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Gospel truths

On the First Friday of Lent (and Flashback Friday), as I listened to one of my favorite gospel music artists on my morning commute, I thought back to my discovery of gospel music.  I first heard Cliff Petty during the opening service at LA Congress in 2010. He was leading the psalm. My head snapped in that direction so quickly I almost fell over. I turned to my church sisters and repeatedly asked, “Who is that?” as I searched the program for his name.   I was so impressed by his voice that I listened for it during the remainder of the service. Immediately after wards, I went to the exhibit hall to look for his music company. I purchased his first CD and even spoke with him briefly. I’ve been following his career ever since. I went to his concert at LA Congress in 2013. I have taken music workshops he has presented including one in which the attendees were divided into choir sections. I was a “joyful noisemaker” as I don’t have a very good singing voice.  Cliff’s music really opened my heart to hearing the Word in a different way.

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My autographed CD; Cliff’s 2nd release

Part of being Catholic is the traditional aspect. The music is traditional and sacred-sounding such as masses in Latin, Gregorian chant and old hymns. The music is beautiful, formal, and ceremonial. Para ser franca, at times, it can be lacking in energy and joy. Gospel music has been a way to bring joy into my worship, faith life, and prayer life. The songs are based on scripture, psalms and on people’s reflections on their relationship with God. People sometimes associate gospel music with different denominations. That is silliness. Music is universal. I talk to many people who say Mass is boring and that they get nothing out of it. They are going out of obligation, not passion. Music enriches that experience. Even in the most boring of settings, I will sing. When I sing in church, I continue to reflect on the Word and my love of God. Singing allows me to do so in a way that is more creative and expressive. Because of my love for gospel music, I appreciate the liturgy and the songs chosen more.  I am familiar with different hymns. Gospel music has been a blessing which expands and enriches my faith life.

In the past when I have struggled with myself, even in those dark moments, my faith has sustained me. My faith has not been repressive, oppressive, or depressive. However,there are times when faith wavers; the busyness of life can shake me. A song can bring me back to myself. Gospel music has been both soothing and uplifting. It has been with me through times of poor health. When I’ve been so angry and I need to clear my head, gospel music has been the soundtrack. When work has been hectic, choosing the gospel station on Pandora has helped me to refocus. I’m grateful I have made listening to more gospel part of my prayer challenge.  I know it will give me more time to reflect and honor this sacred time.

Find W.Clifford Petty on Facebook at Cliff Petty’s music

Beyond bling: the politics of Carnavalesco costuming

For those of you who think feathers, beads, and bright colors when Carnaval costumes are mentioned, you are only getting about 15% of the experience. In my contingent, Oakland’s SambaFunk, our yearly theme has current political undertones and overtones. The theme is visually presented through graphic art, discussed in class to explain the choreographies to guide our movements, and pondered for those of us who want to take a more method acting approach to our characters.  Heady stuff if you were expecting that we simply focus on shaking our tail feathers.  And shake we do but always with a message.  This year, however, the villains in the epic battle between good and evil would be portrayed by the dancers.  Given all the time I have spent analyzing and strategizing about the real villains I have known in my personal life(When you have to go bad )as well as the real-life bad guys aiming for increased power, I was immediately drawn to playing a Janker.
A Janker is a cross between Batman’s Joker and a banker.
Jack Nicholson’s Joker was the inspiration for our characters
Jankers are the international(and domestic) bankers who have exploited communities for their own personal gain. They are currently above the law but the whole point of our presentation this year was that Jankers could be brought to justice.  In my mind, I began to think about Jankers in popular culture.
Damn Jankers
I also thought about an individual I know who I feel has demonstrated the manipulative and self-aggrandizing tendencies of a Janker. My character was created.
With character in process, it was time to focus on costuming.  Costuming is hands-on work. While seamstresses may sew some pieces of the costume, dancers must individualize and “bling” their costume.  As a “freshman” in my samba school, I was clueless about this process. I didn’t help with costume construction and only attended one “blinging” party. When I arrived on Carnaval morning, I realized how generic my costume looked beside others.  As with Carnaval makeup, the Carnaval costume can express character and theme. Four seasons later, I knew to be purposeful in finishing my Carnaval look.
The Janker colors were green, royal purple, and iridescent or clear. I was responsible for decorating my cane, top hat, vest, and pants.  After a tedious process in which M and I sorted several bags of acrylic gems by color, shape, and size, I chose specific gem styles to use in varying patterns.  I chose green circles to represent global domination.
Clear and irisdescent gems would represent wealth as in diamonds. Purple and green gems would literally represent jewels like emeralds and amethysts. The teardrop became my symbol of choice.
Top of my top hat
Back of my top hat reveals the purpose of a Janker
Purple rain of tears
What does that mirror reveal?
Striping on pants
As a result of Janker thievery and trickery, many have shed tears of anger, grief, and hopelessness.  So teardrops are the shape you see all over my costume.  I even placed teardrops near my eyes as part of this year’s makeup.

So while Jankers  as characters and symbols are bad, we sure did look good.

2016 Jankers: Making bad look good
Janker Dance at Oakland Carnival 2016

As I have stated before, Carnaval is a creative process that has allowed me opportunities to grapple with experiences and thoughts that are challenging in a way that is ultimately empowering.  Viva Carnaval!