July 7, 2018
We stay in, relaxing and luxuriating with Law & Order and bits of movies on HBO – a big screen contrast to our tiny screen options at home (yes, we love TV). we arrange meetups and emerge to join the line at the Kennedy Center – a beautiful artistic place. The venue is smaller than we expected, but it’s free and we’re excited.
We are dressed for the occasion: me in yellow with purple; Z in blues and oranges. An aged belle behind us compliments our clothing and we converse about age and place. Her husband joins us. The line moves. We find good seats, saving two for the others in our party. The venue fills. We spot Holly Near and Toshi Reagon.
We hold the seats for as long as we can. I’m sitting next to our companions in line and note that she is referring to us and others as “gal” and “girl”. They’ve already let us know that they don’t know what they’re in for. They manage to make it through the first set of Be Steadwell’s “queer pop”; of beats and layers and beat box; of “I love her” and “they wish they could fuck like us.” But when the MC asks us to clap and stomp if we think something’s wrong with our country, then the white house, then trump, the old couple bolts. We have dishonored the one they blindly follow.
Carolyn Malachi then uses her techno gear for drumbeats and the voice of MLK. Kandra Rutledge rocks the bass while Carolyn sings and raps and sings some more, closing with a fresh take on “Four Women,” an anthem for this new day.
Toshi takes the stage to introduce Ysaye, our star/teacher/root woman. Overalls, bald pate, bracelets. Actually, one arm braceleted; the other showing frailty. But she is strong and sings a prayer; providing context and correction in Kumbayah. “Don’t give them a pass when they trivialize the pain and longing in that song.”
Ysaye then calls up the spirit of Odetta – “Take this hammer and sing when the power of the women comes down.” Me and Z and a few others take the bass. It is low. We are few. She makes us stand. Z’s voice is strong and beautiful. I do what I can to hold it under harmony and counterpoint. We all rejoice in the community of song.
Tristen and Angela, then Taylor, join us as we file out. We make Chicago and Howard connections, then Uber to the afterset, stopping first to explore the Tibet and African shops. There are so many stairs everywhere we go. My knees cry out on the descents, but I am determined.
We are carded at the gay bar, then greeted warmly at the top of the stairs. There are gatherings of women and gatherings of men. Tristen and Taylor play foosball and video games, while we meet and mingle with the women, who know us now as “the bass singers.” There’s a sister from Oakland and a neighbor from Chicago. We inherit a table and are joined by T & T, then a new friend for Burkina Faso via Paris. There is laughter and sarcasm. Then hunger kicks in. As we leave I am stopped by the woman who got one of our saved seats. She thanks me for making her night with my joyful singing.
We go for falafels. I can’t bear another set of stairs. I people watch and fall in love with Angela, who has given so freely of her time and presence – Zahra’s friend for the ages.
All but one of our Uber drivers has been male African. We try to connect with each one. None has been to Chicago. But here we are. Together for a moment. Sharing our Blackness.