The humongous state of California can feel claustrophobic at times. As of late these times have been occurring much more frequently. A few weeks ago, I sought to leave. I felt like if I didn’t cross the state line then bad things would happen to me. I was imploding. There’s really no other way to put it. So, I headed east. And quite randomly or maybe one can say it was by god’s design, I wound up in Utah. As I traveled through the state I was shocked by all of the natural beauty. The red clay was very reminiscent of Arizona but it wasn’t as brightly colored. It was more subdued. The landscape on either side of the highway was so striking and the canyons were so picturesque that I found myself pulling over at every looking point. Each time I stepped out of the vehicle I further internalized the fact that I was a long way from Oakland, CA.
The beauty of the state was amplified even further when I got to Bryce Canyon National Park. As I admired the shapes of the rocks in the canyon from the top of a trail something told me to look up into the sky and when I did I was forever changed. The perfectly formed clouds stood still and they accentuated the endless blue surrounding them. I’m from the west coast so I’m used to looking out at the Pacific Ocean and feeling like a speck of dirt amongst its vastness. I have never, until that moment, looked toward the sky in the middle of the day and felt the same way. There was so much sky. It was unpolluted. It was clear. It was humbling as well as comforting. I trusted the sky. I felt protected by it. I was enamored with its unwavering presence. I thought of my father and my grandparents. My friends and all of my ancestors and it brought contentment. I knew that their souls were there and I knew that mine would be there one day as well, and I was ok with that. I was at peace with where I was and where I would ultimately end up.
I took a picture which is my attempt to capture something that could never be captured. The peace that I gained in that moment has been a lasting one. I never thought that Utah would be the place that I would go to heal but that’s how it played out. And now whenever I feel downtrodden I stop and look up before I continue my life.
I was on my bed considering my journey, contemplating all of the things that had taken place in order for me to arrive in the space that I currently occupy. Then I heard a violent noise. The noise seemed to vibrate the windows and smash against my back door. Then I heard the sound again and it had a similar effect on the structure of the house, except this time it was a little bit louder. I gathered myself and rose slowly, contemplating whether or not to get a weapon before I walked in the living room area to see what was going on. I opted not to. I took silent ninja steps to the window and peered out of it to see that the cause of my consternation was the Atlantic Ocean crashing against the Jamaican shore which was just a few feet from the Montego Bay estate that I was staying in for the night.
I very rarely leave the United States. I almost never kick back and enjoy life, but last week I was on a solo trip to Jamaica when I saw those waves crashing against the beach and then rolling back into the sea. The rhythm began to saturate my soul. The consistency, the majesty, the power of it all—it got me. I stepped out on the balcony in astonishment. I submitted to the moment. I looked but did not move. I forgot that I was breathing. I appreciated the world and I told myself, I deserve this.
I was approaching Baltimore Harbor when I heard the same syncopated rhythm that I heard intermittently on my one hour journey from Washington, D.C. Except this time it was live! It was right before my eyes so I could see the masterpiece as it was being created with two drumsticks, three buckets, a trash can, and a basket from a grocery store. What the man was creating was a sound called GO-GO. It made me want to dance, pray to my ancestors, and take the finest sista I saw back to my dingy little room at the Motel 6. It made me feel at once liberated and a slave to all my passions. It reminded me that I was an African, but also that I was very far from home.
They don’t play GO-GO music at all in the San Francisco Bay Area. I mean like never. I only know what it is because several years ago I asked a friend of mine that had gone to Howard what it was like to party in D.C. and he told me “The girls out there really like GO-GO.” I looked at him quizzically thinking that he was saying that they were strippers. I kept thinking GO-GO dancers and for some reason I conjured up Demi Moore’s dance routine in the movie “Striptease.” Thankfully he began to explain it to me. “It’s like that Amerie song. That’s kind of like GO-GO…ok ok you remember that song ‘Doing the butt’? Now that song is definitely GO-GO” It was only then that I understood. But that song was from the “School Daze” soundtrack. I think I was in the 2nd grade when that came out and after they stopped playing it on the radio I never heard anything else like it. But that was obviously because I had never been to Baltimore or the DMV.
So “Doing the Butt” isn’t just a song but rather it’s part of a movement that has been going strong for several decades. Like stepping in Chicago and Going Dumb in the Bay, GO-GO is a D.C. thing. And as I listened to it I felt very deprived. Why hadn’t I known about this? Why hadn’t this sound made its way to the bay like Trap Music, House Music, or Dance Hall? I was so enamored with how the continent of Africa had touched the region where I was vacationing. The sound I was hearing was so ill, it was so lit, it was so pure. I was feeling it. I put a little money down in front of the musician and left on my way to get crab cakes which were better than the ones they sell in the Bay Area but definitely didn’t live up to the hype as far as all of the fantastic things that I had heard about them, but there were no expectations for my experience with GO-GO. GO-GO somehow remains D.C.’s secret. GO-GO is an uncorrupted manifestation of ancient African musical expertise. I had to travel across the country to hear this sound and the journey was worth it.
EPIC! That’s the first term that comes to mind when I think about the long journey of bringing “Herstory” to fruition. It was March 30, 2012 when I sat down to conduct my first interview with Niema Jordan in my shabby East Oakland living room. When we finished recording our conversation I thought the project, in its entirety, would be complete within two months. I was hella wrong.
So many bad things happened that my selective memory won’t even allow me to recall most of them. I do remember amicably parting ways with my original editor halfway through the project. I do remember at least two other people committing to the project only to back out once they were able to truly internalize the fact that I could not pay them. And well, everything else is a blank until I reconnected with a fellow Skyline High School graduate who possessed the skill set and the passion to bring Herstory back to life. It was February 11 when she committed to the project. Now seven weeks later it’s done.
I’m high right now. I mean I’m super elated. I’m glad that Herstory survived all of the abandonment that it was exposed to in its infantile stages. I’m glad that beauty still exists in this world and I am so grateful that I have crossed paths with three super dynamic black women that opened up to me and told me their stories. With no further ado this is Herstory: