Category Archives: Jive Culture

Energy Never Dies: Afro-Optimism and Creativity in Black Chicago

This holiday season, my first book (which deals with many of the ideas and themes in this book, will be published through University of Illinois Press. I’m over the moon to get this collection of uplifting narratives about the city I adore out into the world. Energy Never Dies: Afro-Optimism and Creativity in Chicago outlines the undefeatable culture of Black Chicago, past and present.

ABOUT THE BOOK

From Afro Sheen to Theaster Gates and from Soul Train to Chance the Rapper, Black Chicago draws sustenance from a culture rooted in self-determination, aspiration, and hustle. Ayana Contreras embarks on a journey to share the implausible success stories and breathtaking achievements of Black Chicago’s artists and entrepreneurs. Past and present generations speak with one another, maintaining a vital connection to a beautiful narrative of Black triumph and empowerment that still inspires creativity and pride. Contreras weaves a hidden history from these true stories and the magic released by undervalued cultural artifacts. As she does, the idea that the improbable is always possible emerges as an indestructible Afro-Optimism that binds a people together.

Passionate and enlightening, Energy Never Dies uses the power of storytelling to show how optimism and courage fuel the dreams of Black Chicago.

“Contreras puts virtually every aspect of Black Chicago culture, music, business breakthroughs, and more on the table, then shows exactly how they are all interconnected. She writes the book as the Black experience is actually lived–this guy knows that guy, but the other guy used to work for the two of them. And none of it would’ve happened were it not for a certain audacious manner of hope and optimism found in Black Chicago.”–Lee Bey, author of Southern Exposure: The Overlooked Architecture of Chicago’s South Side

“In Energy Never Dies, Ayana Contreras crafts an intensely intimate and loving portrait of Black Chicago that that will illuminate, even to lifelong South and West Siders, the distinctiveness of our cultural history and worldview. This book offers urgently needed blueprints for extending the work and actualizing the dreams of the Great Migrants.”–Jacqueline Najuma Stewart, coeditor of L.A. Rebellion: Creating a New Black Cinema

You can preorder the book here: https://www.press.uillinois.edu/books/?id=84kcq6nx9780252044069


Preserving the Beats at Chicago State University.

 

BoomBoxRegularThis Saturday, February 28th at 2:15pm, I’ll be speaking on a panel at Chicago State University as part of the Symposium titled:

Preserving the Beats: Collecting Chicago Hip Hop

Here’s a description of the subject matter to be covered:

Collecting is one part of preservation of hip hop. For the history and culture to survive we need wordsmiths who write and publish about Hip Hop in order to document the past and future of the genre. This panel will discuss the importance of publishing for a variety of outlets—scholarly/ academia, blogs, journalism, niche and new media. Additionally, panelists will discuss the current climate of the publishing industry, self-publishing/ promotion via the internet, and the need to preserve the digital content.

Here’s the full list of scheduled panelists:

 

  • Samir Meghelli; Historian/Writer, Professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
  • Ayana Contreras; Blogger and Host/producer of Reclaimed Soul on Vocalo (Sister Station of WBEZ)
  • Ian Collins; Academic Resident Librarian at the University of Illinois-Chicago
  • Ryan Brockmeier; Director, Producer, Co-Writer, Art/Design of the documentary Midway: The Story of Chicago Hip-Hop

Of course, artful, true-to-life preservation of stories behind music is near and dear to my heart, so I’m glad to be a part of this discussion. More info below….

preserving the beats event flyerClick here to register.


Michael Abramson: Pulse of the Night.

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all photos by Michael L. Abramson

What goes on at small clubs is ephemeral by nature: society created and dismantled night after night. A delicate hierarchy composed of drifters, dreamers, and those simply longing to escape. In the mid 1970s, a young white student, Michael Abramson, worked his way into the world of largely black South Side Chicago clubs. He brought his camera along for the ride, capturing images that otherwise would’ve vanished like smoke from a languishing cigarette.

