My Introduction to Nina Simone

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Back in 2009, my girlfriend and I met each other in Atlanta, Georgia for a weekend of fun and to get fitted for bridesmaid dresses. One afternoon, we stumbled upon the art district, Little Five Points and wandered into an attractive shop called Moods Music. I got really excited. This was the first music store I had ever gone to, that catered to my personal tastes. It was amazing! I wanted to buy the entire store, but settled for a really wonderful CD by Quadron and a copy of Wax Poetics Magazine that I cherish to this day with Gil Scott- Heron on the cover. Since I liked this magazine so much, a friend of mine, who has always gotten me the best and most thoughtful gifts, decided to buy me a subscription to Wax Poetics for my birthday. On the cover of the 1st issue I received was Ms. Nina Simone. Reading the article, I fell in love with her spirit. They dubbed her “the Black poetess of protest.” I learned that she was a child piano prodigy, was great friends with Amiri Baraka, Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, Richard Pryor, and Lorraine Hansberry, and that most people who came into contact with her thought she was fearless and revolutionary. They say, Nina Simone didn’t give a fuck, meaning, she was going to do her thing no matter what. I felt like I had a lot of catching up to do on this woman who had an attitude that I could relate to. I wrote and performed a tribute to Nina Simone soon after I read this, and I have listened to her music since, mostly adoring the unconventional sound of her voice and her unapologetic lyrics. We are forever connected, Ms. Simone.

Peace & love.

Thank you for reading,

Shila Iris

My Introduction to David Banner

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black-history_feb-19_copyright-shila-iris-2017Transformation is possible. He used to be vulgar, ruled by his lower self- arrogant, over-sexed, chasing money, starved for attention, allowing Black life to be dictated to him by non-Black people at his record company. He did this until he knew better. “When you know better, you do better.”  In 2017, he is taking a different approach to African consciousness and to Black life.

David Banner is using his charm to resuscitate Black History, and he is striving to help Black people wake up. Willing to meet people where they are, he uses his own life as an example to inspire change. When you have knowledge of self, small distractions like technology, sex, and material possessions fade. Banner doesn’t hide from his past. He acknowledges his own humanity, and takes responsibility for his actions, reminding people to be humble and honest. When you bring up any of his mistakes, he smiles, laughs, and continues on in his evolution. This level of maturity is necessary on the path to transcendence. I have not known about this man for very long, but I am happy to see him boldly taking action. It’s so easy to get caught up in worldliness that weakens the spirit, but at some point we all have to lay our egos to rest so that we can survive. Always in search of good music, I listened to his latest album, The God Box. I love it. I am sending him good vibrations on his journey to push Black people into consciousness.

“I don’t care what you think of me, I just want you to think!”

Thank you for reading,

2015

Shila Iris

My Introduction to Imhotep

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black-history_feb-16_copyright-shila-iris-2017A few years ago when one of my good friends was a med student, he changed his online alias to Imhotep. I didn’t inquire about it, but in my heart, I acknowledged the change. Then, I realized that instead of taking the Hippocratic oath that students of medicine are required to recite, perhaps he decided to invoke the spirit of the true Father of Medicine. If you’d like to know about him, I encourage you to research the greatness of Imhotep, the world’s first physician, who laid the foundation for the healing arts. I’ll say this: we are forever connected to the past and to our ancestors, each and every one of us. We value their traditions because it makes us stronger. We stand on their graves and ask for guidance and offer our devotion. Imhotep, I honor You, for I am You. My heart told me to dig deeper, and I found jewels, gold, stories, hidden colors. I went above and beyond mainstream education, to find out who I really am, and now I know my worth. I value history. In this age of information, we can uncover truths faster than ever before. This is necessary, because being Black is tough. This is not rhetoric, it really is. That double consciousness that W.E.B. DuBois taught, that invisible man that Ralph Ellison described, is a part of our everyday realities. It can be exhausting, and it can drive you crazy. But, I learned, through a Master Teacher, not to give up, and settle, and make excuses for my ignorance. I need to be healed. We need healing. My ancestors look over me. I swear by Imhotep. That is my oath. Peace.

Thank you for reading,

Shila Iris

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My Introduction to Kara Walker

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Back in 2011, I spent a lot more time than I am willing to admit, in an ongoing conversation with a dear friend of mine. We were consistently conversing, texting, emailing, Skyping, and meeting up to share our worlds with one another. One day, this wonderful companion of mine sent me an email with a link to Kara Walker’s website. I took a look. It was pretty amazing. Her style of storytelling is appealing to the eye in its simplicity, and culturally relevant, urging humanity to reach inside themselves and find out who they really are. With that same friend who I spent most of 2011 talking with, I was honored, this past Fall, to see the Kara Walker exhibit: “The Ecstasy of St. Kara,” which reflects upon the complex history of Christianity and the myths surrounding slavery- worldwide and in the lives of Black people. Kara’s work supports mental growth and spiritual evolution. It makes me think about where I was, where I am, and where I want to be. I am grateful to have experienced Kara’s ecstasy.

