)