The photos were taken at famous spots, such as Perv’s House (owned by Pervis Staples of the Staple Singers fame), the Patio Lounge, and Pepper’s Hideout. These clubs hosted live music that was a heady mix of blues, funk, and soul by artists like Bobby Rush, Hi-Fi White, Little Mac Simmons, and much more. The current South Side Chicago club scene (in terms of live, homegrown entertainment) is a shell of its former self. That fact makes these photos that much more valuable.

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Currently, dozens of Abramson’s photos from this period are on display through Columbia College’s Museum of Contemporary Photography. According to the Museum, “this work earned Abramson a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1978 and launched his successful career as a portraiture photographer and photojournalist. Abramson’s photographs can be found in the permanent collections of the Smithsonian, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Chicago History Museum, the Milwaukee Art Museum, Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, and the California Museum of Photography.”

These photos of grit and gold lamé, born amidst midnight debauchery, are displayed between reference materials at the Columbia College Library. The juxtaposition is not lost on me. Despite their stoic surroundings, they simply hum with electricity.

LadyFanPervs10776The Michael L. Abramson: Pulse of the Night exhibition is located on the second floor of the Columbia College Chicago Library, 624 S. Michigan Avenue. It is on display until December 19th, 2014.


Have you tuned into Reclaimed Soul lately? Newcity apparently has…..

vocalo best of chicago newcity“…Ayana Contreras’ “Reclaimed Soul”… better than anything else on radio in the city…” —Newcity

“Aw, Shucks…” –Ayana Contreras

Media activism is exactly the right phrase for what we aim to do. Jive on.


100 Saxophones for Sun Ra

100 Saxophones for Sun Ra

Chicago Free Jazz composer and saxophonist David Boykin invites you to participate in 100 Saxophones for Sun Ra. David is currently a Resident Artist at the University of Chicago’s Arts + Public Life/Center for the Study of Race Politics and Culture.

David has put out an open call for 100 saxophonists to participate in a musical tribute to Sun Ra in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of his birth. 100 saxophonists will convene and perform “Happy Birthday” at 12 noon in Washington Park (on Chicago’s South Side) on Thursday May 22, 2014, his 100th birthday.

According to the open call:

“This is a historic opportunity to share our collective energy in honor of this musician whose musical, political and spiritual philosophy has been impactful and transformative to so many. His legacy continues because of the ways in which his musical innovation has been central to the free jazz movement in Chicago and beyond.

[David] chose this space and place because of its significance to [Sun Ra]. Along with other musicians, artists and activists he gathered in the park to play and to teach. In celebration of this work we invite you to participate in this gathering of saxophonists of all ages.”
RSVPs should be sent by email to info@sonichealingministries.com

Free bus transportation is available for student groups that wish to participate. Please contact Dominique L. Boyd for bus arrangements at dominiquelboyd@uchicago.edu

Sun Ra (born Herman Poole Blount, May 22, 1914 – May 30, 1993) was a prolific jazz composer, bandleader, piano and synthesizer player, poet and philosopher known for his “cosmic philosophy,” musical compositions and performances. He was born in Birmingham, Alabama. He is a 1979 inductee of the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame.

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Dreaming of Summer with Phil Cohran.

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Swooooon. Phil Cohran. Chicago. Those credits (including session all-star Master Henry Gibson) are as lovely as the cover (shot at 63rd Street Beach). I’d love to have been among the crush of lovely brown flesh, on the cusp of the Lake, trying to catch strains of the Artistic Heritage Ensemble back around 1968. He has a whole slide show of photos like these. They are amazing.

Master Henry Gibson played congas on Curtis Mayfield’s “Curtis”, “Superfly”, and scores of other records. Pete Cosey played on dozens of records with artists ranging from Muddy Waters to Miles Davis. Louis Satterfield and Don Myrick were later a part of Earth, Wind, & Fire… and that’s just getting started. Phil is of course, the genius/lynchpin that holds so much of Chicago’s musical legacy together.

Chicago has an amazing tradition of soul stirring music, including soulful, spiritual jazz…This record included.