… a little behind, celebrated my birthday on February 13, and been under the weather, but now I’m on top! Peace and love! Gonna continue to celebrate the African Diaspora. You should too.

Peace and blessings manifest with every lesson learned.

Thank you for reading,

2015

Love,

Shila

My Introduction to Spike Lee

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black-history_feb-11_copyright-shila-iris-2017“The cultural relevance of his films puts him ahead of the pack.”

I’ve never understood why critics compare Spike Lee’s work to other directors. There is no one like him. His artistic vision is exclusive and recognizable worldwide. As a child, I was happy when the family flick of the week was a Spike Lee Joint. Crooklyn and When the Levees Broke have become my favorites. The provocative issues that Spike addresses in his films, appeal to me. I value realistic art with powerful and transformational stories- not unnecessary, mind-numbing drama. I’d rather learn how to solve a problem, then how to create one. That’s what Spike brings to the table. I will watch mostly anything that he writes and directs just because he has a wonderfully cultivated mind and because his art direction has brought many Black actors to life including: Denzel, Samuel L. Jackson, and Wesley Snipes. He has also brought Black History and the Black Experience to the stage like no other. The words, a “Spike Lee Joint” are a part our vernacular and his creations are a part of our history. I am on his team! Go Spike!

Thank you for visiting African Essence by Shila Iris

2015

My Introduction to Miriam Makeba

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black-history_feb-8_copyright-shila-iris-2017When I started to entertain the idea of learning Swahili and visiting Tanzania, I turned to Miriam Makeba’s song “Malaika” to help me get a feel for what the culture was like. However, I remember Miriam being on an episode of the Cosby Show. She was having a conversation with Raven Simone’s character. When asked if she was “from around here,” meaning New York, Miriam replied “I’m from the continent of Africa.” Her voice was soothing and kind. I thought she was a beautiful woman. I wondered what it would be like to go to the place where she was from. Miriam is from Johannesburg, South Africa. She worked as a servant during her teens under the harsh conditions of apartheid. Starring in a film called, “Come Back Africa” made her famous throughout the world, but made her a threat to the rulers of her native country, since the film was anti-apartheid. She then moved to America and became an immediate success. Her 1965 album with Harry Belafonte won her a Grammy. She was active in the Civil Rights Movement and married Black Activist, Stokely Carmichael who became Kwame Ture. Miriam Makeba is affectionately known as “Mother Africa” because she was one of the first artists to bring the sound of her homeland to the Western world. She is the first artist I heard, singing spiritual and rhythmic music. I adore the sound of her.

Thank you for reading,

Shila Iris

Tiger

My Introduction to Bob Marley

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The transformative power of Robert Nesta has touched many souls. It touched me. I didn’t know much about the music of Bob Marley until I was around 23 years old. I heard the song, “Who the Cap Fit.” It was this song that transformed my understanding of human relationships. The lyrics described the level of consciousness that I was reaching. There were people all around me, but I knew that I’d only be able to trust a few. So when I heard Marley say:

“Your worst enemy could be your best friend And your best friend your worst enemy… Some will eat and drink with you Then behind them su-su ‘pon you Only your friend know your secrets So only he could reveal it…”

I said, “wow, that makes sense.” The one’s closest to you, are the one’s that reveal your secrets! That hurt to hear, but it has proven to be true time and time again, Then he said:

“Some will hate you, pretend they love you now Then behind they try to eliminate you But who Jah bless, no one curse Thank God We’re past the worse … Hypocrites and parasites Will come up and take a bite And if your night should turn to day A lot of people would run away..”

From one Aquarius to another, Bob was speaking a truth that I would have to revisit often, to remind myself, not to take things so personal and to love me first. So, I step back from people with undefined intentions. I let go of those that ran away when my night turned to day, and I leave those behind that find it hard to say, “I choose you.” I’m having to realize, even now, in my 132nd season, that I am not perfect, and that I have to keep going back to this proverbial wisdom to find my power. Sometimes, in the absence of parenting or mentorship, I turn to this good music to give me strength and to help me heal. Bob is the one who helped me realize that I require a high level of loyalty in friendships and in love; and it taught me how to read between the lines of what people say. It doesn’t stop at this song! He has a catalog of at least 200 songs that I find to be revolutionary.

Thanks for reading,

Shila Iris

2015