Dreaming of Summer.


Reggie Torian of The Impressions gives his impressions of Curtom, Curtis Mayfield, and more.

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In this installment of Reclaimed Soul (sort of the radio version of this blog), check out host Ayana Contreras’ interview with Reggie Torian of The Impressions (that’s him sitting on the bumper of that antique Rolls Royce). He’s been a part of Chicago’s own Impressions (“Keep on Pushin”, “Gypsy Woman”, etc.) for 40 years. And he’s got a lot to say. He talks about the group, Curtom Records, and more. We also hear some of the music he helped to create.

The Impressions counted Curtis Mayfield as both member and principle songwriter during the 1960s and early 1970s before he went solo. Curtom Records was Curtis Mayfield’s Chicago-based record label that was home to the Impressions for nearly a decade. It was also the one-time label of The Five Stairsteps, The Natural Four, Leroy Hutson, The Jones Girls, Linda Clifford, Rasputin’s Stash, Baby Huey and the Babysitters, The Staple Singers, and more.

Catch Reclaimed Soul Thursdays at 8pm (CST) on vocalo.org or over the air on 89.5fm (NWI) and 91.1fm (CHI)


Ready. Set. Spin: DJ Ayana out and about.

off the record -july 2013Here in Chicago, summer is wrapping up. But, before it ends, come to one of the FREE-fifty events I’ll be spinning at (many of which are outside). Click here for more info….

 


Join Ayana Contreras: Monkey Hustlin’ in Chicago.

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I will be hosting a film screening of 1976’s Monkey Hustle at the Black Cinema House on Sunday, June 9th at 6pm. We will watch the film (which was shot mere blocks from where we’ll be watching it), and then discuss it.

Monkey Hustle – hosted by Ayana Contreras

Black Cinema House
6901 S. Dorchester Ave., Chicago

Sunday, June 9th at 6pm

Seating is limited, so please RSVP by emailing blackcinemahouse@rebuild-foundation.org to reserve your seats.

For more on the film, see my review below.

Monkey Hustle is a black film shot in Chicago in the 1970s (a rarity, in that regard), around the same time as Cooley High.  Mainly shot around 63rd Street, East of the Dan Ryan (the Woodlawn Neighborhood), and various West Side locations, the city figures prominently in the overall vibe of the film.  Starring in Monkey Hustle are (among others): Yaphet Kotto as a small-time hustler/love interest of the lovely Rosalind Cash, and a very young Debbi Morgan as Cash’s daughter.

Cash runs the local teenage hangout.  As the neighborhood hero/big-time hustler, we have Rudy Ray Moore (who is also Cash’s alternate love interest).  The other major character is Win, Debbi Morgan’s love interest who, despite showing promise for bigger things, dips deeper and deeper into the “Monkey Hustle” with Kotto.

The overlying plot is fairly pointed:  The city government is pushing ahead on plans to construct an expressway on land currently occupied by the neighborhood (which was actually happening in real-life Chicago… remember the plans for that “Crosstown Expressway“?).  Ultimately, the set-up becomes ‘the hustle must go on to save the community (by any means necessary)’.  Overall, a message movie with too many competing angles.  But fun for the shots of Chicago (and the girl fight).


DJ Ayana: Spinning in the Park.

djing at hyde park records

…Hyde Park, that is. This Saturday at 7pm CST, I’ll be spinning at an In-Store at Hyde Park Records (1377 E 53rd St  Chicago, IL 60615). It’ll be cool.

For more on Hyde Park Records, listen to my interview with the owner, a Frenchman by the name of Alexis Bouteville that originally aired on my radio show, Reclaimed Soul.

In this Episode, Alexis Bouteville, owner of Hyde Park Records, talks about coming to Chicago from Paris, and how owning a record store here was ‘a dream’. Bouteville also waxes poetic about how here in Chicago, he not only hears “the music”, but can “see it” all over the South Side.

For more information on Reclaimed Soul, visit: vocaloreclaimedsoul.tumblr.com